Support our nonpartisan, nonprofit research and insights which help leaders address societal challenges.Donate
27 Mar. 2012 | Comments (0)
What happened to Human Resources? Ask yourself the following questions: Are you doing much of your own HR work on web-based portals? Do you need to contact an outside HR service center to manage the hiring or firing process? Are you doing your training online and on your own time? Do you no longer have easy access to an HR generalist who can help you think through tricky employee issues?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you're not alone. What used to be a high-touch (and high cost) unit in many organizations has now become automated, outsourced, and oriented towards self-service. While these shifts have indeed lowered costs, in all too many cases they have left managers to fend for themselves on important people issues — and this added complexity may cancel out the financial gains. Consider the following examples:
In a well-known consumer products company, the "new and improved" HR model requires that managers use automated online forms for performance ratings, merit increases, employee transfers, and other sensitive personnel issues. Based on an assessment of how much time HR once spent on these activities, the number of HR generalists has been dramatically reduced — so much so that only those supporting vice presidents and above remain. As a result, many managers below the VP level are struggling with personnel decisions (not to mention the forms), giving inconsistent messages to their teams, and becoming distracted from their business objectives.
Similarly, managers are also scratching their heads at a financial services business where the new HR approach puts responsibility for the hiring process on them. As such, the managers need to fill out online forms that specify job requirements and request advertising and search support. These forms are then vetted by the recruiting service center and routed to higher level managers for approvals. Once candidates are identified the manager needs to use the online system to arrange a required number of interviews; each interview report is then submitted both to the manager and the service center for review. When a candidate is finally selected, this initiates another online process for setting compensation ranges — with forms and approvals going back and forth between the hiring manager, the service center, the hiring manager's boss, and a senior HR leader. Sound confusing? Well it is — and it has also doubled the company's recruiting cycle time.
Of course neither company intended to create more complex, elongated, or difficult HR processes. However, in the rush to reduce costs by streamlining the HR function, many companies have neglected two basic principles:
Simplify processes before applying technology. It makes little sense to automate already inefficient processes with too many forms, hand-offs, approvals, and lag times. The hiring process described above is a good example.
Think through the change-management issues for the people involved. In the cases above, the managers who have to take on tasks that were previously done by others will be most affected by the new HR model. If the companies in our examples had thought through this, they might have found better ways of training or supporting the managers — perhaps reducing some of the short-term financial savings but gaining them back in the longer-term with more productive managers.
If the HR transformation in your company seems to have created this kind of complexity you might want to bring these principles back into focus. It's never too late to apply them.
What's been your experience with the changing face of HR?
This blog first appeared on Harvard Business Review on 9/28/2010.
View our complete listing of Strategic HR blogs.