Human Resources

Human Resources – the name of the organization that can strike fear in the heart of the business leader, individual contributor and job seeker alike. People only go talk to HR when they have a problem. People only get called by HR when they are in trouble. It is HR who identifies the talented individuals that would be beneficial employees through their talent acquisition responsibilities and it is HR who administers the lay-offs and exits those employees who are deemed to no longer be sufficiently beneficial to the company. It is quite possible that HR is the single most misunderstood organization in the company.  Now why would you suppose that would be? Their name should say it all – Human Resources. They are supposed to be a resource for us humans right? Not so fast.

On August 10, 1949 the Department of Defense came into being for the United States Government. Okay, so what, you might ask. Prior to that date the military enterprise for the United States was referred to as the Department of War. It was decided shortly after World War II that the government would try to avoid the word “war” pecause of its perceived negative connotation by the population, hence the change of the name to defense.

Personally I think this is some pretty spiffy marketing on behalf of the government. This group did not make “defense” on other countries or peoples. They made “war” on them. They continued to perform the same functions after the name change that they performed before it. Despite having defense in the name, there did not appear to be a lot of defending going on.

Which brings me back to Human Resources. Like the Department of Defense, and contrary to their name, Human Resources is not entirely about the humans that make up the organization. That would be only half the equation or less when it comes to describing their role. If you look at the roles that HR plays in the organization you would think that their name would more appropriately be Corporate Resources, or CR. Despite what people may think, or what their name might indicate, HR is there to look after the best interests of the corporation.

That doesn’t mean that HR cannot or will not help people. They will, as long as it does not conflict with the interests of the corporation. If it is in the best interest of the company HR will absolutely be the individual employee’s advocate. For example, if someone has been discriminated against, HR will help them. Why is that? Some would argue that it is their moral responsibility. That may be partially true, but that is not the total reason. The full reason is that if the corporation does not adequately respond to complaints and charges by its employees regarding improper conduct either by the company or other individual employees in the company, the corporation will actually be in deeper trouble from a legal standpoint than if they did respond and took action.

Rules have been put in place regarding how a corporation may conduct itself. This can include rules regarding both corporate and employee conduct, legal and safety responsibilities, fairness in hiring and firing practices, and a host of other topics regarding how employees may interact with each other while working at the company, as well as how they and the company as an entity may interact. It is HR’s primary responsibility to properly enforce these rules. If it is shown that HR did not fully or properly enforce these rules, the corporation can be at greater risk than if they were enforced. This puts HR in something of a precarious position. They must be an advocate for the employee with the issue, but they must continue to look out for the best interest of the company. If there ever is a question of which interest set is the most important, I would suggest you examine who is compensating HR to make sure of to whom their allegiance is.

As another example I’ll look at that most unpleasant of business activities, the lay-off. If the business leadership has done their job appropriately well, most lay-offs will be avoided. When the leadership has failed and a lay-off is called for in order to reduce the size of the company, who gets involved? Human resources. They will administer the lay-off on behalf of the corporation to make sure that it is handled as humanely and correctly as possible. They will make sure that no specific employee demographic associated with age or gender or race, or anything else has been discriminated against during this lay-off. Are they doing this for the benefit of the employees? To some extent yes. Are they doing it for the benefit of the corporation so that the company does not find itself the defendant in an improper dismissal law suit? Absolutely.

Even with all that in mind, that does not mean that HR will not help the individual. I have found HR to in general be populated with good people who do genuinely want to do a good job for both the people they work with as well as the company they work for. As I noted above they are charged with finding the most talented individuals to become employees of the company through their talent acquisition responsibilities. If you have an issue or a question they will want to listen and help you not only because they have to, but because they want to as well. In many instances HR finds itself trying to be the conscience of the corporate management in trying to translate quantitative corporate performance metrics and actions into qualitative human terms that can be accepted and implemented by the employees.

Understand that it takes a special sort of person to be responsible for listening to and responding to each individual’s issues and complaints in an organization. In today’s litigious world, it is almost to the point where if an individual feels they have been discriminated against, then they have. It is a time where it may be improper to repeat a joke that you have heard on the public airwaves of the radio in the office, as someone could potentially find it offensive in some way and complain about the environment that it has created. Remember, accepted societal norms for social behavior may not be acceptable to each individual in the office, and it is HR’s responsibility to sort them out.

Human resources takes both its corporate responsibilities as well as its employee advocacy seriously. Despite the fact that HR is paid by the corporation, and is responsible for looking after the corporation’s best interests, they will still do all they can for the individual employees. Just remember that they are doing it both because they want to for the employee and because they have to, for the company.

