HR departments are supposed to do a bunch of good things. However, I think they don’t quite work out that way most of the time. Which kind of HR do you have?
The “Avoid Lawsuit” Department
From misconduct and harassment to injuries and workers comp, this kind of HR almost want people to wear helmets while walking around and avoid all communication that could be deemed inappropriate. In their attempt to reduce risk, they also reduce life. They remind of me the dad in Finding Nemo. He was so risk averse, he was ruining his kid’s life. Lawsuits do happen and there are truly egregious examples of bad behavior. However, this shouldn’t be taken so far that it makes everyone in the company feel like they are walking on eggshells.
One example of this comes to firing people. When you have a bad employee, the “Avoid Lawsuit” department makes you put the person through a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan). These are not truly designed to improve performance. They are designed to make the employee feel terrible and quit. It is more humane to give a nice severance package and just let them go. PIPs hurt the employee as well as the manager and surrounding team. They are not helpful to the larger ecosystem.
The Party Planning Committee
I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Parties do not plan themselves. They are a logistics from parking to seating to food and entertainment. A million things could go wrong and usually do. A great party takes craft and attention to detail. Without that skill, the parties end up being awful. We have all been to company parties that feel forced and lame. This is probably most obvious when everyone is forced to sing Happy Birthday to anyone whose birthday feel within 4 weeks of the party.
A critical component of a company is attracting and hiring talented people who fit the culture well. Many managers, especially in Silicon Valley are not good at this skill. They expect HR to magically hand over awesome resumes. They don’t realize that HR typically is not capable of finding those magic people. They are like Sales people who don’t quite understand the product. They need managers help to recruit. Managers never want to believe that. It’s quite a conundrum with no real solution. In this area, you get when you put in. Invest in your recruiter with your time and you will get better results. They are not miracle workers.
The Culture Department
This is a complicated area and most companies do this terribly. As example, Marketo had an incredible run of growth from 2008-2012 which ended in an IPO. In theory, we should have been able to attract great talent. However, the brand of working on Marketo was never “cool”. It was never thought of as a cool place to work. Who has this job? Is it the CEO? HR?
I recently visited New Relics offices. It was delightful from top to bottom. They had cool furniture, cool artwork, cool chairs. They had cool everything. Just being there made you want to work there. There were cultural elements everywhere you looked. I heard that the founders were very influenced by Google’s offices.
A great environment makes a huge difference. Sure, it costs more, but it also attracts more talent. The money gained by stronger talent is worth every cent. It lowers attrition and increases the quality of the product. Companies should spend much more time on Culture than they do. It’s not easy, again there is a special skill and craft involved.
The Management Coach
There are a few (not many) examples where HR acts as coach to new and developing managers. They teach managers how to deal with different flavors of employee. Whether they are uninspired, overworked, over-achieving, stressed or just ready for that next challenge, managers should guide employees forward. Great HR helps with this process because managers are not born, they are designed and built. Unfortunately, this is pretty rare.
One person once said to me that HR exists to solve the problem HR creates. I don’t think he is wrong in many cases. However, I have seen some brilliant moves by HR, so I know that it exists. The key question is how to make it more prevalent.
HR in many ways uses the tools of UX. How do you design something that makes people happy and productive? Great HR partners are great designers.