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I have heard this too many times: “Here comes HR. Something bad is about to happen.” 

Simply put, HR walks into workspaces and people worry about their jobs. In an effort to gain respect for our profession, I wonder if we've allowed ourselves to assume a role that is absolutely wrong for what we really want to achieve — trust.

Termination of an employee is a significant risk to the organization, even if all the proper steps are taken and the conversation is honest and accurate. HR is charged with managing the risk and, by golly, if we’re going to assume the risk, we are going to manage it. After all, it is our opportunity to grab a little power in the organization.

The performance and disciplinary process in organizations is cumbersome. If leaders were proactive about setting performance expectations, giving regular and clear feedback, and providing ample warning when the end is near, they would own the process and HR could go back to being a trusted advisor to leadership.

Do we in HR really want to allow ourselves to jeopardize the very trust we are trying to gain by micro-managing leaders in the performance and discipline process?

Many HR professionals have already turned this role back to managers. Some develop management skills, while others trust their managers to carry out disciplinary meetings without HR. Some still point the terminated employees back to HR to collect their ID, keys, cards, and get all of the appropriate forms signed.

But here is the challenge in that — at least from my perspective. HR should be trusted by leaders and by employees. By putting them in the position of being associated with terminating employees, we damage their reputation and put trust at risk.

Is there a better way? I have a couple thoughts:

  • HR should actively coach leaders in how to discuss performance and termination with their employees. When I say actively coach, I mean role play and pretend to be the employee and allow the manager to practice to the point where both have confidence that the manager will communicate clearly and not put the organization at risk.
  • If there is a difficult situation anticipated, have the next level manager participate rather than HR. This gives the next level manager insight into how the manager communicates and manages the organizational risk. It also keeps HR out of the “evil HR” role.
  • Provide a checklist to the manager for terminated employees, so that they collect the employee's ID, keys and completed forms.

Allowing HR to distance themselves from the actual employee meetings may help in preserving a reputation of trust. Visiting business units for positive reasons is also a great way to avoid being seen as “the terminator.”

Those are my thoughts. I would love to hear yours.