"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
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
What to do. Turning a corner, Hammonds presented an action plan for
- 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:
- Who is our customer?
- What does the customer need?
- Who are our competitors?
- Who are they hiring?
- 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
- 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.