Death by HR: Affirmative Action and Hiring

Death by HR

Death by HR

Affirmative Action and Hiring

We reviewed Affirmative Action (AA) in the US and elsewhere and its negative effects, both on those who were intended to benefit from it and on the organizations that have implemented it. As time has passed, the original AA programs — meant to give a temporary boost to the prospects of black people damaged by slavery and a century of Jim Crow and racial discrimination — have broadened to include other protected classes like Latinos and women, and narrowed to exclude most Asians and other minorities that have succeeded without assistance despite past discrimination. AA programs in college admissions have been legally attacked and reformed in some places, but AA continues to influence hiring in many workplaces, especially in those subject to intensive government regulation like banks, schools, and hospitals. By continuing to put diversity goals above competence and efficiency, organizations have damaged their effectiveness and decreased accountability — protected classes are less likely to be disciplined or fired, and as a result every employee senses that merit is less important and the best are rewarded less while the worst performers are retained and promoted if required to meet diversity goals.

As a result, the least-efficient sectors of the economy are either government-funded or regulated. But corporations have copied the Civil Service-style job categories and hiring mechanisms, especially those larger corporations which have adopted the Federal government’s General Schedule (GS)-style level system specifying job responsibilities and pay levels. Workers below top management are hired under the organization’s general contract provisions as written in both labor law and specific policies documented in company handbooks, while higher executives may have specially-tailored contracts with provisions like golden parachutes (contract-cancellation bonuses), noncompete agreements, and custom deferred-compensation and stock option plans. We won’t look at executive hiring, which is rarely influenced by HR screening and qualifications.

Until recently, private employers were relatively safe in choosing objective criteria for judging job applicants so long as no protected class members were being discriminated against — judged improperly based on skin color, national origin, sex, religion, or other irrelevant factors. That changed in the government sector when courts began to outlaw examinations and other requirements that they said had a disparate impact on protected classes — in other words, if the supposedly objective criteria did not pass the same percentage of protected classes as other applicants, it was deemed improper even if evidence pointed to its validity as a measure of future job performance. Most private industries ignored this and continued to hire on a combination of merit and personal recommendations, knowing that evaluations of job candidates from previous managers and industry contacts were likely to be more trustworthy and end up adding value to the company. Lawsuits made giving a negative recommendation hazardous, though, so many companies changed their policy to prohibit managers and HR from giving out any opinion on performance records of past employees — which led to today’s kabuki dance where a troublesome employee is either damned with faint praise or blackballed in informal tone of voice phone calls, but never in writing.

As companies have grown and HR departments gained influence over hiring processes, most companies have tried to find ways to screen outside candidates that reduced the time-consuming and distracting work of resume evaluation and interviewing by hiring managers and team members. Recessions and slowing growth made hiring less frequent and many hiring staff and outside recruiters were eliminated as cost-saving measures. Personal recruiting was replaced by Internet sites and recruiting boiler rooms where low-paid recruiters cold-called prospects to almost accidentally match them with openings. That was a waste of everyone’s time, so now companies are trying out services that purport to automate resume screening and interviewing, presenting hiring managers with supposedly qualified candidates and prepackaged video interviews for quick evaluation.

But any centralized scheme for pre-screening new hires is subject to political influence — HR can bias the screening to boost AA candidates and blackball competent candidates of undesired classes, like whites, Asians, and older people. When a non-technical 30-year-old female HR screener sees a resume from a 58-year-old white male engineer, she can dismiss it based on her bias against a man she would probably have trouble controlling — and this bias in hiring is every bit as bad for the organization as a previous era’s bias against competent women and homosexuals. And no one is keeping statistics which might demonstrate how she is preventing some highly-competent candidates from being reviewed by the hiring manager and team.

There are several negative consequences. First, hiring managers may be unhappy with all of the candidates presented, unaware that some likely good fits were never allowed into the process. As a result, positions may stay open for long periods and much time is wasted rejecting inappropriate candidates who pass AA and HR screenings but can’t convince the team they’d be right for the role. Another negative is a tendency to stick with internal candidates, who are known quantities from internal word-of-mouth and detailed records available to the hiring manager. But fewer outside hires means less new and diverse process knowledge being added to the company, and the Silicon Valley-style cross-fertilization of innovation between companies in a hot new field can’t happen.

Hiring managers are aware of this, and the smart ones do their own search and bring in new people by effectively bypassing HR. The larger and more bureaucratized companies make this more difficult, which tends to slowly degrade their competitiveness; think of a regulated utility’s staff versus a growing software company’s. An older company in a regulated business will always be less dynamic, but can do well staffing an internal center for process and technology innovation by giving its manager complete staffing freedom and ignoring the usual rules.

In the reverse situation, many an innovative, fast-growing company has been gutted after an acquiring company begins to impose its own HR and personnel policies. Not only do innovators sense a loss of freedom to act without a committee’s permission to get things done, but the new hires vetted by the acquirer’s HR department are more likely to be clock-watching rule-followers who don’t want to be responsible for success or failure of their teams. Gradual decline ensues, and after the frustrated innovators leave, the slow-to-catch-on will dutifully work at their jobs until the parent company gives up, then move on to the next slot.

