Why We Hate HR
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December 19, 2007
Why We Hate HR
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-being.
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
employee weirdness. (Like the one about the guy who threatened to sue his wife's company for