Getting around HR

Good HR people, we want to keep; lousy ones, we're stuck with. But there are guerrilla tactics IT managers can use to make the hiring process easier, faster and more effective - even if HR is less than cooperative.

A CIO writes: "I used to work for a dysfunctional nonprofit organisation. When the CEO finally caused the human resources manager to have a nervous breakdown, we hired a consultant to look at the process of hiring a replacement employee.

The consultant’s recommendation was to reduce the HR department to support personnel and let managers do direct hiring — using HR as a consultant, if needed. It required some training of the managers, but we reduced the time to hire and the costs significantly. If more HR departments acted like consultants who were trying to help hire the best employees, maybe IT people would appreciate them better."

A nervous breakdown? A nervous breakdown? That’s serious anti-HR action!

OK, so most of us can’t get rid of our HR departments. (Though I know from your mail over the past couple weeks that many of you would like to do just that.) Good HR people, we want to keep; lousy ones, we’re stuck with.

But there are guerrilla tactics IT managers can use to make the hiring process easier, faster and more effective — even if HR is less than cooperative.

Take charge of the process. Listen to HR’s recommendations, but make your own decisions. Don’t bully or abuse the HR people; you won’t make them more helpful by snarling at them. But they aren’t in charge of the hiring process — you are.

Ask HR to send you copies of all IT résumés. HR can still send you a separate package of its top picks. Maybe you’ll never get around to sifting through that big stack of résumés. But you’ll have that option — and if someone looks good to you and not to HR, you’ll have a fighting chance of interviewing that candidate.

Hire to solve problems, not to replace departures. If you lose a C++ coder with deep SQL Server experience or a network administrator who knows 10Base-T inside out, don’t just add those qualifications to your requirements. First, analyse whether they’re critical. If you’ve got enough C++ expertise on staff or your pressing need is supporting wireless users, why raise the bar and eliminate potential hires?

Ask your IT people what’s needed. Maybe they know something you don’t. OK, probably they know things you don’t. Certainly, they can add insight into what your shop will need in the short and medium terms.

Turn your staff into recruiters with bonuses. If your company doesn’t have a formal recruitment-bonus program, do it informally. If you think a potential hire is a bad risk because he was recommended by your staff’s resident slacker, you can always filter that one out. But you’re much better off when a current employee can vouch for a potential hire.

Delegate. You’re already delegating part of the hiring process to HR. Delegate another piece to the team members who will work with your new hire. Let them hunt through those stacks of résumés — they may spot a gem that HR (or you) missed. If they find nothing special, at least they’ll know why they’re working shorthanded. But make it clear they aren’t picking the final candidates — they’re just helping with the search.

Hire on Internet time. A long schedule makes HR people and IT managers think there’s time for a leisurely search to find a theoretically perfect candidate. Hey, nobody else in your IT shop is perfect — why pretend any new hire will be? Just hire ’em; you can invest the time and money you save in any necessary training.

And don’t get sucked into the idea that running shorthanded instead of hiring now is ever a good idea. All you’re doing is burning your people out — which means pretty soon you’ll have even more hiring to do.

Hayes, staff columnist for Computerworld US, has covered IT for more than 20 years. Email him at Frank Hayes.

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