Employees who blame HR are uniformed. Leaders who blame HR are weak.
HR is often seen as the “bad guy”. A controversial policy or difficult job action is taken, or worse a rogue employee is allowed to run rampant, and the fingers promptly point to HR. Why did/n’t HR do x?
Employees can be forgiven for not understanding how/where decisions are made. Leaders who use HR to avoid responsibility for tough choices are bad leaders.
We see this recently as companies make HR deliver the message about returning to the office. Employees blame HR for the move. And many leaders are happy to let HR take the heat. HR didn’t make that choice, the leaders did. HR probably argued against it. They’re people too.
Employees can be forgiven for thinking HR has power. They see HR around whenever bad things happen. HR often delivers bad news. HR is who gets called when things get squirrelly. But correlation is not causation.
HR is, at best, the corporate cop. Their role is not to make the law, just monitor its enforcement. Show up on the scene and document the aftermath. Come in when things are getting ugly and try to understand, to calm things down. And submit their findings to the court.
Leadership is the rest of the justice system: the court, the judge, and the lawmakers. They make the policies, decide the cases, and set the sentences. Sure, they often listen to the testimony and recommendations of HR, but the decision is theirs, their word is final.
Things get confused when Leaders use HR to implement the policy, to execute the sentence, to decree the decision. Often to brazenly obfuscate the process and avoid the heat. Leaders who use HR like this are shameless. And just make things worse.
Strong leaders make hard decisions and own them. They back them up with robust justification and clear language. They use those moments to reinforce the culture they’re trying to build or preserve.
Deferring the messaging to HR is not only weak, but it abdicates ownership of organizational culture to a support function. One that doesn’t really have any power or control over … much of anything. The entire org gets confused about who decides such things.
When you made tough decisions, don’t hide behind HR. Don’t let employees think HR has the power, even if it seems to make things easier.
Claim the power, own the decisions, be a leader.