I have been intimately involved in the Human Resources world for the past 10 years and prior to that I managed people for 10 years. Through this time I have seen the good, the bad, and the downright ugly side of HR and I’ve come to realize along with many others in business today that HR is Broken.
Here are my reasons why HR is Broken and how we can do better.
HR has become another arm of legal
One of the things I have noticed over the last two decades is Human Resources has become an extension of legal rather than as a voice for employees.
Policies and procedures are written in the dreaded employee handbook in a don’t format rather than a do format. Don’t say this, don’t do that. Worse, the handbook tells you what might happen if you don’t follow the rules, including that famous line “up to and including termination”, and they make you sign the document to prove you have read and understood it.
This process and the way it’s written creates an environment of mistrust and fosters a feeling of ‘us against them’.
Instead of stating what you can’t do or what you can’t wear or what you can’t say, create policies and procedures that support self-motivation, self-management, and have programs that rewards people for exemplifying company values. Now that’s a better way to start off your first day!
Some companies have bucked this trend, Netflix being the most noteworthy.
HR Seminars are big business based around spreading fear
One of the biggest reasons HR is broken today is it is big business to spread fear and panic among Human Resources professionals.
Here are just a few examples of the marketing for a few HR seminars:
· “Keeping your employees happy and your organization out of legal trouble is paramount, and where trial-and-error, learn-as-you-go methods just don’t cut it.”
· “Productive, engaged employees lead to increased customer loyalty and profitability. But there are many traps and pitfalls that can reduce productivity and put you, the employer, at risk.”
· “…an environment characterized by constant Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. At the Summit we will be looking at these in relation to… Acquisition/Recruitment, Workforce Planning/Business Strategy, Learning/Leadership Development, Engagement/Social Media”
Here are some of the courses at these HR seminars:
· The Top 10 Ways Employers Get Sued and How to Avoid Them
· Surviving the Four Generations in Today’s Workplace
· Recognizing and Avoiding the Hazards in the Discipline and Termination Process
· What You Must Know About Critical Laws that Impact HR
They don’t choose these words at random, “Trouble, Legal, Traps, Pitfalls, Volatility, Risk, Sued, Avoid, Complexity, Surviving, Hazards” they are designed to bring fear into your head and make you think you will be sued tomorrow if you don’t go to their seminar.
I tried to find some research numbers on how much money these HR seminars are making in the U.S. each year or whether they are effective or not, but I couldn’t find anything. From what I have seen in the last 20+ years, they are all over the country and small to big businesses are sending their HR professionals to them in droves.
So the question is, if they are so effective why are lawsuits between employees and employers on the rise? In an April 2012 USA Today article entitled Overworked and underpaid, the article states that companies had “more lawsuits, with a 32% increase in overtime pay lawsuits in 2010 compared to 2008”.
The bottom line, be knowledgeable about legal matters but don’t let fear seep in and possibly destroy the culture that took years to foster.
The belief performance reviews are necessary
Every year companies across the country, and probably around the world, have performance reviews. Some companies have two or three a year! For what?
I saw a job ad looking for an HR professional at a start-up company to conduct performance reviews to assist with annual compensation strategies. Those performance reviews must be a blast!
Seriously, you wouldn’t sit your child, spouse, or even a parent down twice a year to review what they did right or wrong in the past six months so why would you do that with an intelligent, hard-working adult?
No performance review is effective, NONE! If anyone thinks performance reviews are a necessary evil in business then they shouldn’t be in business.
I’ve been told performance reviews are necessary as they provide documentation in case you want to fire someone. Wait six months before working with someone who is having performance issues is not effective management and you are destroying the morale of the people they are working with as they are having to deal with the under-performance of a person for six months or more.
Where to even begin with this:
Let’s start by viewing the role that HR, the manager and the employee play in a typical business structure. Let’s view these three roles as if they were a football team. I view HR as the coach; they give training, guidance and help throughout the year. The manager is like the quarterback; they guide the employees when they are on the playing field. And, of course, each employee is part of the successful team, working together for the greatest successful outcome possible.
And the opposing team is the competition for your people. They may have better salaries, they may have better benefits, they may have better advancement opportunities, but if they don’t allow their team members to contribute to the team with new thoughts and ideas on better ways to win, then they will go to another team. Don’t believe me? Look at the quarterback salaries in the NFL. Some of the top quarterbacks, players who are regarded as some of the best players in the history of the sport, aren’t some of the highest paid football players. Tom Brady is a great example of this. He isn’t even one of the top 10 salary earners in the NFL today and yet he remains with his team, creating one of the most effective football teams in the franchise today.
So how does the manager quarterback his team? Through regular meetings, either weekly or every other week. You meet with each team member, individually, for 30 – 60 minutes and you discuss operations but you also discuss together, how to do things better, such as how to advance beyond the line of scrimmage, how to forward pass with a strong defense, how to effectively kick for that crucial extra point, and finally how to help other team members be successful, as well, because effective teamwork helps everyone win.
Do you think the Patriots are effective because they review their work every six months? They review it while they are playing on the field, and so should the managers and their team members. It’s not easy but it is much more effective than a six month or one year review.
