HR and Staffing: Separated at Birth, Continued

In World War II, the allies found themselves in a predicament. Everywhere they wanted to go required ships, and ships required harbors and docks to unload. The problem was that the enemy already occupied the ports where they wanted to go, and it was doubtful they would be allowed the needed dock space. So ships had to unload off beaches and open shore. The cargo had to be ferried in by landing craft. The cargo then had to be manhandled above the high water mark to then be loaded into trucks. Try to imagine running a transshipping operation in the open air, with the potential for water damage or drowning as part of the job hazards ó not to mention being an exposed target for opposing forces to attack. Circumstances, not the eternal quest for perfection, motivated the design of the solution: DUWKs. A DUWK was a truck that could swim, or a boat that could drive onto the land, depending on your perspective. It could “swim” out to the ships, have cargo lowered into it, “swim” back to shore, and drive across the beach inland to designated unloading, storage, or warehouse areas. Truth be told, they were neither great boats or state-of-the-art trucks. Their value was that they could do both. But when the war ended, the only thing that disappeared faster than C-Rations were DUWKs. The circumstances that justified the solution was gone ó so, too, was the solution. There is a lesson here for those of us in HR/staffing. When investigating options, never forget to consider the reasons why things are as they are today. Are you “tinkering” with the best possible arrangement, or are you addressing the best possible solution, circumstances permitting, at the time the solution was formulated and installed? In pondering the best course of action to take in any set of circumstances, especially acting as a change agent, there is a tendency to consider the current state of affairs as having validity based on the fact that “this is how things have always been done.” Other rationales or justifications may include:

  • Brand loyalty
  • Enlightened self-interest
  • Fear of change
  • Return on investment
  • Self-preservation
  • Lack of knowledge or comprehension

But if we are to justify the need for two departments where there is currently one, are there other examples of other business functions splitting a part “for the good of the children”? Sales and marketing, perhaps? In my career I have had the opportunity to observe the three most common organizational structures where sales and marketing are involved:

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  • Sales is dominant and marketing is in a secondary support role.
  • Marketing is dominant and sales is in a secondary role.
  • Sales and marketing are independent, yet interdependent, organizations.

In the first instance, a VP of sales had a director of marketing reporting to him. In essence, the marketing function devolved into an administrative support role. The sales department did little to plan and choose markets; they merely followed up on leads, cut deals, and made commissions. They made sales to be sure, but it was more akin to throwing rocks in a pond rather than building a dam ó a cohesive plan with a beneficial strategic view. Despite high volume sales, their market share in the critical markets was constantly losing ground to their competitors. But the sales philosophy ruled: “If I am closing deals, I cannot be all wrong.” In one instance, a random sale was made of a prototype that had been developed for another business segment that had failed to develop. Nobody ever asked, “Hey, should we try and sell more to this new marketplace?” It was merely seen as a clever way to clear an unwanted piece of equipment out the R&D lab. At another organization I worked with, marketing was dominant and sales reported to the board by way of the VP of marketing. If the previous example planned too little, then this combination planned too much. The assumption was that if they bundle the best products and presented the benefits with a reasonable price strategy, backed up by an intelligent and well-planned marketing campaign, the product line would just about sell itself. The problem was that the competition had a marketing plan ó and also had “vulgar and nasty” salespeople out there pitching, building relationships on the human level, and selling. In a consumer economy, nothing happens until somebody sells something to somebody. No company ever dominated a marketplace by “out-marketing” the competition; they did it by “outselling” the competition ó probably the result of an effective marketing strategy created independently of the immediate sales goals. The more successful companies I know have had a balance of power between the two organizations charged with making the company profitable. In this way, neither sides’ strengths were overshadowed. The need for sales today did not eliminate the need to plan the strategy for next year’s sales based on this year’s success, failures, and changes in the marketplace and product line. A similar change occurred in the 1980s in American business, in the relationship between manufacturing and quality control. Previously, QC had reported to manufacturing. It was this relationship that contributed to the decline of the quality of American manufactured goods in the previous decades. If the plant was falling behind in meeting quota, all you had to do was adjust the quality standards to prevent as many “defects” from occurring. But, the logic went, if quality was in charge, a company would have only been able to build 20 cars a year for a cost of $500,000 each. Quality ceased to report directly to manufacturing and reported to the boardroom as well. There, the decision as to what the balance should be between the units produced, the cost, and the level of quality is determined after both sides have made their pitch. When I have worked with companies with distinct and separate HR and staffing departments with independent management infrastructures I have found both sides have benefited ó in many ways, I suspect Human Resources most of all. Just as not all salespeople would make great marketers, not all great recruiters would make great HR managers, or vice versa. Yet, depending on which philosophy dominates a particular corporation, recruiting or HR, that is the skill profile that will experience growth, and the other less so. If it is apparent that there is either no growth or limited growth potential in a particular field at a particular company, it will fail to attract the “best and brightest” in that field, thereby dooming the company to accept mediocrity as the end result of its own policies. A few other good reasons to separate:

  • Separating HR and recruiting will give each a better-defined mission and less confusing roles for the rest of the company to follow. Pre-hire and post-hire seems pretty simple to me.
  • Separate departments also place two votes at the boardroom table where all the decisions that have human impact are made. That cannot be a bad thing.
  • Hiring can focus on specialists with deeper understanding of their chosen field. The need for “shoot from the hip” recruiters and “law and order” rule enforcers all rolled into one personality need not complicate recruiting.

But the most compelling reason to separate, to my mind, is that the combining of the two functions bespeaks a lack of respect that our business partners have for our chosen professions, separately or united. If you were to recommend hiring marketing/salespeople and manufacturing/quality people, you would be politely informed that both these professions are too complicated for a person to be able to do well in each ó unlike HR/staffing, where they are very comfortable having one person do both. By accepting that judgment, we reinforce it. Circumstances dictated the development of DUWKs, just as circumstances have dictated that companies consider combining both recruiting and HR functions into one department as the commonly accepted practice. But the circumstances have nothing to do with the economy, headcount control, or best-case option. It has to do with the fact that they do not consider either function a professional challenge or business necessity to require separate representation. Are there exceptions to the above? Of course there are. But you do not attract intelligent, educated, motivated “rising stars” into a profession that can only promise growth and recognition as the exception to the rule. The other day needed some work done on my kitchen faucet. I did not call an electrician, I called a plumber. I respect their respective skills and do not confuse the two or try to combine them into one role. After 20+ years in the business, it would be nice to have my “clients” consider me as a strategic business partner with defined skills that were critical to the success of the business plan, and to correctly understand my profession and the challenges I face ó to divide the roles and responsibilities that my HR brothers and sisters carry and allow us to develop our professions to their fullest potential as recognized critical contributors to the business plan. After all, I bet they do not confuse plumbers with electricians. But first, maybe we need to figure this out ourselves. Have a great day recruiting!

Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

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