As Juliet told Romeo, “What’s in a name?” When it comes to the Department of War and the Department of Defense there is probably not a whole lot of difference with the possible exception of some good public relations work. It is a good idea to remember the same public relations spin may be at work when looking at the Human Resource department in your organization, and understanding their Corporate responsibilities. They are the acknowledged company advocate of the individual employee and they usually do take that responsibility very seriously, but they are there primarily to protect the company from both itself and the improper behaviors of its employees as well.


Headhunters – dependent on your current employment condition the word can either strike fear, or hope in the heart of a business leader. If things are going well in your current role, and progress is being made you can be concerned about headhunters coming in and taking some of your team members for other opportunities. If things are not going so good, or if you have decided that it is time for you to find another opportunity, then headhunters are a good thing. And true to the probability of the jelly side of the sandwich falling jelly side down on the carpet (directly proportional to the price of the carpet) it seems that recruiters are never really around when you want or need them, but always seem to be there when you don’t.


Up until the time we actually start working we have been on a program that has definite goals, and definite time lines for our own progression. We have twelve years of elementary through high school, then we graduate and start on college. We have a nominal 4 years (maybe more) where again we graduate. We have achieved our goals. We may go on to graduate school, but even then we have a goal and a relative time frame. In business we are not so fortunate to have such a well defined plan for progression. In fact if times get particularly hard, we can be asked to leave our current business roles and have to start the progression over.


One of the best definitions of “luck” that I have heard was by Randy Pausch in his Last Lecture”. Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon Institute who provided some significant and insightful observations in a lecture he gave after he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  In it he described luck as “when opportunity meets preparation”. I think that definition is also applicable to some extent when it comes to the management of our own careers. Very few of us go into a position with a true plan as to what we are going to do next. We know what we are going to do now, (it’s in the job description we just signed up for) but we really don’t know what we are going to do next. We spend our time preparing and gathering experience for our next assignment, but we are never quite sure when or where it will be. We are always looking for the next opportunity.


In times of economic expansion and growth companies also tend to grow and expand. This creates opportunities for individual growth and expansion as well. People are changing companies to take advantage of the opportunities, as well as leaders are being promoted from within their organizations to fill the new roles. In more difficult economic times companies tend to remain at current levels or even contract. While there will still be opportunities, they will not be as prevalent or pervasive as growth is much slower or in some cases non-existent.


In any event, this is where recruiters or headhunters come in. They make their living by matching those people with the proper preparation with those companies who have the opportunities. Theirs is a high velocity world. If they are not making the connections and matching the prepared with the opportunity they are not making money. Theirs is a time and effort role. They normally don’t get a large salary. They get paid for the completion of the placement regardless of the time and effort that it took them to complete it. This is the equivalent of working for sales commission only. If you didn’t sell, you didn’t get paid. It would probably inspire you to work harder at completing your assigned task as well.


They are judgmental because they have to be. If they judge you to be unprepared for the opportunity they are trying to fill, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It just means that if they are going to get paid they need to find somebody who is in their opinion better prepared to fill that role. This can be frustrating if you feel they have judged you improperly. Get used to it. It is the way it works.


It is usually hard to create a professional relationship with a recruiter because they are so focused on the opportunities that they are trying to fill now. If they do not feel that you are a fit now, they will need to move on and talk to someone else who is. They will however take your information and keep it. That way in the future if they have an opportunity that matches your preparation, they can and will reach out to you. You can probably maintain contact, but I wouldn’t call it a relationship.


As time passes and you progress in your business or industry it is quite probable that recruiters will reach out to you. As I progressed they did in fact reach out and contact me as well.  I was fortunate in that early on in my career I got to participate in an economic and industry boom that provided many opportunities internal to the company I was working for. As such I did not pay a great deal of attention to the recruiters that contacted me. This was a mistake. Some recruiters knew of me but did not have my information in their files. I should have made better contact with them, even if I did not think I was going to need or use them.


After every boom there is invariably a more difficult economic time that follows. While I may have been known to recruiters I was not on their radar screen as a particularly interested party. It was my turn to try and reach out to them. I still had all my preparation but I was now in search of the opportunity, not the opportunity being in search of me. Without having your information in their files all of your search efforts were be hit or miss. If they had an opportunity when I reached out to them, great. If they didn’t, it was only then that my information was showing up in their files


Recruiters are not rude, but if they do not currently have an opportunity that matches your preparation set, they will not try to help you. Their business is not to help you find a position. Their business is to find the right person for the positions they have at that time. As I said, they are judgmental. If they don’t think you are a fit, they will move on. They have to. Regardless of how well you think you may be able to perform in that position they will continue to look for someone whose preparation better matches the opportunity.


Recruiters provide a vital function in that they try to provide the connection between your professional experience and preparation and a company’s opportunity. They live in a very quantitative world. If they are successful, or lucky, in having someone’s preparation meet their current opportunity, then they get paid. They are not there to particularly help you. You don’t pay them anything. It is the company with the unfilled opportunity that pays them, but only after they have filled it. If you do not fit the opportunity, they will not try to make you fit it. They will try to find someone else who does better fit it. If you are interested in an opportunity that a recruiter has approached you about, say so. If not, then say so as well. Respect their time as you would want them to respect yours.


