Why We Hate HR
In a knowledge economy, companies with the best talent win. And finding, nurturing, and developing that talent should be one of the
most important tasks in a corporation. So why does human resources do such a bad job -- and how can we fix it?
Keith H. Hammonds
Well, here's a rockin' party: a gathering of several hundred midlevel human-resources executives in Las Vegas. (Yo, Wayne Newton!
How's the 401(k)?) They are here, ensconced for two days at faux-glam Caesars Palace, to confer on "strategic HR leadership," a
conceit that sounds, to the lay observer, at once frightening and self-contradictory. If not plain laughable.
Because let's face it: After close to 20 years of hopeful rhetoric about becoming "strategic partners" with a "seat at the table" where the
business decisions that matter are made, most human-resources professionals aren't nearly there. They have no seat, and the table is
locked inside a conference room to which they have no key. HR people are, for most practical purposes, neither strategic nor leaders.
I don't care for Las Vegas. And if it's not clear already, I don't like HR, either, which is why I'm here. The human-resources trade long
ago proved itself, at best, a necessary evil -- and at worst, a dark bureaucratic force that blindly enforces nonsensical rules, resists
creativity, and impedes constructive change. HR is the corporate function with the greatest potential -- the key driver, in theory, of
business performance -- and also the one that most consistently underdelivers. And I am here to find out why.
Why are annual performance appraisals so time-consuming -- and so routinely useless? Why is HR so often a henchman for the chief
financial officer, finding ever-more ingenious ways to cut benefits and hack at payroll? Why do its communications -- when we can
understand them at all -- so often flout reality? Why are so many people processes duplicative and wasteful, creating a forest of
paperwork for every minor transaction? And why does HR insist on sameness as a proxy for equity?
It's no wonder that we hate HR. In a 2005 survey by consultancy Hay Group, just 40% of employees commended their companies for
retaining high-quality workers. Just 41% agreed that performance evaluations were fair. Only 58% rated their job training as
favorable. Most said they had few opportunities for advancement -- and that they didn't know, in any case, what was required to move
up. Most telling, only about half of workers below the manager level believed their companies took a genuine interest in their well-
None of this is explained immediately in Vegas. These HR folks, from employers across the nation, are neither evil courtiers nor
thoughtless automatons. They are mostly smart, engaging people who seem genuinely interested in doing their jobs better. They speak
convincingly about employee development and cultural transformation. And, over drinks, they spin some pretty funny yarns of