Every HR Director Should Avoid These 50 Mistakes

The HR Director carries a lot of responsibility on their shoulders which can sometimes lead to things going wrong. But we are all human and like the rest of us, the HR Director also makes mistakes – but what mistakes are they?

It’s often said that the mistakes we make usually teach us something valuable but in the complex and high risk role of the HR Director, it would be much better to avoid as many mistakes as possible in the first place, right?

So we decided to research and collate a list of the top 50 mistakes commonly made by the HR Director to help newcomers navigate the role a little more smoothly, if at all possible.

And here we have them…

1. Micromanaging

A recent study of 2,248 individuals revealed that 39 per cent considered micromanagement to be the worst trait a boss could have.

A 2014 Accountemps survey found that 59% of their poll reported that they had worked for a micromanager. Of that 50%, half said their productivity was negatively affected. Straz, M. (2015, June 1) | Source: entrepreneur.com

HR Directors using this repressive management style are demotivating their teams and negatively affecting cultural change.  And with the growth in remote workers on the rise, micromanagement is not only counter-productive, but will soon be near impossible to maintain within a modern approach to working that requires high levels of trust.

2. Socialising too much with staff [outside of work]

A tricky situation as it’s a regular occurrence to socialise with employees after work to strengthen team building and build a friendly rapport, but it does come with a warning.

First, should bosses and employees be friends?

HR Directors can put themselves and the company at risk of liability should they be involved in, or witness, something inappropriate involving staff regardless of whether it is outside of the office or working hours. Therefore, socialise wisely and ensure you follow correct procedures in the event of an issue or if the relationship turns sour.

3. Making false promises when recruiting

It’s no secret that people make all kinds of promises to potential candidates to attract them to a role, whether it be regarding pay, benefits, the type of work involved or training and development opportunities.

Although the promises may have been genuine at the time, failure to see these promises through once the candidate is on-board will breach the psychological contract and engagement goes out of the window.

For the employer, it’s about making sure not to give the wrong perception to an employee and to make sure promises are upheld.

If your organisation finds itself unable to fulfil its original promises, HR leaders should take steps to be transparent about the situation and explain the ‘how and why’ to maintain trust and healthy working relationships.

 4. Being a ‘know it all’

To hold the HR Director title, they must possess a wide range of skills and experience.  Even with a great deal of prior knowledge, having an extensive background in HR doesn’t mean that they know everything and learning should end there.

There’s no way the HR Director could ‘know it all’ in HR, whether they believe they do or not and by pushing this idea onto other colleagues will only disengage them.

Get your teams involved and ask them for their input

The world of HR is so fast paced and high risk that continuous learning and development on the role is absolutely necessary to remain effective in the job.

 5. Hiring too quickly to fill a position

By hiring without first checking if candidates are a good culture fit or identifying existing skills internally will ultimately lead to high turnover rates, loss of productivity and be a waste of time and resources.

Take the time ro hire right

A vacancy may be identified as urgent, but taking extra time initially to find the best candidate will best serve the organisation in the long-term.

6. Pushing tick box exercises

Continuously asking staff to perform tick box exercises to serve a bureaucratic expediency rather than actually accomplish anything, with no transparency of what the purpose of them are, can cause frustration amongst employees and management having to spend time chasing up documents.

Delivering robust hiring practices crucial for future recruitment

By being clearer with what staff can expect and what tick box exercises are necessary to carry out employment duties will help staff to understand the bigger purpose the tick box exercises are serving.

7. Having poor delegation skills

There are tasks that HR Directors need to do, but eventually they will need to delegate some responsibilities to focus on the bigger needs of the organisation.

At some stage in their career, every leader has been told, “You need to delegate more.”

Delegating responsibility can be beneficial, but doing so too briefly or last minute can create bigger problems down the line which is why it’s important to provide enough information to complete the task and follow up with adequate feedback from both parties to ensure morale is not affected going forward.

8. Being too authoritative

HR Directors with an authoritative management approach may demonstrate very direct instruction to tightly control a situation, with the expectation that their instructions are followed to the letter without fail.

Although this method is commonly used by strong leaders, HR Directors run the risk of their managers becoming too reliant on direction, failing to act on initiative and make decisions themselves.

9. Not respecting confidentiality

Building trust with employees is important to the success of a business.

Keep private matters private and honour employee confidentiality no matter what

Some situations call for absolute discretion and failure to keep certain information or conversations private can damage the trust between the HR Director and their staff, making them less likely to open up about serious issues in the future.

