HR Is Not Your Henchman

Whose fault is it that when employees interact with HR it’s to fill out forms or because they screwed up?

“It’s the organizational culture’s fault that sees HR as a disciplinarian when HR should be a valued partner to make you successful,” declared Erin Lawless to the hoots and applause of a DisruptHR Denver audience.

As you might expect from the title of her presentation — “HR is Not a Dominatrix. Put Down Your Whip” — Lawless is blunt and direct about what needs to be done to change the perception and role of HR. The first step, her “Tool #1,” is for HR to get out of the disciplinary business: “HR is not your henchperson.”

The corporate director, human resources for Colavria Hospitality, Lawless adroitly points out how an employee’s perception of what HR is begins on their first day. “Think of your employee handbook. New employee opens it. They see a disciplinary policy on their first day. That is setting the tone of your organization for failure.”

So, her “Tool #2 is, “Trash your disciplinary policy.” Yet Lawless is not championing anarchy. “This is not to dissuade you from holding people accountable. Accountability,” she says near the end of her 5 minutes,”is a really good thing.” Instead, her tools are to get HR out of being the company henchman and to focus on being “there to leverage your talent and make your business successful.”

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