Posts tagged ‘HR’

Prediction: The HR specialist will be back

HR Specialist will be back

The HR Partner role (the HR generalist) is very much in vogue.  Everywhere I look (here in Northern Europe) this model is being applied. In fact, over the last five years the title “HR Partner” has probably received a bit of a mini-revival again. It is cool to be a HR Partner theses days.

The introduction of the HR Partner model was right and welcome when it was introduced 20 years ago. HR had built ivory towers in company headquarters and did not know what was going on in the business. Managers and leaders did not feel that HR understood or even cared about what the company was about. They felt that HR was all about creating big processes and programs that did not match the business need. So a change was good. And in stepped Dave Ulrich and with him the HR Partner model. The pendulum began to swing back towards the generalist.

Now I believe things are about to change again. Why? Simply, because they have to. And because new trends are emerging which requires HR specialists to do the job. 20 years ago the structure of HR did not match the need of the business. I think the same is true again.

Many companies have hired HR Partners while downsizing HR specialists. The HR Partner is a generalist who is moved out in the business as close as possible to the unit-manager. The idea is that the partner should be the right hand man/woman to the function leader. The job itself is a mix of administrative and tactical work with a hint of strategic work in some (often rare) cases. The result: HR is now close to the business and is visible to the rest of the organization. But at the same time they must master everything HR related. They are jack of all trades.

This will change.

I don’t think that things will go back to the old. It never does. And nor should it. But specialists are needed. New and important trends are emerging which requires specialists. Just take the area of HR data which includes Big HR Data, Analytics and the fact that HR is being more software driven in general. To master this HR must employ specialists. But not in big centralized headquarter departments. Instead I think companies will create some HR Excellence Centers which will support both HR partners – of which there will be fewer – and corporate HR. They will be very specialized in key HR areas such as Social Media, Workforce Analytics, Talent Management, Leadership Development and Performance Management.

So my prediction for HR for 2020: Outsource more, focus on HR strategy and increase specialization. That will, by the way, make HR more influential and so much better.

13/06/2013 at 09:44 5 comments

A HR tribute to Kierkegaard

Today is the 200th birthday of Søren Aabye Kierkegaard – the Danish thinker and philosopher. Kierkegaard is probably best known as the first existentialist philosopher and as a religious writer but he was also a critical writer within psychology, moral and ethics. He wrote of many Freudian concepts long before Freud was even born.

Kierkegaard is of course being celebrated throughout the world today. And rightly so. But I also believe that we within the HR profession should pay a tribute to his work and thinking. Why do I think that?

The easy way to explain this would be to post some fancy quotes which illustrate his thinking and how he can inspire us such as:

  1. “Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts”
  2. “Patience is necessary, and one cannot reap immediately where one has sown”
  3. “One can advise comfortably from a safe port”
  4. “Personality is only ripe when a man has made the truth his own”
  5. “Life must be understood backwards; but… it must be lived forward”
  6. “There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming.”
  7. “Once you label me you negate me.”
  8. “The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.”

The problem with quotes is that they are always taken from a context and I don’t think quotes are that meaningful to understand a person or even what he/she was talking about.

So to explain why HR should pay tribute to Kierkegaard I want to point to his fundamental philosophical thinking and what he was trying to accomplish. Kierkegaard was devoted to the idea of how each of us lives as a “single individual”, giving priority to concrete human reality over abstract thinking, and he highlighted the importance of personal choice and commitment. His concept of “Truth as Subjectivity” and his idea of the limitation of science’s ability to reveal the inner workings of the human spirit is probably fundament cornerstones on which philosophical HR is built on (if there is such as thing as philosophical HR?). I don’t think that modern HR would be the same had Kierkegaard not been alive.

So with that in mind:  happy birth Søren Aabye Kierkegaard.

05/05/2013 at 20:26 1 comment

The paradox of HR

HR represents something of a paradox. On the one hand, management gurus suggest that HR should be central to the strategic thinking in most organisations. Jack Welsh – former CEO of GE – suggests that the HR executive should be hierarchically second only to the CEO, and at least on a level with the CFO. Jim Collins writes that the best companies understand that they must get the right people on the bus, get the right people in the right seats and only then find out where the bus should drive i.e. the people stuff comes before strategy.

And survey after survey show that people and talent related issues are top priorities and concerns among top executives across the western world.  Also, more and more evidence show that the companies with the best people processes and ability to attract the best talent consistently outperform the rest across all industries and countries. It is also near impossible to open a management book or a magazine today without reading that “people is the most important asset” for companies today. This all suggests that HR should be the most important department in any organisation.

