The Asshole Test of Human Resources Products

I hate binary classifications as much as the next person, but here's one I thought about this morning while talking with a local human resources startup about how HR products should be built today:

Are you empowering the assholes in an organization, or are you empowering the workers in an organization?

What amazes me is how many startups in the HR space sell into the "asshole market" (usually under the guise of "performance management").

We have all heard about and seen awful management. These are the managers that have no trust in their direct reports, need everything verified, and change goal posts whenever events change. They are, in short, just crummy people to work with. Employees often respond to this environment by becoming political -- they attempt to hide information in order to create space between themselves and management to actually do their jobs.

There are two directions an organization can take when it reaches this stage. One is to become less political by increasing trust between employees and empowering them to do their jobs effectively. The other is to try to create panopticon services that allow managers to peer into every single action an employee takes, empowering management to constantly harass workers rather than assisting them.

As I say often, data is fundamentally political. It is easy to think that just providing more data to more people will make an organization work more effectively. This is often false, because it really depends on culture. How will the data be used? If my manager is tracking my every movement by the minute, I am not going to act normally, nor will I do my job very effectively. This is doubly true if they are walking over to my desk every five minutes yelling "why didn't you send that email two minutes ago."

In my view, the best HR products are the ones that ensure that employees are constantly empowered to make the best decisions for an organization, but that also have occasional accountability features for management that can act as touchpoints to check in. Transparency isn't everything, and it is important to realize that all of us want a little space, particularly when it comes to workforce metrics.

Image used under Creative Commons by Jacob Haas

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