I’m hearing it all too often at the moment, “we need to take an outside in approach”. It’s a movement that finds a proponent in the form of one Dave Ulrich, he of the failed HR operating model that encouraged a slavish implementation, that set the profession back the best part of a decade.
But of course, Ulrich wasn’t responsible for our misinterpretation of the model and nor is he responsible for the potential screw up we could make on an outside in approach by assuming we need external expertise and perspectives.
It’s not you, Dave, it’s us.
So let me start by suggesting that what we really need to take is an inside, outside, inside approach.
It doesn’t trip off the tongue as well, admittedly, but stay with me.
You see, everything starts with your employees. I can almost guarantee that any problem that you have, any barrier you need to overcome, any issue that needs improvement, can be better identified by the people within your organisation than anyone outside.
The first thing any external third-party does when you hire them? They suggest carrying out a series of interviews, focus groups, listening groups or some sort of questionnaire to understand the needs of your employees.
It really is the equivalent of giving someone your watch and asking them to tell you the time.
I’m the first person to suggest that HR people need to get their heads up and scan the horizon, but that starts by looking outside the HR function and only then outside of the business.
Yes we need to understand the economic and socio-political context in which we operate, yes we need to focus on the markets and environments in which our businesses exist. But that only has any relevance if we know where the skills, capabilities, weaknesses and opportunities exist within our own enterprises.
Look outside by all means, but first work out what it means to be inside. Because that’s is where your organisational value lies.