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Why We Hate HR, revisited

Podcast with Former Fast Company Executive Editor, Keith Hammonds

Keith Hammonds Keith Hammonds

Recorded in 2006, Keith Hammonds, the former Executive Editor of Fast Company, asks why HR does such a bad job and what can be done to fix it.

There's nothing to buy. All we're selling is free interviews with smart people. However, I'd like to "buy" some of your time, and feedback. Here's the Deal: Way back in the August 2005 cover story of Fast Company, titled Why We Hate HR, Keith Hammonds wrote: "The innovation economy, the knowledge economy, or the new economy - whatever you want to call it - rewards the companies with the best talent. This situation should put the human resources function at the center of value creation as it discovers, supports, and develops talent. By all accounts, this is not happening." When this article first appeared, (and yes, it's still online), I was developing TotalPicture Radio, (then called This article had most of the HR community in a spin. Soon after publication, Keith and his family went on Sabbatical to the South of France. I waited, and Keith was kind enough to meet with me at the Fast Company offices in New York for a little chat about HR.

He cites four reasons why HR is poorly suited to maintain and grow the reputational and intellectual capital of the company, and concludes with some brief pieces of advice.

It's been five years since this article first appeared. Has anything changed? If you work in HR, do you think the role and reputation Hammonds' described in 2005 still exists? What's improved? If you don't work in HR, do you think the points Keith makes in this interview, and the Fast Company article -- are still valid? Have a listen and let me know. (Click read more for the 4 thinks HR does not do well.

By the way, according to his Linkedin profile, Keith is now Director, News & Knowledge Initiative at Ashoka. I'll be getting back in touch with Keith as this is an organization I want to learn more about.

Four things explain why HR is not doing well

According to Hammonds:

First, HR people aren't the sharpest tacks in the box: People applying for HR positions are generally not as smart, nor as independent in their thinking, nor do they operate according to clear values. Others enter the field with good intentions, but for the wrong reasons.

Second, HR pursues efficiency in lieu of value, because it's easier, and its easier to measure. In this respect, HR is in the position of finance before DuPont showed how to calculate return on investment in 1912...

Third, HR isn't working for you. It's there to protect corporate assets. This leads to the pursuit of standardization and uniformity, which conflicts with the needs of a workforce that is heterogeneous and complex.

Fourth, the corner office doesn't get HR (and vice versa). One expert suggests that the disconnection between HR and strategy stems from HR's lacking a perspective on how organizations are going to change, and from an inherent difficulty in aligning HR policies with rapidly changing business strategy.

Hammond goes beyond criticism to offer five ways to work well: Say the right thing; measure the right thing; get rid of the "social workers"; serve the business; and make value, not activity.

In Brief

Keith Hammonds joined Fast Company in 1999 from Business Week, where he had taken on a series of editorial roles over 10 years. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Business School. He worked in London and Johannesburg as a freelance journalist, and consulted to New Nation, a weekly newspaper in South Africa, on publishing strategy. He also co-founded a drought relief food distribution network in Namibia.

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.


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