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.

Five Years

Your job as you know it will probably not be here in 5 years. Nor might HR as a function.

I’m telling you nothing new. Most of you have heard this s a thousand times. While the digital imperative is disrupting all facets of your life, you have to renew yourself, just to maintain your employability. You have to produce a better, more agile version of yourself every morning. The job requirements increase overnight. Speed and diversity of learning are crucial to your survival. It’s a never-ending cycle. Companies come and go, just like occupations. Employees come and go, just like students at universities.

Can the homo faber survive in the VUCA world? Not in the traditional sense. Controlling the environment in a global village with innumerous competitors is only for the happy few not a bridge too far. Believing you can outrun the pace of change is naive and foolish.

As the digital imperative intensifies, change is not a choice. It might scare you at first, but change is good. It might require courage, energy, resilience and the need to go above-and-beyond. However, it fuels a uniquely human gift: creativity.

Creativity solves the problems of today and shapes the future to be. If ethically applied,  it is the most precious asset man has.

It’s also THE asset HR painfully lacks. HR continues to apply yesterday’s practices to today’s challenges, oblivious to the business needs of tomorrow. I expect the homo creativus to reduce HR in 5 years to an app, buried on your phone among the hundreds of others. I predict HR to disappear as a separate function: the non-value-add outsourced or merged with other operational units, the value-add integrated in larger business teams, coached by third parties.

Creativity loses a compagnon de route today. I originally was going to end with David Bowie’s Five Years. He’s the epitome of creativity, reinventing himself multiple times over 5 decades. But that’s not how I want to close today. Give your creativity free reign today. Reinvent yourself. After all, we can be Heroes. Even if it’s just for 1 day.


Are you being served?

The new brave HR world is defined by dynamic, agile, business integration.  HR professionals focus on the few critical things that enhance the economic value of the organisation. They improve revenue, profit and market share through people actions. They are few but master data, productivity, engagement and culture. All with a long-term view Finance and Marketing are jealous of. In short, the new world HR has transformed into a business function centred around making money, just like Sales and Marketing.

In the process, HR has reinvented performance management, shaken up the redundant hierarchical structure, thrown away the rule book, diversified talent in all its facets, mastered agile learning and deciphered the engagement enigma.

Shutting down all distractors, like the yearly merit and bonus cycle, HR has understood how to reward performance in a holistic, transparent, creative and flexible way, individually recognizing skills, varied life stages, preferences and market pressure. Learning and development is recalibrated in the same way, demonstrating real value gained for the individual and the organization. HR has also redesigned the way everybody works, maximizing individual solutions, prolonging everybody’s productive life and wellbeing. Yes. Wellbeing is at the heart of any HR action. Wellbeing for the individual, wellbeing for the organization.

Can wellbeing prosper in today’s competitive business environment? Can it be the driver of a business-focused HR department?

I don’t think there’s a choice. Every company will have to work out what it means for them, like every HR department will have to reinvent and redefine itself.

What stops HR organizations today to perform at this level? Business acumen? Administrative burden? Legacy? Lack of talent? The immense drag boomers cause on innovation?

Probably all of this in some shape or form. But the root cause is HR’s service attitude. HR can only succeed if it refuses to be a service organization. HR can only start adding value if it stops taking orders, starts to reflect, challenges and provides sound business solutions. It needs to run the people function from a business standpoint, short- and long-term, not in a solely cold and calculated way but in a positive, appreciative, creative manner, having both the individual and organizational wellbeing in mind. One size fits all and we’ve always done it this way are HR’s biggest but very well-known enemies. Still these 2 old school dogmata are traceable in most programs, processes and initiatives to this day.

Are you being served was a BBC television series running from 1972 till 1985. The glory days  of HR as a service organization ended around the same time.