Writer Defends ‘Why We Hate HR’ Article
“We’re all ticked off.” That’s how writer Keith Hammonds describes employees’ attitude toward HR. Hammonds recently vented his irritation in a story titled “Why We Hate HR” for Fast Company, which appeared, to much uproar, in the August 2005 issue. At the November 2005 chapter meeting of the Human Resource Association of Central Connecticut, Hammonds explained his reasoning behind the article.
“After 20-plus years of performance evaluations that went nowhere and meetings that wasted my time, I was ticked off, but so was everyone else,” said Hammonds, citing a recent Hay Group survey showing that half of employees say their employers take a personal interest in them and only forty percent of companies retain their high-quality employees.
In light of those findings, and his own experience, Hammonds proceeded to list “the bad stuff.”
HR: Not the sharpest tacks in the box? “HR is important because people drive companies,” he commented. “But despite their centrality, they’re not the sharpest tacks in the box.”
Having dropped that bomb on his audience of over 50 HR professionals, Hammonds explained what he meant. “Translation: HR managers are increasingly unprepared for the increasing demands of business. With globalization and burgeoning technology, the workplace is changing fast. So the question is, ‘what is HR delivering?’ The metrics are terrible-they should be measuring not how many new hires, but what did they add to profit?”
Not working for employees? “There’s a perception that HR managers are working for the lawyers and the CFO’s,” he continued. “They’re driven by short-term matters such as following the law rather than long-term strategic concerns.”
The corner office “doesn’t get” HR. “CEO’s like to say they’re all about people,” he noted, “but according to a study by the London School of Economics, about five years ago, their rhetoric doesn’t match their practices.”
Purposeful provocation. These observations were about the gist of the Fast Company story. “We had more responses to that than to any other we’ve run in the past two years,” reflected Hammond. “Most of the people who liked it, which was about 40 percent, weren’t HR professionals. Most of them had had one crystallizing moment with HR that scarred them for life. But 60 percent of readers hated it,” he continued. “They said it was mean-spirited and nasty and that it took cheap shots. Still, nobody disagreed with the facts.”
“But really, if we don’t take this kind of tack, how are we going to get people to read a story about HR? We provoke. But the risk is that we turn people off.”
What to do. Turning a corner, Hammonds presented an action plan for HR.
Fight “evil” management. Some are beyond hope, but it’s a copout to say all CEOs don’t get it. Too many HR people cave to a little resistance from management. Don’t wait to be asked. If you look up the hill and see resistance, keep going.
Read the business pages. Learn how to read a balance sheet. Every HR person should be able to answer these questions:
o Who is our customer?
o What does the customer need?
o Who are our competitors?
o Who are they hiring?
o What are we good and bad at, relative to our own customers’ needs?
Make fewer rules. For example, your flexibility policy should be, “Do great work; I don’t care when; I don’t care if you’re here.” Trust your workers-they’re grownups.
Make more exceptions. Exceptions are more work, but if you want to keep great talent, you want to make exceptions, because great talent is exceptional.
Speak in a way emplyees understand. How many benefits plans can your employees understand? If you want employees to buy in, write and speak in terms they can understand. Don’t just go for a seat at the table,” Hammonds concludes. Help build the table.
Well, maybe that’s what he should have said in the first place rather than incensing and inflaming an entire industry of professionals. He has some (gasp) very good points in his statement here, but I still fail to see why he needed to resort to insults to make his point in the first place.