When we in HR want to achieve a change in behaviour, we tend to resort to a training programme as the way to help deliver it. I’ve done it countless times … Let’s say we wanted to deliver a change in leadership behaviour? I’d put on a day’s training around the skills required. This would usually involve designing the programme, finding an expert to deliver the content, co-ordinating peoples’ diaries and then counting the ‘no-shows’ on the day. I’d probably even throw in a bit of ‘making it mandatory’ just to make sure I’d got to everyone.
Now there are clearly some issues with this. Aside from the time it takes to get the training put on and the time taken from busy people, we know that the human brain will forget 80% of what’s it learned on the programme within 30 days – not because the attendees are stupid, but just because that’s how the human brain works.
We also know that if the people who’ve been trained don’t put their new skill into practice soon after, and don’t have the opportunity to practice it over a few weeks, it’s unlikely to stick.
An alternative you can use to influence behaviour is to use so-called ‘nudges’. Now in the purest sense, a nudge is about influencing the choices people make at the point where they are about to make them, as opposed to trying to push people into doing things using threats or regulations. One of the most famous examples of an effective nudge was used in the men’s urinals at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport. Instead of exhorting users to aim into the urinal properly, they etched an image of a housefly onto the urinals in the area they wanted them to aim! Very simple and very effective.
We can use these nudges in HR to help influence the behaviour of our leaders and employees too – by subtlety encouraging a different choice of behaviour at the point when a choice is being made.
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
Nudges are being used a lot in approaches to Diversity and Inclusion. At Pinterest, they simply suggested that hiring managers be more aware of the amount of hires they were making from under-represented groups. Just this simple prompt or nudge just before they went into interviewing led to a more diverse group of hires.
There’s also the example from the Chief Fire Officer for East Sussex Fire Service – a woman called Dawn Whittaker. When one of her female team passes an exam or does something notable, she sends a congratulations email with a little drawing of a fire chief’s helmet in it! It’s just a nudge to subliminally tell her female staff that they are good enough to think about the top job.
Boston Consulting Group uses nudges to help prevent burn out amongst their staff. They created a macro in the company email application that causes a pop-up window to appear whenever leaders attempt to send a message after hours. The nudge appears at the exact moment leaders need a reminder that the action they’re taking may be putting extra stress onto their teams who might think they should reply to the email immediately, even though it’s late. It doesn’t block their ability to send the message. It simply offers the choice of marking as low priority or deferring the email to the next day.
And finally, Google, who use this nudge technique – or ‘Whispers’ as they call them – to help influence behaviours. They send Whisper emails to managers suggesting one small leadership skill they might want to practice – and they also send an automated nudge email to hiring managers on the Sunday night before their new hire starts. Because let’s be honest, the Sunday before they start is typically when managers actually think about what they’re going to do during onboarding! The email prompts them to introduce them to a buddy and to get a few 1-2-1’s booked in.
So instead of a laborious and costly training programme, maybe you could think about introducing nudges to help you change behaviours.
As unpopular as it might be with leaders who often crave certainty, great HR is just ‘messy’. The HR leaders who are having the most impact, who are creating the conditions where people and organisations can thrive in our disrupted world are those who have the courage to avoid the neat solutions and instead offer light-touch, agile and less perfect solutions to the challenges we face.
Messy HR has a number of features that differentiates it from the traditional neater version;
- It avoids ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions and prefers customised approaches based on the specific needs and preferences of its customers
- It avoids big programmatic solutions and prefers small, incremental, organic change
- It rarely mandates or insists upon compliance and prefers to build participation through effective marketing strategies
- It uses smart cognitive and emotive change levers rather than believing a process can change behaviours
So, what do these messy HR solutions look like in practice? I thought it would be useful to look at one of our most popular ‘neat’ HR processes – talent management and compare it to the newer messier alternative.
The neat approach to talent management The traditional neat approach is all about the annual completion of the 9 Box Grid as part of our annual talent review, seeing this as the complete picture of talent strength.
