Managers: 3 Times You Must Push Back Against HR

Last Updated Oct 19, 2010 8:00 AM EDT

Everybody Hates HR, says my BNET colleague, Margaret Heffernan. Except me, of course. I love HR with all my cold, shriveled, evil, HR heart. She argues that HR should be more respected an relied upon more. I totally agree. Give me all the power. (Insert evil laugh here.)

Seriously, there are many things you are missing out on by not listening to the trained professionals known as Human Resources. However, some of my HR colleagues are real dunces. I know because people write me and tell me about them all the time. And when you run into one of these, there are times you must, must, must push back. HR is not outside the company structure. They report into somebody. (Finance, legal and operations are popular spots for HR to rest. Sometimes, they report directly to the CEO.) Sometimes you have to take the no from HR and take it up to their boss.

Because your job as a manager is to make the business profitable, and you do that by hiring, retaining, and developing the best people, don't let HR stand in your way of doing just that. Here are 3 times when you must push back.

1. When the existing policy defies good sense. Some of you are saying, "gee, that's all the time." Well, it's not. We have reasons for our policies--a lot of them are done to protect the company from legal liabilities. It's one of our main jobs. But, blanket policies need to be removed when it makes sense to do so. For instance:

  • You want to make an offer to an internal candidate. The salary you would have offered an external candidate with the same qualifications is 20% higher than the candidate's current salary. HR says there is a limit of 10% increases for promotions. If you don't push back on this one, you'll end up with an employee who is underpaid and resents you for giving him a bad salary. This will not help the company or the department, or even save money. Why? Because when the employee gets fed up with the unfairness of the situation, he'll quit and there will be the expense of recruiting and training, plus you'll have to pay the new guy the original budgeted amount. Push back.
  • Your exempt employees have been putting in 60-70 hour weeks, answering e-mails at midnight and doing conference calls over the weekend to get a major project done. You're finished and it was a success and you want to reward them by giving them extra time off. HR says no way--exempt employees are hired to do the job. Yeah, well, they are exempt and they did the job so give them some time off. Things like that can be greater rewards than an actual increase in salary. You want employees that are willing to go through that again? Push back.
2. You need to fire a poor performer. Sure, most of the time we're happy to kick someone out the door for a position elimination or gross misconduct, but for some inexplicable reason HR can also get completely freaked out about firing someone for poor performance.

Yes, when you can say, "it's not you, it's just that the job is going away" it's easier than "It's you. It's totally you. We need someone who can do the job, not just sit in the chair." Performance is often subjective in many areas. Of course, using things like SMART objectives can be helpful, but still there is fear--fear of lawsuits. Repeat after me: You can fire anyone--black, white, gay, straight, old, young, Muslim, Christian, pregnant, American or Indonesian. What you can't do is fire someone because of these things. (In most states. I'm not offering legal advice here. NO LEGAL ADVICE HERE!)

But, you want to fire the person because of poor performance. Poor performers don't just affect their responsibilities--they affect everyone's. If HR is balking, make sure you have documentation on why this person needs to go (including documentation on how you've attempted to develop and help the employee because that is your job), and push back.

3. HR wants your employees (and you!) to attend a ridiculous training. Your time is valuable, don't let them waste it. Now, if you want valuable training, come to one led by me. It may not be helpful, but I'm entertaining. (Once I used a machete as an object lesson--now, if that doesn't violate Health and Safety Standards, I don't know what does, but it was memorable.)

Now, there are some boring training meetings you have to attend, but you need to find out which ones are for legal reasons, which ones are actually helpful and which ones are to give the training department something to do. Ask about the agenda. Ask to see information on the purpose of the training. Ask to speak to people who have been previously. If you do this and cannot see any benefit to the training, push back.

Now, you won't win every battle. But, if you want successful employees and a profitable department, sometimes you need to push back against HR.

Photo by Krikut, Flickr cc 2.0