Chuck out your chintz

I’m currently team leading a Mini Hack Team over at the CIPD Hackathon.  If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a management Hack looking at organisational agility and adaptability, lead by the UK CIPD.

The purpose of this blog is to do a little crowdsourcing from the HR community.  So if you are reading this and can think of some chintz in your own organisation, please contribute your ideas either using the hashtag #chintz or in the blog comments.

Are you sitting comfortably? If so, let me explain the title of this blog, and this particular Mini-Hack.

I’ve blogged before on the futility of some HR processes (scroll back a little and you’ll find it if you are interested).  I believe that there are two challenges for both HR teams and the wider organisations that they support to overcome if they want to achieve agility.  The first is attitude and mindset.  The second is bureaucracy.  Today I’m focusing on the second.

There are too many things around and about HR that don’t add value to the organisation and its goals, take too much time, constrain us. Processes, procedures, policies.  I believe we need to strip it back, to free ourselves up.

I’m suggesting that as HR practitioners it is time for us to replace this stuff with something less bureaucratic instead.  Or better still, replace them with nothing. It is time to simplify, to chuck out our chintz.

I have a three part test for processes in my team for our HR activity, three questions we need to ask ourselves.  Firstly, can we explain, in just a couple of sentences, the value of the activity to the organisation.  Secondly, is the activity a legal requirement.  Thirdly, does anyone do anything with the output or does it get used to support decision making.  If it doesn’t pass the test, we consider stopping it.  Sometimes we just stop doing it to see if anyone notices – give it a go!

I’m starting the list with one or two of my ideas, but I’d like yours too.

Replace with something less bureaucratic instead:

Probation Reviews.  Replaced with….. a conversation.

Employee Engagement Surveys.  Replace with…..regular dialogue and feedback.

Performance Review Annual Scores.  Replace with…..meaningful feedback.

Job evaluation. Replace it with…. anything, please. 

The 9-5 / contractual working hours.  Replace with…. just getting the job done.

Replace with nothing at all:

The Employee Handbook.

Dress Codes.

Holiday booking systems.

Help the Hackers Chuck out the HR #Chintz!


11 thoughts on “Chuck out your chintz

  1. Similar to your three questions – I often suggest the “toddler” approach, which is to ask “why” three times e.g.
    1) Why do we have return to work interviews? So that we can a) find out if an employee has any problems we can assist with and b) so we can make the employee aware their absence was noticed
    2) So why do we give line managers a “return to work” form and insist they return it to HR? Because we don’t trust line managers to do it otherwise
    3) Why don’t we trust them to do it? Because they don’t see the value in it (#hrfail) or because we recruit line managers for their task skills not their people skills (#hrfail)

    I do think however that a bit of historical context is important sometimes before we simply start chucking out all the chintz – the answer to “why do we do that ludicrous thing” can sometimes be “it was a compromise to get staff to agree to a lower pay rise rise in 1995” – in other words unravelling the chintz may find that the stuffing of the sofa needs some attention too. (metaphor overload alert)

  2. Exit interviews, not worth the effort.
    Performance management systems, complicated, time consuming, replace with good JD and a business plan.
    Recruitment psychometric testing
    Performance related pay ( in most situations) simply ask yourself this, as an HR professional, do you work much harder because you think you will get a 1% increase sometime next year.
    Not putting salaries on job adverts.
    Talent management systems
    Engagement surveys
    Competency frameworks.

  3. An interesting start to the debate.

    To add to these comments, I think we also have to deal with the heritage of “best practice”. Do any of you remember (but perhaps none of you are as old as I am!) when the way to improve business performance seemed to be to follow the practices of other successful organisations? In my mind, one of the simplest of the general principles we are trying to get across is “best fit” – appropriateness to this part of the organisation, at this time and in this cultural / economic context.

    When looking at specifics, and at the risk of adding a level of complication when we are searching for effective simplicity, I think it is critically important, for any process/practice we want to retain, to have clearly defined success measures – preferably ones the client/partner population are interest in. In the process of identifying and agreeing the appropriate measurement focus – change to behaviour, business impact or return on investment – you can learn a lot about the practice you are reviewing and how it relates to the wider organisation goals.