The leaders I have worked with who seemed to enjoy the Annual Talent Review were always those who got a kick from structure and process rather than the great people leaders. The latter were able to do the exercise fairly quickly, but it didn’t create any real value for them as they already had a clear picture in their mind about their people and some idea about how they were going to develop, manage or reward each of them. The leaders who enjoyed the process of neatly categorising were typically the ones who did little with the results and saw the activity as being completed the moment they placed the last name on the grid. We know that great talent management is all about movement – moving up, around, in, out and yet the 9 Box Grid often fails to generate that movement and becomes more about allocation. I can see that having a snap shot of your senior teams at a point in time might be useful as a wake-up call or a reassurance but not much more and, given the inaccuracy of that snap shot, why bother to do even that?
It’s not unusual for talent reviews in larger organisations to take several months to complete. Not only is this time consuming for questionable results, it just doesn’t mirror the true pace of most organisations. Every Talent Review I’ve ever produced was always out of date by the time it was complete and leaders who want to move quickly to recruit or promote are justified in their irritation at the time it takes to get a perfect picture.
So, we spend crazy amounts of time and effort producing a complicated (but neat!) grid that is inaccurate and doesn’t add value. Not a great use of time at best and at worst, yet another HR activity that fails to add value and damages our credibility. Finally, messier alternatives are emerging with much greater impact.
So what’s the ‘Messy’ Alternative to the Annual Talent Review? Firstly, it’s not annual! Instead we’re seeing much more fluid and dynamic talent processes and interventions that don’t have a rigid and irrelevant timetable. Approaches like Western Union’s approach where they get clusters of leaders together for an hour a month to ‘talk talent’. No documentation to fill in, no 9 box grids – just conversations about their teams. I’ve always found that most leaders like to talk about their people, they just don’t like doing the paperwork. Getting leaders to discuss talent on a regular basis helps them get better at it too.
Secondly, we’re seeing greater customisation to reflect the different needs of the talent themselves. At 3M, the HR team identified a number of different segments based on the employees’ main motivation for working at 3M. Three examples of these clusters include employees who are:
“In it for my life”—those motivated by alternative work arrangements, as in “I have a life.”
“In it to win it”—those motivated by a fast-paced, highly challenging, risk-taking environment.
“In it to experience it”—those motivated by developmental stretch assignments.
The clusters provide managers with the ability to tailor programs to various employee needs rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to career development.
Thirdly, talent management is much less about focusing on an elite few who have been anointed during the talent management process but instead about creating an environment where employees are encouraged to take responsibility for their own career development. Initiatives such as Nielsen’s ‘Ready to Rotate’ where employees are encouraged to flag when they believe they are ready to do something different is a great example of this change of ownership.
Finally, messier talent management is all about regular conversations between a line manager and their team, not the once a year career discussion at the annual appraisal. Numerous organisations are now embracing this less structured approach and encouraging leaders to have frequent check-ins which include discussions about career development instead.
Messy HR is often going to be harder sell to our Execs than the neater one. Providing proof of leadership capabilities or talent bench strength feels good because it offers the seductive illusion of certainty. Advocating approaches where there are no guarantees, where ‘it depends’, where it takes longer and where it’s harder to measure may meet with greater resistance but it’s honest and in the long run will deliver greater results. I believe the truly impactful HR teams are the ones who are brave enough to promote ‘messy’ in a world that craves ‘neatness’.
I had a colleague once – a fellow board member – who was sort of my nemesis. Whenever I wanted to introduce any changes to the way we did HR – they were the biggest resistor. Unfortunately, they also wielded a lot of power in the organisation. So, my strategy was always to try and win them over. This involved:
- engaging them from the outset so they would feel ‘bought-in’,
- listening to them and consulting their views more than any other member of the Exec team
- delaying, diluting, or altering the changes I wanted to try
- And often just giving up!
