Blaming HR for Toyota’s Woes (and Everyone Else’s)

Note: This article was brought to my attention from the SHRM discussion board.

In an opinion piece on, Dr. John Sullivan, currently a Business Management Professor at San Francisco State University states that faulty HR processes led directly to the issue that caused Toyota’s recall, the shootings at Fort Hood as well as the downfall of Enron and Bear Stearns.

Weak people-management practices have been attributed as the primary causes of failure in a number of notable cases. At Enron and Bear Stearns for example, reward systems that incented dangerous behaviors easily overpowered the effect of control systems designed to prevent fraud and ethical breaches. The mass killings at Fort Hood would not have occurred if the Army had better linkage between performance management and critical incident reporting systems.

Now Dr. Sullivan is a highly respected HR professional, having been the Chief Talent Officer for Agilent Technologies, so I certainly see where he is going with this, but I’m not sure that HR is the primary source of blame. I’m sure that HR shares some of the blame, but does not nor should not own it.

I agree that poor policies do lead to poor performance, but I am also a strong believer that managers need to manage their people and be aware if a policy is not working for their respective teams. It is certainly up to HR to coach managers, but managers need to act on behalf of their employees if a policy and/or procedure is not successful. And as we know, there are a great many times when HR policies are very strong, but not implemented correctly through the managers. There also are a great many times when HR is plainly ignored.

I firmly believe that it can only be detrimental, perhaps even crippling, to an organization once people start pointing at a single department. When things go wrong it is the fault of the company as a whole and an opportunity for improvement for everyone.

Including, but not solely, HR.