Wednesday, November 28, 2007

[incompetence] eliminate human resources for a start

This mini-series began with "There may be a reason", continues with this article on "Human Resources" and concludes tomorrow wih "Failure Analysis".

The series is a reaction against the massive losses of the past few months in governmental departments and it focuses on the private sector first.

The first and most overwhelming obstacle or bottleneck to an organization, be it public or private sector, is its Human Resources Department.

The most charitable thing that can be said for Human Resources departments is that they are on a hiding to nothing. It's their very nature and the things they're expected to do which make them failures. Here is a compendium of comment from analysts, HR people themselves and from business men and women, in no particular order.

* HR departments can be needlessly bureaucratic, obstructionist, stuck in the "comfort zone" of filling out forms and explaining company benefits, and too closely aligned with the interests of management yet lacking the business knowledge to be effective strategic partners.

* Peter Cappelli, director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources said:

"Companies are pushing more and more work onto employees, and HR departments are becoming the mechanism for doing that. As a result, the idea that HR people are there to represent workers -- or at least deal objectively with their concerns -- is pretty much gone."

* With companies continuing to cut back employee benefits such as healthcare and pensions, HR departments have found themselves "increasingly the bearer of bad news to employees."

* According to the August 2005 cover story in Fast Company magazine, entitled "Why We Hate HR," HR people are not interested in an "open-minded approach" when it comes to making exceptions to company policies, including pay schedules.

"Instead, they pursue standardization and uniformity in the face of a workforce that is heterogeneous and complex.... Bureaucrats everywhere abhor exceptions -- not just because they open up the company to charges of bias but because they require more than rote solutions."

[My note here: "Flair" is not encouraged in system oriented businesses like McDonalds - there appears little scope for enterprising flair. I ran a cricket team once which was packed with boys capable of defence. We'd lost several matches with charismatic strokemakers getting out to clever balls and so we went in with "percentage" players. Worked well until one day it required someone to seize the initiative. None of our boys could. HR operates this way.]

* "Who does your company's vice president of human resources report to? If it's the CFO -- and chances are good it is -- then HR is headed in the wrong direction."

* Why HR is useless and even damaging:
1) Companies hire inexperienced and unqualified people to handle HR, but expect them to perform at higher levels than they are qualified.

2) Companies do not invest in HR as they do in other departments.

3) Many small to medium size companies have HR people that are strategic partners.
From business people

* USC suggests that HR people consistently overestimate their contributions as strategic partners. Not that they don't contribute--but the line managers they work with typically value this partnership less than does HR.

* While I don't doubt that there are many unqualified HR professionals out there, there is also a definite lack of excellent programs offering graduate degrees in HR.

* In my experience, too often what HR professionals miss is a sound business perspective. Most HR people that I've worked with have a pretty good handle on regulations and behavioral pitfalls but a very poor understanding of risk. Everything is viewed as a possible worst case. Yet in other parts of a company, departments handle risk/reward/cost trade offs all day.

* I work in the consulting field with a lot of companies in my state, I have seen first hand how CEO's do not value HR. They do not ask their HR person's opinion, they leave them out of major decisions, and they proceed to make decisions without a clue of the consequences they are about to incur.

* David Ulrich who wrote, in Human Resource Champions, that HR has four roles to fill in an organization: Strategic Partner, Change Agent, Administrative Expert and Employee Champion. HR departments appear not to succeed in any of these.

* In the field of IT, HR has even less reason to exist. Why? Well, in a personal sense for this chap, here are three reasons:
1. Recruiters don’t know anything about programming and are ignorant of virtually everything related to software development. Many hadn’t even heard of Boost, O’Reilly, or the C++ Users Journal. They didn’t understand the significance of my credentials.

2. Recruiters view my freelance experience as a negative point, even though they say they want “self-motivated independent problem solvers”. Apparently I am too independent!

3. I only computed two years of a university degree in computer science.
In other words, IT is a field where the bit of paper is of far less value than hands-on development incorporating latest technological ideas.

* Personnel Today decided to give the HR profession, as a whole, a 360-degree appraisal. First, in our 360-degree appraisal of HR survey, we asked our readers to rate the knowledge, performance, priorities and effectiveness of themselves and their HR department.
- Some 59 per cent of [HR employees] rated their HR department as extremely or very effective.

- 20 per cent of managers said their HR department was extremely or very effective. Another 43 per cent said it was not very or not at all effective.

- 46 per cent of managers said they experienced unnecessary red tape from HR.

- A healthy 80 per cent [of HR employees] declared their HR department offered good value, and only 10 per cent said no.

- However, a shockingly low 31 per cent of managers said their HR department offered good value for money, and 48 per cent said it did not.
* 5 Reasons to Hate Your HR Department:
1. They think you are a resource

2. Talking to them accomplishes nothing

3. No real understanding of you or your job

4. Inflexible policies and red tape

5. They pretend to be on your team
While most HR people are well meaning and while some HR departments are helpful to their employees, there is a reason why so many negative stereotypes exist.

My own further comments

HR are amateurs in business. If they were any good at business themselves, they'd be in there making money. They're not. By and large, they're the same PC do-gooder inflexibles who look to further regulation as the solution to systemic ills and as a substitute for effective analysis.

They are used by management to point fingers at anyone but the management [after all, management employed them and paid them] - therefore they have zero function in an organization in anything but a book-keeping sense.

Failure Analysis is looked at tomorrow and it can be seen that the bottleneck to efficiency called Human Resources quite clearly needs to be eliminated and its resources reallocated in order to make the analysis and repair job and ongoing efficiency of an organization actually work.


Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Why aren't you earning a packet sorting businesses out, James? Again, a phenomenal amount of work in this post and what you say rings true. How do you find time to sleep?

Rob said...

I agree HR are a waste of space. About 5 months ago I left a job because the company couldn't provide me with any other opportunities. The reason? HR.

My boss was not allowed to just give me a better job even though he knew I was the most qualified. It had to be done by the 'book'. Interviews, applications, etc.

Anyway I got offered another job which I took and it was a disaster. Their HR department was useless as well. My new boss was a nutter and the HR department did jack shit to help me settle in.

Thankfully I'm now doing contracting, means I don't have to deal with HR anymore.

Shades said...

I have worked for a couple of companies in the past where the HR teams were remarkably incompetent, although I can think of some really talented people who impressed me with their ability to understand individuals and organisational behaviour.

The drive to standardise and normalise everything always strucjk me as odd- unless regulations insist then people should be rewarded for their abilities and potential, not their arbitary location on some arcane templates.

Lord James-River said...

Welsh - I should try to but there are many in this field.

Rob and Shades - this is the sort of feedback which is very valuable - thank you, lads.

Dave Cole said...

The joys of the Human Remains department... oh my. The HR dept at one job I had were beyond parody. When I was having my exit interview, having made it clear that I'd had a miserable time and was willing to give up my accrued holiday pay to give less notice, and the dinkbat asked if there was anything they could do to convince me to stay...