Should HR be the organisational 'police'?

Hi all,

I have always understood that in HR we're not here to 'police' adherence to policy and what managers can and can't do. Instead we are there to advise on best practice, organisational policy and employment law - and it is for senior managers to then make final decision on the actions that are needed.

Sometimes HR can get the blame for things going wrong in an organisation, when staff member's ask 'why didn't HR do something'? When in fact, the HR team may have strongly advised against something happening but does not have final authority and the manager does it anyway.

What are your views? In what contexts should HR be the organisational 'police' (if at all), and when should we be advising and then leaving it to the manager to make their final decision?



  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    15 Jun, 2021 11:11

    Hi Jody,

    Whike we wait for colleagues... a couple of very recent discussions that are a variation on this broad theme...

    Management asking HR to 'bend' processes

    HR balancing act - business partner / employee advocate
  • In reply to Steve Bridger:

    Thanks for sharing Steve - good debates and not clear cut!
  • Hi Jody

    HR does have a checking function (right to work checks, would be an example). We don't just issue policies but have a role in feeding back to line management when they are not followed. How we do this depends on whether the off piste activity is a legal matter or simply not in accordance with how an organisation has decided some internal matter will be handled.

    IMO, however, whenever you hear someone saying "where was HR?" after a scandal has hit the headlines, it becomes clear that they have a fundamental misunderstanding of what HR is and does. Managers manage. HR bods don't usually have the authority to stride in and tell people what to do. As you say, HR may have been very vocal in opposition to a course of action and done everything possible to raise the issue within the organisation, but that doesn't make such a good story.
  • I think of our function as a bit more like Public Health - so sickness (culture) prevention, proactive (company) health improvement, and advice in the event of an unfortunate behaviour outbreak ;-)

    I believe that we're there to advise and guide the Executive team / responsible managers, so they can make an informed and fair decision with the full context. I have been known to "advise" very firmly indeed - but not to tell them which path to follow, instead to make it very clear of the risks and consequences of a particular course of action.
  • In reply to Sarah:

    Sarah, I love your analogy!
  • HR are managers, we aren't divorced or separate. We share responsibility for running the business alongside our other management colleagues.
  • In reply to Keith:

    Thanks Keith, how does this then work when we don't have the authority to make decisions? Is it then about how we influence?
  • In reply to Sarah:

    This is a great way of putting this thanks Sarah
  • In reply to Elizabeth Divver:

    Thanks for sharing this Elizabeth, yes that is very clear - there is a checking function for HR, especially around aspects of employment law, but then there's also the part where managers are the ones who have the authority to make decisions.
  • In reply to Jody:

    Jody said:
    Thanks Keith, how does this then work when we don't have the authority to make decisions? Is it then about how we influence?

    Its odd isn't it? You don't hear finance saying they tried to influence  the controls over how money is spent but werent successful so so be it (if not exactly how it is) or very often marketing saying well we advised them we use this style but they did the exact opposite. Its about understanding power, influence and authority and not being ashamed or too timid  to use it when necessary.  Most HR people have far more power than they think they just use it badly

  • In reply to Keith:

    Ah so interesting thanks Keith I will ponder that one!
  • In reply to Keith:

    I do also think that if Finance says that something must be a certain way or even says no, it is far less likely to be questioned than an HR opinion. In the management arena, the HRD and the FD may both have chartered status but IMO the FD has more clout. The FD is often more highly paid as well.
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    16 Jun, 2021 11:45

    In reply to Elizabeth Divver:

    Certainly within the local authority world, the HR lead will often report to the S151 - i.e the function of the most senior finance officer.
  • Hi Jody, I've been reading the answers and enjoying the conversation your question has sparked so thank you for posting it.

    I'd echo many of the comments below and I'd add a few things. HR has a role to play in compliance as Elizabeth illudes to although calling it checking is a nice touch. Sometimes our role is to uphold the line on areas and that can make us unpopular in the moment. Sometimes it's about what a coach colleague of mine quotes as radical candor, 'we give not what is wanted, we give what's needed'.

    I've always advised and tried to trust managers and leaders to do the right thing. If they don't take the advice, this is their choice although it might come with consequences. If a leader or manager was going to do something I did not feel was in the best interests of the individual, themselves or the business I'd have no issue raising that with them.

    If they went ahead anyway, I would have no issue speaking to them about the impact or unintended consequences of their actions. Holding managers and leaders to account, supporting their on the job development and the development of the culture and context in which we all operate, all part of the role. They might view that as 'policing' or this term might be used as a means of avoiding ownership....that's not how I would view it.