The authors of Bare Knuckle People Management know successful people management is easier than a lot of managers make it. Kulisek and O’Neil’s no-nonsense insights are not only amusing but on the mark. If you are a manager looking to improve the performance of your team, someone who just became a manager or think you would like to become a manager, you will be glad you read this book.

—Paul Mott, Head of Club Services, Major League Soccer

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HR Friendlies and Unfriendlies

I received a note from a b-school marketing-whiz of a friend the other day.  I’ll call him Jeeves. (I’ve always loved the name Jeeves, and regret never having so-named my own kids.)  Jeeves told me about two unpleasant HR experiences he had while with his last company.

Unpleasantness #1

The first occurred right after Jeeves was selected as an ideal candidate for a strategically-important marketing role in the company – a position created by the company’s executive committee.  Excited about the position, Jeeves was told to meet with HR to negotiate salary, and it went this way:

HR Rep:               What is your desired salary?

Jeeves:                 $150,000

HR Rep:               That’s a bit out of the range for what we are looking to pay for this role, but I’ll check with the hiring manager.

Jeeves:                 Ok.

HR Rep:              (having returned) We are pleased to make you an offer for employment at $135,000.

Jeeves:                 Ok, that’s quite a bit lower than I was expecting.  I hope there is some room to move.

HR Rep:              What is your desired salary?

Jeeves:                 Um, still $150,000.

HR Rep:              That’s a bit out of the range for what we are looking to pay for this role, but I’ll check with the hiring manager.

Jeeves:                 Um, ok.

HR Rep:              (having returned) We are pleased to make you an offer for employment at $140,000.

It played out a bit like a negotiation at an auto dealer, where a sales rep has to repeatedly go back and talk with his “finance guy” to see “what, if anything more, he can do.” Jeeves ultimately got just short of what he wanted, and while the money differential was not significant, he felt it was an unnecessarily unpleasant way to begin someone’s tenure at a company.

Unpleasantness #2

Jeeves’s second run-in with HR came during his exit interview a couple years later:

HR Rep:          How many vacation days have you used this year?

Jeeves:             I’ve used none – though I did use two ‘floating’ holidays.

HR Rep:          Are you sure, Jeeves??  Not one single vacation day?

Jeeves was pissed.  He had delivered excellent service to this company, and during what should be a completely amicable parting, Jeeves gets accused of lying during his exit interview.

As Jeeves put it to me, “SERIOUSLY? Isn’t HR’s job to take care of people – improve morale, support a high-performing organization…what was this supporting?  Just when I got the introductory HR bad taste out of my mouth, HR stuffs in one more spoonful of Castor oil on my way out the door.”

In my experience, the amazing thing about HR is how differently the function is valued in different companies.

HR Friendlies.  I’ve consulted with some companies in which no major personnel or development decision is made without significant input from HR.  In those companies, HR professionals tend to be highly-valued internal resources that employees at all levels lean on to get their needs met.  These HR folks are knowledgeable about a wide-range of topics, including employment law, training and development, and benefits.  HR Friendly seem to attract and develop highly capable HR professionals who add value, and are recognized for doing so.

HR Unfriendlies.  In certain other companies, however – and I imagine this is true in the case of Jeeve’s former employer – HR is roundly dismissed as a necessarily evil cost center that doubles as an internal enforcement agency.  In the Unfriendlies, HR professionals are widely joked about and criticized by those in other “more critical” functional areas.  HR pros at these Unfriendlies tend to be less helpful, knowledgeable, and empowered than their counterparts in the Friendlies. It’s not that they’re any less capable than their counterparts at the Friendlies, it’s just that they’re pre-determined at these particular organizations to be quiet, useless, underperforming slugs.  The result?  You get HR reps who can’t make a decision (because they’re not really allowed to), and feel so low about their stature that they take opportunities where they can to inflict pain on others in the “more valued” departments.  (Toby from The Office is a classic case of a HR pro at an Unfriendly.)

So sorry you had to suffer these pains, Jeeves, but I am glad you gave me material for a post.  I suppose I owe you a beer next time I’m up your way (but only if you buy my damn book!).

About Sean O’Neil

Sean O’Neil considers himself a workplace and team dynamics expert (which is really a ploy to sell books and speaking engagements). He is also Principal and CEO of One to One Leadership (, a sales and management training firm with clients that include the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer, News Corporation, First Data, ADP, Xerox, the Oakland Raiders and the New York Knicks. Sean and John Kulisek co-authored Bare Knuckle People Management: Creating Success with the Team You Have – Winners, Losers, Misfits and All, which is due to be published in May 2011. Sean has contributed to or been featured in, among others, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Selling Power Magazine,, HR Morning Magazine, and Incentive Magazine. He can also frequently be seen pacing the sidelines of a youth team he’s coaching.

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  1. by PM Hut on

    Hi Sean,

    What I have noticed (when I used to work for other companies) is that HR can be very adorable when you’re entering a company, and can turn into a nightmare when you’re leaving the company. It is wrong but this the way it works – when you leave them, they want you to literally pay for it!


    • by Sean O'Neil on

      Ha! I totally know what you’re talking about. HR is often your first and last meaningful “touch” at a company, and they feeling they give off is often so radically different on the way out the door…thanks for the comment!!


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