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Saratoga Institute Founder Offers Tough Love Advice for HR

August 1, 1999
Related Topics: The HR Profession, Featured Article
Dr. Jac Fitz-enz is founder and chairman of Saratoga Institute, a research firm in Santa Clara, California, known for benchmarking best HR practices. Workforce interviewed Fitz-enz to get his response to the key findings of "The Official End-of-the-Millennium State-of-HR Survey."

Workforce: Seventy percent of the survey respondents indicated there’s been a significant to dramatic change in HR in the past 3 years, moving HR from an administrative support function to a strategic business partner role—how much progress do you think HR has really made?

Jac Fitz-enz: I wouldn’t say there’s been a dramatic change, but there has been movement in some companies. Our data show a shift toward a higher percentage of professionals and fewer support staff. Outsourcing has something to do with that. More transaction "stuff" is going out to shared service centers and outsourcing companies.

WF: Sixty percent of the respondents feel HR is at least somewhat better respected than before, and feel their image within the organization overall has improved. How do you think that increased respect is being demonstrated?

JF: I have no idea. I haven’t found non-HR folk speaking any better of HR now. Maybe we’re believing our own journal articles, which quote CEOs but seldom get reactions from people in the trenches.

WF: Almost 75 percent of respondents indicated that half to most of what employees bring to HR could be handled just as well or better by supervisors or managers. What do you think?

JF: If that’s true, why don’t they train the supervisors and send the people back when they come in? By continually doing the supervisor’s job, they’re negatively reinforcing a bad situation. Just like with your kids. If you continue to clean up after them, they’ll let you do it. Stop whining and solve the problem!

WF: When asked about employee workloads, almost 30 percent said they believe current workloads are unrealistic and jobs will need to change to reflect reality. Do most HR people have the skills needed to address issues around workforce planning, job analysis, redesign, etc.?

JF: This is a very complex question, and the answer is different in each company. HR needs to be a senior-level consultant to top management. This implies a set of skills that not more than 15 to 20 percent of HR people possess, starting with financial knowledge. How can you advise a business executive about the structure of the company and the use of human assets when you don’t know the difference between an income statement and a balance sheet?

WF: What do you think most CEOs would say HR’s top priorities should be?

JF: Despite what journals show in CEO interviews, if you surveyed 10,000 at all types and sizes of companies, you’d probably hear things like this: 1) Get me good people when I need them, 2) Keep me out of trouble, 3) Keep expenses down, 4) Come quickly when I call, and 5) File and smile. Those are my views, as unpopular as they may be.

Workforce, August 1999, Vol. 78, No. 8, p. 70.

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