In The Workplace

I can’t believe that my request for new employees was served at an average of eight months by our Human Resources! I talked to my fellow manager from HR and was told that he has done his best. But, I can’t agree that he has done his “best,” given the number of his department’s hiring backlog, not only for me, but with other departments as well. The trouble is that we can’t simply use HR’s excuse as our excuse in not meeting our own key performance targets. How do we convince HR that there’s a problem somewhere? — Totally Frustrated.

There was a man who opted for early retirement to go back to his native town where he planned to live a simple life with his wife. He bought a farmhouse with some land around it with his retirement benefits. After moving in, he bought 100 baby chicks to start a poultry business. Unfortunately, all chicks died after seven days.

The man was disappointed. But not to be deterred, he bought another 100 chicks to re-start his venture. After only five days, all these chicks died as well. The man was confused as he tried to look for answers. He went to the municipal agriculture office and explained his problem. He told how he wanted to become a successful poultry raiser and needed to know what he was doing wrong.

He asked if he could possibly be “planting” his chicks too close to one another or perhaps too deep. The local agriculture office replied that they could not answer his questions until he sent in a soil sample.

I will give you the same reply. It’s difficult to decipher your case without knowing the side of the HR department. Really, it’s hard to form a conclusion based on the HR manager’s claim that he did his “best,” as if he were Bruce Springsteen singing “My Best Was Never Good Enough.”

But what made your HR manager think that was the best thing that could be done under the circumstances? Toyota’s famous production guru Taiichi Ohno (1912-1990) was right when he said “Progress cannot be generated when we are satisfied with existing situations.” Ohno was even emphatic when he castigated his engineers that “having no problems is the greatest problem of all.”

And speaking of Ohno, I can’t help but to tell you of the fast-evolving field of “Lean HR” or the application of lean tools and techniques that would help eliminate, if not reduce non-value added steps in the hiring process. In the first place, what makes the hiring process troublesome, at least from your perspective?

What does it tell you that you survived eight months without additional employees?

You need to discover (or rediscover) your thoughts on this. In your opinion, what are the things that are making it difficult for the HR manager to see things from your side, as the internal customer? Likewise, have you taken note of the HR manager’s concerns that may be beyond his control?

Take note of this famous quote from HR guru Jac Fitz-enz:

Writing for Drake Business Review, Dr. Fitz-enz said in “Predictive Management: How to Optimize Human Capital” (2009) that HR “do(es) not excite management because they focus on costly activities and not on the value-adding results.”

Your HR manager may have accepted the fact that processing new hires takes an average of eight months. But have they examined the hiring process? They did their best, but does it satisfy you as the internal customer? Problems must be defined, but they must be solved as well. Whatever the reason, here are some tips on how to solve this issue:

One, continue persuading HR to take positive action. This is easier said than done. It’s not pleasant pestering HR, especially if they think they’ve already exhausted all possible means to hire people in the shortest possible time. Still, it’s better that way than bringing the case “upstairs” as it could exacerbate the situation. But more important, the head of HR is your fellow manager who may need your assistance. If there’s a possibility of a win-win solution, then why not?

Two, calculate the amount of money the company is losing. Related to item number one, this approach could help convince HR that further delays could contribute to company losses. Without such a business case, it’s very hard to put pressure to an HR guy who can only see it in his own way. Therefore, the responsibility should also be placed at the door of the HR department should it fail to act swiftly on any hiring request.

Three, offer assistance in eliminating the hiring delay. HR must realize that effective problem-solving needs to be used in a day-to-day approach. Help examine the recruitment process. Discover non-value adding activities that doesn’t contribute to a faster and quality selection. Lean hiring requires a complete evaluation of the current steps and taking a hard, challenging look at why they should be done at all, in the first place. For example, do you really need all job applicants to fill up an application form or will their CVs serve the purpose?

Last, bring the matter to the boss or other third parties. This should be your last resort, assuming that everything else has failed. Besides, you mentioned that your department is not the only one suffering from the hiring backlog. Solicit the help of your colleagues to pursue your claim, and without necessarily antagonizing the HR manager. Patterns of behavior by their nature don’t change easily, unless confronted with a strong voice from colleagues.

Cheryl Jekiel in Lean Human Resources (2011) says only “a set of strategic solutions can help you strengthen the role of your HR department, to support a strong work culture and improved HR processes.”

ELBONOMICS: One great solution against delay is by calculating its tangible costs.