Who’s Side are you on Anyway?

As an HR professional, do you look out for the best interests of your company or your employees? Both? Are they one and the same? Sometimes? Yes. Always? No. So when in doubt, where do you lean? Where should you lean? I know where I do.

Some HR professionals call themselves employee advocates. That’s nonsense! For to be an advocate would suggest one regularly “pleads for or on behalf of” employees. If you think this is  your job – your duty – go work for a Union.

Our job is not to enforce the sundry employment laws, rules and regulations, but rather to help the company navigate them.

Our job is not to pay our employees “what they deserve,” but rather to design competitive compensation programs that our company can afford.

Our job is not to tell the company they can or can’t fire someone, but merely to help them understand the plausible ramifications of doing so.

Our job is not to manage an employee’s performance, but rather to help our company optimize it.

Are these semantics? No. Is the distinction slight? Yes. Is it an important one? Absolutely. Maybe it’s sad to say, but we make very little difference in the long-term viability of our organization by looking out for the best interests of its employees. While furthering their interests might certainly be an outcome – a desirable one at that – it is not our primary focus. It may influence, but it should never dictate our stance on much of anything. It is not our True North. In fact, the only way to guarantee we’re making a meaningful impact on our organization is to advocate its best interests and its best interests alone.

7 Responses to Who’s Side are you on Anyway?
  1. William Gould
    January 25, 2011 | 6:23 am

    Great post Charlie. You realize that you are suggesting that HR folks should be business people? While there are times when we must advocate for employees because of the situation (which is usually in the best interest of our employer as well), we are paid to be advocates for the business. I find compensation to be it’s own unique animal; the perspective that most employees (and many managers) miss is the concept and cost of total compensation.

  2. akaBruno
    January 25, 2011 | 8:27 am

    Are HR professionals similar to the physicians on MASH? They patch up the soldiers only to send them back into battle to potentially get injured once again. Who do they serve…the U.S. Army or the soldiers?

  3. Mike Spinale
    January 25, 2011 | 9:54 am

    I don’t completely agree. I view a big part of my role as an HR professional as a career partner to my organization’s employees. Yes, while this does enable the company to optimize employee performance – it also helps employees grow their own career and value to the organization. I’ve been a part of both giving training and one-on-one mentoring that has helped employees raise their stake in the organization, get promoted, earn more money, and develop themselves as a professional. While these things make them more valuable to the company, they also help them build their overall career, even if it is outside of the organization.

  4. Jay Kuhns
    January 25, 2011 | 10:47 am

    Great message Charlie. I never use the word advocate. EVER. Even the Employee Ombudsman role we launched only uses the term “resource” as part of the description. We all serve as resources to help our management and non-management employees – but being an advocate sounds too adversarial to me.
    Jay Kuhns´s last blog ..The Road to HR is Paved With Good IntentionsMy ComLuv Profile

  5. Lance Haun
    January 25, 2011 | 11:29 am

    I think you can be empathetic to a union’s case without being an advocate. Again, subtle difference but important nonetheless. I think you can understand where people have come from and what has happened but in the end, you have to make the right decision for the organization.
    Lance Haun´s last blog ..Posture At WorkMy ComLuv Profile

  6. Tim Gardner
    January 26, 2011 | 11:45 am

    Charlie – these distinctions are so important. I notice how often you used the phrase “to help” in referring to the role of HR.
    “To Help” implies expertise or capability, and if you are clear on how you are helping, you can identify the specific capability needed to help well.
    When we fall into the trap of thinking one side or another, we lose sight of our core expertise and mission.
    I think I miss the trenches.

  7. My Name is Remington, And I Am Your HR Resource This Evening | The HR Introvert
    January 31, 2011 | 6:05 am

    [...] I thought about Trish McFarlane’s post here and Charlie Judy’s post here. Charlie, in asking is to understand our roles as HR professionals, reminds us that part of our job [...]

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