What is the role of HR?

Regardless of the size of your business you may at times wonder what the exact role of HR is for your business. Like any support function or any function not directly linked to generating revenue, questions get asked (and should be asked) about why the function exists and what it does for the business.

Many of you as clients are agile and small organisations who come to Broadspring Consulting for advice on handling people challenges or company growth that are outside the skill and time of your current management and administration team. An article in the HR news this week has put forward the view that companies with more than 30 employees should have at least two HR staff: one administrator and one manager/strategic advisor.

Other companies hold the view that human resource management is the responsibility of the line manager and that a dedicated HR function should be there only if needed for serious issues.

The main question is probably coming up now because of the Harvey Weinstein case – as well as Uber and Google and tech start up in the US. When things go wrong (such as sexual harassment and bullying) and then go public one of the first questions is “where was HR?”

Rather than waiting for something to go wrong before you ask that question, it’s a good idea to consider the role of HR in your business. Plan it out like any other function.

  1. HR often is the place where payroll is processed, records and kept and leave is managed. This is an administration and transactional level of support only. Is this enough for your business? How skilled are other staff including line managers at dealing with higher level HR matters?
  2. HR as coach and support to managers. Engaging HR expertise to coach and develop the people management skills in your leaders as well as having the administration taken care of. Who can you hire into HR who has those skills? How much support do your managers need?
  3. HR as strategic advisor and guide. Sitting alongside the CEO/GM and senior leadership team, HR and people are discussed in the same strategic manner as business planning. How much demand do you have for that level of interaction? Can your business afford that full time salary at this stage? (If not, how else can you buy in that strategic advice?)

Where do employees go when they have queries or need support? The above options are all from a business perspective, but a robust HR function is equally about the employees as it is about the managers. As has been seen in a number of recent Australian cases, including Channel 7, not all HR departments effectively balance the service and support to employees and to senior management. In fact HR are often the true “middle man”

  1. HR and payroll can provide information about leave balances and policy. Who notices the trends in employee questions and what they may mean? (A number of employees in a team with a new manager who ask about leave balances can be a sign of a problem)
  2. HR can provide support and guidance to employees when they have problems. Not automatically “taking their side”, but providing a structured and supportive  environment where an issue can be discussed and the appropriate action/response noted and chosen.
  3. HR can provide leadership and role modelling to staff at all levels. Role modelling of appropriate behaviour and how to “call out” inappropriate behaviour.

When you think of your business and your HR needs it’s also important to consider

  • the stage of the business. Many small to medium businesses have the lower level of HR as staff (some outsource payroll) and then buy in the more strategic guidance as needed
  • the skills of leaders. Many businesses have structured their HR model to meet the skill needs of their managers – more strategic and coaching input when leaders need to grow their people management skills
  • plans for the business. Many businesses embed strategic HR early in order to effectively position for the next phase of growth and change.

We hope that this article can broaden your view of what HR can (and should) do for your business and invite you to be an active manager of HR activity in your business.

HR News October 2 2017 values, beliefs and disagreement at work

One issue has dominated the news recently and it DOES relate to work. The Australian same sex marriage survey has polarised workplaces, families and communities with three notable key elements and lessons to learn for business and leaders of people.

  1. Values and beliefs are important to workplaces and the work/team culture. Managing those well does not always come easily.
  2. Frustration and disagreement over an ongoing issue often shows up in unhelpful ways. Holding effective conversations about ongoing frustration does not always come easily.
  3. Systems and processes can easily undermine working relationships and the progress of a project or change process. Setting up and managing good systems is often more complex than first expected.

Please note – this post is NOT about the survey or about responses. It is about the importance of culture, conversation and systems in the workplace.

Values and beliefs at work

The current issue is really highlighting the impact of shared values and beliefs in the workplace – or the fall out when it is discovered that key values/beliefs are not shared.

