Saturday 8 September 2007

Can / should HR take on more accountability? (2)

I do a fair amount of process design work with my clients. These are often business teams in organisations where business processes have been able to grow out of control. And sometimes they are HR teams, for example as part of a HR capability development programme, helping HR to interact with the rest of the business in a very different way. For these teams, we generally use HR processes to help get up to speed on the process design methodology.

The methodology I use is a lot broader than that described by Hammer and Champy and focuses much more on how people use processes to achieve their objectives, rather than the process mapping stage itself (it’s interesting to note that subsequent to their joint book on re-engineering, both Hammer and Champy separately linked the failure of many re-engineering projects to their lack of focus on people and implementation).

One useful tool within the methodology is a RACI (pronounced ‘racey’) analysis. RACI stands for Responsibility, Accountability, Consulted and Informed and describes a hierarchy of involvement (see example slide from one of my workshops). Accountability is the highest level of involvement at the top of the hierarchy so the acronym should really be ARCI (but ‘arsey’ doesn’t sound so polite):

  • Accountability describes where the buck stops, who is held to account
  • Responsibility describes where the work is done, who is responsible for carrying out a task
  • Consulted are the critical people who need to contribute prior to completing the activity
  • Informed indicates that it is less critical for this person to be involved but they need to be updated and informed about the outcome of the activity.

When working with HR teams to redesign HR processes, we have typically made managers both Accountable and Responsible, noting that HR can be Consulted or Informed. But is this necessarily so?

The result of doing assigning Accountability and Responsibility to managers is that HR takes the sort of support role referred to in my previous post by Allan Leighton.

But are some additional results also the general dissatisfaction with the HR functions of many organisations, and the low levels of engagement of their people?

The principle that managers should be Accountable for their people and that HR should support this activity sounds good in principle. For example, in may book, I describe the following, typically colourful exchange with Tim Miller, Standard, Director of People at Chartered (who also wrote the foreword for the book):

Miller: “Ulrich suggests that HR should be spending seventeen per cent of its time on being an employee champion – it’s utter rubbish. This is the fundamental role of the manager – to manage the relationship between them and their staff. If HR gets in the way it diminishes the role of the manager and wastes HR’s time.”

Ingham: “Although I don’t think this is quite what Ulrich is suggesting – he’s not saying that HR should spend time with employees, but they need to be employee advocates, to understand what factors would motivate them, to be their sponsors.”

Miller: “But why do they need to do this? The argument’s intellectually flawed. The biggest advocates of staff should be the managers. There will be the occasional case where managers discriminate or employees are short-changed but these will be one-offs. And yes, HR needs to provide a sense of arbitration, but it’s deminimus. HR’s job is to make the heads of the organization more effective and help them make their managers more effective. But we need to stay out of doing it for them – if we surrogate for poor managers then we’ve got a big problem.”

It’s a great point, and I don’t mean to suggest that HR should take on people management activities or Responsibilities for these activities from line managers. But leaving them with Accountability for people management only works in organisations that value the management of people in practice as well as in principle (Standard Chartered and a few other organisations like GE are in this category but many are not). Otherwise managers having accountability often just means that nobody takes accountability.

A few essential requirements are probably:

  • There is a clear role for line managers which focuses on managing people rather than technical activity (and this means there is probably a career structure for people who don’t fit into this role)
  • There is effective performance management, including the performance management of managers
  • People are only promoted or recruited as managers if they have the capability and motivation to line manage
  • Reward for line managers depends on the activity of line management and the effectiveness and retention of the people they line manage.

So I’m not suggesting that HR should be Responsible for the execution of HR processes - this needs to be left with the line manager. And I’m not even suggesting that HR can be Accountable for the implementation of processes. But HR can (should?) be held Accountable for the output of these processes… not at the level of business results… but in the quality (alignment, effectiveness etc) of human capital.

HR typically counters this suggestion by explaining that they don’t manage the managers and cannot be held Accountable for what managers do. But surely the implementation of HR processes is at least if not more important than their design. So if line managers don’t use the processes as planned, either the processes are inappropriate, or the change / communication / education processes haven’t been up to scratch.

So I would suggest that within an HCM approach to people management, HR should be held Accountable: for human capital, ie the capability and engagement of employees and the behaviours of leaders, and organisation capital: the effectiveness of organisation structure and the suitability of the culture etc.

(And in the case of Royal Mail, HR should be held Accountable for effective relations with the company’s workforce).

So, what do you think? Come on, I must surely get a few comments on this!


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