My Posts

Is Human Resources Fatally Flawed?

Don’t think about it. Just answer me quickly: Is HR fatally flawed?

How many of you answered yes? When I first started writing this in April, I said yes too. Yes, this has been on my mind since April, sitting in my draft folder waiting for me to answer the question. And I can tell you, if I waited until I had a perfect answer, you may never have seen a post. In that time frame, I’ve gone back and forth but I finally come to the conclusion that HR isn’t fatally flawed but it does need some work.

Is The Tide Turning Against HR?

When I wrote this question back in April, I knew my answer but was afraid to post it. So I thought about it over and over again for almost five months. Here’s why I thought HR was through:

  1. Most of HR’s value could be outsourced — Heck, it already was in many cases. Everything from talent recruitment and selection to heavy lifting in critical employee relations and benefits matters were being taken care of (or very heavily influenced) by outside agencies and consultants.
  2. Unclear goals and ROI — If you are a small to medium sized company, you can’t afford to have an entire department sucking funds from your other profitable departments. At some point, HR will become a luxury department for large Fortune 500 companies (the same one’s that can afford to run advertisements simply to raise “brand awareness”).
  3. No input on business direction — You don’t get a seat at the table without having business savvy. You want to know why C-level titles or so inconsistent for HR? A true lack of business courage outside of the talent world. If you have nothing to add about marketing messages, sales forecasts, or budgeting issues, you’re of no use at the table. Let’s just put that to bed.

So I saw all of that and thought that in a decade or so, you won’t see robust HR departments outside of large companies. And even at those companies, HR would be in a precarious position if bad financials started influencing decision making.

Of course, my thinking changed.

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

When you have a near death experience, one of the common experiences is the light at the end of the tunnel phenomenon. One of the other common experiences was a feeling of warmness, comfort and an almost enlightened state. Now some will tell you that it is your soul going on to its next destination or a series of chemical and electrical responses to your body shutting down. Whatever it is, when people come back from an episode like that, it is one of the few ways humans become permanently rewired.

What’s the connection to HR? I am convinced that HR is going to be transformed due to a soon coming near death experience. It is going to become a fad to integrate high performing HR folks directly with operation groups in organizations (it already has in some forward thinking companies). This will end up reducing HR to a complete administrative function and to the brink of death. People are going to scramble and eventually, a new way of integrating the talents of HR will hit someone and it will become the norm for decades afterward.

We won’t get there until something drastic happens though. People in HR are still too comfortable with the current system.

New HR: Now More Than Ever

HR doubters and haters are reading through this thinking I am just making the case for them. Only in their mind, HR just ends up dying at the end and everybody is happy. HR has heard this for how long, right? Maybe the biggest indictment on corporate inaction is the fact that the HR department you see today is still the best thinking we have on how to best manage our “most important asset.”

So I began thinking about what critical functions of HR I would want to keep if I wanted to put together a minimalistic but effective corporate structure. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Workplace Process and Productivity Expert — I would want someone that could look at a workplace process and figure out all of the issues negatively impacting the productivity. While some would put this under supply chain management, I would want a person that could incorporate supply chain principles with organizational development to give a wide perspective.
  2. Functional and Effective Internal Ombudsman — This would be a person that becomes the next generation of employee relations. Someone who would be comfortable (and be given the authority) to call out management and employees on their detrimental actions and be compensated based on solving issues. An internal ombudsman will command respect (but not necessarily agree) because their recommendations and results will be explained and made public to all employees. Hard to wiggle out of that.
  3. Employee Life Cycle Manager — This person would be the guru on how to best integrate new people into an organization, develop careers internally and anticipate and plan exits for any number of reasons. As part of their internal career management, this person would also be in charge of all internal and externally coordinated training and development activities. If you thought of your company’s employees like a giant factory with thousands of moving pieces, this person would know where each piece is at and will be in any given minute.

Those would be the functions I would choose to continue if I had to cut it down to the bare minimum with functions I could track ROI and clear cut goals on. Everything else I could outsource effectively if needed.

Obviously there are people in HR that cover these areas in various ways but I’ve yet to see an HR organization that organizes them around these sorts of functions.