On the other hand, most people – including most top executives – often perceive HR to be an administrative function whose purpose is to make sure that people are paid on time, that employment contracts are signed and that relations with unions are good. Stuff that does not add much strategic value. When asked, CEO’s and CFO’s reply that they do not believe that their current HR function is delivering or is even able to deliver the value which is expected of them. HR is still not the strategic partner it wants to be.

HR paradox

So on one hand CEO’s say people stuff is important and on the other they don’t regard HR as important. This is a paradox.

This gap between the theoretical added value of HR and the perception that HR is not adding much value is in large part down to HR practices. Perhaps the best way to describe the current state of HR is to say that it is an area where practice lags behind knowledge quite a lot. There is a lot of evidence that shows that HR can add customer and shareholder value, but it is also fair to say that that practice is different.

I am not sure why. From my chair, I see a lot of improvement; improved practices, new mind-set and focus on value creation. That is why I am surprised that the latest surveys have not improved the picture of HR. Perhaps there is a fixed bias against HR, perhaps it is true that HR really does add no value, perhaps this is changing or perhaps HR is adding a ton of value but it is just not possible to prove it (and therefore other people take the credit). I don’t know. I am just a bit sick of hearing all the time how poor HR is. It is not what I am seeing.

01/10/2012 at 11:46 Leave a comment

HR should measure against the pacebo effect – you will be surprised…

I believe HR can learn a lot from psychology – not just in terms of how to develop and manage people but also how to think about its own existence, which activities to do and approach to take. For example, I have recently argued that the concept of cognitive dissonance could make us understand why we (HR) make poor decisions even face with good data and what implications this may have on HR analytics.

Another psychological concept – the placebo effect – is useful to consider. I believe it should be the benchmark for all HR activities, and that HR should measure some of its activities against the placebo effect once in a while.

Measure HCM against placebo effect

The placebo effect can be defined as “the physiological or psychological response to an inert substance or procedure”. This means that you can give somebody an inactive stimuli or treatment and it can have an effect. For instance, if you give a sugar pill (which has no effect) to a person with a headache and tell him that it is a pill which relieves pain for headache (such as aspirin), he is likely to experience no or a lower level of headache despite the fact that the pill has no physical impact.

The placebo effect has been proven in many experiments and not just medicine. One experiment measured the response of humans when under the influence of alcohol. Some subjects were given successive doses of alcohol and their responses were measured after each dose. Other subjects were instead given a placebo meant which mimicked the taste of alcohol and they were told that they were drinking alcohol. As expected, the group that was given actual alcohol exhibited signs of drunkenness and lack of coordination. What was surprising was that the placebo group exhibited the same signs, with some even seeming drunk. It seemed that the mere suggestion of drinking alcohol produced inebriated behavior.

Why does the inactive pill, the fake alcohol and other placebos work? First of all, for the placebo effect to occur, the subject must believe that he/she is given effective treatment and that it must be suggested that the treatment is effective. It works probably as a result of classical conditioning – people are conditioned to associate a particular stimulus with a particular response. Another reason may be that they are more motivated to feel better and which to cooperate with an experimenter.

Placebos are highly used in medical research. In fact the FDA will not approve any new drug unless it can show a significant effect over and above the placebo effect – something many consider to be the biggest barrier for the approval of new medicine. Why not set the same criteria for HR? Why not test HR activities against the placebo effect before they are approved internally?

Let me propose a few examples

  • Recruitment – an expensive recruitment process with multiple tests and many rounds of interviews must produce a better job/person fit, higher performance and lower new employee turnover than a placebo recruitment process
  • Coaching – an expensive coach using the right techniques must be able to deliver a better result than a placebo coach
  • Teambuilding – a teambuilding program promise to create better performance, fewer conflicts and lower employee turnover. But such an event is expensive. It should be evaluated against a (very cheap) placebo event

The problem with experiments like these are of course the ethical aspect – you just cannot do experiments on people without their consent. However you can do experiments and tests which are ethical, easy and valuable.

HR activities should be effective, they must be measured and their performance/effectiveness must be better than the placebo effect. Lets measure smarter.

22/06/2012 at 12:01 1 comment

5 things to avoid when measuring HR

Measuring HR is important because it is the only way to make HR more effective and efficient. The only way! It does a lot of other things too – such as creating an objective tool to making better investment decisions and it makes HR more credible as a strategic partner for the rest of the business.

