Blogging this week has been exactly like buses (one doesn’t come along for ages and then there’s two at once). But when the awesome energy that is one Perry Timms AKA @PerryTimms (adjusteddevelopment.wordpress.com) asked me to take part in a new blogging experiment, how could I resist? It’s the new idea I hinted at last year in my blog White Noise. Perry suggested we could join forces to try a little experiment with blogging – a co-blog or a tag-team approach. We pick a subject: I says something about it in written form, Perry responds, I add more, Perry does too and then eventually we think it might be worth sharing with the unsuspecting world.
Here’s the first one: We’d LOVE to know what you think.
Do you know what I think Perry? Human Resources is a lot about common sense. Practitioners just lose their way because they get tied up in the red tape of have to deal with tricky issues. Something which should be fairly straightforward gets progressively more and more complicated and we end up just chasing our tails. Once something like that is in place, we HR pros can get very protective of our baby. Why throw the baby out with the bathwater? We need a job after all.
Take performance management for example – what is probably the profession’s hot topic right now. If someone was designing the process from scratch they would probably start with what the organisation wanted to get out of it and work backwards. So, the team brainstorming the desired results would come up with things like “staff feel valued for their input”, “staff understand how much their work means to the organisation” and “staff believe they are rewarded fairly and in a timely manner”. Imagine one participant in the session, probably swinging back on their chair, staring at the ceiling until they interject with, “I know, I’ve got a great idea!”. They go on to describe a system of forms, targets and performance indicators. Eventually someone mumbles, “sounds complicated” to which the reply is “don’t worry, we’ll only have to do it once a year!”.
My point is that no one in their right mind would design performance management as it is now. Yet any question of a serious rethink is dismissed amongst concerns of “robustness” or simply laughed off as a half-meant joke. Is there any hope Perry?
Hey Helen – you put it so well here. It would/should never have been like this. Anyway in answer to your question to me: There may well be hope in that many people have realised how the bureaucracy isn’t just unhelpful it’s positively loathed and creates more tension than it was ever designed to solve.
Done well, and by that I mean without being overly fixated on forms and ratings, the chance to chat with someone on your team about how they’re doing and review how things are is a great way to get some meaningful dialogue underway. Then BOOM we introduced boxes, and scales, and performance related pay and all sorts of well meaning stuff. And we lost the will to live and hours and hours and hours. And we grew no closer to each other in understanding each other.
Now the humanity in us is repelling the forced compliance with forms, systems, rubbish feedback sandwiches (has there ever been a more rubbish model than this?) and disregard for the person behind the job title. Inside the overalls / shirt is a person with the right to expect managers to notice the contribution they make or don’t and to being a trusted, reliable, effective member of the team with responsibility and accountability to do great things that drive the business forward and deliver the key aspects of the business value proposition.
So I think we’re delayering this and returning to people having conversations that help, matter and show support. We are also decoupling performance pay – which I don’t think has ever really worked to enhance productivity, and we are removing awful mechanical rankings and silly achievement words like “acceptable performance” – how uninspiring is that? And still people worry about the bureaucracy though.
So i’d like to ask you back, if we strip back to conversations, how do we satisfy the bureaucrats and those who need compliance? Over to you H…
Wow Perry, that’s a tough one. My immediate answer is, you can’t. As soon as we dare mention trying to take away the forms, the bureaucrats will be sweating and wringing their hands. Unfortunately their first concern will be, how can we justify sacking someone further down the line if we don’t have mounting evidence of their terribly declining competence? Getting them to ask the right questions, such as “what on earth was the line manager doing?” and “was there more we could have done to prevent this?” involves a complete cultural change. I would like to say that the HR people would be gently prompting the right responses, but all too often HR is its own worst enemy. We’ve gone around justifying our existence in completely the wrong way, by building an empire of processes and hoops that people need to jump through in order to keep their job. We speak of the bureaucrats as if they’re some distant enemy, when regrettably of lot of them have already infiltrated the ranks of HR.
No doubt many will be balking at my mention of “culture change”. Another thing that’s so difficult and intangible it’s been crossed off the list of acceptable activities for HR to “manage”. Instead culture has been turned into an excuse for exactly why things can’t change. You know, why can’t we change the performance management system? Oh that wouldn’t work here, it doesn’t fit with our culture! We’ve forgotten that HR wields some of the biggest instruments affecting the whole tone of “how things are done around here”. Learning and development. Discipline. Recruitment. It’s the people that make the culture, and we don’t just let them run around randomly doing whatever they want (or hopefully we don’t). Even line managers have a framework to work within, and who sets that framework? Human Resources.
So I think the question isn’t how do we please the bureaucrats, it’s how do we get rid of them! Perry?
Perry: Wow Helen getting rid of the bureaucrats makes you sound like Gary Hamel..! I mean that in a nice way. I guess I’d love to see bureaucracy become more about discerning process. Great things in place that gives us the consistency and certainty needed in the places they’re needed but not inflicted as a default. “Let’s process that out.” NO. Let’s only process it where there needs to be a solid repetitive element and the rest of it we work on PRINCIPLES. Principles should be the foundation of things like people development and enablement not process. So let’s turn the bureaucrats into purveyors of artful, practical, elegant principles that we can all subscribe to with intellect and let’s loosen the choking effect of bureaucracy.
I guess in summary what we will need to deduct from our exchange then here is: –
There is hope: in returning to the value and impact human beings have in work and not in a process
There is a change: in the way we thrust conversations back into our ways of working and bring dialogue that creates meaning and trust.
There is a guiding light: in principles and not in process process process.
And therefore HR should help manage the bureaucracy and bureaucrats via sensible evidence of benefits gained by a move to de-layered simplicity and things lost if we stick to the current painful process.
Thanks Perry for inviting me to be a part of the jointly constructed, conversational, co-created blog post.
Our first tag-team blog.