Why is There a Catbert?

By: MarkWeaver Tuesday September 25, 2012 comments

For years, I’ve clipped copies of the comic strip Dilbert when Catbert – the evil HR Director – was featured.  I find it funny how many people in the employer-employee mix have this really jaded view of HR people.  Actually I find it sad.

Some of it isn’t deserved.  There are good HR people who really care about employees and the culture of their employers.  Unfortunately, there are also those bad apples that spoil it.  I’ve followed behind some of them, cleaning up their messes.  Whether it’s a horribly botched sexual harassment “investigation,” public criticism of management, inability to understand the precarious balance HR must take in our dual-advocacy role, resistance to change, or undermining behaviors, the impact on an organization lingers.  In some cases, it’s left managers feeling resentful – or worse – inept, while leaving employees feeling like there is no one to direct legitimate complaints to.
Some people in HR miss the mark.  They fail to see their mission as helping the bosses in their company become great leaders, which would solve far more morale issues than they ever could trying to fix onesy-twosey employee relations problems.  They come off more like a frustrated social worker than a business partner.  They get too focused on the control role - which is an important part in its place - and becomecontrolling.
The following lists some examples of HR gone wrong, the dark side of HR, or HR Catbert-style.  If these are working in your organization, it’s time to rethink and reposition HR:

  • Elaborate problem-solving processes that convey the message to the employees and bosses alike, that HR will solve their problems for them because they are the only ones that can be trusted to do so;
  • Complex compensation and reward systems that are not easily understood or accepted, and that create a whole lot of administrative work;
  • Detailed policy manuals - which no one reads - that have more policies and procedures than anyone can possibly assimilate, many of which create more HR work, requiring more HR staff, creating a workforce more dependent on HR, while not helping employees or bosses make decisions;
  • Intricate training programs that may satisfy the ego of the trainer or at least provide the things the trainer thinks everyone needs, but aren’t serving the needs that bosses could easily identify if asked; and
  • Employee relations matters handled like a junior attorney trying to make everything impossibly 100% safe, instead of them being handled like a strategic partner of the organization, with an understanding of the risk spectrum that executives must operate within.

Today’s workforce deserves something better than that kind of HR.  HR professionals can play a strategic role in organizations, but it won’t ever happen with tired, old, paper-intensive, slow processes and an over-emphasis on control.  There is a better way… and it doesn’t look anything like Catbert.

About the Author: MarkWeaver


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