One of my least comfortable memories as an HR Director was presenting a new pay and grading system to my senior leadership team. My team had worked for months on it – and in my view, it was a thing of beauty.

Continue reading HR: Human, Not Process, Experts

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We are seeing a wave of new trends in performance management that take less time, cost less and actually drive up performance – which was kind of why we started this whole thing, right? Oh, and they can be done as easily over Zoom as face to face. This short video talks you through them.

If you want to help your leaders and managers have better conversations to improve performance, then you might want to check out Leader Box – the new app from Disruptive HR that offers leaders and managers really simple tips and conversation starters.

Here’s some HR stuff that you can stop doing that will save you time and money – and create a better people experience.

  1. Look at your current Handbook – is it full of unnecessary policies, negative language, and rules? This traditional approach is eating away at our people’s (and our leaders) ability to use their judgement – and it puts us in the role of HR compliance. Instead, go with a light touch Culture Handbook and replace as many policies as you can with principles that focus on people applying judgement and not designed around a rogue minority. A great example is Hubspot who use just three words to cover their policy on social media, travel, time off, expenses & remote working “Use good Judgement’.
  2. Ditch your probation period.  It’s not just a terrible word and gives the impression that we don’t trust our new people, but it’s taking up lots of our resources with review meetings, confirmation letters, chasing managers etc. Check on how many people don’t actually pass their probation? Bet it’s very few. Instead, encourage your managers to have more regular short check-ins with their new people to help them settle in.  
  3. Question whether you need to make that training mandatory. If you have to chase people to complete it, get some insight into why that is i.e. is it tedious, not adding value to their work etc. Challenge whether it should be mandatory and why you in HR are even owning it?
  4. Kill stupid rules. Ask your people to tell you the HR processes that get in the way of them doing a great job.  Guaranteed these rules will also be draining your HR time.
  5. If you haven’t already, stop doing annual appraisals. If you work out the hours spent preparing for appraisals, managing appraisals, chasing appraisals and doing appraisals, it’s quite a big hit to our HR budget and time.  We already know that it’s an outmoded way of managing performance. Move to frequent check-ins and ditch the paperwork. Check out our Leader Box to give simple tips and conversation starters to managers.
  6. If you are still planning to do an annual engagement survey, then maybe it’s time to question the value you have derived over the last few years? Apart from the Board feeling better because they’ve ticked the box called staff engagement, what has really changed? Instead, move to frequent, light touch pulse surveys. Create your own free survey (e.g. Typeform, Survey Monkey) and ask regular questions on themes e.g. “How could we make remote working better for you?” If you do have a bit of budget invest in one of the great feedback apps like OfficeVibe CultureAmpTINYpulse that focus on real-time feedback.
  7. No budget for building your employment brand?  Ask your people to write a review on Glassdoor about what they think about working for you?  Discuss the reviews at leadership meetings, so that you can celebrate what’s great and how you’re going to work on areas you need to improve.  
  8. Stop sending emails and and set up different employee groups (leaders, new starters etc.) on your current comms channel e.g. FB Workplace, MSTeams, Slack etc. A great way to start conversations and discussions.
  9. If your leadership training budget gets cut, preventing you from bringing in external trainers, well, that might not be a bad thing– after all, you know more about your leaders than anyone so why not do it yourself with all the time – set up informal clinics to provide coaching, set up a community to push useful external resources (try this one!) and send them a weekly whisper email like google with a suggestion of one new thing they can try out with their team.
  10. Stop sitting in on interviews.  Not only is it wasting valuable HR time but you’re making hiring managers more dependent on you and they’ll never develop their recruitment skills.  Run a workshop, share great resources, and then leave them to it.
  11. If you’re still using the 9 Box Grid, you’ll know how much time and effort it takes. Big cumbersome processes that take months to complete are increasingly discredited and being replaced by regular ‘Talking Talent’ conversations about talent movement and roles that need refreshing.  Check out our Box of Meetings which has a helpful template to help get those conversations going.
  12. Ditch the hi-po programme.  Expensive, elite and they don’t deliver value according to research by CEB (73% of high potential programmes show neither business outcomes nor return on investment). 
  13. Stop wasting hours of time creating HR reports with random stats and flawed people data. Instead, go to leaders with a more compelling narrative 1)Are we able to attract the talent we need? 2) Are we creating the conditions where our people can perform to the best of their ability?
  14. If your spending hours doing exit interviews please stop – we need to be talking to our people before they’re dissatisfied! Instead encourage managers to have stay conversations in their normal one-to-one check-ins asking questions like “What makes you stay here” and “What would make you want to leave?”
  15. If we want to role model efficiency in our business, we have to take a look at changes we can make to our own function without compromising on the value we can add.  Get your team together and share the problem.  Give them the safety of knowing that this doesn’t mean restructuring but instead, you want their ideas and suggestions about how they might adapt to focus on what’s important – ‘What processes, activities that are not adding value should we stop doing?’

