A.S.S.R.O.I.D. — The New Acronym for HR
At some point in our relatively recent past, there was a particular department called the ‘Personnel Department.’ Over time, it transitioned into ‘Human Resources’ and now, simply ‘HR’. Does anyone know exactly what this means beside employee regulations and benefits administration? Is it more appropriate today to say it is the business function that steers the company’s future success and stability? Either way, most people have a direct experienced, or perceived notion to the acronym and likely, at least one unbelievable story to tell.
From my own experience and the stories I have read and hear firsthand, I think we should refer to it as what it seems to have largely become, especially for many of the larger publicly traded companies and government run institutions. And that is the ASSROID Department. Which stands for:
Advisors to the Secretive System of Regulatory, Occupational and Institutional Defense. I hope this doesn’t offend those that have a true employee-focused and cultivating spirit in the HR function. This is for the ones behind the stories and the realities of a function that has changed that is for the business’ objectives, not the development and protection of the people that are, the human resources.
We really need to find a place where there is a minimizing of fear, coercion, and intimidation, and a maximizing straight-shooting clarity.
As Keith H. Hammonds, deputy editor of Fast Company puts it, “perhaps now we can stop the asinine annual performance appraisals?” Having worked for more than one large corporate entity, I know that there is a high probability that as you are sitting down with your manager having what Clair Lew calls the Shit Sandwich (the good-bad-good 10 minute way to criticize your performance) the results of your performance evaluation have already been submitted into “the system.” There is nothing you can do or say that can change it, even if your manager sincerely agrees. Keep in mind that it is not uncommon to learn that your manager had minimal real input into your appraisal, unless, those above them agrees.
Not all, but certainly many of the performance reviews are nothing more than a depressing facade of genuineness. From my own experience and having an MBTI personality type that is 3-5% of the population, these reviews spend most of the time on areas of natural weakness after a half-assed high five for the things done well. Skills that almost come too naturally to spend time discussing and were things that were intriguingly irritating to upper management. Such as bringing new opportunities in faster than the organization could handle.
This reminds me of two quotes from Peter Drucker that everyone should know:
“Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong. More often, people know what they are not good at — and even then more people are wrong than right. And yet, a person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weaknesses, let alone on something one cannot do at all.”
“One should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence.”
Performance reviews are not a dialogue process where you can be candid and your manager actively listens, you know, a dialogue. Rather it is a diplomatic monolog of why you are not special and have areas to work on for next year. This is ASSROID’s process for protecting the company from you while hopefully emotionally manipulating you into thinking twice about dusting off that resume. Why would you with all the deficiencies you need to work on? You see, ASSROID does not work for you nor do they particularly care about you or even your manager for that matter. They are there to serve the shareholders and the CFO.
ASSROID is in the protection business. They are hired contractors; semi-retired agents from Men In Black who excel at mediocrity and getting away with, well, stuff. Masters of “relative terms” also known as buzzwords and use red tape as the buffer of doing actual work.
The best story I have heard recently is from a friend who was verbally promised a raise for taking on a challenging role. This role was suddenly vacated by the way, by someone who could no longer take it the stress despite considerable monetary incentives to stay. There was no doubt that this job was going to increase my friend’s stress, by orders of magnitude. Despite the clear understanding it would be challenging, they agreed to do it for a relatively small amount of additional compensation. This person simply asked for it in writing. Each week that passed brought forward a different reason this request could not be fulfilled. After about two months of asking, after having already taken on the role, HR finally responded with, “we don’t have a template for that kind of letter.” I am not making this up kids.
What Drives the ASSROID?
ASSROID is focused on words and numbers. Words that can be spun into relativity for which everyone has a different interpretation, therefore, there are ‘alignment and consensus’ challenges in the organization to hide behind (versus clarity and accountability to it.)
The numbers are the magic are they not? The numbers can be created even if by buffering cost allocation buckets and bottom-line “squeezing blood out of the turnip,” as my Dad used to always say. They can squeeze payroll while at the same time pay a 3rd party consultant to show how they are “top quartile” for both pay and benefits. How many times have you seen red tape be the reason positions are left open for long enough to squeeze a drop or two of bottom-line blood while simultaneously pressure testing the department if the position could be indefinitely absorbed?
