Let’s go ahead and be honest for a moment, okay? It’s a no-brainer that no one is going to love the department that has to say no to vacation time or unapproved expenses. And HR gets hit both ways on hiring… current staff are convinced the new hires are all incompetent, and job candidates all believe the interviews are stacked against them.
But that’s just the run-of-the-mill stuff, the cost of doing business. There’s a worse knock on HR, and it’s the one that’s hardest to dispel: that only wet blankets and buzzkills work in HR – the Toby Flendersons of the world.
Sure, top grads from Harvard and Columbia business schools aren’t usually lining up for roles in benefit administration or recruitment. They are getting recruited, not trying to figure out how to entice others. We’ve all heard that if you’ve got the chops, you go for accounting or sales or operations, the pointy end of the business where the real rewards get doled out.
But that’s just not true today. The dominance of the knowledge economy has turned human resources work into a key strategic differentiator at companies that owe their very existence to the human capital they’ve invested in.
Companies Rise and Fall On Recruitment
Second-rate human resource management doesn’t get the job done a places like Apple, Google, or Facebook. Recruitment and retention of top talent takes top talent itself… and those companies are making sure they have the HR teams to go out and get it.
In the past, a hiring manager with an open slot might give HR a list of requirements that would simply be dropped verbatim into a job description. Resumes coming in would be checked against that list like a multiple-choice test—fill in the bubble, or don’t.
Today, HR is integral in assessing the fit and intangible aspects of potential recruits. Facebook, for instance, has no specific educational requirements—HR has to assess each individual candidate on the basis of their capabilities and demonstrated skills. The department also runs a six week onboarding process to inculcate recruits into the culture and expectations the company has. There are no dummies running that kind of program!
Smart Benefits Packages Are A Big Deal In Retention
Google and Facebook are also consistently ranked near the top of American best places to work lists. A lot of that is down to HR policies and procedures that make showing up for work a blast. Free unlimited food, foosball in the common areas, free massages at your desk, dry-cleaning services, and other spectacular perks are all put in place and managed by human resources departments.
HR is also expected to take the lead in developing new perks that help those companies stand out from the competition. At Google, innovations have included allowing pets in the office, offering to provide surviving spouses 50% salary for a decade in the event an employee passes away, and Friday happy hours… on the company dime.
Legal Considerations are Rampant
According to the Insurance Business Journal in 2015, the odds are that even a small or medium-sized business faces a 12 percent chance of facing an employee lawsuit. For a major enterprise, it’s almost certainly 100 percent.
Those odds have been rising over the past few years, and lawyers are finding new and innovative ways to hold companies liable in hiring decisions. Invasion of privacy, illegal background checks, genetic discrimination… there are a host of new avenues in which disgruntled employees are pursuing legal action against current or former employers.
HR has to be two steps ahead of the game to help businesses head off these lawsuits. First, by keeping those employees comfortable and providing avenues to resolve their issues without legal action, and second by making sure the company complies with all legal requirements so that it can win in court when that day comes. It’s not a task for second-rate staff!
The World Is Always Watching
In the wake of new revelations of powerful men abusing women in their employment, the #MeToo movement has sparked a wave of interest in lawsuits against employers and individuals. The egregious nature of those abuses has only been accentuated by the fact that many were countenanced or covered up for years by the businesses in which they occurred.
#MeToo isn’t the only movement out there. Companies are getting called on the carpet for all kinds of violations of social and environmental norms. If you’re outsourcing your stitching to 8-year-olds in Myanmar today, it’s going to be on Twitter in a few hours.
HR staff have to be savvy and switched on not only about the morality and ethics of corporate policy and strategy, but also about the visuals.
Risk Aversion Isn’t Enough Anymore
One of the reasons HR was traditionally not seen as a place to get ahead is because it has been, by design, the brakes on the business. A repository of ethics, compliance, and legality, HR departments were full of people saying no.
But times have changed. Businesses have to take risks now, and if no is the only answer, those companies don’t survive.
Human resources professionals don’t just take a seat in the back at corporate strategy meetings anymore. Instead, they’re advancing their own ideas for positioning their companies at the head of the pack. And those ideas are firing up competition. Acquihires, the practice of acquiring an entire company solely for the talented employees that work there, have become a key part of business strategy in high tech.
It’s a strategy that only works because HR has the right talent to evaluate and quantify the costs and benefits of the acquisition versus the cost of hiring for each desirable employee independently.