10. Pre-judging

HR have to deal with numerous complex issues that need to be dealt with fairly, which is why HR Directors need to remain impartial to uphold loyalty from employees and create a fair, non-discriminatory working environment.  However, it’s not always as easy as it seems and is a real skill to be able to balance the best interests of both the employees and the company.

Leave your biases at the door

Failing to leave biases at the door can result in tribunal claims and high legal costs, so if a situation arises where the HR Director is unable to remain impartial, it’s better that they remove themselves from the situation altogether and appoint someone else.

11. Not placing enough focus on company culture

Taking a passive approach to company culture and believing it will develop itself if some nice perks are thrown to the employees is a huge no-no.

For Google, decisions are based on merit instead of tenure

Culture is more than just a buzzword and impacts the organization greatly with brand identity, increased loyalty, higher attraction and retention of the best talent and creates advocates out of current employees.

 12. Not implementing the right technology

It would be easy for a HR Director to become overwhelmed with mundane tasks that prevent them from tackling organisational problems and create a less personable approach to communications.

Investing in the right HR technology would take away many of the automated jobs and enable faster reporting and processing times alongside freeing up the extra time needed to focus on the more important areas of the business.

 13. Failing to practice what you preach

It’s not enough for the HR Director to just say they support an issue.

It’s not data that’s important – but what you do with it

To make a real difference, HR leaders must fully engage in being openly vocal and visibly active in facing challenging problems the organisation or workforce are up against and communicate messages of the business to champion the issues.

14. Not providing enough context or explaining the ‘why’

Communication between the HR Director and their management or employees needs to be interpreted correctly, which is why providing enough context is so important. Context creates the understanding of how much importance needs to be placed on the message or task.

Answer the question before it is even asked

Not only does this develop a deeper level of understanding from employees, it also removes any anxiety that can be caused from the ‘unknown’ and levels the power dynamic.

15. Keeping everyone in the loop

A mistake easily made by HR Directors is to push meetings aside when other demands take over.

Mistakes are often bound to happen, especially when working in HR

But because we are gradually spending more time alone, with many employees opting to work remotely more flexibly, the task to keep everyone in the loop needs to be made a priority.

HR Directors need to bring people together, whether it be online or face-to-face so that everyone in the team is re-energised and stays up to date on their responsibilities.

16. Ineffective on-boarding

“A good on-boarding plan will allow employees to ramp up quicker and be ready to contribute sooner. It will also make them more confident in their role as an employee of your company. The best on-boarding practices provide an in-depth overview of the company, as well as job specific training. Map it out beforehand and follow through consistently.” – Brooke Peterson, Strategic Accounts at Scale AI.

17. No focus on engagement strategies

Engaged employees are said to be happier, have greater employee satisfaction, 41 per cent lower absenteeism and be 17 per cent more productive than less engaged peers, which is why employee engagement needs to be a key element of the HR strategy.

Employee engagement launches spacecraft to Mars!

An engaged workforce is essential to the long term success of the organisation but will only work with the support of the HR Director leading the way for implementation and decision making.

18. Forgetting to give praise or reward when it’s due

Praise is a powerful motivational tool that often gets forgotten, but needs to be managed from the top of the leadership chain, downwards.

79 percent of employees who quit their jobs cited a lack of appreciation as a key reason for leaving

A study by Gallup showed that praise has a profound effect on a business’s bottom line and is responsible for a 10 to 20 per cent difference in revenue and productivity!

19. Focussing on the negatives

HR Directors that are slow to praise but quick to pick up on the negatives, are recognised by employees as being bad leaders.

Survey finds most workers have had a bad boss 🙁

A focus on negatives can come from the pressure to deliver and how their team ‘falling short’ can reflect on the HR Director, alongside a lack of awareness for how much they point out errors.

Not saying to ignore the issues here, but there needs to be a balance.

20. Not following precedents

I’m sure we can all agree that there are rarely any complex situations in HR that play out the same way, but we tend to follow precedents to learn from previous mistakes and look at procedures used to minimise the risk presented to the business.

HR thinking and decision-making starts to roll

As a principle, following precedents from a similar case will be more persuasive for a tribunal when deciding on an outcome which is why it’s beneficial to do some research into case studies of a comparable nature, to see how it was handled.

21. Dismissing too slowly

Building up a case without addressing it with the individual first (giving them the opportunity to improve) and then failing to follow the correct disciplinary procedure to dismiss for acts of gross misconduct, is likely to result in more complications and costs in the long run.

