HR Needs to Learn the Business

I just read Social Media is Paralyzing HR. (Hat tip to John Sumser, @JohnSumser who tweeted it.)

I sympathize with Paul, who is sympathizing with HR. Let me tell you what I see in too many small to medium size companies:

One lonely HR person who is trying to do:

  • All the recruiting for all of the jobs in the organization. Yes, all the open jobs in the organization. Never mind that this is a project by itself with deadlines and deliverables, but recruiting is a specialty inside of HR.
  • All of the job descriptions that go with the recruiting. Almost always, this one lonely person wants to have generic job descriptions. Have you ever hired a generic person? I haven't.
  • Determining if the salary ranges are correct. Trying to figure out if salary ranges are even necessary. (This is something that challenges HR in an agile organization.)
  • All of the administration of the insurance and the decision-making that goes with the insurance and all the other side pieces of insurance I don't even know about. Talk about a headache!
  • Taking pictures of new employees.
  • Adding birthdays to the employee database.
  • Event planning: Arranging the next corporate outing/party/thing that Must Be Done.
  • Manage the Administration people and/or the front office staff. Or the janitorial staff. Or something else. Yes, there is almost always some management component of something else in here.

Do you see something wrong with this picture? HR should not be a grab-all for the jobs no one knows what to do with. Done properly, HR is strategic. Does this job sound strategic to you?

Right now, in many US organizations, HR exists to keep the company out of court. That's not strategic. That's tactical.

If HR is to evolve and be the strategic partner it needs to be, HR needs to learn the business. That is not event planning.

Recruiting might be part of the strategy. How else will you find people who fit your culture?

Do you eliminate salary ranges? How do you do performance planning, especially in an agile organization? Do you allow teams to pay themselves? How do you experiment? These are strategic experiments and decisions. If you are agile, you want to be thinking about them. If you are HR, you want to be in the conversation.

Are you hiring people? You need a job description that fits the opening you have now, not some generic person. Sure, start with some template. But the culture of the manager and the team will affect who you need to hire. You have to analyze each and every job. If you're in HR, you do this a lot more often than a hiring manager. You can lead a hiring manager, if you're willing to do so.

This is the business of the business.

Not event planning. You can outsource that. You can hire a temp for that.

Yes, you should manage the people in your organization. Maybe they should even have their own manager who understands their needs. What a novel idea.

I realize that the smaller the organization, the more difficult the HR position is. You have an opportunity to make a real difference in the working lives of the people in your organization.

In Hiring Geeks That Fit, in the chapter about technical managers, I say this:

Don't ask people—managers or not—to work at the strategic and tactical levels.  No one can. The tactical, day-to-day issues win. Always. Or, the strategic work wins. But they can't both win. Never.

In HR, you need to know what you can and cannot do also. You have to learn the business, because HR supports the business. If you are so busy with tactics that you can't learn the business, you're not doing your job.

If this job sounds like your job, do a job analysis and decide what should be in and should be out of your position. Yes, the templates work for your job, too. Then do some problem-solving with your boss.

Because HR can never get un-paralyzed and learn the business until you get a reasonable job. You need to be strategic about HR.

2 thoughts on “HR Needs to Learn the Business”

  1. Alexandre Fayolle

    Don’t ask people—managers or not—to work at the strategic and tactical levels. No one can. The tactical, day-to-day issues win. Always. Or, the strategic work wins. But they can’t both win. Never.

    I wish I’d seen this so clearly articulated when I was at my previous job. It could have helped me spot and explain the fundamental flaw in the organization which I think eventually lead to me resigning. I’m still not convinced this would have changed anything but it could certainly have comforted me.

    Thank you for pinning it.

    1. Alexandre, I’m always disappointed when people leave jobs because the managers/organization dynamics are wrong. I’m sorry you got caught in that.

      I’m glad you recognized it now so you can determine what to look for in the future. Best of luck.


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