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During the last weeks I reviewed and discussed various plans of the HR teams in our regions and operating companies. Always good and stimulating discussions. Still there is a tendency in most HR teams to design their plans in such a way that the potential impact on the organization is a lot less than it could be. Why?

  1. Too often the starting point for the HR plan is: “What does good HR look like”, and not “What are the most urgent business issues we need to support”. 
    We all know the handbook of HR. With chapters on competency management, performance management, reward management, talent management and rerention and recognition. And many more chapters. The book is a bit worn and old-fashioned, but still it contains a lot of good stuff.
    If your focus on implementing the handbook, though, you can be busy for years and years, while the business is deteriorating or not growing as fast as could be. The thinking can be too much: first we need to get the basics right, and then we can roll!
    Good HR does two things at the same time. First: it focuses on the most urgent business issues. Second: when dealing with the most urgent business issues, it uses the chosen interventions to improve the basic architecture. Call this DC (Design and Change, at the same time, and not: first design, and then change).
  2. A lack of focus, because generic solutions are preferred above specific tailored solutions. Last week I was in an operating company that had an issue with performance management. Three departments had merged under common leadership. Unit A had a good working performance management system and process, including 360 to gather more solid feedback. Unit C had and an ok system. Unit B was the issue, where the percentage of completed performance reviews was far below the required 100%. A new performance management system had been designed, with involvement of managers from the three units. Two assumptions drove the design process: 1. The best intervention to improve performance management is a new system (basically a form), and 2. It should be the same for all three units (because we are integrating). The result: a compromise, where the result was (potentially) only an improvement for unit B, and not for A and C.
  3. A lack of focus because there is a tendency not to choose the (possibly) most effective intervention, but to want to do them all.
    When there is an urgent issue (e.g. decreasing productivity because the market is stagnating), there are often many HR interventions that can help to deal with the issue. Change leadership. Change the organization structure. Train staff. Design and introduce a new bonus system, and so on. In many HR plans I have seen, they want to do it all. This looks like shooting with hale, and hoping that the right intervention is part of the mix.
  4. The unstoppable urge to make designs more complex than needed.
    Mediocre HR in a technical organization can be a lethal combination. I have seen performance management systems that are so complex that a handbook and training is needed to explain the system. Various groups of competencies, with per competency clusters of behavioral indicators. Weightings for each of the competency areas, goals with weightings and multipliers to correct for the level of the position, and formulas to calculate the final score based on all of the above.
    Keep it simple should also be the credo for HR, but is it very difficult (and not only in organizations with many engineers).
  5. Management drives HR in the wrong directions by phrasing their issues too much as HR solutions.
    If you ask management their wish list, it is often very long. Also management has a tendency to want generic solutions that can work for the whole local/ regional/ global organization, preferably this year.  A perfect performance management system. Training for all levels. Career plans for the high potentials, not only for the core of the organization, but also for the functional areas. Job profiles with uniform job grading that allows smooth transfer from department A to department B.
    HR has to take a step back, and have the discussion about strategy and most urgent priorities and issues. The HR professionals should be able to help to choose and design the most effective interventions that can help the organization to grow.

Design Thinking: Introduction
Insprired by Jane Watson (“On Rethinking HR“) and Gert-Jan van Wijk (“The Urge to Organize“).

Dutch translation of this blog post here.

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2 thoughts on “The Future of HR, part 16: We need change agents!

  1. Some good thoughts Tom. Like the idea of design and implementation in parallel. Also the idea of challenging management on their strategy – assumes a willingness of the business to see HR as business partners rather than simply another form of operational delivery of course. Peter.

  2. Pingback: The Future of HR, part 16: We need change agents! | fred zimny's serve4impact

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