It is a manager’s responsibility to help a peer or subordinate see that their behaviour is unacceptable

If management is not acting fast enough on serious issues which could result in dismissal, the HR Director needs to step in to offer support, guidance and deliver training to ensure this problem does not continue.

22. Failing to identify issues fast enough

By not seeking to identify and fix issues in the workplace, (perhaps due to an already exhaustive list of things to-do), problems will be left to manifest into issues harder to resolve and there may become a need to involve a third party.

Since HR is an essential part of your company, it’s important to understand the challenges your HR department may face

Management should not assume problems will resolve themselves or go away over time.  HR Directors should encourage staff to report on any foreseeable issues and aim to deal with them ahead of time.

23. Reporting on irrelevant things

Analysing and reporting is the only way a business can keep track of the successes and failures within the organisation, but reporting on irrelevant things just wastes time and resources.

Businesses could literally report on anything, but that doesn’t mean they should.  The HR Director needs to focus on reporting on the strategic areas of the business that will contribute to the overall objectives and goals of the company.

24. No focus on analytics

In a business world where everything is based on data, HR Directors should be providing a level of analysis that leaders will value, by first understanding the business questions that need answering, identifying the data needed to answer the questions and then incorporating the findings into business conversations.

In all honestly, analytics can be applied to any subject

There needs to be a clear line of visibility between the bottom line profitability and HR’s interventions.  Follow these HR Analytics experts for guidance or check out our 8 step approach to apply analytics into HR processes.

25. Underestimating the importance of measuring successes and failures

HR Directors need to constantly monitor the success and failures of implemented business strategies to see what is and what isn’t working, which can be difficult whilst juggling the other daily aspects of the HR function.

Performance evaluations are a great way to show your employees that you care

Priority should be placed on customising evaluation methods to fall in line with org goals, both future and present.

26. Taking criticism too personally

HR departments (in general), receive a lot of flak especially in businesses where human resources is still considered the ‘hire and fire’ department or bearers of bad news when it comes to a restructure or redundancy.

It’s important to take criticism seriously – not personally

However, HR Directors need to be careful not to take these criticisms too personally and allow it to cloud their judgement when having to deal with the people who may have complained about an issue they experienced.

27. Giving unconstructive feedback

Unconstructive feedback can create a whole host of negative events such as decreased morale, productivity and higher turnover – none of which are beneficial to the business.  It’s fairly common to hear feedback being given, but with no direction of how the matter is expected to be fixed.

Feedback is essential to the success of any team

Knowing how to give feedback correctly is a skill that should be practiced regularly and when giving feedback, it’s imperative that it is delivered in a way where it is backed up by evidence, in the correct setting, with clear guidance on how the problem can be improved and a timeline in which the issue will be reviewed again to check progress.

28. Not dealing with issues when they arise

Well-known cases of this include management putting off discussing highlighted concerns with their staff until their one to one review meeting, with the individual completely unaware there was a problem as it hadn’t been highlighted to them prior to the meeting and they had been given no opportunity to improve.

Love them or hate them, the one on one meeting, is a great employee management tool that is often overlooked

HR Directors should be making the time to pinpoint concerns and direct their managers to deal with concerns in a timely manner.

29. Being too informal

Getting wrapped up in office politics or behaving too informally with staff can impact credibility and make hard situations more uncomfortable when having to have serious conversations.

How far is too far?

Although it may sound extreme, being too informal with subordinates one day and then having to pull them in for a disciplinary the next can cause a lot of unnecessary tension and create drama.

30. Being too formal

But on the other hand, HR Directors that come across as overly formal also pose the risk of seeming unapproachable, leading to staff feeling too intimidated to speak up about high risk issues they are experiencing, which could also be detrimental to the business.

Formal is a good thing but too formal is not

Understanding the right balance is a skill that the HR Director cannot shy away from.

31. Turning a blind eye to problems

HR Directors cannot ignore problems spotted or overheard as the implications of doing so could result in them being liable for a situation being handled poorly.

In all cases, make sure that you write and keep complete and accurate documentation

If we look at all of the sexual harassment cases which have recently come to light in the media, you may see a lot of instances where HR were aware but failed to act accordingly and will now face the repercussions for turning a blind eye to the situation.

32. Not implementing effective hiring techniques

By taking the time to develop a strong hiring process, utilising proven effective hiring techniques will not only save the business time and money on training and replacing people, but will strengthen the workforce with the right skillset and motivation necessary to push things forward.

