Human Resources Takes on a PR Role

One of the things that strikes me about serving in a human resources role is how often I am asked to be the “Relationship Rapport Professional.”

This means taking on the role that is easily passed along with the words, “would you mind handling?” It could apply to responding to the perpetual friend or relative seeking employment, needing to be told no. It could apply to the over-zealous candidate who can’t seem to take no as an answer. It could apply to meeting with the insurance agent who has a connection to someone in the organization who needs to be told we’re happy with what we have.

So why does it seem that HR becomes the “expert” for these types of conversations. Because we’re the people who should have insight into what is going on within our organizations, but also have effective enough interpersonal skills that we recognize the value of networking and long term relationships. How would you respond to these types of questions/requests?

  • (Friend/relative) I know the CEO and I would love to have the opportunity to showcase my skills.

  • (Over-zealous candidate) I don’t understand what qualifications I lack for this position?

  • (Insurance agent) Why won’t you consider using my firm for your insurance needs?

It would be easy to hit “delete” or not respond to the Facebook or Twitter message. These aren’t messages from governmental agencies that threaten fines if you don’t respond. But, what about the public relations (PR) role that HR pros should always represent for their organization? Yes, most of our “customers” are internal employees, but certainly we also have external customers who seek our business and want to join our team. And these people matter because they influence others who also want to potentially do business with us or join our team.

So, as I think of myself in a PR role, I prepare my strategy for handling these tough/awkward questions/requests. I try to be honest and graceful. That doesn’t mean I spill the beans about everything -“ we can’t in today’s litigious society. That doesn’t mean that I am so brutally honest that I offend someone. I begin by responding to the request for communication. I provide realistic expectations or results, whatever applies to each communication process. I also provide some type of helpful information like: a networking contact or event to someone seeking employment; direct feedback on how a candidate could improve their qualifications or interviewing style; or a referral to an agent seeking more business.

Organizations after all, are made up of people who have relationships. And relationships take effort and communication. While it is easy to ignore some of the requests we receive for dialog, it is the cowardly and least effective way to manage and be an HR professional. So, develop some standard language that represents your organization and you personally and modify it for each challenging communication process.

Ellen Winterburn is director of Human Resources at Mindscape at Hanon McKendry, a Web marketing and development firm. Mindscape is a 2011 winner of West Michigan’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For. She can be reached at [email protected].