Note to HR: help the organisation suck less

HR solutions are growing like topsy and raising many questions along the way. But are we missing the fundamentals?
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Over on the LinkedIn forums there has been a lively and highly instructive debate that kicked off following the Taleo acquisition by Oracle. Here's the link. The group is now more than 10,000 strong and the comments to the particular post having sputtered at a record (for this group) of 290 more than 300.

Much of the debate has been about the anticipated direction Oracle is likely to take, the challenges for HR professionals in understanding what this means and, inevitably, the thorny problem of integration both between different HR related systems and others. Contributions from industry analysts, vendors, buyer side folk and practitioners have helped build up an interesting and diverse picture of what's going on in the market from the varying perspectives.

I see broader problems. Until relatively recently, HR has largely been viewed as a back office administrative function. That has changed and with surprising rapidity - at least in IT terms. In recent years, vendors have responded to the need for providing compute based solutions to problems as divergent as learning, talent acquisition, retention, succession, analysis and on and on.

Looking at the broad spectrum of solutions now available, it strikes me that business needs a very different type of person running what are now classified and corralled as Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions rather than plain old HR.

Having an understanding of marketing, the implications of social platforms and even recognising that LinkedIn could readily be leveraged as a place to mine for CVs is very different from what went before. In anyone's language it is challenging. But then I read this: Still True: Talent software can’t help you if you suck.

As luck would have it, I happened to be married to a wealth of use cases of some of the worst talent management practices known to man.  Seriously, it might just be the experience of a varied career or it might be some kind of cosmic irony, but for every “best practice” I could talk about, he was able to give me a “worst case example” of how someone could (and did) totally screw it up.

The author then goes on to list some examples:

You might suck if:

  • You get feedback on employee development surveys that people are craving development and you arbitrarily mandate 10 training courses each quarter, causing people to cheat and scam instead of actually developing themselves.  Bonus points if you didn’t even check to see if you had  training courses that people found useful in the first place.

  • You set quarterly aligned objectives and then change your mind weekly as to what the priorities are, never giving any hope of people achieving anything measurable.  Bonus points when you come back at the end of the quarter and penalize individuals for lack of achievement.  Double bonus points when you use this as the reason to not pay out bonus.

  • You decide you need performance metrics and roll out a rushed performance review cycle only intending to use that data to figure out who to fire.

  • You roll out talent programs that materially impact employment and compensation retroactively and don’t give any warning that they are coming.

I'll leave it to commenters to find more examples but it struck me that despite the fashionable tendency to overlay just about everything with a coating of 'social' that what we might be really doing is accentuating just how anti-social some organisations really are. That's a great shame because it ruins the best intentions of those who would otherwise seek to make the workplace more rather than less human friendly. Or rather, as Frank Scavo succinctly put it:

Memo to Gen Y: "Command & Control" is alive and well in your next-gen workplace. The worse part? You don't even know it. #HCM#futureofwork

Sad but true? I'm guessing 'mostly.'

I just hope that as HR/HCM tries to be more effective, it doesn't end up wasting effort because the organisation never thought about the fundamentals but instead relied on the No. 4 FIFO principle.

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