Human Resources Management

Jun 01, 1998

Believe it or not, some people don’t like the term “human resources management.” They think it diminishes individuals in some way, and by referring to “human resources” we might as well be talking about “natural resources” or “financial resources.” This is the absurd view of political correctness taken to an extreme. Then there are critics who think human resources is nothing but “soft stuff,” a bunch of behavioral mumbo-jumbo that gets in the middle of employee-employer relations and results in rising overhead costs. There’s some truth to this, but only because of certain HR practitioners who give the rest of the HR people a bad name. Finally, there are those who think anything that isn’t billable is bad. These people are just plain ignorant. Some could be turned around with a little education; others are just prejudiced. No matter why, the bottom line is that human resources management is often one of the least well thought-of functions in the typical A/E/P or environmental firm. At best, HR people are tolerated as a necessary evil to help keep the firm out of employment-related legal troubles. At worst, they are the objects of scorn and ridicule from the very highest level. Yet we all agree that our firms are only as good as the people we have working for us. I am sure this article will bring on the wrath of many in the HR profession for this industry. But it will be unmerited as far as I am concerned. I think it’s foolish to bury one’s head in the sand. A far better approach is to acknowledge the situation for what it is and then take action to change it. So what should HR people do about the poor image that they suffer from? Here are my thoughts: Never forget who your employer is. While it is true that serving the employee’s needs is critical to the company, the company pays your salary, not the employees. Remind yourself of this. If a side has to be taken, take the firm’s side. Think about how to make more money for your employers. Spending money is certainly fun. But HR people who can only spend and never think about how to make will suffer internal PR problems with those who sign the checks. One way to make money as an HR person is to save money. HR spends money on employee benefits, on recruitment and advertising expenses, on relocation, on unemployment insurance, on training, and on other things. It adds up to a good chunk of cash. Question the conventional wisdom of your profession. Just because most people working in the HR profession think it’s essential to have formalized, written performance appraisal forms, doesn’t mean it’s best. Just because the typical firm reviews salaries once a year doesn’t mean it’s best. Just because HR people are supposed to worry about holding turnover rates down doesn’t mean that the firm doesn’t have people who need to go. Pay more attention to recruiting. Just about every firm is struggling with hiring today. There aren’t enough qualified candidates. Offers are made but not accepted. Candidates accept job offers, then don’t show up because they have been counter-offered by their present employers. HR people who help the other managers get their positions filled are always better thought of than those who don’t. Don’t just sound the alarm. Many times, HR people who are brought into a managerial decision-making process never suggest what can be done and instead only focus on what can’t be done. This drives entrepreneurial owners crazy! They don’t want to know why someone can’t be hired, can’t be fired, or whatever. They want to know what can be done. Track the data that proves you’re actually accomplishing something. It doesn’t matter what your job is— HR people are certainly not exempt— providing some tangible evidence of what you have accomplished is critical. Numbers help you do this. You should provide a report to management, every single month, that shows you’re getting something done. The numbers have to be driven in the right direction. Specific numbers to track, human resources-wise, include turnover rate, both forced (you fired ‘em) and voluntary (they quit); employment fees and advertising expenses paid; relocation expenses; per-head benefits cost (or benefits costs as a percentage of total raw labor); and average time to fill an open position (expressed in days). So if you are an HR person who isn’t getting the respect you think you deserve, or you have an HR person who needs a credibility boost, consider my points above. I’m only trying to help! Originally published 6/01/1998

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