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‘I pity the fool’ who doesn’t hire HR

Exit interviews with former MPs reveals need for good HR practices on Parliament Hill

By Todd Humber

Cue the opening theme song: “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the HR-Team.”

OK, so that’s a blatant rip-off of the opening credits of the A-Team — and the HR-Team doesn’t exist. But it should, because there’s a need for a “crack commando unit” of HR professionals that can be parachuted into hot spots at a moment’s notice.

So, elite HR professionals, grab your employment standards acts, best practice books and copies of Canadian HR Reporter, pack them in your duffel bag and start humming the theme song to a cheesy ‘80s TV show because your first assignment awaits: Ottawa.

That’s right, Parliament Hill needs your help — stat.

A report from Samara, a charitable organization that studies citizen engagement with Canada’s democracy, has found MPs — especially rookie ones — would benefit from a solid dose of good HR practices.

Samara conducted exit interviews with 65 former MPs to get a handle on what can be improved in the capital. The resulting report is both fascinating and troubling, and is dripping with scenarios where HR professionals could save the day.

The report put the spotlight squarely on one of the biggest problems facing our elected representatives — a lack of training, orientation and mentorship.

Being an MP is, arguably, one of the most important jobs in the country. Yet the people Canadians “hire” to do it often know absolutely nothing about it. An organization hiring people with no experience, credentials, qualifications or screening to staff key positions is unthinkable. But that’s precisely who you get running government in a democracy.

There is no school for MPs, no master’s degree in “Prime Ministership.” Many MPs talk about being “accidental politicians” who never planned to run for office.

On average, MPs are elected in their mid- to late-40s, often having spent most of their adult life pursuing a career outside politics, according to the Samara report.

“They arrived with little knowledge of the workings of Parliament or their political parties. Rules and procedures were described as opaque, processes inefficient and human resource decisions baffling,” it stated.

The former MPs spent a lot of time in their exit interviews talking about how solid HR practices could improve the way Parliament functions.

Orientation, in particular, could use some assistance. One MP said: “We sat in the house, had a speech from two former MPs saying, ‘Don’t drink too much.’ That was about it.”

The exit interviews revealed many former MPs felt overwhelmed and confused in the first few months on the job. Rookie MPs “are, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the day after they’re elected,” said one.

“Many said they were left to their own devices to determine how to go about their job, how to navigate the intricacies of parliamentary procedure, and even how to hire appropriate staff,” the report said.

Many MPs talked about establishing formal mentorship programs for new MPs, and several suggested formalized systems to help MPs get to work more quickly.

“I didn’t have a clear idea of what type of person I should hire to run my office and their day-to-day tasks,” one MP said. He recalled asking if there was a database of staff he could use to hire people.

Job descriptions, or more accurately a lack thereof, are also problematic. Samara’s report pointed out there were no guidelines, and few supports, for them to rely on when determining what their job as an MP detailed.

“As a result, even after, on average, over a decade of service, the MPs to whom we spoke had vastly different and often conflicting views on the essential purpose of their job, and what they were elected to do,” it said.

What the former MPs revealed in their exit interviews make so much sense. Parliament Hill needs an HR department solely dedicated to MPs, helping them to navigate the complexities of the job, hire and manage staff and to generally build a better culture.

So let’s jump in the Jeeps, set the GPS for Ottawa and cue up the theme song. And we can all say it together — “I pity the fool” who doesn’t hire HR professionals.

Because now we know what kind of organization we’d have without them — Parliament.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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