Why no company anywhere should ever have a Human Resources Department
We humans are funny animals. No matter how irrational or counter-productive something may be, once it’s established it’s very hard to eradicate.
Take two-stroke powered leaf-blowers, for example: these little machines are found all across the USA, each one creating more pollution than 200 automobiles and doing nothing of value whatsoever. Those piles of leaves that result? The wind comes and scatters them around all over again.
Or how about the great US habit of leaving the lights on in office buildings overnight? The USA could long ago have reduced its total oil imports by 3.5 million barrels per day merely by requiring those lights to be turned off when no one is around. But mostly the lights remain on.
By the same token every company imagines it needs to create an HR department, but the fact is that no one is served by having an HR department. It’s a non-function that serves only to demotivate employees, ensure that management doesn’t have to deal with important issues, and reliably screws up everything it touches.
Let’s start with the recruitment process, which is far too often delegated to HR. The hiring manager creates a rough job description that’s passed to some HR functionary who has no idea what is needed so they create a requirement specification that invariably contains lots of largely irrelevant “must have” acronyms. An automated resume-screening bot then reliably disqualifies the most qualified candidates prior to HR deselecting any interesting folk whose resumes may have slipped through the net. HR then does the initial “screening” interview in which anyone with any intelligence or experience is likewise consigned to the “we’ll keep your resume on file and notify you if in future we have a role that may fit your profile” bin.
This is obviously not a process that any corporation wanting to hire experienced and qualified people. Hiring managers need to do the hiring, because they’re the ones closest to the requirements and they’re the ones who can make judgement calls regarding whether or not a candidate is likely to fit well with the existing team. HR has no role in hiring.
OK, but what about training? Well, let’s face it: HR has no role here either. Hiring managers are likewise best equipped to know (i) what skills a team member may need to acquire, and (ii) determine which providers seem to have the best assets to deliver suitable training. HR has no idea of any domain requirements nor how to select suitable providers. If we argue that managers don’t have enough time to look after the needs of their team then we have a serious problem that delegating tasks to HR doesn’t solve in any way. We should address the real problem, not band-aid it.
But doesn’t HR represent the interests of the employee when there are issues like harassment? OK, stop laughing at the back, and stop crying at the front. HR is always, without exception, there to ensure the company’s liability is minimized. So the first reaction of any HR person is to think about how to accomplish this Number One task. Which means they represent the company’s interests and not the employee’s interests. Very rarely will these interests coincide; far more often the employee will be further discriminated by clumsy HR actions intended to whitewash or minimize the problem. So senior executives often aren’t aware of serious problems until far too late, which is not a very smart way to run a company.
Furthermore, when it does come down to real problems surely the corporation’s legal counsel should be the ones taking the lead? After all, rapidly addressing genuine employee concerns is surely the fastest and best way to minimize potential liability. But HR is not well-placed to do this because HR people, while they may have some vague grasp of some aspects of employment law, certainly don’t have expertise across the range of law pertaining to a great many issues that can arise within a corporation of any size. So once again, having an HR department serves merely to make things worse.
What about firing? Surely managers should be able to delegate firing to some HR person in order to be able to avoid the inevitable unpleasantness and do have it accomplished in such a way as to minimize liability?
What sort of reputation will a company generate if employees are fired in a mechanical way by an HR person reading from a faux-sympathetic script? We’ve all heard the “think of this as an opportunity” nonsense and only HR people are taken in by it. Everyone else hears the real message. So once again, if we have to fire people let it be done by the manager concerned. After all, if we’re going to have managers they ought to have the requisite skills for this task and they ought to think carefully before “letting people go.” It’s all too easy for executives to cull employees in order to protect their quarterly bonuses; if managers are the ones having to do the “letting go” they may be more likely to fight for their teams and at least make very clear the real and ongoing costs of prioritizing those executive handouts.
In the end it’s clear that no corporation is served by having HR as a department. All the tasks assigned to it are better carried out by others who are more competent and knowledgeable.
So why does HR continue to exist, aside from standard human inertia?
Partly because it’s the easiest way to tick the diversity boxes. HR departments are full of female minorities that enable corporations to appear more diverse and inclusive than they really are. Partly its because few people stop to consider whether yesterday’s org chart has any relevance whatsoever to today’s corporate needs.
But mostly it’s just standard human inertia.
Let’s hope tomorrow’s companies are smarter. Because everyone will be better off when HR departments go the way of the typing pool.