“And most of my sources are in engineering and technology, so the high quality of both employees and managers make HR less helpful and more culturally unlike the general staff. ”
Do you have any actual evidence in your book as to the ‘high quality’ of these people? Do you have side by side comparisons showing them achieving better productivity and retention rates, or did you just take their word for it? Far be it from me to suggest you need to do more than talk to a few people in a couple narrow sectors who are mostly located in the most highly regulated state in the entire union that is notorious for its complex labor laws before you generalize to the entire profession.
“In the companies I’m familiar with, new managers get guidance from their own managers and those who don’t show some decent understanding of their role do not progress further. Since you are steeped in HR, you think “training” is the answer – like any quasi-government bureaucrat, you think a program and a certain number of hours in a classroom is needed to impart the common sense and emotional skills to manage diverse people to get a job done. ”
Your derisive attitude toward training is indicative of why your book is likely not worth reading. Again, far be it from me to suggest that simply assuming someone’s expertise in an area and not bothering to at least bolster them with some education on the matter might be a bad move. Once more, do you cite any actual evidence for the quality of the ‘guidance’ these people get, or do they instinctively know how to manage? Do they know how to break a job down into deliverables, time frames, and quality metrics, or might they need some… GASP! … training on how to do so? Do they think people can work endlessly and tend to overwork people until they burnout, or do they realize people have a breaking point and need rest? Based on what I’ve heard from silicon valley, I can guess which it is. Do any of them bother to do salary surveys before they move to hire people to ensure they’re not under or over offering? The latter being far less frequent, but it does happen. Do any of them know how to actually develop and write an actual job description so the people they’re looking to hire have a clue what they’re in for, or do they all do the typical thing of writing a description of the person they think can do the job they think they want to hire for, and then ambush them with reality after they’re hired? Do any of them have any training in any type of interviewing technique, be it behavioral or performance based, and what’s their success rate relative to what can be expected with industry best practices? Comparisons like that would be actual evidence.
“This manager should have been fired – and in any well-managed company with smart employees, he wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. The companies I know of would have had peer managers and upper managers detecting his incompetence and he would never have been put in a management role (or even employed.)”
Which goes to show your naivety and lack of experience in the field. Why would this manager be fired by the very people who promoted him when doing so would be a negative reflection on their own judgement? Yes, in some idealized firm that only exists as a proposed hypothetical in the mind of an academic who has never actually worked for a living, this manager would have been fired, or at least disciplined. However, in the real world hiring, promotions, and terminations are not just informed by performance, but by politics both good and bad, competence and incompetence, nepotism, and fear. IO psychologists have studied these dynamics for a long time, nepotism is a big one, especially in family owned companies, and I can assure you that the son of the boss has, quite often, damaged his father’s company with no consequences simply because of his relationship. And it’s HR more often than not that has to put a leash on that crap and who even occasionally does something horrible like suggest they hire out of the box people, and not fire people for spurious reasons irrelevant to performance.
“So you cooperated in his violation of the equal employment laws? Interesting.”
I guess passively yes, I just kept putting qualified people in front of him, letting his managers know about the problem, and they didn’t do anything about it because his department’s performance was okay. Eventually someone with the right background came in front of him and he hired that person, the business was in NYC and there were enough ethnic enclaves still there that eventually a Romanian came our way. What did happen, after I left that company, was that one Asian kid was transferred from the development side of IT to networking to help cover some turnover, and in short order he quit and in his exit interview apparently lambasted the manager and department. He was harassed to hell and back for various reasons including his race and demeanor, which was reserved.
Now, here’s the problem and why ‘diversity’ might be a laudable goal to educate these guys on, because what happens when they can’t find any more Romanians? Do they just deal with massive turnover because these guys don’t know how to treat people who aren’t of their ilk? Work perpetual overtime? Import someone directly from Romania? The company can’t fire the whole damn department and lose all that training and institutional knowledge. Gee, might some… GASP!… training on how not to be a dick potentially be in order to mitigate the situation, or even solve it?