HR is not always known for its speed and agility! In this brief animation, we show you the 7 steps to help HR go faster.


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Every organisation seems to crave greater levels of innovation.  The organisational responses to an innovation drive usually involve the following:

And we try and offer innovation solutions in HR too.

Unfortunately, these interventions rarely create truly innovative environments. Indeed, I’d like to suggest that much of what we do in our normal HR practices result in crushing the conditions for innovation rather than creating them.

The conditions for innovation are well documented; the ability to work with autonomy, the psychological safety to experiment, creative tensions brought about by working with people who are different, fluidity of organisational structures, etc. But in HR we have grown up seeing our role as driving cost efficiencies and operational effectiveness rather than creating value through innovation, resulting in our core processes having compliance and conformity at their heart. If we want to play a vital role in creating an environment where innovation thrives, we have a lot more to do.

I’d like to offer four suggestions for setting up HR as a force for innovation;

  1. Re-designing the employee experience
  2. Getting rid of the annual cycle of HR
  3. Moving away from traditional team structures and finally,
  4. HR to remodel itself as an innovator

Redesigning the employee Experience

We need to consider how innovation could run throughout the entire employee experience that we create through our numerous processes, rather than designing these processes in isolation of one another.  Here are some examples:

We need to revisit the way in which we develop our employment policies that currently prescribe what’s allowed and what’s not, in minute detail, to “freedom within a framework” to create greater autonomy and trust. We should revisit our assumptions that long-term permanent hires are a good thing and instead embrace the concepts pioneered by Linkedin’s founder Reid Hoffman in The Alliance, ie: short term assignments should be welcomed as they generate fresher thinking and new perspectives. Our onboarding should be refocused and become less about achieving conformity and more about about understanding what each new employee’s unique contribution could be.

We need to get rid of leadership competency frameworks that promote the idea that leaders must be good at everything and instead focus on identifying leaders who can create the conditions where each of their team can play to their strengths. Our succession planning could change too, to include employees’ suggestions of who they’d want to lead them – resulting in leaders who are different to the ones we identify top down. We should consider how our reward practices encourage our people to experiment and risk failure instead of doing more of the same and hitting target. Here’s a great article by Jacob Morgan on how companies such as P&G and Tata have been experimenting with “failure rewards” recognising that feeling safe to fail is critical for an innovation culture.

If we are serious about equipping our organisation for innovation, then we need to re-think our people policies and processes holistically. Innovation should run through them like a stick of rock.

Getting rid of the annual cycle

We also need to look hard at our propensity to deliver people processes on an annual cycle and how this undermines our organisation’s ability to move at speed. Annual performance appraisals. Annual engagement surveys. Annual talent reviews. Annual bonus schemes. These belong to a more sedentary era.

Companies with strong innovative cultures don’t wait to give feedback until the end of the cycle. They don’t only want to know what their employees think and feel every 12 months. They don’t wait until the talent review process draws to a close to move and promote great people. They don’t wait till the bonus scheme has been calibrated to say thanks. Just because the business results follow an annual cycle doesn’t mean that we should.

