Corner Office: How HR Can Help Your Team

ByABC News
April 1, 2003, 2:24 PM

April 2 -- Using a popularity scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being wildly popular (Mickey Mouse, a free lunch and after-Christmas sales) and 1 being wildly unpopular (telemarketers, Congress and oil companies), where would you place human resources?

Many people who have been working more than 10 years would rate HR a 2 right in there with the IRS and members of the American Dental Association. Those people remember when HR worshipped The Rules and their favorite word was "No." They have learned to work around HR if they think about it at all.

Newer entrants to the work force are more enlightened. They know that in most places, the paper-pushing, picnic-planning policy police of yore have gone the way of T. rex and the dodo bird. That's because as business has changed, HR has changed, too. Today's HR still respects the rules, but they jump right in to help solve problems and their favorite word is, "Yes." No wonder today's employees are more likely to rate HR an 8 or 9.

Of course, there are a few holdouts of the Old Guard lurking out there and giving HR a bad name. How do you know whether your HR department is friend or foe? There's a simple test: Do they understand your part of the business? If no one in HR can tell you your department's turnover rate; how long it takes (on average) to fill a job in your department; how much your department contributes to the bottom line; or what your best performers actually do all day, then they are probably a foe. We encourage you to ignore them except when it comes to legal matters or if you think there's a chance you can turn them into a friend.

Today's HR pros are business-focused. They help engineer ways to make the business better, and to do that they have to understand the business and all its components.

That means that someone in HR can offer you a lot more than just accurate information about the vacation plan. She could help you redesign jobs, create an incentive plan to drive up profits, or find an assessment tool to improve your hiring success. If someone from HR asks about your business, is willing to hear about your business or (best of all) works alongside you in your part of the business, you've just found a valuable partner.

The trick is then getting the most out of that partnership. As with any successful relationship, it demands give and take. But if you invest in a partnership with HR (assuming there is HR where you work), you're sure to reap sizeable dividends.

Take Action

Identify your resources.

Start by figuring out how HR is structured. In some cases, a central HR function serves the entire organization. The department has specialists in each discipline of HR, such as staffing, compensation and benefits. In other organizations, each business unit or department has its own HR function; usually HR generalists who have broad knowledge in all areas of HR staff them. Some large companies have a hybrid of these two models.