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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Four damaging mistakes that HR professionals continue to make


HR continually evolves – practices that work one year may be ineffective the next as the workforce evolves and peoples’ needs change. External culture can also influence what is and what isn’t effective in the workplace.

These four common scenarios are commonplace in today’s HR function – a few of the examples are seen as ‘best practice.’ But while many practitioners think they add value, they may actually damage an organisation.

Changing policies rather than culture

New policies, however strongly they are worded or championed, don’t change company culture or what an organisation stands for. If a company wants to become more ethical, for example, introducing a volunteering initiative will not suffice. It will just be another rule to follow because it isn’t intimately connected with the culture of the business – the values that underpin the whole operation.

If HR wants to make a company more ethical, they must get senior leaders on board and make sure that ethics underpin absolutely everything the company does. It must be a guiding force rather than an individual policy.

Changing culture is a long-term process that gets under the skin of an organisation and reinvents fundamental beliefs – leaders and senior managers must champion the changes.

Policies are never ground-breaking. Values are.

Compensating through communication

There’s a myth perpetuating that honest communication can melt wrath. But if employees feel a policy is unfair, good communication and asking for feedback is going to do little to help the situation.

A much better approach would be looking at ways to mitigate the negative effects of the new policy and communicating the right information – for example, explaining the commercial need behind a decision to help staff come to terms with it. This is reflective of an adult speaking to an adult – and employees will respect you for it.

However, many HR departments are keen to keep the nitty gritty commercial side separate from the staff.

Adding to the mould rather than reworking it

When hiring employees, HR often look for someone that will fit in with the company culture – another word for this is assimilation, where someone gradually adapts to an environment and becomes ‘one of the team.’ If this happens, HR often hails the process as a great success. But is it really?

There’s a much more relevant question to be asked during the recruitment process: how can this person’s contributions and personality remould the culture so that it is better than it was before? It’s a lot harder to identify someone that can challenge others without putting them off, bring new skills that bolster existing ones, and become part of the organisation’s make-up without losing their individuality.

But it will bring significant benefits in the long run.

Chasing happiness rather than reducing negativity

Businesses often have an unrealistic view of how much of an effect they can have on employee happiness. It is, of course, a good thing if employees are happy but this will mostly be derived from external factors, such as personal relationships and self-actualisation.

Happiness is an unrealistic end goal for businesses. Instead of thinking about how to make employees happy, HR needs to be removing the obstacles that have a negative effect on employees. This is a fundamental difference – “What can we do to make our staff happier?” compared with “What is making employees unhappy and how can we rectify this situation?”

There’s a big risk when companies focus on the former. They put money into initiatives that could be a winner, were it not for other initiatives or policies in the company which are depressing employees – in this case the new policy will have limited effect.

One Response

  1. Who owns the culture?

     I find this an interesting article especially as all too often individuals in an organisation don’t see themselves as responsbile for the culture.  They appear to see it as something outside of them.  Two examples I can think of most clearly – the first when we were rolling out our Personal Leadership Programme into a very large University and on virtually every programme people were saying ”we would love to be like this, but it would be impossible because the organisation is too political’.  We proceeded to ask them which of them were playing politics?  Zero acceptance that it could be anything to do with them!  Another example was when I was aked to run an afternoon, at the end of a two day event for the top 250 people in one of our clients.  During the two days I was fascinated to hear, as a recurring theme, that the culture of the company was not supportive.  When I got up to do my bit I immediately asked them about the culture and proceeded to remind them that they were the top people in the company and they were the culture – so – if they didn’t like it, change it!

    All too often when there needs to be change, and change is naturally constant, the focus goes on to changing the organisation, the systems and processes with an assumption that this, of itself, will cause individuals to change.  However, this frequently doesn’t work as the individuals may not like the change/be worried by it/feel unable to deliver what is required of them and the consequent output is likely to be less than the change that is required.  In my mind the absolute key and indisputable evidence to this is getting each individual to fundamentally shift the way they think and choose to take responsibility for the change, which naturally includes the culture.  Ony then can you get the change you are looking for.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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