HR can resist this tendency, but only with leadership from the top — both CEO and a carefully-chosen head of HR can choose and groom HR staff to avoid this mistake.

Thought leaders in today’s HR specialize in jargon and “aspirational” BS — they want HR heads to be seen as visionaries leading their companies to a Nirvana of fulfilled, productive, and most of all diverse staff. Plenty of lip service is paid to productivity and beating the competition with quality and service, but the focus is more often on community feeling and fulfilling interpersonal relationships. That there might be some value in interpersonal conflict and disagreement over technological and market development doesn’t enter their discussions.

But as we will see later, surveys show the most productive and best teams are those whose members feel they have been able to demonstrate their talents. A team that is always harmonious may not last long if their products are the result of groupthink unchallenged by the idiosyncratic few — it’s hard to be happy when your company is losing its market share and your team is laid off. Diversity of opinion and good management judgement are key to being right and besting your competitors, who may have been forced to spend too much time watching diversity training videos and became cynically detached.

Here are some HR thought leaders, excerpted from the book The Rise of HR: Wisdom From 73 Thought Leaders,[1] published by the HR Certification Institute and obviously meant to be a sales tool for their services:

…We have always provided employees with talent development opportunities in compliance with affirmation action and equal employment opportunities. However, a clear and unabashed focus on diversity and inclusion to advance organizational excellence and success may be unfamiliar to some. HR must help instill a new mindset—one that goes beyond merely complying with non-exclusionary laws, but truly commits to core values and believes that, with guidance, every employee has the capacity to perform at high levels.[2]

This is “No Child Left Behind” view of staffing. Leaving behind the old view where the best candidate should be hired or promoted regardless of race or class, in favor of the social work view of HR: that candidates can be chosen for inclusion and groomed, trained, and managed to be great performers regardless of native talent and background. Businesses that can afford to view staffing as a kind of social uplift effort are few—mostly government agencies where there’s guaranteed funding and no competition is allowed.

Anyone who wants to see the trends in HR should skim this book. It’s full of uplifting visions and short on accounting and business nuts and bolts. Those visions are lovely aspirations — but demonstrate how easy it is to make pretty speeches or TED Talks disregarding the realities of human nature and competition in teams.

Not everyone is an airhead, however. China Gorman writes:

The best way to protect your culture’s integrity is to be meticulous in only hiring people who fit within it. Yes, it will be tempting to hire people who have amazing skills but may not fit your culture. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it! Just as one bad apple can spoil the bunch, so can one bad hire throw a wrench in all the hard work you and your company have invested in creating a unique and wonderful culture. Always remember that skills can be taught, but culture fit is like style—people either have it or they don’t. Great culture is about never settling. It’s about doing the right thing, even when it’s hard. So wait for the right person. You’ll be glad you did, and so will everyone in your great workplace culture.[3]

This is true. If your workplace culture is focused on winning and growing in a free market, hiring those whose values are centered on whining about grievances and collecting rent on the value of the work of others through political power is going to poison your workplace culture and reduce morale. Now when HR managers in Silicon Valley talk culture fit, this is code for under 30, no family responsibilities, can work over 60 hours a week, and will put up with the preferred sports, progressive causes, and after-hours socializing of the other low-level staff. And not-so-subtle discrimination against even the most productive who don’t fit this mold is common in startup culture. But a culture which encourages employees to have rich family and personal lives away from the workplace doesn’t have to be less competitive — just smarter. Your best workers don’t work the longest or stay at the office until 10 PM; they’re experienced and knowledgeable enough to get their work done in less time, and your company won’t sink when your junior employees grow up enough to realize they’ve been cheated out of a life and leave for more sustainable workplaces.

Fortunately, hiring managers aren’t stupid, and (except in highly-regulated industries) they have resisted the HR pressure to hire too much diversity deadwood. And companies are still free to discriminate against people whose culture won’t be helpful — which is why management needs to be careful not to hire those gender and ethnic studies graduates who seem to want to be social justice activists on someone else’s dime.

[1] The Rise of HR: Wisdom From 73 Thought Leaders, edited by Dave Ulrich, William A. Schiemann, GPHR and Libby Sartain, SPHR, published by the HR Certification Institute, 2015.
[2] “HR as Organizational Leader and Champion of Diversity and Inclusion,” by Andy Brantley, from The Rise of HR, p. 217-225
[3] “CEOs Want Better Performance. Great Culture Can Make It Happen,” by China Gorman of Great Place to Work, from The Rise of HR, p. 179-188

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


More Reading:

Death by HR: Biased HR Degree Programs Create Biased HR Bureaucracies
Death by HR: Pink Collar Ghettos, Publishing and HR
Death by HR: Who Staffs HR Departments? Mostly Women…
Death by HR: The Great Enrichment to the Great Slackening
Death by HR: Good-Enough Cogs vs Best Employees
Death by HR: EEOC Incompetence and the Coming Idiocracy
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

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