By Jennifer Gerves-Keen, MA, ACC
Certified Coach & Learning/OD Consultant (view all HR consultants)

In this October’s Harvard Business Review, Peter Cappelli has written an article entitled “HR for Neophytes” which really resonated with me and highlighted some of the challenges my clients are currently experiencing. The article is based on the premise that more and more of the traditional HR function – recruiting, performance management and retention – is falling on the shoulders of managers as opposed to being conducted solely by the HR department. Not only has the responsibility shifted, but due to the fact that they are often more connected to what’s happening in their area, and what they actually need to be successful, research shows that these “line managers” are 29% more successful at these HR-based tasks that their own Human Resources department.

Cappelli brings up some extremely relevant points that I see played out almost daily in many large organizations. Firstly, organizations are impacted by poor hiring decisions for years, particularly in unionized environments where once people are in a job, it is a long and complex process to get them out of the job, not to mention the organization.  Apparently more than 60% of vacancies in larger US firms are filled by outside hires; that number was only 10% a mere generation ago. The currently mobile workforce is no doubt a large part of that difference, but it can’t cover all of it. Why are we not making the investment in our people? Why do organizations often overlook the talent they have within the organization, in search of a “star player” from a competitor or straight out of a reputed degree program?

How can organizations do a better job of hiring? Cappelli divides hiring into two distinct phases, the first being recruiting & attracting candidates, the second being selection. I entirely agree with him that more organizations should outsource these functions to reputable firms, particularly when they are hiring for diverse roles that cover a wide variety of backgrounds. Use the expertise available to narrow your applicant pool down to a few qualified candidates, and save yourself a potential bad hire that will cost you potentially years of productivity, not to mention the possible negative impact on the rest of your workforce.

The remainder of Cappelli’s article discusses how we can develop internal talent, and it supports my view that some of the most effective on-the-job learning comes directly from experiential learning, where the individual is given stretch assignments – with appropriate support – and learns from actually doing the task. Organizations can also create what Cappelli calls a “transparent internal market” – be open and direct about upcoming opportunities, and whenever possible,  offer your employees – at least the ones you wish to keep! – better opportunities than what they can find elsewhere.

If managers learn how to align their productivity goals with their staffs’ career goals – where possible – they will find that retention is not an impossible task. Meanwhile, HR can be spending their valuable time where it is most needed – helping the organization becoming an overall high-performing team,  and providing strategic direction to senior leadership to plan a successful future.