We are better together

I read this post recently, by my friend Sukh Pabial on whether Learning and Development should be part of “HR”, or should be a stand alone function. It is a debate that raises its head on a regular basis and plays out in both L&D and Recruitment and Resourcing. With Brexit like certainty, the proponents promise abundant riches if only we were able to stand alone.

The first issue with the argument is that it never clearly defines, “HR” and instead homogenises everything else into a faceless mass that is responsible for all ills. Are we talking about employee relations, recruitment, succession planning, compensation and benefits? What exactly do they mean by “HR”?

The second issue is that it ignores the interconnectivity that is critical to successful people management in organisations. There are fundamental connections and interplay between L&D and resourcing and reward. There are issues that are raised through employee relations cases that directly inform the learning and development agenda.

Finally, it fundamentally limits the value of the L&D function by diminishing the influence, reach and resonance. In the same way that the UK risks diluting its international influence through separation from the EU, the fragmentation of the people function would fundamentally do the same.

The key in all of these issues is building better understanding, closer alliances that act in the interests of all parties and a united front that acts in the best interests of the people that we are there to serve, our employees. Not silly little tittle tattle arguments of importance that are better off left in the playground.

Analyse this…

Data comes in many forms. Yet our obsession seems to be clearly focused on consolidated numerical information. Often called BIG data, but ultimately more analytics.

Other than the wonderful ability for the profession to follow a trend, I can’t help wondering how much the data argument is a result of the deconstruction of our profession.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the use of analytics and data in helping to understand and resolve challenges and issues. I’m not against the use of them to help us to identify trends.

I just wonder whether we’re trying to get back, something that we needn’t have lost.

The trend of HR structures has been fragmentation and the repeated calls is for more. Resourcing want to be a stand alone function, learning want to be one too. Talent, leadership, OD, what’s next?

The fragmentation of the HR model is something that I’ve written a lot about before, but is another consequence of it a loss of understanding of the state of an organisation and a need to somehow compensate through apparent “intelligence”?

Evidence starts with what we can see, hear, feel and experience. It starts with our understanding of the environment, when we segment that understanding, we lose knowledge and intelligence that cannot be compensated for.

When I started my HR career we used to know the people that we worked with and supported, we knew who they were, where they came from, what they were paid, how they performed and what they wanted to do. We recruited, trained, supported and developed. We knew which roles were hard to fill, why and what the organisational implications were.

But I fear much of that is now gone.

As we move inevitably forward, we need to ask ourselves how much is really new, how much is really advancement and how much is trying to reclaim the things we’ve thrown away before. Looking back has negative connotations, but sometimes it is the only way we can make sense of the right way to step in to the future.

Structural madness

I used to work in an organisation that liked to restructure on a regular basis. The joke was that you could tell which day of the week it was based on whether there was an announcement about some sort of change. If you stayed in the organisation long enough, you got to see all the things that were undone, redone. It was a kind of cyclical musical chairs, but without the music, or a winner.

The more I learn about business and organisational performance, the more I realise that restructures mostly don’t improve either. And if there is any improvement, it is normally only marginal compared to the uncertainty, insecurity and disruption that are caused.

Most reorganisations fall into four categories:

  1. A new leader arrives and determines that they want to do things differently
  2. Something is not happening that the organisation wants to happen
  3. There is a need to reduce the cost base of the organisation
  4. Somebody leaves or there is an organic reorganisation of work and responsibilities

I’d go as far as to say that only the last of these makes any real sense at all.

The first is normally driven by the need of a new leader to stamp their authority, to have things working “their way” and to make people realise that there is a new regime in place. Now this “may” be true, but other than make things work from their perspective, will it really drive any meaningful shift in performance? The counter argument is that it probably won’t hurt – but then is that really a meaningful basis for any management intervention?

The second is where we enter the territories of madness….if you want something to happen that isn’t happening, if people aren’t talking, if there isn’t cross selling, if you don’t have the lead generation that you want. A structural change is not going to make these things happen. Nor will it get you liked, loved or adored.  A behavioural change, on the other hand, just might. People don’t do things differently because they’re organised in a different way, they do it because they understand things in a different way – they change their hearts and heads, not their seat.

As for three, there are the rare occasions when people are sat around in a business not doing anything. But in most cases, they’re carrying out the tasks that the organisation has historically deemed necessary. Wholesale structural changes to take out cost rarely work, without a subsequent change to the business operation or model. And if you’ve got an individual who is a problem? Deal with them, not the poor suckers around them.

A few years ago, I was talking to a successful leader of a business area who was referring to a competitor announcing another restructure. “I don’t think we’ve structurally changed things since the 70s” they told me. When I asked them how they’d accommodated all the changes and developments in the world and in their industry they answered, “we talk about it, work out what we need to do and get on with it”.

Hard to put it simpler than that.

It doesn’t matter: It’s just HR

When we spend time talking about ourselves, it is time lost talking about the things that matter to our employees, to our leaders and to our organisations.

  • it doesn’t matter where we report, or who reports to us
  • it doesn’t matter what we’re called, or what we’re not
  • it doesn’t matter which part of us are in, or which parts are out

Our obsession with the inconsequential is time we lose from talking about the challenges of the economy, the dilemma of organisational productivity, the challenges of wellbeing and grasping the individual business opportunities that exist.

Employees don’t care whether we are Personnel, HR, People, Talent or bananas. They really don’t. They have zero interest in whether L&D or recruitment are part of HR or not. And whether you’re a manager, advisor, business partner or officer, just doesn’t enter their heads.

There is zero value added through any of these debates or activities. And moreover, the internal focus represents a dangerous tendency to ignore or fail to understand the value drivers within the organisation.

Next time you find yourself talking about yourselves, try to define the value that will be added through the discussion and any resultant change. Try to think about the various stakeholder groups that you have and the evidence that supports there is any kind of problem.

And if you can’t find a compelling reason, a compelling argument or compelling evidence? Then stop wasting everyone’s time and remember why you’re paid and employed – to add value to others, not yourself.

It really doesn’t matter: It’s just HR.