Career Advice for a HR Professional


The advice that I give here bores out of my own experiences. The statements here reflects my personal opinions. Your experience, perceptions, expectations may different. Do not take these writings at their face value.


One of my best advice that I think that I could give to a Human Resource professional, especially for someone looking for a management role, is not to work in an organization where the management authority (approval and control) is in the hands of volunteers.

Examples of Organizations

Such organizations include religious organizations; associations; alumni clubs; societies and charitable organizations. It could be the church, temple, trade association, YWCA, university related alumni club, golfing country club.These are normally not for profit or non profit organizations.

Main Challenge

If you are in a management role, two of your major competencies are decision making and problem solving. The two main initiatives you normally implement are new initiatives or initiatives to fix something that is broken. Usually, you are required to develop or amend policies and procedures and also obtain resources (such as money, manpower, space) in order to carry out your initiatives.

If you should work for a non-profit or not for profit organization, under such a working environment, you may find yourself reporting to or supporting to one or more than one committees. There could be a hierarchy of committees in such an organizations.

Structure of Organizations

Unlike a commercial organization, even if there is an Operations Director, General Manager or Managing Director that is a employee, he or she will not have the power to approve the provisions of resources for you to do your work and he or she will not have the power or authority to approve the policy, procedure or initiative that you propose.

Usually, you will be required to write a proposal paper and he or she may deliberate such matters, including vetting and correcting your papers. This does not mean that you proposals will be successful when they are raised.

In fact, when you encounter a boss with a narcissistic personality, you may become a pawn in his or her game. Your boss may take the opportunity to change your proposal to suit the idea that he wants to put forward. If your boss is an incompetent, you may be over powered (simply because he is your boss) to put up an idea that you know from experience that spelt trouble. You may then arrange a meeting or circulate your proposal by email to your committee; but last minute he decides not to turn up. How are you going to explain or defend ideas that are his and not yours?

Your Boss

You will find such an Operations Director, General Manager or Managing Director sitting in so many committees. It may be so high sounding that he or she is sitting on such and such a board or committee, but the truth is that his or her energy and time is spread thin.

If you are reporting to such a boss, he or she will have little time or energy to deliberate on matters that you bring to his or her attention.

There are bosses who are great bosses and there are those the other extreme. The later will survive maybe 3 times just as long but you will also find that such an Operations Director, General Manager or Managing Director to have a big ego; to be incompetent; likely to suck up; likely to shift blame or shift potential problems to others; likely to push away difficult or sensitive human problems to others; likely to what people termed “a two headed snake”; likely to take credit for the accomplishment of other people.In another words, a narcissistic boss.

Instead of having face to face time with you, you will find that your boss will be on his email; his handphone; and his phone simply because he wants to be prompt of replying to the committee members that he reports to.

As you do not have the face to face time, you have no coaching on strategies and policies. As it is more likely that you have an incompetent boss, he or she would expect you to come up with the strategies, business plans, policies and so on. Even if you have the experience, you are only paid as a manager, should you over-step your functional area?

Sensitive Human Resource Issues

As a human resource professional, you are tasked to fire staff that reports to other department manager; you are tasked to discipline or counsel other department heads who are your peers simply because your boss do not want to do it.

When things backfire, he would either said that you are on your own or he would tag you as a trouble maker.

Waste of Your Hard Earned Experience and Qualifications

If you have a Master degree and is amply qualified, with plenty of work experience, you are better off working in the commercial sector, especially for a MNC. Here, in these organizations, they will just step all over you.

A Bureaucratic Machine

Where decision making is by majority, and there is so many committees, the organization is bureaucratic in nature. As such, decision making is ineffective.

It is more ineffective in non profit organizations than in not for profit organization.

In a not for profit organizations, the motto is “if is not broken or if broken but nobody cares about it, don’t do anything.”

In a non profit organization, the motto is “even if it is broken, don’t tell me. I don’t have time to look into it.” So, you can imagine, there are more operational problems with a non profit organization than a not for profit organization.

Behavior of Committee Members

 These groups of volunteers go by different names in different organizations, such as Committees and Councils. However, the behaviors as groups and individuals are the same.

Often these volunteers will be entrepreneurs, employees in other organizations, retirees. It is rare to find retirees who want to be volunteer, especially full time volunteers.

For volunteers who are entrepreneurs and who hold jobs, their time, energy will be spend in either their businesses or jobs. This is the reason why even they may be the chairperson of a committee, they frequently don’t turn up for higher level committee meetings that report into.