The evaluation method must be objective and tangible and preferable use tools such as HR analytics.

KPI’s are important but ultimately I believe that all strategic HR initiatives should be measured using an ROI tool. If you want to work strategic, you need a tool which can tell you if you are creating value. ROI does that. It is not without complications (read about ROI dangers) but I think it is the most appropriate one to use.

There are five common pitfalls when measuring HR using ROI:

  1. Too complicated. Be careful about making this too complex. Avoid lots of paperwork and too many meetings. ROI is a simple tool. It requires careful thinking about its assumption and what goes into the equation, but it is not complicated.
  2. No before measurement. Evaluation requires before and after measurements. If you only measure after the activity has taken place you don’t get the full picture and you cannot assess the value creation (here are 3 reasons why not to measure retrospectively).
  3. Using a standard system. Every organisation is unique – don’t use one-fit-all template. While it is tempting to copy one from another department or company it simply will not work.
  4. Making measuring HR an end in itself. To measure is not the end – it is a mean. Measuring HR is a mean to create better HR. Sometimes ROI measurements can develop a life on its own and itself become the purpose of the project (read here for why measuring HR is not an end).
  5. Measure too much. I believe you should only measure a few initiatives. Those which mattes and which have an impact on strategy and overall efficiency. ROI measurements are laborious but potentially very value added. Only measure the few parameters which matters. Apply the 80/20-rule

Measuring HR is an important element of working with HR. Measuring HR is not complicated but also not easy. It requires strategic thinking, good data and a willingness to use the results.

06/01/2012 at 12:27 2 comments

The costliest mistake you can make in Talent Management

Talent Management is difficult to get right. Let’s be sure about that. In fact, most talent programs have a negative ROI if properly measured. However, there is one mistake you should avoid at all costs as it will lead to high turnover of talents (and a negative return on investment). That mistake is not having a plan for what happens with the talents after the program ends. And that plan should be made and communicated up front.

The unique thing about Talent Management – and Human Capital in general – is that if an employee decides to leave the company, he (or she) will then take the entire investment with him. In other words the cost of a talent leaving is not only loss of productivity, cost of rehire etc. but also the money spent on developing that person.

A key objective of a talent program must therefore be to ensure that talents stay after the talent program as this is the only way to get a return on the program. When the talent programs is ongoing talent turnover decline. But what many fail to understand is, that talent turnover often goes up when the program finishes. And sometimes quite a lot.

Why is that?

Evidence suggests that frustration with advancement opportunities is among the most important factors . Generally, the single biggest reason for why talents leave  organisations is lack of advancement and development according to a 2006 Global Workforce Study by Tower Watson.

During the program, talents will – rightly or wrongly – expect that something will happen afterwards; a promotion, a big assignment, an outpost or something new. If they are ‘leadership talents’ they will expect to move up the organisation. If they are ‘specialist talents’ they will expect being offered better and more prestigious projects to work on after the program.

Studies suggest that the talent turnover can be halved post the program if proper post-program plans are in place. Don’t make the biggest mistake of not addressing this up front.

06/12/2011 at 18:11 Leave a comment

3 reasons why not to measure retrospectively

It is tempting to measure retrospectively – but try to stay away from it.

You may have just held a course or completed a successful leadership training program. Or you are finding that your talent management program is being well received. Now you want to show that it added value to the business by measuring retrospectively. Don’t.

I can think of 3 reasons why you should always start your measurement before the program:

1. True evaluation requires a before measurement.  Paul Kearns ( highlights that pre-training evaluation work – establishing how the activity is going to add value to the organisation and obtain performance measures for each trainee before the training starts – is the most important in any evalution process. I couldn’t agree more.

2. It is too easy to ‘adjust reality’ when doing it retrospectively. To reconstruct an original intend is always difficult – when you are trying to evaluate it is even harder. You must be able accurately to reconstruct the true context, behaviour and results from the time before the activity in order to assess the progress. You may have data going back in time but it is more difficult to reconstruct the original intend. (see this White Paper from Kirkpatric Partners: here)

3. Measuring is also about assessing if the activity should be done or not. Measuring is not an end in itself – it is a mean to create better HR activities. An important benefit of doing all the hard work before the program is to make adjustments so the outcome is strategically focused and create the most shareholder value. If you only do post-activity-measures then you don’t get all those benefits.

In short, measuring and evaluating is great but do it right – true evaluation starts before the activity is launched.

10/06/2011 at 08:45 3 comments

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