Monday, December 31, 2007

The Shifting HR Sands

There is a shift in the way that companies are managing their people. Some of these changes are based on the shift from Personnel Departments to Human Resources Departments to the next generation of strategic human capital asset management teams. Other shifts are being imposed by the demands of line managers and executives. Finally, governments continue to require more evidence of equity and fairness in employee decisions. These changes have made many companies aware of the need to overcome the limitations of the worker-oriented job analysis tools and to automate the resulting best-practice solution.
Several progressive companies began experimenting with ‘high performance work systems’ in the 1990’s (see Mark Huselid's research and Jeffrey Kling's thesis). From those pioneers it was first determined that companies using those systems made more money per employee. Then in response to the accusation that more successful companies could afford better HR practices, follow-up research was done that showed the adoption of such work practices improved company results in key financial and non-financial performance areas (i.e. poor performing companies that invested in their HR practices became average performing companies and average performing companies became high performing companies). Essentially these systems boiled down to a few key elements: all of the human resources areas had to be integrated, this integrated team needed to focus on serving the strategic needs of the organization, and they needed to become consultants to the business leaders instead of compliance police and administrators.
Some of the shifts in the way HR was operating were in response to line manager and executive demands and some of it was based on fears of being outsourced. Other demands from company leaders that have impacted thinking about how jobs are analyzed include the leaders’ own use of such tools. Leaders did not generally support the results of the job analysis tools because: 1. they were not involved in the selection of the tool or its implementation, 2. they did not understand the results or they did not have the skills to use the results, and 3. they did not believe the reports that were generated (i.e. they questioned the validity). Being skeptical of any outsider who borrows your watch to tell you what time it is (colloquial definition of a consultant), these leaders wanted to see how these tools tied back to their business needs and they questioned the facts that the tools were not specific to the industry or company being served. The other two concerns could be more effectively addressed through the process being used, but often these same leaders did not want to be involved because they were ‘too busy’ and felt it was ‘HR’s job’. This catch-22 has been resolved by several pioneering organizations through the way they have sold and managed the process and then put it online to allow leaders instant, real-time access to decision-empowering information.
Finally, several laws and lawsuits have forced companies to focus on the end result of using job analysis tools. If these tools are to serve an integrated human capital asset management team as well as the leaders and individual contributors across an organization then they must effectively drive people decisions without any inherent bias or discrimination and they must produce opportunities to combat prima facie evidence of such problems.

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