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The Year In Review: Best and Worst in HR

Posted by Elaine Varelas  January 9, 2012 09:00 AM

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Happy New Year! We hear this greeting every January, but there is something different about 2012. Colleagues, clients, and business executives around Boston and beyond are looking at the new year with a mix of anticipation, enthusiasm, and anxiety. All of us are hoping that this is the year the economy goes from shaky to robust, consumer confidence is restored, and we can all stop holding our breath!

As we embark on a new year, it is a perfect time to reflect on the past 12 months. As HR professionals, what did we do well and what can we do better? What can we resolve to change for 2012? Where should we focus our energy to create strong teams, engaged and productive employees, and a sound organization?

Here is a list of the Best and Worst in HR last year. There are some cringe-worthy “worsts” and some “bests” that shine a bright light on the HR profession and show how human resource professionals can change and grow an organization. Here ‘s the worst of the last year:

Not hiring the unemployed--Being unemployed does not mean people are unemployable. There is a shameful trend among hiring managers of not even considering people who are between jobs. There is no reason for it! Many highly capable professionals were laid off because of the economy. They are not inferior and not suspect. Denying people a chance because of their employment status and not their knowledge and experience goes against the strategy of building a skilled and valued talent team. HR professionals should be vociferous in speaking out against this practice.

Lack of follow-up--Yes, organizations are being inundated with resumes from eager job seekers looking for work. Hiring managers may have thousands of resumes for each open position. It may be impossible to get in touch with every person who sends in a blind resume (although an auto response email is a welcome courtesy and not costly). There is no excuse, however, for lack of communication after people have interviewed. These people have invested their time and deserve a personal follow-up conversation (no form letters or emails!). Making those unpleasant calls is part of being a grown-up HR professional.

Lopsided networking--Savvy HR professionals use their network for making connections, getting introductions, and finding talent. Yet too many people forget that a network is a reciprocal relationship. It may be inconvenient to return those phone calls or take a meeting, especially if you don’t see yourself “needing” anything from your network soon. Of course, you will utilize your network one day and if you dip into your network pool too many times without refiling it, it will dry up.

Don’t fret though, last year’s HR trends weren’t all bad. Many organizations’ HR practices have been exemplary. Here is the best of 2011:

HR professionals as lifelong learners--The practice of HR is continuously evolving and many professionals are pursuing advanced degrees, HR or coaching certification, and other educational opportunities to round out their repertoire of skills. This is an important development because leadership at many organizations are (finally!) investing in their HR teams because they recognize that talented HR professionals are vital to remaining competitive in business. HR professionals should seek education, degrees, and certifications to further their practice and give their organizations an edge, not just to pad their resumes and add letters to the end of their titles. All education is enhanced, however, when coupled with everyday experience in the workplace.

Talent is tops--The most successful organizations have a talent strategy that is pursued as aggressively and with the same amount of integrity as their financial, IT, or other imperative strategies. Talent management is no less vital. Are your organization’s decisions about talent made with the same vigor, logic, and strategic connection as your products, finances, and other business lines? The most competitive organizations are already doing this.

Engagement starts with leadership teams--During the recent recession, many organizations changed their business strategies, working towards efficiency and cost-cutting. Some applied the “cut and slash” mentality to their employees--eliminating bonuses, cutting benefits, and restricting rewards. Yet many organizations have weathered the downturn without excessive employee fall out, keeping their culture intact. They have taken a long-term view to talent and realize that the economy doesn’t change how employees are treated. It isn’t something that is affected by financial tides. Senior leaders are visible and accessible. Generosity and appreciation are practiced because leadership realizes that talent is the most important resource in a company.

It is a new year and an opportune time to resolve to discontinue the “worst” practices and make a commitment to follow these HR best practices. By doing so, HR professionals can showcase their skills and help guarantee their organization’s employment brand for 2012 and beyond.

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About HR Columns

Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.