Holding Human Resources Accountable

by Sharlyn Lauby on January 27, 2013

A reader posted a very interesting comment on accountability that I can’t resist writing about:

I’m curious about the accountability of the HR function. In any organization, who holds HR accountable? This assumes that HR is not investigating itself regardless of title. Thanks.

My first thought was that each of us is accountable for our own actions. In the case of human resources, we have a professional organization that has established an ethical standard for the profession. We should hold ourselves accountable to the standards set by our profession.

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Of course, the reader takes this notion that we’re all individually accountable for our actions off the table. (Darn it all!)

But we’re still accountable. Every department within an organization is accountable to some other entity. Whether it’s the president to the shareholders, or finance to the auditors, even employees to customers…we’re all accountable to someone. In the case of human resources, we’re accountable on several levels.

From a technical standpoint, some HR departments are audited. In a large organization, an internal auditor might conduct the audit. There could also be audits by a third-party, if your organization uses an outside auditing firm.

From a legal standpoint, human resources might be audited by government agencies to ensure compliance with laws or proper completion of employee documents (one of the first that comes to mind is the I-9).

I’ve also worked with companies that hire consultants to come in and audit their files as a way to hold themselves internally accountable.

This doesn’t even take into account the idea that human resources is held accountable by employees for actions such as researching and investigating their concerns, keeping information confidential, and being available to discuss career development.

It also doesn’t factor in senior management holding human resources accountable for knowing the business, contributing to the operation, and providing pertinent data to help move the organization forward.

Now that I think about it…HR is accountable to almost everyone. The logical next question? Is everyone holding HR accountable?

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