Monday, February 16, 2009

Why we hate HR

A couple years back I read a tasty article in Fast Company by Keith Hammonds, called 'Why We Hate HR'. It inspired me (and the title of this blog).

Hammonds nails it on most accounts (but not all). It's certainly true from my anecdotal evidence that ambitious business school grads don't set out for a career in HR. Who chooses HR? In fact, I think I've only met one person whom intentionally entered the HR field. It's also true that HR is full of "administrivia of pay, benefits, and retirement", and is often seen only as this. There are too many useless appraisals and too little strategic involvement. Many HR folks seem complacent with the low expectations from the top and lack of involvement in meaningful matters.

This is the inspiring part.

While there are some parts of HR you just can't get away from, the wide range of stuff dumped into HR gives all kinds of opportunities to provide a competitive advantage. "In most companies, this opportunity is utterly wasted".

It's probably not healthy but I find pleasure, or a sense of security, in the incompetence of others - the utterly wasted opportunities. If I see that Bob is gainfully employed posting crappy job openings and interviewing from his list of stock questions, I know I will forever be employed. I see security and opportunity in why we hate HR - I can do better.

I'm less than impressed with what Hammonds sees as 'hope' of HR success. Betty Lou Smith at Hunter Douglas won Hammonds over because she connected turnover with quality. Wow. That's it? The acceptable HR fix was a longer than 10 minute orientation and having mentors. Libby Sartain, at Yahoo, also did a good HR job by initiating an Operations meeting (at the end of the meeting, they mull over individual development decisions). Am I missing something? I see these folks were able to bring the bottom business line into the HR functions, but is everyone else really doing bad enough for these to be good examples?

While I don't think we will ever stop hating HR, there seems to be plenty beyond the 'necessary evil" parts and legal obligations to have fun with and make an impact. I'm with you Hammonds - we need to understand the business, know how our people are connected to it, and deliver value. We also need to think out of the box a lot more. How much do we need work hours, 2 hour handbook orientations, or lengthy 5 point appraisals? What are real ways to deliver value, to actually engage and reward our smartest, and to attract and retain real talent?

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