Fish or fowl? Black or white? Day or night? We frequently find ourselves arguing whether human resources — as a function — is a true business partner in the strict financial sense or an employee advocate in the most liberal sense.

We’re wasting our time arguing semantics and methodology. Our resources are better spent discussing and acting on results.

First, let’s get some clear definitions and positioning. Is the human resources executive the do-all, end-all example of goodness and perfect behavior in the organization? Of course not. No single person or function is solely responsible for our organization’s’ moral compass. We are, however, the keeper of that compass, like it or not.

It’s simple logic, not the soft, intangible, transactional focus that many embrace. As human resource executives, we function as primary agents of organizational and behavior change — it’s what we do. As focal points for change, we become the de-facto example for that desired behavior. Sorry, but there is a modicum of “glass house” while leading human resources.

This doesn’t mean we are, necessarily, this “employee advocate” that so many speak about. It simply means that we must be exemplify and model the very behaviors we hope to see in an organization. Yes, to some degree, that’s every executive’s charge. But again, we may not be the moral compass of our organization, yet we are surely the keeper of same.

So what, you say? Here’s “what:” We must be true business partners in every sense. Our goals must always be the organization’s goals — no exceptions. Within legal and ethical boundaries, we should be prepared to do whatever is necessary to support our firm’s vision and direction with personal conviction. This is non-negotiable. In addition, we must always recognize that — like it or not — employees (managers and executives often included) look to us for positive, correct examples of desired behavior.

Let’s make sure we set that positive, correct example.

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