Federal Coach

By Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service

Blog archive

Federal Coach: The human resources black hole

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

Human resources (HR) seems like a black box. Once we submit our paperwork for action, sometimes it sits there forever. In several cases, an action has taken several months to a year! What takes so long? Why can’t HR be more transparent? - Federal manager, U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Transparency requires clarity from both sides, and as a result, I’m going to challenge you by asking: Might you be part of the problem?

Next time you have an HR action or you need to work with another management function within your agency, I suggest taking the following approach.

First, don’t just simply complete the paperwork and send it their way. Instead, take a moment to sit down with your HR colleagues and explain why your request is time sensitive and critical to your team’s performance and results.

Next, let your colleagues know that you are willing to invest your time – and that of your team – to help them complete the action as quickly as possible. Try shifting this “us vs. them” mentality, and work to create a sense that you’re one team working to achieve a common goal.

Finally, set some common expectations for regular updates and then put them on your calendar to initiate the follow-up. While you may be focused on completing your one action, your agency’s HR folks will be processing multiple actions simultaneously. Therefore, it would be a good idea for you to contact them regularly to assess progress and ask where you and your team can be helpful.

If you use this approach and find that the situation has not changed, contact the head of the office and explain that you’re willing to work together, but you need better support from their team operating on the front lines.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Jul 08, 2011 at 4:02 PM


Reader comments

Thu, Jul 21, 2011 San Juan, PR

I have worked in the Post Office for the last 26 years and I agree wholeheartedly. HR is a joke, a black hole oe whatever other name you want to call it. Forget about Exams etc. It was bad to begin with but it is much worse now. Several years ago we had open exams for the public. 25,000 people took the exam. Not one person was ever hired from that list. HR made up their oen criteria.

Wed, Jul 20, 2011

When HR was part of our activity, I had no problem doing business with them. Now that they are part of the region and located in town behind locked doore, they require that you make an appointment but don't answer the phone or return calls.

Wed, Jul 20, 2011

Tom - I've been in HR for over 30 years. Your advice is right on the money. Thank you!

Wed, Jul 20, 2011

HR in our organization is a joke. The emphasis on using USAJobs rather than their good ole boy network is rather superficial since hiring decisions continue to be done in the way they've always been done. I overheard an HR person tell a group of new employees that they couldn't figure out why people wanted to work in HR and I wanted to say, "Because you all protect your own and promote your own and your department is almost incestuous in how people are hired and promoted. Do you think we're all stupid." HR is a black hole and always will be.

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