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Finding the Way of the
HR Warrior

By Rick Bell

Author Keri Ohlrich asks whether you’re an HR warrior or HR weenie in her new book, “The Way of the HR Warrior.” Workforce Editorial Director Rick Bell caught up with Ohlrich via email.

Workforce: Are HR practitioners viewed as second-class citizens in the corporate world?

Keri Ohlrich: Short answer: Yes. If we’re being cheeky here, we might wish to be second-class citizens, but we’re more like third-or fourth-class.

Long answer: It depends. There are wonderful leaders and cultures who adore HR, understand the value and expect high performance from the HR department. Unfortunately, the majority of businesses and employees do view HR as second-class citizens and a department that does not contribute to the bottom line.

Why second-class citizens? Let’s look at leadership, HR and society. Leadership sometimes only wants tactical and administrative HR support. Why wouldn’t they want a strategic HR professional? There are leaders who don’t want to be challenged. They simply want HR to do compliance work and payroll. You can spot companies who view HR as second-class when they have HR reporting to finance or legal. Professions that are human focused are often not given the respect and/or paid like technology-focused professions. Then let’s consider that the majority of HR professionals are females. Do I need to discuss how females are often viewed as second-class citizens?

WF: Since the beginnings of the #MeToo movement there were a lot of questions surrounding, “Where was HR?” So, where was HR?

Ohlrich: There are HR professionals who knew about harassment and did nothing. There were also amazing HR professionals who were horrified by the behaviors of their leaders. They brought issues to the attention of those leaders and nothing happened. There are many HR professionals who had the courage to address hostile work environments, discrimination and harassment, and if leaders or the board of directors don’t care about it, HR becomes stuck. So, here’s my question: Where were the leaders?

WF: Your book in part is titled “HR Warrior.” But you also cite the HR weenie. How can it be both ways?

Ohlrich: I think there are two main reasons why there is a question of why HR weenies and why that low expectation persists. One, HR is very visible in companies, and two, they are involved in emotional events (hiring, performance issues, lay offs). Therefore, when there are HR weenies, that behavior is magnified. But just as there are HR weenies, there are HR warriors who can change the perception. HR warriors can counteract the negative image of the HR weenie one employee at a time. And the same HR warrior might have been an HR weenie in the past. However, a true HR weenie wants to stay in a static position. They refuse to do the hard work to become a resilient and exemplary member of their organization. There were times in my career when I was sure I was more on the weenie side than the warrior side!