The toughest hires we’ll make…

We’re not ready to start hiring yet, but we hope to be there soon.  And thinking about the future other than the business plan and product development is a nice break.  Plus, I’ve been on a rant week again, so why not end it on a strong note…

As a guy with a background in sales, marketing and biz dev, I’ve always known that hiring people for those positions would be hard.  In the case of sales, I’ll expect a candidate to have a structured approach to sales (like this).  Marketing folks had better avoid phrases like "get our name out there" and "go viral".  And as for Biz Dev, they’ll need to walk on water and be able to convert it to wine while they’re at it for me to be a true believer.

But some recent experiences have reminded me that there is one position I may never be able to find a satisfactory candidate for:  HR.

In my career, I’ve had nothing but terrible experiences working with HR professionals.  I always felt that a Director of HR ought to represent the needs of the employees…or at the very least act as an unbiased intermediary between the employees and the management of the company.  A product manager represents a product and the HR manager should represent the humans…

But in my experience, HR folks represent employees in the same way that strip mining represents coal.

My first run in was during my move to the USA.  As part of my relocation package, the company hiring me retained an attorney to secure my visa.  My new boss was very keen for me to start as soon as possible.  So I put my house on the market, and of course it sold almost immediately.  I put all my stuff in storage and was living on borrowed floors and in weekly rentals.  I called the HR Director repeatedly and was told that "everything was being done" to move things ahead.  After a month without news, I asked to speak to the attorney.  The immigration "professional" advised me to just get on a plane and we’d "take care of it when I got there".  Five minutes of fact checking revealed that this was (a) illegal and (b) likely to get me deported.  When I pointed this out to HR person, her first response was to accuse me of meddling. 

Attorney #2 was better acquainted with the actual visa process and things started ticking along.  Then that guy went quiet.  I called repeatedly and was finally told that my employer had not paid the retainer!

Guess who’s desk the authorization was sitting on???

I’ve also been through a bunch of restructuring & RIFs (reduction in force).  The HR person is ALWAYS the one that wants to not tell the employees, because they’ll worry (or some other stupid reason) and then wants to offer the minimum severance and health benefits when the axe falls.

I’ve argued with HR people as to why we need to offer direct deposit ("but it’s so expensive"), why employees who’ve spent more than 8 years with a company should get more than two weeks severance, why the company should just cover the extra $20 per head increase in health insurance and why a head receptionist should actually be able to operate a phone system…  And don’t even get me started on the damn corporate handbook’s they all seem to love so much.

I understand the need to operate within the law, but I see no reason to treat employees like challenged toddlers or act like Moses coming down from the mountain with a list of unalterable commandments.  And that goes double in a small company.

Two recent events rekindled this particular flame.  A friend of mine joined a well funded startup about 9 months ago.  They promised 3 weeks of vacation and the chance to jump in and try new things.  The salary wasn’t great, but the overall opportunity was good.  Fast forward to last month and the company hires an HR dragon.  My friend has now been told that the new company policies mean she is no longer a salaried employee (she’s now paid hourly).  As a side effect, she lost two weeks of vacation and can no longer get health benefits for her family.  Dragon goes on to tell her that if she waits until March and agrees to be moved into a dead-end role they may be able to make her salaried again.

Event #2 is one I’ve encountered many times — the spend $40 to save $20 mentality that is so prevalent in HR directors.  Job candidates are being flown in for interviews.  The company is paying for the flight, hotel, meals, schmoozing etc.  HR organizes all of that, but won’t take care of transportation from the airport.  "Just have one of the admins do it".  The taxi ride would be about $17 each way.  Probably $25-30 for a car service.  But no, lets have a $25/hr employee do it instead.  Of course, that’s $25 plus overhead and the cost of the Admin not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.  And you can be sure that the HR person will frown if they submit an expense report for the mileage…

<sigh>

So if we’re ever hiring for that position and you’re a candidate, be warned:  I expect you to actually give a damn about the people that make the company run.  I’ll expect you to look at the big picture.  And last but not least, I’ll expect you to treat everyone the same way.

Okay.  All done.  Next week’s posts will all be about happy little bunny rabbits and flowers.

1 comment for “The toughest hires we’ll make…

  1. January 15, 2008 at 10:03 am

    I think the greatest issue is that most people who would look for an HR position want it because they have little control over (or comprehension of) their own lives. They feel better about themselves when they can arbitrarily hinder the progress of others. This quality is very difficult to detect at first, because they often don’t have a clue that they are doing it.

    Also, an HR person *ideally* should fully understand management from the bottom up (that is to say that they should have worked in positions that correspond to every possible employee perspective that can exist) but have come to the point in their career where they have no real personal ambitions that might get in the way of dealing effectively with the staff as a whole.

    This type of person – a person who can detach themselves enough from the group to see it as a whole, yet stay connected enough to empathize with everyone individually – is far less common than one in a million.

    You are not likely to find the right person with a history of HR. Also, you should have one of the interviews conducted by a baby and see how the candidate responds. That will tell you a lot.

    In interviewing you always need to think outside the “thinking outside the box” box.

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