Personnel Administration – Limitations and achievements

The limitations of Personnel Administration are not hard to perceive. They are indeed admitted by most of the people in the field at least by implication. The constant worry of all personnel administrators is their inability to prove that they are making a contribution to the enterprise. Their preoccupation is with the search for a “gimmick” that will impress their management associates. Their persistent complaint is that they lack status. For personnel administration using the term in its common usage is largely a collection of incidental techniques without much internal cohesion. Some body once said maliciously that it puts together and calls “personnel management” all those things that do not deal with the work of people and that are not management.

There is, unfortunately some justice to the gibe. As personnel administration conceives the job of managing worker and work, it is partly a file clerk’s job, partly a housekeeping job, partly a social worker’s job and partly “fire fighting” to head off union trouble or to settle it. The things the personnel administrator is typically responsible for safety and pension plans, the suggestion system, the employment office ad union grievances are necessary chores. They are mostly unpleasant chores. They should be put together in one department; for they are too heterogeneous, as one look at the organization chart of the typical personnel department, or at the table of contents of the typical textbook on personnel management, will show. They are neither one function by kinship of skills required to carry the activities, or are they one function by being linked together in the work process, by forming distinct stage in the work of the manager or in the process of the business.

None of these activities is in itself of such a nature as to call for more than moderate capacity in its management. None by itself has a major impact upon the business. Putting a great many if these activities together in one function does not produce a major function entitled to representatives in top management or requiring the services of a top executive. For it is quality that is, the kind of work ad its impact upon the business that alone makes a major function to define the orbit of a senior executive.

Even if these things were best assembled into one department, they would not add up to managing people. They have indeed little to do with the job to be done in this area. That personnel department as a rule stays away from the management of the enterprise’s most important human resources, managers, has already been mentioned. It also generally avoids the two most important areas in the management of workers: the organization of the work, and the organization of people to do work. It accepts both as it finds them. There are exceptions to be sure. A notable one is the Sears, roebuck personnel department; but it is no accident that personnel work in Sears did not start with Personnel Administration at all, but with the management of managers.

The reason for the sterility of Personnel Administration is its tree basic misconceptions. First it assumes that people do not want to work. Work as a kind of punishment that people must undergo in order to get satisfaction elsewhere. It tends therefore to put emphasis on satisfactions outside and beyond the work. Secondly, Personnel Administration looks upon the management of worker and work as the job of a specialist rather than as part of the manager’s job. It is the classical example of a staff department and of the confusion the staff concept causes. To be sure, there is constant talk in all personnel department of the need to educate operating managers in managing people. But 90 per cent of the budget, manpower and effort is devoted to personnel program, thought up, established and operated by the department. The best textbook of personnel Administration for instance, starts out by saying that the two first jobs of the personnel administrator are to advise operating management and to diagnose the stability or morale of the organization as an effective team. But then it spends 301 of its 321 pages on the programs that the department itself organizes and manages.

This means, in effect, either that personnel administration has to usurp the functions and responsibility of the operating manager (since whoever manages the people under him is the “boss,” whatever his title); or else means that operating managers, in self defense, have to confine personnel administration to the handling of incidental chores, that is, to those things that are not essential to the management of worker and work. It is not surprising that the latter been the all universal trend.

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