When it comes to a critique of human resources departments, the best article I have ever read on the matter remains Fast Company's 2005 piece "Why We Hate HR."
Keith H. Hammonds (a former colleague of mine) outlines in telling and hilarious fashion why HR folk are often ineffective, prevent talented employees from progressing and become slaves to form and legal box-checking.
HR people see themselves as protectors of management from lawsuits and embarrassment rather than nurturers of up-and-coming employees and champions of their companies.
Here's one example. HR relies on the special and often insidious processes to prevent lawsuits and gather dirt on workers. I was a manager at a company where if a problem employee came up, the "PIP" (performance improvement program) kicked in. But PIP was truly Orwellian since it meant anything but improving the employee. Once in PIP, the worker was as good as fired. PIP was designed to gather incriminating information about the employee to be used to intimidate that person when they were dismissed so they wouldn't file a lawsuit.
Keith comes up with a number of perceptive reasons why HR departments end up doing these things. Here's a brief list:
- HR people are often the dregs of the corporate world. Not the "sharpest tacks in the box," HR bureaucrats get to those positions because they often can't handle jobs requiring more talent or imagination.
- HR pursues efficiency in lieu of value. Efficiency is a lot easier to justify numerically and doesn't require a true understanding of what a corporation does.
- HR tries to get executives sucked into their system. These include pro forma, annual personnel appraisals. Raises and advancement depend upon them, but who's to say that annual is the right time frame or you even need them?
- The corner office doesn't get HR. There's often little communication between the C-Suite and HR, but given the state of many HR departments, maybe that's just as well.