Human Resources: Partner or Red Tape?

At a neighborhood party, someone asked me what I did for a living. I told them I was a Human Resources professional. If looks could kill, I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now. J There are definitely strong opinions about HR in general. And, for good reason. It seems people can always share their HR horror stories where they needed help and support from HR but felt they were left on their own to try and figure things out.

But not all of HR is like that. There are cool HR people out there who want to partner with their customer and not hold them back with red tape and rules. Don’t get me wrong – the rules are needed. But many of the rules were created in a different day and age, and they need to be updated.

The cool HR people are willing to step out of the box and try new things. They will look for ways to understand what the customer needs and problem solve in a new way- not just go for the same old tired solutions. And the cool people will deliver the hard message, but in the absolute best way possible.

One of many defining moment s in my career was when I stepped out of the box for a customer. I was working at Valspar in Minneapolis and our finance department had turnover issues. To help solve the problem we implemented a Results-Only Work Environment, or ROWE, to give people control over how they achieve their results. It sounds easy, but it was not. Not everyone steps out of the box to be a cool HR person. Was it tough? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

When you tackle your work today as an HR professional, what are you going to be? A partner who thinks outside of the box? Or a red tape HR person who enforces policies that were created in a different day and age?

To learn more about Results-Only Work Environment, visit

Stacey Swanson can be followed on Twitter @StaceyMSwanson

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Henry Brown

Utopia would be (and I have had the opportunity to deal with a few of them) the HR Professional who uses the rules and regulations to insure that the best service is being provided. …

Yea a subtle difference but…

Stacey Swanson

Henry- Thanks for the comment. Agreed- its making sure the rules and regulations help people instead of using them against people. Cool HR is the way to go!

Terrence (Terry) Hill

I like to think of myself as one of those “cool” HR types, but I have to tell you that I’m a threatened species. Mostly because I am a believer in the concept of “First, Break All the Rules” and tend to be a risk-taker. There are basic principles, such as the Merit Principles and Prohibited Personnel Actions, that I won’t violate, but I question all policies and believe that we need to change how we provide service to our customers.

For instance, you won’t find many HR types using social networks yet. I say, why not? What are they afraid of? Our customers are using them, so why don’t we? This is just a minor example, but I am always on the hunt for new ways of doing business. That’s why I try to go to every annual SHRM conference, attend webinars, read books, and keep informed about the newest innovations in the field of business/human resources.

Carol Davison

As an hr profesional the three most common things I say are 1. I can help you with that. 2. No, you don’t have to do anything. 3. Fantastic.

I think people say no because its easy and they don’t have to be responsible.

Stacey Swanson

Carol- Totally agree with your comment. In some cases, the response of “no” can lead to less work and is the easy way out for the HR person. I love how you respond to your customers, it’s not a no. 🙂

Carol Davison

Another thing I say is “I am not an expert on (awards-strategic human capital). I would like to refer you to our awards expert Jo Blow.” I do so because because the expert understands what the customer needs more than I do and I don’t want non experts giving out wrong information.