Human Resources – Department of Smoke & Mirrors
From the description—Human Resources—it sounds like a division of the company dedicated to the well-being and advancement of the company’s employees. Even the name sounds friendly and inviting, right? Resources help us to excel at our job and be more effective on our assignments. And human? Well, we are human, so it must be a place we can go to acquire the help we need to get along with others, work through problems, and increase the enjoyment and satisfaction we receive from our work.
The term conveys such a sense of positivity about it, it’s as if spending an hour or two inside those walls would make all of us just plain happier. On the face of it, it’s easy to assume the HR department to be a place designed to serve and benefit the company’s work force.
In a word . . . wrong.
In three words . . . wrong, wrong, wrong.
The more accurate description for what goes on there? “Department for the mitigation of corporate liability in managing employee discipline, exits, terminations, and transfers.”
The HR department’s number one responsibility is to protect the company from liability. The primary source of this liability originates from wrongful termination lawsuits and damage claims resulting from alleged discrimination and/or harassment. Notice the emphasis on protecting the company. The HR department represents the company’s interests and assets, not yours.
In short, the HR department IS the company, pared down to its most legal and protective persona. When you talk to anyone in HR, consider your conversation—your choice of subject and what you choose to reveal—the same way you would if speaking to a lawyer for the opposing side.
Santa isn’t the only one with a naughty list. In addition to mitigating liability resulting from interactions between employees, HR also keeps a pro-active and watchful eye on employee behavior and attitude, hoping to ferret out potential problems and eliminate them in their earliest stages. Their tools are managing to terminate, pre-emptive demotion, and damage control via lay-offs and downsizing.
“But I’m the model employee,” you say. “I have nothing to fear from HR.”
Even the best employees can find themselves suddenly engaged in conversation with HR due to a takeover, buyout, or reorganization. So never let your defenses down. Unless you originate the correspondence, treat any communication from HR as a threat to terminate, even when disguised as an opportunity to transfer, acquire more education, or a consideration for promotion. Be courteous, professional, and prompt. And never give them a reason to doubt your loyalty.
A good start is to memorize the following Seven Commandments of Corporate Behavior:
1. Never threaten anyone, either with idle intent or physical violence.
2. Stay in emotional control. Especially when the news is bad. Keeping a study hand on the wheel is the mark of a leader, and someone is always watching
3. Be generous with your knowledge and skill. If a co-worker asks for help, and you can accommodate their request without jeopardizing a deadline or high priority task, spend fifteen minutes with them. Longer periods of time should be scheduled and approved by your manager.
4. Make decisions within a timeframe that makes you appear effective and decisive. Use the data you have at hand. If you’re prone to waiting until you’re ninety-nine percent confident you have the right answer, determine if waiting will actually produce new information that could make a real difference in your decision. Most important, determine how long can you wait before NOT deciding will put you at a disadvantage. Finally, ask yourself if you are making a calculated decision or taking a gamble—one is defensible, the other is not.
5. Maintain the balance of power in both directions. Allow your manager to exercise his prerogative, influence, and authority. Accept his decision as final and support it. Never express a negative opinion about him or his ideas to anyone while he is your supervisor. Conversely, never show weakness, indifference, or negativity in front of your subordinates. Treat them with respect and let them know you expect the same.
6. Accept criticism without becoming defensive. If a superior is stupid enough to criticize you in front of your team, never cower or grovel. Say something like, “I appreciate your thoughts, and I’ll consider them within the context of what created the problem and how it can be prevented in the future.”
7. Maintain your flexibility. Your ideas for change and/or improvement may be practical, well-considered options, but no one will believe in them as strongly as you do. You are one voice among many, and even when you know your plan is superior to the others under consideration—or the one ultimately chosen—you must adopt and support the company’s decisions as if they were your own. Your cooperation and endorsement of company policies and methods will go a long way in validating your voice for future projects. Conversely, you never want to be suspected of direct or indirect sabotage because you were initially opposed to a new company program or policy.
While these seven commandments don’t cover every aspect of on-the-job performance and behavior, they can go a long way in keeping you off HR’s radar. As an added benefit, in the eyes of management, they represent the hallmarks of an employee who is responsible, dedicated, and promotable—the very attributes you want to convey to those who can do the most for your career.