HR evolves into a true business partner

The Human Resources (HR) profession has been forced to develop over the years. Back in the day, companies needed someone or a group of people to deal with the hiring, paperwork and people issues. In most cases, these people were in semi-skilled, clerical-based positions, and HR management usually did not have a seat at the executive table. Don’t get me wrong, what they did back then was important and probably of higher value than the resources and education they were provided.

In the 1960s a number of congressional acts were introduced, and additional government agencies were formed. Organizations were struggling to understand and keep up with the new rules and regulations. Then in the early 1970s OSHA was formed and additional disciplines were introduced. Organizations were beginning to truly recognize a need for HR professionals. Companies needed someone to understand the new and ever-changing employment laws, true cost of compensation and benefits, need to attract and retain talented employees, etc.

Colleges and Universities began building degree programs in Human Resources that covered a broad spectrum of topics on directing, managing, developing, training and protecting human capital. HR has evolved into a true business partner with the responsibility to advise and assist managing executives on the needs of their human capital while assuring safe, fair and compliant employment practices.

A great number of organizations thought human resources professionals were the answer to all their problems and made them the judge, jury and executioner. They/we became the police, resented by both management and employees. Management resented HR because they were holding them accountable to the new laws and regulations. Managers and supervisors felt restrained from doing their jobs. Employees didn’t trust HR because they would introduce policies and programs that seldom lived up to the billing and felt they were misled. But at the end of the day both would contact HR to resolve their problems, and if their needs weren’t met the cycle of resentment would continue.

It needs to be understood that if management doesn’t know or follow the laws/rules, or the employees don’t follow the policies and procedures of the company, there is little that can be done that will result in a positive outcome. Hindsight has proven that HR should have never been placed in a policing role, but better serves organizations as a natural party that supports and guides management while also advocating for employees.

The residual effects of HR’s role as being the police still follows the profession today. If you ask people what HR does, most people’s initial response is, “They hire and fire people.” There are few things further from the truth.

In most organizations today, HR has a seat at the executive table reporting directly to the CEO, president, or chairman of the board. Organizations have finally gotten the message that their most valuable asset and direct cost is the people that work for them day in and day out. Human resources has or should have moved beyond the direct daily involvement of the employment practices and become a strategic business partner, assisting and guiding management in making legal and sound business decisions on behalf of the organization and the employees. The HR support staff has an extremely important role in providing HR services to all units in an organization, in addition to assuring all compliance practices and documents are in order. They are the front lines in audit situations.

Many people do not understand the depth of knowledge and expertise HR professionals need to meet the regular daily activities, not to mention the challenges of uncommon situations. Reading through the following non-inclusive list of responsibilities may give readers a new level of understanding with regards to the human resources profession: Legal employment practices, employee benefit programs, government compliance (EEOC, ADA, DOL, OSHA, DHS), safety and health, employee recognition, employee relations, compensation plans, staffing and retention, job description, performance management, complaint investigation, harassment and other required training, workforce planning, policies and procedures, on-boarding, etc.

The day has come where everything is so complex that just about every organization needs some type of professional human resources support. This can come from in-house dedicated HR professionals, an HR-trained office manager or through a contracted professional HR consultant/service provider. I would suggest organizations evaluate their human resources needs and take appropriate action to assure the human capital needs of the organization are being met. The costs of non-compliance and the inability to retain qualified workers are too great to leave to chance.

Douglas R. Pepin is a business consultant and owner of Advise-HR LLC. He has more than 25 years managing business human resources departments. Learn more at or 651-888-1113.

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