A Cancerous Growth. Really, Mr. Lutz?!

If you’re looking for more rants of the “Why I Hate HR” variety, you might want to check out a recent C-Span ‘After Words’ podcast (Oct. 5) featuring Robert Lutz, the former vice chair of General Motors who’s now pushing his latest book, Icons and Idiots: Straight Talk on Leadership.

Lutz is interviewed by Debbie Dingell, a former General Motors’ executive who’s now with the American Automotive Policy Council (and is the wife of U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.).

159271486I just happened to cross paths (figuratively speaking) with the podcast on a commute home from work. About halfway through, Lutz starts to share his thoughts about programs du jour before offering up his not-very-positive (to put it mildly) assessment of HR.

Lutz, known for his bluntness, starts off by calling human resources “a cancerous growth in the side of American industry.” Hmmmm … . He then goes on to say …

Human resources used to be: Keep track of people, keep their human resource records, and make sure they get paid, and serve the right ones up for raises periodically. But human resources has expanded into all kinds of programs … that grow and grow and grow.

They are the instigator of many of these enormously time-consuming, bureaucracy-creating new initiatives that everybody tends to believe in … . It’s just a colossal waste of time.”

Lutz says he saw this at Chrysler, Ford and — even more so — General Motors. Lutz’ solution?

If human resources was either outsourced or cut down, back to its basic function of keeping basic records and making sure people get paid and that the promotional increases take place, I think we’d all be a lot better off, because they create way more work than they actually alleviate.”

Lutz goes on to specifically criticize GM’s performance-management system, known as PFP, “where we spend literally hours or days developing next year’s goals and quantifying them all, checking them against last year’s and then having meetings to check they were aligned with everyone else’s goals. Then when it was all done, you’d put it in the desk drawer and never look at [it] again.” (Apparently, Lutz made a similar point in his previous book, Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business.)

Dingell’s response to all this? “You speak the truth.”

(It’s worth noting that Dingell did, however, follow Lutz’ tirade with this question: “Why aren’t any women leaders featured in your book?”  Apparently, it’s an observation some book reviewers mentioned. His response was he never reported to a senior female leader.)

I have to say, Lutz doesn’t pull his punches in sharing what he thinks of HR. And truth be told, the function over the years has probably been responsible for far too many programs du jour. But to call it a cancer growth. Really!?

Though Lutz is hardly the first to take aim at the profession, it’s unfortunate to see a business leader of his stature (a senior executive at all three major automakers, though never a CEO) fail to comprehend the varied and significant ways HR can add value to a business.