The Problem with HR... (Caution- generalizations ahead)

After ruffling some feathers on this site yesterday with my post about what is wrong with Recruiters, I thought it apropos to post a counterpoint article about what is wrong with HR.  If a guy can't rant on about HR on a site like this, where can he rant?  

My typical client is a start-up or mid-sized company mainly because I am able to produce the best outcomes when I am free to conduct a search without the interference of HR. I am sure that there are a lot of things that HR does well. I am speaking in generalities of course, but HR is really good at spearheading policies and procedures. They are quite good at keeping all the records required by the regulatory bodies our oppressive government imposes on businesses as well as administering benefits such as health insurance and 401K’s. There are various and sundry other things that HR is quite effective at as well. Furthermore, I found many HR people that are extremely dedicated and put it extraordinary efforts and extremely long hours. Their problems have to do with recruiting executives. Recruiting is essentially a function of sales & marketing and let’s face it, if HR folks were interested in sales & marketing, they would have pursued that as a career, but they didn’t.

Recruiting is the life-blood of any thriving company regardless of its stage or size.

I get that HR is largely responsible for sourcing candidates in many companies and they have established policies surrounding hiring for good reason. The problem with HR is that they seem to think that because they have this as a responsibility, it must be a proficiency.  Armed with a job description and a decent understanding of the duties and responsibilities, they know what it takes to identify, attract and compel someone to join their company. It is obvious to me from over 12 years in recruiting that the vast majority of HR peeps don't get it. They may have an ability to identify talent, but that is usually as far as it goes.  They don't have a clear understanding of the competitive landscape or what it takes to draw the best people into the interview process and how to close them. I don’t blame them for this because it is an extremely complex formula that requires a deep understanding of the psychology of bringing someone from the point of indifference to interest. This part is completely subjective, person to person.  In a recent blog that I read called “People Who Suck Don't Know They Suck” I instantly thought of 90% of the HR people I’ve worked with over the years who have no clue how to assess or recruit talent, yet they are convinced that it is one of their core competencies. I believe this is one of the reasons for the tension that is too often present in the relationship between HR and Executive Search Consultants.

Not only are most of their hiring processes completely over-engineered to the point of diminishing returns, they are inflexible to the nuances of a successful recruiting process. It requires acute insight into the mind and soul of a person to persuade them to consider a major life change. Moreover, it takes a counselor to lead a person through the emotional process of making a significant life decision that impacts virtually every area of their life. HR doesn’t seem to fully understand that all people cannot be processed through a standard check list exactly the same even though they are being considered for the same position. Most HR types seem to be under the impression that prospects need to fit into their neatly wrapped hiring process.  Too often, HR sees the recruiter as an outsider and not the trusted partner that they are who shares the same priorities as their client. It is an extremely delicate process to act as the intermediary between a company and a potential new hire during the vetting process. Too often, when a call comes in from a search professional with clear advice, HR is dismissive and questions their motives. "Are they trying to increase their fee? Is there something they're not telling us?" Rather than utilize this partner to best tailor the hiring process to accommodate hiring the best candidate, HR may see a deviation from their process as a "red-flag" in some cases disqualifying the candidate.

There is no one who is better positioned to determine the ideal interview process than the one who is closest to the candidate and best understands their true motivations and unique triggers that entice them to consider a change and accept an offer. The most effective searches I’ve conducted either didn’t have an HR person involved because it was a start-up or the senior executive took the reigns away from HR and circumvented the sanctioned process and hired the candidate that they wanted. Honestly, I can’t recall a well executed search where there was an internal HR executive who led the process. The successful searches I’ve conducted with larger companies have been where the HR executive deferred to me as to how to be successful and played a key supportive role in the process. I appreciate that many of them are reluctant to yield control of the process. Whether this is because they have reason not to trust the Search Consultant or simply have “control issues,” I have seen it happen too often that the best person for the job couldn't endure the process and withdrew or accepted a counteroffer.  This is completely avoidable if HR is willing to trust their search consultant and collaborate with them. I am afraid that far too often HR is unwilling to yield the control and must settle for an alternate candidate and subsequently a different future outcome.

HR has an important role in companies, but when it comes to recruiting talent they are best as a support to the Executive Search Consultant and not the lead.

Alright, now let the bullets fly…

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Comment by Amy Ala Miller on February 9, 2012 at 8:32am

The problem is not HR. The problem is companies thinking that HR should be responsible for recruiting. As you point out sourcing and wooing candidates is more marketing than HR any day of the week. My recruiting team rolls up into HR but they don't get involved in recruiting any more than I get involved with benefit administration or payroll.

The blame lies with the management who makes the mistake of trying to blend the two instead of letting them compliment each other (Recruiting and HR). A good search consultant can operate as an external third party recruiter OR a corporate recruiter. Key distinction is neither one is HR.

Comment by Christopher Poreda on February 9, 2012 at 1:08pm

Well said Amy.

Comment by Sandra McCartt on February 9, 2012 at 4:37pm
Drue is just way too sexy for his hat. 12years and he knows more than 90 % of recruiters and 90% of HR. we should all aspire to this level of greatness. Gag.


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