Don’t forget where you came from, HR…

The notion that HR needs to be “at the table” is so cliche these days that it makes my tummy rumble.  Yes, HR professionals should strive to be more closely involved not only in responding to, but also actually establishing the strategic direction of the company.  I won’t argue with you on that.  I would caution you, though, that focusing too much on muscling your way to the table may result in your taking your eye off of something that is still a crucial part of your role…Managing Employment Risk.    And while this statement is probably directed more at those of us who work with smaller organizations (less than $100M in revenue and/or fewer than 400 employees), it certainly pertains to us all. 

To many of us, the prospect of working on organizational development, performance management, learning, total rewards, and workforce strategy is more appealing.  But don’t underestimate the importance of your noble role as corporate steward.  All of that other “strategic stuff” is nice to have and if your organization has the resources to focus on all if it you’re a lucky few.  For the rest of us, though, don’t make the mistake of maligning resources to the sexy things only to the detriment of the more fundamental things.  Because if your housekeeping isn’t in order, if your business isn’t compliant with the myriad employment laws and regulations (at the state and federal level), if your management team is creating risk – not mitigating it, your organization might very well be steaming toward that big fat stinkin’ iceberg lurking in those chilly waters.  And just to give us all a little reality check, while we’d like to think our strategic prowess is crucial to an organization, just think about how the organization would really direct your purpose with extremely limited resources: it would want you to a) hire/fire, b) keep payroll running, c) keep people benefited, and d) keep the company out of trouble.  That’s it.  Maybe not very exciting, but its the stuff that put HR on the map to begin with and when it’s all said and done it’s the stuff that will keep us there

As Obama’s Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, was being introduced to the world her most resounding statement was, “make no mistake about it: the Department of Labor is back in the enforcement business.”  She’s already pledged over 300 new OSHA and DOL field agents to this end and has a massive budget increase to keep her honest.  The DOL has already collected over $1.4B in back wages on behalf of 2 million employees over the last 9 years and I’m sure our buddy Hilda won’t be content with letting that record stand.  And I know none of us need any schooling in how much it costs an organization to arbitrate or litigate employment claims (the Stanford Law Review - in Vol. 57 - estimates it’s between $20K and $200K a claim).  While all of us are running around trying to be stronger through strategy, the employment risk we marginalize as a result is out in the parking lot doing push-ups.

So don’t go forgetting your roots, HR…doing so might just keep you from “the table” forever.

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