InHUMANe Resources

InHUMANe Resources
July 9, 2012 Derek Fournier

HREver work in a small company? Ever heard the line, “Good thing we don’t have an HR Department!” often times followed by laughter? Do you actually know what an HR department is supposed to do? Harvard Business Review wondered and I want to offer a response.

Let’s start with a definition of sorts:

Human Resource Management (HRM) is the function within an organization that focuses on recruitment of, management of, and providing direction for the people who work in the organization. HRM can also be performed by line managers. (From:

Recruiting, managing (a redundant word pointing out additional management roles); sounds like, management.

Why have a separate department allocated to it? That sounds like overhead to me. On Facebook, where my good friend and very smart guy, Paul Schottland posted this article I weighed in with, “Who owns one’s career is a question that I think should be examined to address the issue in the article.”

He proffered, “This article is about HR. You are asking about career planning and advancement. Non-sequitur testing or are you saying HR should help in career planning?

Well, in short my answer is “yes” (to the career planning question) but I would also point out that Paul is a trained lawyer so he may be using a more explicit definition for non-sequitur than common parlance but I am saying that HR as an organizational construct is quite often seen as a necessary evil instead of a tool to assist in providing access to the best talent available and helping manager retain that talent.

So what is the minimum bar for HR? Why is a department like that even necessary?

Legality. HR makes sure that a company follows all of the guidelines and requirements for fair hiring and firing as well as managing any issues around career advancement (formally). The joke I mentioned in the intro was usually preceded by a mildly inappropriate comment. The kind of comment that can, if left unchecked, lead to a lawsuit. While this protection or insurance position for HR is very real, it is not where HR should be able to provide the most value to a company.

Like every group in a company, be it small or large, the goal is to drive profit. (Even in non-profits….you get the point I hope). Organizational health, improvement and advancement is bolstered by a focus on, well, the business. In the case of HR, that department has access to the portfolio that is always given a pile of lip service by executives as the most valuable asset of any company: its people.

From the Harvard Business Review article,

That means managing talent as a portfolio of investments, some of which will pay a much higher return than others. Instead of spending an equal amount of time, attention and resources on everyone equally, you make disproportionate investments in the most critical roles and critical people — not just in terms of compensation, but in terms of development, opportunities, retention, engagement, and human capital planning.

The concept that everyone must be treated the same is a perversion aimed to make everyone ‘equal.’ The fact is that on a team of any type, some people require more contact or attention and others less. Some can be helped to achieve amazing results and some can only provide mediocre results. I know this will offend the sensibilities of a bunch of people out there:

  • People who are not talented
  • People who are lazy
  • People who are looking for excuses
  • People who incorrectly assume everyone can be a superstar

Well, tough shit. Like the article (also posted by Paul) about how stack ranks ruined Microsoft, the larger an organization becomes the more requirements there are for people of all skill levels. Rockstar performers often times HATE some of the everyday blocking and tackling that must be done. Rather than force them to do it, hire someone who LIKES that kind of work. Having a great and visionary plan to dominate your market that you will never execute because the genius who conceived it hates operational management and has no attention to detail is just plain stupid. Those other tasks are not below the rockstar, they are simply better handled by someone who finds those tasks to be exciting, challenging or whatever drives them to perform them reliably. It’s funny, for years people talked about bolstering weaknesses in employees when really that is a slow route to improvement (organizational). Compensate for the weakness in employees with the strengths in others. Then, overtime, work on the improvement plan.

Anyway, back to the original question. Should HR have a place in career planning and advancement?

Yes. They should assist the management chain in helping develop the best, happiest and high performing resources.The legal position of HR is a requirement but as he (Paul) said later, the false view that HR is impartial, serving the employee and the company equally in some sort of mock tribunal model is childish at best. Who should own career advancement and planning directly? The employees themselves. (More in a subsequent blog because I know that will piss some of you off. Quit blaming other people and own your career by owning your talent.)

HR is CYA (minimum bar). HR *can be* an amazing tool to build, bolster and solidify a great team or team of teams if they realize that their job is to do just that. The reporting and legality, while very real, are simply hurdles that the business must fulfill and smart HR managers realize that if they do not find a way to serve the business, they will need recruiters themselves.




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