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The case for HR Departments being Change Agents

Time and again we see organizations being sued over bad decisions made about topics that - generally - fall under "employee relations".

Just like the one that prompted me to write this very blog post:

HR didn’t want to set a disabled employee up for failure, so the company fired her instead.

These headlines (and there are many, many of them just like the above) typically signifies one of two things (or a combination of the two):

Scenario 1: An HR department that is overworked, understaffed, and pressed by Operations/”the business” and just carries out the will of those in charge; without voicing concerns or providing substantial HR professional input;

Scenario 2: Or, an HR department that isn't given the 'air' it needs to be the change agents and mediators within an organization and instead becomes subservient to the demands of Operations.

In both of these scenarios, many times it’s because an HR Department has become, basically, what HR was decades ago – a Personnel Department – whose only apparent value to the rest of the organization is: staffing.

Then, when budgets get tight, HR is forced to be the first to have to pull back on the purse strings since their strategic value isn't apparent to the rest of the organization. Many times, it is Scenario 2 that creates Scenario 1. It's all one big wheel.

How to “break the wheel….”

I had the pleasure of attending an HR event in Florida last month and listened to a presentation by Dr. Shirley Davis during which she advocated for a new approach – where the HR department is the 'change agent'. Citing it as a best practice of the leading organizations around the globe.

What is a Change Agent? In a nutshell it is: being proactive, getting out ahead of the issues, suggesting potentially radical changes to make improvements within the organization - pretty much getting out of a traditional HR departments comfort zone – in everything! This is what HR's role should be in a 21st century organization with 21st century staff.

For an HR Professional who wants to become a change agent in their own organization, it will take time and effort, but the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term effort. What does this mean? It means to:

  • actively educate oneself,

  • subscribe to blogs (and read them!),

  • network with other HR professionals,

  • attend webinars,

  • and so on.

In other words, be active, be a professional, and get ahead of the game!

But, with this also comes responsibility – such as being prepared to site your sources, identify and adapt best practices from other organizations, and proposing ideas from a place of proactive wisdom - rather than the typical place of reactive anxiety.

For those TL:DR (Too Long : Didn’t Read) folks:

  • In the short term, it may seem like you are being strategic by avoiding individual battles that you may become aware of (or just burying your head in the sand).

  • But in reality, you are only adding fuel to a larger fire that could be brewing - such as a class action lawsuit - by not speaking up, by not suggesting a proactive change to the way your organization approaches a variety of employee relations issues.

If you want to stay out the news and not be the next news story – you need to start your organization on the right path – and be the “agent of change”.

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