Crazy HR Director Just Doing Her Job?
Alison Green | Ask A Manager
July 06, 2010
A reader writes:
The division that I’ve recently joined has an HR Director who seems to be extremely powerful due to the strong relationship she has with the head of our business unit. About three months into my job, I was warned by two colleagues on different occasions that I should never challenge this woman and should be very wary about any information I gave her, since it wasn’t just my survival that depended on her but that of others too. What I’ve subsequently seen has made me believe that this was excellent advice, especially when a colleague I really looked up to told me that she would be leaving mainly due to this woman’s influence on her future in the company.
Recently, I have become very worried about my own position. After about 6 months of what I believed was good performance based on occasional feedback sessions scheduled with my manager, this HR Director suddenly came into my office one day and told me that my job was on the line due to “serious issues” highlighted in relation to my communication style. The only reason I didn’t faint with shock was that I had been told confidentially by another director that something of the kind was about to happen and that he disagreed with the assessment. Thankfully I seem to be working through the situation, but my fear is that this will happen again, especially since there seems to be a history of people being pushed out in this way by the HR Director in question. I feel I have very little control of the situation, since it is impossible to make changes – assuming these need to be made – if I’m only told about them by the time they are judged to be such “serious issues” that I’m about to lose my job.
I’ve never been in a situation where HR could make decisions about people almost unilaterally, which is the case here, and would be grateful for advice you’d give me. I’d also be curious to know what your take in general is on this situation: is this lady someone who is generating a lot of fear and suspicion simply because she’s doing a really difficult job – giving feedback that perhaps other people should have given – or is there something really dysfunctional about this whole set-up, which many of my colleagues believe?
I think your last sentence raises something really insightful, and is something that a lot of people in this situation wouldn’t think to ask themselves: Is she a punitive tyrant who pushes out good people, or is she raising legitimate issues that no one else is raising? (And kudos to you for being open-minded enough to consider that.)
I don’t know the answer, but I do know that either way, something isn’t being handled correctly here. Either:
1. The HR director is some sort of out-of-control rogue whose assessments are not rooted in reality, and as a result she is pushing out good people. And for some reason the company is allowing it. This is a dysfunctional set-up. Or…
2. The HR director’s assessments of people are accurate and presumably formed with the input of their managers, and for some reason the company has charged her with being the messenger whenever there’s a serious performance problem. This is a bad set-up too, because funneling all serious feedback through the HR director is (a) unfair to employees, who aren’t hearing feedback early on or from their own managers, and (b) unfair to the HR director herself, who’s being forced into the role of the office dragon lady by having to be the bad cop while everyone else gets to play good cop.