I knew those guys, I don’t think they were deliberately being schmucks, they just all came from a very gruff, very blunt, very low emotional intelligence background. Christ, have you ever yourself worked with a ton of eastern European immigrants? Gone to a Russian restaurant and dealt with the waiters? If someone had addressed that as an issue before the managers built their own internal ethnic kingdom within the company it wouldn’t have been a problem. But no one cared until I and the HR manager at the time pointed out the problem repeatedly. To my knowledge it’s still on going though, because the department ain’t broken in terms of performance, not yet. But they are setting themselves up for a potentially massive point of failure that could be avoided if they’d force these guys to think outside their own nationality. But, wouldn’t want to let a liberal idea like diversity hurt their performance. Don’t want to hobble the managers with pesky HR requirements like not setting up a department with an obvious and glaring vulnerability, the legal risks and ramifications of which pale in comparison to the largely unseen costs, current and potential, that they’re imposing on themselves.
“So you’re a free-market guy, but think company owners, CEOs, and managers are all incompetent, don’t realize a high-quality, happy workforce is a competitive advantage that can make the company succeed and grow, and only you and HR departments everywhere keep them from destroying their companies by turning them into grim, despotic labor camps?”
I grade competence based on evidence, company owners and CEOs may or may not be incompetent, since we don’t operate in a free market it’s hard to nail down how much of their success is due to skill vs political acumen. However, I do not see anything in particular that assures they have any expertise in human capital management. If there was and they did, they wouldn’t fail so often on that front. Check out the reviews on Glassdoor.com of many companies, or Indeed.com. Look at their actual turnover data if you can get hold of it.
The vast majority of businesses in this country are not silicon valley firms, large or small, worrying endlessly about diversity hires. They are small to medium sized businesses owned and run by people who have no particular qualifications in human capital management. They had a good idea for a business or a product or service and got it off the ground, that’s it. That is not evidence they have any particular skill in hiring, retaining, or managing people.
“You do realize that no one who is a careerist in the field would ever dare tell people that the Emperor of HR is naked.”
I have, which is why I do it anonymously. You’re not entirely wrong in your concerns, but the idea that the majority of HR people nationwide are obsessing over diversity hires and government compliance is nonsense. The vast majority of HR departments at the vast majority of companies consist of the payroll guy or girl, who handles the payroll, occasional employee complaints, and a labor lawyer who they talk to when things get serious. And where HR departments do exist in larger companies, the vast majority of people I have met and worked with are doing their best day after day to stop people from shooting themselves in the foot with their own stupidity. And the source of most of the worst behaviors is managers, and not blatant screw ups like the example I initially gave, but just people who have been promoted to their level of incompetence and are barely holding on without a clue what they’re doing, and their employers not offering any resources to help them figure it out, more often than not.
When compliance with regulations does come up, it’s dealt with as a risk vs cost issue like anything else. One manufacturer I worked for knew of and deliberately ignored many labor regulations. They had people who should have been hourly classified as exempt so they could avoid overtime, they routinely ‘adjusted’ the punches of hourly people to avoid overtime as well. Could these people complain to the DOL? Sure. The DOL doesn’t usually do jack shit to help anyone. In my entire career I’ve seen one company successfully sued for back wages out of God know how many that were in blatant violation of the laws. One. It’s also worth noting that as free market people, however we feel about those laws, those employers did agree to abide by them when they hired their employees, so their employees are not entirely wrong or out of line to get pissed when it happens, or to try and seek redress via the only route that is practically available to them. Telling them to just get another job is an assinine response in a market where jobs are increasingly scarce, and not everyone can be a podcaster.
Maybe I’ll read the book, but if all you really did was talk to a bunch of people in silicon valley it’s a waste of my time. I can’t believe I have to explain to a bunch of Austrian econ inclined folks that there’s a difference between what people say and what they demonstrate via their actions. Simply assuming managers are right in what they want to do is insane. Hell, in my second to last job I was recruiting for tech firms in NYC and almost every single ‘manager’ I worked with had no idea that the salaries they were offering were 50% or more below market for the positions they were looking to fill, because they hadn’t bothered to check. But hey, I’m sure they had ‘guidance’ from their managers, so they shouldn’t need actual data to rely on or anything. It’s perfectly reasonable to try and hire a C# developer with ten years of experience in NYC for 50K. Gotta trust the instincts of those managers, they know so much more than those pesky HR people who bother to look at actual data and might want them to occasionally hire someone who isn’t a carbon copy of themselves.