The HR “Poem” or the Uselessness of the Human Resources Departments

The HR “Poem” or the Uselessness of the Human Resources Departments

In my junior years, when going to interviews was an activity intensely practices and assumed, I felt sometimes in the middle of a beauty contest. Don’t take me wrong, I wasn’t a contestant, but the ones who interviewed me and were telling stories about the HR specialist/manager’s role in the organization were.

The most common speeches were something like this: “we want the HR to help us communicate in an efficient manner with the employees” or “we want to make our employees happier”. In top of the HR objectives that sounded “dreamy” was “our employees are young and need to be entertained” – but in fact the company wanted to promote the idea of organizing some events for the employees to socialize.

All of these seem taken from the messages of the pretty ladies who want to save the world from wars and ecological catastrophes. Because despite what they declare at interviews, few companies really want to improve the communication strategies or the initiatives to test and improve employees’ satisfaction.

It is true that I am talking about a period in which human resources exclusively meant personnel administration and recruitment/selection. However thing seem to look the same today.

Recently we deployed a recruitment process for a HR specialist. From the numerous people selected, few had something to state as “accomplishments”. The others, specialists with 2 or 3 years of experience in a HR department, could barely describe current professional activities.

I heard other speeches that appeared taken from a catwalk: “I succeeded in making the organizational climate more efficient”, “I improved the relationships between employees”, “I changed the organizational culture”. Pure poetry, genuine fiction, answers to the normal question “How did you do all of these?” were lost in a long and with no substance oration.

Are we still in the poetic stage of human resources? Does this sad epic deserve to be paid?  The answer is definitely no! And it represents maybe the most important reason for which numerous HR departments were decimated with lay offs.

Why isn’t “poetry” so good?

Firstly, because it is not productive as it generates unrealistic expectations among employees. With other words, it creates the false and dangerous perception that the HR must be preoccupied exclusively with their happiness, team buildings, salary raises and creating Kodak moments.

Then, because it perpetuates the mentality of HR department’s uselessness in pragmatic companies, focused on profit, on results. If the departments who take care of the human resources have performances that seem to be lost in a nebulous, what can you ask of other departments?

I will therefore list some of the reasons that determine the uselessness of the HR departments:

– First reason: there is not even a vaguely idea abut the objectives and responsibilities that these departments should assume. As long as there are no expectations, there won’t be results, but there will be costs!

– Another reason: the expectations exist but they aren’t well calibrated. Let’s assume that you have 20 employees and that you only HR problem is the administrative one. Instead of hiring a HR Manager you could instead take into account externalization.

– Maybe the most important reason: you can’t budget the department’s activity. None of the valuable people on the HR market have the magic stick. It’s almost for nothing to hire a whole HR department if you can’t provide a minimal expenses budget on which to develop interventions.

There some signs that testify the need of changes in the HR department:

– When measurable indicators for the HR activity don’t have the optimal value, especially if they are at the lowest extreme (I refer to personnel fluctuation/retention, employees’ satisfaction, employees’ performances, efficiency of recruitment and selection processes in time, budget and the number of people that are still in the company, the optimal time range and numerous other alike).

– In the case where working conflicts and legal implications become disturbing, especially if we talk about companies that have the privilege of syndicate presence. Normally, if the personnel administration duty is well accomplished, and if the legislation is abided, there is no reason for working conflicts resolvable only with the help of law institutions.

Next time we live “poetry” and uselessness aside, carrying on with the pragmatic part and the necessity of assuming the HR management.

Article published in the 123/March 2010 number of Market Watch magazine