Should HR Have Veto Power over Your Next Hiring Decision?

HR has vetoed your pick in favor of some mediocrity that seems a safer bet from a “cultural” point of view. Does this make sense? And if it does, just what are the pros and cons of letting HR—or what’s sometimes euphemistically called people operations—have veto power over hiring choices of frontline business units like marketing?

July 11, 2016

6 Min Read
Should HR Have Veto Power over Your Next Hiring Decision?

By Derek Handova

You’re a director of marketing. You’ve identified the perfect candidate for your content marketing manager opening, a position that requires a mix of creative storytelling skills, out-of-the-box thinking and a maverick streak. However, your organization insists on having a human resources (HR) representative in first and second round interviews—and perhaps beyond—to sanity-check your hand-picked candidate for “organizational fit,” whatever that means.

“In general, when HR is given veto authority on candidates selected by hiring managers, this represents a corporate culture that has deficient trust in its managers,” says Mason Wong, independent consultant, ZWD, a Silicon Valley HR firm. “I advise clients against such a process. Best practice is for in-house recruiting to screen applicants and identify traits the company doesn’t want among its employees before interviews with hiring managers.”

Unfortunately, HR has vetoed your pick in favor of some mediocrity that seems a safer bet from a “cultural” point of view. Does this make sense? And if it does, just what are the pros and cons of letting HR—or what’s sometimes euphemistically called people operations—have veto power over hiring choices of frontline business units like marketing?

Innovators and Adapters

Marketing exists as a function where creativity remains important. Absent out-of-the-box thinking, new models of industry and product promotion could not come about and business would grind to a halt, according to experts. Out-of-the-box thinkers are known as “innovators” on the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory, a creative thinking style assessment, according to Susan Robertson, consultant, Harvard instructor and senior faculty, Creative Problem Solving Institute. Companies should balance innovators and adapters, those who keep day-to-day operations running in order to function optimally, according to Robertson.

“Both extremes and everything in between are needed,” Robertson says. “If you have only high innovators, you’ll have lots of ideas, but none will get implemented. If you have only high adapters, you’ll have a well-oiled machine for daily tasks, but you’ll never have any breakthrough ideas, which is an invitation to disrupt your industry and put you out of business.”

As evidence, Robertson cites that of all the companies in the 1955 Fortune 500 index, 88 percent no longer exist. And with no company, there’s no culture.

Cultural Sameness or Diversity

Of course, company culture is important because it allows for harmony and reduces hostile work environments. However, just finding “birds of a feather” does not allow for much diversity and there is less likelihood to learn new skills that help companies thrive, according to HR experts.

“These companies will have the type of personality that tends to collide mostly with similar people,” says Remi Alli, founder, Brāv, an online platform to resolve conflicts at work. “Say you hire someone who likes to work independently and all your workers are like that—how will they work as a team? Or if a company hires people who prefer to be closely supervised, you end up with less time to work.”

Intuitively, the answer seems neither to hire all one kind of person nor that of another, but to have a mix of personalities. After all, the inscription on the ancient Temple of Apollo at Delphi reads, “All things in moderation.”


HR Should Never Have Final Say

While there appears creeping paternalism by some HR professionals toward saving hiring managers from themselves, independent HR practitioners recoil from the idea. They see the role of HR as partner and counsel to business units but feel managers have to make their own hiring calls.

“HR should never be decision maker on any corporate hire except in HR,” says Peter Rosen, president, HR Strategies & Solutions, an HR consultancy. “HR should be part of the process and should enable the hiring manager to have many tools to help make the best choice. HR is an enabler and educator. Hiring managers need to be accountable for their hires.”

Other current and former HR execs concur that hiring managers need to take full credit/blame for their hires. For example, if anyone should have final say it should be the person with ultimate responsibility in the department, according to Ninh Tran, CMO and co-founder, Hiretual, a recruiting tool provider.

“That’s because the person at stake will consider risks more carefully than someone who is not held accountable,” he says. “Human resources is not responsible for performance of the hire or the performance of the team.”

Fit a Secondary Consideration

All other hiring decisions should take precedence over secondary issues of “fit,” according to HR experts. And any problems of cultural fit would have to be really big issues that would necessitate bringing in the company head or COO. Only if there is a cultural concern, should HR then convene a discussion with all the involved parties including the CEO or operations head, according to employment attorneys and certified HR pros.

“As a former COO of HireTeamMate, which was a recruiting agency, I can firmly state that the hiring manager has the most intimate knowledge of skills, expertise and scope of any role,” Tran says. “Unless the hiring manager is inexperienced; in that case she would ask for help. Ultimately, culture fit is decided not only by the hiring manager but also the hiring team.”

Role to Play in Framing Discussion

The way some HR professionals see it, the most legitimate role the one-time personnel department should play remains stewarding the hiring process itself and not active participation. Procedures need establishment to ensure equitability, according to these experts, most likely to prevent any kind of discrimination—conscious or not—from taking hold. These are the kinds of choices that HR exists to guard against: systemic miscarriages contrary to the common good.

“Any business that allows HR to overrule a hiring manager’s decision has lost the plot,” says Chris Jones, director, The Display Centre, provider of high-quality display equipment; and former UK government official. “The hiring manager is responsible for delivering results through his team, so how can team members be forced upon him? HR should advise the hiring manager on consistency, legislation and fair process but not in a decision-making capacity.”

For example, many HR departments do not want managers to directly make candidates “offers” or conversely “reject” candidates, according to Simon Hughes, founder, Jobatar, provider of video job interviewing solutions.

“HR manages the hiring cycle with aim to offer all candidates equal opportunity during the interview process, while ensuring it is speedy and successful,” Hughes says. “If line managers go rogue and start ‘hiring’ on their own, and if not filtered back to HR, problems can occur.”

On the other hand, cons to letting HR veto line manager hiring decisions also compel. Because applicants ultimately work directly for or on managers’ support teams, they make the case their candidate intuition should have consideration ahead of HR, according to Hughes.

There’s an old axiom about U.S presidents having entitlement to appoint cabinet officers of their own choosing. If the CEO of the United States can pick her own team, who’s to say a private enterprise manager should not have the same privilege?

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