HR is out of sync with IT work

The world of IT work has changed significantly in the past three years. Have the practices of human resource departments kept up? Do the humans in the IT department pay anything more than lip service to the policies and practices of the HR department? Is HR a roadblock on IT’s journey to create value for the enterprise?

These were the topics that filled a recent day-long discussion at UCLA’s Managing the Information Resource program.

Along with the results of ongoing surveys conducted at the IT Leadership Academy and polls of the hundreds of alpha practitioners who attended Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference two weeks ago, that discussion reveals a growing concern that HR, while critical to the effective functioning of IT, is in many ways out of touch with the current realities of how IT work actually gets done.

Here are some examples:

IT practitioners say job descriptions cease being relevant after someone has been doing the work for six months or so. The job the employee actually does after that initial period typically morphs into something very different, but job descriptions are rarely updated. The problem is that many widely deployed HR practices were created for Industrial-Age work environments.

It’s time for an HR upgrade to the Age of Big Information. The work of contingent or temporary employees, who may constitute as much as 80 per cent of the head count in many IT shops, is typically counted and measured very differently than that of full-time workers, giving a distorted view.

Thus, although HR may boast that it has reduced or held the line on IT head count, more people may actually be working on IT projects than ever before.

A stunning 89 per cent of the IT executives queried at the Premier 100 conference said that their organizations aren’t spending enough on grooming the next generation of IT leaders; 51 per cent said their organizations are spending “way too little” in this area.

And “HR doesn’t get IT” is not just a North American plaint. Recent research conducted by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. shows that boards of directors and senior executives in Europe have similar concerns.

One thing is certain: Organizations are going to be spending increasing amounts of time on IT management issues. One of the attributes of high-performance companies is that there is a great, not just good, relationship between the HR and IT organizations.

One of the leading experts on HR management, professor David Lewin of the Anderson School at UCLA, says IT leaders should be talking to their HR colleagues about an HR management portfolio with these eight facets: job and work design; selection and staffing; performance appraisal; compensation and rewards; training and development; employee relations; safety, health and wellness; and workforce diversity.

Work in the Age of Big Information is not a matter of just showing up and doing something that takes more brawn than brains. HR in many organizations seems both disconnected from the goals of the corporation and insensitive, almost to the point of malfeasance, to the emerging needs of a highly skilled IT workforce.

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— May is a longtime industry observer and commentator. Contact him at

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