“HR Is No Free Lunch — Not Then, Not Now”

What do you do?” asked my airport shuttle driver (I’ll call him Ben).

“I work for an HR software company,” I answered.

He nodded. “HR, huh? I remember when I worked in Personnel.”

“Personnel.” That term got my attention — precursor to the “human resources” profession we know today. I asked Ben about his experience, and he told me about his days at Polaroid in the Boston area during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“i had no idea the job would be as hard as it was”

By my estimates, Ben is in his early 60s — a fit man with short salt-and-pepper hair, a neatly trimmed matching goatee, and an infectious storytelling style.

Back in his Polaroid days he worked the line that manufactured the shutterfly housing for a new camera at the time. Two years later he was offered a personnel job.

“I thought I was going to have my own corner office, enjoy long lunches and play golf with the management team,” he told me, shaking his head. “I was 21 years old and extremely naïve. I had no idea the job would be as hard as it was.”

“HR is no free lunch. Not then, not now,” I said.

Well, it certainly wasn’t then, that’s for damn sure,” he said.

He managed and staffed the “C shift” (11 pm to 7 am — otherwise known as the graveyard) one of the hardest shifts to work, much less staff and manage. He had to continually wake up his team members as they dozed off on the job.

“No HR software of systems”

“C shift” workers were some of Boston’s poorest whites and minorities who had the basic skills to do the job. Ben had to interview, screen and hire 50 people a week for months, until he had a few hundred employees to help roll-out the new cameras.

And Ben managed it all manually.

We had no HR software or systems,” he explained. “I was going through 150 to 200 applicants per week to hit my 50 target. We had a brief interview process and a skills proficiency test. Then there were tons of forms for each new employee, and all had to be completed in triplicate. There were stuffed file folders and cabinets that cornered me daily in my tiny office.”

“Mercy me,” I replied.

He continued. “Not only that. The new hire trainings were intensive and on-the-job, complete with product manuals that weighed about 100 pounds each. Needless to say, I got very close to the line I used to work with and the new line employees I was staffing for. These people struggled financially, had families to care for. Many were single moms. They had all sorts of personal stress outside of work that affected productivity and quality, but we managed to meet line quota every week.”

“One of the hardest jobs I ever had”

“Fascinating,” I said. “And painful.”

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“Yes, it was. One of the hardest jobs I ever had.”

“It sounds like it,” I said. “I’ve only played HR on TV.”

He laughed. I sat fascinated by the conversation and the contrast to today. The whole time we talked, with my WiFi hotspot booted, I had logged into my company’s expense report system to review and approve reports.

Then I logged into our collaborative community platform to review some product marketing collateral and the latest entries in our organization’s global contest to name our corporate intranet. What a great way to promote creativity, diversity of thought and culture in a company that’s recently moved through multiple acquisitions, and now has multiple product lines and multiple office locations and many remote contributors.

There we all were, naming the very thing that kept us connected, and I was accessing it all from my tablet of choice.

I logged off, closed my iPad, and sighed audibly. Thank goodness we have today’s technology and software systems at our fingertips, I thought. It’s all about moving from the way we worked to the way we work now — complete with interconnected, platform agnostic devices tethered by the invisible magic of cellular and WiFi science.

The move to modern, mobile-friendly systems

Mobile recruiting has seen unprecedented recent growth, and now mobile screening, assessing, hiring, onboarding, training, learning, developing, recognizing, rewarding, and more are part of the “world of work” master plan — critical to an increasingly global, dispersed workforce of full-time, part-time and contract employees.

Again, thank goodness. Think about the old model of snail-mail offer letters, conference room paperwork and storage space stacked to the ceiling with file box archives. So horribly inefficient and administratively painful. Even email has become cumbersome for many in today’s workplace, (although it’s not being replaced anytime soon.)

Fortunately though, highly configurable, mobile-friendly work spaces and systems are here. They mirror our day-to-day work experience and allow us to access the data we need, whenever it’s needed.

Your corner office is nestled comfortably in the heart of your favorite mobile device. I think Ben would like it that way.

This was originally published on Kevin Grossman’s Reach West blog.

Kevin W. Grossman is the Talent Board president of global programs responsible for all aspects of the Candidate Experience Awards worldwide, the first nonprofit research organization focused on the elevation and promotion of a quality candidate experience. He also produces and hosts multiple “world of work” podcasts including The CandEs Shop Talk and WorkingTech. A certified Talent Acquisition Strategist (TAS) and Human Capital Strategist (HCS) by HCI, he has over 19 years of domain expertise in the human resource and talent acquisition industry.

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