Steven Cesare, Ph.D.
A business owner from Wisconsin called me the other day to discuss various employment issues, with the conversation eventually migrating to the role of Human Resources in the organizational context. In specific, he waxed inquisitive about how his Human Resources Department should position itself when confronted with myriad challenges that come its way. His interest was sincere, his concern was valid, and his orientation was receptive.
As a capitalist, I told the business owner that I view Human Resources across a 10-point scale, with “1” being a complete “Employee Advocate” and a “10” symbolizing a total “Management Representative.”
Lamentably, I have met too many extreme Employee Advocates characterized by an embarrassing paucity of business acumen relentlessly lobbying for more PTO time for employees, constantly pushing owners to contribute more money toward health insurance premiums thereby reducing the employees’ share of the monthly payment, reflexively negotiating on behalf of every employee’s demand for an ad-hoc pay raise lest the employee leave to work for a competitor, and of course, nagging the management team to have innumerable employee social events (e.g., Monthly Taco Fridays, ice cream socials during the summer, holiday picnics or family days) all in the name of improving employee morale and the organizational culture.
Do you think the Employee Advocates know how to calculate gross margin? Do you think they know the interior components and payroll proportion of the company’s labor burden rate? Do you think they know the production rates for a Maintenance Crew, Enhancements Crew, or an Irrigator? Do you think they know merit is more important than DEI? Do you think they know the billable hourly rate for a Construction Foreman? Do you think they have ever interpreted, applied, or forecasted a Profit and Loss Statement?
Conversely, I have met several obsequious Management Representatives bereft of human compassion, motivated solely to receive the patronizing pat on the head and the obligatory green M&M from the business owner, all the while reveling in professional self-indulgence based on their ability to enforce myriad bureaucratic administrative policies even though they can’t recite the company’s empirical business goals yet rhetorically asseverating “Our Employees are Our Greatest Asset.”
Do you think the Management Representatives are ever in the yard at 6:45 a.m. (without a cup of coffee in their hand) greeting the employees before dispatch? Do you think they routinely schedule monthly pulse meetings with all the Foremen to assess the work environment and solicit tactical recommendations for improving employee engagement? How many job sites do you think they visit a month? Do you think they are viewed as approachable business partners or simply as coercive auditors by field employees? Do they ever leave their air-conditioned office? Do you think they know anything about the field employees’ personal lives, interests, or family members? Interesting: I thought “Our Employees are Our Greatest Asset,” right?
Given those two poles, my answer to the business owner was “6.5”.
Without hesitation, I believe Human Resources professionals should slant toward a culture of performance accountability, and avoid the social worker mindset. Given the vantage point that Human Resources should know the overarching company goals, annual strategic plan, fiscal budget, underscored by a healthy dose of external awareness (e.g., legal compliance pressures, local competitor intrusion, industry-wide benchmarks), they have a well-rounded, integrated perspective that employee actions, departmental goals, and human resources initiatives should be fundamentally aligned, focused on goal attainment which fuels company success and derivative employee dividends. Without capitalistic achievement, advocacy is moot.
That said, Human Resources professionals must (yes, I said MUST), push back on the owner and management team as they inevitably view employees as mere cogs in the wheel rather than as cherished people with unique lives. Human Resources must temper management’s rogue nature to incessantly pinch pennies, take employees for granted, and adopt a distant, dispassionate view of “business operations.”
Succinctly stated, Human resources must support company management, but never blindly.
By the way: “What is our greatest asset?”
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