People make negative comments to me all the time about HR. They say that Human Resources doesn't necessarily handle difficult situations in the best manner. They aren’t trusted to confide in about bad supervisors or about rotations for new assignments; and they are not able to resolve those and other issues. But is it their fault and why do these comments get made?
First, you need to understand the nature of HR, particularly in the advertising business.
Most people get into human resources with the best of intentions. They want to help people, but at many companies, not just ad agencies, they learn by example and their mentors don’t necessarily know more than they do. Why is that?
Advertising is a creative business and, as a HR friend of mine points out, most good HR people are business oriented. The two are not necessarily in conflict, but since agencies are creative by nature, the creative side dominates. At ad agencies, unfortunately, human resources is mostly defined by two aspects of HR – benefits/compensation (the people who handle payroll, healthcare and other benefits and, in the largest companies, those who handle reporting and statistics) and recruiting, which is mostly now defined as finding and interviewing. There are many other aspects of human resources, most of which are not evident at ad agencies.
I can remember a really fabulous HR director who was hired out of one of the major consumer goods companies where he headed all aspects of HR – policy, succession planning, employee relations, labor relations, training, compensation, performance management, and a long list of other aspects. He was hired by a major agency because they said they wanted to upgrade HR and install those disciplines. Sadly, he resigned two years later because all he was allowed to do was to handle recruitment, which took the majority of his time.
In addition, at many ad agencies, HR is given the jobs that other departments don’t want or can’t handle – the blood drives, the Christmas party, summer picnic, the baseball team, filling seats at events where the agency has to take tables. They are even the coordinator of the phones and of moving. And, when there are lay offs, they have to handle most of the terminations. The list goes on and on. All these things take huge amounts of time - not leaving them free to do the things that they need to do and want to do.
There is very little training for HR. Even in terms of recruiting, very few professionals understand how to write an actionable recruiting job spec or even to ask the right questions of the hiring managers. (Often, an agency which handles multiple brands from a large parent company will give us job specs for a person on one of those brands, but they cannot tell us which brand it is – even though they want us to find category experience!) Most advertising HR professionals have never worked in account management, creative, media or planning. They also have never even shadowed those people so it is difficult for them to fully appreciate their jobs and recruit for those disciplines.
Most agency management is creatively driven (even the account people) and have only worked for ad agencies and have never seen a high-functioning, business-oriented human resources department and therefore have no understanding of how all the other aspects of HR can be utilized within their company. Sadly, even things like succession planning don’t really happen at most agencies – succession generally goes to the person who controls the the biggest accounts, whether that person is the most qualified or not. Management training to bring along the top succession candidates is, at best, limited.
My observation is that most HR Departments are not utilized to their fullest, nor are most human resources specialists given the tools they need in order to function fully to everyone’s benefit. It is a shame because they really try and are overworked.
The worst part of it is that every agency boasts that its principal assets go up the elevator in the morning and down the elevators each evening. HR is needed to take care of those assets.