Reports have included a business owner cancelling a contract with a supplier and a company terminating the employment of a staffer over differing views.  (You can read more here)

At the heart of the matter for a workplace is the fact that Fair Work Act and Anti Discrimination legislation provide protection for employees in regards to grounds for reasonable termination of employment. No such legislative protection exists for suppliers or B2B relationships. The employee matter is with the Fair Work Ombudsman and is on foot and not resolved, making any comments speculative at best. In a business sense what Broadspring would observe that:

  • shared values and company culture are significant to employees and to employers, yet are rarely well documented
  • beliefs aren’t usually discussed – they form the basis on which we make decisions and assumptions. Our beliefs have often developed over time and we rarely question how they came to be
  • values and beliefs typically get described with emotive rather than logical language. Challenges to our values or beliefs are usually met with a shocked response
  • you cannot resolve an emotionally based issue with logic

What can you do?

  1. Ensure that your Code of Conduct or House Rules or similar document includes behaviourally based descriptions of what desirable workplace behaviour is like. Make it clear from the outset that respect is a foundation for your culture
  2. When you imagine your ideal workplace culture, also imagine what tangible evidence would support that it exists, What would employees (and managers) DO, what would they SAY and HOW would others describe that “ideal” behaviour if they were to experience it?
  3. Train and support the development of high level communication skills in your leaders and managers

Dealing with Frustration and Ongoing Issues

Regular readers of Broadspring blogs and newsletters along with attendees at our training and clients of coaching will know that the one comment on this matter is:

Deal with matters before they become large and difficult

The challenge facing a number of our clients is when they have stepped into a new role and found an ongoing issue or a situation that could have been resolved previously. (in their eyes at least) So what can you do?

Imagine this situation: Rob is appointed to be Regional Sales Manager for a new company. Within the first week Rob has met with all of the team as well as his bosses and understands the expectations of him and his team. He has also heard many complaints about the National Sales Manager and sales reporting processes and is wondering if he made the right decision.

(Yes, buyer remorse affects new hires as much as it does those who buy new clothes. shoes or gadgets!)

So what can be done? It’s always awkward as the new employee to start pushing for change. You join a new company and start trying to bring across ideas from your old company and get met with criticism such as “If things were so good there, why did you leave?” However there are times when a “fresh set of eyes” is precisely what is needed and in fact expected. Getting back to the scenario, you can imagine what emotions Rob has been hot with by people:

  • anger
  • frustration
  • disappointment
  • denial

There are probably more we could go into, but the point has been made. Rob has walked into a new role where others are very frustrated and demanding change now. There are a number of challenges that Rob faces

  1. Does Rob have enough facts and evidence other than what has been provided by others?
  2. The action (or inaction) that Rob takes will be part of the “history” and reputation that stays with Rob while with the company
  3. Acting too quickly on incomplete or biased information could undermine Rob’s reputation with all stakeholders
  4. Being confronted with emotional people in your first few days is confronting, especially when those people expect something to be done now that a new Sales Manager is in place

This is a thin slice view of a situation however it is not uncommon. There are a few tips for dealing with ongoing frustration in others:

  • reassure them that their concerns have been heard
  • advise that you want to make the best decision and take the right action – including that this may take a little longer than they hope
  • request support and ongoing professionalism
  • advise that the way they behave will form the basis of their reputation. (one phase Pam often uses when coaching is”Imagine that you are looking back on this time in 4 years, will you be proud of how you are behaving right now?”

It is a workplace conversation that needs to be had, yet all too often is left alone because of the emotional content.

The role of systems and processes

Always check and rehearse how systems and processes will operate in “the real world”. This is why technology implementations include components such as a sandbox test area, parallel running of old and new systems to manage risk and user acceptance testing to make sure that things work the way they should.

In summary, early workplace conversations to:

  1. clearly define workplace culture
  2. address differing views and conflict
  3. set out expected standards of behaviour (frustration may be the reason for bad behaviour but it never excuses it)




Fair Work Act Amendment – breaking HR News

This post is an important and urgent one for all employers to read and to be aware of the nature and impact of the Fair Work Act Amendment (protecting vulnerable workers) Bill 2017

Not that I think any of my clients are doing or would do the wrong thing. Not that I think the vast majority of employers would do the wrong thing. There is no way anyone can say that “all” employers are good when you read of cases of serial and ongoing underpayment, even after a visit and order from Fair Work. Fortunately these outliers are few and far between although they and their actions have far reaching impact.

Fundamentally the changes and their impacts are outlined in this excellent summary from Thomson Geer (co-written by Paul Ronfeldt, a respected colleague of mine)

HR Managers and employers MUST be aware that there are significant increases to fines in terms of size and scope.