  4. As a personal piece of experimentation I am looking at ISO9001 – the principles of a process approach to customer focus and quality seem well founded. As I look at the requirements of my micro business and how I provide HR services to clients I will be interested to see how well the HR agenda (however defined) marries up to the standard.

    I would be interested to find out if/how ISO accredited organisations apply the disciplines within their HR function. How many HR practitioners apply “lean” principles to their work and are aware of the insights offered by Deming (for example).

  5. Reading Nigel’s post, I’ve worked where my public sector organisation applied a Systems Thinking approach to delivering services (see John Seddon’s successful business based on this: Vanguard) and applied it to HR also. ST principles were to design a system where:
    – decisions are based on what the data tell us not gut feel
    – designed for the majority when the system works well, not on the anomalies
    – standing in your customer shoes – see how it works from their perspective
    – you identify what the pinch points are and understand these
    – you make the system work for the customer and not you

    Some successes:
    – reduced paperwork for line managers to complete especially for recruitment
    – reduced levels of sign off
    – joining HR admin and payroll teams into one team
    – single IT system
    – use date based workflows to alert managers of changes
    – reduced dual inputting
    – better customer experience

    • I have also worked in a large public sector org in NZ where we implemented Systems Thinking. I thought it was a really useful tool, the tricky bit was to get people to accept the data and give up their long held practices. Also managers needed to be persistent and where there was turnover new staff needed to be inducted in to the ST way of working.

      Reduced levels of sign off for recruitment.
      Putting the salary on the job advert (I know a no brainer, but it was a long fought battle)

  6. I think this paragraph gets to the heart of things:

    I have a three part test for processes in my team for our HR activity, three questions we need to ask ourselves. Firstly, can we explain, in just a couple of sentences, the value of the activity to the organisation. Secondly, is the activity a legal requirement. Thirdly, does anyone do anything with the output or does it get used to support decision making. If it doesn’t pass the test, we consider stopping it. Sometimes we just stop doing it to see if anyone notices – give it a go!

    I’ve thought along similar lines and have a 5 point test which is a good guide to determine if an existing or new approach or process adds value and/or has the potential to be transformative. The point being that whilst every other function in business has been ‘transformed’ over the past 20 – 30 years (see this long post, about half way down for a table of examples), HR is the odd one out, making ‘Chuck out your Chintz’ very timely…

    1. Can it be explained simply (as per number 1 above)
    2. Is the new approach scalable, consistent and repeatable?
    3. Does it change people’s skill set or their day jobs (meaningful change, as opposed to the superficial)
    4. Is there a business case (similar to number 3 above)
    5. Is there external validation e.g. professional bodies, company announcements, research into this
    6. Is this a legal requirement (not in my original 5 but this does need to be considered, especially as we’re talking about HR)

    Taking the 5/6 points above and the historical context, I’d argue that aside from legal requirements and fulfilling contractual obligations with employees, only performance related pay meets the first 5 criteria above and this itself is just a variation on pay and benefits. By extension, this leads to the conclusion that there are very few, if any (strategic/developmental) HR processes that are worth retaining.

  7. couple of final thoughts before I disappear for a couple of weeks:

    We need to consider the current culture of our organisations too – if staff have become used to a very rigid approach with laid down rules, simply getting rid of policies will just lead to confusion – it needs to be done piecemeal and clearly communicated what we are doing and why we are doing it.
    Also – I think we need to be clear that we’re not (necessarily) wanting to remove all policies/procedures – it’s about where they do exist there has to be a clear rationale for them and an acknowledgement that they are “owned” by everyone, they are not an “HR thing” and HR is not the policy police

    • Hi Simon,

      >it needs to be done piecemeal and clearly communicated
      >it’s about where they do exist there has to be a clear rationale for them
      >they are not an “HR thing”


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    more. Thanks for fantastic info I was looking for this information for my mission.

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