Does this make sense? If it doesn’t, what does? And if you’re happy with how things are currently structured, what’s the argument against trying a different approach if your manager came to you with this idea?

My Posts

Annoyed at Job Candidates? Look in the Mirror

One of the ways my blog has shifted over the last 18 months is that it has become less about what job candidates and employees are doing wrong and more about what HR and management are doing wrong. It has been one of those funny evolutions of a blog that you never see coming when you start. Maybe that’s the progression of my HR career which has basically gone through four phases:

  1. The “For Pete’s sake, is every employee and job candidate a complete moron?” phase.
  2. The “This must be a joke. Look at how stupid our managers are acting” phase.
  3. The “Forget all of those other people, am I (and everyone in HR) really this stupid?” phase.
  4. The “I wonder if I can do something to improve all of these things” phase.

I’ve been a resident of stage four for a while and I have been coming to terms with it. Will a smart remark pop out of my mouth when I get a typewritten resume obviously photocopied and updated with white-out and handwriting? I’m not perfect but generally, I’ve been much more solutions oriented than mocking oriented.

What’s Wrong With This Applicant?

A common thing I hear people in HR complain about are applicants and job seekers. Everything from spelling mistakes on resumes to not pronouncing their name correctly, I’ve heard it. And listen, if you process hundreds of applicants daily, I’ll give you a bit of a break. It is tedious work. But if it is the first time in months you’ve processed a resume and you’re complaining, there’s probably a bigger issue there: maybe you shouldn’t be reviewing resumes. When you’re nitpicking on the second resume you see because a tab isn’t perfect, let’s just hope your company has some room for failure because that hiring process may not be the best place for you.

Besides that, it may not even be their fault. Most of the serious errors that job seekers make in the selection process are the fault of the process itself, not mass incompetence.

Don’t Tick Me Off And You Get The Job

Serious job seeking errors aside, if you think that the idea of eliminating candidates based on petty annoyances is a good practice, you should get out of talent selection immediately. Get over yourself already. I love the funny ways that people in selection like to play God a little bit. “Well, I liked them but they double space after each sentence. I can’t hire a person like that.” Good grief, are you hiring a reporter for the Washington Post?

Job seeker errors that happen repeatedly can almost always be traced back to the company posting the position. For example, I knew an HR guy who thought he was a big shot and thought that everyone that applied should know his name and should be addressing correspondence to him. If they didn’t? Junk.

The problem? His name wasn’t anywhere on the site. You could do some digging and find him but he wasn’t looking for internet researchers. He was looking for people to pick up the phone and be helpful. If he was so caught up in his name being brought up, why didn’t he list it on the site? More importantly, why was he constantly trying to hire people even though his area kept tightening their budget?

The major issues and the things that repeated themselves were actions within the control of the company but took no steps to alieviate or fix the issue. That’s a shift in responsibility, right?

Do You Want The Best People Or Just Survivors?

We are currently in an interview era where people no longer nail interviews, they just end up surviving all of the rounds until they are the last one standing. It is like watching the worst reality show ever*. Keep your answers bland, don’t upset the 15 interviewers and you can pass on to the next level. If you think candidate selection is about hiring interview process survivors, it is going to be a frustrating ride for you.

Your process should be built around how you can figure out if a person will thrive in the position you are hiring them for. By the way, about those positions? Usually they don’t involve getting grilled by her office co-workers for an hour and a half at a time. If you are hiring a marketing person, get them in the room with the marketing team and have them work on a problem for an hour or so and see how they interact. If you are hiring a programmer, get them with the IT group and start pouring through code that needs improvement. If you are hiring a mechanic, start going through blueprints and looking at disassembled machinery.

Our selection process is mired in tradition for tradition’s sake. Let’s get over it and figure out a better way to pick the people who will help our companies move forward.

* Actually, I take that back. Temptation Island? That may have been the worst.

My Posts

Exit Interviews Are Band Aids On Broken Legs

So let’s say you’re working for a company with turnover problems (i.e. losing your best people to competitors) and management comes to Human Resources to figure out why people are leaving. What far too many HR people will suggest is that the organization should use an exit interview to get the information and report on a quarterly basis. Some will even pretend it helps their business chops because they get to report numbers on spreadsheets and create pretty graphs.