There are two key immediate actions to take

First is to ensure that payroll/time and wage records meet the requirements of the Fair Work Act and Regulations AND show correct application of all appropriate industrial instruments

Next is to have appropriate arrangements in place to capture underpayment or similar complaints and have appropriate senior managers act on them promptly.

Compliance is now a serious matter to be able to prove to Fair Work.

It’s also on the news agenda for the national professional body for HR professionals (including me) and here is their good summative article.

It captures the essential points:

  1. Higher penalties for serious contravention
  2. Direct liability of franchisors (think about recent cases with 7-11
  3. Tighter focus on record keeping
  4. Close watch on employee wage deductions

Check those records and processes!

HR News on September 11 2017

HR News Wrap for the week September 4 2017 – it’s all about the rules

This week the HR news and a number of business publications have been discussing the worker dismissed while running an eBay store selling items of an erotic nature.  This article from SmartCompany sums both the case and some recommendations up quite nicely.

From a HR rules view:

  • any decision to dismiss must be made on grounds that are solid and reasonable
  • rules about and definition of “abandonment of employment” are very clear
  • secondary employment is  an area of concern yet not always reason enough to take action

In this particular case, the Commissioner noted that the “business” had made a profit of $500 in the previous year, thus questioning whether the business itself or the nature of the business were at the heart of the employer’s decision.

This case, like most if not all, is complex. What seems to have happened in the Broadspring Consulting view is that issues arose between the employer and employee, extended time off work was involved and frustration levels grew.  Every client we have worked with will comment that “stay calm and unemotional” is almost the first advice that comes from us when dealing with employee issues and tensions. In terms of the HR Rules – typically the Fair Work Act, the relevant Modern Award and internal policies: fair and reasonable action is expected. If an employer is unable to demonstrate (through evidence, documentation and/or reliable statements) that a decision to dismiss is fair and reasonable, then it is likely to be overturned

Values are important in many organisations and this case suggests that senior staff and those making the decision perceived a clash between the online store and the company values. This was not demonstrated clearly and as a result (see the above paragraph) not a valid or reliable reason to terminate employment.

Be careful of what you read and where it originates from. An article shared in HR circles coming from the US flags that the rules here in Australia are quite different. The subject 5 Ways to tell if a candidate is lying seems appealing and includes some valid tips:

  • vague descriptions – our tip would also be that language used in the application/resume is different to how the person describes it in the interview
  • unusual or missing data or information. Our Privacy legislation may prevent some candidates sharing full details of previous experience, and remember that many people have career gaps as a result of carer or family or personal illness: all of which are protected attributes under Anti Discrimination legislation. Ask questions to get clarity but do not take action on assumptions or bias.
  • you get negative cues in the interview. Nervous people send off clear signs that they are nervous. The question here is whether they are nervous because they are lying or because it is a job interview. Please also be aware that some body language is affected by cultural and family background.
  • reference checks provide conflicting information. The article suggests checking in on your own network – be careful. Information obtained by third party means that affects your decision can be considered defamation. I do agree with the tip of noting any conflicting information and would also suggest that you confirm the working and reporting relationship between the candidate and the referee.
  • online information does not match. Can hardly believe that this was included. The article even debunks this as a suggestion.

We would also suggest that you seek out evidence of workplace behaviour that is consistent with your company culture and values.

Consistency with rules is important. This app;lies very much to internal procedure and “house rules”.  It is very difficult to explain why one person or group should follow a particular procedure if another person or group has been allowed to act in contrast to that procedure.

There are always exceptions and when these are made deliberately then an exception to the policy is fine, and in fact can actually strengthen the business. It is one way that many organisations ensure flexible work practices for their staff.

The example top of mind this week comes from client experience. Let’s consider three examples

  • Many organisations have a peak period of the year where leave applications are discouraged
  • Other organisations have a specific annual shutdown where staff are compelled to take annual leave
  • Organisations who provide a “tool of trade” vehicle restrict out of hours use

It is really important that procedures and house rules such as those above are applied consistently. If not consistently applied, it opens up avenues for tension and dispute.


Wrap of HR News

Insights to HR News August 7 2017

Broadspring Review of HR News 31 July 2017

Weekly HR Wrap July 24 2017