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Hi Mark & Mike,

I always "knew" somehow that i.e. frequent feedback or regular time with the team is the right thing to do - only your podcasts recently provided both the framework and the hands-on tools to do things right. Thanks.

I wanted to suggest a topic. You seem to be part of the crowd that thinks that HR Managers stink or - at best - are useless. Why is that and what do you suggest they could do differently about it !?

Mark's picture

Glad we're helping you be more effective! Thanks for the kind words.

Regarding your comments about HR. In my defense, I've never said anything close to the tone you used described regarding HR. I'm not taking offense at your characterization, but I want to make it clear that it's yours and not mine.

To support my case, I've excerpted below my recent email to an HR MANAGER. This was my answer to her KNOWING that she was considering us as a vendor to her corporate employer.

Mark

***

Regarding HR: My apologies regarding MY bias coming through. It's surely me and not your own sensitivity. I see HR as often a weak part of organizations, and I have too many experiences - and the votes of thousands of managers - to suggest it's more than just a hunch.

Because you mixed your request about us helping your company with the question, I will give you what may seem to be an excruciatingly candid answer, to ensure you don't see me as currying favor.

In serving large corporations over the past 18 years, I've found that HR often fails to achieve its mission. I think that many HR organizations have an "organizational focus", which attenuates their value.

Sometimes (usually in smaller or less professional firms) this "org focus" takes the form of the HR manager becoming a "Cruise Director" - organizing events that are designed to promote retention, or employee satisfaction, or create a forum for communicating change or initiatives. These are always wildly ineffective and patently wasteful.

Other times, this takes the form of HR writing policies and procedures that are almost always difficult to implement and frequently designed not to help the manager but to either achieve a reduced risk of organizational liability (which is too often a false idol) or to "ensure" the "promotion" or "compliance with" a "more efficient" process or system. In these cases, it's often (plurality, not majority) due to an HR career track within a firm. The organization creates a cadre that are purported to know more about helping retention, or hiring talent, or motivating people, or developing skills, than the very managers who must rely on the retention and talent and skills we're addressing.

My favorite example of this is an HR person telling a line manager, "No, you can't fire that person." Or worse, HR allowing managers to believe that they can't fire someone for cause when in fact HR knows managers technically CAN (there's no policy specifically forbidding it) - because it serves HR's purpose to have the managers in the dark, to avoid the possibility that one manager could put the company at risk.

To be fair on this point, 99% of managers I know don't know how to fire someone, and rarely are willing to document appropriately (which hopefully you have heard us harp on). But managers' lack of skill doesn't justify HR's implication that they "can't" fire someone, nor the inference HR allows to be made that HR has to approve it. I have never heard of HR teaching managers HOW to do it.

When I hear young people say they want a career in HR, I cringe. In the majority of environments that I have seen, this desire suggests that they don't want to actually retain or develop or hire, but only to help others do that, all the while lacking the nitty gritty experience that makes a music critic not a musician, even though both eat, sleep and breathe music.

When I see GREAT HR organizations - and there are many - their focus is on helping managers ACTUALLY hire and retain and develop. It's the difference in a military supply group saying, "hey, you have to come to the rear to get your supplies", and the unit that takes the supplies to the front where they're needed. They have a bias for SERVICE, not for policies and procedures. They go TO managers, and ask what is needed, versus promulgating what must be done.

And quite frequently, they comprise former managers themselves - there is no HR specialty, other than in legal and benefits experts, which largely ought to be for processing and administration. I believe HR would be far more effective staffed by a cadre of former managers who are serving 2 year stints in the role, and therefore will be knowledgeable of the line manager's challenges.

(Hey, at least I have a solution.)

- H