- Projects are started but not finished. HR enjoys developing new ideas, but does not enjoy putting them into practice.
- People are easily bored especially with follow through, with the result that nothing is actually delivered.
- HR works purely on the basis of anecdotes; failing to collect or analyse real data to find out what is going on.
- It fails to respond to internal customer requests, seeing them as idiots who get in the way of designing another HR scheme.
- HR people want to be prophets – they are only interested in being “strategic” and are bored with the plumbing – the basics of HR that actually underpin its credibility.
- HR lacks the disciplines of basic planning and project management.
- HR loses credibility, which would enable it to make a real difference to the business, because no one expects HR to actually deliver anything.
HR is seen as a cost, with the subsequent pressure to reduce the size of the function because no one sees any value added from what it does.
1 In recent interviews with public sector chief executives, a common theme was that HR talks a good story but fails to deliver against its promises.
In each of these cases, HR was being marginalised from some major decisions on organisational challenges emerging as a result of future spending cuts because it lacked the basic credibility.
2 My favourite analogy is from ice skating. In the Olympics prior to 1990, the champion skater won the gold medal not just for the spectacular jumps and complex moves, and for their artistic interpretation of the music, but also for the compulsory figures.
What we didn’t see on the television, a couple of days before the free programme, were the compulsory figures when the skaters drew figures in the ice and were measured for their consistency and accuracy. They didn’t win the gold medal for the figures, but they didn’t get to skate for the gold medal unless they did well.
For me the compulsory figures are the basics of HR: paying people on time, recruiting, terms and conditions, etc. It doesn’t win HR the medals, but unless it does them well, the function doesn’t have the credibility to engage in the real value-added work.
- HR people need to balance who they recruit, looking for and valuing “completer finishers” as much as (or perhaps even more than) “ideas” people.
- Put in place strong governance to ensure clear goals are set and delivered.
- Establish clear accountabilities for what is actually delivered and follow through with appropriate consequences, both the good and the bad.
- Place value in old-fashioned basic project management techniques, not necessarily overcomplicating things, but establishing a disciplined approach to planning and review.
- Apply the concept of the balanced scorecard to HR as well as the business, measuring delivery, but also adding value.
- Train HR people in the discipline of getting things done, and reward and recognise them for it. Find role models and heroes who are doing the basics really well or who are doing a great job of data entry, as well as those doing strategic HR business, partnering or designing new talent processes.
By Nick Holley, director of the HR Centre of Excellence at Henley Business School. The centre works with members from the private, public and third sectors to change the debate around HR; carrying out applied research aimed at advancing current thinking, and delivering programmes to enhance the quality of business and partnering skills for senior and high-potential HR professionals.