Software, technology, sysadmin war stories, and more. Feed
Sunday, January 17, 2021

HR is not your friend, and other things I think you should know

HR is not your friend. HR is there to support the company. If you are not the company, they are not going to be there to support you.

HR boils down to paid witnesses in some cases. It changes it from a "you said, the boss said" thing to two-on-one (or worse). They just pay attention and maybe give a sworn statement down the road if things turn truly nasty.

Who else operates like that? Mall cops and security guards. They don't have guns. They have phones and notepads. So, it's really mall cops, security guards... and HR.

The only time I ever had a conversation with HR even marginally improve something is when I was on the "side" of the company and was reporting something involving personnel to them so they could keep the company out of trouble.

That is, person A did something evil to person B, and I was person A's nominal supervisor. I was required (CA law!) to report it to HR, and I did, and that was that. HR yelled at person A while I watched. That's about how it went.

If person B had reported it to HR, nothing probably would have happened.

This is clear because person B DID in fact report something to them a different time for someone else, and nothing happened to the evil person. Why? Because this time the evil person was someone on the company's side (management), and therefore is going to be somewhat protected by default.

"Oh, you're just imagining it". "Oh, it didn't happen". That kind of stuff.

Expert gaslighters, they are. What really makes me wonder is how the people keep doing these jobs. Many of them are in the very classes that get abused by other people regularly. How can you honestly keep doing that job when you are just enabling the abusers?

Side note: person B's report to HR about this evil person came up in person B's "calibration session", which is part of performance reviews at that company. Some quick-witted manager type promptly spoke up and stopped that particular conversation thread. I was there and heard it myself.

So let's talk about performance reviews now.

Performance reviews are a joke because almost nobody knows how to measure anyone else's effectiveness. They are just a continuation of the same popularity contests you thought you left behind from middle school, high school, and maybe even your college/university days if you were able to attend such places. The reasoning is simple enough: the people doing the assessments are still back in that mindset, so it's unsurprising that they bring it forward into reviews.

Accordingly, hiring reviews are just about as random as performance reviews. Look at it another way - a performance review is based on having worked with someone for an extended period of time, and it's still frequently used to prop up the cronies and knock down anyone who doesn't spout the party line. Given that an interview is based on a handful of phone calls and maybe a day of focused interviews, is it so surprising that they are also broken?

Really, most hiring reviews come down to: did this person resemble the other people we already have here. Never mind if the reason the place is broken is because they keep hiring the same sort of person and really need to shift. It's like, how well do they blend in with our *idea* of what it takes to do the job?

Let me say this another way: I have empirically determined that very few company situations actually give a shit about whether someone is bad at their job. It doesn't matter how much data you produce or stories you can come up with. If it doesn't fit the narrative someone else wants to push, nothing will happen to them. Also, if *you* push hard enough to "fix" the situation, guess what? YOU become the problem.

One exception to this that I've found is when someone already has plans for getting rid of someone and just needs the "ammo". At that point, they will quickly become your "friend" in order to get all of the dirt on that person, and then once the deed is done, it'll be like you never existed to them.

Alternatively, if you can prove the person is harming the company somehow, then yeah, they will probably gang up on them and that'll be that. But, again, it has to be something visible that lines up with whatever their party line may be. "Sits there moistening a chair and never does anything useful" is not sufficient. It has to be something really nasty like "exposes the company to lawsuits". THEN they start paying attention.

Imagine every bad "evil villain" trope you've ever witnessed by watching crappy TV dramas or bad movies. They're not that much of a stretch. Some of those screenwriters probably worked in companies like this before putting pen to paper.

In terms of weirdly broken people, there are many different types. If you are the sort who honestly expects everyone to be reasonable, honest and generally agreeable, prepare to be shocked. The longer it takes you to realize this, the longer the most evil ones will take advantage of you.

One type you should be aware of is the person who will change their story from day to day in order to "win" the "argument" that's currently underway. If you have a decent memory for conversations, you might think you are losing your mind, because surely this person was FOR this last week, but now they are AGAINST it?

It's not because they decided to change their mind - people are certainly allowed (and expected) to shift based on new information. It's just so they win this time. Come back to them a few days later, and they might be in yet another spot.

Imagine working with a person like this when you're trying to get something done that involves their team acting like a gatekeeper. You get the approval from them on doing something one way, then plow a bunch of time into developing it, and then when it's time to deliver things, that same person gets in the way and stops the whole affair.

This really happens in some isolated cases, and it's maddening as hell. In those situations, you really come to appreciate your chat logs. Of course, if they have been sticking to in-person chats (in normal times, not now, obviously) or phone/video calls, good luck! Those usually aren't logged. Wiretapping laws are funny that way.


I have another thought here and can't come up with a decent segue so we'll just do a needle-scratch and jump right into it. This one is that sometimes the "full bird" higher-ups at a company are in fact powerless. It doesn't matter if their title is VP or SVP or CTO or whatever. When the rubber meets the road, they may be a figurehead, unable to make things actually stick.

I learned about a situation like this from someone who's been deeply involved with any number of companies and wound up at one of those high-level positions at one later in their career. They were supposed to be the final word on the technical details of what went out the door. This person is the real deal, incidentally. They know the ins and outs of the whole situation, and was exactly who you'd want in that position.

In that role, the company gave them the power to say "this way and not that way", but also put this person in the spot of being responsible for whatever happened as a result. It was on them to make good decisions that made sense in terms of the existing product line, the ones under development, and the stuff they wanted to do.

Then, one day, one of those decisions came to a head and needed the final call from this person. They made the call to go one particular way since it made better engineering sense with the work they were already doing. What the other people wanted would add far more variance to their eng work and would generally be incompatible with the existing stuff. There was no benefit to it, other than some other person "getting their way".

It came down to this: either this person was in fact their head honcho of whatever it was, and they were making that decision, or they were not. The company said... you are not. It was as simple as that.

They didn't stick around after that. Would you?

So, if you've ever thought that jumping into management and/or climbing the ladder into the upper ranks would help you, yeah, well, ... not so much. When push comes to shove, you can still lose and find out you never actually had any leverage.

Just remember: reasonable exchanges only happen with reasonable people.