Should human resources directors be part of the executive team?

On the tribal government side of the street, the executive team is frequently comprised of the tribal administrator, assistant administrator, finance director, and Council liaison. On the other side of the street, the casino’s executive team includes the general manager, assistant general manager, gaming director and director of resort activities. The question posed is whether the human resource director should be included as part of the executive team on both sides of the street.

The answer is a strong yes…the human resources director must be part of the executive team.  Instead of supporting this conclusion with affirmations, the better method for supporting the conclusion is to ask the following question:

What are the hazards in closing the executive team’s door to the human resources director?

There are at least eleven hazards in failing to include the human resources director on the executive team.

The first hazard is less meaningful due process.  For employers to provide due process, employers must clearly define the rules, hold employees accountable to those rules and give employees an opportunity to be heard.  Human resource practitioners define the rules through employee handbooks, standard operating procedures and job descriptions.  Moreover, these practitioners help supervisors hold employees accountable to those rules.  Finally, human resources practitioners design and guide the grievance procedure which is the best forum for employees to be heard.  These three ingredients of due process (define the rules, accountability and an opportunity to be heard) are critical to the delivery of due process and human resources is its strongest proponent.  On the other hand, less meaningful due process is the natural consequence of failing to include the human resources director as part of the executive team.

The second hazard is less consistency in employment related decisions.  Employers frequently are a collection of silos divided into departments.  Each department is a fiefdom which should exercise discretion in employment related decisions.  These silos can increase inconsistent decisions which can undermine employee morale.  A human resource director with direct access to the executive team can play the important role of helping individual supervisors make decisions which are consistent with precedent set by the employer’s past practices.

The third hazard is a failure to follow the complex web of employment laws.  There are too many laws which intersect with the employer-employee relationship and with volume comes complexity.  That complexity is increased exponentially for tribal employers because of the fuzzy and changing rules which define the relationship between the tribe and its employees.  The Director of Human Resources is in the best position to stay ahead of theses complex rules.

The fourth hazard is less employee morale.  When the personnel function is an afterthought to allegedly more important topics like finance, marketing, natural resources or child welfare, employee morale suffers.  Understand, finance, marketing, natural resources and child welfare are critically important but the employees working in those departments will be much more effective if morale is high.  When morale is high the work in finance and child welfare gets done.  When human resources is not part of the executive team, the employees and the departments served by employees suffer.

The fifth hazard is an increase in politics impacting employment related decisions. There is politics everywhere and when elected officials are introduced to the equation, the perception of politics playing a role in personnel matters is increased.  An independent human resources department making decisions based on the employee handbook and other defined terms and conditions of employment lessens the actual and perceived impact of politics.  Politics good and bad will never disappear, but the impact of politics is mitigated by an independent human resources department.

The sixth hazard is an increase in employer complacency.  Without the fuels of positive reinforcement, a fair working environment, and meaningful work, employees suffer. Complacent employers forget about positive reinforcement, providing a fair working environment and selling the importance of the work employees perform for tribal employers.  Strong people in the human resources department provide the fuel necessary to prevent complacency.

The seventh hazard is uneven compensation.  There are at least two concerns when considering equitable employee pay.  Are the non-supervisory employees earning wages which reflect the marketplace and their relationship to similarly qualified colleagues?  Secondly, does pay vary significantly from director to director and if so are those disparities justified by the market?  Employers need to be able to objectively address the 75 cent difference in hourly wages for employees working side by side in maintenance while at the same time be able to address the $25,000 difference between Director A and Director B.  When the human resources director has a strong hand in defining pay throughout the organization, the challenge of uneven compensation is mitigated.

The eighth hazard is a failure to exercise tribal preference in hiring and promotion.  The application of preference in hiring, layoffs, promotions and other aspects of employment needs attention at the highest levels of the organization.  An empty chair in the executive suite, where the human resources director should be, will de-emphasize the importance of preference.  When preference is de-emphasized, tribes fail to leverage the significant talent within tribal communities.

The ninth hazard is an increase in knee jerk employer reactions.  Tribal Councils, Tribal Administrators and Department heads of tribal governments and enterprises make excellent employment decisions everyday.  However, there are times when employee behavior nudges knee jerk reactions which drive litigation and poor morale.  For example, allegations of sexual harassment generate strong feelings both for and against the victim and alleged perpetrator.  A premature decision without the benefit of a thorough investigation will increase the likelihood of a poor employment decision.  A strong Human Resources Director can minimize the use of knee jerk decision-making.

The tenth hazard is an increase in jerks in the workplace.  Some employers tolerate jerks in the workplace because no one wants to deal with them.  Strong Human Resource Directors which have real influence can deal with jerks in the workplace by rehabilitating them or giving them an opportunity to work for another employer.

The eleventh hazard is less active training calendars.  Too often training of employees takes a back seat to getting the job done.  Human Resources Directors can elevate the value of training for new and seasoned employees, and if done correctly, place employees in a better position to get the job done.

Recommendation:  For the reasons set forth herein, human resource directors should have a secure seat at the executive team’s table.

About the Author:

Richard McGee is a lawyer in Minneapolis, Minnesota who focuses his practice on gaming, gaming regulation, tribal employment and litigation in tribal, state and federal courts.  Richard has the privilege of working with tribes and tribal organizations on Human Resources matters including training.  Additionally, tribes ask Richard to address specific topics while incorporating the tribe’s related laws and policies into the sessions.  This is an invitation to engage Richard to produce and facilitate training for your tribe.