Why HR can’t rely on best practice anymore – part 2

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In part one of this two-part thought piece, I questioned the applicability of HR’s use of best practice as a viable way to serve the needs of organisations. I am seeing time and time again that a number of disruptive market trends are driving the chasm between organisational strategy and HR’s mainstream approach further and further apart.

In this second and final instalment, I identify some more fundamental organisation design practices that could shunt HR out of what I think is an unfortunate slow decline towards occupational extinction.

Embracing the gig economy

Freelancers, contractors, ‘slashies' (call them what you will) are now a force to be reckoned with in the global labour market. In fact, the ‘gig economy’ now comprises over a third (34%) of the entire US workforce, and its coming our way, with an Ipsos MORI survey estimating that there are 1.1 million gig workers in the UK already.

People's psychological contract has evolved from stability to flexibility, so, rather than 'coping' with it, how are you making the most of it?

The concept of a flexible workforce was aired by Handy in his 'Shamrock Organisation' concept back in 1989, but few firms have managed to integrate a truly flexible labour force, and it would appear that 2017 and beyond is set to see Handy’s theory come to fruition.

The gig economy represents the ultimate flexible workforce – this set of highly skilled worker bees can be drafted in quickly to meet shifting priorities and opportunities.

Yes, the rights, ethics and fair treatment of this group absolutely needs to be safeguarded, and here I’m talking about using skilled flexible labour, not a way of avoiding employment law rights.

But when managed well, using this source of flexible workers can be rather like hiring in an elite SAS unit, where freelance experts can be rapidly deployed bringing the right skills and expertise to deal with specific situations.

Once the immediate need is over, they can be relinquished of their duties and work elsewhere until the need for specialist support arises again.

Remember that leaders don’t learn when they’re sat down – our job is to help them structure that learning rather than get sucked up into BAU pressures.

However, getting the right people with the right skills, at the right time, is the key trick here, so as an alternative strategy, could your learning and development teams start to develop talent that DOESN’T yet work for you? It’s a great way to up-skill potentially flexible resources, an incentive for them to take contract work with you in the future, and possibly an even better way of gaining access to potential future core employees!

Also, could the recruitment team shift their focus to include keeping in touch with this group of skilled resources, by forming longer-term relationships with them, almost approaching it with a hybrid attitude of a head-hunter and a customer services relationship builder?

Because if they like working with you and feel like they are a valued part of your extended team they will prioritise taking work with you over other companies, giving you priority access to their skillset.

Lasting leadership learning

Modern leadership demands fluidity, self-awareness, emotional intelligence, compassionate authenticity and a humble willingness to develop both personally and professionally. I can’t think of anybody who would say that a leader ever stops developing, so why do our leadership and management interventions have an end date?

We all know the rhetoric that leadership development shouldn’t be a one-off training programme performed as a ‘tick box exercise’, but how often does the reality of budgets, logistics, resources and BAU pressure drive us to contain leadership and management development to that proverbial box that needs to be ticked?

You can be the most intelligent leader of all time with the highest IQ, but if you don’t possess emotional intelligence, your (positive) impact will undoubtedly be somewhat limited. But can emotional intelligence really be developed on a training course? Maybe the good ones can help with self-awareness, but the real development happens when doing.

Have the courage to question what is in place and, where necessary, wipe the decks and start from scratch.

Just remember that leaders don’t learn when they’re sat down – our job is to help them structure that learning rather than get sucked up into BAU pressures.

So next time you’re reviewing your leadership and management development strategy have a think about things like:

  • Integrating year-long development plans as a compulsory part of managers' roles – which may include courses along with applied learning like coaching and reflective practice
  • Mandating a period of 'back to the floor' time to help them relate to operational level pressures
  • Releasing current or aspiring managers for a day or two each month to use their management skills through personal influence to help a local charity integrate more corporately sustainable practices, while building their confidence away from intimidating organisational politics and management structures

Question ‘the done thing’

In HR, like many other professions, we are surrounded by relics and trophies that stand as evidence of battles fought and lessons learnt in the past, but how many of them still need to be used today? How much of what we do today is just noise and scar tissue?

Take behaviour frameworks for example. Over the years these have developed, and the requirements have been added to – things like trust and accountability were in there originally to formalise the importance of how people did their roles when behavioural expectations were introduced to recruitment and performance practices. But should they be in there now?

Do we really need to include such basic behavioural assumptions like these in a formal mechanism? Or should we be able to consider them a given, take them out of the frameworks, and focus our attentions on the more 'current value added' behaviours like adaptability and tenacity?

What used to be a focused tool has in many cases evolved to become a list of requirements akin to a demanding child’s Christmas list for Santa!

Looking around at the HR practices that surround you – how many of them have been ‘added to’ over the years to the point where they become monolithic, meaningless or quite frankly, messy?

Have the courage to question what is in place and, where necessary, wipe the decks and start from scratch.

As Albert Einstein said… “any fool can complicate things; it takes a genius to simplify them.”

And with giants like Dell, Microsoft, Deloitte, Accenture and PwC discarding the traditional appraisal system in favour of something simpler and more 'live', what other common HR practices are up for the chopping board?

About Sadie Sharp

Sadie Harries

Sadie went self employed at 24, starting her first management consultancy company, and since then, she has been one of the youngest freelance female management consultants in the UK, working with a range of large organisations across the world.

She specialises in transformational development for individuals and organisations, and with a background in strategic HR, organisation re-design, change management, and leadership development, she has applied her fresh thinking and innovative approach to help organisations such as Marks & Spencer, RBS, the NHS, and a range of Councils and Universities disrupt the way they operate and develop their practices. 

Over the past 10+ years she has started 5 companies, coached CEO’s, trained over 10,000 managers, spoken in front of audiences of 800+ people, done stand-up comedy, and launched a youth development social enterprise.

Sadie is now Director at C Squared (a consultancy managing complex transformational change programmes), holds 2 Non-Executive Director positions in strategically innovative organisations, mentors not-for profit organisations to help them become more sustainable, runs a social enterprise helping disadvantaged teenagers learn entrepreneurial skills, and is the author of the forthcoming book “The Power of Inexperience”.

She has been labelled a "disruptive futurist", and enjoys pushing the boundaries of traditional thinking by using her varied experiences to disrupt practice and provide innovative yet practical alternatives through keynote speaking and publishing thought articles.

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