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I have grown to believe that when people think “human resources” (HR), they think we have the answers to everything and we need to do any and all paperwork they ask of us. I like to operate in a way that we do our best to be up, close, and personal with all of our customers and we do provide accurate and thorough information. I have always felt that HR was the backbone of any agency or Army Battalion that I have worked in. HR should always strive to provide an employee friendly environment with goal-oriented individuals that thrive as they achieve more demanding challenges. As you go through those challenges is when you will see the HR’s true strengths and weaknesses. I would like to be able to compare the strengths and weakness specifically in performance management, the analytics section, recruitment and selection, training and development, HR operations, reasonable accommodations, and classification and compensation. However, due to the unique state of our agency being newly formed, it is hard to pick what their actual strengths and weaknesses are at this time since the HR is in a state of chaos and trying desperately to find its way. I am going to explain HR as a whole instead and how their strengths and weaknesses caused me to ultimately walk away from all I knew and loved. The HR division I am going to discuss is a part of a state agency called Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).
DCYF just became its own agency on July 1, 2019 thanks to Governor Jay Inslee wanting to focus on the vulnerable children and families of Washington. Currently we are in phase one of the agency’s formation. Another phase of employees will join this agency on July 1, 2020 which will complete the makeup of the multiple administrations that branched off from other state agencies. The agency was created by taking the programs focused on children, youth, and families out of two state agencies. It is a combination of Children’s Administration (CA); Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration (JRA), Behavioral Health Administration (BHA), and Economic Services Administration (ESA) from one agency called Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and the other was Department of Early Learning (DEL). When the agency is fully formed on July 1, 2020 it will be Washington’s third largest state agency with approximately 5,000 employees. The suggestion to restructure a department around just supporting children and families has been introduced to legislation for many years. Governor Inslee finally implemented the separate department and “issued an executive order establishing the Washington Blue Ribbon Commission of the Delivery of Services to Children and Families” (Smith, 2016). For many years the state has had multiple administrations within the State of Washington with components that focused on children, youth, and families but none of them focused solely on the importance of their well-being. These multiple administrations were not being properly funded and because of that the children, youth, and families were not getting the full treatment or community-based programs that were needed to thrive. Creating DCYF will focus solely on managing everything from state psychiatric hospitals to long-term care and help with a wide-range of community-based programs that will benefit the children, youth, and families of Washington State.
DCYF will ensure the well-being of children and help in the reduction of barriers that will help improve services so that better outcomes can be achieved for the children and families. This agency is an opportunity to focus on some of the most vulnerable children and families of Washington State. Thousands of families across the state struggle with issues like poverty, mental health and substance abuse issues (alcohol and drugs), child abuse (physical, sexual, mental), neglect, domestic violence, homelessness, cultural inequity as well as many other challenges. When children are exposed to these types of circumstances they will often experience major trauma and hardships in life that will impact their ability to be successful in school, work and beyond. I looked into a few statistics to try and visualize how many children and families may be affected by some of the issues named above. In 2017, there were 87,562 children born in Washington (Drake, Driscoll, Hamilton, Martin, & Osterman, 2018). For many years prior the numbers of high birth rate were consistent. I included these numbers to provide an idea of how many children are in the State of Washington that could at any time be potentially put into the “system” or supported by DCYF in the next 17 years. In 2017, an organization called “Partners for our Children” out of the University of Washington researched the amount of investigations and assessments that were conducted in the State of Washington, the amount was astonishing at 48,221 (Partners for our Children, 2019). I tried to find some numbers conducted for 2017 to show the amount of Child Protective Services cases that were accepted but they have not been evaluated yet. That is probably because of the establishment of DCYF so it may be a few years before the statistics are re-evaluated, so I will provide an amount that was ran in 2018. In 2018, the statistics were ran for the years 2009 to 2011. In that time there were 28.2% (rate per 1,000 residents under 18) of Child Protective Services (CPS) cases that were ACCEPTED for children ages 0 to 17 (Department of Health, 2018). I wanted to show these numbers because it can show the necessity of DCYF. Some of these issues could have been prevented if we had an agency a long time ago that was fully focused on the children and families. A side note, can you see how many wasted resources there are when you think of the 48,221 investigations and assessments done in 2017 versus only 28.2% cases accepted?
