I have, over the years, always looked upon personnel departments as “the enemy,” mainly because too many of them have traditionally dealt with people in exactly the opposite way that I do, that is, they have treated them as nameless, faceless files rather than as individuals with unique talents and needs. In fact, I’ve always considered the term “Personnel Department” a misnomer, since they more often deal with numbers and pieces of paper than with people. And I have always counseled my clients to avoid personnel departments at all costs when conducting their job searches.
Mercifully, personnel departments are evolving andchanging, though some continue to jealously guard their turf with paperwork and bureaucracy. This evolution is due largely to the fact that business in general is evolving and recognizing that talented people are a scarce resource. It’s evident in the fact that many large businesses now refer to their personnel departments as human resource departments and have given them roles far beyond what they have traditionally done.
Companies are waking up to the fact that losing a longtime employee costs a remarkable amount of money. A recent Wall Street Journal article placed the cost of losing a manager who has been with a company for ten years at between $50000 and $ 100000. As I said it’s a remarkable amount of money. Personnel departments are, of course, a fairly recent invention in the history of commerce and business, a product of the industrial revolution. As companies grew, it became impractical for management to handle the onslaught of job applicants.
Hence, a person would be hired, or a department created, whose duty it was to match people’s written descriptions of themselves with job descriptions provided by the company. Personnel departments, however, have always had the problem of being outside the main thrust of the company’s mission. If a company’s mission was to manufacture widgets, for example, the personnel departments mission was to find people, test them, maintain files on them, buy insurance and deal with the legalities of havingemployees.
Today, thanks to the aforementioned recognition of people as a resource, personnel departments are increasingly being empowered with a more complex set of management responsibilities. Foremost among them is the responsibility for helping people find their best capabilities and mesh them with company goals and objectives. Personnel departments are moving beyond resume reading and testing and record keeping, and - with the blessing of top management - providing direct support to employees in such areas as self-esteem, needs fulfillment and career enhancement. they are, in a nutshell, helping people become more productive. I’ve seen many human resource departments adopt the practice of offering midcareer reviews. This practice, which I have long advocated, basically helps people assess where they are in their careers, whether they’re on the right track and what can be done to improve their careers.
In some cases, people decide that it’s in their best interest to move on to another company. But a decision of this sort that is mutually agreed upon will be far less damaging to the company than the sudden departure of a disgruntled employee. Besides companies that help their employees with their careers usually find that those employees work harder and are more loyal than they would be otherwise. Evolution, unfortunately, is an extraordinary slow process. Though corporations have made great strides toward having human resource rather than personnel departments, there still a long way to go.
Hopefully, the day is not far off when personnel departments, as we have known them, will disappear completely to be replaced by a broader recognition of people as a precious and scarce resource.