(Like the one about the guy who threatened to sue his wife’s company for “enabling” her affair with a coworker. Then there was the mentally disabled worker and the hooker — well, no, never mind. . . .)But then the facade cracks. It happens at an afternoon presentation called “From Technicians to Consultants: How to Transform Your HR Staff into Strategic Business Partners.” The speaker, Julie Muckler, is senior vice president of human resources at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.She is an enthusiastic woman with a broad smile and 20 yearsof experience at companies such as Johnson & Johnson and General Tire. She has degrees in consumer economics and human resources and organizational development.And I have no idea what she’s talking about. There is mention of “internal action learning” and “being more planfulin my approach.” PowerPoint slides outline Wells Fargo Home Mortgage’s initiatives in performance management, organization design, and horizontal-solutions teams. Muckler describes leveraging internal resources and involving external resources — and she leaves her audience dazed. Thatevening, even the human-resources pros confide they didn’t understand much of it, either.
This, friends, is the trouble with HR. In a knowledge economy, companies that have the best talent win. We all know that. Human resources execs should be making the mostof our, well, human resources — finding the best hires, nurturing the stars, fostering a productive work environment — just as IT runs the computers and finance minds the capital. HR should be joined to business strategy at the hip.Instead, most HR organizations have ghettoized themselves literally to the brink of obsolescence. They are competent at the administrivia of pay, benefits, and retirement, but companies increasingly are farming those functions out to contractors who can handle such routine tasks at lower expense. What’s left is the more important strategic role of raising the reputational and intellectual capital of the company — but HR is, it turns out, uniquely unsuited for that.Here’s why.1. HR people aren’t the sharpest tacks in the box. We’ll be blunt: If you are an ambitious young thing newly graduated from a top college or B-school with your eye on a rewarding career in business, your first instinct is not to join the human-resources dance. (At the University of Michigan’s
Ross School of Business, which arguably boasts the nation’s top faculty for organizational issues, just 1.2% of 2004 grads did so.) Says a management professor at one leading school: “The best and the brightest don’t go into HR.”Who does? Intelligent people, sometimes — but not businesspeople. “HR doesn’t tend to hire a lot of independentthinkers or people who stand up as moral compasses,” says Garold L. Markle, a longtime human-resources executive at Exxon and Shell Offshore who now runs his own consultancy.