HR in the firing line

Feb 05 2008 by Print This Article

Unloved and unappreciated, HR departments regularly come under fire from their management colleagues for failing to deliver. And this week is no different.

In the Financial Times last week columnist Luke Johnson sent shockwaves throughout the personnel profession when he described HR as a "necessary evil, and "a burden on the backs of the productive workers."

Johnson, who is also chairman of UK TV station Channel 4 and runs Risk Capital Partners, a private equity firm, warned that with a recession looming employers would be wise to "clear away a lot of pointless administration," and sympathised with Robert Townsend, boss of car hire firm Avis, who in his book Up the Organisation suggests firing the entire personnel department.

Training advisers were also singled out by Johnson, who feels they are "employed to distract everyone from doing their job with pointless courses."

Unfortunately for HR practitioners everywhere, this negative view of the profession has only been underlined in a study released today by consultants Ceridian.

Through a survey of more than 1,000 UK employees, the business services company found that half of office workers feel HR teams make no difference whatsoever to their jobs.

What's more, nearly a quarter (22 per cent) actually consider their HR function has a negative impact by getting things wrong.

Commenting on the findings, Cerdian's managing director Doug Sawers said: "Just three per cent of employees surveyed considered the function as important as their manager, which reinforces the view that HR should make sure they get the basics right and provide line managers with the necessary tools to deliver effective people management.

"HR can then concentrate on innovating in critical areas such as employee acquisition, retention and performance to allow the function to deliver business-led strategic initiatives, which keep their organisations ahead of the competition."

And the view of HR on the other side of Pond is hardly more encouraging, especially when it comes to its contribution to helping businesses expand.

A study carried out last year in the U.S. by the Human Resource Planning Society (HRPS) in partnership with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) found two-thirds of respondents believe that HR is not reacting fast enough to the strategic challenges related to organizational growth.

i4cp's senior vice president of research, Jay Jamrog, said that there were a variety of reasons for HR failing to keep up in high-growth companies.

"Those firms are not only scrambling for the talent they need to keep growing - they tend to have a strong focus on issues such as meeting customer needs, delivering quality products and staying innovative."

"A lot of HR pros don't have much expertise in these areas. It requires a different kind of strategic HR to help drive growth."