There’s no perfect time to hire your first employee

Having a proper systematic process in place will also reduce legal ramifications relating to discrimination.

33. Skipping HR management training

The HR Director role encompasses so many different skills in a constantly evolving environment that to skip HR management training would soon leave them finding it difficult to keep up with the competition.

“the role of the Human Resources director is always changing. In order to meet the demands of today’s fast-paced and multigenerational organisations, HR directors must compete relentlessly for talent, embrace HR training and technology and boost employee engagement higher than ever.” – getsmarter

34. Being reactive rather than proactive

Responding to situations after they occur, rather than thinking ahead and identifying ways to deal with potential issues is a mistake that could easily be made by the HR Director.

People issues are clearly now dominant on the business agenda

By planning ahead and having a couple of contingency plans in place, based on evidence, precedents and facts will gear HR to be more prepared to proactively deal with business woes.

35. Holding on to paper based systems

Not only are paper based systems outdated and challenging, they are completely unnecessary when there are ways to hold almost all HR data electronically.

By ditching paper based systems and moving to HR software, HR will:

  • Streamline processes
  • Improve performance management
  • Empower staff
  • Improve communications
  • Be more transparent
  • Save money, and;
  • Protect the environment!

36. Not having the right balance between employee advocate and company representative

HR Directors obviously work for the company but it’s equally important for them to advocate for the employees to act as the connecting force. Employee advocacy programs can boost brand recognition, sales and talent acquisition.

Employee advocacy is about branding the company on all levels

An integral part of organisational success, employee advocacy will help form a work environment in which staff will choose to feel motivated, be happy to contribute to goals and be satisfied and engaged in the workplace.

37. Sharing too much information online

So much information is shared and stored online now that there needs to be extra precautions in place to ensure HR are not caught up in the crossfire.

“When in doubt, share less.”Cheryl Connor, Founder and CEO of SnappConner PR, Founder of Content University, columnist, author and speaker

HR Directors are privy to so much confidential data that if any was shared accidentally online it could disrupt competitive advantage, open up opportunities for identity fraud and put the business at risk alongside losing the element of trust from employees which is so important to function properly.

38. Treating employees like a number

HR Directors will spend so much time looking at overall numbers, analytical data and reports that sometimes the human, personal element can get lost amongst the figures.

It’s no secret that having a happy workforce makes all the difference

HR need to identify development opportunities and find ways to reward and recognise their people to keep them engaged and motivated and remember it is the people that are driving the business forward.

39. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach

Whatever strategies worked well for the older generations, such as Millennials, are not going to work for the future workforce generations like Gen Z and similarly strategies that work well for management is likely to be very different to those compared to subordinates.

Instagram is a massive hit with generation Z

Treating your entire workforce with a one-size-fits-all approach will not suit everyone so the HR Directors need to identify the needs of each employee in their teams to help them perform at their peak and develop within the role.

40. Being afraid to admit when you don’t know

Opposite of the ‘know it all’ some HR Directors get afraid to admit they are unsure of something.

With policies, procedures and employment laws forever changing or being challenged, it would be unreasonable to expect the HR Director to know everything, but sometimes they can feel the pressure to know the answer to every question fired at them in a timely manner.

Is technology an opportunity or a threat?

It’s okay to not know the answer and take the time to find out, especially if it is related to something that could potentially put the business in jeopardy.

41. Not taking some situations seriously enough

Certain situations can be viewed drastically differently from other people’s perspectives, especially in cases of bullying or harassment.

The price of shame

Therefore, if an employee is complaining about an issue that is affecting them, their health or their performance it is HR’s responsibility to look into the grievance and determine the facts of what is right and what is wrong, not go by their own opinion on the matter.

42. Taking some situations too seriously

And again with the balancing act… it’s also possible to take some situations too seriously and dismiss an employee for something that could have been resolved informally if handled properly at the very beginning.

Escalate only to the right stakeholders

Being able to informally deal with issues can mitigate risks posed to the business and HR Directors need to guide their managers to identify which issues don’t need to be escalated unnecessarily.

43. Believing education matches experience

In the past, having a degree would have been the deciding factor on who got the position, but nowadays with degrees being more easily obtainable (thanks to funding and flexible working), they are viewed less significantly.

Communication, problem solving and teamwork are all examples of transferable skills

HR now need to seek candidates that have transferable experience and skills, the right attitude and who will be a good fit culturally.

