The Dude has long been in corporate America, and has seen many adages, and warped metaphors. At the top of the list is the oxymoronic term “Human Resources” referring to the team that carries that title.
Have you heard the term “our people are our most valuable resource?” Sure you have. We all have. Many times. Do you think it is true? Not for a second.
But this post isn’t to dissect the incongruencies in that phrase, but the impression that the HR team is there to help you, the individual in the organization.
The stated purpose of Human Resources
On the surface, the HR team is responsible for hiring, firing, training, competency management, handling conflict, and ensuring that all laws and regulations are followed and in compliance. They own the data about employees, and the reporting on said data. At a large enough of an organization, they also keep track of diversity, coordinate benefits, and other items that directly impact individuals in the organization.
All this is good, positive, and a net benefit to the rank and file. If you happen to be at a very progressive company, one that is doing something about the environment, or makes giving back to the community a core tenet, all the better.
The Dude has no qualms about any of this.
The real purpose of Human Resources
Human Resources’ primary responsibility is to protect the executives and the company
Read that slowly a few times until it sinks in.
Remember, whenever you go to HR for an issue you are having with a boss, or a boss’ boss, remember that HR is tasked with protecting the boss. This is not a misquote. HR works for the executive team - full stop. If you are threatening the executive team with a claim of abuse, or some malfeasance (minor to major) you start with 2 strikes against you in the count. The executive’s at bat starts with a 3-0 pitch.
There is a reason why many states have whistleblower laws that protect those who raise ethical or legal issues. It is because they are needed. That annual code of business conduct training that you are required to complete, that is to protect the the company not you.
That means that in any investigation of a reported incident, the deck is stacked against the individual contributor, or the low level supervisory team member. To the company you are expendable.
Yes, you read that right, you are expendable. All that bullshit about “our people being our most valuable asset” is just that. Dry it out, and you can fertilize your lawn with it.
Read about the history of the culture at Uber if you want clear examples of the HR/Executive connection at the expense of the rank and file.
Or, read the story in “The Team that Managed Itself” a cracking good read by Christina Wodtke where the protagonist, Allie, promoted from product management into the first tiers of the executive class (GM/VP of a game studio) and learns the hard way that HR isn’t there to help her succeed, but to protect and further the interests of the executive leadership team.
Things to watch out for
The Dude has worked with a lot of different HR teams, with different levels of competencies, and toadying to the executives and senior leaders. He can offer these nuggets of advice:
If an HR person becomes chatty, question it - As mentioned above, HR people are not your friends. They don’t have polite small-talk conversations. They are trying to get at something. Perhaps a claim was filed against a senior manager, and they are looking for anecdotes and corroboration. Perhaps a senior manager doesn’t like you, and the HR person is trying to figure out why, or to identify reasons to allow this manager to terminate you. The Dude has seen this behavior far too often for it to be a coincidence.
If an HR person schedules a confidential meeting - this is scary shit time. Either they are investigating (you or someone else) or you are deep in the shit, and about to drop the hammer. Better start thinking what caused this. Regardless of the end result, this is your trigger to get your escape plan activated post haste.
Confidential surveys and 360 assessments - When you are told that the 360 you are expected to do of a peer, or a boss will be confidential, yeah, well that is complete bullshit. The Dude was nee asked to do a 360 of his peer in the dev org (also a director) and they literally told him what the Dude said, and he walked into the Dude’s office to confront him. Bad fucking mojo there (what the Dude had said that raised his ire was that he needed to let more of his team speak up, as they had really good input and ideas.)
Confidential “engagement” surveys? Saying they want the truth, promising anonymity? Fuck that, the Dude just don’t buy that shit. The world could be on fucking fire, you could be deep in the interview process on your way out, and you suck it up and LIE and say everything is great.
Trust the Dude on this one.
Human Resources is an animal at the beck and call of the senior leadership, and the executives. The mission statement of the org, and the individuals may seem like they are there to protect you from abusive leaders, and in some cases they do, but by and large, they are on the side of the executive staff. You are disposable, to be managed out, or laid off at a whim, unless you have an employment contract.
Just look at the shithouse that was Uber under Travis Kalanik. Or the Steph Korey and the shitstorm at her trendy luggage company, “Away”. Shit, she caused a major, viral media frenzy, ostensibly stepped away, and now is back in the saddle.
If HR really was on the workers’ side, these troll execs would not only be long gone, but would have never got to the big office in the first place.
Coda: If the HR Nasty is reading this, you are excepted, you pull back the covers on the true organizational operations, and the Dude is appreciative.