My thanks to George Lenard for picking up on something I wrote earlier and continuing the exploration of the HR debate:

The Spark (A marketer’s view of Pop Culture. Insight. Connection. Solutions.) is abruptly negative: "No Tears for HR, Please."

[I]n business, one tends to be judged on outcomes, and the outcome and the bottom line is HR sucks.

My response is as follows:


You’re right.  My post was abruptly negative, and it’s because I have a dim view of HR.  However, your highlighting of my post made me think further: My issue with HR is largely around hiring efficacy.  Having spent the last eleven months on a job search, my view of HR is formed by people who call you in for an interview, but check out during the course of the conversation; people who take your CV forward for positions for which you clearly don’t have the skillset (i.e., its an advertising job, but my background is marketing and promotions); or, worse, people who tell you that there’s an opportunity, that they’ll set up a meeting for you, but never do (and, by the way, you never hear from them again).  My experience leads me to believe it when Fast Company makes the “not the sharpest knife in the drawer analogy”.

From looking at your blog, I’m reminded that HR does do a lot of important work around compliance, benefits, etc.  These are not minor issues.

However, I would ask you to keep in mind that the FC article and the debate it’s engendered speaks to a real frustration with the HR function.  There is a genuine sense, particularly as it relates to hiring, that HR people are only reactive, that they’re only filling requisitions.   In a knowledge economy, all a company really has to stand on is its ability to attract and retain talent.  This is where, in the case of most companies, I’d say that HR not only stumbles, but falls flat.  I’d like to see a more developed approach that says, Here’s someone who’s talented and would add value to our company.  How can we get them here? 

On the other hand, maybe it’s just a numbers game, i.e., in an industry like advertising or marketing, companies know that there are many more talented folks than there are available openings, so they’ll never have to worry about talent.  Somebody will fill a slot.

Posted by Rob Fields

  • Rob: Thanks so much for the post and for letting me know about it.
    One of the many things I’ve learned is that HR is many things to many people –- and has many different functions and constituencies, both inside and outside the organization.
    Criticism focused on one area (such as yours focused on hiring) may ignore success in other areas — or may ignore HR’s need to devote limited resources to those other areas instead of the one complained of. Of course, those limited resources are a function of upper management’s budgetary and staffing decisions regarding HR.
    I was tempted by the comment one person made (somewhere) about sort of separating out compliance, and in a large enough company this could be –- and probably is —- done.
    But the problem with that is that compliance, and the possibility for missteps that have costly legal consequences, is found in every aspect of the diverse functions HR performs.
    And hiring is increasingly becoming a legal trouble area. Much can be done, as you point out, to make the hiring process more efficient for both employer and job-seeker, but at the same time the process must be made more rational and fair, so as to withstand legal challenge.
    Companies need to recognize the importance of HR functions and devote resources and people to improving them. With hiring so key, this process must be closely reexamined. Feedback from applicants is a part of it too. I would want to know about your negative experiences as an applicant if I were involved in hiring.
    The “retain” part of “attract and retain” is also huge, and much easier said than done. A great deal of attention is paid in serious HR circles to issues of compensation, benefits, training, and advancement — all of which can help retain talent.
    Outsourcing some or all HR functions may be a good idea for some businesses. But it doesn’t diminish the importance of those functions, and if the contracted HR provider does a lousy job, there is obviously no benefit. And of course the same HR “dull tacks” may be hired by HR outsourcing companies.
    As to the value-added issue, when a business IS nothing more than an outsourced HR department, its entire profit dependent on creating value from HR, this can be a highly profitable business, with profit impacted by every aspect of the HR function. So there’s the value proposition. You (the company) decide — do you want that to be your profit or an outside contractor’s profit? The specialist outsourcing company’s expertese and experience may be such that it is difficult to match its value in-house.
    The need for a mass-publication article highlighting the importance of HR functions is clear. The need for the negative emphasis of this one is less clear. See my 8/3/05 post at George’s Employment Blawg: