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Is HR Just Your Corporate Cop?

There Are Ways to Get Your Operations People and HR Working Together as Partners.

By Steve Schumacher

Several years ago, I started working with a company that had eight different operations throughout the country, a couple of regional offices and a corporate office.

I traveled around to the different sites, interviewed employees, did surveys and did an overall diagnosis of the company. One of the questions I asked was, “How often does Human Resources (HR) visit and what do they do when they visit?”

The common responses were:

  • They never come here unless someone’s getting fired.
  • We only see them when it’s union contract time.
  • Nobody likes it when they visit; they only tell us what to do and never ask us what we need.
  • They usually meet with the managers then leave, and I don’t even know their names.

After collecting all of this information, I then went to the vice president of HR and asked him how often he and his staff get out to the different locations and what do they do on-site.

He was very quick to tell me that his staff spends probably 80 percent of its time out in the field meeting with employees, hearing their concerns and building relationships with all of the operations people. It was shocking to see the completely different perceptions between what he said his staff did and what the company employees perceived.

Too often, HR is perceived as corporate staff that knows nothing about operations and fills the primary role of keeping the company out of legal difficulties.

Most of the HR people I have worked with over the years have a lot more to offer than that. There are some specific things you can do to build a working partnership between your HR staff and operations staff.

1. Work on your half of the relationship.
If you find that the HR staff are not being proactive and reaching out to you, take the initiative and reach out to them. Get to know them as people. Extend invitations to them to come visit your operations.

Take them out to lunch with you and your staff. Make them feel welcome. Operations can be a bit intimidating to corporate staff at times. After all, you are the money makers. Corporate staff spends the money.

2. Be careful how you speak about HR staff.
Pay attention to the things you say to your employees about HR staff. If you are consistently running them down in front of others, other employees will not look highly upon them nor welcome them when they come to your plant.

You are all on one team with a single mission. That team is made up of everyone, not just operations. Speak highly of the HR team, talk of them as a resource for everyone to benefit from.

3. Survey your employees.
Initiate a survey of how HR serves your employees. Work with HR on the areas they feel like they should be working on with your employees.

Build some open-ended questions and make the surveys anonymous. The HR folks I’ve met want to improve their services to employees. By establishing a baseline of how HR is currently perceived, it gives them a starting point to build from.

4. Put together “wish lists.”
Meet with your employees and develop lists of what you would like to see your HR team provide

Think of yourselves as customers of the HR staff and you are going to let them know how best to meet your needs. Put them in order of priority so the HR team knows what the main things are that you want and need. Of course, simply because you put it down doesn’t mean it can happen right away. We all know about budgets and priorities.

5. Include HR in operations meetings.
Including HR in working meetings is a good way for them to establish more credibility in the company and build relationships with you and your people. They may bring a fresh perspective, as an outsider, that you haven’t thought of. Make sure they are also included in celebrations that you have at the plant – birthdays, retirements, holidays, etc.

6. Walk with them around the site.
When HR staff comes to visit your operation, take them on a personal tour of the plant. Get them some steel-toed boots and make sure they are dusty when they leave. Get employees to tour with them also.

Again, the objective is to help them build relationships with employees. The stronger the relationship they have, the easier it will be to develop buy-in for corporate initiatives.

Yes, HR staff is too often stuck in the corporate ivory tower and have neither trust nor credibility with operations employees. That doesn’t have to continue.

They are educated professionals who want to be the best they can be for all employees. Take it upon yourself to help them be the resource they can be. Every employee is a resource and you need to make sure the company is getting a return on those resources.

The objective is to help them build relationships with employees. The stronger the relationship they have, the easier it will be to develop buy-in for corporate initiatives.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..