With the advent of the internet and the plethora of job boards with all the opportunity postings it is easy to dismiss recruiters. I think this is also a mistake. Business is conducted between people. Whether it is the business of your current role or the business of finding your next role it will be the people and relationships that you know and have that will be far more important that the internet and the job boards.

Even if you are relatively happy with your current role and responsibilities, it is probably difficult to say what you next role and responsibility set will be. If and when a recruiter calls, understand what their role and incentive is. Even if the opportunity they are working on does not interest you, make the contact and provide your information. The next opportunity that they are working on could be the perfect one for your next career step. There may also come a time when you may want to be reaching out to them and it will be best to already have the contact in place.

Your Record

Bill Parcells is a name that every football fan should know. His nickname is the “Big Tuna”. I have no idea how he got that name but it has to be one of the best nicknames ever. He is also thought of as one of the great football coaches of recent times. He has won Super Bowls. He has turned around or built dynasties out of several football teams. In short, he seems to be a pretty good leader who has a record of demonstrated success over an extended period of time. Like many sports managers, coaches and personalities he is also the source of several great quotes.  

At one point in his career he had been brought in to a franchise that had been suffering through a period of extended poor performance. They were a once proud franchise that had been going through and extended period of losing records. He started the process of making changes. He made the incremental changes associated with how the team trained, and how the coaches coached. This was expected. He also started making changes in personnel on the team. This was also expected but to a much lesser extent.

The quarterback is arguably the most important leadership position on the team. The quarterback for the team was an established star who had been in the league for several years. He had been a high draft choice coming out of college and had been traded for by the previous coaching regime. He had a strong arm and could make all the throws. He had been around and knew how to read defenses. His only weakness was that he was not the most mobile of quarterbacks. The television announcers occasionally likened his mobility to that of “statuary”. Defenses knew this and attacked him accordingly.

In the first year of Parcells tenure with this team, things started to improve. The team started to win more games, but still ended up with a losing record. After the season the press was interviewing the quarterback. He stated that he had achieved many of his goals and then uttered the most favored statement of teams with losing records:

“We are better than our record showed.”

Then it came time for the press to interview Parcells. They asked him what he thought of his quarterback’s statement that they were better than their losing record would indicate. It was his turn to utter an immortal phrase. He said that the team was NOT better than its losing record would indicate. The team had a losing record and that showed how good they were. They were a losing team. If they were a better team they would have won more games and the record would show that.

He said that a team is as good as its record. Nothing else mattered.

As the team leader Parcells sent the message to his team. If the team goals were not met, no equivocation would be accepted. No “achieved” reviews would be ratings would be provided to the on field leader of a losing team. The team did not win enough games. Its performance and hence the performance of its on field leader did not meet expectations. He was very direct and honest with his rating of “needs improvement”.

I am a big believer in data, metrics and records. Like Parcells said, you are as good as your record. If the data and the metrics show that you did not achieve your goals, then you didn’t. If you are the leader of the team then your judgment and your example matters. If you indicate that you are willing to disregard the team’s record and actual performance when it comes time to assess your individual leader’s performance, then you are communicating that you do not hold yourself or them accountable for the performance.

While there are several aspects of leadership that can be considered qualitative, the record of the performance of the business is not one of them. Like the won – loss record of a football team, it is numeric. It is a metric. It is data. Individual accolades and measurements are good, but if you are the leader of the team and the team did not achieve its goals then there is an issue.

The following year the star quarterback was replaced. Despite his individual performance being good, he was not able to elevate and lead the rest of the team to a better team performance. It seemed that Parcells decided he needed someone that could lead and elevate the performance of the entire team, and not be so judgmental on his own individual performance.

I have stated in the past that performance rating criteria need to be commensurate with the ability of the individual to affect the performance that they are rated on. An offensive lineman cannot directly affect the teams won – loss record other than his individual performance on how well he blocks or how many times he allows the quarterback to get sacked. If he is a great individual lineman who does his job, blocks well and protects the quarterback then he has met or exceeded his goals for performance, almost regardless of what the team’s record would indicate. The quarterback is however the on field leader. He touches the ball on just about every play. If he has a great year completing passes, but the team continues to lose is he a great quarterback? Like it or not, as the on-field team leader he will have to shoulder the majority of the responsibility for the teams record. It goes with the position.

The individual metrics would indicate that he is a good player. The team performance would indicate that he is not a good leader. When the quarterback in question seemed to put his own performance above that of the team, it appeared that coach Parcells decided he was not the on-field leader that he needed. When the quarterback said they were better than the record indicated, it could be construed as he was saying he was better than the record indicated.

