Well-Intentioned but Misguided?

Feb 08, 1999

He’s a really nice person, a “people person.” He’s someone who deeply cares about other people. He’s a really good listener. He’s someone the employees will confide in. Does this sound like the ideal human resources manager candidate? Before you say, “of course,” maybe you need to think again. My experience in working with A/E/P firms, large and small, is that too many have human resources (HR) directors that you could say these things about. And while they are nice, intelligent, and well-intentioned souls, they may be misguided. They like people, not business, and that’s a big reason why all too often these folks are the lowest paid corporate staff managers (compared with finance and accounting, information technology, or marketing heads). I don’t think enough owners and senior managers know what to expect from their HR people. Nor do enough human resources managers know what their real mission is at the firms they work for. So everybody keeps making the same mistakes over and over when it comes to how they are dealing with a variety of human resources management issues, including: Performance appraisals: Where did the idea come from that all employees should be evaluated according to the same criteria? That’s the way most performance appraisal systems are set up, and it makes no sense. And if that’s not the case, if the firm does have an appraisal scheme that varies based on position, what is the logic for evaluating all electrical project engineers according to the same standards? Are the expectations for what an electrical project engineer does in the airport group the same as what he or she would do in the healthcare group? Of course not! Another aspect of formal performance appraisals that HR people sell management on is that they are supposed to reduce liability. Hogwash! More often than not the information in the appraisals works against the employer in a wrongful termination suit! The bottom line is that managers should be telling their people how they are doing every day, and the manager alone should be deciding whether or not the employee is meeting his expectations. If the manager’s group is hitting its goals, turnover is low, and there aren’t any employment-related lawsuits, who is a staff department (i.e., HR) to tell that manager how things need to be done? Job descriptions: Where did the idea come from that everyone needs a formal job description? Why? Does it help morale to know that if you want to move from an “Engineer 4” to an “Engineer 5” you need to have a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college of engineering and 8 years and 3 months worth of experience? No! Most of these descriptions are so generic that they don’t really tell the people who are supposed to live up to them what they are supposed to be doing. And on top of it, once again, how can one say that all people with the same title should be doing the same thing, especially if they are working in completely different markets with different bosses? It’s ludicrous! The employee’s supervisor needs to define what they are supposed to be doing, not human resources management! Training: Where did the notion come from that HR should be deciding who gets what training? I have seen HR management cook up training programs without any input from the line managers on what the training is supposed to be— crazy! In one case, I saw a firm that does about $10,000,000 a year in volume authorize an $85,000 expenditure to “train” their people. When I inquired about what that training was going to be the most specific response I could get from their HR manager (the initiator of this program) was to “improve the staff’s people skills.” I’ll bet this one-day seminar for all of their people did a lot of good! So if these aren’t HR management’s big concerns, what should be? Recruiting. Finding out why turnover is high in one area of the company versus another. Saving money on health insurance. Reducing hiring costs. Making sure the company doesn’t have staff resources that are under-utilized. Helping managers do what they want while at the same time keeping the firm from getting sued. These are important activities where HR people can make a difference and earn much more than their pay! That’s good for everyone. Originally published 2/08/1999

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