Moving beyond the org chart

HR has traditionally focused on, supported and reinforced team structures shown on an organisation chart. Our objectives cascade through these hierarchies. Our engagement surveys measure results within these teams. We calibrate talent, performance and reward within these team boundaries. We assign them an HR business partner who services their needs. But innovation typically comes through the connection of individuals who sit in different teams, across traditional departmental lines or even across different companies. Our rigid adherence to the org chart means that we are less able to recognise innovation potential and definitely less able to support it. Marcus Buckingham has highlighted the problem in his In The Real World blog series, but I’ve yet to see many examples of how HR can adapt to this. Just recognising that innovation will happen through the breaking down of traditional silos is a start but it raises some serious questions about how we collect insight and data (greater use of Network analysis?), how we think about recruitment (building broader talent communities within and outside our organisations?) and how we structure our own HR teams (moving away from the HR business partner model?).

HR as Innovation Role Models

Finally – as that motivational poster says “Be the change you want to see” – we need to be role models for innovation ourselves. We can bring new and fresh perspectives to our work by partnering with teams outside of our domain. We can develop our abilities to experiment, to fail fast and move at the pace of our most demanding clients. We can choose not to wait till our competitors have implemented first, thereby making it “safe” for us to do so too. We can extend our learning beyond attending HR conferences and hearing about best practice in our own field. We can focus on outcomes rather than process. We can segment our markets and try to customise for different types of clients. And we can recognise that it doesn’t have to be perfect – that progress may be better for innovation than perfection.

Creating the conditions for innovation is one the biggest challenges for HR and we need to do so much more than a handful of isolated innovation interventions.

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7 Ways for HR To Go Faster

A CEO recently described his HR team to me as being like a set of speed bumps; “They don’t actually stop us doing anything, they just slow us down.” Once I had stopped weeping at this hideous indictment, it made me start to question – how can HR go faster? How can we ensure that we are going at the pace of the fastest? How do we ensure we that we are setting the pace instead of putting the brakes on? This blog explores 7 ways HR can pick up speed.

  1. Ditch the Annual processes

When was it decided that everything had to be done annually? Annual bonuses, annual appraisals, annual talent reviews, annual engagement surveys, and so on. We have taken the rhythm of the annual reporting cycle and applied it to our people. This has never made a huge amount of sense, but it is even more irrelevant given the pace of business today. Little and often is almost always better than big set annual pieces. So why not …?

Change to your annual appraisal to frequent check-ins (because better performance comes from regular coaching not once a year feedback.)

Change your annual bonus scheme to ad hoc, frequent rewards (because people feel so much valued when they are rewarded in a timely way rather than waiting to the end of year for the scheme to pay out.)

Change your annual talent review to monthly, hour-long discussions (no paperwork!) among groups of leaders (because leaders will get better at it if they do it more frequently and more cross-organisation movement will result.)

Change your annual engagement survey to frequent pulse surveys (because if you really want to know how your people are feeling, then a once a year survey just won’t cut it.)

Not only will the impact be greater but moving to more frequent, light-touch interventions will free up the organisation from the time-consuming annual process and our HR products will be more responsive to changing business needs.

  1. Let’s Stop Applying Everything to Everyone

If we treated our people as if they were consumers, then we could stop the time we waste applying all of our processes to everyone in the organisation. We are so concerned about appearing to be fair, that we end up pushing irrelevant and unwanted approaches onto employees. And we are so concerned with being efficient that we adopt the one-size-fits-all processes offered by our HRIS without questioning whether they make sense for all our people. If we thought like consumer organisations and instead, segmented our ‘markets’ based on different needs and wants, we would be able to provide a more tailored approach with greater impact. We’re seeing HR teams increasingly tailoring their products and services based on the end-user’s actual needs and preferences such as 3M’s customised approach to career development, based on their motivation for working there, or Regeneron’s four different options for performance management. We can save time by not applying bulky processes to everyone simultaneously.

  1. Go at the Pace of the Fastest

We can also enhance increase customer responsiveness (and our credibility) if we are not always waiting for the slowest or biggest resistors to catch up. As an HRD, I wasted countless hours trying to persuade the more traditional teams who often needed the most cajoling or the biggest compromises to get them to participate. Meanwhile, the more progressive teams (eg: digital) were getting frustrated with me seeming to drag my heels when they were fully prepared to be early adopters. Instead of providing services that work for the lowest common denominator, we need to provide a range of options that can work for all.

