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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Is Google the new HR department?


Four in ten managers said that Google is a better source of information and support than their HR team, in a new survey put out by Hay Group.

The cause is a perceived lack of support and availability of information from the HR department.

Budgetary cuts are the culprit, according to HR directors. 94% said their department was reduced as part of company cost-savings. Three in 10 (30%) experienced particularly deep cuts, with teams reduced by 11-25%.

The cuts have come at a bad time, as line managers are increasingly turning to the HR department as sources of information, perhaps driven by a greater awareness of employee needs. But 68% of HR directors believe that dealing with day-to-day enquiries from line managers takes up to a third of their time.

As a result, over a third (38%) of HR Directors agree or strongly agree that their team spends too long “hand-holding,” preventing them from taking a more strategic view. Yet the overwhelming majority (94%) of HR Directors believe that empowering line managers to make people decisions is a top priority.

This desire isn’t being felt by line managers. Almost half (44%) feel disempowered and a further 50% do not agree that they have adequate support from HR to be a good manager. Almost half (48%) find that their HR team is slow to respond to requests, while a further 40% feel that HR actively block them from making decisions themselves. Two thirds (66%) say that HR closely guards information and data.

There’s discontent from the other side, too. Almost two-thirds (64%) of HR Directors said that line managers expect immediate responses to queries and are unforgiving if the process takes longer. 

Encouragingly, the will for closer participation is clearly there. HR directors want to empower line managers and line managers want to deliver the right experience to their employees. The thing is, you can’t really blame a line manager for not having information they need. If we want line managers to effectively manage staff – the research is clear that line managers are absolutely crucial when it comes to engagement – we need to provide them with the information they need to do so.

So if the HR department has to ‘hand hold’ line managers, they shouldn’t be complaining. It’s their fault that the information line managers need isn’t more easily accessible. And in fact, if line managers are going to Google to get information, it shows they’re bought-in to the company. But it might not last if they feel unsupported.

And there's another question at play here too, for another time: is there information that Google is actually better placed to provide than the HR department? And if so, how should this be communicated to line managers?

4 Responses

  1. All great comments here.

    All great comments here. sjdunphy, your comment reminded me of a talk I saw recently by Dan Pink, author of Drive. He said we've gone from living in a world of information asymmetry to information parity where you know as much as the person who has the 'authority.' Basically this stops people being able to placate you, which is only a good thing, in the world and in our businesses. 

    And Joanna – completely agree. HR musn't become so blinded by the 'seat in the boardroom' that they forget the employees they're there to support.

  2. The necessary Googlisation of HR

    Google has changed our world and generally enriched our access to information.  Of course, there are downsides in terms of the risks of information overload and inaccurate or incomplete information.  Because there is little or no stewardship of content there are a number of inherent challenges with the quality of crowd-sourced information. Having said that Google will not go away. It is front and centre of the way most of us gain access to Internet content. Our behaviour has changed to the extent that many of us now prefer to type a few words few words into the address bar and rely of the browser's search capability rather than memorise a website URL.

    So, what does this mean for HR?  I think it suggests that HR tools and technology are beginning to show their age. To be blunt, the typical HR system is too often clunky, rigid in structure and confusing for line managers and employees.  Most of them rely on menus and tree structures to get to the information you want.  Generally, end-users have to be prepared to spend time finding their way around the system in order to do simple tasks.  Traditionally, there has been very little context-sensitive workflow and to much visible complexity around database structures and report writing.  Compared with Google Search (or other equivalents such as Bing) it all feels dated and obscure. HR Policies may be held in a different place to the transactional HR system, some HR forms amy be on a shared drive, some of the answers may still be on a spreadsheet held by an HR Business Partner.

    We are now living in an age where the majority of workforce may well have access to better technology at home than they do at work, e.g. fast broadband, smart phones, tablets, always connected 3G or 4G.  While many companies are still in the world of networked Windows XP and locked down desktops our workforces, especially Gen Y, are living in world where access to information is easy and most updates are automated. The result is growing frustration with the ability of HR to deliver context-sensitive advice and guidance.

    The answer is not that we should direct Managers to Google (a little unverified knowledge can be a dangerous thing), but that we should invest in next generation HR systems that work more like Google Search. As a customer you have the right to challenge your HRIS provider about their future technology roadmap and timescales and take advantage of the trends in Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud (SMAC) evolution.        

  3. I’m not surprised

    I work for a small company and I'm there to offer advice to managers as and when.  But I l do know of a lot of large organisations (including the one I worked previously)  where HR are "too busy" or "too business partnering" or "too strategic" to offer day-to-day HR and employment law advice to their managers. Shame!

  4. Is Google the new HR Department

    Two clear questions emerge that have to be addressed by the business leaders, including the HR Director/leader:

    a. What does the business expect of HR in terms of day to day transactional support versus so-called 'strategic HR'. This is likely to need to be explained by the HR lead as some aspects may not be obvious to other leaders.

    b. How much is the business prepared to provide by way of a budget for this. 

    If b. allows a. to be achieved – no problem.

    If, as is more likely, there is insufficient resource, then a good HR lead will set out the pros and cons of various options in a balanced way and get the agreement and support of the rest of the board. Then all this has to be explained to the staff. Any significant shortfall in the aspect of HR that cannot be achieved by the HR team is either acknowledged and accepted as a risk to be tolerated or treated by transferring certain responsibilities to others within the business. 


    Pat Driscoll


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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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