Thursday, September 24, 2009

HR: Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated

Appearing on several blogs today are discussions of the "death of Human Resources." Examples are here, here and here. I think some of the posts miss the point.

Needless to say, a down economy with a surging unemployment rate is going to put enormous pressures on an employer's HR department, and its hard not to succumb to a 'seige mentality.'

The argument goes:
  • Recruiters constantly undermine the human resources department;
  • Job applicants avoid human resources; and
  • Employees "dread their interactions with any member of a Human Resources team."
A better analysis is that in the current economic environment, it's a lot easier to be really bad at human resources. Employers are downsizing, applicants are increasingly desperate (and a lot less selective), and everybody wants to stay away from that part of the business where careers come home to die.

I like very much Mike Van Dervort's approach on his similarly named blog focusing on HR from a management perspective, The Human Race Horses. (Any similarity between our blogs is strictly coincidental....)

HR does needs to be more proactive in tough times. It also has to be better at what it does all around. I have recently been working with more than one employer who is forced to do a reduction in force. We have worked assiduously with the HR department to ensure that the process was above all else, humane, not destructive of the employer's corporate culture, and treated everyone with dignity and respect. More than anything else, that approach will reduce exposure to subsequent employment practices claims, and keep HR in the center of things when the time comes to staff up.

Recruiters have a mission which is not necessarily in concert with the HR department. Recruiters are selling (or buying, as the case may be) human capital. HR manages human capital. The value recruiters add to the equation is in effectively finding the best candidate for the position; the value HR adds is to keep that candidate effective in the context of the organization.

Just like a business may have a sales department and a customer service department; a car dealership has a sales department and a service department; law firms have their rainmakers and their scriveners; and a restaurant has its cooks and its servers, the occasional disjunction between the departments does not necessarily mean the entire industry is going south.

HR is hurting because the economy is hurting, and it has always been easy to be mediocre. Now is the chance to improve HR practices and procedures (and HR staff quality as well). Once the economy recovers and hiring starts up, it's going to be full steam ahead. If it doesn't, the inefficiencies which are appear now just on the surface will explode, and staffing up will be a nightmare.

YMMV, but that's the perspective from this independent professional.


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