Magazine article Management Review

Downsizing? Consider Human Resources Buffers

Magazine article Management Review

Downsizing? Consider Human Resources Buffers

Article excerpt


Although you might not even realize it, you may have your own personal "buffer workforce," a team of professionals who help you meet your commitments and operate at maximum efficiency. Do you have a staff of professionals who do part-time work for you, either because you're too busy or because they are experts in an area you know little about? Most, if not all, of us have support teams.

Our personnel buffer workforce often includes the following:

] A certified public accountant to help with tax planning and preparation.

] A dentist to keep teeth in good shape.

] A physician in internal medicine to check health and provide referrals to specialists when necessary.

] A mechanic to service the car.

] A lawn-service employee to spray fertilizer in the yard.

In business, more and more companies have chosen to parcel out tasks previously done in-house so they can concentrate on key business objectives and/or operate more cost-effectively with a decreasing permanent workforce. Among the examples are:

] A hospital with facilities in several locations has contracted out the bulk of its personnel activities, including its annual union negotiations, to its former vice-president of personnel.

] A Midwestern manufacturer has contracted out its purchasing function.

] For several years, a Northeastern company president has arranged for contractors to do all work, except content review, on the company's annual report. The report previously consumed too much of his and other key managers' time.


This trend also has hit the human resources function. According to David Lance, chairman of the Boston-based American Healthcare Consulting Corporation and president of American Horizon Consulting, CEOs increasingly are relying on much smaller human resources staffs of highly talented generalists.

Finding ways to do things better, faster, and cheaper--and rethinking whether they should be done at all--may be uncomfortable mandates for human resources executives to consider, but they are real necessities in a rapidly increasing number of organizations. Consider:

] Carefully returning some prerogatives to the line.

] Transferring nonessential functions to other staff departments.

] Eliminating certain time-honored, energy-consuming, meaningless procedures.

] Utilizing staff buffers on an interim or intermittent basis.


According to Lance, such alternatives become more attractive "when there are fewer resources in the human resources department." Lance's management consulting business, which often acts as another company's buffer workforce in personnel areas, focuses on pay, morale, and organizational development. The clients are smaller employers without personnel departments or larger employers with HR departments in transition.

A human resources manager for a Fortune 500 manufacturer was especially proud as he recently reviewed his staff's accomplishments that have occurred during the past three years:

] Five major programs launched successfully--including a Critical Skills Retraining program that won national recognition from the Work in America Institute for producing skilled technical specialists in entirely new, high-tech careers;

] A striking array of technical courses beamed into the plant via satellite from 33 universities virtually around the clock;

] Highly motivated employees that bring a strong sense of entrepreneurship to their jobs each day; and

] A system to assess organizational training needs that won acclaim from the Batelle Research Institute.


What makes these accomplishments all the more remarkable is that only three of the 14 members of the manufacturer's HR staff are actually corporate employees. …

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