A few weeks ago, I was paid a really nice compliment by a client – while chatting he said “we use you for HR because you’re always pragmatic and take into account our business needs”. However, it made me wonder why he thought this was unusual, and why HR people are so often seen as inflexible and unhelpful.
Three reasons occur to me:
Too many HR people are risk-averse, irrespective of the culture of the organisation they work in. A fear of employment law and getting things “wrong” leads them to be over-cautious in their approach, often to the frustration of line and senior managers who see HR as a brake on business development.
Secondly, there is a temptation to hide behind policies and procedures (and to create procedures where they aren’t needed). As a result “computer says no” becomes a default response to a managerial request that is slightly out of the ordinary.
Finally, there is often an attempt to use inappropriate HR models that don’t fit the context or setting of the organisation. Ulrich’s Business Partner model, for example, frequently fails because of the way it is imposed in organisations that aren’t ready for it, not because of the model itself.
It makes me think that HR should make more use of Blanchard and Hershey’s Situational Leadership model – our advice and decisions should take into account the same factors they advise managers and leaders to, namely:
One of the pleasures of working with smaller organisations is that they are less rule-bound and more inclined to be flexible in their response to situations. Maybe it’s time for the HR profession to ditch the procedures, precedents and an almost obsessive desire for “consistency” and start being a bit more practical about the situations we face.
(A slightly shorter version of this blog appeared on my own website last week)
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