  1. A Sprint Not a Marathon

HR can learn so much from our digital tech colleagues, many of whom are well down the road with agile design and delivery techniques. Those HR teams that I meet who have embraced agile as a way of working report that, with a little adaptation, these methods can really help us increase our pace of delivery. We are seeing HR teams planning in short bursts or ‘sprints’ instead of the Stalinist Five Year Plans of a bye-gone era. As one HRD told me, this approach has enabled her team to have a broad sense of the direction they are going in, but to identify short-term (6-12 week) priorities for delivery. The benefits to her organisation have been the ability to be responsive to changing needs and to deliver much more quickly as she will only have two or three products on the slate at any one time.

  1. Progress Not Perfection

Whenever I was about to roll out a new initiative, I would have had to ensure everything was perfect; the full and detailed project plan, the full cascade comms plan with the obligatory FAQs sheet, PowerPoint decks and manager scripts prepared, the unions and the legal, employment policy and often the public relations teams all squared away. Agile teams are moving more quickly through ‘fail-fast’ pilots, delegated decision making and the use of Minimal Viable Product (MVP) techniques. The latter was used to great effect by IBM when they decided to launch a new approach to performance management. Instead of the typical benchmarking, isolated design group and roll out, they decided to create what they called a ‘concept car’ – videos showing what the new approach would look like, so that people could ‘kick the tyres’ and comment (18,000 responses in 24 hours!). They then kept iterating the prototypes based on the feedback until they felt they had something worth taking to a full launch. As their CHRO Diane Gherson put it, ‘The whole process took less time than most companies take to redesign their performance management programs, and we involved about 100,000 employees’.

  1. HR Doesn’t Have to Own It

Our fears that managers won’t ‘do it properly’ (or, do it all!), often results in us believing we must own the process ourselves. If we control it, our reasoning goes, we can be sure of its quality and that it will get done. So, we own the annual talent review, the performance management process, the induction, the engagement survey, the bonus process and so on. Aside from the fact that our ownership fails to increase leaders’ or employees’ capabilities, it can also slow things down considerably. If we change our focus from checking completion rates and instead explore how we can get it more quickly into the hands of managers and employees, then we can address both of these issues.  Let’s look at the engagement survey as a case in point. We design it, distribute it, chase completion of it, collect and collate it, present it, explain it and finally, gather up the obligatory action plans. We determine the dates when it’s issued, closed, and when the results are announced – usually over a three-month time frame. We say, ‘these are the questions you must ask, and these are the issues you need to address’. Our survey, our process, our timeframe.

If we want managers to be thinking about how engaged their people are, to be measuring and using the resulting insights to make changes, then we need to give them the tools to do it for themselves – at a time that suits them. Ideally, we would offer them a range of insight tools and methods and help them think through what would work best for them – and then let them get on with it. No more waiting for the centralised survey, but empowering and enabling managers to get real-time insights about their team instead. Of course, there will be some rubbish line managers who will have no interest and will do nothing. But let’s face it, they would have paid lip service to the annual survey anyway. Let’s at least give those managers who might be a bit more interested something that is easy and quick to use.

  1. Let them make the decisions

Most of us in HR receive a daily stream of requests from line managers asking for our approval, our permission or the ‘right’ answer. It’s so tempting to give them what they are asking for. We feel good about being helpful. We feel needed. Our authority and our status that comes from being the ‘expert’ gets a well-needed stroke. But maybe we need to question whether the role of ‘approver’, ‘permission-giver’ or ‘expert’ is ultimately doing the right thing for our organisation or for them as leaders? If leaders and line managers remain reluctant to take decisions for themselves and have to involve HR in their choices or judgements, then aren’t we creating an unnecessary extra step? Aren’t we slowing the organisation down? If they felt confident and capable of making a decision to recruit someone, give that pay rise or respond to a flexible working request without recourse to HR, wouldn’t that be quicker and ultimately help them to grow and develop? Some of us in HR shudder at the thought of not being consulted. We consider the risks of the wrong choices and decisions (most of which we then have to sort out!). But maybe we should consider the risks of not enabling them? The consequences of having leaders who are incapable of using their judgement, or making good people decisions in a world that depends upon speed, agility and the ability to handle ambiguity are potentially far greater than an occasional employment tribunal? It is a lot harder to coach a leader to make the right choices than to just give them the answer and it takes time, but in the end, it can be hugely beneficial to them and the organisation. There’s another benefit too. It frees up HR from answering operational queries to focus on what we should be doing – ensuring our organisations, leaders and people can cope and thrive in the future.

