'Knowledge Is Power' for HR Business Partner

SHRM-SCP credential represents credibility, trustworthiness to highly educated, engaged workforce

By Rena Gorlin January 25, 2018
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Knowledge Is Power for HR Business Partner

Deborah A. Lange, SHRM-SCP

​Brookhaven National Laboratory, a multipurpose research institution on Long Island, N.Y., attracts scientists, engineers and technicians from around the world. "This is a highly educated, highly engaged and highly diverse workforce," said HR business partner Deborah A. Lange, SHRM-SCP, "and overall, it is a respectful workplace." Funded primarily by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science, Brookhaven hosts nearly 2,600 full-time employees and thousands of visiting researchers focusing on the physical, biomedical and environmental sciences; energy; and national security. 

There are four scientific directorates at the laboratory. Lange is part of the HR staff within the 600-person Energy & Photon Sciences Directorate, which includes the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS-II); Center for Functional Nanomaterials; Chemistry, Condensed Matter Physics and Materials Science; and Sustainable Energy Technologies. Lange described HR's role as "spreading knowledge," a responsibility that complements the roles of her colleagues in the science departments. "All of us—scientific and support—work as a team," she said. "Everyone is on a first-name basis, and there is mutual respect among us as individuals." 

Lange's SHRM-SCP credential, which she earned in September 2015, has served her well—helping establish her credibility and developing the trust of the directorate's various divisions. As HR business partner, Lange works with a senior HR manager, a recruiter and an administrative assistant (who is preparing to become SHRM-certified) to assist their internal clients with knowledge and guidance on the full spectrum of HR issues. These range from talent management, performance management, and training and development, to succession planning, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and rewards and recognition programs. Lange is especially proud of having helped the NSLS-II organization grow from approximately 40 to 400 full-time employees in about five years. 

Results and Value 

"Recruitment is a good basic example of how HR demonstrates its value by producing tangible results," Lange said. "When 180 CVs came in from candidates who were sourced or who applied for a position, the hiring manager and interview committee didn't have to evaluate them all; we sent just those who met the qualifications. This saved time—they only had to review the eight qualified candidates." The streamlined talent acquisition process showed the client that HR was "there every step of the way, doing the legwork for them," Lange said. "Our results built trust. We delivered what we promised." 

Lange's group is now trying to make similar inroads with other divisions in the directorate. "Bringing them along in partnership will help reduce redundant processes," Lange said. A division that has always used its own selection process for job interviews, for instance, might question the need for HR's help with interviewing, she explained. "To prove our value, we can point to the results achieved in departments that have fully deployed the HR model." This shows that HR can be trusted to get the job done, Lange said, "that we say what we mean and mean what we say. Developing trust is paramount—as it is in any relationship." 

Reliability and Immediacy 

Once there is trust between HR and a client concerning a basic function such as the interview process, Lange's clients know they can rely on HR for help with more-complex matters. "We want them to see us as partners who are able to address an issue quickly and at the lowest level, before it becomes a crisis," Lange said. "They can work with us to confirm or develop a plan of action. There's no need for them to wait until the last minute or to see HR as a last resort. Clients can expect a partnership that has immediacy." 

Lange speaks from experience—25 years' worth. For eight years prior to her arrival at the laboratory, Lange was the HR manager at a small semiconductor company. "Just me and one benefits specialist—good training for where I am now," Lange said. Before that, she managed a 500-acre private estate, handling payroll, health insurance and the like on behalf of the property's household employees, including chefs, butlers, chauffeurs, gardeners and housekeepers: "a staff of 70 and no HR department!" Over nine years there, Lange built her knowledge of HR "from the ground up," taking classes on employment law and joining HR associations to learn everything she could about the profession. "I've had an interesting career trajectory," Lange said, describing her initial stint working as a recruiter during the day while teaching English at night. "Now students can get degrees in HR! Back then, there was no HR career path." 

Credibility and Consistency 

As a SHRM-SCP credential-holder, Lange knows the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (SHRM BoCK) has enhanced her effectiveness in her current role. She cites several of the competencies as key to her work, including Communication ("No. 1, anywhere," Lange said), Ethical Practice ("Certification means ethics: determining what is the right thing to do"), Relationship Management, Consultation and HR Expertise

"SHRM certification provides the groundwork for credibility and consistency," Lange said. "The element of credibility comes from being open to others' perspectives. For instance, when a decision is made in an organization, how does it affect employees and the greater community? How was the decision made? What are the perspectives of various stakeholders regarding the decision?" The element of consistency, Lange said, comes from the foundation set forth in the SHRM BoCK, whose "constant presence" encourages ethical behavior. "Applying the BoCK on a consistent basis is part of its value," Lange said. "But it's not all you need to know. It's a foundation only. The fact is, we are human beings and there are good and bad practitioners in every profession." 

Integrity and Community 

Ethics considerations contributed to Lange's decision to attain her SHRM credential. "SHRM is a reputable organization that represents integrity," Lange said. "It makes sense for SHRM to provide its own certification. I found the idea very appealing, even though I already hold other HR credentials. 

"Professionally, I'm recognized as more marketable, for future growth internally and externally. Personally, SHRM certification is an important aspect of my continued involvement in the greater HR community." Lange added that she is glad to be associated with SHRM, not only as a credential-holder but also as a national and chapter member. "It means a lot to belong to a respected HR organization." 

With the SHRM Long Island chapter's workforce readiness committee, Lange has volunteered to help local high school juniors and seniors hone their skills with mock job interviews, as well as introduce them to the idea of HR as a career. "SHRM chapters are a microcosm of HR," Lange said. "Volunteering is a chance to do good, sharing knowledge with colleagues and the community. It's just like in the workplace, where HR shares knowledge with managers and employees." 

Knowledge and Recertification

The role of knowledge in HR is vital to Lange's worldview. "I take the profession seriously," she said. "HR is always growing and changing, and we must stay ahead of the curve. That means adapting to new workplace trends and upcoming changes in state and federal law, implementing strategies, and acting quickly—but not impulsively." 

To Lange, SHRM's recertification requirements represent an opportunity to gain more knowledge to share and implement. "I'm actually proud that we need so many credits to maintain the credential," she said. "And SHRM has made it more convenient to acquire recert credits. After all, everything we do involves strategy and the business of the organization we work for. SHRM trusts us to prove that we're applying the BoCK on a consistent basis." Lange's own recertification plan includes attending workshops and webinars, doing coursework, communicating with other HR professionals in person and online, and indulging her interests as a self-described voracious reader. 

"Learning never stops," she said. "Planning and sharing knowledge with our partners is key to implementing change. Knowledge is power! We've come a long way—and there's always more to learn." 

Rena Gorlin is an independent writer and editor in Washington, D.C.


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