Being this is a new agency and such an important department, it is necessary to have a strong HR division. HR is helpful when there is a need for change and this agency is in major need of it. DCYF is not just trying to stand up as an agency but it is trying to change the culture of the agency due to the issues that existed prior to forming. HR will have to operate fully right away as the agency is being stood up even to know we lack processes and procedures. There is many federal and state laws that need to be adhered to; policy needing developing; and expectations needing set for the employees that are all tailored to DCYF mission and values. There is collective bargaining agreements (CBA) that HR needs to be familiarized with and consult on since the majority of the state employees are represented by the union. HR is heavily involved with the union and management so it is important to have strong HR employees and organized sections so we can build and maintain a healthy relationship with our union partners, customers, and stakeholders. Some major duties covered by HR is training and development, onboarding, recruitment/selection, classification and compensation, analytics, investigations, performance management, reasonable accommodation, and labor relations.
Our DCYF HR has a few strengths that I did not see in the military HR group I was a part of. The actual organizational structure of the HR division is unique in the way it is broken down with the pockets of HR sections. Our specialized sections are Reasonable Accommodation; Classification and Compensation; Labor Relations; HR Operations; Training and Development; HRMS Analytics; Diversity/Inclusion; and Workers’ Compensation. Having everything specialized and broken up is a strength because it provides the opportunity to have a lot of subject matter experts ready and available for the customer at all times. Another strength is the amount of HR consultants that are full of new ideas that could benefit the agency since the majority of the employees have a ton of knowledge from many different state agencies and even from private sector perspective. This agency being brand new has the opportunity to start completely over and bring these ideas together to build a stronger set of processes and procedures that didn’t exist in the two agencies that came together. Another strength is the knowledge that these section’s leader have to offer. The HR headquarters has all of these leaders in one remote location which is really beneficial to people who aren’t as familiar with the different disciplines of HR. I was one of those individuals so I took every chance I could to go and soak up all I could from those leaders. Lastly, I will say that HR’s largest strength as far as a section is HR Operations. I may be biased in this because this was the team that I was a part of. Our team is not specialized to know only one discipline in HR (reasonable accommodations section, recruitment, etc.), we are knowledgeable in a variety of the specialized fields, their rules, policies and union contract. That knowledge helps provide full consultations to our customers and help eliminate risk to the agency. We are basically a first contact for any employee or manager. We spend a lot of time conducting research so we can provide thorough and unbiased responses to the customers. We are also known to quarterback paperwork or questions for the specialized sections when necessary. To be on this team you need to be flexible, fast-paced, have knowledge of HR’s sections and know where to find the rules and policy when necessary. Unfortunately my team had a weak supervisor and a couple of workers who were never at work or barely performing when they were there which I will discuss in the weaknesses.
The HR has a bunch of weaknesses, probably more than strengths at this time. I know I had mentioned that as a strength the agency being new could introduce new ideas for a better HR division. Well, that can also be a weakness and for DCYF it is both. With limited processes and procedure put in place, the agency is operating inconsistently causing large amounts of confusion agency-wide. HR consultants are providing drastically different consultations to people we call the answer shoppers because HR is consulting based on familiarity instead of by rule and policy. They are currently operating as the two previous agencies they came from, the DSHS way and the DEL way, all while finding the DCYF way as processes and procedures are established. Which brings me to the other weakness that is huge for HR, huge lack of communication both internally and externally to HR. The agency itself has in the DCYF values the importance of being transparent, yet HR is failing at informing the customers of change and why the change is happening. Shoot! We are not even telling our counterparts the small changes in our assigned sections which affects them. They are also failing in guiding the customers through the changes which is causing the customers to get very irritated with HR. When I was communicating with my customers I constantly responded with a full description as to what I needed from the customer and why I needed it so they understood the change. The HR employees are moving so quickly that they are not taking the time to explain the change which will cause time wasted since the customers are going to respond to your email with a ton of follow up questions. We have HR consultants who are not as familiar with certain aspects of HR that are what I call, “shooting from the hip”, and provided a ton of misinformation to our customers that the customer realizes is false instantly. That really hurts for building trust between the customer and HR and was one of my reasons for leaving. I always try to put myself in the shoes of the customer, I try to offer a ton of information with hope that it is easy to understand from the very beginning so the customer is not left confused and waiting on me to respond to their many questions they may have asked. I also take pride in building strong trustworthy, healthy relationships with everyone I work with. So it was quite a bother when the couple of individuals who did this, continued to do it even when the issues were brought to their attention. They really did not realize the impact their misfiring could cause for our HR team.