Let’s not fool ourselves: the best case scenario is your exit interview actually provides new information because your company management is inept at figuring out what should already be known. That’s the best case scenario!

Acing The Exit Interview

You know what most books and websites say about doing well in an exit interview as the departing employee? Don’t say anything negative. And you know what I say to that? It is absolutely correct. Negative information can get back to the manager (no matter what the HR person promises you). In fact, unless you are leaving a department with a ton of turnover, I would guarantee that anything specifically negative mentioned gets back to the original manager.

Now this may not mean you burned a bridge there. If they are a good manager, they would take any negative feedback and try to improve. But remember back to why I said you were doing the exit interview? Company management is trying to compensate because they can’t figure out the basics (like why employees are leaving). So maybe, just maybe, we’re talking about the type of manager that won’t take your feedback in the best way possible.

Prevention Just Sounds Good

So when exit interviews fail to accomplish their goal (or they do manage to accomplish their goal only to be left with no solution), some in HR will talk about taking preventative steps in order to stop the mass exodus from your organization. They’ll take what little information they got and try to do something with it. Most likely this will include some combination of succession planning, compensation/benefits analysis and adjustment, new training and development programs, and/or adding some new type of benefit program (tuition reimbursement is a common one).

The real problem is twofold. The first one is that it will take forever to get any of these changes approved and that fact alone won’t be communicated with current employees. So if you are actually working on something that you know is a problem and it will take six months or a year, people should at least know that you’re aware of it. The other problem is that management training is rarely a part of the solution because it is rarely mentioned as a problem.

Here’s a clue by four: nobody (and I mean NOBODY) is leaving your organization because of a tuition reimbursement plan. Yes, that is a good benefit that you can offer but it isn’t a make or break deal buster. And it is something you can fix with more money if it really is an issue.

The Real Solution

You need real managers. Ones that know their employees well, that have open lines of communication, that have some basic investigation and analytical skills, and don’t need an exit interview to be told why people are leaving. I’m not even talking about leadership here. These should be basic skills that we can equip any manager with. If we aren’t talking about that, we’re not talking about any realistic, long term solution.

All of those other things are band aids. Yes, your compensation should be adjusted if it is out of whack. Yes, your benefits should be adjusted if they are a problem. But making those adjustments means nothing if you do not have competent managers who are properly equipped with the skills necessary to understand your workforce’s critical needs. If you had that, why would you need an exit interview?

My Posts

This HR Guy Is Over Your Spelling Mistakes

It is one of the first thing people say about composing your resume: make sure you don’t have any spelling mistakes. Or certainly, a spelling mistake means certain doom even if the rest of your resume looks great. And really, not a day goes by when I don’t see a comment on twitter about how somebody spelled something wrong on a resume. I won’t throw the first stone, I’ve been in that boat before. But I will say this: unless your horrendous spelling really hurts my ability to understand your resume, I am over your spelling mistakes and other HR people should get over it too.

The Argument

First of all, let’s list off the common reasons why some HR and recruiting pros have zero tollerance for spelling mistakes on resumes (seriously, zero tollerance):

  • It is easier than ever to check spelling. Most word processing programs do that for you.
  • This is one of the most important documents that you have to send out. Why wouldn’t you get it right?
  • If you show a lack of detail orientation on your resume, what does that say about your ability to do a detailed job?

And probably a few others that will be pointed out to me in the comment section. I will agree with them in two (and only two) instances:

  • Writing or editing writing is your full time job. If you’re a copywriter, technical writer or a newspaper reporter, you’re really screwed if you have a spelling error. No way around that.
  • If writing is a big component of your job. I’m thinking many marketing or PR pros fall into this category. Even then, I would still be tollerant of a typo on a customized part of a resume or cover letter.

That’s it.

Soapbox Time

I try not to get on my soapbox too much but I feel I have to, even if I am only talking to myself here.

99% of the time, we are not hiring writers. 99% of the time, we are not hiring interviewees. We are hiring mechanics or sales people or biologists or veterinarians or police officers. It is our job, the HR or recruiting pro, to see past these surface difficiencies and figure out what these people are truly talented at. Even if that means suffering through a couple there/their/they’re or then/than or insure/ensure/assure. Poor us, right?

