Saturday, August 18, 2018

Is HR Stuck in a Rut?

A bit more than three years ago I left the HCM world to re-enter the world of purchase-to-pay and supply chain finance.  There had been some exciting new developments, not the least of which was supply chain finance.

As I re-engage with the HR world, however, I get a sense of de ja vu because there don’t seem to be many new developments or thought leaders.  The topics are amazingly similar to what they were three, five, even ten years ago: Performance management is still broken, the war for talent continues, and HR technology still promises to solve everything from talent acquisition to employee engagement.

Meanwhile, industry experts are still talking about how to do the same things better while surveying HR practitioners about HR priorities and best practices.  It’s quite the echo chamber so perhaps it’s not a huge surprise so little has changed.

There are a few fresh voices talking about things like employee experience, design thinking, behavioural economics, the gig workforce, holocracy, gamification, etc.  Some of it’s pure nonsense, or ahead of its time, but at least it’s new.  And some of the tech trends are truly exciting.

Nonetheless, after three years focused elsewhere, it feels like HR has gotten itself stuck.  Is it fear of failure?  Is it an ingrained tendency to follow rather than lead? Or is it just easier to talk about the same problems with like-minded colleagues than it is to rethink them completely?

Don’t Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk

Here’s an example of what I mean: If diversity and personalization are drivers of creativity and innovation, why do HR processes continue to trend toward standardization?  And if outcomes matter more than activities, why do organizations continue to measure things like number of training modules or performance evaluations completed?

I mean, sure, if you’ve taken the time to roll out an LMS or a performance management process – despite the fact that for more than a decade, experts have claimed performance management is broken while offering new best practices to break it in more up to date ways – you want to understand your participation rate.  I totally get that. 

Understanding your numbers is fine as you don’t confuse a high participation rate with success.

One of the problems facing HR today is confusing activity with outcome.  And it’s not just HR, because we humans latch onto anything we can measure.  The problem is that when it comes to people, some of the most important things can’t be measured.  So, in a way, it’s worse when HR does it.

And don’t bring up AI or block chain now as the magic dust or I’ll have to come over there.  AI and block chain won’t help measure the unmeasurable, although machine learning will likely have a huge impact on personalization.  At best, they’ll help you do a better job measuring or making sense of the things you already try to measure.  At least for a while.

Just kidding.  I totally won’t come over there.

Time to Rethink HR Conferences?

I know, they're really fun.  However, instead of talking about the usual tech trends and topics, why not talk about how to apply behavioural economics to innovation or incentive strategies?  Or how to ensure managers are inclusive and promote a culture of trust where innovation can flourish?  Or how to apply gamification principles to motivate the entire organization to achieve the impossible?  Or how to create healthy workspaces that inspire creativity and play?  Or introducing a 4-day work week?

Someday AI will know us better than we know ourselves, but it’ll still be a while before a a bunch of code – be it ever so elegant, unbiased and networked - understands people well enough to make accurate predictions about individuals in a fast-changing environment.  And quite frankly, HR will have about as much to do with blockchain as they do with SSL or Unix, i.e. you’ll use it without knowing you’re using it.  I don’t mean to be insulting but let’s face it, the business isn’t looking to HR to figure out distributed encryption or machine learning.

So why not use the time to talk about how to enable people to bring their best and most authentic selves to work?  My post The HR Journey from Productivity to Purpose suggests some ways to help you do that.

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