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It's Global, Flat and Alive

(September 02, 2005) 

According to one view, HR is crucial for recruiting talent, developing careers, keeping people motivated and building leaders. In his latest book, Winning (HarperBusiness, 2005), former GE chief Jack Welch says HR should occupy a prime position in the organisation, with effective processes for which, read "money, recognition and training" for keeping talent, with open and honest relations with unions, stars and those who have lost their drive, flat organisational charts, and performance appraisal systems audited as rigorously as the finances. 

Others see HR as the force that forgot about people. It has been condemned as obsessed with bureaucratic form-filling and portrayed as a creature so intensely political and so twisted up in palace machinations that it ended up bone-headed and obstructionist. Critics view it as a handmaiden of management, only one without the smarts to work as a strategic partner.

According to this view, HR people are like Soviet cadres, who spouted the ideology and then did the exact opposite, as required by their political masters. Still, you have to feel sorry for them: in most organisations, HR is seen as a cost centre. And when Channel Nine boss Sam Chisholm recently got rid of his HR director and deputy, and ordered senior staff take a crash course in how to do human resources, it was a reminder that few Soviet bureaucrats died in their beds.

Writing last year in the Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, MIT's Thomas Kochan described a breakdown of trust in the US that mirrors closely what has happened here. HR professionals, he says, have become management agents; while, on the other side, there has been an explosion in chief executive pay relative to that of the average worker, longer working hours and increased job insecurity.

Kochan writes: "The net result of these diverging HR priorities and workforce pressures is that we now have perhaps a wider gulf between the perceived needs and interests of American firms and their employees than at any time since the Great Depression a profession that fails to attend to and find a workable balance among the expectations and aspirations of the different stakeholders at work employees, firms, and the communities and societies in which they are embedded cannot long preserve its status or legitimacy." (Getting Down and Dirty with HR)

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- John Sumser

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