During the past several decades, the mainstay of Human Resources has dramatically evolved from a focus on a myriad of  administrative tasks and behind the scenes number crunching toward project implementation and people-focused agendas. This shift can be attributed to five major factors as discussed in part 1 of this series.

Darlene Berliner has been an HR executive for years, and her experience is multi faceted and vast. She works as an HR Director straddling the fence between managing the day to day responsibilities of HR, while collaborating closely with the C suite to facilitate completion of projects aligned with the organization’s strategic mission. Darlene possesses a strong business acumen and broad spectrum of HR Generalist experience. She has worked in multiple business sectors, and therefore, adapts quickly to the unique needs of each business she works with.

But, that’s not all! Darlene hold a masters degree in business administration so she understands financials and the importance of the bottom line. As an HR executive, Darlene is cognizant of the fact that the HR function, while budgeted as overhead, must show a return on investment (ROI). Darlene has seen a lot over her years working in HR, and is the best at what she does because of her understanding of where HR has been, and where future endeavors will lead the function.

The following is a synopsis of a recent interview conducted with Darlene about her unique perspective regarding some important aspects of the Human Resources operation:

Darlene, why do you consider HR an important field?

HR is so important because it resides at the epicenter of nearly everything that happens within a company. Personnel are pivotal to the success of all businesses, and one simply can not run a company effectively without a properly engaged workforce. Enter Human Resources, the department tasked with ensuring that the population at large, operate at their optimal level of productivity and achieve the greatest levels of success. Recruiting and hiring often come to mind as the main mission of the HR department.  However, the larger and more daunting task revolves around exactly what steps to take subsequent to conclusion of the hiring process. Training, evaluating, developing, keeping employees invested and motivated, and acting in accordance with policies and regulations, are just some of the many integral responsibilities that HR must tackle within a company.

How are HR team conflicts best handled?

There are often conflicts in HR, and most every business department, for that matter. The most beneficial way to handle these tensions is to listen to every side of the story because each party wants to be heard and validated. Challenges must never be viewed in black or white. Instead, keep an open mind and understand that solutions are found within multiple shades of grey.  One individual is never completely correct or incorrect, and it is therefore crucial to be measured in responding to personnel squabbles in order to ensure a complete and clear picture is obtained. A proficient HR leader must bridge that gap between the parties by laying down a strong foundation on the road to resolution and following up after mediating a conflict. This is the recipe for success in eliminating the problem and truly facilitating dialogue within the team.

How should an HR leader remain up to date on current workplace trends?

Leaders should stay abreast of new happenings in HR by establishing and maintaining relationships with both the national and local chapters of the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM).  Additionally, regular attendance at conferences, symposiums and workshops to hone and enhance skills is always a good idea. Ingest as much information as possible from articles, books and periodicals published by others in the industry. And finally, one of the most beneficial ways to keep up to date is by talking with colleagues and sharing insights and ideas.

What are some key pointers concerning proper management of an HR Department?

HR leaders must make every attempt at being grounded, approachable, and accessible. An open door policy should not be a mere phrase, but the bible by which an HR leader operates. Closed doors tend to make personnel nervous and anxious about pending changes.  Therefore, doors should only be closed for confidential conversations with others. Instructions should be given without hidden agendas. And the importance of teaching and mentoring cannot be over emphasized. Never condescend or talk down to staff, based on where names reside on an organization chart.  Always explain WHY decisions are made and WHERE the team is expected to go in the future. In other words, the big picture is crucial and the golden rule applies.

What are some of your concerns about the world of HR as it stands today?

Some individuals still have misconceptions about the role of HR. The old school model of the  “personnel department” that handles nothing but payroll and benefits questions, does, unfortunately, still exist.  Slowly it is being abolished, as more companies have come to realize that HR can be relied upon to perform so many more complex and dynamic tasks in conjunction with more routine administrative duties.

What do you think are the key attributes that make a successful HR leader?

First and foremost, a strong HR leader must possess empathy. So much of the job involves dealing with and understanding others. One must also have a head for the law; being able to read and comprehend lengthy regulations and policies, as one strives to implement these very same regulations and policies. Additionally, superior writing, attention to detail and presentation skills are required, as are collaboration and interpersonal abilities. These particular skills will lend themselves to effective relationships with everyone in the company. A talented leader must remain aware that HR is an internal service department and everyone is a potential customer; bosses, peers, subordinates, warehouse workers, vendors, you name it!

What is the ideal corporate culture for an HR executive to thrive in?

A company that sees HR as a business partner and understands that even though HR is an overhead function, funds must still be allocated such that the department can successfully achieve it’s most important objective – a motivated workforce. This is often accomplished through training initiatives, satisfaction surveys, interviews, suggestion boxes, contests and bonus programs. Moreover, an ideal corporate culture is one where the HR leader has a seat at the table, and acts as a key member of the senior  management team. As an individual, the HR executive should be able to comfortably grow in two realms: organizational growth (VP from Director), and personal growth (projects being assigned from key stakeholders in the business, i.e. the C suite, COO, CEO, CFO all working side by side to change the culture for the better).