A black hole is phenomenon where a celestial body like our Sun gets compacted into the size of a tiny dot. Because the gravitational force of such an object grows in inverse proportion to its size (the square of the size, to be exact), the pull of such a body grows so strong that even its own light can’t escape it. This gives rise to a phenomenon that can only be detected by the force it exerts on other bodies around it. Because it can’t be seen, it’s called a black hole. Originally theorized by Albert Einstein, scientists have now confirmed that black holes do exist. In fact, it’s assumed that a black hole exists at the center of our galaxy, Milky Way.
So why on Earth do people call their Human Resource (HR) departments a black hole?
“It’s where everything goes in and nothing comes out,” explained a colleague when I asked her the question. She was referring to the phenomenon where job candidates never see a response from HR departments after sending in their resumes. But the same phenomenon has also been described in the context of how useful - or useless - the HR departments are to the rest of the organization, such as its employees seeking information or the managers looking to fill positions.
The complaints of bad service are not confined to HR departments. Information Services (IS) is another department and Marketing and Accounting occasionally also show up in the mix.
Why is this a universal complaint? For one reason: They don’t have a customer (or so they think).
Let me explain. Most organizations could be thought of as split into two parts: 1) That which serves their external customers and 2) that which serves their internal customers.
Examples of the departments that serve your external customers are sales, marketing (often, not always), customer service, manufacturing, product design and development.
Examples of departments that serve your internal customers are HR, IS, and parts of Quality Assurance, Accounting, Marketing and Legal.
(If you sell to businesses, this is also a powerful way to think about the prospective clients’ internal decision-making process and pinpoint who the real decision makers are in their organization. More about that another time.)
The reason why most HR and IT departments seem unhelpful is that they think they don’t have a customer. The fact is, of course, they do have a customer: the employees of your company. When it is communicated to them convincingly that the employees of your business are their customers, they will do a much better job of working with your employees and treat them with the respect and attention they deserve.
Try the following with your head of HR (or your HR person if you have only one). You might want to do this in private to avoid embarrassment that may result if they struggle.
Ask them this question: Who is your customer? Most of them will struggle for an answer, which is ok. But if they can’t ultimately come to the conclusion that the employees of your business are their customers, you have some work to do.
In the latter case, you may want to follow up with another question: Do you think that the employees of our company are your customers? Their response, verbal and non-verbal, could tell you volumes about their mindset and how they view their job.
HR is just as important as all the other functions in a business. A well-designed HR department could serve as a source of support and inspiration for the rest of the organization.
Copyright 2013 Bhavesh Naik. All rights reserved.
Bhavesh Naik is the Founder and Creative Director of Awayre, LLC, a management consulting and human resource development firm specializing in activating the hidden power of a business process by engaging its people’s awareness. Awayre, LLC is a pioneer in bringing human awareness to the field of management and human resource development as its structural and fundamental component.