Protocol fixation ensures HR is seen as ‘irritating’

HR professionals are undermining line managers by being too “hung up on process”, according to Will Hutton, chief executive of the Work Foundation.

Speaking at a seminar on the future of the UK workplace in London last week, Hutton accused HR of fixating on formalities, rather than allowing managers the freedom to get on with the work at hand.

“You’re probably irritating managers by constantly telling them about the protocols they must observe,” he said.

The Work Foundation chief executive said that poor performing companies were dominated by bureaucratic processes and internal structures instead of concentrating on the end product. The least productive firms were usually the ones where leadership focuses more on what the numbers say rather than how managers behave and interact with employees, he said.

Hutton admitted that HR practices were central to company performance, but warned that there was no magic formula for developing a cultural relationship between people and work.

“There’s no HR toolkit for building trust with your employees,” he said.

However, he encouraged HR to be proactive in implementing its practices in the right way. “There’s no substitute for leaping about doing something,” he said.

Will Hutton on:

Diversity – “[If you want to improve diversity] get a couple of gay people on board, especially old ones. Having an old queen on the company board can really increase your company performance.”

Productivity – “In high-performing firms there’s usually a nervousness about the status quo; restless managers who are slightly paranoid. These managers are often highly visible and accessible, but very concerned with ensuring their place in the market.”

Commodity workers – “Low-skilled workers want to exploit the advantages of work-life balance. They are jealous of the privileges given to knowledge workers, like flexible working.”

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