April 23, 2009

What’s wrong with HR?

Most HR departments do personnel administration, not human resources management.

Back when I was hired for my first job, I spent a few minutes with someone from Personnel who walked me through the mandatory administration tasks to get me on the payroll. Which was nice, obviously. My relationship with that department consisted solely of the monthly ritual of a wage slip passing into my hands.

I’m sure they did other things too. Hiring and firing type things. Working out benefits and salary structure type things. Administrative things.

Personnel departments mostly concerned themselves with hiring and administering good talent.

But it’s not the companies with the best talent who win. It’s not just about hiring well. It’s about nurturing and developing talent, bringing the best out of it, and getting it to work together for a common aim. Winning is about management.

Personnel people worked that out. They invented HR Management and talked about their role as strategic partners with a seat at the leadership table. Personnel departments became HR Management.

HR Management implies something more than handling the day-to-day administrative tasks. It implies the focused development of the expensive, value adding, parts of the organisation to improve performance of the individual and the whole.

Some companies pull it off.

But most don’t.

Twenty years after the revolution, HR departments mostly do Personnel. Working out payroll. Developing procedures not people. Administering not managing. Sitting in on interviews to ensure compliance with policy. Inventing arcane, time consuming, meaningless performance “criteria” that turn appraisals into exercises in form filling.

HR departments are perfectly good at doing administration – so were Personnel departments and so are specialist outsource specialists, probably at lower cost – but not much good at doing what they promise.

So what to do?

To misquote David Packard, HR is too important to be left to the HR department. Let HR do administration (whilst talking about strategy) and stop them getting in the way of humans, resources, or management.