When compliance specialist Milou Lammers was interviewing for compliance roles, she consistently asked potential employers about their HR departments. Here, she shares what their answers have to say about the organizations’ cultures.
When coming up with my list of potential questions to ask in interviews during my recent job search, one that I put an asterisk next to was “does your company have a human resources department?”
While most of the jobs I was looking at were dedicated jobs for compliance professionals that reported to a compliance team, I wanted to make sure that employees throughout these organizations also had an effective means for internal reporting through trained human resources (HR) professionals outside of the compliance space.
Generally, during the interview process, candidates ask the hiring authority fewer than five questions. If I only had the opportunity or time to discuss five or so questions, why was this one of my top five? Prioritizing HR as one of my lines of questioning may be surprising considering that in my experience, the HR department, while generally staffed with very talented and motivated individuals, has always been the most readily poked fun at by other departments.
It seems like the HR department is considered the corporate enforcer, similar to your grade school’s principal’s office, that puts a stop to a wide range of challenging issues, ranging from serious infractions to implementing a “no nerf gun” policy in the office.
While HR departments may not be the most-loved department in an office environment, they are hugely important to creating a culture of compliance and helping employees do the right thing day in and day out. This is why I wanted to make sure my future employer had an effective HR program.
Since there are numerous employment and labor laws globally that impact multinational organizations due to their unique footprints in different countries, an HR team needs to be staffed with individuals that understand these applicable laws and regulations and how they fit into your larger corporate framework. This familiarity with the legal framework surrounding HR issues should be the foundation upon which an HR department is built. The individuals managing and working within this group should be compassionate individuals who are approachable, knowledgeable and transparent. This department should empower employees to feel comfortable and protected when reporting issues, asking questions and providing suggestions.
But aren’t these the things – passion, knowledge, understanding of the laws, approachability, transparency and ethical behavior – you should also be looking at when bringing on new compliance talent? Even though these two departments should be set up as separate entities that work together, the talent they bring on should be motivated by similar goals, such as improving corporate culture, reputation and employee engagement, as well as helping employees do the right thing. Compliance departments, HR departments and their respective people should have similar goals in order to work effectively together to effect corporate change.
I prioritized inquiring about HR departments during my job search because I have worked for a company that did not have a traditional HR function. What I mean by a “traditional” HR function is an HR department that has trained individuals with backgrounds in employee reporting, policy and enforcement. The organization had a talent team dedicated to bringing on new people, but it did not have a dedicated HR department. While, at first, I didn’t find this alarming, I do now.
What I have learned from that experience is that without passionate and informed HR professionals who create a safe and protected space for employee reporting, your corporate culture and employee experience will suffer. During my job search, if I noticed that a company did not have an HR department or if during an interview, the answer to my original question was “no,” that was a red flag.
Why did I care so much? I have learned that it is important for employees to have an official channel to ask questions, bring up potential concerns and discuss challenges in a work environment and to propose and effect positive change. To create a positive work environment and working culture, you need to bring in dedicated and passionate individuals with the right training and background.
If the answer to my original question was “yes, we do have an HR department,” my follow-up question was “what is the HR department’s role in the organization, and how are they supported?” If the department’s sole role was focused on bringing on talent, this was another red flag.
Many companies consider recruiting or “talent” departments and HR departments to be one and the same. While the recruiting team may work within or closely or with the larger HR department, these two functions should not be treated the same. While it is hugely important to hire excellent talent through successful recruiting practices, it is even more valuable to retain your talent. It is frustrating to see good people leave a company because of a negative culture, and an ineffective or unsupported HR department may be to blame.
If your company has an HR department, these may be some signs that your HR department is ineffective or unsupported:
- The department’s main goal is recruiting and bringing on new talent.
- The HR professionals in the group have backgrounds in talent acquisition and recruiting only versus backgrounds in conflict resolution, training and development or policy development.
- The company does not emphasize the importance of professional development.
- Employees do not have a formal channel to report issues.
- Employees do not feel empowered to raise concerns or issues to professionals in the HR department.
- There is a high rate of employee turnover.
These indicators may point to an ineffective HR department. If you want to change or improve your corporate culture, your organization should feel motivated to reshape this group to make sure employees feel supported and protected. As compliance professionals, we need to make sure that our HR departments are supported by the organization and are helping employees feel empowered to do the right thing.
Ethics and compliance departments should work hand-in-hand with HR to ensure policies and procedures are in place to comply with the organization’s applicable laws and regulations. Additionally, these two teams should work together to build a culture of ethics and compliant behavior. Creating a culture where employees feel comfortable voicing concerns and reporting misconduct is best achieved by hiring dedicated professionals trained in HR and compliance.
Your HR team can provide support to effect corporate change if they have backgrounds in policy management, change management, training and enforcement. Your compliance department may be responsible for developing trainings and policies and processes, but it is helpful if you have organizational “buy-in” from other departments, and an HR department can usually be an excellent cheerleader. Your HR department should be focusing on staffing both HR professionals expert in talent acquisition and recruiting and HR professionals trained in HR compliance.
Your HR team should be committed to helping employees do the right thing and to creating a culture of empowerment, development and success. If you are looking to revamp your HR department, you and your colleagues should be mindful of bringing on talent who will help continue to push a culture of compliance in your organization.
HR and compliance departments should be working together. While each department’s responsibilities may be different, they share common goals. Both departments want to bring about corporate change, implement effective policies and ensure that people understand where to come to report problems and provide suggestions for improvements.
Without an HR department that is supported and empowered by top management, it will be more challenging to influence change and bring about compliant behavior and employee happiness. People want to work for companies that treat them well and do the right thing. Investing in a dedicated department to help employees achieve their professional goals, comply with applicable laws and regulations and feel heard is important to the success of every company.