The Big Problem with HR

Recently, I went to a seminar keynoted by a man well known in the HR world. I was really looking forward to it.

It was terrible.

This so-called leading HR expert, let’s call him Mark, had worked with all the right company names. His bio was a list of the Fortune 500, and he had a law degree.

But his keynote had a serious lack of substance and it made me realize: that alone is a big part of the challenge for HR.

The C-suite expects us to bring substance to the table. When we don’t, we lose our credibility.

From an HR strategic planning perspective, I don’t think that HR can possibly be a strategic player without a plan for doing so.

Every other function in a business has a strategic plan. Finance has budgets to figure out how to save the company money. IT has a strategic plan for the infrastructure of computer systems and software to keep the company on the cutting edge. Sales has a strategic plan for how to market products and services, and what new markets and segments to explore.

Then, there’s HR, showing up at the executive team meeting talking about how it’s currently taking 3 weeks to fill a job and turnover is at 5%.

So what? What do those numbers really mean and why should the rest of the executive team care about them?

Is 3 weeks’ time to hire good or bad? Well, it depends on the industry and the position. If you’re hiring a front-line forklift driver, that’s probably way too long. If it’s a chemist, on the other hand, there’s no way you’ll find them in 3 weeks.

No one in the executive team knows what 3 weeks to hire means or is costing the company. No one knows if 5% turnover is good or bad. What’s the industry average? What’s the economic climate? What’s the average of other companies of your size and geographic location?

My point is that HR continues to swing at fast balls and misses every time they get up to the plate. We’re often focused on stats, instead of telling the story— what really matters — that lies behind them.

Most people would argue if a baseball hitter is batting .300, he’s a good hitter. Other people argue if he’s batting .300, he’s failing 70% of the time. But that’s not really the case. The only true failure for a hitter is striking out. If you’re putting the ball in play, you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. You can’t control whether the fielder fields properly.

Most HR professionals fail to put the ball in play. They share statistics and KPIs instead of telling the story behind the numbers and how it’s impacting the business. If we developed an HR strategic plan, that would never happen. We would understand what was important to other functions in the business, what they need from us at a given point in time, and how to deliver on those promises.

This speaker, Mark, talked a lot about the importance of interviewing folks. I don’t disagree. Of course, we want to chat about what folks are expecting from us in our organization. But if all we do is ask what they need from us, we’re not being strategic, we’re being reactive.

If you’ve read some of my previous blogs on strategic planning from an HR perspective, you’ll know that simply asking people what they need from us doesn’t go anywhere near the depth that’s going to make us a strategic player.

Business development tells HR what they need, they don’t ask. HR needs to get out in front of things like other functions do. If we want to gain and maintain a seat at the table, we must be strategic and anticipate what our business partners need.

I have a good friend who is a prominent thought leader in the recruiting industry, especially with online recruiting. Lately, he’s been harping on applicant tracking systems— how they turn people off from applying to good companies. Yes, maybe IT has a part in this, but HR has a big part.

I went to a few sites to see why it’s a problem. Almost every page I went to asked you to upload your resume and cover letter, and then asked for 15-20 more minutes of your time to key in the information already on those documents.

This is just one example from an HR perspective of the things we do that drive people bonkers!

And then we wonder why we don’t have the respect we say we deserve. Heck, all you need to do is look at how HR is perceived in the media. We’re the buffoons, or we’re the evil people. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. I know that we’ve earned all of that. But if the average HR person looks at that and doesn’t get angry, shame on him.

So, here’s the thing HR: get real. Let’s admit that we don’t know everything about our businesses and commit to learning it. Let’s commit to spending time on the front lines and in each department to understand the hows and whys of the organization.

Business owners, you have the right to expect more from your HR function! If you’re not getting what you need from HR and your HR function feels irrelevant, give me a ring. I can show you how a well-designed HR function can contribute to your bottom line.

Call me at 717-314-3680 today and let’s talk about how to get your HR department to support your organization’s growth and profitability.