Another critical issue in HR is how everyone is being treated internally by their counterparts. I have a few reasons as to why I finally walked away from this HR division last month and one of the main ones was feeling targeted and disrespected by one individual in my chain of command. I was the type to keep my head down and just work really hard but there was a couple people who had applied for my position as the senior HR consultant that were not happy that they did not get selected. I also had a supervisor that did not like I was vocal about being unhappy with the lack of support she provided me with the subordinate causing a lot of issues for our team both internally and with the customers. I was not supported by my manager and that was a huge issue for me that I reported up my chain of command and nothing came of it because it was a small issue on the totem pole and everyone was too busy to worry about it. I have a high level of integrity and honor so I believe strongly in HR conducting themselves ethically since we preach to the whole agency that is how they should conduct themselves. I believe in working hard and remaining within the rules and policy so when someone in HR does not operate in such a way (like my subordinate), I would make a pickle of it because the issues were huge and could cause issues for us in court or with the union (wrong law/rule provided; contract violations; broken confidentiality). I could not keep working with an HR division who was not able practice what they preached. It was a very unhealthy work environment and until it gets cleaned up by removing the HR consultants that should not be representing HR, it will continue to be a toxic environment focused more on gossip and drama than helping our customers. Last and not least and probably the most important customer service is a weakness. It is globally known that as an HR specialist or consultant our role is to take care of customers. I was reading on how being self-aware can benefit me in my role when I came across an article about how as “professionals we need the skills to enable us to work effectively with people individually and in groups” (Levasseur, 1991). Although that was written back in 1991, it still rings true for today. It is one thing to be technically trained and skilled in your craft, but you have to be able to deal with people both internally and externally to your work environment. If we are putting off toxicity then HR as the backbone of the agency will put that negativity out into the program’s work environments. When trying to change culture, that is a problem and a major weakness.
The current impact is being mostly felt due to the weaknesses. The strong few, like myself, are leaving the agency to pursue other opportunities. There is only a handful of strong workers left with a wealth of knowledge that were helping to keep the HR division afloat. But due to the chain of command not respecting them, they are leaving. There was four vacancies in just the week that I left and more so since I walked away. There is only so much someone is willing to take in an already highly stressful environment. Another impact is the relationships with the customers are weakening since they do not feel they are getting educated responses from some of our staff; when the incorrect information is provided, HR is not taking accountability for the mistakes; some do not feel the response time is where it should be or realistic (days at a time); and some HR staff have taken their frustrations out on the customer creating an “us versus them” type attitude that makes the customer feel like they are wrong for contacting HR. Overall the customers’ opinion of HR as a whole is diminishing due to their many frustrations of feeling they are kept in the dark and not being treated respectfully. They have been made to feel incompetent by some HR consultants by being told they can look up information themselves on websites or the union contract. I am actually on the customers’ side on this because I had witnessed and expressed frustration for everything that I just listed as an issue. I would say the only positive impact is that there is a chance to expand one’s knowledge in HR tremendously since every move made should be fully researched so we can make sure that the new agency is remaining within all legal and ethical boundaries. We have the opportunity to provide very thorough informative consultations to the customers and when doing so we will have a chance to repair those damaged relationships.
The long-term impact is looking pretty grey due to the current issues of HR, but I think that can change in the next year or so depending on what actions they take on the existing staff that are causing issues within HR. This HR really needs to select employees that want to work; employees that want to follow rules and policy; employees that are knowledgeable so they develop processes and procedures; and employees that have a strong and honest work ethic. If the HR is not able to develop process and procedure anytime soon then there is going to be growing issues with the customers in the field. I do need to give some of the HR division the benefit of the doubt though because there really is some rockstars that are helping keep the HR’s head above water. This is a new agency going through two phases of oncoming employees while trying to remain fully operational so it is not a cake walk.
The HR division could maximize the strengths and minimize weakness with the same tools like training, communication, and more collaboration so they can build as one team. There needs to be a foundation that is strong instead of “just okay” as Lyndsey described during her interview (L. Beaupre, personal communication, May 13, 2019). Lyndsey had explained that some employees are settling for getting by with mediocre product instead of putting their all into the work and impressing the customer. Lyndsey runs the recruitment team and is very passionate on HR being a trustworthy and excited group of individuals that make other people want to work for the agency. She wishes that we were able to mend fences with the customers and stakeholders because at this time she does not feel fortunate to be a part of the HR team. When I sat and talked to Nydia for her interview (N. Montoya, personal communication, May 14, 2019) she described that she feels if people stayed in their lanes then automatically the weaknesses would improve and process and procedure would develop much faster. Nydia helps me with performance management so we see the constant hiccups on teams and try to provide supervisors with tools all the time to be a successful running business with successful employees. As I mentioned there is a lot of knowledge with all of these employees. Unfortunately with that knowledge is a lot of employees trying to insert strong opinions on how things should be done in other sections versus focusing on their own. It is more venting versus action which is killing this HR division.
