What’s the role of Human Resources?

I’m back home this morning. The woman sitting next to me on the plane slept, so my fascinating companion on the interisland flight was the October issue of Fast Company magazine. This is on page 40: a Q&A called 60 Seconds with Mira Nair, director of Vanity Fair.

FC: What is your job description?

Nair: My work as a director is to make everybody bloom: to cast for strengths of an actor, mine the strengths, and then maximize them. Casting actors is both intuitive and informed. Then I see what will work and encourage them in the direction of what’s working. I love them into it. They’re like sponges: The more attention you give, the more they shine.”

This is why I’m sharing Nair’s words with you:

This month’s Ho‘ohana (on Labor and Recruitment) has brought a few “hope you don’t mind listening, I just want to get this off my chest” emails to my inbox about re-inventing the role of Human Resources departments.

Well, I don’t mind listening at all. If you’ve been reading Talking Story lately you already know that I’m a big advocate for reinventing work in today’s market. Not only am I an advocate, I don’t think we have much choice, so we better get started. (And managers needn’t go it alone. Your staff will happily participate in this reinvention, but that’s another topic for another day.)

Second, I do agree that there are enormous possibilities within Human Resources departments: HR professionals are in an ideal position to be the front-runners, stimulating movements within companies as they lead the way. They can raise the bar for whatever industry they may be in (believe me, others will notice the competitive edge you gain in recruitment).

However, when we bring the discussion back to effective recruitment and hiring in particular, I do not believe that task strictly falls within the Kuleana (responsibility) of Human Resources: it’s a job shared by every manager and every employee in the company. In my experience, it just works better that way.

For instance, let’s look at job descriptions. One quick way to reinvent work pretty quickly would be to burn the ones you’ve got and start over. Job descriptions annoy me because they perpetuate auto-pilot. Most managers get a job vacancy, pull out a job description that was written back at the dawn of time (maybe even before they themselves were hired), staple it to a job requisition of some sort, and forward it to HR expecting them to then magically deliver a new hire that is perfectly suited to work miracles for them”next Monday.

And HR is equally guilty of proliferating this way-we’ve-always-done-it approach by accepting the requisition and going through the motions.

Imagine how things could change if you arrived at work tomorrow, and all your old job descriptions had been selectively eaten by a hungry computer virus. Not only are the old ones irretrievably lost, you can’t type up another one without the bug hungrily gobbling it up with each new sentence. Your IT staff is perplexed.

Now every time you wanted to hire someone, you’d have to sit and think about exactly what you need, figure out how you should compensate someone for doing it really well, and then reconsider if you really need to hire another person or … maybe you could just redistribute some responsibility within your team and then compensate them accordingly.

If you still feel you need a whole ‘nother person, you sit and discuss it with your HR partner. By the time the conversation is over you’ve explained your needs succinctly, creatively, and brilliantly, and HR “gets it.” Together you’ve also happened on a novel idea about how the new hire will be trained when they arrive, and how that training will actually begin in a great way in HR’s new hire orientation. While HR helps you hire, you bring this “new training idea” to the staff you already have, bringing them up to speed too. When the new person arrives they are delivering worthwhile work almost immediately – and excited about doing so. The energy of the new guy is infectious, and the whole team gets charged up in their new way to work together.

Now let’s read Nair’s words above again. However this time, we’re going to change a few of them:

“My work as a manager is to make everybody bloom: to cast for strengths of an employee, mine the strengths, and then maximize them. Hiring people is both intuitive and informed. Then I see what will work and encourage them in the direction of what’s working. I love them into it. They’re like sponges: The more attention you give, the more they shine.”

It really doesn’t matter if you’re the department manager or the HR manager ” it reads the same way.

Let’s be an ‘Ohana in business, with HR as part of the family.

Comments

  1. says

    Got a job to fill? Tell it like it is.

    At Lifehack.org last week, I took another swipe at job descriptions, something that is crowning my hit list of sacred cows these days. We are in a time where the traditional ways we look at job structure is absolutely begging

  2. says

    The Reinvention of Human Resources

    If you check the ‘brochureware’ on my SLC website, you will see there is just one speaking topic listed for me with the word ‘Reinvention’ in it. As much as we in business love to self-analyze and theorize, there is