CareerQuest Newsletter
Opinion of Human Resources

July-August 2009
My dear friends, colleagues, clients and students:

This intriguing article, Do People Really Have a Low Opinion of Human Resources? is bound to generate some controversy. Please let us have your thoughts.

Let's not forget! Summer is not a slow period for hiring, contrary to the myth. May we remind you to speed up your job search, not slow down! Please read the article below: Happy Summer! I Have a Gift for You in the Fall - A New Job!

I want to wish you an enjoyable and safe summer. See you in the fall!

Until we meet again through the magic of email, keep your feedback coming.

Peace! Love! Shalom!

Don Sutaria, MS, IE (Prof.)
Founder, President & Life-Work Coach

Do People Really Have a Low Opinion of Human Resources?

If you are a career counselor or a career coach, you are automatically placed in the general category of Human Resources (formerly called Personnel...remember!). Even after having helped individuals change their jobs or careers, what are the reasons why Human Resources or an allied activity, does not get the credit? We may not be hated with a vengeance but we are not loved either.

A typical management gives lip service to its employees, calling people their most important asset. During economic downturns, this people-axiom is tested rigorously. The layoff fever pervades through management. And guess who is designated to do this dirty job? Human Resources (HR), of course, whether they like it or not!

In my opinion, the singular most important task of HR is to find the best talent and develop it in a productive work environment, to ensure the success of the company. In short, raising the intellectual capital of the company. But anecdotal evidence suggests we are not doing that. Every year at annual meetings of HR leaders, the catch phrase, Strategic HR Leadership, is repeated again and again, and scholarly lectures are given on that topic, whatever it means!

We are begging and hoping to be strategic partners at our companies' roundtables where important management decisions are made, but we are so far away from achieving that goal that it isn't even funny! Where did we go wrong and how do we rectify this situation?

First, employees and even some managements consider HR to be a necessary evil. Who would administer the benefits but them? Who will ensure that annual performance reviews are conducted and the raises doled out? What about communications in the inside and outside world, without HR? Someone like HR has to ensure that the company does not get into legal trouble with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission!

Here are some statistics compiled in 2005 by Hay Group consultants, prior to our national economic slide. Only 40% of the employees commended their companies for retaining high-quality workers. Just 41% agreed that performance evaluations were fair. And only 58% rated their on-the-job training as acceptable. Many said their opportunities for advancement were limited, and management's expectations for them to move up were not clear. The real kicker here is that only about 50% believed that their companies and supervisors took a genuine interest in their well-being and welfare.

During presentations at these HR conferences, speaker after speaker use bombastic terms like internal action learning, planful approach, leveraging internal resources, involving external resources, and the dazed audience, after a PowerPoint presentation, has no real idea what was discussed and its practical applications.

There are many reasons why HR has foundered over the years.

1. HR has not attracted the best and the brightest.

At the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, just 1.2% of 2004 graduates went into HR. Some have been removed from the corporate mainstream by the company's management, because they have fared poorly in other strenuous roles. Why not slide them into HR positions instead of firing them? Well, it provides a low-risk parking spot for them where their chances of doing damage are minimal.

Anthony J. Rucci, executive vice president at Cardinal Health Inc., a big health-care supply distributor, says: "business acumen is the single biggest factor that HR professionals in the U.S. lack today." Rucci says that there are seven basic questions that any competent HR professional should be able to answer.
  • Who is your company's core customer?
  • Have you talked to your core customer lately?
  • Do you know the challenges your core customer faces?
  • Who is the competition?
  • What do they do well and not so well?
  • Who are we? (A very important question.)
  • What is the realistic assessment of what we do well and not so well, compared to our competition?
In my opinion, the singular most important task of HR is to find the best talent and develop it in a productive work environment, to ensure the success of the company. In short, raising the intellectual capital of the company.
2. HR pursues efficiency instead of effectiveness.

As Peter Drucker would say: Are we doing the right things or just doing things right. There is a lot of wisdom embedded in this statement. We are not looking for activities; we are looking for accomplishments!

Dave Ulrich, a professor at the University of Michigan, expresses it another way: "You're only effective if you add value. That means you're not measured by what you do but by what you deliver."

