“Our People Are Our Greatest Assets.”
It’s been one of the business world’s favorite clichés for decades. For just as long, it’s prompted eye rolling from America’s greatest assets themselves—the hardworking and often cynical employees who everyone swears form the backbone of the nation’s commercial colossus.
Seems many believe there’s little difference between management walking the walk and merely talking the talk.
Now, in a provocative article that has business people talking themselves, BusinessWeek columnist Liz Ryan takes the HR function to task for tolerating a professional culture that too often, she says, tolerates platitudes instead of insisting on actual progress.
Ryan’s July 17 piece, “6 Signs You Don’t Care About Workers,” calls out the many ways in which she says HR fails employees—and therefore fails employers. Do any of these sound familiar?
1. The head HR executive sits a rung or more lower on the ladder than counterparts who lead other functions.
If the human resources leader in the organization isn't at the same level as the rest of the E-staff—whether that's executive vice-president, senior vice-president, or chief [whatever] officer—the "greatest asset" language is a lie.
2. HR is part of finance and accounting.
Years ago, when HR was called personnel, maybe it made sense to stick the function under accounting. After all, most of what happened in personnel had to do with payroll records, vacation days, and the like. Today, managing HR as a finance function says "We value people, all right. Those salaries and benefits suck cost right outta the bottom line."
3. Recruitment is where résumés go to die.
If your recruiting group is (as is common) a pit where résumés go to die, you're hereby forbidden to talk about greatest human assets until the problem is fixed.
At least 90% of the organizations I hear from have enormous problems managing the recruiting function in a way that values talent—and that's during the we-love-you stage, where valuing talent should be at its peak! Fix the function so that job candidates are treated like valued contributors rather than livestock, and you'll have made a major stride.
4. One of HR’s most valuable roles is reducing costs.
When HR is primarily a cost-reduction unit, charged with taking nickels out of the dental-plan premiums, your talent-awareness score approaches zero .... Even companies that find it necessary to reduce their staff rosters from time to time can be human, fair and respectful in doing so .... If your HR team's goals for the year focus on cost reduction rather than talent management, the engine is broken.
5. You outsource critical HR functions.
It's logical to outsource an HR function such as processing workers’ comp claims to a firm that specializes in it …. But employee relations? Staffing? Companies that move these talent-critical functions out-of-house are signalling in neon: "We Say It, But We Don't Mean It."
6. OD and HR aren’t one.
Ten years ago, major corporations realized with a start that their HR folks weren't all up to the challenge of creating a winning culture and building leadership strength for the company. At that point, many of them created a separate organizational development group to deal with these issues. Talk about sidestepping a critical issue! No self-respecting CFO would permit her boss to take away her most strategic functions, and no HR chief worth leading your talent charge will sit by while you carve off leadership development, mentoring, succession planning, and performance management into a separate OD function. They're all aspects of the same role: putting the winning team on the field. Get an HR leader who can run the whole show, and put these functions back together.
Ryan urges HR pros to get started ASAP fixing any or all of the above dysfunctions. Correct any one of them and you’ll be making valuable progress. “There isn’t any time to waste,” she writes. “If you recognize your company on our To-Don’t list above, talented candidates are doubtless avoiding working for you right now.”