Ethics Whisperer

Friday, February 6, 2009

HR's Evil Empire

Human Resources is often the bane of employees and compliance professionals alike – the HR Catberts and squids of corporate life. Although HR professionals don’t like to hear this, their domain is often called Fortress HR, the Evil Empire and The Avengers. These titles are often well earned. Well, it isn’t entirely their fault.

Many HR professionals start out trying to make the organization a better place to work – a place with a culture that attracts high performing employees. But HR professionals soon learn what is truly expected of them. The first blow is that many organizations make no distinction between Personnel and HR. So the HR professional spends an inordinate amount of time dealing with benefits issues. And then the HR professional get her/his first real HR question when a manager asks how to go about firing an employee with slim evidence of non-performance. HR becomes the hangman’s apologist. An HR professional who handles all of this may be allowed to participate in mass firings, benefit cuts, demotions – everything short of genocide.

After years of never getting to do their job, many HR professionals become bitter and petty. And then along comes big-stick corporate compliance.

The first battle is the hotline. It quickly becomes evident that HR is concerned about compliance learning about all of HR’s malfunctions via the hotline. Since compliance relies on HR to handle many investigations, it often becomes clear that HR couldn’t care less about anonymity promises made by compliance. And then you have to deal with the fact that HR does not want to punish the supervisors and managers for retaliating against reporting employees. This is war.

I can not tell you that I know of a way to avoid this sort of situation.

But there are things you can do to improve the situation. The first is to let the HR professional know that you understand what he/she really wants to be doing. One part of every compliance officer’s job is culture change – and this is like music to HR’s ears. You can also try to get HR involved in the process of incorporating compliance related measures in the performance appraisal system. If you first raise this issue at a committee meeting, HR is sure to swat you with alleged impossibility of measuring compliant conduct. So let HR have the bright idea in the first place.

Of course, there are HR professionals who are too far gone to be redeemed. You can always check their travel vouchers, expense reports and contracts with vendors. Ah, Fortress Compliance!

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