Anthony Rucci of Cardinal Health frequently asks his employees many questions. For example: "Do you understand our company's strategy?", "Do you see the connection between our company's strategy and your jobs?", and "Are you proud to tell people where you work?". Rucci is not sure if his HR group is having the necessary impact if he has to ferret out this information from his employees.

3. HR may not be working for you.

Most individuals and companies are dissatisfied with their annual performance appraisal system, to the point of calling them asinine. On probing further, our suspicions are confirmed that many companies are going through these motions to legally protect themselves. If there is a confrontation, they can whip out a piece of paper to say that they have documented the problem.

HR leans toward standardization and uniformity although the present day workforce is multicultural and multinational. The urge is for a "one-size-fits-all" approach! Perhaps not in every company, but I think in a majority of them.

It would be advantageous and more productive for HR to broadcast the fact that they truly value high-performing employees, and that they plan to reward them adequately and retain them. Stars need to be rewarded, even if their salaries are pushed beyond the industry norms.

Look around you. Does your company's Vice President of Human Resources report to the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) or to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO)? Does he have a place and say at the highest levels? If HR reports to the CFO, you bet dollars are being watched and being taken out of the organization to please shareholders, instead of investing in its people, as HR would like to do.

Encouraging examples.

Take heart. The entire HR spectrum isn't gloomy.

There are some model companies where HR is considered a "strategic business partner." Employees are treated with utmost respect, turnover is low, and HR has a seat at the table at the highest levels! No wonder they have prospered in good times and bad. These companies may be few and far in between, but they do exist. The names that come to my mind are Yahoo, Hunter Douglas, Cardinal Health, Procter & Gamble, Pitney Bowes, Goldman Sachs, and General Electric.

Happy Summer! I Have a Gift for You in the Fall—A New Job!

Jobs Given the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, the present state of the economy and the mood of the nation, all I hear from my clients is that it is not exactly a good time to look for a job.

Sorry! Wrong! The above statement is a myth! Just the opposite! I beg to differ and I'll tell you why.

Based on my personal experiences during the past decade and a half, I can tell you confidently that the summer months of June, July and August, are some of the best months for job hunting. Thrice during this period of fifteen years, I have landed $100,000+ jobs, starting during early fall.

Why is that? This is because the seeds were sown during the summer and the results were harvested in the fall. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, corporate America bathes in a special glow of the warm weather.

Just think of it! A holiday mood prevails during the summer months.

Executives with the position and power to hire you are generally traveling less during this period. People are taking vacations. A holiday spirit prevails and there is a greater mood of courtesy and charity. Don't ask me for a rational explanation!

Another factor is that managers may have more time to talk with you and are more relaxed. Note that other job hunters have temporarily dropped out of the race for three months which gives you a statistical advantage of winning or bagging your trophy, a desirable job. If you were a hiring manager, wouldn't you admire a candidate with perseverance and patience? It would automatically work for the candidate.
Note that other job hunters have temporarily dropped out of the race for three months which gives you a statistical advantage of winning or bagging your trophy, a desirable job.
Note that the company's annual budgets are also being tweaked in the fall for the following year. You may even be able to create a new job (Remember the hidden job market!) in the mind of the hiring manager, who will certainly remember you. It may also allow him to place additional money in his budget for next year.

Don't forget to stay sober at company summer picnics! Keep making mini-pitches without making yourself a bore! It is a perfect opportunity for networking. Don't pass it up! If you have friends at other companies, see if you can get yourself invited as a guest. I have done that and it works! The same principle holds true for parties given by friends and neighbors. There is no harm in discreetly exchanging business cards at most parties.

If you are a career coach, ask your counselees to take these admonitions to heart. Don't slow down, speed up!

If you are a counselee reading this article, follow the prescription which Career Doctor Don gave you, and you may surprise yourself by being delivered a belated summer gift: A NEW the size and style and color you always wanted!

Don Sutaria, also known a "Career Doctor Don", is Founder and President of CareerQuest. He has been quoted frequently in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, on radio and television and has taught at various colleges. He is the author of Career And Life Counseling From The Heart (Your Career is a Pathway to Your Soul!).