Business Leaders Pin Blame on HR For Worsening Shortage of Talent

Recruiting gets the best of the bad news from business leaders, who say a lack of support from HR is largely to blame for the worsening shortage of talent and skills in their work groups.

Leaders of finance, IT, procurement, and other units of some 145 major global businesses reporting getting such low levels of support from their colleagues in human resources that few of them say they are satisfied with any of the department’s key talent management services.

Even in recruiting and staffing, where the largest number of leaders report receiving at least some level of service, 65 percent of them say they are dissatisfied.

Some 79% of executives dissatisfied with HR

The study by global business consultants The Hackett Group found HR provided a full range of services only in recruiting and only in 13 percent of the 145 companies surveyed; 47 percent more said HR provided at least some recruiting services.

But in the five other areas studied in Hackett’s most recent HR Book of Numbers research, the service levels dropped precipitously. In retention, for instance, only 17 percent of the respondents said HR provided at least some service. Only 1 percent reported getting a full range of service and expertise.

In no instance, according to the study, did any of the executive express anything close to satisfaction with the help they got from HR. Recruiting and staffing services came out the least bad of the lot, but only by a percent. The worst was in HR’s collaboration and sharing of knowledge where 79 percent of the executives said they were dissatisfied.

The problems stem from both the changing nature of HR as well as the budget cuts human resources has suffered in the last several years, according to the authors of Cracks in the Foundation: Closing the Critical Skills Gap Undermining Business Capabilities:

One key explanation for HR’s inability to effectively support talent management needs of business services is that HR has had a hard time adapting to its changing mission of enabling business performance. At many companies, HR budget and staff cuts made during the recent recession remain in effect, impacting on talent management programs, along with training, career development, and retention programs.”

Wanted: “a better job of defining and prioritizing … skills”

Contributing to HRs lack of collaboration and sharing is that “few HR organizations have a dedicated business partner role responsible for communicating and understanding the talent management needs of business services functions like finance, IT, and others.”

While recruiting is where HR provides the strongest support to business services, the report notes, “it is also the least effective talent management category employed by business services.” Here, some of the fault rides with the leaders of the business units who “must do a better job of defining and prioritizing the skills and characteristics that are truly essential for job candidates to have.”

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The Hackett Group Chief Research Officer Michel Janssen says, “Today’s changing business environment requires that business services organizations retool and radically change their mix of staff to improve their ability to directly impact on business performance. Talent management is key, and business services can’t accomplish this without strong and effective support from HR. Both parties must redouble their efforts to improve their working relationship.”

A laudable goal, and certainly one HR professionals have wrestled with for years. Yet the so-called “seat at the table” is still elusive and beyond the reach of most HR departments.

“Retaining top talent is the key”

Speaking to Talent Management, Harry Osle, The Hackett Group’s global HR practice leader, observed that, “For years, HR professionals have been talking about moving up the maturity curve into the talent management arena.”

“This is where HR tends to struggle because attracting and retaining top talent is the key. HR struggles there because they don’t fundamentally understand how to retain some of these individuals.”

The report offers guidance for both HR and the leaders of the services units to improve both their collaboration as well as the overall delivery of HR business support. Besides insisting that unit leaders better detail the skills and competencies they require, the report authors suggest HR place more of an emphasis on developing staff and on candidate relationship management.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


14 Comments on “Business Leaders Pin Blame on HR For Worsening Shortage of Talent

  1. Very interesting to read the perception that HR is to blame for retaining top talent. The old saying is, people join companies, leave managers so there should be some accountability within the functions. The key to retention is to better understand top talent – use analytics to predict what they care about, how they will perform. 

    Rather than collect activities, collect data about the people doing the work , analyze with performance data, then leverage the insight yielded to make better decisions around hiring, motivating and retaining top talent.

  2. “At many companies, HR budget and staff cuts made during the recent recession remain in effect, impacting on talent management programs, along with training, career development, and retention programs.”  This is the root cause of the problem with HR in most companies. Instead of blaming HR, the blame should be shifted directly to top executives that made/make decisions to continuously cut HR staffs/budgets while refusing to invest in better talent acquisition & development personnel and technologies.

  3. Not shocking results and sadly part of the HR territory. Seems cyclical and just raises the importance of HR pros to be able to speak/understand the language of the business and rely on data.

