The Way Things Were: Moving Toward HR Agility

By Larry Baldwin, SPHR, SHRM-SCP and Robert K. Prescott, Ph.D., SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Ah, the good old HR days. Where have they gone? How far have we come?

You know what I’m saying; the days of the personnel requisition form, when we accepted applications instead of resumes, when there were good applicant phone numbers given with which to schedule interviews. When applicants walked into your office wanting to fill out a job application. When you checked work references and with good luck or good timing, might get one employer to respond. No, we didn’t go to the courthouse to check criminal records, but we do remember asking that tough, all-important behavioral interview question of the applicant, “Tell me about yourself?” and hired based on it. Ah, remember placing only newspaper ads? Do we have newspapers anymore? There were temp agencies for short-time needs only, and no Form I-9 or e-Verify. Wow, aren’t you glad we had Employers Practice Liability Insurance back then? Remember?

How about the point in time when managers and supervisors, not HR, decided how much they would offer to pay the prospective job candidate, or offered some crazy extra benefits without HR input? “Just make sure this person gets on the payroll and back to my shop to work today,” we were ordered. “And, make sure HR tells them about benefits, especially sick leave and vacation pay, because I don’t want any confusion if I have to fire them down the road.” Were we compliant?

Merit pay increases came from a bucket of money that was to be allocated amongst employees, but not to exceed a budget of 1%, 2% or 3% of total salary within the working department. Who looks an employee in their eyes after an excellent year of work and says, “We are giving you a 1% salary increase?” Total reward plans were but a glimmer in our eyes.

How about those days when the manager/supervisor came barreling into your office; sat down in a chair, then calmly stated, “I want to fire Carla tomorrow.” With puzzlement, you looked at the manager like any good HR practitioner would do and said with a straight face, “Why?” The supervisor would explain their contorted rationale, but you were still skeptical. While they fidgeted in their seat, you called for Carla’s file. Upon review of it, you discovered that her last two annual performance appraisals were above average and there were no written or verbal warnings in her file. “Is there an attendance issue,” you asked? “No,” the manager blurts, “I’ve just decided that I need more brain power in my group.” Huh? Yes, we were important to our supervisor back then.

Don’t you wish for the days when training consisted of simply sending the employee, after they were added to payroll and benefits, off to their job assignment where the new employee was paired with another employee for “on-the-job” training? No documentation. No formal program. Just observation on the job and, if they get it, then it was a job well done by HR for sending the candidate! No needs assessment or work behavior changes through formal in-class or web-based training, just seat of the pants onboarding.

Come on, we know you’re chuckling. Those memory synapses are working overtime. Such memories may even haunt you today. We thought it was enjoyable and perhaps it even made us feel important, but what were we doing in those times? You can throw shade our way and sneer, but if truth be told, we all have been there in remembering the old days of HR. In the present, are we able to leap from the employee filing cabinet to bona-fide business partner? To be or not to be - in HR.

Speed, fitness, flexibility, nimbleness and resilience; that’s what HR functions boast as competency. Yet, how often do we hear these words used to characterize our HR departments or staff? Not nearly often enough.

By all accounts, the 21st century is an age of rapid innovation and change, disruptive markets and social nuances, with real-time communication shifts. How well are our organizations prepared to survive in this turbulent business climate? What is the role of the HR department in equipping organizations to meet these challenges? Now, more than ever, organizations will demand that their HR professionals become strategic partners in meeting the challenge of the turbulent times we live in. Well, the “Times They are A Changing” – and the call is for Agile HR.

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About the Author

Larry Baldwin, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is the director of the Human Resources Institute and clinical instructor at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Dr. Robert K. Prescott, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is the director of Corporate Engagement in the College of Continuing Studies at The University of Alabama.

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