Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Human in Human Resources

Assume you are the CEO, president, or owner of a company and you have the responsibility and authority to make decisions. Some of them can be delegated but the ultimate responsibility is yours. Your company has an executive management position to fill. In the Human Resource department of your company you have a person working for you with the responsibility for selection and placement of personnel. They have posted the position opening on an on-line job board. In this economy with its extreme unemployment rate, especially in the management ranks, that someone is now buried.

While they have merit and arguable utilitarian value, the number of Job Boards has increased dramatically since Monster appeared. That cute name brand has been copiously copied since 1999. Job boards now have boards. Just like everything else that started on the Internet as a free service, many job boards, such as Ladders, are fee based -- not free. For fees that range from low monthly rates to high single pay prices, the boards sell their customers résumé writing services to rewrite a job seeker’s copy using language that a person might read into language that a computer program reads.

Your responsible Human Resources person has received a plethora of applications and cover letters in response to the job posted on the job boards on your company’s behalf. You likely have some bright person in charge of the application screening process and they may be using some flavor of HR software to scan résumés and cover letters for key words and key phrases that display the highest probability of matching the criteria of the job description. The software helps HR people automate the selection process.

Job seekers know this and many spend money to have job board companies apply their résumé writers with their proprietary HR adapted software to make sure that the processed résumés that your person receives have the highest probability of making the probability cut. The software helps the job board people make résumés and cover letters more acceptable to an automated process. Think of it like homogenization. An odd word choice, perhaps, but forensically it’s true. Both postings and résumés become exercises in cliché as a result.

Bear in mind that the Human Resource function has other critical and largely legal ramifications for which HR software has become important. Document creation and filing, such as employee agreements and employee handbooks, are but two examples of the kind of paperwork that has become highly significant in our litigious society. Such documentation helps prevent an enterprises’ administration from accidentally giving away the proverbial keys to the company. HR is much more than just creating selection hoops through which prospective candidates must jump.

Depending on the level of the functional position, other layers of sifting through applications can be used to find the most desirable criterion matches. Profiling is another passive discriminator, as opposed to an active one which would be illegal. Similar to Myers-Briggs personality testing, or eHarmony profiling for that matter, corporations can pay outside HR enterprise companies to screen selected applicants and play matchmaker to select the best fit. Human Resource is not about dating, however.

The cost benefits of HR software applications and the efficacy of personality profiling as interesting topics themselves aside, sooner or later decisions have to be made about people that can only be done by a person, either you or someone you have designated to make that decision for you. There is no application for that other than, perhaps, a coin toss. It might sound facetious, but the cliché “all things being equal” is a circumstance in fact. If the automated process has done its job, presumably, you can pick a large coin and flip it. Throw a dart.

At the executive level in an organization the criteria changes. There are four areas at which successful management executives must demonstrate their skills: organization, delegation, functional management and supervision. Industry experience is always a plus. However, it is less important that the software business executive have experience writing code, or that the grocery business executive have experience in buying produce, than it is for the software executive to deal with the code writing manager or the grocery executive to deal with produce buying manager. Executive experience is personal.

Eventually, a name and phone number appears on the screen of a screener. At this juncture, a person talks to a person to arrange a telephone interview. From that point on the Human Resource function become human again. The idea of better technological hole and peg fitting process pretends to reduce errors in judgment. But do better holes make better pegs or vice versa? The fallacy of the idea is that the human quotient of Human Resources can be outsourced, and that turn-over and training costs will necessarily be reduced.

To me this is a case of if you believe it is so; you will buy in to it being so. I remain pessimistic about the increasing automation of the Human Resource process of candidate selection. That pessimism is based on what the ultimate management function is: making decisions. If something helps a decision makers make better decisions, I can support its use. By the way, there is an app for Monster, an application for the so-called smart phone, which is actually not a phone but a radio devise. However, as you may have gathered, I am concerned that software does not solve everything; people do, like the human in Human Resources and you.

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Article first published as The Human in Human Resources on Blogcritics.

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