    The retention piece of top talent is a serious concern though, especially for early/mid career talent. The expectations on career growth speed and opportunity is starting to become out of line with reality IMO.

    You might be on t something Eric 😉

  4. I agree with Talent Analytics.  People don’t leave because of poorly designed formal “retention programs” run by HR but because of managers.  Perhaps HR can be held responsible for keeping up-to-date with knowledge about those elements that impact retention and may be given the task of ensuring this knowledge is properly disseminated among all managers within an organization, but HR should not be held solely responsible for poor retention, in my opinion.

  5. First, I would like to say, I am not an HR person. I have been a manager most of my career. I do believe that it is not HR programs that cause people to leave, majority of the time it is their manager. I am also of the opinion that HR needs to stay on top of the manager problem. Getting managers better will help improve some of the retention numbers.

    I want to focus on the collaboration and knowledge management side. This one is huge. When and if the economy changes for the better – the older workforce will be leaving. With that, so will their years of experience and knowledge. A company needs to have a way of capturing that knowledge before it is lost. Programs need to change somewhat to faciliate knowledge sharing. Fix that and maybe some of the other categories will improve as well.

  6. HR was told to be strategic, then during the recession it was cut on a tactical basis. The HR resources who remained have been left to fend for themselves. For recruiting, this also goes to the root of why a company should have multiple workforce sourcing and recruiting strategies. Many relied heavily or solely on HR and now they are dissatisfied. We should never again expect that HR can recruit for all areas all the time.

  7. And who is responsible for training, support and resources for those managers to create positive work environments?

  8. In my business as a 3rd party recruiter who works both with HR and the business, I see a clear correlation between the amount of money / resources that the company has invested in the HR function and its ability to serve as a partner to the business.  It’s ironic that as talent has become increasingly important and hard to come by, that companies are investing less and less in it.  

  9. Shifting the blame on HR for shortage of talent is a sign of immaturity on the part of leadership accountability. Do they blame “Finance” when the company fails to generate income or profits?.

    It is time for business leaders to grow up on this shallow perspective on HR. Ditch the exclusive  “seat at the table” precondition and engage HR as a equal partner, from a position of humility, proactive and mutual respect. Don’t treat HR with the kind of arrogance and distrust that is causing your talent to leave. Shed the denial and delusion, face up to the reality that it is inauthentic leadership that is driving talents out the door. Go collect your facts at the exit gate !..

    To make fiscal cuts at HR is one thing, but to use that as an excuse to hit below the belt is another. 

    1. Amen! I am so, so tired of these lame opinions. Dsyfunctional companies drive talent out of door. Leadership turns a blind eye at best and refuses to listen to HR, and then HR is to blame? I don’t think so!

  10. Diving in late but…I would say HR needs to take a good look at itself.

    At heart we are a service job with lots of clients: internal and external. Something I think many HR people lose sight of. 

    I see a lot of people here shifting blame away from HR. I share their frustration because we don’t always get the support we feel we need. Still, our job is to make people & companies successful in the context we are given.

    This means doing the best with what we have and trying to effect change for the better. We must hold ourselves accountable for results in both of these areas. If we cannot succeed in one (or both) we should not be there. Period!

    Based on discussions with others and my own experience, I can cite numerous examples of poor HR performance in key areas.

    Example: A friend recently told me he had referred someone for a position within his organization. The recruiter emailed to say she would follow up with the referral. Several weeks later the recruiter still had not called. 

    Maybe they would not hire that person in a million years but what is the result of this lack of service? The candidate is left with a bad view of the organization. The employee is left with a bad impression of HR. Neither is likely to participate in future openings where there may be a better fit.

    Remember the old customer service adage: People with a negative impression will tell 10 people…These and other failures have major impacts on the organizations.  

    Clearly HR is not meeting the expectations of management. It’s not management’s fault – HR heal thyself.


  11. Great article! Many good viewpoints. It seems that with so many organizations ALL departments are lean so there is no time to invest to have meaningful and ONGOING discussions about the issues of recruitment, or the issues of leadership and how it affects retention or many other subjects. And while some may look at HR as a service and the other departments are clients, that model is not effective. The relationship should be a partnership working for the benefit of the organization.  And that will help get HR a seat the table.

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