HR with ‘oomph’ is really about honest reflection

I am delighted to announce that I have just developed a new self-assessment tool. It’s called a ‘mirror’. It’s ever so easy to use – you look into it, and ask the person looking back some straight questions. For the tool to work you must be honest and say what is true, not what you would like to be true.

As a tester, you can start with: “Do I have a clue what is going on in my organisation?” For the test, yes or no will suffice, but a number of you will remember you are in HR and will start to struggle as you attempt to qualify your answer. On the other hand, you might think those who say ‘no’ are too honest, and those who say ‘yes’ are probably complacent. Anyway, the test was just to check the equipment.

Serious business

The next step is to get serious and ask some questions about the positive difference the person in the mirror actually makes. This tool recognises that everyone can make a difference, but that sometimes that difference can be totally counter to what the organisation is trying to do.

The tool requires that you avoid the temptation of listing everything you have ever done as important, even though it might have felt significant at the time. What you should be looking for is the difference you are currently making.

Talk to your image out loud. The advantage is that if you have some self-awareness, you will realise when you start to waffle and lose focus. If you find yourself boring, make a note to do something about it. The disadvantage is that talking to yourself might result in a visit from occupational health, so go somewhere private for this presentation to yourself.

Once you have articulated the difference, try and quantify it on a scale of big to small. Avoid judging yourself to be in the middle. If it is a big difference, are you convinced that your chief executive and colleagues would agree? If it is small, why?

The main piece of equipment for this diagnostic tool can be purchased from any reasonable DIY store – the rest is what you carry around in your head.

If HR professionals are to thrive, survive, and be more than the guardians of process and procedure, the concept of making a difference must be etched into their psyche. The science of getting the basics right must be taken as read and secured. The art of making a difference relies on a focus on outcomes, innovation, risk-taking and a clearly understood sense of purpose – ie, why you are there.

Making a difference should not be confused with making a contribution. For instance, there is no doubt that the handling of a really difficult disciplinary case is important and the HR skills brought to bear in these instances are to be valued and respected. The difference comes with a way of thinking that challenges the reasons for disciplinaries, a determination to get at the root causes, and a passion for brilliant outcomes.

Different tack

A large proportion of training and development is typically dedicated to stating the importance of following procedures and process, with less of a focus on what we are trying to achieve. The answer to the classic question ‘what does success look like?’ must go beyond just the immediate into the bigger picture. Not every issue warrants massive analysis, because that would bring things to a standstill, but – almost as second nature – HR should be looking for ways to add value.

How do we get to a point where HR people make a difference? For starters, those at the top need to make it clear what they want. New recruits should be tested for ‘oomph’. The first one to mention competencies should be sent for reprogramming. Every proposed outcome should be challenged with ‘so what?’. We should ban all talk of ‘it’ (whatever ‘it’ might be) being the fault of line managers, and no-one should even contemplate ‘if only they had…’.

We need a daily routine that starts ‘mirror mirror on the wall, do I make a difference or do I… ?’ (insert your own ending – it should end in ‘all’).

Alan Warner, director, people and property, Hertfordshire County Council




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