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“We started out with real agility and entrepreneurialism. Then, as we grew, we started to bring in lots of policies and process. Now we feel slow and less creative. We never wanted to end up being this type of company.”

Does this sound like your organisation?

This is a common refrain from many businesses. Growth means the founders become more distant from frontline employees. Growth brings “grown up” practices such as Board meetings with Non-execs who want evidence of governance. Growth brings appointments of Finance Directors who want tighter controls and HR who bring with them the panoply of weighty processes that typify larger organisations. Growth brings formalisation of verbal understandings and turns the ‘way we do things’ into consistent processes and values statements. Sometimes these changes are welcomed because they create a consistent service to clients and reduce waste. But they can also strip you of your creativity, slow you down and eliminate the joy you once had. They turn you into every other company.

If you feel that you’ve lost your entrepreneurial mojo, then this blog is for you. We’ve got some tips to help bring it back.

  1. A new approach to rule making

Think of that feeling of annoyance you get when you open the wardrobe door in your hotel room to find the coat hangers are the kind that stop you stealing them but are impossible to actually hang your clothes on. Traditional employee rules are like the equivalent of anti-theft coat-hangers. We adopt a lowest common denominator approach, ie: we take the worst possible behaviour and to ensure we protect the organisation, we create a rule or policy that means no-one, anywhere, will repeat the behaviour ever again. We thereby alienate the 99.9% of people who had no intention of behaving badly (ie: stealing a poxy coat hanger) to protect against the tiny minority. We create an environment in which people are less prepared to challenge authority, speak up, try something new, or take risks. Greater agility and creativity are almost impossible if your company culture is one of ‘wait to be told what to do, and, if you don’t do it, you’re in trouble’?

We are not talking about creating anarchy or chaos here, just some things you can do to develop a less constraining environment. It’s about creating more innovative thinking, more energy, and making it less painful to work here!

So, here are a few approaches you could try:

Ask your people which rules get in their way

If you want to start freeing people up, try asking your people which rules and policies get in the way of them providing the best service to customers, or from doing their best work. Commerce Bank even rewards its employees for identifying rules that prevents them from ‘wowing customers’ through its ‘Kill a Stupid Rule’ program. The use of ‘hackathons’ to get employees involved in shaping the rules and policies that govern their life at work is increasing and is seeing some great results.

Change your employee handbook

After all of the marketing effort and expense to convince new recruits that you offer a fantastic place to work, where innovation and empowerment is encouraged, your employee handbook arrives and immediately shows them otherwise. Countless pages of small print and legal jargon tell them all the things they are not allowed to do for fear of disciplinary action. Branding experts tell us that it is these “moments of truth” that shape our perception and the impression we are creating is not terribly appealing at precisely the moment when we want them to feel excited and confident. Many companies are re-writing their employee handbooks to focus more on the behaviours they expect and the environment they want to create than detailed policies. Think marketing brochure rather than legal protection.

Encourage Judgement

Command and control leadership is becoming increasingly less effective in a time of greater uncertainty and change but we need to help people become more adept at taking responsibility for their decisions and to make sound judgements. Maybe we could learn something from the experiment in the Dutch town of Makkinga where they removed the traffic signals. The premise of the experiment was that 70% of traffic signs are ignored by drivers anyway but perhaps more importantly, the glut of prohibitions was treating the driver like a child and prevented them for thinking for themselves. The result of the experiment? The number of accidents declined dramatically as drivers began using their judgement more. This adult to adult philosophy is behind the Netflix expenses policy (“Do the right thing by Netflix”) which has also led to reduced expense claims at the company. These judgement-based approaches should be celebrated. They are brave, and they won’t stop the rogue employee who wants to do bad things, but they do foster the kind of employees we need for the future.

Could you replace long winded policies which try to cover every eventuality with a simple statement that encourages employees to use their judgement? One of my favourites that I came across in a manufacturing firm recently was a dress code that simply said “If you look in the mirror in the morning and have to ask yourself the question “can I get away with this at work?” – you should probably get changed”!

