Minimizing Resource Utilization, an Unsustainable Solution

There’s a new one!

Reductions in force (RIF’s), redundancies, restructuring, retrenching, reorganization, just about any word that starts with the letters “re” can strike terror into the hearts of employees.

And just when you thought that corporate America had exhausted all its creativity in how to describe cutting headcount we get a new one! “Minimizing Resource Utilization”. Who gets the prize for coming up with a new and antiseptic way to deny what’s really happening? The U.S. Federal government!

This phrase, ripped from the world of computers, reduces the human element even further. As if staff doesn’t see what’s really going on. Minimizing resource utilization means simply that the organization is utilizing less of a certain resource. Only in this case it’s the Human resource.

It seems simple enough. If you’re looking to cut costs, you attack your greatest expense. In some organizations human related expenses (real estate, heat, light, AC, phones, office supplies, not to mention the obvious salaries and benefits, if the company still offers benefits) can equal 60% of an organization’s outlay. In a knowledge or service organization, where there may not be a physical product it can be even higher.

But when will senior management realize, especially in the so-called knowledge industries, that their product is their people, their human resources? By minimizing this resource utilization you are also limiting profit capacity. And that’s something nobody wants to do.

All you have to sell is the brainpower and creativity of your people. The word minimize comes from the same Latin root as the word “diminish” and that’s what you will do to your organization if the first (and sometimes only) solution you have to improve your bottom line is to send people to the unemployment line. It is simply not a sustainable solution.

Survivors (Part 2)

And here’s a  response I got to my first post on this topic.

“I agree with you. I dislike the term “Survivor” myself and do not believe it reflects the proper status of this population. Furthermore, it dulls the true meaning of the term.
I also recognize that people have different coping mechanisms and variable timelines for action and reaction. That being said, what can HR do to ensure the remaining workforce is still motivated to take on more work (volume) while at the same time bidding farewell to friends and a 9-5 schedule?”

Here are a few suggestions. Use the ones that fit your business.
– Allow time to “grieve”. People will have an emotional reaction, acknowledge it.
– Do not pretend that their friends and co-workers never existed.
– Never tell those remaining that they should be happy to have a job. They’re not happy right now. Grateful perhaps, but don’t tell them to be happy. Managers should be grateful they’re showing up every day and picking up the slack. Show them you’re grateful by doing whatever you can for them.
– Allow for lateral growth. Take advantage of this upheaval to move people around, but don’t do it without asking them.
– Talk to your people, find out what they’re interested in doing and if possible, let them do it.
and finally…
– Communicate with your staff. Speak honestly about what you’ve all gone through, staff, managers and HR. Re-focus everyone on the task at hand so the company can return to a growth rather than cutting mode. You can’t over-communicate at a time like this. One of the worst things management can do is hide away in their offices. This only feeds the “who’s next?” rumor mill.

Your thoughts?

Survivors (Part 1)

Someone asked me, “Can you recommend a strategy for handling post-lay off morale initiatives for the “survivors”?”

Please, let’s stop calling them survivors. They are employees. I don’t claim that there aren’t morale issues for those remaining on the job after a layoff, but by calling them “survivors” we make two mistakes. First, we do a disservice to real survivors, like people who survived the killing fields in Cambodia in the 1970’s or those who survived Hurricane Katrina in 2006. Those are survivors. Second, by calling them survivors you are sending a subliminal message to the employees that the company did something bad to all those who were laid off. Let’s show respect for all classes of employees, those we keep and those who unfortunately are let go.

This is a personal peeve of mine (aren’t all peeves personal?). We need to be careful in the language we use.

And while we’re paying attention to morale issues, don’t forget to take care of the HR people who have to manage through all the layoffs. It takes its toll on us too!

Required skills

There are a lot of things about HR that drive me crazy.

One is HR people whining about not getting appropriate amounts of respect. And then I see HR people doing things that I, as a fellow HR and business professional, couldn’t respect. Like not figuring out how what you’re doing affects the bottom line. Or being so ambiguous and unspecific about your contribution that it’s impossible to define or defend. Or taking the easy way out and not clarifying what it is you’re looking for in a job posting. Here’s an example.

I just saw an ad, written by a recruiter (at an agency) for a recruiter. Here are the required skills:

Recruiting, Maintaining Employee Files, Building Relationships, People Skills, Organizational Astuteness, Verbal Communication, Listening, General Office Experience, Scheduling, Technical Understanding, Judgment

Can you believe this?

Can you imagine that you’d be asked to find someone with this skill set for any other job? Where are the specifics? Where is the connection to what the business is actually doing? Where are the outputs? This is nothing but a list of undefined activities and generic characteristics. I doubt that this recruiter would be this cavalier, even slipshod, when recruiting for any other function. But when it comes to HR, well, they just need to be a good listener with good judgement. And it doesn’t even say “good judgment”, it merely says “Judgment”. Why not just say you’re looking for a “people person”?

How can anyone in HR expect to be taken seriously if we don’t show the same amount of professionalism when recruiting for our own function. You want to earn that coveted “seat at the table?” Well you’re not going to earn it if you behave the way this person did.

Make sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing every step of the way.
Make sure that your contribution is aligned with the bottom line of the organization.
Make sure senior management knows and understands what you’re doing that supports and advances the business.

That’s how you change the perception of HR from a “cost center” to a “profit center”.

The Future of HR

Once and for all, “HR Professional” is not an oxymoron.

I’m passionate about HR and the contribution we make to the bottom line of the organizations of which we’re a part. The future of HR is limitless. So long as there are jobs, there will be people needed to do them. Our future is to understand and define the intersection of people, the work that needs to be done and how people are placed and managed in the jobs they do.  People, not things, technology, or buildings (which are more and more becoming monuments to how work used to get done) are the key to a successful future. And HR is the key to the people. We just need to keep our eye on how work is evolving to remain relevant in the workplace of the future.

I’m a trainer, speaker, author (Someone’s Gonna Get Hired…it Might As Well Be You!, PHRC publisher) and consultant. My specific areas of expertise are performance motivation and management, staffing, and creating a respectful workplace through minimizing workplace harassment.

My plan is to write about work, and the people who do it, from all aspects. The manager responsible for seeing that the work gets done; the employees who are on the line everyday, whether it is the assembly line, the customer service line, or the checkout line at the store; and the applicant looking to get a job and show what she can do. Human resources departments face all three and must understand the challenges, eccentricities, and wonderment of each. I’m an optimist. I think life can be wonderful. I think work can be wonderful. And I see no reason that the two can’t and won’t intersect.