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Human Resources: Are you still shackled by outdated practices?


The management of employees is part of the responsibility of every manager. But it’s 2013 – not 1913, 1953, or even 1983. We must discard the HR practices that served us well in the 20th century. Today’s workplace demands it.

7 basic practices

How many of these statements reflect your view of human resources?

  • For each vacancy, find a resume, written application, or a completed application form
  • A formal annual performance appraisal is a valuable and necessary tool
  • The face-to-face interview is an essential part of personnel selection.
  • Training is the key factor in improving performance
  • We must develop each individual to their potential
  • Human resources policy and procedure manuals are valuable tools for managers
  • References from previous managers are a valuable resource in the selection process.

There is another approach. How do you respond to these statements?

  • Resumes and written applications are a major source of staff selection error.
  • Formal annual performance reviews are a bureaucratic HR construct and have little valve for improving job performance.
  • You just can’t tell what people can do just by talking to them.
  • By itself, training rarely improves job performance.
  • The basic human unit in the workplace is the team, not the individual. Successful companies are made up of successful teams
  • Performance systems and standards, not human resource policy and procedures, are the key to successful job performance.
  • References can be a valuable piece of mind. That’s it. Nothing more. Should you allow your selection decision to be influenced by a complete stranger speaking from the past?

How many of these statements do you agree with? Do they seem heretical? They will if you are stuck in conventional HR practice.

Let’s see each one individually

  • Resumes and written applications are about the past. They are what a candidate wants you to know. This may not match what you really want to know. An estimated 70% of all resumes are prepared by professional resume writers. They have become a sales tool.
  • Performance measurement is too important to be left to a six- or twelve-month event. We now have the technology to enable employees to measure their own performance on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis.
  • The face-to-face interview still has a place in the selection. It should be used only towards the end of the process to clarify and discuss issues related to cultural adjustment.
  • Most employee performance problems occur because people “won’t” rather than “can’t.” You need well-trained staff, but you also need a lot more.
  • We work people. But we hope they are effective team members for the benefit of the company. No need to create teams in the workplace. They exist. They are normal in the workplace. Developing effective teams is more important than developing effective people.
  • Managers have an important obligation to employees. It ranks above all others. They must “put systems in place to ensure that it will be impossible for employees to fail.” A poor system will always beat a good interpreter. The personnel policy and procedure should support performance systems and performance standards.
  • The references are about the past. Selection is about the future. And generally, you don’t know anything about the person providing the reference, either orally or in writing. If you must check references, ask only one question; “Would you give (applicant’s name) a job as (vacant position name) in your company?” This is the best way to get useful information.

The workplace of the 21st century

Today’s workplace is very different from the typical 20th century workplace. The PC, iPad, iPhone and all their relatives have made a big difference. Today’s computer is far more powerful and valuable than the huge mainframes of just 20 years ago.

Every employee now has a wealth of data at their fingertips. They no longer need close supervision. They have “mountains” of feedback instantly available if needed. Management only needs to set up the systems so that large amounts of data are turned into valuable and useful performance information. As Tom Gilbert says, “Information is data that you can use.”

Much of what employees can do today was considered “management work” 20 years ago or less. Now employees can run the business on a day-to-day basis. This means that managers are free to spend most of their time on genuine management work.

Human resources bureaucracy of the 20th century

The human resources bureaucracy of the 20th century is no longer necessary. There is no need to fill in the form, to verify, of the administrative minutiae. Today’s HR professionals can provide genuine service that helps managers achieve business goals. And they can help managers establish performance standards and systems. HR must function as a collaborator with the operations, sales, and production staff. HR specialists do not need to act as mediators between employees and management. After all, managers are responsible for managing employees.

What to do instead

To replace bureaucratic practices, I suggest

  • Written requests: do not request them. Instead, ask applicants to call on the phone, do you remember the phone? – you direct. Conduct a short screening interview. Reject all unsuitable applicants. Make a short list based on your screening interviews. Proceed only with shortlisted candidates. You will save hours and hours of unnecessary reading and evaluation.
  • Implement systems that allow employees to measure their own performance on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. You will need specific measurable performance standards to do this. But the system will show “how each employee is doing.”
  • Put the face-to-face interview last in your selection process. Interview after taking tests in which applicants demonstrate that they have the skills you are looking for. Use the interview primarily to assess “cultural fit.”
  • Keep Training Well – But recognize that performance problems generally occur due to poor systems, not poor training. Even the best training can be derailed by a poor system.
  • Focus on team performance, not individual – Make sure individual staff members contribute effectively to the team. The effectiveness of the team depends on the clarity of the role and the objectives, not on interpersonal relationships.
  • Effective performance systems and clear performance standards are absolutely essential for effective employee performance. Take the time and trouble to create effective systems.
  • Don’t ask for references. Ignore those submitted by the applicants. Use a trial period to make sure the new hire can do your job for you.


The HR practices of the 20th century have served us well for a century. But they are past their expiration date. Modern technology provides much more effective techniques for today’s managers. Use them, use them. Otherwise, the managers who do it will invade it.

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