Taking Steps to Fix HR

http://www.flickr.com/photos/10154402@N03/5566554409Thanks to everyone who read last week’s Open Letter to HR post. And particularly thanks to those who said “I’m with you, so what’s next?” In this post, we’re going to get started.

And I really should apologize for the deceptive post title today. I made the point last week that our challenge is not to fix HR, but instead to create new practices that work better with human organizations. But creating seems harder than fixing, and I didn’t want the title of the post to scare you away! So now that you’re here, let’s go.

In my post, I said that we need to step outside of the HR boundaries in order to solve this problem. This means different things, depending on whether you are in or out of HR. So if you’re not in HR, then I need you to step up to the plate and stop sloughing off responsibility for talent and people issues onto that department that you’re going to blame later. In essence, I’m suggesting that if you’re not in HR…then, well, you are now! Stop complaining, and start doing it better.

And if you are in HR, I’m asking you to step outside of your role for a minute. Don’t try to do HR better, but look at the organization and its needs with a beginner’s mind. Stop complaining that you’re misunderstood, and start solving problems–not YOUR problems, but the organizations’ problems. Together, we’ll figure it out. Here are three steps to get started.

Step 1: Acknowledge what we all need to be working on: Culture.

Culture? Really?! Isn’t that all squishy and about values? Now you’ve gone and made us even MORE irrelevant than HR! Wrong direction, Jamie!

No. Right direction. As I said over in my Clarity.fm post, culture is about what drives the success of the enterprise; it’s not about being cool, having an eloquent values statement, or having foosball tables in the break room. Culture is about deeply understanding what drives results, and then ensuring that the enterprise has the behaviors, words, thoughts, and stuff in place to make it happen. There’s nothing more important.

So first of all, that means we all need to deeply understand what drives the success of the enterprise. If you’re fuzzy on this, or feel like it’s not your job to know this deeply because you’re just a worker bee in the [fill in the blank] department, then wake up! Do some research, talk to some people, put in a few extra hours until you’re clear about what drive success. This won’t just benefit the organization, by the way, it will really help your career.

Oh, and if you’re on the management team and (I hope!) already have a clear sense of what drives success of the enterprise, then do us all a favor and go tell your people what it is! Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them. You cannot over-communicate clarity about what drives success. (Note: passing out copies of the strategic plan does not allow you to check this box.)

Step 2: Experiment with HR processes with culture in mind.

Don’t just do performance reviews the way you’ve always done them. Think about how they are helping to create and build the culture that drives success. That may require you to measure different things. That may require you integrate performance conversations into other parts of your work. That may even require you to sometimes put the employee, rather than the supervisor, in the driver’s seat in the process. Run some experiments. Do it differently. I put out a white paper on performance management earlier this year that can help you start your thinking about it.

The same is true for your hiring process. What could you change about your process that would (a) allow your culture to be more clearly visible to the candidate (so they can make the right choice), and (b) allow you to learn how the candidate can truly contribute to the culture that drives success for that job? With those things in mind, if you end up with what most of us do now (a dog and pony show of unstructured interviews and reference checks), I’ll be deeply surprised.

Maybe you need to bring together a mix of HR pros and other department leaders to design the experiments. But I want the non-HR folks to step up here. Push yourself to present a clear rationale for doing it differently, one that’s based on predicted success and strengthening culture, not just what’s easier for you.

Step 3: Learn.

This is a key step. Experimenting is not ONLY about trying new things. It’s about learning from your experiments. And I mean seriously learning, not just “that new process took too long, let’s go back to the old process.” You have to assess how your new approach to these processes brings you closer to meaningful results for the organization. Here’s where I’d like the HR pros to step up. This is not about us letting you do your job. This is about building our capacity for learning when it comes to the way we do the work of HR. We need you to help translate your knowledge of research in the HR field to the unique people-process experiments that we’ve just tried out. Help us connect that back to organizational results and stronger cultures, and voila! We’re all at the strategic/leadership/culture  table together.

So get out there and do it. Let me know if you’d like my help. I’m starting to do this with clients already. I can help you design experiments, hold you accountable on the learning, and facilitate design teams made up of both HR and non-HR players.

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