Sunday, 22 February 2015

The tail wagging the dog?

There’s always lots to read and reflect upon about the place of HR, L&D, OD, People Management etc. in the business. Even more than ever before thanks to social media networks and the rich abundance of shared learning opportunities, leading to even more of a need to be discerning and to think about what matters and what should be happening.

With friends recently, one of whom is a very senior manager in a large dispersed, FTSE100 organisation you will have heard of, the conversation turned, as it so often does, to more examples of poor HR practice at his company. As usual, I sprang to the defence of the HR profession, shaking my head and giving my tuppence worth of how I think things should be in order for HR to be effective, credible and a valued part of the business. So, I would love to know how anyone in HR could defend this short. but spectacularly illuminating example.

This organisation sounds like it has a centralised Shared Service and a Business Partnering approach. They have a scheme for employees who recommend someone who then becomes a successful hire (apologies for using HR speak and turning a verb into a noun here) to receive a fairly modest monetary payment as a thank you. Apparently, this scheme is not well communicated. The payment for anyone in my friend’s sizeable team who does this, would come out of the departmental budget he holds and manages, and really would be a drop in the ocean. Recently a team member was successful in making a recommendation that worked out. Here’s what happened.

My friend to Shared Services – I’d like Joe Bloggs to receive this payment please.
Shared Services – Not possible, as he has not filled in the correct form.
My friend to Joe Bloggs – Here you go, fill this form in retrospectively and I’ll authorise it.
Shared Services to Joe Bloggs and my friend – We can’t make the payment as the form was not filled in in advance of the successful hire he recommended.
My friend to his HR Business Partner – Can you influence this please? It’s ridiculous, I am the budget holder and I am agreeing to this as a legitimate payment that I will sign off.
HR BP – I’ll see what I can do.
HR BP (later) – I’m sorry but Shared Services have said no. So how about you do this an ex gratia payment to the same value?

So many immediate questions.

Here’s just a few I can think of off the top of my head:

How can the HR BP, who is based in operations, possibly gain any credibility in the business when they have no scope for flexibility on such matters and have to defer decisions to Shared Services?

Why is the HR BP being used as a go between?

Why have Shared Services got the power to over-rule a reasonable decision made about something fairly small, by a senior manager?

I say something fairly small, meaning monetary value, but what about the impact on the employee concerned?

How much did this silliness irritate him and affect his motivation and productivity at that time, and possibly for longer if this is just one example of many?

How much of his expensive time did my friend spend trying to sort this out?

As I know that for my friend, this is indeed one example of many, what does he think of his HR support? (I know, and I’m sure you can guess correctly.)

So many wider questions.

For us as HR, OD and L&D professionals:

Can we all put our hands on our hearts and say we have never gone along with a process that adds no value at best, or at worst, hinders business?

Are we sure corporate support services are part of the overall business, working seamlessly with operational colleagues to help our organisations succeed?

Do we have enabling, simple processes, with flexibility balanced just right with the need to protect the business?

How can we ensure we have intelligent influence throughout the business?

Are tails wagging dogs?

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