HR professional must win senior management’s trust, to overcome inexperienced lawyer’s control

Dear Joan:

I find your articles right on point and find myself with a dilemma of my own. I have been in the HR field for over ten years. After taking off a couple of years and working part time positions while I cared for my ill mother, who did pass away, I re-entered the job market last year. I was hired by a small, privately owned company in August as their HR Coordinator. It didn’t take long before I was able to identify a lot of areas that this growing company of 100+ employees needed in the HR area. Their previous HR person really didn’t have the HR background; she was their corporate administrator and took on the role of HR over the last five years or so.

My biggest challenge is working with the corporate attorney who was hired right out of college, no more than 2 years ago, and with whom I have to work very closely. He is 27 years old, and to be honest, has come into this company telling people who have been in their position (or in the industry) for over 20 years, how to do their jobs. He has no tact, is a terrible manager, and he and I have bumped heads many times. He was responsible for my reviews in our 90-day review period at 30, 60, and 90 days.

In each of those reviews, he always had to point out something negative and seemed to be reluctant to highlight the positive. Finally at the 90th day review I told him I didn’t feel he respected me and the years of experience I have in HR. I told him I wasn’t sure why he hired me if he doesn’t allow me to proceed on my own with anything. He totally re-writes almost everything I put together, and is slow at making decisions. I find he really doesn’t have any HR knowledge. Instead he refers to law manuals, or his mother (she’s been in HR for 17 years), for the answers and then tells me he expects me to research everything and cite the sources when I bring him anything. He has also told me that even though he may ask my opinion on things, it doesn’t mean he’ll take my opinions; he’ll make the final decisions.

After my 90 days, I was told I report to the President, which excited me tremendously. But unfortunately, I still have to work with the attorney closely. Although I have tried many ways to establish a better working relationship between us, since it is so strained, I find his attitude to be smug and a know-it-all.

When I come to him with legitimate HR issues, he typically doesn’t agree with me or see any problem with the issue. This company is a lawsuit waiting to happen. My job also includes a legal administrative side, whereby I have to keep up with the annual corporate minutes of over 45 different corporations in our company. Now this is not my field and yet, when I’ve asked him for help, he’s told me I have to learn to do this on my own. He recently put together a manual called “An Administrator’s Guide to the Corporate Documents of …..” and if he had the time to do this, he should be more helpful in answering my questions for help when I have to do something with the corporate minutes. I feel like he’s set me up for failure in this area. He also told the President that HR was not a full time position and when I once thought the corporate side would be transferred to someone else, I’ve been told, it’ll stay with me.

I really enjoy working with the people here and I know I bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the company. My problem is that this attorney has the ear and heart of the President (they both went to the same law school and the President hand picked him) and the President has only heard his side. I am reluctant to say anything to the President without seeming as if I am whining. But I am at my wits end with our working relationship and am truly tired of bending over backwards for him. When a lawsuit happens or a charge we have to defend, believe me, somehow I will be blamed for not having done something right, instead of them heeding my warnings now.

 Should I bail before I invest anymore time with this company? Sadly, as I write out the pros and cons, there are a lot more cons, but I am afraid to look again for another job, since I am a seasoned worker. Any advice you can offer is greatly appreciated. Thank you for listening.

Answer:

It sounds as if this inexperienced lawyer approaches every HR issue like a new law case to be researched. And because he is inexperienced (and perhaps insecure), he probably resented your impatience with his approach. He also sounds petty and a bit vindictive. Why else would he turn the tables on you and refuse to take on the legal components of your job—and refuse to give you any meaningful help? At this stage it almost sounds as if he is making this “personal.”

It would be interesting to know what he said to the President that caused your reporting relationship to switch. Since they are so tight, and he is trying to look good to his new boss, he may have thrown you under the bus, to avoid looking like he couldn’t manage you.

I recommend that you step up your communications with the President. Give him updates on what you are working on, what actions you are taking and the outcomes you reach. You can do this face-to-face, or by email (but in person is preferred). The objective is to show your boss what the issues and risks are to the Company and what you are doing about them and what you recommend. If he tells you to work with the lawyer, be sure to send the President a copy anyway and continue to keep him in the loop.

Give the President time to get to know you and appreciate your value. As you build trust and credibility with him, begin to let him know (tactfully and in neutral language) when you are struggling with the lawyer. In these situations, ask for the President’s advice. Explain the situation, describe what actions you recommend and why, and back up your rationale with your own knowledge and experience. After a few of these situations, you will be able to determine the President’s level of objectivity and wisdom. If the handwriting on the wall favors the lawyer, it will be clear that you have to move on. However, don’t leave without taking a hard run at selling your worth to the President first.

If the lawyer is a know-it-all and offending people as you describe, news of that will hit the President one way or another. If he’s smart—and you can win his trust and respect—he’ll carve out room for you to succeed.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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