With the benefit of hindsight, I really wished I had gone about this in a different way. Because I have realised that they were never going to change – not because the proposals were wrong – but because they were terrified of anything that might alter the status quo.
There are lots of things I wished I’d done differently as an HR Director, but this stands out above all the others. I dearly wish I had not wasted so much of my time and energy (and of my team) on the biggest resistors.
The HR teams we see who are making fantastic and innovative changes get this instinctively. They don’t worry too much about the ones who don’t want to change – and instead, focus on the curious and the open – the ones who, may not be the greatest leaders in the world, but who get that things probably need to change and are up for exploring something new. They get their ideas going with these guys first – and think about rolling out more widely once they have go this initial group on board.
If HR were product manufacturers – that’s exactly what we’d be doing right? We would find our so-called ‘early adopters’ – and we would launch with them. We’d iron out the initial flaws and bugs with people who are happy to try out the ‘beta’ version. We’d get testimonials about how great the product is. And we would use this to market our new product to others who, by this stage, might want to be included in something that’s getting plenty of positive attention.
We’ve used this strategy with clients who wanted to launch a new HR approach – say, for performance management. Rather than focusing on the biggest resistors and delaying everything until they are happy to go with it. We’ve found pockets of initial interest amongst some managers who are fed up with the old-fashioned way of doing appraisals and who are open to trying something new. We’ve then worked on developing the new design – co-creating it with them – and piloting a couple of new ideas.
We’ve got plenty of feedback, built up testimonials and encouraged the early adopters to influence their peers to give it a go. It also helps if your CEO shows an interest and offers some praise or recognition for the innovation. We find that this combination often results in other leaders wanting to be included in the next phase. Remember – do not be tempted to try and persuade the biggest resistors – even at this stage! The key is to ignore them – and get to a place where they are perhaps more isolated in their negativity. I’ve even tried telling them that they can’t be included because they aren’t ready to work in these new ways – a slightly more radical approach but it can work wonders!
Now one of the challenges we often get is – ‘but what about the poor employees who work for these leaders who refuse to change? Don’t we in HR have a responsibility to look out for them? If we leave out the resistors then their team members will have a much poorer experience?’ And of course this is probably true. But I think we have to ask ourselves whether forcing leaders who don’t want to change to adopt something new is going to result in a positive experience either? We know that organisations have perpetually promoted leaders who haven’t really been interested in people leadership but who have been the best technically or who wanted the increased status. Trying to prop them up with processes that make them do the people stuff – often badly – isn’t making them better at it. I think that focusing on the ones who do want to do it better – and enlisting their help to encourage the neutrals to join in – is a more effective way of improving the experience for our people.
So to sum up:
When you’re thinking about your strategy for making change:
- Don’t worry too much about the resistors
- Focus on the curious and frustrated
- Identify early adopters and use them to influence the others
It’s more effective and much less exhausting!
We keep looking for the next alternative to the ubiquitous “3-legged-stool” model for HR. We have almost given up trying to find enough outstanding (and affordable) HR Business Partners. We continue to struggle to find and keep CofE professionals who can deliver truly innovative, commercial and flexible approaches that are relevant for today’s world. And those of us who have spent time in outsourced, shared-service hell are beginning to get nostalgic about the days when it was all in-house.
Moreover, the demands of our clients increase daily. The impact of the current crisis has turned so much of our HR world upside down. Most of our clunky, annual processes feel irrelevant. There doesn’t seem to be any C-suite executive who hasn’t read about how other companies are getting rid of appraisals and are questioning what we are doing about it. Those pesky Millennials won’t stop making demands for greater flexibility and wanting everything on their Smartphone. And just when we thought our budget might increase for the first time in a few years, the FD’s begging bowl has reappeared.
More for less. More agility. More innovation. All HR professionals face the same challenges, regardless of sector.
