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It’s about time…

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HR practitioners are always strapped for time because they waste too long on pointless tasks and miss the point of their job, argues consultant Denis Barnard.


It’s commonly known that Human Resources departments are always strapped for time. The usual reason is that there is too much administration, although for some practitioners who suffer from the usual HR inferiority complex, administration is a comfort zone that justifies their existence and makes them feel at the epicentre of the business.

Time is a scarce resource, but let’s briefly look at some of the ways it is allocated in HR departments.

Wherever practicable, Human Resources avoids “reinventing the wheel” when it comes to Policies, Procedures and Guidelines. Under the guise of “Best Practice” HR regularly copies and imports these from admired sources with scant regard for tailoring to the business processes and culture of their organisation, expecting them to be adopted wholesale without proper explanation. It’s easy to understand the need for speed when looking for compliance – on paper, at least – but this template approach can actually lose respect and buy-in for what HR is trying to achieve.

“Human Resources avoids “reinventing the wheel” when it comes to Policies, Procedures and Guidelines. Under the guise of “Best Practice” HR regularly copies and imports these from admired sources with scant regard for tailoring to the business processes and culture of their organisation.”

Having a Policy and Procedure for a situation does not mean that this is going to automatically remove any problems; if you put up a notice stating “Keep Off The Grass”, it behoves you to explain why this should be so. In Britain, we have an innate dislike of confrontation and typically try to get round the issue by posting notices that set out the rules – just look at all the signage littering our roads – and hoping they will be adhered to without further discussion.

At the other end of the scale, there are some things on which HR positively delights in spending time: Job Descriptions, Competency Frameworks and Organisation Charts.

Job Descriptions can run to several pages and still not get to the essence of the reason for the job: the required result. Too often the focus is on how the job should be done, and its task elements, which appears to hark back to an age when “That’s not in my Job Description” was the opening gambit in some employment negotiation.
What greater indictment of the preceding list of duties on a Job Description than the final words: “and any other ad hoc duties required of you”. Due to the all-embracing nature of this statement, perhaps it should serve instead of the Job Description!

Competency Frameworks are very time consuming to research, test and prepare, and, yes, I have seen examples where other organisations’ competency matrices have been reproduced wholesale! Competency is broadly an expression of how an individual or group of individuals are able to deploy skills that they possess; useful as a guide when recruiting, but perhaps not as part of the performance appraisal process where a lot of time is spent tracking competency levels rather than looking at actual achievement against targets.

In any progressive environment that either competes actively in its markets or is under pressure to deliver continuing value, Organisation Charts share a common characteristic with Job Descriptions and competency frameworks: they seem to be out of date almost as soon as they are produced.

“Harking back to our “posting notices” obsession here in the UK, what is an organisation chart really telling you? The subtext must really be hierarchical rather than informative; otherwise why else would so much time be taken to show everyone at precisely the correct level in relation to each other?”

One of the problems confronting Chart production in recent times has been the growth of Matrix organisations, flatter structures where the same individuals appear in several project activities concurrently and reporting to different people within those activities. As a result, proprietary software linked to HR systems cannot always express the complexity of an organisational structure, and the whole thing has to be produced with an inordinate amount of manual intervention.

Harking back to our “posting notices” obsession here in the UK, what is an organisation chart really telling you? The subtext must really be hierarchical rather than informative; otherwise why else would so much time be taken to show everyone at precisely the correct level in relation to each other?

Perhaps it’s time to look again at some of the things we do that we see as part of the HR territory and decide if they really add any value. If we could create more usable time, we could concentrate on the more strategic issues – always provided that we have a strategic capability, that is.


Note:

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own opinions and are not to be automatically attributed to any of the business interests in which the writer is involved.

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