Here is a summary of an article critical of HR written by Keith Hammonds. We should not be discouraged by what he says –but carefully examine ourselves to make sure we don’t fall into this category.
At the end of the article I have provided you with a rebuttal given by Prof. Jacquelyn Thorp Kinworthy
Because let's face it: After close to 20 years of hopeful rhetoric about becoming "strategic partners" with a "seat at the table" where the business decisions that matter are made, most human-resources professionals aren't nearly there. They have no seat, and the table is locked inside a conference room to which they have no key. HR people are, for most practical purposes, neither strategic nor leaders.
Why are annual performance appraisals so time-consuming -- and so routinely useless? Why is HR so often a henchman for the chief financial officer, finding ever-more ingenious ways to cut benefits and hack at payroll? Why do its communications -- when we can understand them at all -- so often flout reality? Why are so many people processes duplicative and wasteful, creating a forest of paperwork for every minor transaction? And why does HR insist on sameness as a proxy for equity?
It's no wonder that we hate HR. In a 2005 survey by consultancy Hay Group, just 40% of employees commended their companies for retaining high-quality workers. Just 41% agreed that performance evaluations were fair. Only 58% rated their job training as favorable. Most said they had few opportunities for advancement -- and that they didn't know, in any case, what was required to move up. Most telling, only about half of workers below the manager level believed their companies took a genuine interest in their well-being.
The trouble with HR. In a knowledge economy, companies that have the best talent win. We all know that. Human resources execs should be making the most of our, well, human resources -- finding the best hires, nurturing the stars, fostering a productive work environment -- just as IT runs the computers and finance minds the capital. HR should be joined to business strategy at the hip.
Instead, most HR organizations have ghettoized themselves literally to the brink of obsolescence. They are competent at the administrivia of pay, benefits, and retirement, but companies increasingly are farming those functions out to contractors who can handle such routine tasks at lower expense. What's left is the more important strategic role of raising the reputational and intellectual capital of the company -- but HR is, it turns out, uniquely unsuited for that.
HR people aren't the sharpest tacks in the box. We'll be blunt: If you are an ambitious young thing newly graduated from a top college or B-school with your eye on a rewarding career in business, your first instinct is not to join the human-resources dance. (At the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, which arguably boasts the nation's top faculty for organizational issues, just 1.2% of 2004 grads did so.) Says a management professor at one leading school: "The best and the brightest don't go into HR."
Who does? Intelligent people, sometimes -- but not businesspeople. "HR doesn't tend to hire a lot of independent thinkers or people who stand up as moral compasses," says Garold L. Markle, a longtime human-resources executive at Exxon and Shell Offshore who now runs his own consultancy. Some are exiles from the corporate mainstream: They've fared poorly in meatier roles -- but not poorly enough to be fired. For them, and for their employers, HR represents a relatively low-risk parking spot.
The really scary news is that the gulf between capabilities and job requirements appears to be widening. As business and legal demands on the function intensify, staffers' educational qualifications haven't kept pace. In fact, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a considerably smaller proportion of HR professionals today have some education beyond a bachelor's degree than in 1990.
And here's one more slice of telling SHRM data: When HR professionals were asked about the worth of various academic courses toward a "successful career in HR," 83% said that classes in interpersonal communications skills had "extremely high value." Employment law and business ethics followed, at 71% and 66%, respectively. Where was change management? At 35%. Strategic management? 32%. Finance? Um, that was just 2%.
The truth? Most human-resources managers aren't particularly interested in, or equipped for, doing business. And in a business, that's sort of a problem. As guardians of a company's talent, HR has to understand how people serve corporate objectives. Instead, "business acumen is the single biggest factor that HR professionals in the U.S. lack today," says Anthony J. Rucci, executive vice president at Cardinal Health Inc., a big health-care supply distributor.
HR isn't working for you. Want to know why you go through that asinine performance appraisal every year, really? Markle, who admits to having administered countless numbers of them over the years, is pleased to confirm your suspicions. Companies, he says "are doing it to protect themselves against their own employees," he says. "They put a piece of paper between you and employees, so if you ever have a confrontation, you can go to the file and say, 'Here, I've documented this problem.' "
There's a good reason for this defensive stance, of course. In the last two generations, government has created an immense thicket of labor regulations. Equal Employment Opportunity; Fair Labor Standards; Occupational Safety and Health; Family and Medical Leave; and the ever-popular ERISA. These are complex, serious issues requiring technical expertise, and HR has to apply reasonable caution.
