Think that HR is an orthodox set of practices with absolute rights and wrongs? Think again, Bunky.
Here’s something you should know: Every time I meet a true believer in anything, my skin crawls. On the top of my list of creepy orthodoxies are religious zealots, radical environmentalists, evangelical vegans, teetotalers, homophobes, racists, sexists, and HR leaders who swear off outsourcing unless it’s blessed by a shaman (or a high-priced sourcing advisor).
As for me, I swore off religious orthodoxy for Lent. Actually, I use Lent as air cover. I’m not really Catholic. It’s just that I married a Frenchwoman, so I pretend to be Catholic so as not to weird out the Francophone locals when I flash my French passport, butcher their language, and gulp down their grape. For the record, my wife pretends, too. About being Catholic, that is. Crossing herself near a church, she says, is like wearing a headscarf in Baghdad. It’s an act of respect and of fitting in. Oh, and fear of angering a True Believer enough to get stabbed.
Don’t get me wrong—recruitment-minded atheists are nearly as irritating as those maniacs who bang at my door on the weekend to save my soul (for a small monthly donation). For those of you who have yet to read this century’s best atheist anthem—Christopher Hitchens’ new best-selling hardcover God Is Not Great (How Religion Poisons Everything)—here’s my one-sentence summary and review: If you think that your religious beliefs are the end-all and be-all, what about the hundreds of other cults and crazies who tell similar stories about why their flavor of deity-worship makes all other believers doomed to eternal damnation? Hitchens is très à la mode right now, which makes him both a good read and TV-friendly. But it’s not his atheism, but rather his argument against orthodoxies of all flavors, that has turned me into a raving fan.
And then there are the environmental fundamentalists. Some of them are just plain old goofy, like actor Keanu Reeves, who chained himself to the Golden Gate Bridge. Others spike trees to kill chainsaw-using lumberjacks or attack fishing boats with net-cutters. My favorite recent example of enviro-orthodoxy-bashing, however, is Fast Company magazine’s September 2007 cover story by Danielle Sacks entitled, “He Sold His Soul to Wal-Mart.” The piece chronicles the case of former Sierra Club President Adam Werbach, who abandoned the ultra-orthodox environmental movement in favor of starting a sustainability consultancy whose largest client is (horror of horrors!) Wal-Mart. Today, his ulti-green buddies have become ex-buddies, some refusing even to acknowledge his existence. You go, Adam.
But to my mind, some of the most grating of the super-superstitious are among our brethren of all genders in the HR field, to whom outsourcing is a taboo, unless a high-priced sourcing advisor recommends the vendor and inoculates the HR person against blame if something goes wrong.
Reality is, despite the fact that 65 percent of Russell 1,000 organizations have outsourced three or more HR functions, a remarkable number of HR leaders still believe that HRO violates their orthodox commitment to purely in-house HR practices.
I hear the arguments all the time. “Our company’s needs are unique.” “Nobody can understand how to deal with our people except our people.” “I don’t want to share our secrets with outsiders.”
I wish I could say that the anti-HRO bias was generational or gender-based or geographically skewed. But I know just as many young-ish as old-ish true believers in the in-house HR faith, and just as many females as males, and just as many in California as in Cleveland.
You’ve got to give the sourcing advisors credit. Using mind-bendingly detailed buying frameworks and matrices, they have crushed some pretty hard-core HRO-haters. They have successfully sold the ultimate form of job protection for HR buyers. HR buyers love carrying this card in their wallet: “I didn’t pick that vendor, the sourcing advisor did.” The sourcing advisory industry has to realize that its most important value proposition is that it gives clients the ability to point fingers. As it turns out, anti-outsourcing HR leaders are true believers in only one thing: CYA.