UPDATE: I go into greater detail of A Better Way to Manage Performance, which gives suggestions on better approaches than performance reviews.
And if you have to put someone on a performance-management write-up because of low performance, write it all down and review together how to perform better, weekly. This documentation will be a much better tool in handling a bogus wrongful termination lawsuit than a semi-annual performance review.
Time metrics are used to gauge HR success
One of the scariest HR metrics I ever saw was a goal of: All open requisitions need to be filled within 20 business days upon being opened.
Talk about the wrong motivation. You aren’t hiring the right person, you are hiring the right person right now and that leads to major problems down the road. An ill-fitted hire will require many more manager hours for training, people-conflict resolutions, performance management procedures and ultimately termination than taking the necessary time to hire the right person to begin with. All this so the HR team can reach a useless metric.
Instead, what about having a metric that has a longer-term approach to goal setting. For example, what about having a metric that supports hiring the best person for the job, period. How do you know you are successful? Better products and services for your customers, lower turnover rates, higher rates of advancement and promotions in the company, higher customer satisfaction ratings from surveys. Here’s another measure, people are smiling and enjoying what they do right along with their manager. Now there’s an effective goal!
HR supports promoting people to managers based on performance rather than skill
This is a tough one because it does make total sense. The best way to keep star performers is to give them opportunities for career advancement. And why wouldn’t you? Because it is being done for the right reasons but executed poorly.
Yes, you definitely should reward your star performers but the worse thing you can do is set them up for failure. And one of the most common ways of doing this is to put them in a situation that they are ill prepared, untrained and possibly unqualified for.
First and foremost understand the qualifications and skills necessary to be a great manager in that particular team. Second, work with the star performer to give him or her those skills prior to promoting him or her to a people manager level, otherwise he or she will perform poorly, demotivate your staff and ultimately might cause the once-star performer to leave the company for a place that supports, trains, and mentors their star performers.
You wouldn’t hire a person who isn’t qualified so why would you promote one of your star performers into a role they are unqualified for? Make them qualified so they and you will be successful.
Human is removed from Human Resources
I have seen too many examples of Human being taken out of Human Resources departments.
The two that stand out the most, for me, are how companies behave when they terminate an employee and how they make decisions that seem to be everything but human.
Jeffrey Walker was the President of Atlassian from 2005 until his untimely death in 2009. I was fortunate to work so closely and directly with Jeffrey. He was that rare combination of manager and mentor and I don’t think I will ever have that awesome combination from another person, again, in my life.
He and I would talk about the wrong and the right ways to terminate an employee, especially when a company is successful and has the financial ability to do so.
He and I both agreed that you terminate an employee with respect, the entire way. You treat them as you wish to be treated, which means you understand the impact this will have on the individual, you trust this person up through their last day and you follow-up with them and continue to interact with them through their new successes.
In many cases terminations happen because of poor hiring practices and because the person was not the right cultural fit, not because they are a bad person and not because they wanted to fail or they didn’t care. It’s with this in mind that we said ‘treat your terminated employees as well as you treat your hired employees’.
There are other reasons as well. It is hard and very rare for a person to be terminated from a company and still tell others that company is a great place to work.
Jeffrey and I both agreed:
· You should not walk a terminated employee out the door on the day of termination unless safety and security is an issue.
· Give the terminated employee time to say goodbye to people they have worked with, sometimes for years, decades even.
· Reach out to your network to help that person find new work.
· Write the terminated employee an awesome reference letter focusing on their strengths and contributions not on the reasons you are terminating them.
· Let them take the laptop they were using at the company after all the business proprietary information has been removed. In many cases this is their only computer and to be without a computer today is like being without air, it’s vital.
· Follow-up with the employee. When they update their information about a new job on their social space, congratulate them. Continue to include them in your social network.
· Think about an alumni network and use that network to continue to appreciate their time at your company.
None of this is anything new but it’s rare to see any company go above anything more than a two-week notice and, if you are lucky, a farewell drink at a local pub. We can do better and as HUMAN Resources professionals, we should.
I would like to also give you an example of when I thought HR was not being very human.
Years ago I worked for a company that had an annual holiday party and it was the company social event of the year. People loved to go and have fun with each other. An employee who had worked at the company for over a year was leaving to go onto something bigger and better and their last day was the day before the company holiday event. The HR team told that individual he could not attend because he was no longer an employee. They even waited to tell him on his last day at work. And yet, at the same party, an employee who was starting on Monday, meaning she too was not an employee, was invited to the company’s annual holiday party.
So a co-worker got even, they invited the employee who was told they couldn’t attend to be their +1, so he was able to attend anyway. But they shouldn’t have had to do that and now there is a sour taste in this ex-employee’s mouth about the way the company treats their employees. Again, the HR department took Human out of Human Resources.
There are other reasons why HR is Broken but these are my top issues. We need to do better. The world competition is only getting more fierce and every dollar that people spend is harder to come by. So if you want to stay in business, you have to have a viable, intelligent and common sense team in HUMAN Resources.