Guest Article 'People - The New Transformation' By Sarah Storm

 People - the new Transformation

In January we generally see a plethora of articles about the latest trends in HR, L&D, recruitment and leadership development. In fact, when I think about it, it seems that we’re constantly being urged to adopt some new approach or technology.

We can forgive ourselves for being distracted by the new and shiny. Our brains are hard-wired to be drawn to novelty and there’s no doubt that we need to be aware of the latest developments in our profession. They can be helpful, even essential, to continued survival and improvement. But only when applied with care and common sense.

It’s not just the prospect of reward which can lead us to jump onto the latest bandwagon. There can be a fear of being left behind and the thought that we might be punished in some way for it - particularly when it comes to the so-called “war for talent”.

But it can become a problem when our attention wanders from one exciting new project to another. There’s a risk that we neglect the important, but perhaps rather dull, everyday transactional stuff which is so important to people. Or that we spend less time on the low tech but really critical things which enable people who work in our organisations to be at their best.

It doesn’t help that HR is such a broad church. Large or small; private sector, public sector, not for profit; international or local. Not everybody in the same sector is starting from the same point. Even within the same organisation HR needs are often different.  So an initiative which has great results in one context could be pointless and ineffective somewhere else.

At the same time there’s something which all HR practitioners have in common – or should do.  Dr. Jill Miller mentions it in her forward to the latest HR Outlook report from the CIPD. “Ultimately, it’s our understanding of people, the cornerstone of any business, which sets us apart as a profession.”

Sometimes it seems that we lose sight of that.

This CIPD report suggests that one of the most important insights upon which HR should act is to “demonstrate the value of the HR agenda”. I really wonder whether this makes sense as an activity in itself.

Identifying what it is that enables people to work at their best and then doing it well should demonstrate the value of HR well enough without us having to make a song and dance of it.

Focus on what’s important and what will have the best results for your organisation, rather than latest trends. Not the so-called “best practice” or what the journals are saying is happening in leading-edge global corporations. It may be relevant to their situation but is it applicable in yours?

Actively seek out good stuff which you can learn from other people and then take a long, hard look at it – warts and all. Consider whether it’s relevant to your situation and whether it needs adapting to make it so.

Don’t expect miracles. There’s no such thing as a silver bullet. A new theory/trend emerges (a fanfare is optional) and we’re encouraged to see this as the answer to all our problems, especially when it’s given the big sell by consulting firms and business schools. Disillusion sets in when some of the old problems remain, resolutely, unsolved. The next new idea comes along and the cycle begins again.

Our authority and credibility lies in what truly differentiates HR from Marketing, Finance or any other function. Our understanding of, and attention to, people. One of the takeaways from the CIPD report is the importance of growing people management capability. Just a small but significant improvement in this area - so that managers are more comfortable with their people management tasks, have better and more frequent conversations, and people experience better relationships at work with a corresponding improvement in business performance - would surely be welcomed by our internal clients with open arms.

When we get that right HR will really have demonstrated its value. It may not be new but it certainly would be exciting.

Links & acknowledgements

Thanks to Mary Millar of MeM Consulting for being a sounding board during the writing of this blog and to Ian Pettigrew of Kingfisher Coaching who has blogged in a similar vein.

Many leaders are “ineffective” at crucial people management skills

Novelty and the Brain: Why New Things Make Us Feel So Good

CIPD HR Outlook Winter 2016-2017

Sarah Storm is an independent OD consultant and coach working with clients to grow capability and capacity and thrive in complex, changing environments. Previously she worked for over twenty years in Human Resources for international companies, based in the UK and the Netherlands.

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