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Sadie Sharp

Sharp Transformations Limited

Transformation Consultant

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Why HR can’t rely on best practice anymore – part 1


We’ve seen for years now that what makes HR work in our current and future roles is the ability to be commercial, stay curious and be bold in following these things through.

However, how many of us can actually say that we do this? There are some shining pockets of practice, but for the most part, many HR professionals are still banging on about best practice.

Well…I take your best practice, and I boldly assert that much of it is no longer best practice, but ‘rest practice.

There is little point sticking in the comfort zone of old, tried (or tired?!) and tested HR tools and techniques. In today’s ever-changing, disruptive world many just don’t work anymore, and unless HR seeks to pioneer new ways of doing things, I fear that our profession may very shortly have put itself out of a job.

With the bulk of people management moving to the line, the emergence of machine learning will make the majority of process-driven and enquiry-based work defunct, leaving the only value-based HR function being of a strategic and challenging nature.

‘But what does this look like?’ I hear you cry. Well in part one of this two part thought piece, I explore some of the key areas that I believe are on the cusp of transforming HR’s approach to best practice in the areas of recruitment, retention and release.

Boomerang recruitment

Back in the (relatively recent) day, the prime objective was staff retention. Today (and tomorrow), we need to be more open minded.

The majority of the workforce aren’t looking for jobs for life. Like the technology they’ve grown up with, they want their place of work to be instant and open, and their opportunities limitless. Salaries are not the be all and end all. They want to grow personally and professionally.

So organisations need to be prepared to release them, to let them spread their wings – whether that’s to set up in business for themselves, work for a social cause close to their hearts, or see how the other side operates and work for competitors.

In a nutshell – let them grow in someone else’s garden, then focus on re-attracting them back into the fold when the time is right!

Our people should be staying because it’s the right thing for them and us… not because of well-intentioned yet coercive benefits, often referred to as ‘golden handcuffs’.

There are significant wins with ‘boomerang recruiting’ – access to more specialised skills, competitive intelligence, greater experience, gaining a more ‘worldly wise’ rounded individual and the creativity they can spark having seen a different way of working elsewhere.

To make this work, consider setting up a corporate alumni programme to stay in touch with former colleagues using a proprietary web platform to share company news, industry developments and events. Encourage more alumni interaction and networking. And if you really want to be brave, when introducing a re-attraction strategy, why not put in place a positive exit strategy as well?

Encouraging ‘targets for managers to develop people ‘out of the team / organisation within three to five years can systemise talent development and a healthy level of staff turnover (for the right reasons), and then tempt them back in at a later date.

Retention through coercion?

Let’s take one of the most widely ingrained practices: pensions and benefits. How many people (inside our workplaces and outside) have we heard say “oh I can’t leave now, I’d lose too much off my pension”, or “it’s worth staying because I wouldn’t get these benefits elsewhere”.

Now I’m not saying that we should take these things away from our people, or that the area is easy to unpick, and completely recognise the attraction benefits of using them.

But surely the effect that these things have could be compared to a corporately acceptable form of Stockholm Syndrome?

Our people should be staying because it’s the right thing for them and us… not because of well-intentioned yet coercive benefits, often referred to as ‘golden handcuffs’.

The knock-on impact of this can lead to reduced engagement, an unhealthy level of tenure, stunted progression pathways due to roles not becoming available, and resistance to change where people have been ingrained for so long.

So when considering retention strategies, consider alternatives that will benefit both you, them, and the organisation you are trying to build for tomorrow.

For example, some forward thinking firms provide business support services to people who want to set up a side business to commercialise a hobby. They benefit, satisfaction and engagement rise, skills are developed in an alternative way, and if it goes well and they do in fact decide to leave, they could possibly then fall into your flexible workforce group.

Release for a re-boot

Golden Goodbyes have been used selectively for a while now, and their logic of assessing the cost of continuing with someone’s employment versus the cost of the settlement figure is an objective, financial, ROI decision. So why don’t HR use them more?

I come across so many organisations where a fair number of people are seeing their time out, and we in the HR profession just aren’t dealing with it.

A worldwide workforce report published by Gallup a few years ago suggested that every organisation has at least 17% of disengaged people who were unlikely to respond to any re-engagement attempts, and the average cost of these disengaged employees is 34% of their annual salary!

It’s HR’s job to be brave; to be bold in our intelligence on how we can use our people knowledge to create agile organisations that will meet the demands of the future.

Trying to engage our people is obviously a critical feature of an effective organisation, but I precariously ask the question…

Should we really try and re-engage all of our people, or should we actually help some of them leave?

Instead of adopting best practice and attempting to re-engage all employees, should we maybe make a one-time offer to all our workforce for a kind of voluntary release package, where we offer them a percentage of their salary as a thank you payment for their service, and support them in finding a new job if they feel that ours is simply not the organisation for them any more?  

The financial payback should speak for itself if you accept the 34% cost of disengagement, as well as bringing other benefits such as freeing up entrenched positions, providing space to bring in new talent throughout the levels, and providing an opportunity to re-boot the culture. Not to mention the ability to grow and create new jobs without the restrictions that come with making ‘old’ posts redundant.

We don’t need to resign ourselves to having to employ policy-led processes to bring about business critical changes when, in actual fact, if we think outside of the box a bit more, we can create much more innovative solutions that can be win:win for everyone involved.

Time to be brave

Best practice, in its most basic form, infers that the way we did it yesterday is the way we should do it tomorrow. However, I assert that tomorrow is now too fundamentally different from yesterday to make this assumption any more, and it’s HR’s job to be brave; to be bold in our intelligence on how we can use our people knowledge to create agile organisations that will meet the demands of the future.

In the second and final instalment, I will take things a bit further to identify some more fundamental organisation design practices that could shunt HR out of what I think is an unfortunate slow decline towards occupational extinction.


One Response

  1. First of all, your hair color
    First of all, your hair color is what dreams are made of! Second, I agree with so many things in this article, I don’t know where to start. What works for everyone else, or even what has “always” worked for your company, may not work anymore. It varies dependent on situations, even within an org.! I want to throw in this little add-on blog about how to hire boomerang employees, because they can offer quite a bit of perks if done right:

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Sadie Sharp

Transformation Consultant

Read more from Sadie Sharp