Friday, November 16, 2012

Babbitt lives on in the HR world

Sinclair Lewis, in Babbitt, (1922) made fun of the fact that real estate brokers changed their name to realtors to make themselves sound less like salespeople and more like professionals.  George Babbitt notes:

“Makes me tired the way these doctors and profs and preachers put on lugs about being ‘professional men.’ A good realtor has to have more knowledge and finesse than any of ’em.”

"We ought to insist that folks call us ‘realtors’ and not ‘real-estate men.’ Sounds more like a reg’lar profession."

His convention speech on the subject is a hit:

After the meeting, delegates from all over the state said, “Hower you, Brother Babbitt?” Sixteen complete strangers called him “George,” and three men took him into corners to confide, “Mighty glad you had the courage to stand up and give the Profession a real boost.

I think I just noticed the same thing happening 90 years later.  Someone asked to be connected to me on LinkedIn.  Her job, at a great local university, was "Talent Acquisition Manager."  Whoa!  Isn't that what we used to call "recruiter?"

Well, tried to set me straight, noting:

The job title of Talent Acquisition Manager and even the use of the term Talent Acquisition, is quite new.

It goes further and says:

Corporate recruiting may be one of the few examples where a name change means something.  Recruiting has gone through a process of upheaval and transformation over the past ten years which might explain the need for a changing nomenclature. Talent acquisition now comprises a very broad field, since recruitment channels have multiplied and the scope of the recruiters’ job has broadened. Talent Acquisition Managers now head up employment marketing initiatives, branding campaigns, internal referral programs, and develop employee engagement metrics and retention programs. It’s a broad set of responsibilities that cover more internal policy and external communications than individual corporate recruiter jobs did in the past.

Sorry, I don't buy it.  Good recruiters and their directors in good human resource departments* often did much of this stuff in the past. Even if the job has expanded, the key function and purpose remains recruitment.  We don't need three words to say what one represents.  Especially when the new term uses the pompous "talent" to refer to "qualified people" and when the verb moves into the greedy realm of "acquisition" as opposed to the respectful concept of "persuasion."

I think this is a simple case of nomenclature inflation, to make it sound like there are substantially different professional attributes required.  Sinclair Lewis would be amused, I think.

* (aka personnel departments, but we'll let that pass for now!)


Jennifer Hill said...

Thanks to the aggregation of Google Reader, the post I read immediately before this one was one about "talent" in the nonprofit/philanthropy sector:

Given its use of data and feedback and your interest in those topics, thought you might enjoy it. Jennifer

Anonymous said...

Human resources, what other kind are there? I don't know why it was changed from personnel departments. Probably made someone feel good.
When my son had a job at the super market bringing shopping carts in, his brother jokingly called him a "cart relocation officer." Maybe time to make it official.

Sylvie Bokshorn said...

Totally agree with you Paul.
Just because the skills (or form) to performed a function have evolved does not mean the function is different.
I also agree with the "pompous" aspect of the new title. More humility and humanity are needed in the corporate world.