Of course, focusing on the future HR organisation structure is a bit of a “physician heal thyself” scenario. For, as we would urge our clients not to leap to the org chart, so we need to ask some fairly fundamental questions about what we do and how we do it if we are going to actually deliver more productivity and innovation. But, for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on the HR Team that can meet the demands of a modern world. I’ll focus on 5 key trends in HR design that we’re seeing that will offer greater opportunities for real creativity, increased capacity to deliver and happily, should save money too.
From Business Partner to Account Management
When looking for a new HRBP, I was often tempted to advertise for a Superhero with strong interpersonal skills. “We need a strategic and commercial HR business partner. They must have experience in the full range of HR elements, be a coach, a law enforcer, a spoon-feeder, a tear-drier and the conscience of the business. They must be prepared to come up with lots of new ideas, only to have them ignored, take the blame when things go wrong, and always to have their item put last on any team meeting agenda, after finance, operations, marketing, IT and problems with the toilets. They must be relentlessly cheerful and be prepared to listen to the ravings or woes of anyone who seeks them out. Above all, they must be able to present the latest Group-wide HR initiative that has absolutely no relevance to their business unit, to their MD as if it’s the best thing since sliced bread.” When you look at what we want from them, it’s amazing to me that we can find one, let alone the numbers that most HR structures depend upon.
Estimates vary but it was seen that typically between 20-30% of traditional HR advisers would be unlikely to make the step up to full HR Business Partner. In my experience, it was significantly higher than that and most companies can count on one hand the number of HRBPs that can fulfil all that is required. Given this resource is both scarce and expensive, we are seeing a move to reducing the number of them and moving towards more of an account management role. This person does the strategic and commercial parts of the role, the relationship building, the diagnosis of what’s required, the resource planning and the oversight of the delivery. They then call upon a pool of HR generalists and/or technical experts who can deliver. The key benefits of this approach are a reliance on a fewer number of HR generalists, a genuine strategic/commercial focus from HR and the deployment of non-partisan generalists who can go to the greatest point of need. Clearly, these ‘super-BPs’ are tough to find. If you’d like to grow your own, it might be worth checking out our programme designed to develop the skills the modern-day HRBP needs.
HR Advisory – More than a Transaction
All of us who bear the scars from outsourcing our well-loved and local HR advisers have learned some hard lessons. We have come to realise that seeing HR advisory as a transactional service that can cost less by simply lobbing it over the organisation fence to an outsourced provider who offers ruthlessly efficient processes has some major flaws. Our HR processes are rarely beautifully streamlined at the point of transfer and so we import significant additional costs as the provider tries to navigate all of the “special and different” approaches we have historically accommodated. We ignored the loss of institutional memory as we marched these advisers out of the door. But most critically, we forgot the fact that when a line manager is asking about a particular policy – they are not actually asking about a policy – but how to get round it! The in-house HR adviser knew their line managers and their employees and deployed a big chunk of judgement along with their advice. They would weigh up the maturity of the line manager, the precedents that had already been set, the risks with this particular employee, etc, etc. Our HR Advisory service is a key part of the employee experience, often the first and most frequent touch point for our people. The painful outsourcing experiences of recent years have led some organisations to take this service back in-house. But we are also seeing a new trend – of next generation outsourced providers who are fundamentally different. One example of this is Adviser Plus who have built in an intrinsic understanding of the value and risks of HR advisory into their service – for example, providing a proactive phone call to a manager who is downloading a policy document that can be more high risk if they get it wrong, such as redundancy policy – and seeing if they want to talk anything through. HR advisory will continue to offer significant opportunities for outsourcing – but with a new style of approach that involves empathy, understanding, capability development and the ability to assess risk.
