Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Project Social - The Role of HR During Good and Bad Times

My Project Social partner Dave Ryan and I were talking about what topic we wanted to tackle next and decided on the role of HR during good and bad times - Dave's post can be found here over at HR Official.

An old friend of mine came over for coffee on Sunday. She currently works as a recruiter but worked for years in HR at both big and small companies.

She talked about an unpleasant experience she had working as the sole HR person for a consulting start up. At first everything was great: the two founders (a couple of techies-turned-consultant-entrepreneur) loved her ideas about talent management and encouraged her to introduce best practices. People were to be recognized as the drivers of value, treated with respect, supported in their personal career goals, etc.

My friend recruited and on-boarded a qualified group of technical consultants and there was a real family feeling for the first several years. Then a series of poor business decisions – such as not hiring a qualified sales person as the business expanded - led to a cash crunch. Suddenly the tone changed. Salaries were reduced, although not at the C-level. Several projects were severely undermanned but hiring was frozen. Paychecks were late, causing extreme hardship for several employees.

Finally, employees were let go without any notice or severance – it was my friend’s bitter task to communicate this to people she had hired and worked beside for several years without inconvenient legal problems. Not surprisingly best people - the ones most critical to current projects - began jumping ship as well as the company began its final collapse.

And the co-CEOs? Apparently they sat in their office playing World of Warcraft while all this was going on.

I guess this is a good lesson for would-be talent managers: With the best talent management practices in the world you still have to run your business intelligently.

‘I wanted to make a difference,’ my friend remarked sadly. ‘I thought I could effect change from below but you can’t without support from above.’

‘That sucks!’ I commiserated. ‘So that’s why you quit and now you do recruiting. Uh... how do you like it?’

She shrugged indifferently. ‘It’s OK.’

‘But you can really make a difference as a recruiter!’ I protested. ‘You can help good people find new jobs after their lame CEOs destroy their company.’

She laughed but shook her head and explained, ‘I have limited influenced over who gets hired. In my experience it’s rarely the most qualified person and usually the person the hiring manager ‘clicks’ with.’

Just to be devil’s advocate I asked, ‘But isn’t it more important to hire someone who gets along with the team and can also do the job than someone with the top qualifications?’

She allowed that it is but added that too much value is placed on impressions rather than substance, which impacts overall performance.

‘Maybe you can help the best candidates by coaching them on what the hiring manager’s looking for,’ I suggested.

‘The only thing we're measured on is time to fill,’ she informed me. ‘I’m not paid to find the best candidate or help people - I’m paid to fill positions as quickly as they open. And they’ll replace me in a heartbeat if I perform slower than my colleagues.’

‘Oh,’ I said. What could I say?

What would you say?

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