Thinking Differently: What HR Can Learn from Not Focusing on HR

“Twenty percent of the world's data is searchable…but 80 percent of the world's data is all with our clients. You don't want to share it. That is gold." (Ginny Rometty, IBM CEO, July 2017)

The skills you learn today will have a half-life of 5 years (Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report, 2017) 

 “A healthy perspective really is the foundation for joy and happiness… changing the way we see the world in turn changes the way we feel and the way we act, which changes the world itself”.  (The Dali Lamma, The Book of Joy, 2016)

So, how are the availability of data, shelf life of skills and a Buddhist lesson relevant for improving how organisations manage people?  Independently, they aren’t.  Combined, they all point to the need to challenge conventional norms and think differently to improve programs and make better decisions.  

Human resources have clear goals to enable high performance, enhance employee engagement and retain key employees. With expectations of employees and business leaders dramatically changing in the digital, connected, and ‘always-on’ world, HR also needs new perspectives to improve its decision making to achieve these fundamental goals.

HR has traditionally pursued these people goals by implementing process, technology, program, policy and structure improvements.   However, HR teams often possess a myopic, risk averse mindset when looking to improve these programs.  

One example of this narrow approach is the obsessive need to understand ‘what other HR functions do’ or its corollary ‘how do we compare to others’.  When HR teams attempt to adopt ‘HR best practices’ from other organisations they often fail to account for 3 critical factors that make the practices successful for that organisation.

  1. The organisation’s business model.  If your business model is built to drive operational efficiency, it is challenging to adopt people programs from an innovative organization built on a management philosophy to experiment and fail fast, or a customer-centric business designed to meet bespoke customer needs.  A traditional chemical company with an operationally efficiency goal failed in its adoption of a new career development program when it tried to mirror an innovative company that focused on building manager capabilities to have individual manager-employee conversations without much structure.  The lack of clearly defined processes and tools for assessing, developing and re-assigning employees was too much of a stretch for managers used to formal processes for all people programs.
  2. The organisation’s stage of business development.  Start-up organisations traditionally lack any structure to their people programs. The entrepreneurial spirit driving the business infiltrates the people programs and creates a culture of action over process.  Many mature organisations look to this environment with envy for the rules-free and flexible decision making allowed.   However, replicating their often flexible people practices often doesn’t align with more mature operating models.
  3. The organisation’s culture.  Extracting a discrete ‘practice’ from another organisation culture is akin to implementing a standalone IT system without an overarching software architecture that enables requirements like single sign-on and seamless data flows.  It can be done, but many of us understand the frustrating impact of those decisions.   It is ironic because HR plays a unique role as the ‘cultural architect’ of the organisation and understands the impact of culturally misaligned practices. 

Examining external HR practices does add value to check the relevance of a decision (think annual salary increase decisions) or to spark an idea that can help initiate a new program.  However, it is critical to examine these practices through the filter of organisation business model, stage of development and culture.

Taking a broader perspective (thanks Dali Lamma) and looking for the internal gold (thanks Ms. Rometty) will lead CHROs to ask:  What can we learn from organisations with similar customer value propositions?  What can we learn from organisations at the same stage of business development?  What can we learn from organisations that have faced similar industry disruption?  However, there are actually easier options available to HR to help make decisions on improving their programs, policies and processes.  

A good place to start is to ask:  what can we learn from other functions within our organisation?  The organisation business model, stage of development and culture are obviously aligned – and the stakeholders are well known.  The figure below provides a list of questions to help you get started.

HR not focus on HR.jpg

So, before looking externally at other HR functions, take a fresh look at other functions within your organisation to see what value they can add for your HR decisions. 

For more insights on this topic or to explore other digital human capital areas, please contact Jeremy Andrulis –