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Tales from An Outsider My 30 Days as an HR Industry Analyst

July 14, 2000
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When I first heard that my consulting project was about HR stuff, I thought no problem. I remembered HR from my corporate warrior days. They're the ones who administered 401K forms, stock option packets and door prizes at the company Christmas party. They used to be called Personnel Professionals. I remembered them well.

My mission, and I did wish to accept it, was to compile benchmarking statistics about corporate staffing. Reams and reams of priceless figures about the ideal quantity of marketing managers, administrative assistants, cost accountants, etc. to be found at a company of 2000. Or even a company of 20,000. This project could be every left-brained market analysts dream…I mused as I sat down at my PC.

Little did I know what my month as an HR industry analyst would look like, let alone feel like.

My first attempt to secure these precious statistics was to approach those who do benchmarking (best practices) for a living. Benchmarking Exchange, Benchmarking by Net (and Day), Benchmarking for Bucks. Those kind of folks.

A few innocent calls later and I learned that the benchmarking community is a tight one. You only get out what you put in. And you can't put in anything unless you're a full fledged corporation of sorts. Not a one-woman business comprised of a freelance number cruncher and a very demanding calico cat named Freckles. After experiencing such vehement contractor discrimination, I actually toyed with the idea of returning to cubicle-land just to feel like part of the gang.

When I asked him about benchmarking, I'm positive one pleasant guy I encountered thought I meant repercussions from active exercise at the health club.

Then I looked down at my feet clad in soft, comfortable bunny slippers, took a sip of my General Foods International Coffee French Vanilla Café coffee, and petted the cat. I quickly shrugged off that short minute of insanity.

I then proceed down the Traditional Path taken by many market research fiends, called Buy Whatever You Can. I'll just call those in the know--experts in the field of Human Resources--and offer to pay. Pay for a consultant, a report, a CD-ROM full of data.

I was just sure my data was out there somewhere. Since much of my work has been in the high tech hardware field, I could usually find someone to sell me a count of widgets for a very high price. Not so with counting warm bodies.

I quickly discovered that HR is multi-faceted. There are benefits experts, compensation experts, recruiting experts, etc. About a million of each. All I could think of was these two things: Thank heaven for the Internet, all my resource people are listed there! And later, Darn that Internet, ALL my resource people are listed there. I started to suffer from Information Overload and had to run out to Kmart to calm myself. It was pretty scary.

Then I discovered the terms 'Human Resources' and 'benchmarking' are kinda like oil and water. I'm positive one pleasant guy I encountered thought I meant repercussions from active exercise at the health club.

Although I 'met' the nicest folks at various Human Resources professional associations, and the friendliest magazine editors at several HR-related publications, all I got was information about salary trends, staffing hints and How to Keep Your Employees Happy. Great stuff, all of it, but not up my particular alley, which was beginning to look more like a thin crack in the pavement.

My saving grace about this time were the message boards found on wonderful Web sites such as this one, which cater to HR professionals. At least I could whine, beg and make a scene amongst the community I so loved and wished to understand. I guess all that purging helped.

Soon I recalled something important from my days as a 'temp' at Ross Dress for Less' HR department years back. HR people are committed professionals, have integrity, can't talk about their 'customers' (a.k.a. employees) and are typically a tight-lipped lot. Great if you're working under the same roof with them. Frustrating if you're an outsider like me.

Ultimately, however, the information started to flow from other experts. Remember those functional--or should I say dysfunctional?-- departments for which I needed headcounts? Well, gray-haired consultants from all those other corporate departments seem to be compiling numbers left and right.

Mack in Manufacturing, Shelly in Sales, Fred in Finance…..someone must have tipped them off because they have a lot to say about 'best practices' in their departments. And if they don't, they can easily be convinced to write a 25-page memo about it for a lot more that twenty-five dollars.

Now why shouldn't you HR gurus also reap the benefits of selling typical headcount numbers? I say rise up---it's time for Human Resources professionals to prosper from being in the trenches for so many years. After all, everybody deserves a chance to be a millionaire. With or without Regis Philbin.

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