Desinit in piscem

One of the more important reasons HR fails to deliver as a business function is its addiction to fads. The yearly wealth of new leadership theories and books illustrate HR’s desperate addiction to pseudo-scientific management BS. These fads are nothing more than charming trends initiating a gulf of energy and enthusiasm over a short period. Every other day, there is a self-proclaimed guru with a pseudo-scientific theory seducing the gullible HR community into buying an innovative and groundbreaking approach that will significantly improve today’s HR practices, delivering stronger business results and an increase in competitive advantage. Sadly, the guru proves to be another emperor without clothes and the innovative and groundbreaking approach a measure for nothing and at best of transitory value. The business, represented by the management and employees, see HR fail again and hope (which is the opposite of a strategy) that one day HR will deliver on its promise, given enough technology and leadership.

This doesn’t mean we need to reduce HR to ‘quantified thinking’. HR analytics for example isn’t going to promote HR to a valued business function. This over-reliance on data is fast becoming another fad. It clouds HR’s ability to reason meaningfully about the facts at hand and the complex context in which these facts are imbedded. It leads to simplistic indiscriminate thinking and reduces multifactorial problems to one, maybe two but maximum three causes. These truth-making methods work in spreadsheets and presentations but fail in the real world. The business likes it because it’s numeric. The human factor however isn’t easily caught in an algorithm, let alone a number.

Science however is the way forward. A step in the right direction is evidence-based HR management. It is not the holy grail but it should allow HR to deconstruct all the practices that do more harm than good and introduce value-add initiatives backed-up by scientific research and based on a solid understanding of the organizational context, with a strong focus on the values, expertise and evidence of all stakeholders.

One of the difficulties HR will face is convincing the business that evidence-based HR will not remove the need for interpreting the complexity the human factor causes in companies and that despite technology, HR will deliver erratically. Consider the following example: innovativeness and performance of the company are positively linked. While evidence-based HR research might for example uncover that there is a positive and significant relationship between the use of full-time workers and innovativeness, it might also find that training investments on new technologies, languages and data processes do not have any impact on innovativeness . Do you reduce part-time employment and reroute the training investments? Do you embed this finding in a broader data-driven equation on training design? Or do you do hide behind some business process re-engineering with some new talent management tool? Or do you just try to explain the context to the business?

Clearly, HR management has a long way to go to become the business function it needs to be. First thing, it needs to stop adhering to fads and heresies which are like mermaids, beautiful and attractive at first but ending in a fish tail. Still, like Fox Mulder, I want to believe.

HR Popcorn

Before the yearly performance, merit and bonuscycle turns all HR departments into a usine à gaz for the next 5 months , I wanted to share some HR popocorn I had the pleasure to discover these last couple of days. You will find all the links to the source material at the bottom of the post.

In the category 3 things, 4 things, 5 things, etc.. to be a succesfull something, I wanted to salute the 6 habits of highly effective employers by Rob Catalano published by the HRZone. Who would have guessed that those employers have an employee-first mentality and know what motivates employees? Or that they treat employees like consumers, focus and act? I’m sure this is all news to you. He does score one out of 6 though: employee practices need to be real-time to be effective, not once a year. That’s really new.

In the category Employee Engagement, without diminishing Ben Patient’s correct intention to defocus management’s obsession with employee engagement metrics but rather have managers focus on their own behaviours, the concluding sentence, though correct, is a led balloon: if we focus on the people, then we won’t have to worry about the metric. I would recommend you not to read beyond the title of the blog: Employee Engagement…It’s not about the metric.

In the category Cognitive and Emotional recovery at work and home, we learn there are 2 potential sources of conflict: work may affect family life, i.e. you work too many hours and do not have time for the family, or family may affect work, i.e. when you child is ill and you cannot attend a meeting. We also learn that these 2 types of conflict lead to different outcomes. But if you renegotiate roles both in the work and home domain and learn how to manage emotions, you’re on the right track to improve quality of life in both domains. This wisdom is shared by Ana Isabel Sanz Vergel, lecturer at the Norwich Business School.

In the category Disclosing Illness in the C-Suite, we learn that when a company leaves employees in limbo, employees escalate doomsday watercooler conversations and respond with deteriorating morale and productiviy. HR must ‘take the lead’ in communicating news of the illness internally, although the ultimate decision about how much detail will be shared must remain with the chief executive. I’m quoting Lynne Curry, president of the The Growth Company Inc., an Anchorage, Alaska-based management and HR consulting firm.

Yes, Anchorage Alaska. You will notice if you click this link  this quote was too good to pass.

You hereby find the original source material:

6 habits of highly effective employees

Employee engagement…it’s not about the metric

Cognitive and emotional recovery at work and home

Disclosing a illness in the C-suite


HR in a number of songs part 2

Fashion is the second thing HR is all about. Not in clothing but in mind-set.

For the last 30 years, HR has been looking to justify its existence on every possible front. In this search for relevance, HR has bounced from one fashionable idea or practice to another. Every couple of months, there’s a new tool, process, program, strategy or technology backed by an HR guru promising solutions and impact. In this quest for the Holy Grail, HR has been to the moon and back, crying foul whenever the business, armed with data and numbers, dismantled the air castles HR had so diligently built.

Some delusions have continued to live a life on their own. Today, some of the talent management but certainly all of the performance and reward practices fail to deliver on their promise. Their impact on business performance is minimal at best but always questionable and at a disproportionate cost. By November, every HR department will go in hibernation, lasting up to 5 months. HR will waste precious time and attention from both employees and managers to go through the yearly merit and bonus cycles, draining goodwill, motivation, engagement and performance on all levels.

As long as the business fails to integrate all the people practices in the business itself, thereby eliminating HR’ process and program ownership, HR will diligently go through the motions, doing incredible amounts of busy work with disappointing results. In parallel, as long as HR believes the Holy Grail is theirs to find, it will be the victim of fashion. Unintentionally, it will continue to work on a variation of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

There is however no reason to be pessimistic about HR’s future. Never before have so many people taken HR to heart. Never before has the business been so keen to take ownership. Never before has experience been so rich. The only way is up. HR will have to become a full-fledged business function, mastering data driving sustainable initiatives. Outgrowing the flavour of the day mindset, the HR popcorn programs and the tribal HR speak would make a great start.

There’s an incredible amount of songs with the word fashion in their title. Maybe the most fitting to this article is ‘Dedicated follower of fashion’ by the Kinks. You might argue Lady Gaga or David Bowie do a better job at singing the praises of fashion. I leave that entirely up to you.

I wanted to leave you with something more cheerful. One of the first student jobs I had was at a gas station along the highway. Working all week for a Texaco check with the sun beating down my neck. Not everything in the song mimics my history (I was actually working for Shell) but the upbeat atmosphere does. Besides, the video is just heart-warming. The chorus is just the best. Enjoy! You might have to skip a commercial.

Telephone road by Steve Earle