Sunday, 16 August 2015

Shiny HR


Apologies for my lack of posting but I've been travelling through South East Asia for a few weeks.  So I'm late on responding to Harvard Business Review's Blowing Up HR feature from July /August (2015).  But I couldn't not respond, at least, to John Boudreau's article on HR's tendency to be seduced by things which are bright, new and shiny.

My favourite examples at the moment are:
  • Making the work environment more funky (like Zappos)
  • Abolishing performance management (and I'm a fan - but not without understanding why, and what you're going to do instead)
  • Thinking everything needs to be based on big data.

There are some good ideas in the article, such as avoiding this tendency, and some rather dumb ones, such as 'falling in love with the problem' - something which we should know from positive psychology will simply increase the size of the problem.

But Boudreau is right about the need to understand the context for potential solutions before we decide whether one would be useful for us.  It's just that the context is best set by the human and organisational outcomes we're trying to achieve, rather than the activities we're trying to avoid.  Unfortunately outcomes are a bit of a blind spot for Boudreau - eg it's a problem in his Human Capital Bridge model for measurement and evaluation  - see my review.

It's also an omission in his recent book with Ed Lawler presenting an update on USC's ongoing research re HR effectiveness (Global Trends in Human Resource Management).  The book presents some interesting findings, and also emphasises the need for best fit rather than new and shiny.  For example this graph shows how HR activities need to align with a firm's business strategy rather than just following best practice.

Eg if you're following a bureaucratic or even a low cost business model, investing in union relations is going to help.  But if you are emphasising globalisation you need to look elsewhere.

It's good research and an interesting book, but actually the links between HR activities and business strategy are too far removed to provide a sensible analysis.  What would have made a lot more sense than the above would have been to correlate activities with outcomes and then outcomes with business needs.  But unfortunately Boudreau doesn't think in these terms.

You also see more of the same problem in Peter Cappelli's article within the Blow Up HR feature: Why we Love to Hate HR, and What HR can do about it.

Cappelli's suggestions that HR focuses on layoffs, recruiting, flexible working arrangements and yes, performance management, are just more examples of someone's view about what's currently seen as shiny.  The only way round this is issue is to focus on outcomes, understand existing and new thinking, but apply the processes and practices which your individual business needs.  But love the business and workforce context, not just what's seen as the next most pressing problem.

More on outcomes:


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