Human Resources, aka People & Culture, aka Employee Experience, aka Partner Resources, has evolved as a function of business over the past few decades.

At the end of the day, HR departments are still subject to the decisions and methodologies of their C-suites. Despite this, the inferred mandate to act as the people’s ally and voice is also bestowed upon the HR function.

So which is it: employee or employer advocate? Who should HR teams ultimately support, the company or the people?

We’ve seen a lot of news lately involving scandals in workplaces: names like Travis Kalanick, Harvey Weinstein, and Matt Lauer are at the center of these controversies.

Elizabeth Segran of Fast Company pointedly recognizes:

“If the leaders of the company are themselves misbehaving or not taking employees who bring up problems seriously, HR departments are probably not going to be empowered to set the company on the right course.”

Because, at the end of the day, HR people are employees of the business and subject to leadership’s power and decisions, just like everybody else.

In my own experience, it’s very difficult, near impossible, to be both employer and employee advocate in today’s workplace. In fact, the inherent conflict within the function led me to reevaluate my own contributions as a HR professional – specifically, how I could best help companies align their people strategy with their business goals, so that both entities are happy and productive. Read more about my experience here.

For organizations to effectively derive value from HR as a business partner, they need to assess what their HR function is and is not responsible for. This will vary from company to company, but the overarching theme is this:

“Ultimately HR is not responsible for creating a positive culture: That is the job of leadership. HR can help perpetuate this culture and rid the company of people who do not embrace company values.”

It all starts from the top. HR departments can’t create company culture; they don’t inherently have the power to do so. Leaders create culture through their vision, their decisions, and their behaviors. HR teams are ambassadors of the vision.

When leadership and HR walk in stride of the vision and hold ALL people, leaders included, accountable to their culture standards, that’s when HR as an employee and employee advocate are aligned.

Read more from Everyone Knows HR Is Broken: Here’s How To Fix It

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