Become who you are


I believe that some of the things we do in HR are crossing the futility boundary; a phrase I have stolen from the pharma industry. The futility boundary occurs when a particular drug cannot be said to have anything more than a psychological effect; its benefits can no longer be conclusively proved. No better than placebo.

I am convinced in HR we do too many things just because.

Its best practice, all the big companies do it, it’s the latest fad or must have, the latest bright idea. We seek affirmation from other people, psychological reinforcement that we are doing the right things, making the right decisions. We read case studies, articles and tweets, we see cool things and we want them. It’s why in our personal life we buy the shoes, the expensive handbags, the fancy cosmetics (me, anyway). I also believe it is why we can get so preoccupied with the concept of best practice. The HR awards season is starting, and my first response to those who deservedly won the coveted awards yesterday was to quickly read why they won, figure out what they are doing in their HR department that I’m not. Just in case I might be missing something.

The cult of best practice, the desire to jump straight on that latest bandwagon, can lead to the implementation of things that don’t fit our own individual business. We think we need them because we had them in another compnay, we just probably should. Then once they are in situ, we rarely stop to review them, consider if they are still the right thing. It is now pretty much accepted by lots of HR types that the annual performance review ain’t all that useful, employee engagement surveys don’t deliver. Do you remember the first time someone said that to you, the first blog or article you read criticising them? Cognitive dissonance kicks in. Did you agree wholeheartedly, or faced with the information that this particular bit of HR stuff we have been doing for ages might not be the best thing, did you put your fingers in your ears and say ‘I can’t hear you’? How long did you stay in denial before you changed your mind? And once you have launched or introduced something in your HR department, how often do you review it check whether those clothes still fit?

So here are my own personal HR things that have crossed my futility boundary; things that I can no longer fully articulate the value of, or show any benefit from, for my own situation, right now.

  • Employee handbooks (surely the most pointless thing ever)
  • Exit interviews (second from above)
  • Job evaluation (expensive, bureaucratic, questionable value beyond box ticking)
  • Scores in a performance review when the score isn’t linked to anything (I mean why?)
  • Employee forums / committees (never been in one that got out of the canteen / car park)
  • The engagement survey (naturally)

You will have your own personal futility boundary. And it’s all yours.

Become who you are. Create your own best practice.

Image by @AATImage (Graham Smith)

11 thoughts on “Become who you are

  1. Such an intelligent, prescient and well-thought out review of the state of “standard” HR. My god Gem, you are brilliant. Thank you for writing.

  2. Recognition of our futility boundaries has to be the first step. H r will only add value if we recognise these boundaries and then jump over them. If your staff forum only discuss tea and toilets then of course iit will serve as a futility boundary. We need to raise our ambitions. Challenge it to discuss the strategic issues…..

  3. When I studied HR at University we were encouraged to think about HR processes as both ‘best practice’ and ‘best fit’. I think the ‘best fit’ analysis is often lacking. I do wonder though whether the process of doing an engagement survey is a placebo? Shows we care enough about our employees to ask how they are feeling. Great blog!

    • Thanks for the comments folks.

      Agree that the engagement survey is a good example of a placebo. It is about convincing people that we are interested / listening without any active ingredient?

    • Well, you are certainly the first person who has asked, but maybe it could be arranged…. Although personally I’m after one with #punkhr on it!

  4. Pingback: 5 July Week’s Best | ChristopherinHR

  5. I personally LOATHE everything HR, but I work in performance management and know that every inch my job is bollocks, so am just on the inside of a different set of bad guys. No pot kettle calling here.

    The things that we’d copy, lifting things from councils up and down the country, all in entirely different contexts to us. If we liked the look of it, we’d have it. You’d have to nail stuff down when we’re around. Look after your wallet, here come the performance management crew.

  6. You’re right to rush to see what people are winning awards for, but you’re also right to say you can’t simply copy it and expect it to work for your organisation.

    Maybe what we fail to do so often is ask: “What does my organisation need this to do?” and be really specific and business-like in defining the answers.

    If Job Evaluation is only box ticking, no-one ever asked “What’s the best way to ensure the highest skilled people got the most money?” and maybe instead they asked “Will JE give us a defence to Equal Pay claims?”

    If Exit Interviews are a waste of time maybe no one asked “How can we find out whay people really leave, so we can make imrpovements and reduce turnover?”

    If someone introduced a performance management system where the scores were not linked to some appropriate and constructive outcome, they didn’t ask “How can we accurate assessment of performance to help people improve and help make rewards fair?” Or, in the public sector where rewards are not (yet) variable, just linking it constrctively to development would be a worthwhile outcome.

    I could go one. The point is these schemes have often been introduced to meet an HR agenda rather than a business one. And they are a major reason why HR has so little influence with senior leaderships in many organisation.

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