Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Washing dirty linen in public is generally considered to be mauvais ton. However, if your life somewhat lacks an edge and you are up for a guerrilla war with you former and current colleagues, go ahead and start talking about what you really think of the people who work with you.

No, I would not allow myself to speak about personalities here but I would like to share certain observations on people who normally work at HR departments. Irrespective of geographical, industrial or cultural differences, you will always encounter certain "archetypes" lurking in set-aside HR areas, often concealed by physical and imaginary protection of fireproof archive cabinets and employment laws.

School Teachers, aka Nose-Wipers. This category believe that their sole dedication in life is to satisfy every whim of other employees and particularly the line managers (not to confuse with Pleasers, who will be discussed later). School Teachers consider everyone else in the company incapable of performing basic tasks related to personnel administration or people management. They are happy to do all that for others in their working and free time. Often altruistic to their own detriment. One can only be amazed at their commitment and ability to do so much (unnecessary) work. Their problem is that old one from the story about the hell and good intentions. By helping other employees do what they are actually supposed to do themselves, School Teachers disempower the system overall and prevent accumulation of corporate knowledge. Prophylactics: design simple rules - Teachers are exceptionally perceptive to those and willing to comply.

Academics. Often come in packages "two for the price of one", basically with a PhD, or you can a discounted one with a Master's degree in Psychology, Sociology, or any other related field, as long as it does not involve engineering, numbers or solid factual base. They know exactly what is wrong and how to make the company a better place. Not infrequently refer to themselves as "God's sent gift" and take personal offence when their suggestions and deftly powerpointed solutions to world hunger problems end up in the rubbish bin. Diagnosis: too smart for their own good, but struggling to marry theoretical concepts with the harsh business reality, which is often immune to classical book answers.

Keepers-of-the-Keys (sometimes referred to as Paper-Shifters). The pillars of the organization. They are the brick wall against labor inspections, litigations, locust infestations and invasions by Martians. They excel in keeping records, calculating salaries, fighting with tax authorities, sticking to the interview questionnaires, following all the relevant rules, procedures and guidelines to the letter. It is thanks to this category of employees that there is consistency in application of policies that we design for ourselves and then want to change to satisfy a need of a particularly loud expat or an arrogant general manager (see Pleasers). Suggested treatment: relaxxxx!

Pleasers. Most dangerous type, should be avoided at all cost. Early detection and extermination can save the company a lot of money in both hidden and explicit costs. These employees are deal-makers, looking after personal gain in most cases, and therefore willing to bend rules and other parts of their bodies when an opportunity presents. For them, the term "a grey area" is not something foreign - that is where they feel most comfortable. Condition: terminal... eradicate...

Businessmen. True business partners. They understand why they are where they are, they know the rules of engagement, know the roles and play by the rules. They gain respect very quickly, both with employees and the management. Whatever they do, there is always a balance between the business need and employees interests. The phrase "business conscience" is about them: that is why often they find themselves in very uncomfortable situations when line managers are pushing for a short cut. At the same time, Businessmen understand that their primary role is to deliver maximum value, hence flexibility and tailored approach. Prescription: encouragement and challenges.

By all means, not exhaustive and very (I repeat - very) generic, but when I think back to my years of experience in HR, I can easily map people against those five types (and surely there are no "clean" types, so there are multiple combinations). There is however one quality that HR folks share—a heart for people and true dedication to their profession.

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