If you are a small company, you probably have one person responsible for all your HR functions. If you are a larger organisation, chances are you have an HR generalist in charge and perhaps a number of HR specialist positions.
The lines can be a bit blurred at times, but in looking at the difference between HR generalist and HR specialist responsibilities, we can generally say that the generalist needs to be a “Jack of all trades” while the specialist focuses on only one specific aspect of the HR function, such as labor relations.
An HR specialist’s duties and responsibilities, while somewhat limited, are still powerful. In their own little “kingdom,” they wield responsibility for important aspects of the lives of company employees, and poor performance can be enough to ruin a company.
1. Legal issues
One of the key HR specialist skills that is sought by companies is expertise in the area of federal, state, and local employment law and regulations. From workplace safety, to Title IX, to regulations involving interviewing and hiring practices, to dealing with complaint filing, the legal issues are potentially fatal.
If an HR specialist believes that he or she has supreme knowledge in this area, and says so, they’re probably wrong. You want to hear things like, “We need to talk to our lawyer(s).” A major lawsuit with a huge financial settlement can literally kill a company.
When a legal issue arises, the specialist must take the time to investigate the details of the issue. Even if s/he makes a decision, that decision must be run by legal counsel just to confirm that it is within the parameters of existing law. At other times, when a legal issue is large and/or complex, an attorney should always be consulted.
2. Recruitment and staffing
HR specialists in charge of recruitment and staffing must be able to hear what department heads want, to craft accurate job descriptions and job postings, and then to screen resumes and CVs, in order to pick the right candidates for interview.
If department heads are consistently getting candidates that are not meeting their expectations, something is wrong. Granted, finding qualified candidates for some positions may be difficult, but there could be issues with the specialist in charge. Experts from the CV editing company Resumes Centre state, in fact, that often they see job postings that are difficult to interpret and fully understand. When this happens, good candidates may not even apply.
Recruitment and staffing specialists who are not supplying good candidates are usually lazy. They are not careful about the details of the job postings; they are not screening resumes carefully enough; and they may not be using all of the digital tools out there to publicise openings.
If department heads are complaining about the caliber of candidates being sent to them, key positions go unfilled. Unfilled positions mean projects are delayed or scrapped – not a good thing.
3. Policies without exception
HR policies determine the relationships between the company and its employees. They are important and provide stability and fairness. But there are times when the “rules” must be bent to accommodate individual circumstances. A recent example is thus: a mid-level supervisor had a pretty bad year – lots of personal and family illness and emergencies. All of his leave was used up. Then, his mother contracted brain cancer and died quite quickly. He needed three days to bury his mom. The HR specialist refused to bend the “rule” and docked the employee for those three days.
This scenario is one in which an exception should have been made. There are other options that do not involve docking the employee. An HR specialist who is inflexible and not able to see other options or reasons for exceptions, will create low morale among the workforce, and can result in higher employee turnover – that’s expensive.
Total rigidity and work in a human-intensive environment never works.
4. Reactive rather than proactive approach
There really is an approach to management that is just crisis management, and HR specialists are not immune to this approach. When a specialist devises his/her policies and rules, and then sits back and waits for a crisis to handle, this can be devastating to a company. Many of the crises can have legal implications too. An effective HR specialist has his/her “ear to the ground” and anticipates potential problems.
And, if good relationships have been developed with employees, issues will be brought to the specialist’s attention before they become crises. A proactive approach can head off some potentially severe problems.
5. Reactions to issues = a new policy
When an HR specialist is weak and unable to address issues with individual employees, he/she responds by developing a new policy and informing all employees of it. A simple example is an employee who consistently has a mess on his/her desk due to rather continual eating throughout the day and not cleaning up the remnants. Rather than addressing the issue with that employee, the specialist simply writes a new policy forbidding any eating at desks. Way to anger all the other employees who are very responsible eaters at their desks. Employees will become angry and resentful, and rebel in very passive-aggressive ways. Your bottom line will suffer.
6. Avoids data
There is an overwhelming amount of research and data out there that relates to every specialist function of HR. Smart specialists read this research and consider it carefully as they develop policies and procedures. And they keep data within their own organizations – turnover rates by department, performance reviews by department, and more. This information should drive activity out of that office. HR specialists who do not want to look at numbers are dangerous – they can be a roadblock to company progress.
These are only six red flags, but they are big ones. Letting these red flags continue without any action can be fatal to the success of any organisation.