I appreciate what the Big Tuna said and did. He made the incremental changes needed in the way the team practiced and prepared for a game, but he also made the personnel changes both in his leadership positions as well as the other team positions that were required for both a winning culture and a team culture approach to performance. The team in question continued to improve and did reach the playoffs quickly after he instituted these changes.

And as Parcells noted, they continued to be as good as their record indicated.


Sometimes it’s the little things that set me off. I have mentioned many times that I am so old school business that at this point I am probably an anachronism. I believe in clarity. I believe in definition. I believe in simplicity. In today’s world of ever increasing complexity and confusion the ability to bring clarity and focus to an issue is the sign of a leader. This is business. We are not trying to understand the tabulated data associated with the new types of matter that have recently been observed at the Large Hadron Collider, nor are we supposed to be analyzing Mendlebrot patterns and images associated with understanding chaos theory as it applies to structures found in nature. Unfortunately it seems we are drifting in this direction when it comes to reviewing our business performance.

Periodically good businesses review how they are doing with various sales, financial and operational reviews. The standard form of communicating information in the business world in these types of reviews is the PowerPoint chart. PowerPoint charts are an excellent medium for communicating information and images. Images are more quickly comprehended and better retained than written verbiage by the viewer. Since we usually have only a limited time for these reviews, we tend to use PowerPoint charts as the medium for review in them.

Excel spreadsheets are good also. Since we use numbers in our measurements and metrics they fit well in the spreadsheet format where they can more easily be manipulated. So what do we do? We embed Excel spreadsheets in our PowerPoint Charts. We also need a few bullet points on the chart to explain certain items and draw attention to specific points that we want to make. We must now make the Spreadsheet smaller to accommodate the added information of the bullet points, which must all be contained on the chart.

Because the spreadsheet is tabulated data and we know that management does not want to have to read the tabulated data we do two additional things to the chart. We color code the cells on the spreadsheet so that management can just look at the color Red, Yellow, Green, and understand if it is a good number or a bad number, sometimes without having to actually understand the number or what it means. We also add at least one pie chart or candle chart to the slide to graphically represent the now color coded numbers on the spreadsheet that have been explained by the bullets on the slide, since we know that images are better understood and retained.

We can now move on to the second slide in the deck.

And so the chart deck grows. There are now charts on topics that are required to be covered by management, charts explaining the charts that are required to be covered, topics that are not required but are being covered because the presenter wants to cover them, charts explaining these charts, and then there are the “backup” charts that are there just in case there is a question that can be easily covered by one of these charts.

Team members are invariably only allocated about half the time they would require to present the number of charts that have been created for the purpose of the review. Instead of removing charts, and summarizing some of the information from the deck, what normally happens is that charts are consolidated. Two charts, or in some instances as many as four charts are reduced in size and put on a single chart. The number of charts in the deck has successfully been reduced. The amount of information in the deck has been retained. There is now no possibility that the team member will be able to present the reduced number of charts within the allotted time. The probability of audience comprehension has also been reduced due to the quantity and complexity of the charts.

Now reviews take too long because of the amount and complexity of the information that is trying to be captured in each single chart. The value of the review is diminished because the comprehension level of the review audience has been reduced due to the complicated formats and quantity of information on each chart. A communication format that is designed to communicate simple images and information that can be quickly understood and processed has been turned into a multimedia structure that has lost much of its value due to the complexity that has been added.

PowerPoint charts are supposed to be simple. By necessity that means that they need to be communicating summary information. PowerPoint charts are a structure well suited for providing a few specific details, not all of the details. They are designed to help communicate through the use of images, a few simple images. If there are too many images on a chart, none of them get well retained by the viewer and they will all lose their value.

Normal writing as it appears on the printed page is usually ten to twelve point font. This is too small for a chart. You are not writing a document, you are creating a chart. If you find you have to reduce the font on your chart to this level to accommodate all the information you want to provide on the chart there is a problem. Either reduce the amount and detail of the content, or put it on a separate chart so people can read it more easily. I have been told a good rule of thumb is no more than five to six bullet points of eight to ten words maximum. Any more than that and you are getting too verbose for PowerPoint.

Finally, if you cannot present your topic in approximately twenty charts, with twenty five as a maximum, you have a problem. You are either wanting or trying to present way too much information. It is a review. I have seen multi-billion dollar business units presented concisely in twenty charts. It can be done. You need to know and understand the detail of what you are reviewing. The audience does not. They want a summary of what you know. If there are questions, or more detail is desired, they will ask.

We need to simplify our charts. It will help simplify our messages. Simple messages help us focus on the issues. When we focus on the issues we have a tendency to solve them. While complex slides may initially look impressive, more complexity is usually not the answer to any question.