Keith Hammond’s snark meter goes to eleven in his piece, “Why I Hate HR” (you might need a fast Company Subscription to view but I think the link goes public after the issue’s been out a while). I agree with some of the points he’s trying to make.
“Strategically aligned to the business” is a little bit of an inside joke on my team (we are a Staffing team, remember). Frankly, in my job, I don’t want to be strategically aligned to the business. I want the business to tell me what they want (hmm, there could sometimes be a method to getting that info out of them, but does everything need to be “strategic”?). The strategy comes when you figure out how to give them what they ask for. Having a clear picture of the business need and being strategically aligned to the marketplace is what’s important. Anyway, it’s fun to come up with creative mad libs for “strategically aligned to ______”…seriously, play with your friends. Today, for example, I am strategically aligned to my e-mail inbox. Last night I was strategically aligned to a nice bottle of Marquis Philips Shiraz. That’s the extent to which the word strategic has ceased to denote something truly strategic. One good word, overused and ruined forever. If it went away, I wouldn’t miss it a bit.
It’s easy to deflect some of Keith’s criticism, though, since I never really thought of myself as an “HR” person, not that I think there’s anything wrong with that. I just identify more with “Staffing”. Whenever we have cross-company HR meetings and someone says “HR”, I think they are talking about someone else; the people that handle what happens after someone is hired. Staffing isn’t blameless, though, in Keith’s analysis. Sometimes, I worry that companies focus too much on process and not enough about adding value (for example, forwarding a resume to a hiring manager and asking the manager if they want you to phone interview the candidate adds little value versus learning the needs, screening the candidate and making a recommendation). And as I’ve said before, the way to find out if you are adding value in a service organization is to actually ask your customer. I think we are more likely to hear that they want more or better candidates than stuff about process frameworks, then again, they know not to come to me for the latter. Process just isn’t my passion (good thing I have the job I have). Every time a process map is produced, my co-workers get a little joy, I think, by observing the look on my face which may involve my eyes rolling toward the back of my head (I try not to make it that obvious but they are staring right at me!). I guess I am always thinking “is this going to make my job easier or harder?” and “who asked for this process map?” Of course, all just my opinion. During my career I’ve met recruiters and HR folks on both sides of the coin and I feel pretty lucky here. When Keith describes the type of person that won’t go into HR (top MBA, successful in business), it actually described some of our HR leaders here. And we actually do have a group within the business here that focuses in career development within the marketing function (yeah, they are marketing people that do actually partner with HR). So I have to think that the business is getting some value if they are putting resources toward it. So take Keith’s points with one rounded teaspoon of salt and decide for yourself. Which is reminding me to ask some if these people to guest-blog.
Anyway, I don’t agree with all of the things he says (a little heavy handed in your criticism…almost like he’s angry…maybe it was the Vegas heat), but many of them are true…something that we can learn from at least (perception = reality? well, it does when the business funds your department). That’s not to say “HR is bad”, but what can we (as a function) do better. Last week I had a conversation about the relative importance of Staffing to the business. I’ve always felt comfortable with us being a function that “supports” the business rather than “partners with” the business. Because the thing that gets me excited about my job is the idea that I hire people that get cool stuff done, the kind of stuff that makes shareholders happy (hey, I am a shareholder too). At the end of the day, the business really just want us to fill their open positions with great people so work can get done. And I am OK with that.