TIP TUESDAY: Biggest Mistakes New HR Managers Make (part I)

(from SHRM online)

Do you remember your first HR job? Whether it was three years ago or three decades ago, chances are that one of your strongest recollections is of a mistake you made. You might have trusted the wrong person, or made an error in judgment that affected a colleague or customer. That’s why we asked the HR community to tell us via social media and e-mail the biggest mistakes they see being made by new HR practitioners. Some shared their own oops  moments, while others described the blunders of the newbies in their workplaces. Take a look at these common trouble areas to gain some insight into how they might inform your own professional journey.

1. Not Balancing Between Employee Advocate and Company Rep

The ongoing sexual harassment scandals involving celebrities and politicians highlight the tightrope HR must walk between advocating for employees while also representing the company. When HR leaders get this balance right, everyone wins.

However, finding the proper equilibrium between serving management and workers takes confidence, diplomacy and expert communication skills, which can take years of practice ”and years of getting it wrong ”to cultivate.

Indeed, many people agreed with Jason Hudson, SHRM-SCP, an associate with Edwards Ragan in Kingsport, Tenn., who characterized HR’s biggest rookie mistake as being too eager to please management.  A similarly popular opinion: Lora Hassani, SHRM-SCP, an HR consultant in Redlands, Calif., and president of the Inland Empire SHRM Chapter, described the worst blunder as giving in to management pressure when you know they’re in the wrong. 

‹Many of you noted that it’s also not uncommon for neophytes to err on the side of advocating for employees and forgetting that protecting the company and its interests is an important part of the job.

2. Being Too Friendly and 3. Sharing Confidential Information

That brings us to No. 2, which Carole Robinson described as cheerleading  ”in other words, trying too hard to please everyone. HR is not about ˜liking people,’  commented Robinson, owner of HR consulting firm Check It Off in Granville, Ohio. It’s about understanding people, business practices and regulatory demands, as well as developing a culture that allows the business and the staff to thrive. 

That means your friendships [and] personal needs are secondary to your obligation to your employer,  wrote Josh Seitz, SHRM-CP, director of HR at Horizon Credit Union in Spokane Valley, Wash.

Remaining professional is also critical to recruiting efforts. Refrain from asking candidates personal questions, advised Sara Gerardo, an executive recruiter at Prime Financial Recruiting in Rockwall, Texas. It’s tempting to want to chat and really get to know a candidate, but it’s important to stick to employment-related questions only,  she commented.

The No. 3 mistake was sharing confidential information, and it  was a biggie. Several people pointed out that handling confidential employee data ” essentially understanding who needs to know what,  as Tanasha Bethel, a leave administrator at Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. in Newport News, Va., put it ”is one of HR’s biggest responsibilities. That’s why it’s so important to get it right and why this mistake can be hard to recover from.

It’s a lesson to be taught, learned and respected before anything else,  wrote Brian Arnesman, SHRM-SCP, senior HRIS analyst at a New Jersey-based insurance company. Using confidential information about other employees in our own career negotiations and gripes, or even sharing with non-stakeholding HR team members, is totally unacceptable. Anyone who makes the mistake is lucky to get a second chance. 

4. Forgetting that Your Employees Are Humans

HR professionals are certainly not alone in their increased reliance on technology and data to do their jobs. Yet no one has figured out how to automate empathy and critical thinking ”two cornerstones of being a successful HR leader. So, while learning to leverage new tools is important, skilled practitioners never forget what the H  in HR stands for.

The biggest mistake I see ¦ is not digging deeper to understand the employees they support and treating them like numbers on a spreadsheet or just a resource,  commented Mandy Kurfurst, an HR manager at One Community Health in Hood River, Ore. They miss the human aspect of what they are doing. You can be objective while still knowing your people. Get up, walk around, be present with the people you support. It goes a long way toward breaking the negative stereotype we are labeled with. 

Suggestions for developing the human touch included thinking of HR as a customer service role, in which managers and employees are your customers, and embracing an open-door policy as much as possible. Allow the staff that you support to ask questions and don’t just shove them off to your [online] portal,  suggested Sandra Rojo, SHRM-CP, an HR representative at HORIBA Instruments Inc. in Irvine, Calif.

5. Believing HR Is One-Size-Fits-All

SHRM’s new CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, has described HR as both an art and a science. While practicing the profession requires in-depth knowledge ”and there are some hard-and-fast rules to follow ”the right  solution to a problem can often vary depending on the situation, organization, industry, the business’s goals and the people your company serves.

You need to understand your organization very well using your business acumen,  wrote Salman Alsuhail, an HR consultant and trainer in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Then see what fits and what works.  As many of you pointed out, there are rarely textbook answers in the real working world.

Yet new professionals often fall into the trap of thinking there should be a black-and-white answer to everything ”when in fact there is a lot of gray in the workplace. Or, as Ivette Dupuis, SHRM-SCP, put it, her biggest mistake was failure to recognize that HR is more than simply knowing the right answer. Over my 20-year career, I’ve learned the difference between imparting knowledge and influencing change or inspiring others.  Dupuis is an HR consultant and adjunct instructor in the Orlando/Tampa area.

Check next week’s TIP TUESDAY for the other five.