HR-bashing has been one of the professional world’s most popular pastimes since well before the viral 2005 Fast Company article, “Why We Hate HR,” which summed it all up: The department is seen by many as “a dark bureaucratic force that blindly enforces nonsensical rules, resists creativity, and impedes constructive change.”
But for companies that are trying to change—whether to become better corporate citizens or simply more successful—a smart and flexible HR department is crucial. No matter how lofty the goals of a visionary founder or chief executive, it’s difficult for those goals to be achieved without the right people and the right support in place. As Patty McCord, a former chief talent officer at Netflix, told me:
You wouldn’t think of going to another country or doing a new initiative or changing the direction of the company without having a CFO in the room to be able to model what it is going to cost. You also shouldn’t be able to think about any of those things without having the person in the room that says, “Do we have the right people to pull that off?”
“Pulling that off” starts with what McCord calls “the muscle of every company”: recruiting. The wave of Baby Boomer retirements is already causing angst across industries: The Society for Human Resource Management reports that by next year one-third of the U.S. labor force will be over 50 years old, up from 27 percent in 2007. Michelin North America, the tire manufacturing company, told NPR that more than 40 percent of its workforce is approaching retirement age.
But given the interests and demands of the next generation to fill the corporate ranks, companies can’t simply replace what they lose. According to a Deloitte survey earlier this year, 47 percent of Millennials believe that the “purpose of business is to ‘improve society/protect the environment.’” Eighty-three percent of the 3,000 MBA students polled by the nonprofit Net Impact would take a 15 percent salary cut “for a job that makes a social or environmental difference in the world” (a positive difference, one would presume).