I think weaknesses could be minimized if management would focus on the importance of working on interpersonal relationships and some coaching to a couple of the supervisors in HR who are not so great at leading. The HR also needs to recognize the fact that it is a change agent for organizational change. Being a change agent is important and HR “influences the change context to foster positive employee responses and support organizational changes” (Afles, Shantz, Bailey, Conway, Monks, Fu, 2019). If we in HR are not fostering a positive environment then how are we to be change agents for the rest of our agency? Dealing with others is not an easy task and it is easy for people to point fingers. I think for a positive change to be made, we must be self-aware of our own strengths and weakness, not just the HR’s and we need “to be aware of strengths and weaknesses in those with whom we interact” (Schneiderman, 1984).
The HR division could also benefit by putting the consultants in areas that they are strongest in instead of placing them by where they want to work. I was comparing approaches during my research and I saw a sentence that stuck out to me pertaining to one working within their discipline, “when doing business and working in real companies, managers, human resources representatives and normal employees have to identify the knowledge that is relevant to them” (Dilger, 2011). My subordinate on the operations team for example was familiar with classification and compensation but wanted to do operations to get away from the other members of the classification and compensation team (she does not play well with others). She has zero knowledge of processing actions, no knowledge of protected leave usage or options, she discloses confidential information to employees based on things she hears, she gossips about the performance management issues that she should not be privy to, among many other issues. She needs a lot of training, coaching and counseling. I tried to provide all types of resources but she was change resistant and hated that I was younger and above her in position by a couple of levels asking her to do work. She took it personal and was very snarky and defiant which I blame leadership for because they did nothing to back me up to address the insubordination. If we had strong leadership then things like this would not be happening. Another way to help improve the weaknesses is by providing supervisors with their own tools and resources like supervisory training so they are comfortable with crucial conversations, addressing poor performance, and building future leaders. I think the HR having that training will not just help supervisors but it can help with how consultants guide supervisors and management through their own issues of performance management.
I chose DCYF so I could have the opportunity to discuss an HR division that is in a sensitive state. HR operations are tough even when you’re not trying to stand up a whole agency so even to know there is a lot of kinks to work through for this HR division, it still is early enough that all of these negatives can be looked passed and turned positive. I had asked both of my interviewees where they saw the HR division in the next three to five years and they both thought it was going to need to clean house and start all over with a new group of consultants, that includes them leaving as well. That says a lot and it looks scary for the HR division and it will continue to lose many great leaders and workers. I think if they do continue to ignore the feedback that people like myself, the customers,and other consultants are providing then positive change is not in the near future for DCYF HR which will hurt DCYF as a whole. Wish me luck for the future decision because although I have left HR, I actually will be joining DCYF as a social worker! I believe strongly in this agency and I am honored to pursue this path. I will continue with my degree in HR though because I am passionate about HR and the work that we do for everyone. I am sure I will grow to miss it and come crawling back, I just hope to return as a Manager so I can help incorporate the changes that I feel HR’s are in need of and teach others how to lead from the front.
- Afles, K.; Shantz, A.; Bailey, C.; Conway, E.; Monks, K.; Fu, N. (2019). Perceived Human Resources System Strength and Employee Reactions Toward Change: Revisiting Human Resources’ Remit as Change Agent. Human Resource Management. Volume 58. Issue 3. Pages 239-252.
- Beaupre, L. (2019, May 13). Personal Interview
- Dilger, A. (2011). Personnel Economics: Strengths, Weaknesses and Its Place in Human Resource Management. Management Revue. Volume 22. Issue 4. Pages 331-343.
- Drake,P.; Driscoll, A.K.; Hamilton, B.E.; Martin, J.A.; Osterman, M.J.K. (2017). Births: Final Data for 2017. National Vital Statistics Reports. Volume 67, Number 8.
- Levasseur, Robert E. (1991). People Skills: Self-Awareness: A Critical Skill for MS/OR Professionals.
- Montoya, N. (2019, May 14). Personal Interview
- N.a. (2012). Department of Health. Child Abuse and Neglect. Retrieved from https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/2900/InjuryReportFinal.pdf
- Partners for our Children. (2019). School of Social Work: University of Washington. Retrieved from https://www.vis.pocdata.gov/graphs/ia-counts
- Schneiderman, G. (1984) Maximizing Creativity: the Individual and the System. Financial Analysts Journal. Volume 40. Issue 4, Pages 76-78.
- Smith, Andi. (2016). Washington Blue Ribbon Commission of the Delivery of Services to Children and Families. Retrieved from https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/documents/BRCCF_FinalReport.pdf
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