Really, HR Professional, Really?


When it comes to the practice of Human Resources, many practitioners are searching for the next best thing. Whether it’s the latest and greatest “theory” in people management or the latest book that provides “cool” language that he/she can impress upon their manager or even better, their CEO. Frankly, if we take the time to look behind us, all we’ll find is the same old classical and traditional HR mess that in my humble, yet professional opinion, means sweet nothing when it comes to the continued and sustainable success of business in general. As a long-time HR professional, the only time HR really makes a difference is when we grow a “backbone” and stop hiding behind ridiculous policies and theoretical constructs that hinder vs. stimulate the growth of a business.

For example, one of the key functions of a solid HR function and its team members is to not only advocate for the company but also advocate for their employees. These employees include those that are actively working for the respective company and those that are exiting the company. One of many positive contributions HR can make is to ensure a departing employee (voluntarily or involuntarily) is dismissed with support from the organization as opposed to putting up roadblocks in the name of company policies and procedures. Remember, every time an employee leaves your company, he/she takes a piece of your company’s brand (customer or employee) with them to do as they please with the market…good or bad!

One particular way HR attempts to “strut their feathers”, is to inject the “fear of god” into their business partners by reinforcing the scary “legal risks” that apparently exist out there. I’m not saying a responsible HR professional not consider or discuss legal risks associated with managing their employees, but to use this information to enhance the practice of people management and to empower their manager partners in managing their people.

Case and point. I completed a search for a client several days ago and part of what my client and I shared as part of the process, was conducting reference checks to support the hiring of the candidate we had in mind. We insisted that we were looking for supervisory references only and upon contacting our first supervisory reference, we were confronted with the following:

Supervisor reference: “My English is not the best, so I would like to have my HR Advisor join our call”.

Not a problem in my mind…

HR Advisor: “Who are you…what is the purpose of your call?”

I tried very hard to be cordial and explained that I was referred to the Supervisor as one of the candidate’s references….

HR Advisor: “Just so you know, there are new policies around here and won’t be able to give you any reference…all I can give you is a verification of employment…”

I asked if I was able to ask the supervisor some questions regarding the candidate’s overall performance and before this poor woman even had the chance of responding, the HR Advisor blocked every attempt in me asking for some vital information. The sad part was that a significant part of this information request was to understand how the candidate’s new supervisor could best support the candidate in her new job…but was blocked at every point during the discussion.

Not only has this HR professional created yet another obstacle in the business process but has absolutely paralyzed the manager in conducting perfectly honest people management practices by instilling the “fear of god” by so called being sued for providing an honest account of an employee’s performance. Not only does the manager live under a veil of fear in practicing management but the departing employee (the candidate) has now lost the opportunity to be fully and effectively onboarded by her new employer…way to go HR!

“A reference is considered a communication protected by qualified privilege and the person giving the reference cannot be sued for slander or defamation, provided the comments are the referee’s honestly held opinion. The information obtained in the reference check should only be used for the purpose of evaluating the candidate’s suitability. The information could lose any protection, if communicated to third parties for purposes unrelated to a hiring decision.” (Howard Levitt and Michael Mulroy: Lang Michener)

REALLY?  Please, my fellow HR professionals…before you stake your claim as the “people authority” in the company, do this in the name of your employees that make up the backbone of your company…this includes being a true business partner to your management team.  Stop with the fancy HR talk and start getting real by making the difference you try so hard to make every day…something so small yet something so big in making a difference and adding value as an HR professional.