Tuesday 12 April 2011

#HRD11: Questioning not Solutioning


  One of the points the CIPD was stressing was that HR needs to adapt to the situation it exists within (I agree).

Lucy Lewin from Standard Chartered talked about the need to hold yourself in a place of anxiety a little longer than usual, and to consider all the data – including on leadership, engagement, shared services usage, the voice of the customer etc – and how you physically feel as that’s a data point too (I agree).

This is about remaining in a state of questioning, rather than what Lucy called, rather clunkily, solutioning.

I think this is right.  HR tends to be too eager to grab hold of the next easy solution.  And there were a few examples of this type of thinking at the conference unfortunately.

For example, I liked John Seddon’s emphasis on systems thinking and frequently use this approach to help ask better questions myself (I also wrote extensively about systems and complexity based approaches in my book on strategic HCM).  But to suggest that systems thinking implies that companies should always take an outside-in rather than a top-down perspective looses the value of questioning, and tries to impose a solution which may or may not be appropriate in a particular situation.

I’d even make the same criticism about one of my favourite companies, HCL (see this post and others linked from it based upon my meeting with HCL’s CEO, Vineet Nayar, last year).

Employee First Customer Second is a great example of a people centred, innovative (next generation) approach so I really enjoyed meeting Anand Pillai, HCL’s Head of Talent Transformation before the show.  In fact I much preferred our meeting to the conference presentation as I didn’t think this reflected what makes HCL such a special organisation – their career and succession planning processes seem quite traditional to me (albeit perhaps being implemented with a bit more passion than elsewhere) but I think succession should really be a completely different concept when your organisation is placed upside down!

Our pre-show meeting absolutely did cover some of HCL’s more special ideas but we also talked about the change we need to see within HR.  Pillai’s not from the HR function and I don’t think he’s our biggest fan.  And he’s got a point when he says that HR is often an organisation’s most hated function; that it tends to do a lot of HR for HR; and says no too often - but I think that’s changing too (as the case study organisations I covered in my last post show).  And the sorts of changes that Nayar and Pillai have implemented are what HR is increasingly doing now.

But for me, Employees First is only one example of the variety of approaches to people management that an organisation might take.  So I can’t get comfortable with the way HCL is promoting the approach to other companies (they’ve apparently discussed this with 62 other organisations now).

To me, the keys to HCL’s success to me are:

  • Its ambition to do things differently
  • Its focus on the organisation, not the business, as a basis for innovation (how the organisation works, not what it does)
  • Nayar’s sponsorship for the approach, and the smart way the changes have been made.


They’re not the tools or activities, ie the service ticket approach, the open 360 degree feedback system etc (much as I like these too).

HCL’s success has come from questioning, not solutioning.  And it’s not the solutioning they should be selling, it’s the thinking and philosophy that led to these solutions being developed.

That’s what I believe you should be focusing on too.



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