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Jean Gamester

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HR, up your impact: what happens when reality bites?


“Plans are nothing; planning is everything” said Dwight D. Eisenhower. It’s one thing to come up with some goals and to have ways of measuring performance. What is vital is that we adapt when there are inevitable deviations from the plan – there may be opportunities to capitalise on and challenges to address.

In this third article of this series, let’s explore how to respond when reality bites in the context of the four strategic areas we are exploring – organisational design, leadership capability, culture and engagement.

Organisational Design

You have identified the right organisational design for your organisation, you’ve defined structures, job families, assessment and recruitment processes and now it’s just a case of implementing. Is it that simple? It’s at this stage that many organisations think the job will get done and focus themselves on other things.

But it is in the implementation, that we hit reality, and we must be constantly ready for what you are going to discover now. This is the point where you find out what got missed in the design – for example, which team will own customer queries, which team is responsible for the design, why roles that seem to be equivalent turn out to have huge differences in skill requirements when you start to recruit. 

What is important here is to keep key decision makers engaged as you go through the implementation process – ready to evaluate issues that are arising, ready to adapt and improve, ready to respond to queries and complaints as the reality starts to come through.

Continue to work closely with staff representatives and trade union representatives – be open to their feedback and collaborate with them on finding improvements.

Make sure you are on the look-out for attempts to restore the status quo or make changes to the design to avoid a fight with people who would obstruct. Make sure you continue to be engaged at the most senior level so you have their commitment when the tough decisions need to be made.

Leadership Capability

You’ve put in place lots of mechanisms to develop leaders, the question is, is it working? Again, the key is to observe, adapt and connect. Perhaps you discover that all of those millennials you have trained aren’t getting opportunities to put their learning into practice, and they are becoming disillusioned.

Make sure that you are getting them to report back on their experience in the field, and get their managers to report back too.

If the managers haven’t been giving them opportunities so far, the discomfort of having to explain why their people aren’t developing may focus them in on finding opportunities after all!

Maybe you find that some areas are growing their leaders well, but others continue to rely on a small few to make decisions.

Make sure you recognise those who are providing the opportunities and that those who don’t understand that there will be consequences when it comes to performance rating and bonus time.

Again, this comes down to HR’s influence at a strategic level – will the CEO and directors support you when you want to impact on the promotions and pay rises those who deliver short term results but fail to develop their successors?

If not, you have more work to do to strengthen that leadership support and alignment.


You’ve defined the values and behaviours you expect, you have done lots of engaging and information sharing.

Then you find that people are still doing things the old way.  For example, perhaps you have decided that one of the values you have is customer focus, but you continue to have no way for your customers to contact you if there are problems. 

Worse still, the people responsible for customer engagement are doing well in their careers despite the lack of engagement! 

You need to check that those mechanisms are actually being used to manage performance against the behaviours, and that only those who demonstrate them get recruited or promoted.

Don’t stop communicating once the initial culture launch has been done – continue to keep the values at the heart of recognition and communication, so they become part of the language in meetings, in decision making, at the water cooler.

Share stories of those who do live the values and have the courage to challenge senior leaders who need reminding of them. 


You’ve done engagement surveys, action plans and you’ve put in mechanisms to listen to what your people really think. But things are going wrong despite your efforts.

One of the most common problems is that you get the information about how people feel, but no action is being taken – other priorities are getting dealt with instead.

What is vital here is being clear on who you are expecting to define and act, and then put in place regular checkpoints on the progress they are making, and ongoing measures of progress being captured.

As with all of this, there must be recognition for those who make progress and consequences if this area is ignored.

One new challenge, and opportunity, in the digital age is that of public commentary and debate about things that aren’t working on internal or external social media. You’ve got to balance the desire to encourage discussion and the requirement for that discussion to be constructive.

I believe it is important to be clear about the tone that is expected in such debate, and the fact that it should not get personal or descend into bullying.   It is vital that such channels are tracked, moderated and action taken if appropriate.  At the same time, this is a useful mechanism to understand what is going well and what could go better.  We in HR need to be ready to observe and act.  

Reality bites – we need to be ready to bite back

In this series of articles, we have looked at HR ensuring that people are at the heart of corporate strategy, that we measure our progress and that we deal with reality.

The key theme here is that more and more, people can provide competitive advantage if we in HR can deliver.

We need to be ready to influence at the most senior levels, and challenge and support our colleagues to make the tough decisions. In this uncertain world, people are the answer and we in HR hold the key.

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