Apply the Trust Test

If you answer “yes” to the question “does this rule exist because we don’t trust some of our people to do it properly”, chances are you will be frustrating large numbers of really great people to try and stop a few rogues. Maybe it’s time to tackle the people you don’t trust and get rid of the rule?

  1. Human interactions not process

Sadly, the appointment of an HR Manager can often mean you are about to be subjected to a range of processes you never knew you needed. Here’s some advice from a recovering HR Director – resist them – there are better ways!

Most HR professionals have been schooled to believe that no organisation can survive or thrive without some or all of the following:

An annual performance management system

An annual engagement survey

An annual talent review (with 9 box grids to help line managers assess their talent)

A leadership competency framework

A high-potential programme

An annual bonus scheme

Whilst they may sound impressive, before you know it, your managers will be filling in countless forms and spending hours complying with processes that will add little or no value to your business. What’s worse is that the conversations, the judgements, the behaviours and the skills that you were told these processes would increase will actually diminish.

My blogs are always too long so rather than providing all the alternatives here, I’ve put in links to other articles (above) that provide new ways of achieving the same ends without destroying your entrepreneurial zest. But as a golden rule, if your HR manager suggests a new process, ask them four questions:

  1. Is it an annual process? If yes, chances are this will be cumbersome and won’t reflect the fluid nature of how your work is actually done.
  2. Is it based on how human beings actually think and behave or is it trying to compensate for poor line managers? If it’s the latter, then sadly, if you have line managers who have no interest in developing their people, there is no process that will change the outcome.
  3. Does it involve line managers categorising their employees into boxes or through ratings? If yes, then unfortunately you’re going to end up with some pretty useless data. Firstly, line managers struggle to identify high performance and potential with any real accuracy. It’s not because they’re stupid, it’s just that we suffer from “rater bias” and so our assessment of who’s going to be great in the future and who isn’t, is always going to be somewhat flawed. Secondly, potential is always contextual and we have an increasingly limited understanding of what will be required in the future.
  4. Is there evidence that this process adds value to the business? When only 8% of companies are saying that the traditional appraisal scheme offers any value, then we need to challenge the accepted wisdom of these decades-old processes.

There are many different ways to focus on improving human interactions without resorting to a tired and outdated process. If you want to get your entrepreneurial mojo back, then its important to stand up to an exuberant HR manager.

  1. Act like you’re still small

There’s a tendency for growing companies to try and reduce costs through centralising – of procurement or business functions such as finance and HR, for example. Whilst this might indeed reduce some of your costs, there are some real downsides in terms of loss of entrepreneurialism.  It might be worth re-thinking your approach. In 2005, Chinese home appliance manufacturer Haier divided itself into 2,000 highly autonomous profit centres, splitting thousands of employees into micro-enterprise units each focusing on a single appliance or service. What this company recognised was that large organisations are incredibly hard to change, which is why start-ups are so much more agile and responsive than their monolithic counterparts. While one could question how a big business could retain its economies of scale if it were to split into smaller factions, Haier is a hugely successful company and decided that if it was to compete with start-up competitors out to steal their market share, it had better go some way towards replicating what they looked and felt like. If you start (or keep) thinking about your company in terms of being multiple business units rather than a monolithic entity, it will help you retain the agile and innovative mindset that made you great in the first place.

Maybe you are a growing company feeling pressured to replicate the behaviours of large corporates or a more established organisation who looks enviously at the pace and agility of your smaller peers. The accepted wisdom of the need for more rules, more process and increased centralisation may have made sense in times of greater certainty, but today’s business world needs something different. If you are going to create the necessary conditions for your people to act with more agility, deliver greater innovation and retain that entrepreneurial spirit, this ‘wisdom’ needs to be challenged and replaced with fresher thinking.

If you’ve been in HR a while, you’ll have your own collection of cringe worthy moments. Those memories of when you launched a new process that achieved absolutely nothing.

Continue reading HR: Let’s stop making the irrelevant more efficient

My business partner loves uncertainty. She deliberately won’t book a hotel till the last minute so she has the excitement of not knowing where she’ll be staying that night. She starts her shopping on Christmas eve. She actually enjoys hot desking. She is not the norm. Continue reading It’s a good thing that HR doesn’t know the answers