Volunteers do not get paid for holding roles. They join for the position that they may hold (prestige) such as chairman of such a committee. For entrepreneurs, it helps them become paid directors in the boards of other organizations. Others join because they can exercise a sense of control or power. In the non for profit organiztion, they may have a personal interest to join such a committee such is the case if they are paying members, such as in the case of a golfing country club. In the not for profit organization, like the church they may do it “just to be an extra pair of hands.”

The implications for such a structure are as follows:

(a) Volunteers are not likely to have experience in the area or committee they hold chairpersonship. Never the less that will not stop them from exerting their authority.

It means that even if you have more experience in your area, they will overwrite your proposals and decide on what they want to do. Your organizational function may become the test-bed of an idea they read something or an idea that they were rejected at the place they worked.

When non-experts are involved in decision making with regards to financial investments and capital expenditures, the results are often wrong decisions.

(b) Volunteers have no contractual obligations and they do not like to be held accountable for decisions that they make. This means you may find committee chairpersons not willing to look at your proposed policies and procedures because they just do not want to be held responsible for making decisions on them.

(c) Volunteers have no time to look at long proposals. They have time only to look at 1 or 2 page proposals, which are the the high level and have 2 or 3 items at most for approval. Do not expect them to read your proposals beforehand.

(d) Face is important to volunteers. Those join for status carry with them an ego. If they shall lose their posts or reputations because of you, they will abuse their power as a committee chairperson to get you out of the organization. It could be your boss who is doing this unknown to you; so giving feedback to your boss about how ineffective the committee is has its risks.

(e) Volunteers differ in their commitments.Some may hold posts but do not turn up for meetings.

(f) Meetings may be held quarterly or at best monthly. You will find that it is difficult to arrange ample time for discussions. If you have lots of things under your job function that are broken, you may find it challenging to get them resolved.

(g) Volunteers want their way. You are just a servant. If the organization hold a staff lunch, and the key committee members are invited, just know that they regard it as they have approved expenditure to organize a lunch for their servants.

A Private Club

In summary, all the volunteers behave like if they are part of a social group. They take everything personally. There are 2 faces people sitting in the same committee, that can be so agreeable with and backstabs another member on the same matter they agree to.

Where Do You Get These People?

Volunteers are acquired through network. They participate in church activities. Either they invite themselves or others invite them as volunteers. This is known as networking.

It is not easy to invite people and even harder to find people with the right expertise to serve.

Tapping for Revenues

Volunteers who joined are selective about which committees that they want to be in. If they are business men, they want to take up roles as the Chairperson of areas that relate to their business.In this way, they can be the first to know of any new services or products required by the organization and participate in the bid.

These businessman could be lawyers, architects, real estate valuers. For example, if the organiation is the head office of a group of churches and if the committee member is a lawyer entrusted with looking after the church’s properties. He may do some paperwork for free but he charges for other services. With the reputation that such a big group of churches is engaging his services as the church’s trustees, he is able to approach other organizations for businesses or they may approach him for help.

In another case, the businessman may use the reputation that he gained and find opportunities to be a paid director in the board of management in other organizations. He may realized that he can sit in many boards and get paid but in realities, he would not be swamped with meetings. It could be giving him a better income than his small business.

Ineffective Operational Management

Committees meet on a periodic basis. This can be on a quarterly basis. Personnel who are hire as staff of the organization are required to attend meetings held in the evenings or week-ends and take minutes of meetings.

Management staff are required to write reports or presentations for the Committee or for the office bearers.

At first it looks very orderly and proper especially when decisions and on going of meetings are recorded and filed. The truth is nobody bothers to earnestly follow up on the decisions. After a while, the records are stored away; sometimes they are lost; memories fads. When committee members leave or dies, nobody recall whether similar or the same problem has come up in the past, and who made what decisions and what were the outcomes.

However, valuable time is taken away from dealing with operational problems or carrying out action plans in order to write minute of meetings, reports and proposals. Staff cannot go home on meeting nights or weekend.

The Fakes

 The fakes are committee members that do not have the experience but pass comments or criticise because they want to give the false impressions that they are knowledgeable. However they will be the first to deny that ever said such and such a thing should there be somebody who is quick to point out that what is said is wrong.

No or Minimum Policies or Procedures

 Committee members may not be experts in their areas which they volunteer but they make the final decisions and have all the controls. This put the organization in trouble. Chief of this is that they will think that the approval of policies and procedures is operational work, which they are not interested in.They do not want to be held accountable on one hand and on the other hand if they make the decisions on such policies when they are not the experts, the organization’s operations will be in trouble.



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