Employee Experience not Centres of Expertise
The approach we take in Disruptive HR is based upon our unique EACH model – Employees as Adults, Consumers and Human beings. We therefore really welcome the next key trend – to cluster Centres of Expertise around a focus on the employee experience – as it supports and reinforces one of these elements – the employee as a consumer. One of the (occasionally legitimate) accusations that is levelled at the CofE teams is that they are too focused on their own discipline and producing the perfect recruitment, talent, development, diversity, performance management, reward (delete as appropriate) solution and fail to connect to the needs of the business. In the same way that many consumer organisations have grouped many of their functions around a Head of Customer Experience, so this is starting to be adopted by HR for their people.
This is more than just a change of job title. By re-focusing on the actual experience that is desired at each stage of the employee life cycle, organisations can create a more joined up and holistic employee proposition that is greater than the sum of its HR parts. Driven by improved and genuine employee insight (not just an annual engagement survey but a blend of qualitative and quantitative analysis), created through effective user-centred design and delivered in ways that are relevant to each segment of their employee “market” – there are huge opportunities to increase cut through and reduce wasted effort.
Building capability not just compliance
This trend comes largely through a fresh response to a disrupted world where the abundance of employment policies and rules often stifle innovation and increase frustration of employees. The role of HR as The Enforcer is not what many of us who went into this profession wanted, but is one we have continued to play. Of course, rules matter. But any of us who have had to draft interminable employment policies recognise that this comes at a cost – to our capacity to focus on building the capabilities of line managers. Disruptive HR is often brought in to provide fresh challenge and ideas for HR teams. Whilst they like the innovation, they equally are concerned about their ability to deliver as their managers “wouldn’t do it”. They may be right but this means we are stuck in this vicious cycle where – we don’t trust managers to manage – we therefore produce rules and processes that make them do it – we spend our time enforcing and monitoring the process to make sure they have – which means we don’t have the time to develop their capability – so we don’t trust them to manage – and so on ….
Moreover, our seeming reluctance to let go of the role of Compliance Officer seriously dents our HR brand. If we spend our time ensuring cost efficiency and operational compliance – then why should we be taken seriously when we start to talk about value creation? I know it is hard to see a way out – I have tried and failed often, but only when we release ourselves from the compliance burden and focus instead on building judgement, insight and space for creativity will we be able to break the cycle. The Netflix HR team’s determination to steer clear of the role of HR police is well documented, but we are starting to see this as a trend in HR and not just within Silicon Valley. Interestingly, it is gaining traction in sectors that are often perceived (wrongly) as less innovative – the public and not-for-profit sectors. The continual cuts in support functions has forced them to consider a more radical alternative than some of their commercial and less cash strapped cousins. I know of examples in the Housing, Education and Local Government where they are having to focus on rolling back HR’s role in compliance – with highly productive results.
Contingent vs Permanent
This final trend has been evident in piecemeal form for many years. We have regularly deployed contractors, temps, and consultants to supplement or enhance our FTE levels. But we have rarely used them as a strategic choice – more as a tactical fill in. The accelerated pace of innovation in the HR space, the new freelance tech platforms, the continued pressure on costs and the need to deploy rapidly to resolve issues or bring about change all lead you to question whether a standing army of HR people is relevant in the future. This trend is about “Smart Contingency” – a belief that you can get a better level of innovation, a better resource flow and increased delivery capability if you include non-permanent resources as a key part of your HR team. This is more than getting in additional bodies to fix a problem or to cover maternity leave, it’s more than buying a consultant to give specialist advice – it is about building an eco-system of a mix of contingent HR capabilities that meet your medium and longer term needs. Contemporary HR teams are building up their abilities to commission work and to contract effectively to get the most from this growing resource.
But you haven’t mentioned digital?!
I do realise that not mentioning digital in an HR blog about the future is likely to get me chucked out of HR club (not for the first time!) but I have done so intentionally. Digital is a channel, a medium and an underlying approach that should permeate everything we do and is not an organisation trend. Of course, we may need to create a specific focus on this in the short term to raise its profile and build our capability. But very shortly, it will be simply the means by which we deliver our services – after all we wouldn’t have an Email team or Face to Face team would we?
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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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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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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’.
- 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.
- 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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