Monday, 3 October 2011

John Boudreau transforming HR at #HRTechConf


   John Boudreau is another one of those not-such-a-favourite-of-mine academics, but my HR blogging friend in Singapore, Abhishek Mittal, has been singing his praises, so I’ve been looking forward to his session in Las Vegas.

Boudreau has been encouraging us to think more like scientists – to get between the ears of our leaders.  We need to ask are we using the evidence that exists in our organisations, in the scientific world ie evidence that already exists, and how do we look beyond the evidence to influence decision making.

1.   We need to move from having lots of information to putting this information to use.  Rather than giving our leaders lots of information and hoping they’ll invent a system to use it. 


2.   We need to retool HR by learning from the dilemmas facing other disciplines.  And we need to learn the  business models or our organisations, not just the businesses themselves.

And we need to push back a bit (create value) – not just agree to reduce time to fill requisitions, surpluses and shortages but to identify how to optimise these.

For example, we need to learn from Supply Chain Management how we can improve the supply chain of talent.  This is what IBM did bringing in their second top person in SCM to design their approach for talent – including a governance model for skills etc.


3. We need to segment our talent eg Starbucks segmentation into five groups including ‘I work to live, not live to work’ (the surfer dude) – sorry my picture didn’t take, and this one from Ben Brooks is the only one I’ve seen (please let me know if you’ve got a better one!):


We need to understand things like the theory of constraints – asking better questions to inform decision making.


4. We need to get better at using risk management as the basis for workforce planning, rather than seeing it as just stopping something bad from happening.  There are links between uncertainty, risk and opportunity.  We need to use tools like portfolio analysis.  And we need to plan for a largely unknown system rather than using the job titles etc which exist today.


5.   We also need to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts eg that our systems integrate with each other.  Less best of the art systems and more that fit together and deliver what we need (see the Executive Guide to Integrated Talent Management)

Eg Shanda Games, based in China which is the fastest groing online gaming system in the work has built its HR architecture as a massively multi-player online game with a 100 level staffing system to help people see progress.



Well, I don’t know Abhishek: there’s not a lot of new stuff in there (I certainly think it’s time Boudreau moves on from his “there’s only one Mickey Mouse” spiel).

I did like the Shanda example, and would have preferred a whole session focused on that.

But my bigger concern is with this whole scientist thing.  If Boudreau was talking about social science rather than physical science then perhaps I wouldn’t be so worried.  But I don’t think he is.

And actually, I don’t even think that social science takes us far enough.  Let me be blunt.  HR’s an art.

OK, it’s a science as well, but the magical stuff that makes organisations wonderful places to work doesn’t have anything to do with Boudreau’s five needs.

If you look at any of the case studies I’ve featured in my blog, eg Mahindra & Mahindra which I wrote about last week, or Zappos, where I’ll be on Thursday, none of these have anything do to with science.

Let’s just grow up, understand that HR is different from other business disciplines, and start to act differently, not just the same, as our business colleagues.

That, to me, is transformative HR!