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When Managers Misunderstand Human Resources

Dan Bobinski
November 14, 2005 -- By Dan Bobinski 

Why do so many companies drop the ball when it comes to making the most of their human resource department? At the core of the issue, be it through intentional or unintentional ignorance, is misunderstanding HR’s strategic capability. Either people don’t know, or they don’t want to know.
A major castigation of the HR profession can be found in the August, 2005 Fast Company article by Keith H. Hammonds, Why We Hate HR. Essentially, Hammonds puts HR through a meat grinder. Some of it for effect, some of it true.
For example, Hammond accuses HR of not being strategic players. He portrays them to be either without business acumen, or whips of the accounting department when personnel cuts need to be made.
Although he makes some valid points, Hammond’s perspective lacks the bigger picture. His focus was on human resource management, and by definition within the HR profession, the main focus of HR management is maintaining an organization, not developing it.
As I thought about Hammond’s frustration, I considered a person looking for a tool to pound a nail. We all know a hammer will do the trick, but for the sake of illustration, let’s say Hammond doesn’t know tools. He goes to the hardware store and finds hammer heads in a bin—heads without handles. Hammond considers them for a moment and then leaves in frustration because using only the head will be ineffective. He doesn’t realize that an additional piece is needed to make the tool more functional.
To Hammond and millions like him, only half of the true equation is seen as the sum total of HR. To prove my point, ask anyone what “HR” does, and you’re likely to get a description of a Personnel Department from twenty years ago.
But HR has grown past that to where it has two major roles: Maintaining an organization (human resource management, or HRM—formerly Personnel Department functions), and developing an organization (human resource development, or HRD). Although some overlap exists, each role has its own distinct responsibilities.
A common problem in today’s workplace is blaming HRM professionals for not doing HRD’s job responsibilities.
Not only are most people unaware of HRM-HRD differences, many of today’s business schools fail to emphasize these distinctions. As a result, numerous managers categorize all HR responsibilities as belonging to the HRM side of the equation. It’s an understandable error. Every company covers HRM for the legal aspects of employment. But HRD is not urgent, so these plus shared HRM-HRD responsibilities are often back-burnered.
Overcoming these misunderstandings and bridging the gap is necessary for a company’s success. Why? Because at the heart of all workplace and management issues are people, and all workplace activities are tied to the bottom line. It’s called strategic alignment. 
In strategic alignment, human resource development is an integral part of the big picture. For example:
1. A company that knows where it’s going has a clearly articulated vision. Part of HR’s responsibilities include coordinating individual and organizational goals to achieve that vision. Leadership teams should charge and empower HR to do this. If they don’t, they’re shortchanging themselves and the profitability of the company.  
2. HR should be involved in hiring the right people to take the company where it wants to go. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, emphasizes that without the right people in the right seats on the bus, a company will have a difficult time moving forward.
Strategic alignment includes having a methodical approach for selecting people according to what a company needs. Management should work with HR in identifying key performance factors in alignment with company goals.
3.  HR should be involved in analyzing company problems. Training is not always the solution, but when it is, connecting “what is” and “what needs to be” is part of what designing and developing training is all about.
Strategic alignment includes tying learning objectives to key performance measures associated with the bottom line, and ensuring all inter- and intra-department training efforts are on the same page. This increases the likelihood of a solid return on training dollar investment. 
These are just some of the components of strategic alignment. Again, leadership teams should charge and empower HR to do these things for the betterment of their company and the bottom line.
Misunderstanding HR is a common malady, but the solution depends on everyone. Many in HR need to step up to their capabilities, and management needs to recognize and take advantage of what HR can do for them. But bottom line, misunderstanding or underutilizing HR can be a costly mistake.


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© 2005 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development, Inc. You may freely forward this information providing the text is sent as an integral whole and contact information for the author is included, such as using the text that appears below:
Dan Bobinski is a certified behavioral analyst, the President and CEO of Leadership Development, Inc., and the co-author of Living Toad Free: Overcoming Resistance to Motivation. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 [toll free: 888-92-COACH] or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.com
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