IT, HR can be better partners

It wasn’t so long ago that the ears of newly made, tech-aware senior executives were ringing with Chicken-Little-like laments predicting an apocalyptic IT skills shortage. Alarmists counselled executives to pay any price, bear any burden, hire any chef and fund every amenity to help make high-performance IT employees happy.

The Silicon Valley press was filled with stories of companies creating spa-like environments to attract IT professionals with the right stuff.

Two cottage industries emerged: the “trackers” (recruiting firms that, for a handsome bounty, would ruthlessly target and solicit sought-after skills) and the “smackers” (firms that would design high-visibility lifestyle programs designed to kiss the butts of gold-collar employees). The primary focus of human resources departments appeared to have been in serving as the entry point for employees.

But it appears that the days of Caligulan excess are over. Indeed, not only is the party over, but people are also being forcefully removed from the dance floor (that is, getting laid off). Many HR professionals, previously charged with finding high-skill employees, are now trying to get rid of them and having to be the bad guys where they once were good guys.

I freely admit that some of my best friends are HR directors. They are much more than their perception as being gatekeepers to new employees, rump kissers to the still-employed and bouncers to those on the way out. They serve the much-needed role of therapist, guide, cheerleader, truth definer and role model/disciplinarian in our increasingly high-stress workplaces.

I predict that the most valuable conversations taking place in organizations during the next five years will be those between IT, HR and marketing. This is a radical departure from mainstream thinking. During the dark days of downsizing and IT pogroms that accompanied the economic downturn of the late ’70s and early ’80s, the one point of happiness for CIOs was that everyone in the organization hated HR more than they hated IT. IT professionals have indicated to me that while they wish for a better relationship with HR, they view it as part of the problem.

In most organizations, the history of the interactions between HR and IT more closely resembles that of the Hatfields and the McCoys rather than the collaboration of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy. IT leaders have a vested interest in working with HR. You can’t “give good IT” without good IT people, and you won’t have affordable, good IT people if you don’t have a great working relationship with HR. It’s more than a source of skills.

The sensitive management of customer information can only be accomplished by a full-body partnership between IT, HR and marketing. This is the heart and soul of the new enterprise. Industrial and individual customers have become increasingly sensitive to how their information is managed. Our tamper-resistant information systems can only be as secure and the customer information entrusted to us can only be as private as our employees choose to make them.

Observers of top-of-the-house executive behaviours will tell you that HR professionals are rebelling against their historical ghettoization as gatekeepers or bouncers, depending on economic circumstance, and are rejecting the role of being litigation insulators and having to say, “Make sure we don’t get sued when we fire people.”

HR is lobbying to play a key design role in creating the culture of the increasingly unbounded organization. IT should support those efforts.

May is the corporate futurist and chief awareness officer at Guardent Inc. in Waltham, Mass. Contact him at