44. Not being up to date with compliance

The main areas of compliance that HR should be staying on top of include:

  • Anti-discrimination
  • Working hours and wages
  • Sickness and absence entitlements
  • Immigration laws
  • Benefits
  • Health and safety
  • Policies and procedures relating to disciplinary, grievance and appeals

45. Not thinking outside of the HR department box

It’s vital to look beyond the HR function at the internal and external factors that could be affected from decisions made at senior level.

Free up more time to think strategically and guide your organisation

HR Directors are expected to think strategically, but they must also make themselves aware of other departments’ contributions and gain the knowledge and skills – for example in Payroll and Finance and understand the full nature of the business they are working for to truly understand how HR will impact the bottom line.

46. Dismissing the idea of a company handbook

Although there is no law that governs companies to issue a company handbook to all of its staff, it serves an important purpose to notify employees of their workplace rights and details the company policies, procedures and contact details.

An employee handbook is an important way to curate a harmonious workplace and create an invaluable resource

With the human resources departments of today focussing on numerous tasks at once, having something as simple as a company handbook implemented would free up the time spent answering some of the smaller queries that come through daily.

47. Fearing delegation

HR Directors may fear delegating tasks for some of the following reasons:

  • The belief that staff cannot do the job as well as they can
  • The belief that it would take less time to do the work themselves than it would to delegate the responsibility
  • Lack of trust in quality
  • The need to have control over workload
  • Guilt associated with handing over extra tasks to an already busy employee

Although some reasons for fearing delegation are legitimate, HR leaders have to delegate because it’s not possible to do all of these tasks themselves whilst still focusing on the bigger goals, upcoming changes, risks and strategy development.

48. Not being accountable for your actions or the actions of your team

Sometimes things go wrong, it’s inevitable.

But rather than push the blame onto others, HR Directors should hold themselves accountable for their department to show good leadership as the senior member of staff and follow the issue up by digging deeper into what went wrong and how it can be rectified to maintain team morale.

49. Failing to learn from your mistakes

The biggest mistake of all would be failure to learn from mistakes!  HR Directors should view their mistakes as a learning opportunity and not dwell on them as a failure.

Remember to be open-minded and careful with your decisions.

We all make mistakes but as long as we are learning and growing from them then that is what counts.

50. Not sharing your mistakes with us here at Sage HR

Are you guilty of making any of these mistakes or have made a mistake that we haven’t mentioned?

We would love to hear about some of the mistakes that you have made in your career as a HR Director and what lessons you learned from them, so leave us a comment below to share with us and our readers!👇

Let us break it down – the top 50 mistakes of a HR Director that we discovered are:

  1. Micromanaging
  2. Socialising too much with staff
  3. False promises when recruiting
  4. Bring a ‘know it all’
  5. Hiring too quickly to fill position
  6. Pushing tick box exercises
  7. Having poor delegation skills
  8. Being too authoritative
  9. Not respecting confidentiality
  10. Pre-judging
  11. Not placing enough focus on company culture
  12. Not implementing the right technology
  13. Failing to practice what you preach
  14. Not providing enough context or explaining the ‘why’
  15. Keeping everyone in the loop
  16. Ineffective on-boarding
  17. No focus on engagement strategies
  18. Forgetting to give praise or reward when it’s due
  19. Focussing on the negatives
  20. Not following precedents
  21. Dismissing too slow
  22. Failing to identify issues fast enough
  23. Reporting on irrelevant things
  24. No focus on analytics
  25. Underestimating importance of successes and failures
  26. Taking criticism too personally
  27. Giving unconstructive feedback
  28. Not dealing with issues when they arise
  29. Being too informal
  30. Being too formal
  31. Turning a blind eye to problems
  32. Not implementing effective hiring techniques
  33. Skipping HR management training
  34. Being reactive rather than proactive
  35. Holding on to paper based systems
  36. Having the right balance between employee advocate and company representative
  37. Sharing too much information online
  38. Treating employees like a number
  39. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach
  40. Being afraid to admit when you don’t know
  41. Not taking some situations seriously enough
  42. Taking some situations too seriously
  43. Believing education matches experience
  44. Underestimating compliance issues
  45. Not thinking outside of the HR department
  46. Not having an up-to-date company handbook
  47. Fearing delegation
  48. Not being accountable for your actions or the actions of your team
  49. Failing to learn from your mistakes
  50. Not sharing your mistakes with us here at CakeHR


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Written By

Robyn South

Robyn is a HR professional with over 7 years experience in generalist and complex employee relations matters. A newly established Virtual HR Assistant offering a range of HR services online, who loves to travel and part of the content management team at CakeHR.