anager Sumit Mehrotra was never much of a fan of his human resources department. He saw HR people as meddling, enforcers of silly rules dictating who could get a pay rise or a promotion.
There is the perception that HR is … just an evil cost of doing business.
So in November 2013 when Mehrotra, vice president of global supply chain for infrastructure parts manufacturer Circor International was told to set up a new global team for his company, he figured input from HR would be limited to recruitment and hiring.
“As far as being frustrated with HR, who hasn’t (been)? I think a lot of managers just see them as getting in the way,” said Mehrotra.
But when Mehrotra began hiring his team – which included people working from Brazil, China, France, Germany the UK, and the US – the HR department raised questions he hadn’t even thought about; how was he going to keep everyone talking? And what was his strategy for bringing his team’s new ideas to upper management?
“They were good questions that I hadn’t considered,” Mehrotra said. “I started looking at HR as objective and unbiased people who bring human factors that maybe I didn’t consider.”
Many young bosses have a negative perception of HR. But management experts say tapping into this department’s skills is essential for managers to truly excel. Exploiting HR to its full potential can mean working more effectively with other departments or bringing in someone with another perspective.
But HR has an image problem. The phrase “human resources” has become synonymous with the idea of needless corporate policies that get in the way of growth.
Elizabeth George demonstrates that widespread opinion in the HR class she teaches at the School of Business and Management of The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, or HKUST. At the start of every course, George asks her grad students to raise their hands if they have a favourable view of HR.
“I’m lucky if one hand goes up,” George said. “I have students from all over the world, and they all have the same negative feelings about HR.”
For young managers, that often translates into excluding HR wherever possible. That’s a mistake, George said, because HR people can often offer insights bosses would otherwise lack. For instance, managers working on a project that crosses different departments can benefit from working with HR, because the department, by definition, deals with all facets of the company and can offer a lay of the land.
“It’s really about building collaboration with HR,” George said. “If you as a manager can reach out to HR to seek ideas, you’ll start to see the value in HR instead of just thinking of how they get in the way.”
As chief HR officer for customer support firm iQor, Mason Argiropoulos has seen that first-hand. He has seen managers who involve HR and ask for ideas and others who simply ignore the department and suffer.
“There is the perception that HR is this group off in the corner that doesn’t understand the company strategy and is rather just an evil cost of doing business,” Argiropoulos said from his home outside Rochester, New York.
That happened in the early days at iQor’s offices in Asia, where the company now has about a third of its 30,000 employees. As the company grew, it brought in some managers from other regions to oversee the call centres. Some were unaware of stringent local labour laws requiring strict procedures when, for example, sacking an employee. That meant Argiropoulos’ team had to make sure managers were involving HR early in any process involving staffing issues to promote better planning and open lines of communication.
Argiropoulos acknowledged, though, that HR needs a makeover. HR was once known as the personnel department until the phrase became synonymous with red tape. Now HR has the same connotation, and Argiropoulos predicted someday soon there might be a new name for the department. Google, for instance, calls it People Operations in an attempt to avoid the HR stereotype and explain the department’s function as “the champions of Google’s colourful culture.”
The HR field is also undergoing a change in the type of people companies place in HR positions. Instead of solely hiring experienced HR managers with related degrees, companies are now mixing in managers with non-HR backgrounds. That equals a more well-rounded HR department with broader connectivity to the goals of the company, Argiropoulos said.
“In these next few years, we’ll see a movement where companies will take a more progressive approach to HR,” Argiropoulos said.
Until then, managers stuck with an HR department that is more obstructionist than partner must still find a way to get along, George said. HR heads often have power in a corporate structure, and bosses who understand that have a better shot at advancement.
“If you go through your career making partners out of HR instead of antagonising them, you’re going to go farther,” George said.
Mehrotra has worked for both kinds of HR people, those who seem bent on stifling rules and corporate paperwork and others who are proactive, engaging and who bring new ideas to projects. One former HR boss taught him the value of letting employees fail so they can learn from mistakes. Another showed him that reviews aren’t about yearly meetings but regular check-ups.
From setting up his global team, Mehrotra also learned the benefit of including HR in any new plan right from the start.
“I look for someone in HR with strong people skills who can just look at what we’re doing and add a human element to it,” Mehrotra said from his company’s office in Corona, California. “If you do that, HR can become a good neutral party.”
If you’ve always seen HR as a hindrance, that might seem like a pretty wild idea. But with a more inclusive approach, maybe your HR department will become your new favourite collaborator.
Source: BBC Capital