A Client’s Perspective on
Human Resources Mistakes
number of years back I was in a meeting with two HR representatives at
my company. They were
explaining to me how the HR organization wanted to be more
“strategic” with its clients and how they wanted to help us with
annual resource planning. At
the time, our biggest problem was filling open positions with
qualified candidates; a number of key positions had been open for
months with no qualified candidates in the hiring pipeline.
When I asked the HR reps about how they were going to help with
this problem, they both told me that they didn’t have time to
address the hiring issues because they were tasked with being more
to say, the meeting went downhill in a hurry because the HR reps were
more interested in fulfilling the HR organization’s “be
strategic” mandate than they were in helping me with my real-life
a longtime client of numerous HR organizations, I’ve learned to
appreciate the value that HR professionals provide and the times my HR
partner protected me from potentially difficult situations.
When working well, the client, employees, and company as a
whole benefit. When things
don’t work so well, though, everyone ultimately loses.
Through my years as a client, I’ve locked down on five of the
biggest mistakes that an HR professional can make in their
relationship with the client, as follows:
understanding the client’s business – Foundational to an
HR professional’s success is s strong understanding of their
client’s business. What
are the key products the client offers?
What does the client want to accomplish in the next fiscal
year? Is the
client’s product emerging, stable, or declining?
What are the client’s key business challenges?
Does the client face any significant financial issues?
professional self esteem to know that the client wants you to
invest some time to understand their business. Being a
team player means spending time with the team to better understand
how your services can be best applied in the client’s
hard to get the client to understand the business of HR –
Many HR professionals I’ve worked with wanted to “educate”
me on terminology, concepts, or the latest HR trends.
While the education was interesting and helped broaden my
horizons somewhat, much of the education wasn’t relevant to my
job or important for me to know.
If there are truly important terms and concepts that the
client is going to need to know to get their job done effectively,
then by all means educate away.
However, if the HR-ese is not material to the client
getting their job done, then skip the education session.
Help the client with what is need-to-know and keep the rest
in your bag of tricks.
understanding the basics of employment law – My most
valuable experiences with my HR partners were situations where my
HR partner helped me to understand employment law issues and
advised me on courses of action to take to minimize legal risk.
When an HR professional understands the basics of
employment law and can recognize situations where further legal
advice may be required, potentially hundreds of hours of lost
productivity are mitigated. By
not having employment law basics down, the HR professional not
only puts the client’s business at risk but also suffers a
credibility hit in the client’s eyes.
Know enough to advise the client and when additional legal
help needs to be brought in.
bias in supporting either management or employees – A
crucial credibility factor for an HR professional is demonstrating
impartiality while dealing with HR issues.
If an HR professional has a reputation for being biased
toward management, then they get a rap for being a “company”
person and potentially legitimate employee issues may never
when the bias is toward the employee, then they can be accused of
holding “witch hunts” against management.
The best HR professionals walk this line carefully and
ensure that their thought process and advice represents
consideration of sound business and legal thinking.
They also need to have the courage of their convictions
to tell either management or an employee when and where they think
they are going wrong. Don’t become a "yes man"
or “yes woman” for either side.
establishing expectations of work to be performed –
Perceptions of the services an HR professional provides can be
radically varied from client to client.
While one client may see an HR professional as a recruiter,
another may see the HR professional as an employment mediator,
while a third may see him or her as an overall generalist.
Establish a service-level agreement or contract with the
client to ensure a common understanding of services performed,
what is expected from the client, and expected timeframes in which
services will be performed. Key
to this is ensuring that the contract is mutually understood and
agreed-upon; it’s not enough for the HR professional to quote
department policy about what will or won’t be done for the
client. Make it clear
about what you’ll do for the client, what you expect from the
client, and in what timeframe the work will be done.
HR professional that understands the client’s business, shields the
client from the HR-ese, is unbiased, delivers against clearly set
expectations, and protects the company and employee fairly can be an
invaluable partner to both the client and the company as a whole.
Avoid these five major mistakes and you’ll build a high
degree of trust and credibility with your client, be viewed as a
trusted business partner, and save potentially countless hours of lost
productivity and waste.
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