But "it's easy to get sucked down into that," says Mark Royal, a senior consultant with Hay Group. "There's a tension created by HR's role as protector of corporate assets -- making sure it doesn't run afoul of the rules. That puts you in the position of saying no a lot, of playing the bad cop. You have to step out of that, see the broad possibilities, and take a more open-minded approach. You need to understand where the exceptions to broad policies can be made."
Typically, HR people can't, or won't. Instead, they pursue standardization and uniformity in the face of a workforce that is heterogeneous and complex. A manager at a large capital leasing company complains that corporate HR is trying to eliminate most vice-president titles there -- even though veeps are a dime a dozen in the finance industry. Why? Because in the company's commercial business, vice president is a rank reserved for the top officers. In its drive for bureaucratic "fairness," HR is actually threatening the reputation, and so the effectiveness, of the company's finance professionals.
Can your HR department say it has the ear of top management? Probably not. "Sometimes," says Ulrich, "line managers just have this legacy of HR in their minds, and they can't get rid of it. I felt really badly for one HR guy. The chairman wanted someone to plan company picnics and manage the union, and every time this guy tried to be strategic, he got shot down."
Say what? Execs don't think HR matters? What about all that happy talk about employees being their most important asset? Well, that turns out to have been a small misunderstanding. In the 1990s, a group of British academics examined the relationship between what companies (among them, the UK units of Hewlett-Packard and Citibank) said about their human assets and how they actually behaved. The results were, perhaps, inevitable.
Procter & Gamble, Pitney Bowes, Goldman Sachs, and General Electric -- that truly are bringing human resources into the realm of business strategy. But they are indeed the few. USC professor Edward E. Lawler III says that last year HR professionals reported spending 23% of their time "being a strategic business partner" -- no more than they reported in 1995. And line managers, he found, said HR is far less involved in strategy than HR thinks it is. "Despite great huffing and puffing about strategy," Lawler says, "there's still a long way to go." (Indeed. When I asked one midlevel HR person exactly how she was involved in business strategy for her division, she excitedly described organizing a monthly lunch for her vice president with employees.)
The problem, if you're an HR person, is this: The tasks companies are outsourcing -- the administrivia -- tend to be what you're good at. And what's left isn't exactly your strong suit. Human resources is crippled by what Jay Jamrog, executive director of the Human Resource Institute, calls "educated incapacity: You're smart, and you know the way you're working today isn't going to hold 10 years from now. But you can't move to that level. You're stuck."
That's where human resources is today. Stuck. "This is a unique organization in the company," says USC's Boudreau. "It discovers things about the business through the lens of people and talent. That's an opportunity for competitive advantage." In most companies, that opportunity is utterly wasted.
Why We Hate HR - A Rebuttal
by Jacquelyn Thorp Kinworthy, SPHR, MSHR
Why We Hate HR? Making a blanket statement about why we hate HR in the context in which you wrote is like saying why we hate landscapers when you mean gardeners!
So, let’s get real. Certain employers, 60% of the ones you think you represent, are too cheap to pay for a qualified Human Resources practitioner...and then they respond to a survey that HR does not step up to the strategic planning plate!
Would you hire a bookkeeper to be your CFO? Would you hire a marketing assistant to be your VP of Marketing? Would you hire a Dad to be your CEO just because he has a few years experience managing a family? No, you wouldn’t. But this is how many employers choose their HR person...and they give them the title HR Director. So from now on when you write, please identify the category you speak about and compare apples to apples. If you compare an HR Manager with no formal education and five years experience to a Chief Financial Officer with an MBA, CPA and 20 years experience, of course, they don`t compare when it comes to strategy. Line up a couple HR practitioners with MSHR’s, SPHR certifications and 20 years experience and we will leave your CFO in the dust when it comes to strategic planning.
Your complaints about annual performance appraisals, retention and training...could be improved in organizations WHEN they begin to hire qualified professional Human Resources practitioners and execs that get the value of people power.
About the best and brightest graduates not going into HR...that’s because there is still little or no opportunity to receive a formal education in the field. Today, as more and more professional HR folks are moving into the teaching arena, you will see more and more of the nation`s brightest graduates getting into the field...and moving into future CEO positions.
A true professional Human Resources practitioner is more capable of running the entire organization than any other senior level position.
Another problem is that...and I don`t dare say anything about the glass ceiling here...but many people that are moved into the HR C Suites...have NO experience in HR. They are "put out to pasture in the HR field". You know what “put out to pasture” means, don`t you, Keith?
