· News

Drawing the line between what HR is and isnt for

HR shouldnt be just a dumping ground for problems that other people dont want to deal with, or for decisions line management doesnt want to take. But what are the boundaries that HR should stick to? Stefan Stern asks three people for their views

Vance Kearney, vice president for HR, Oracle

First and foremost our job is to help people become great managers and great leaders. The mistake that organisations make is when HR steps over the line and takes the responsibility for managing away from managers.

For example, HR should not be hiring people on behalf of other managers. We should equip managers with the skills to make their own hiring decisions. I knew a young HR manager who personally interviewed every candidate. He said he had to assess everyone for cultural fit. Thats completely wrong.

Managers demand ever greater levels of service. But HR has to draw boundaries and say what it is not going to do. Managers shouldnt delegate responsibility for firing people, for example. They should be able to look their people in the eye and explain their decisions.

HR is there to help, to guide people through decisions but not do it for them. Its a bit like a self-service buffet: we will provide tools, learning and development, and data, but we wont manage your career for you.

HR should not be operating a police state, where managers feel they cant do anything without permission. That can emasculate management. Dont take peoples accountability away from them; they should be encouraged to take their own decisions and become great managers themselves.

Dianah Worman, adviser on diversity at CIPD

HR has to work very closely with line management if it is going to help people perform. This is the big challenge for the future: making a real, value-added contribution to business growth. You cant do that at a distance.

So there is a consultancy role for HR, helping the line to be much more effective and to design ways of getting peoples performance up. This also means HR people getting their hands dirty with real management situations.

HR is there to help organisations get to grips with behavioural stuff why do people behave the way they do? How do you manage friction?

HR isnt there just to police the nasty stuff, to deal with problems no one else wants. These issues can be turned into formal procedures too quickly. HR should encourage and guide but not take away managers responsibility to manage.

Robin Rowland, managing director, Yo! Sushi

Yo! Sushi is a fast-growing operation but at HQ there are only 12 of us. As a business we have 50 salaried staff and 200 hourly paid people at 15 locations. We dont have an HR function.

Id rather have well-trained managers than a separate department for HR. We have outsourced a lot of the tasks that might be carried out by HR. We have a dedicated recruitment company doing our hiring and we have nominated trainers. We try to get the best people we can to do this for us. We couldnt afford to employ them full-time.

I think smaller companies need to be lighter on their feet, and the entrepreneurial spirit can be diluted by an HR department I rarely find HR people who are entrepreneurial.

Undoubtedly we will employ a permanent HR person eventually, as we are looking to double in size by 2004. But I am confident about the quality of our hiring decisions. We havent needed an HR function.