The Problem With HR

by Evil HR Lady on October 27, 2008

In the comments on Policy Problem Just Another HR Lady Wrote:

I would like to just comment that every profession (not just HR) has individuals who are low-performers or who are not the right fit for the job. Because HR deals with every single person in the organization at every level, HR low-performers or those who make mistakes/errors/missteps are much higher profile in the company than someone who only deals with one department.

And with that she sums up a very real problem. Every employee at every level has contact with HR and sometimes with very low level HR people. Add to this that HR isn’t the highest paid profession and sometimes you get some real problems.

Any mistake we make is magnified–because it involves people. Let me tell you about a memorable mistake in my past. Once upon a time, I was responsible for running the year end salary increase program–for the entire, very large company. This was in the dark ages, so at the end of the whole thing we sent every manager a piece of paper with a list of their employees and the employee’s official increase. Attached to that were individual notification sheets for each employee with their names and new salaries. Did I mention this was a very large company? Did I also mention this was all done on PAPER? Oy.

So, we’re handling tens of thousands of sheets of paper. Stuffing them into envelopes and sending them out. It was quite a process. And we made a mistake. No one really knows who–everyone in the department, from admin to VP helped out on this stuffing process, so it could have been anyone. But, we made a mistake and ONE Vice President (note how I said, one out of thousands) got an extra sheet stuck to his list. The extra sheet happened to be for one of his direct reports, so it wasn’t as if he saw anything he didn’t already have access to. It was just a mistake. And unfortunately, it happened at the top.

Of course, the world came to an end and there were meetings and process re-designs and it was a mess and if you ask me if I ever want to do that again the answer is a resounding no. It made us look terrible and no one recognized that our error rate was well below 0.0002%. You ask me if any other department would get reamed for that error level. Even worse all of HR looked bad, even though staffing, employee relations, benefits, etc. didn’t even make the mistake. My group did.

My point is, of course, that we do have to be better. We need to know more than we do. We need to be more accurate than we are. We just need to be better employees.

Which makes sense. After all, if we’re in the people business we should be the best people.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous October 27, 2008 at 5:51 pm

If HR people are expected to be the best shouldn’t they be paid more aggressively to attract the best?

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Evil HR Lady October 27, 2008 at 6:58 pm

It would help with the caliber of people, but it wouldn’t change the expectation that HR has to be perfect. No mistake is “unseen.” Or at least, not in my world.

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HR Underling October 27, 2008 at 7:42 pm

They are always watching us waiting for us to nmake a mistake at my company…it sucks

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Wally Bock October 27, 2008 at 9:08 pm

I need to be a contrarian here. Yes, HR folks deal with everyone in the company in some way, but that’s as much an opportunity as a threat. And everyone in every department can catch a load of junk because of a mistake the a VP-on-the-make happened to notice.

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Evil HR Lady October 27, 2008 at 9:19 pm

Wally is, of course right. It does open the doors to a lot of opportunity.

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The HR Store October 28, 2008 at 8:04 am

Agree with Wally on the opportunities that get created and also that HR needs to be the ‘best’ in people business.

The fact that the error was around finances could have triggered the end of the world! As usual, the buck stops at HR! I guess HR folks pray harder for each day to pass without an error…

Honestly, Good HR or Bad HR isn’t really the point when the ‘rest’ of them have decided a volunteer (in most cases HR) to nail the blame!

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Anonymous October 28, 2008 at 9:04 am

I rememember a senior HR leader in my organisation once saying that being in HR was a thankless task because everyone expects 100% perfect performance at a minimum!

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HR Godess October 28, 2008 at 4:37 pm

I agree with Wally in that it creates the most opportunities. It also depends on how a company handles a problem. I always apologize, sincerely, if I make a mistake that affects someone else. In turn, when a mistake is made, I don’t scream and yell. I think if you treat people with respect at all levels, you get respect back.

There are always exceptions to every rule but I have found that more times than not, this works for me.

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Anonymous October 29, 2008 at 11:27 am

A rookie HR mistake is to say… I love working with People as the reason for getting into HR… use any other reason…but this one.

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Just another HR lady... October 29, 2008 at 11:10 pm

I’m being quoted by EHRL…I feel very honoured.

I didn’t intend to cause any debate here, I just wanted to point out that we HR folks deal with everyone in the entire company on many different and far-reaching issues, so often on a daily basis we have the opportunity and visibility to make both incredible positive change, and also to make some very large mistakes (as all humans do) on a company-wide scale. I totally feel for you in that situation EHRL, I’ve been there for sure. Yes, how we deal with mistakes and the reputation we have built around HR prior to the mistake makes a huge difference, but that doesn’t mean that everyone in the company won’t still talk about it, and remind you about it years later. :0)

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Nick November 14, 2008 at 12:19 am

Interesting post. I think there is a perception in the current corporate culture that HR is the solution to all problems in an organization. And since it’s an internal service organization, employees tend to see themselves as the client and HR as the vendor, and be treated as such. The reality is, HR is a business partner to other teams. Once people start thinking that way, relationships will get a lot better within organization.

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