The Process of Establishing Trust while Assessing a Human Resources Department

By Donna B. Brown, Human Resources Executive Director, City of Scottsdale

Donna B. Brown, Human Resources Executive Director, City of Scottsdale

Leading a Human Resources Department in a variety of industries gives one a unique perspective on how to connect to internal and external customers. Although the technical aspects of the Human Resources profession are consistent, the people vary from organization to organization. One area that is paramount in achieving that connection is the process of establishing trust. Establishing and maintaining organizational trust is the building blocks necessary to achieve sustainable success.  The following methods for establishing trust can be adapted based on the company’s work culture, product or service, and customers.

1. Listen before Leading.

When taking over the lead role in a HR Department, it is necessary to listen to internal and external customers before making changes. Interviewing staff is essential in identifying individual and team strengths, challenges, and hear perspectives on service improvements. Listening first will also help the HR Leader understand if the employees are performing their core responsibilities in order to remove barriers. Collecting this information will aid in the development of a written action plan.Having a published plan makes the HR Leader accountable for results (good or bad), which can be developed and delivered in phases (i.e., 30-60-90-days, months, etc.).Once the plan is ready for implementation, it must be communicated to all levels in the organization for transparency. The development of this plan is the foundation to receive honest feedback from internal and external customers in order to take the appropriate actions to improve, modify, or clarify HR processes and programs.

2. Engraining the three C’s.

Another essential part of the plan and establishing trust is to institute the “3 C’s” (Customer Service, Collaboration, and Compliance) within the Human Resources Department.

a) Customer Service

Developing an internal and external questionnaire or survey is a consistent way to gain insight and direction necessary to reorganize or reprioritize assignments and workloads, and to understand employee and customer expectations. The results set the baseline for the level of service that is expected by employees and where improvements are needed and required. A follow-up survey (for validation) is recommended and should be provided the following year.Results should also be published. Lastly, the HR Leader shouldreinforceto staff the importance of being available and responsive to all customers, and to provide reliable and honest answers (no matter the job title)


a) Internally – Within the HR Team.
Having regularly scheduled HR meetings with the component of celebrating successes (staff kudos) and hearing the priorities and projects of other HR Team members provides continuity of business operations. This helps breakdown the internal silos, build a greater appreciation for the work that is being done in HR, and to gainmore staff ideas.Networking in quarterly birthday or diversity celebrations and finding cross-functional team opportunities werealso internally encouraged and rewarded.

b) Externally – With City Departments/Division, and other external partners.
Another part of the action plan was to visit department meetings outside of HR. The HR Leader and staff can volunteer for cross-departmental teams for visibility, team building, and to gain organizational knowledge.Gaining executive buy-in is a very important part of building alliances and support. Establishing relationships with HR practitioners in other jurisdictions through meetings, conferences, and emails or calls are also important, not just at the executive level, but all throughout the various HR staff functions (i.e., training, class/comp., benefits, etc.).  

"An important role of any leader is to provide the necessary tools, resources, and motivation for staff to work to their potential. Using technology efficiently further provides innovate and creative solutions to employee programs and services"

c) Compliance

Ensuring legal compliance of HR policies, procedures, and work practices is also a key element in establishing organizational trust.  This may take the form of auditing all of the HR functions to correct deficiencies.  Part of this timeline may include creating, updating, and/or deleting policies; creating HR Standard Operating Procedures (and publish for all employees to view); and having an external party (i.e., auditor) conduct an additional audit of the HR functions, again for transparency.HR staff can provide department-specific presentations and newsletter articles on HR policy updates and training reminders for further compliance.HR staff must be updated and trained on these policies so the organization may receive correct and consistent answers, which also helps customer service delivery.

3) Maximize technology to minimize HR workload.

Another part of establishing trust is to ensure the HR team is working as efficiently as possible. An important role of any leader is to provide the necessary tools, resources, and motivation for staff to work to their potential. Using technology efficiently further provides innovative and creative solutions to employee programs and services.  If used properly, instituting technology in HR functions can eliminate redundant or mundane tasks so staff can concentrate on better service delivery to customers, which in turn, improves trust. 

Weekly Brief