It’s not big and it’s not clever; why we should walk before we can run
HR often comes under fire for blinding people with professional science and jargon. But is there really much more we can do with HR, or are we just throwing in new terms for old ideas in an attempt to give ourselves more business kudos? And should we wait for organisations to get up to speed with the basics before we expect them to embrace more profound concepts?
2014 marks the 20th anniversary of me becoming CIPD qualified - or as it was then, the Institute of Personnel Management. Human Resources was still a relatively brand-shiny-new concept back then, to the extent that HRM had its own module in my Diploma in Personnel Management course. The rest of the course mostly consisted of the nuts and bolts of practicalities such as recruitment and selection techniques, how to do an effective appraisal, manage absence, handle a disciplinary etc. etc., with the odd nod to ‘forward thinking’ concepts and buzzwords such as the Psychological Contract.
In contrast, professional HR qualifications nowadays tend to be more based around various management theories and models and contextual issues such as organisation development and design. While I’m certainly not denigrating this, I have to wonder how ready most organisations (and indeed, some HR professionals) are for concepts such as Employer Branding and Employer Value Propositions, when I see so many that seem to struggle with basics such as writing decent job descriptions, keeping attendance up and recruiting effectively? Are we trying to run before we can walk properly?
Over the last few decades we’ve very much made the shift from Personnel as a predominantly welfare role bolted on to the rest of the business, to HR as a function that can contribute to the organisation’s ability to meet its business objectives - and rightly so! I am forever advocating the value that HR can add to a business, IF (and it is a big IF) it is done correctly and well. But surely the proof of our capability should be in what we do and the results we get, not in bamboozling people with made-up words to show how big and clever we are. My personal tinfoil-on-my-fillings term is ‘upskilling’ – we have three perfectly good words in training, learning and development, so why complicate things further with another one that means the same thing?
In fact, are the majority of developments in HR practice simply variations on existing themes? I’m all for continuous improvement, but surely there are only so many ways you can manage performance, train people to do their job or whatever. We have enough to deal with with ever-changing employment legislation, so why make things more difficult for ourselves and everybody else by trying to constantly reinvent the wheel? Instead of giving HR more street cred, all too often it simply creates even more distance between HR and the rest of the business, and puts people off trying to understand and implement it all.
HR is unique within an organisation in that the HR professionals aren’t the only ones putting it into practice – we provide the frameworks, policies, procedures and tools, but then we need line managers and staff to actually implement it all. The last thing we need is to make it even more complex, scary and difficult for them by bringing in more and more unnecessary terminology and new ideas, when they haven’t even mastered the basics yet.
So maybe we should focus on getting organisations to recognise the difference that doing a good job of ‘HR 101’ activities can have on their business performance, before we start bandying about EVPs, Human Capital Management, Balanced Scorecards and the like – save those things for the ones that are already doing a fantastic job with their people management practices and are ready for the next challenge !
HR, employment law & training consultant for the Not-For-Profit sector
I am a fully qualified HR and training professional with over 18 years’ post-graduate experience. I am a Fellow Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a qualified Specialist Employment Law Paralegal , & a registered...