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Where has the Human in HR Gone?

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Human Resource Management as a profession is in danger of becoming not just an irrelevance to day-to-day line managers but a break on the productivity and profitability of organisations.

The element that appears to be increasingly missing from HR management is the human element. The increasing importance placed on reducing the costs of employee recruitment and administration, benchmarking remuneration and implementing “systems” to control HR activities has slowly, but surely eroded the human purpose of HR.

The reduced emphasis on people starts with recruitment.

Advertisements which appear in newspapers or on the internet fall largely into two categories.

The first category is the generic category. The advertisement lacks life. It probably has come from a generic job description, more on which I will comment later. The advertisement could be for a role in almost any industry. The advertisement lacks specificity to the job, the organisation, the challenges and the opportunities. It lacks a human element.

The second category is the super-person category. The skills required are a long list of attributes which most of us who have worked in business for a long time have never seen in the one human being an certainly not at the level of seniority being advertised.

Applications and CVs are scanned by computer for key words to select potential interviewees. The only certainty the use of computers to select keywords has is to breed a generation of people adept at stuffing their CV with generic key words popular with HR systems.

The extended use of computer systems, whilst reducing the cost of managing HR, has necessitated the use of increasingly generic job descriptions and generic competency profiles.

There was a time when job descriptions were written with the purpose of allowing an employee to understand what their role in an organisation was, what their duties and responsibilities were and what behaviour skills and knowledge were required to execute their job.

The detail was related to the job, the function in which they worked and the business environment in which the organisation found themselves. They were a pain in the neck to keep updated but they did give new and aspiring employees a good idea of what was required of them.

Now they are easy to update because they are rarely need updating. They are written in a generic format that hardly ever changes and is easy to record in a database. The form is so generic that an engineer in an organisation that deals with mainly civic construction will have the same job description as an engineer dealing mainly with electrical circuits and systems.

They serve no useful purpose for the people fulfilling the roles and very little purpose for people aspiring to the roles. They do, however, fulfil a purpose for benchmarking remuneration.

Benchmarking of any kind requires a common language and common standards. Writing job descriptions that actually describe each individual role in an individual organisation in a defined business environment is of little use for benchmarking. In improving their ability to benchmark, HR professionals have made job descriptions of little use for line managers and their staff.

A “competency development framework” has been introduced into the HR lexicon over the last ten to twenty years. Most of the frameworks in the early stages were large and complex with fifty to sixty individual competencies being defined in an organisation. They became very difficult to manage, it being very difficult to assess the competence of individuals across such a large set of competencies.

Competency frameworks reasonably quickly morphed to the core competencies required to execute a role, the number of competencies being reduced to around twelve for each role. In most frameworks competencies were also defined at up to five different levels of ability.

These frameworks required commitment to make them work. When the commitment was evident they were very successful in helping individuals and the organisation understand the gap in competency individuals had compared with that required to execute a role well.

Competency Development Frameworks built at a functional level within an organisation were and are very useful in understanding training needs, career development paths and recruitment requirements.

Now, however, a new generic framework approach is emerging in large organisations to cover the whole organisation. The competency definitions are generic, the levels of capability have disappeared and undoubtedly, they are easy to record on a computer system for the whole organisation.

These new competency frameworks are of now use to line management. They do not help with training needs analysis except for, you guessed it, generic training programmes.

Generic training programmes, often delivered by computer based training are conducted with employees to close competency gaps that are by their nature specific to the people, the function they are in and the business environment in which they are working.

HR management is becoming more streamlined, more computerised and more efficient. However, as the human component becomes less and less important, I doubt that it is becoming more effective.

Line managers are either not utilising the systems provided for them or developing their own “translations” of the generic systems so that the can be made effective in day-to-day management.

The result either way is reduced productivity at the organisation level.

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Kevin Dwyer is the founder of Change Factory. Change Factory helps organisations who do do not like their business outcomes to get better outcomes by changing people’s behaviour. Businesses we help have greater clarity of purpose and ability to achieve their desired business outcomes. To learn more or see more articles visit http://www.changefactory.com.au or email kevin.dwyer@changefactory.com.au 2006 Change Factory

Where has the Human in HR Gone?
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