The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology

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Simon Baker wrote a piece that was not as inflammatory as the well known “Why We Hate HR” article a couple years ago.  I found it quite entertaining and thought it deserved a response.  Simon has a couple of good points, but also it’s discouraging to see his opinions from both a management and strategy point of view.  I think Simon is misguided, but you can read his post yourself.  Here are my thoughts.

I have been thinking about the role of HR in a business and a question that goes through my mind is “do you really need an HR team”.  Now i can hear the chorous of “of course you do” – however the question is what is it that HR does that a line manager cant do themselves?  ((Baker, Simon))  ((errors from original text))

Absolutely right.  There is much that the line manager must focus on.  I mean really, Simon is right.  Managers have to take responsibility that they are front line HR.  They are the ones who engage the employee.  They are the ones who determine levels of satisfaction and productivity.  Here’s the problem.  Nobody trusts them to execute on anything that is not their core job.  If HR activities and measurements of engagement are not in their performance based goals, then there will never be any focus.  And at the end of the day, do you really want a $40K/year line supervisor being responsible for productivity?  Simon goes through a few examples, some of which I’d like to respond to as well.

OK – a tough one.  I know a number of managers who defer the firing of people to HR.  Now this is a weak way of managing a business and the firing of people is something that should be done by the line manager.  HR can be there to help and make sure that the correct procedures are followed, however they should not be any more than that.  ((Ibid))

Right again.  Hiring and firing is the domain of the line manager.  They are the ones who should be executing the processes, making the decisions, talking to the candidates and employees.  I do have a problem with the statement, “HR can be there to help and make sure that the correct procedures are followed, however they should not be any more than that.”  To me, this is just uninformed.  When it comes to hiring and firing, procedures is not nearly enough.  Are you telling me that the hiring manager is supposed to know about the quality of hire metrics for the entire organization?  Does the hiring manager really understand the success rate of various candidate sourcing tools?  And for firing, does the manager really understand the compliance issues that impact a decision and a discussion?  Do you really want to put a possible $2M lawsuit per bad termination in the hands of a line manager?  Procedures to me don’t include compliance and strategy.  Line managers do enough.  Don’t make them experts in too many other things as well that are not part of their normal day to day jobs.

In many businesses, HR is responsible for setting the pay scales. Well i dont agree with this.  THe market should be setting the pay scales and people should be paid for performance not pay for position.  When a manager is doing their budget, they need to think about the people, understand what the market is paying and then make recommendations within the budget framework as to what someone should be paid.   ((Ibid))

Really I have an issue with this one.  Line managers can’t seriously be expected to understand market pay.  In fact, compensation professionals usually buy several surveys to tell them what’s going on in the market.  They set strategies with the top business leaders based on whether the organization wants to lead, lag or perform with the market based on integrated conversations around talent attraction and retention.  They bring in a view of total rewards with benefits packages to have a clear view of what the total employer value proposition is.  Again, Simon is a CEO perhaps, but maybe he really needs a new HR person who gets strategy.  Clearly Simon’s view of HR is fully administrative.  This is not a job the line manager can do.

I think that’s enough complaining from me.  Simon does have some good points.  The line manager is all too often overlooked in her critical role in managing and engaging employees.  They are the focal points of all employee interactions, and without good guidance they cannot be the corporate ambassadors we need them to be.  Having said that, they do a job.  That job is not to focus on the interconnections between the many various points of HR.  They should not have to understand how to implement the strategies that tie the business strategy to the HR and employee strategy.  If you want to send every line manager to get an MBA (and pay for it), then maybe that’s an approach.  However, the normal line manager just wants to get their job done.  They don’t need 2 and 3 additional jobs getting in the way of their core focus.  And anyway, the 2nd and 3rd additional jobs don’t get executed well anyway.  We all know that from experience.

I agree that line manager should do more of the processing.  But line managers are not strategists.  If I’m wrong and they are, then I’d suggest Simon test this out at his company and give the line managers HR strategy, finance strategy, product strategy too.

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3 responses to “Why We Don’t Need HR”

  1. Sudhanshu Pant Avatar

    Interesting, I will now go and read the Simon Baker post also. Let me just say that as someone who learned HR on the job, and then went on to do an MBA, I believe that the MBA does not teach enough for a line manager to become a HR specialist.

  2. […] systematicHR – Human Resources Strategy and Technology » Why We Don’t Need HR SAVE A good post on the relationship between HR and line managers. […]

  3. Pat Avatar

    Having spent over 10 years in HR, I still see that there is either/or in the value of HR.

    When I was doing my job well, I was training managers to handle the frontline issues, as well as guiding them in the legal arena Most managers aren’t trained in managing employees, focusing on the employee’s strengths and managing their own reactions. Where HR is of value is when they can provide managers with the knowledge they need to do their jobs.