Stand and deliver

We all have a friend, or someone we know who is a little bit flaky. They say they’re going to meet you for lunch and then send a text at the last-minute. You invite them for dinner and they arrive 45 minutes late. You need their help and they’re far too busy, despite the fact that you spent the whole of the previous weekend doing something for them.

And we know how much it sucks.

One thing I’ve noticed about HR teams over the years is that they can be the organisational equivalent of that flaky friend. On one hand demanding that the rest of the organisation complies with their timelines and timescales (performance review cycle, anyone?) and at the same time committing and not delivering and being sloppy with turnaround times. It’s a hypocrisy that isn’t lost on other parts of the business.

I don’t think there is one reason why this happens, I think there are multiple causes. HR tends to be the recipient of lots of bitty work. For the employee or manager that “bit” is important, but for the department, adrift in a sea of “bits” it can often get overlooked. Also, HR tends to lack completer-finishers, the people who will go that extra mile to make sure that things are delivered to perfection. And finally, we just tend to do too much “stuff”, mostly unimportant, fabricated, self-serving stuff too.

HR teams that are valued, that add value and are well-respected, analyse, identify, commit and deliver. On the big and the small. They can deliver the really big important initiatives on time and to spec, but they can also handle the million small things that make a difference to the individual employees within the organisation. And they can do it day in and day out.

But most importantly of all, the team needs to value delivery and take pride in making things happen. Too often failure to deliver is blamed on external factors, stakeholder reaction, lack of resource or “too much on”. When the real cause is a lack of focus, attention to detail and pure passion to deliver excellence. It doesn’t always go right and sometimes we need to hold our hands up and accept that, (as one of my team recently said, “we didn’t cover ourselves in glory there”) but realising when things go wrong, means you know what “right” looks like.

Professionalising the HR function and focus on service delivery doesn’t require it to be outsourced to “experts” who will work to a process manual but really don’t give a damn about your organisation or your people, it requires us as professionals to instil the right mindset.

We tolerate the flaky friend because we like them, we might even need them, but we LOVE the friend that is always there when they said and exceeds our expectations. And if HR wants to be taken seriously, it needs to be THAT friend.


  1. Ian Perry · September 8, 2014

    Neil, I wonder if a lot of this happened when we lost Personnel and replaced it with HR.

    I see Personnel as the bitty, attention to detail, transactional stuff.

    HR is the more strategic, bigger project, “seat at the table” stuff.

    Maybe in the move to HR, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater.

    Yes keep HR, but maybe we need Personnel departments too?

    • Neil · September 14, 2014

      Maybe we need to stop thinking that we can only play in the strategic? Yes, absolutely.

      I’m not sure it matters what it is called.

      • Ian Perry · September 15, 2014

        The name is not important, there is value in both the tactical and strategic. Can people do both maybe, might it be better to have people/teams doing different things, maybe?

  2. Tim Baker · September 8, 2014

    This post hits the nail on the head. Every HR Director I meet is looking for the “do’ers” and it’s something that I have blogged about recently. It sounds incredible that there would be any type of person other than a do’er but sadly this is the case. Great HR people relish in the delivery and struggle to identify with “HR strategists”. Some people go to a conference, hear about exciting new developments and come back to their organisation, implementing them as if their role is a hobby. There’s no room for this anymore, delivery is everything and a passion for the operational side of HR is in demand.

    • Neil · September 14, 2014

      Thanks Tim. I love thinking big, but if I can’t make it a reality then I don’t see what the point is. Other than intellectual curiosity.

  3. Michael Carty (@MJCarty) · September 10, 2014

    Very strong post, Neil. And very interesting comment, Tim. I’m intrigued by your point about some HR people behaving as if “their role is a hobby.” How prevalent do you think this “hobbyist” approach is within the profession, please?

    • Neil · September 14, 2014

      I think the hobby reference might refer to the fact that we don’t realise we are playing for real. These are real employees with real lives and real repercussions. But maybe I’m interpreting incorrectly.

  4. Sara · September 12, 2014

    Spot on piece.
    And I agree about the do’ers… but surely this is the HR Ops role? Personnel side of the work has evelved into operational transactional work and many HR directors would do well to see the value a smooth running team delivering the bitty things will free the HRBP’s/HR leaders to focus on the bigger picture stuff. In my experience, HR ops is all too often seen as the pathetic, less important side.

    • Neil · September 14, 2014

      I see it all as one thing Sara. Unless you have people doing the nitty gritty, you don’t have the permission to do anything else, as far as I’m concerned.

  5. interimity · September 12, 2014

    Neil, it’s a pleasure to agree with you, even though it’s a dispiriting observation you make. I wonder if it’s the famous Ulrich model that’s the problem? Separating HR into process call centre, and creating ‘centres of excellence’ (so far removed from not just the business but day to day HR) is going to cause difficulties. And the HRBP? Hmm….where do they come from? What’s been their development path? Much of it done to save costs. How did HR lose the argument on this? And does it really save costs?

    I’ve spoken to at least two consulting firms who specialise in implementing the model and even they don’t agree with the approach.

    • Neil · September 14, 2014

      We agree? Sweet Lord…..

      I think the Ulrich model is absolutely to blame. Completely.

  6. Bhavya @ Mettl · April 4, 2016

    I remember this great story by a senior HR pro who said that their team was constantly scrutinized by the line functions. They had to amplify their game every quarter (increase the high performer-new hire ratio for line functions) and maintain the delicate balance between being “employee advocates” and “business custodians”.

    A year of relentless performance and it got a seat on the table, by default.

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