The Fear

If we’re honest with ourselves, the biggest thing driving this sort of knee jerk reaction is the fear that the one mistake in an interview or resume that you let slip by is a precursor to everything that is wrong with an employee. So we strip away all of these risks and go with someone that might be more talented at resume writing or interviewing than their actual job.

I won’t mention the fact that it takes much more courage to stand up for a candidate that misses the mark on spelling but may be brilliant at their job than a candidate that looks great on paper but is as vanilla as a sundae without the toppings.

In reality, we keep going back to this tired and ineffective way to absolutely screen out candidates because we have a hard time evaluating whether or not someone is a good fit, has the skill set and is the right person for the job. So we latch on to anything concrete we can find in the hiring process to differentiate candidates in a way that doesn’t require thinking about people in an abstract way.

Now I am starting to sound like one of these HR guys that thinks “everyone is special in their own special way.” Those people are the worst. So let’s get to the point here:

If you are disqualifying otherwise highly talented, non-writing professionals because you don’t have the guts to stand up against a process that disqualifies people for something not at all related to their primary duties, you are being put on notice. I will figure out that these people are talented, I will snatch those people up, I will sell them to our hiring managers and we will bury you. And when you figure out that the top sales person in our company is in your resume database three months before they started for me but you disqualified them at screening for something stupid like a spelling mistake, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.

This HR Guy is over spelling mistakes.

My Posts

What Is Your Greatest Weakness?

Have you ever received that question in an interview? First, let me apologize. Most of us in HR who ask this question don’t even know what we’re asking, why we’re asking or what we’re supposed to get out of this question. Furthermore, candidates are usually so poorly prepared for this question that it usually defeats the purpose of asking it in the first place.

I know all of the cool people in HR think the question is bogus. They have a point but there are thousands of bogus questions getting asked daily that we never address. If you aren’t preparing yourself for this stupid question, than you aren’t preparing yourself for the other stupid questions that will come your way. It is easily one of the more common questions still asked today.

Here’s what I’ve figured out from asking this question (or being in interviews where this question is asked): If you answered the question quickly, you are either well rehearsed or you are extremely self-aware. If you can’t answer the question quickly or you give me some bullshit response, you’re either ill-prepared, not at all self-aware or a liar. Well, you’re probably all liars when it comes to this question which is why I don’t ask the question much.

Even if you don’t choose to give me a straight answer on this question, your glaring deficiencies should be on the top of your mind. No matter how good you become at anything, your weaknesses will hold you back. If you are the best salesperson in the company yet you neglect your spouse, it will hold you back. If you are the best number cruncher in the government but you can’t speak to other people without stuttering, it will hold you back. If you are a great speaker but you can’t ever execute a plan, it will hold you back.

When important people in your organization are talking about you, they are using “but” statements. “He’s a great welder but he can’t get along with people.” “She’s a great CEO but she is a liability with the press.” Those “but” statements point to your perceived weakness.

My weaknesses are pretty simple ones:

  • Impatient — If you tell me I can’t do something now, I either figure out a way around you or I lose interest in it completely. Getting married has helped this immensely but I am sure my wife would say it still needs improvement.
  • Lacking detail orientation — Terrible weakness for a HR person in the current legal climate right? Absolutely. At my first job, I said I was good on detail orientation and simply made it happen. Yes, I have to work twice as hard on it but I can make the big picture stuff happen more quickly to make up for it.
  • Laid back — I couldn’t ever say this in an interview (because it would sound like BS) but my laid back attitude has definitely impacted my career negatively. Being approachable helps in HR but it is a pain when it is time to lay down the law and people don’t understand why the attitude has disappeared.

What I can say is that working on all three of these has made me not only a better employee but a better person. Which, you know, sounds corny.

Some people have advocated just focusing on your strengths and letting them compensate for your weaknesses. Unless you are wildly successful (like top 0.01%), focusing on your strengths to compensate for your weaknesses isn’t going to get you anywhere. Maintain (or slowly build your strengths) and focus your energy on your deficiencies instead.

What’s your greatest weakness and what are you doing to improve it?