This reminds me of another great quote by Peter Drucker:
“Management by Objectives can turn into management by targets and quotas, with workers spending more time chasing the numbers than doing the real work.”
Is it just me or can this quote be felt?
No offense to anyone who currently resides in the ASSROID department. But the truth is your department likely doesn’t understand the true needs of the business the company is in (see the article on collective ignorance). The intentions might very well be legit, but the specific actions are just not always aligned with what really makes a difference inside the organization. Or, how it functions and is perceived, outside of the organization.
I have talked with people that have been on the inside of this department that have admitted they have to tolerate the inter-departmental manager ego tug-of-wars for top talent and resource control. They added that it simply “is what it is” most of the time. They carry the same baton for the regime and have to give lip service to those who may need real help. For example, you have no choice but to turn a blind eye to the trap of the “open door policy.” You might even have an ASSROID-issued towel for wiping off fingerprints. And, you know quite well what the Peter Principle is because you job is to work with or for those that fit the definition of, “promoted beyond their level of competence.”
What does ‘Effective Communication’ even mean?
Communications, or rather ‘Effective Communications’ is what you hear across the entire human capital industry. It is listed in nearly every job posting yet corporate leaders are dumbfounded when asked to explain what they mean by it (beyond using more relative terms.) A friend of mine in the recruiting business did this study with their entire client database to find that more than 90% could not articular a clear and consistent answer. They also realized that their most profitable customers were the sickest. Why? Because they were always in need of new talent to replace the ones that have left the company. In many ways, headhunters feed off of corporate dysfunction.
3 Quick Checks to See if a Company Might be Sick From Their Job Posting
I have a theory when it comes to job postings. I take every opportunity to test it and so far the hypothesis is solidly true. The theory is you can tell a lot about a company’s health and how much control the ASSROID department has by how they write their job postings. Here are 3 shortcuts:
- If it is long, they are sick. It might not be clear what stage of cancer they are in, but if left untreated they (the company) will die, i.e. sold, acquired or restructured.
- If they proudly make it clear that they are a “matrix organization” they are sick. This means they take Weberian Bureaucracy seriously and have the Peter Principle to prove it with mostly incompetent or the disgruntled competent left with any real years of experience.
- If they say they are a “Process-Oriented Company” just run. Stop reading immediately. And be thankful you read this article.
I have an example of a job posting to share. This is a real job posting for an inside sales position. The name of the company and specific market references have been removed. When it was given to me for my thoughts on the position, I got stuck on just about every sentence. Each sentence was wordy and relative, and it almost seemed purposeful. By the end of it, I thought to myself, “okay so they are asking for a Super Hero to assume all the responsibility and accountability, but with no direct control of the resources. This person has to use their salesmanship and ‘effective communication’ skills to win the support of the managers that control the actual resources.”
So I took the posting and made an overhaul of it. I made it much more clear as to what they really mean with each part. I hope you find it as entertaining and humorous as it was for me in making these much-needed edits!
Okay, so if this didn’t make you laugh, I don’t know what to tell you. This job posting is the case study in how to say lots of stuff while saying absolutely nothing. Well, except to show how sick your organization is. This is the job description equivalent of a shady van full of shadier clowns stopping and asking you if you need a ride anywhere.
I hope this blog entertained you, made you laugh a little but also open your awareness to this clear and present reality. I cringe when I hear people tell other people who are leaving a company that, “you need to be honest in your exit interview!” My only solstice in their genuine and compelling feeling to fight for justice is that it is far better, to be honest on the way out then when you are still inside. Sick companies find it insulting if you have the audacity to leave them. Only rarely would they ever let you come back anyway.
I apologize again for any of you in HR functions and you are with a healthy company that values its employees and does its best to serve the internal customers. You are the exception to what appears to be a growing rule of why I am suggesting HR is not about resources that are human as much as the protection of the company.