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Is "Employer of Choice" the Wrong Answer to the Right Question?

Last week, I made my annual plea to HR pros everywhere not to over-react to the latest "doesn't HR suck?" article - this year's installment comes from comments riffed by Rutgers professor, Richard Beatty, and reported here in the article "Don't Trust HR" at

No reason to overreact to articles like this - instead, the smart HR pro spends their time trying to be Employer of choicebetter, so the business peers around them don't feel like they fit the stereotype.

But you can always learn and be challenged, even from the shock jocks.  One item that caught my eye from Beatty's comments was his questioning of the wisdom of attempting to be an "employer of choice".  Here's what Beatty said via the excerpt:

"Human resources is also behind what Beatty called the "silly" idea that a company should try to be the "employer of choice." If you are the employer of choice, he asked rhetorically, who's going to be applying for your jobs? "Everybody and their dog's brother," he said. "You want people who are excited, enthused, and understand how to contribute to what you do, as opposed to those who simply want to find a good place to hide out."

Beatty said that it is most important to think outside the HR department box when it comes to filling strategic positions that create the bulk of a company's value. To that end, he suggested that companies might be better off appointing someone from outside the HR department to manage strategic talent. He pointed to Precision Castparts Corp., a $7 billion machine-parts manufacturer, as one company that has bypassed HR in several situations. For one, it reassigned an operations executive who ran a third of the company's 150 plants to take control of scouting for and retaining strategic talent.

Such tactics are warranted because while "the language of organizations is numbers, HR isn't very good at data analytics," Beatty said. "They don't think like business people. Many of them entered human resources because they wanted to help people, which I'm all for, but I'm also for building winning organizations."

The conventional wisdom that Beatty challenges is worth noting.  Is it worth your time attepting to be an employer of choice, espeically when your branding/culture dollars are going to attract more average performers than superstars?  Examples like Google come to mind, which has emerged as perhaps THE employer of choice in the new digtial world, but has simply fallen back on the old "we like to hire PhD's" as a simple threshold to prove that they have hired the best.

That's something, but doesn't necessarily prove ROI on the employer of choice investment.  How many bootstrapped pros with sharp elbows and much game have they passed on as a result?

So, Beatty's riff on employer of choice is interesting but flawed, and leaves me with the age old question of how I pick the superstar from the crowd of 100 candidates for my next open spot.  More art than science, I'm afraid, regardless of whether you are a Rutgers professor or a VP of HR in the software biz in the Southeast.

As for bypassing HR to manage talent similar to the Precision Castparts case study, I'm all for it if the non-HR world can beat HR at the Talent Management game. 

Hey Professor - can you share the talent metrics being used at Precision that give them a competitive advantage?  Or is the consensus that the non-HR executive simply has a better "gut" at judging talent than the HR pros at Precision?  I'd love to know more.

Not ranting or even asking you to trust me to run the business - just want to learn more...



Joanne Bintliff-Ritchie

I once accepted a position as the CHRO for a mid-sized company after the COO told me in the interview "this is a great company to work for, but it is not a great company". I think in a way he and Dick were saying the same thing. A great place to work can attract lots of applicants that the company doesn't want; and, it risks a high percentage of employee satisfaction without contribution. Screening, interviewing and performance management techniques must be extremely good to weed out all the external wannabees and the employees who quit on the job. A "wonderful" work environment can lull people into passivity. A truly great place to work does not do this. It challenges, motivates, develops, and rewards. So, being a great place work is a necessary but not sufficient factor in an organization being a great company. But I would rather start there than the opposite.

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