Don’t Drink the HR Haterade

‘HR is there to protect the company, not the employee.’

The Internet

This refrain may have your HR/People Ops lead feeling pretty demoralized right now.

HR is woefully misunderstood as a discipline. It’s undervalued and often maligned. Even before recent stories featuring HR fails hit the news.

We so don’t love HR that we’ve rebranded it as People Operations. (See also, “fun police.”)

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater: your company needs HR.

In early stage companies, the HR/People function is often managed by one single person, who juggles many balls. You ask them to be conversant in recruiting, employment law, people/performance management, diversity/inclusion, market research, payroll/benefits admin, vendor management, compensation. For starters.

Also, you ask them to be mediators, coaches, trainers, brand stewards, event planners and more. Your HR lead can only succeed when other people —  who don’t report to them — do things that they don’t really want to do. (Who loves performance reviews?)

So, your HR/People lead’s role is as complex as your role. It takes 10,000 hours to become a skilled people manager; it probably takes more develop into an HR expert.

I’ve worked with some HR masters. Some of them could have run the companies we worked for. (Shout out to retired HR exec Fran Snow! Her expertise, mentoring, and advice made me a better manager and leader.)

And yes, it’s their job to protect the company. One way to do this is by making sure that people are not breaking the law, or violating basic ethical values.

Harassment is breaking the law. Creating a persistently hostile environment is breaking the law. Assault is breaking the law. Yes, it’s all unethical, too.

The problem we’re seeing out there is not “HR.”

The solution is to value the role correctly. And the HR role is only what you enable it to be.

In growing companies, you may have a talented HR/People lead whom you’ve promoted from within. They may lack broad domain-specific experience and training; they may not have support from people with relevant experience and knowledge.

To develop and support someone with this profile:

  • Sponsor them for trainings and/or certifications
  • Connect them with external domain experts, like an employment attorney
  • And, oh yes: you need to make their authority clear in your organization.

You communicate their authority and their value by giving them seat at the executive table. Whether they report to you, or elsewhere:  they must have your ear.

When they bring you information you don’t like — and they will —  you must demonstrate that you’re listening, and willing to actively support actions required to resolve the issue.

Even if it means figuring out how to let go of someone you had thought was performing well.

If you’ve had hockey stick growth in headcount, the HR/People role may demand a more senior professional to further develop the function. And also to mentor, coach and develop your existing HR/People team.

After all, you probably wouldn’t recruit one of your talented community managers to be CFO. It’s not supportive to allow anyone to struggle and fail in a role that has outpaced their ability to grow along with it, through no fault of their own.

Yes, it’s tough. And, it’s sometimes how it needs to be.

Photo: adapted from Lemonade Stand Poster by Carissa Rogers, via Flickr, under CC2.0 license.

This is one of a series of follow ups to What You Disregard, You Accept: Red Flags for CEOs, which I wrote in June, 2017.  I’m also cross-posting this to Medium.  The series:

Also, Dear Wonderful People who follow my blog by email.   You are used to getting 5-6 posts a year from me.   You’ll probably get that many from me this month, as I finish the series of followup posts to my red flags piece.   Thank you for reading, and after another post or two, I promise to drop back down to the usual dull roar.

Urban Legend: “Temp to Perm”

From recent Reuters piece by Kristina Cooke on temporary workers:

“Randstad, the world’s second-biggest staffing firm… said more of its clients than in prior recoveries are using a “temp to perm” approach to hiring, to try the employee out before committing to taking them on.”

My experience: “temp to perm” is an urban legend, not a successful hiring strategy.

Could this be different? Maybe. You’d have to employ the same vetting process you’d use with a candidate for a permanent role.

Frame the challenge correctly. When think it will be easy to release a temp, it’s seductive to settle for “good enough.”  Your goal is to find a good fit for the role, and a 60% qualified candidate is not better because they’ll be temporary: use the same criteria for all candidates.

Use discipline in the interview and due diligence process. There’s no upside to sloppy hiring.

I watched a boss agonize — and finally release — a temporary worker who had been, generously, a 40% fit. A rumor arose (possibly not true) that the worker had interviewed at a competitor, and had failed their security check. The truth: the firm that connected her to us had not done this check.  Neither had we.

Understand “sunk cost.” Know how long it takes to become proficient. If the job is sorting green M&Ms from red ones, maybe not long: most jobs are more complex. You and your team will invest significant time to train any candidate; this will be a sunk cost. Set clear benchmarks for 30-60-90 day progress. Know what you’ll do if they’re not met.

Consider human nature. Once someone has shared family photos and stopped off with us at the pub, they’ve started to become part of our team. This is good! And it complicates our decision. Is letting go of a temp “easier” for you?  Really?

Remember: agencies are selling. Caveat emptor.

As a manager in a group where our leaders encouraged “temp to perm,” we had interviewed many people for a role requiring an extremely specific skill set. Finally, an agency sent us someone with exactly the right experience, as evidenced by a bullet point on his resume: yet when I asked him about it, he seemed to not understand me. I referred to his resume, and the poor guy became very uncomfortable. He said that he didn’t know what the bullet point meant; the temp agency had written the resume.

Rather than “temp to perm,” I  advocate a 90-day probationary policy for new hires. And using it.

What do you think? Do you know firms where “temp to perm” works well?

(Temporary Elation, by emilio labrador, used under Creative Commons License.   Wow, emilio’s photos are awesome!   I love flickr.)