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    « Bob Builds Buzz | Main | TEDGlobal - Day Four (Part One) »

    July 26, 2005


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    Of course it can Tom! And now I am going dark on this topic. Long live good HR!

    Adrian Savage

    HR has a fundamental problem of identity and technology. First, it's not sure who's side it's on, management or the employees or its own. Second, it has no distinctive technology and borrows everything it uses from somewhere else (psychology, sociology, law, etc.).

    Like other "professions" whose purpose is unclear beyond the most mundane aspects of what they do (accounting comes to mind, since their only real function is to keep financial records), HR has tried to claw it's way into the executive suite by the tried-and-true tactic of frightening people into believing it's essential. Hence the emphasis on preventing litigation (in the USA) and compliance with EU directives (in Europe).

    As long as HR acts as corporate policemen, enforcing the "rules" it generates itself, it will remain a justifiably disliked activity, kept as far away from the "real world" of business as possible.

    The only solution is to start building its own technology on the basis of something that adds value, not enforcing compliance with processes business finds irrelevant.

    George Lenard

    OK. Look. I'm a management employment lawyer. I'd like to put myself out of business by preventing employment litigation, but it ain't gonna happen.

    Right now, some of our biggest companies, along with others of all sizes and governmental entities at all levels, are expending immense resources on such litigation. Every day, new employment class actions are announced.

    I know HR as the people in a clent's organization who know something about these issues and are in a position to prevent, correct, or worsen the factors that affect a company's vulnerability to litigation.

    So I don't know whether to laugh or cry when Adrian in the previous comment says "HR has tried to claw it's way into the executive suite by the tried-and-true tactic of frightening people into believing it's essential. Hence the emphasis on preventing litigation (in the USA)."

    Are you suggesting that this emphasis is phony? That there's nothing to be scared of? That others in the company have the expertese to set the course for needed litigation prevention? I just don't get it.


    Surfed in from SlackerManager and I'll have to take a look around. I posted this on that site, but I feel the need to repost it here, with a bit of additional commentary. Let me say that none of this below is directed at anyone here, as this is posted respectfully as the opinion of an HR professional. Also, please don't mistake my sarcasm for anger, as the written word tends to lose much of the meaning that you might otherwise see in person.

    Performance Appraisals don't work. They are inherently flawed toward being adversarial in nature. Performance Management that truly links an employee's objectives to the objectives of the company is the most effective way to guide employees. PM should be done swiftly and often, like once a quarter. It should take 15-30 minutes to review your employee's performance for that period based on the goals set forth, and to set new focus for the forthcoming quarter. None of the performance discussions should be a surprise since ideally, you'll be speaking with your employees every day giving feedback and mentoring them.

    On another note, the "Why I Hate HR Article" is equally pathetic and on target. Many organizations use HR as an administrative arm only. But, the author neglects to say the real reason that HR fails in many organizations. It is simply that many people in mid-and-upper level leadership positions on the operations (or bread-and-butter) side of the business simply think that they have too much to do on their "real jobs" to worry about focusing on mentorship and development of employees. There is no way to resolve these issues without real buy-in from the operations side of the business. If you think otherwise, then you are mighty idealistic. Think about this the next time you are opening the cash register to an employee that is walking out the door because they feel neglected; what could you have proactively done to have avoided this? Oh that's right, HR put in place training and mentorship programs. Dang, those may have come in handy, about 2 years ago when the seeds for this were planted.

    Many HR folks are simply administrative in nature and guess what? So are half of the folks in any finance and many marketing organizations. It takes a lot of this to keep a business running. How many idiotic requests for information did you receive from the government last week? I received 5 and that's 5 too many, but no one else has all of the necessary info, so it falls on HR. I'd love to hand it off to you, if you'd like, so that I can focus on more strategic elements of the business. Be sure to get it in on time so that we don't get fined $500 for every day we are in non-compliance. And who is going to perform that background check on that convicted violent felon that you want to hire as a Salesperson? Sure you can outsource it, but someone still has to see to it that you follow the procedure to get it done so that you are not held up as negligent when they smash in a customer's face on the job. Oh, we just saved you another $20MM on a liability case. You'd have to sell a lot more product to cover the $500,000 deductible on your liability coverage, if the insurer didn't try to back out on the claim because you failed to follow your written background check policy. Gee, thanks, HR.

    Don't like the policies of the Company? Get off your high-horse and work to change them. HR may be seen as the "police" but in the Companies for which I've worked, we are policing ridiculuous attendance and other policies that were guided and drafted by the operations side of the business. Hey, but if one employee can come in at 9:20 every morning, all employees should be able to, right? And, we have other policies in place on topics such as expense reimbursements and seminar approval procedures, because we know that you probably aren't comfortable confronting your employees on a daily basis about the $300 strip-club jaunt masquerading as dinner that they submitted for approval. Or the 7th seminar request that they have submitted this year. Since you are probably uncomfortable with having that level of confrontation on a daily basis, we've given you an easy out; blame the policy. By the way, if you and the CEO for which you work don't want them changed, they aren't going to be changed.

    You want to determine the value of training and development? You'd better be prepared to closely tie performance to compensation. You're more concerned about the bottom line, though, and since you report directly to the Board of Directors you have to make certain that the quarter-over-quarter profits and EBITDA stay on path, so get off your soap box.

    You think we're not the sharpest tacks in the box? As a Mensan, with a strong sense of strategy, financial responsibility and employee stewardship, I'd disagree. By the way, if we are not sharp tacks, who is the dull tack that hired us or retained us?

    You don't like the legal focus and regulations? Then don't overwork, abuse, discriminate against, and sexually harass your employees. Picture yourself in court over a $10MM questionable sexual harassment and discrimination case on which you have been personally named as a defendant and HR just happened to have forced you to keep a file full of documentation that allows you to win the case and keep your job and reputation in tact. It happens. Often. How you like me now?


    The kind of heat generated by discussions about HR lets me know that the function routinely touches personal and corporate raw nerves.

    Steve's right: HR has to police compliance systems. Fine, break out a Compliance Management function and let them do that all day long. But don't confuse people with talk about personal/professional development and organizational resilience and performance management. Call that part Organizational Development. Let the part of the organization that focuses on those things go off and do that unencumbered by the spectre of calling you in to discuss your strip club jaunt.

    We're expecting way too many diverse things of these tacks, sharp or not. At least give them a shot at being successful by organizing the functions clearly.

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