The Specialist

Are you comfy?

In the U.S. we have Employee Relations Specialists. We might call them managers or reps, and frequently just ER, but get to a certain size and you will employ these people too. Not to be confused with Industrial Relations people from the 1950s discipline, these people do a very different – and difficult – job.

Now: if you are fortunate to have a good one, make sure their pay is fair and that you listen to them. A good ER person will save you dollars and time which, the last time I checked, was important in both the private and public sectors.

A good specialist will not, however, make you comfortable.

Let me explain.

If a fundamental complaint of the HR generalist is that they are sometimes perceived as either pro-management or pro-employee, for the ER specialist there is no perception: each group is convinced they are a pawn of the other. This is a demanding role.

Specifically the specialist has to uncover bad behaviors and recommend solutions. An advanced specialist might even be able to diagnose root cause and make suggestions around training, development, practices or hiring. That’s a lot of work.

Yet let’s look at the primary function of the role: to protect the culture and stated values of the organization as measured by behavior. Think about what that means: an internal resource raising the alarm when something’s askew. How welcome do you think that is?

For the manager who cuts policy corners in the name of production, the employee who abuses practice for personal needs and the department who sets their own standards since they don’t see the need to be consistent with the enterprise it is not welcome at all to be told, “we need to look at this.”

The ER specialist is unwelcome in their own land.

The very nature of their role requires them to look critically at behaviors, incidents and events to determine if they’re truly one-off or systemic. To determine how far the malfeasance extends. To determine how high to reach to resolve problems.

These are not popular activities.

The ER specialist will make you uncomfortable with their questions, with their requests for documentation, with their inquiry into past practice. They will make you very uncomfortable when they begin to assess the role race, color, gender and so forth may have played in the circumstances they’re examining. They will make you extremely uncomfortable when they come back and ask to hear your story again.

And yet, they will save you, if they are any good. They will keep small problems small, handle big issues decisively, and above all, affirm with the workforce the reality of your values.

Whatever they may be.

Of course, you could hire a weak ER person, and they will make you much more comfy. They won’t do a damn bit of good however and will likely cause even bigger problems.

So put on your big girl or boy pants, find (or keep) the best ER specialist you can, and listen to them.

The comfort you will eventually realize is the peace you get with a healthy, vibrant culture. L o. C. Cc.

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