Also, since when are all these issues HR issues alone to face? I have news for you...recruiting, training, retention, communication...belong to all of the senior executives. If you spent less time bashing and more time looking for a GREAT business partner, you would know that.
BTW...have you ever heard of the balance scorecard?
Also, you say that most Human Resources managers aren`t particularly interested in, or equipped for, doing business...um, er...is that because most Human Resources Managers are women?
The one thing I agree with you on is that the HR person needs to know who the company`s core customer is, who the competition is, and who the company is. Oh, and so does the rest of the company! A company that does not communicate this information to every employee is doomed to failure eventually.
Ulrich says that many HR people invest more in activities than outcome. Have you ever heard of Maslow`s hierarchy of needs? First, level one must be satisfied before you can move up the hierarchy. In most of today`s organizations, the HR person is relegated to handle these administrative activities....and expected to deliver strategy...again...does the CFO also do accounts receivable and accounts payable? I don`t think so.
One HR associate of mine works for a company that has split the function into two separate functions – one part is personnel, the administrative part - and one part is Human Resources, the strategic part. Sounds like a smart move and a savvy business owner.
There are a few bad HR people...just like there are a few bad editors that talk about things of which they do not know.
John W. Boudreau was right when he said in HR "we don`t have anywhere near that kind of logical sophistication in the way of people or talent. So the decisions that get made about that resource are far less sophisticated, reliable and consistent." However, there are a growing number of logical, sophisticated talented HR people as evidenced by their education, experience and certifications. When universities include Human Resources education in their business schools, then executives will have the right information to choose their HR people wisely. Seasoned execs need to know what to look for in a person that will be managing the HR function and making recommendations for future success of the organization.
You are so wrong about why we do performance appraisals each year...did you go to school?
There is a big disconnect between MBA`s and MSHR`s and the only way to resolve that is to include a number of HR classes in MBA programs. In my Master of Science Program at Chapman University, we had a number of strategic planning classes as well as Accounting and Finance classes.
And then let’s talk about what the current U.S. business culture expects from HR? They come to us for rules. If you are an HR person that thinks outside the box, you will rapidly be pushed back in the box. That is why many great HR people become consultants. For some reason, when a consultant speaks everybody listens...to the same person that was the HR practitioner last year!
I agree with you that the top HR person cannot report to the CFO, it is a conflict of interest...unless the company has hired an unqualified HR person.
So, Keith, let`s flip this and let`s make a recommendation that the qualifications for HR people be recognized and that senior managers that want strategic partners hire only HR practitioners with education, credentials and experience. When you say you hate HR...include that you hate the company`s that hire unqualified HR people.
And then, talk more about the Libby Sartain`s of the world and how young and upcoming HR practitioners can look to her as a model.
I disagree with Gratton’s comments that it is hard to fiddle around with a compensation strategy...if you are on the planning team, it is easy to plan compensation strategy and change...certainly as easy as it is to plan for entire corporate change.
And about being stuck...for many of us the being stuck part is because the executive team does not want us there...in some cases because they are all men and they don`t want to have to deal with the diversity of a woman on the team. In other cases it has nothing to do with our gender...but they view HR as the company cop and they just don’t want us to know what they are doing...because many of us do have values and expectations of the senior leadership. And in other cases the senior leaders are ignorant about the value that a professional HR practitioner can bring. But in most cases it is because they hired a warm body to do the job – not a credentialed, experienced professional Human Resources practitioner.
I was fortunate enough to be on the strategy teams for most of my career. If I wasn’t, I quit. In one case, I was on that team until they hired the son of the owner, a young MBA student who was clueless to the value of HR. I quit and he went through a few HR people and then gave the job to a long time employee that would not talk back. My last corporate job was fun – but they hired me after they had made a horrific hiring error that caused them to file bankruptcy.
So what do those of us that are the HR strategists do? We leave the corporate world...and create our own vision and strategic plan...and then they pay us HUGE amounts of money as consultants to do what we would have gladly done as strategic partners on their payroll.
Jacquelyn Thorp Kinworthy is a Professor of Organization Behavior at California State University, Fullerton and the founder of HR-Coach Products® and Services. After 25 years as a hands on Human Resources practitioner, she identified a need and created a line of affordable Human Resources products. She is the author of 7 Keys to Human Resources Management and the recipient of the PIHRA Excellence in Scholarship and Service in Human Resources Management award.
It's good to read such critiques because then we know what to avoid in our own workplaces.
:D Dear Prof.,
It was good going through the paper. It helped in clearing some probelms that cropped up a few weeks back as to what n where HR needs to be and what they ought to be doing.
Thanks a lot.
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