Following Tail Lights

On December 20, 2011, in HR Scoop, HRExaminer, by John Sumser

Best Practices in HR

“our market is large enough to entertain a huge number of mutually contradictory ideas”

– John Sumser (circa 1997)

The idea that one form of HR or Recruiting will work for all players has more lives than a cat. The notion that generalizing about the topics leads to fruitful debate persists in spite of its ridiculousness. The only truism that makes sense is “What’s best for your company may not work very well somewhere else and vice versa”.Following Tail Lights on HR Examiner

As noted in the groundbreaking psychographic study, What HR Thinks and Feels, the Human Resources Department is often a conservative voice. In the subset of companies that depend on benchmarking, innovation is the opposite of what HR does. A large percentage of those HR professionals depend on documentation, certification and other observable qualifications for credibility.

Best Practices means, “it worked like this for someone else so there is little risk in adopting it.” In environments where HR practice is a question of keeping up with the market and staying competitive, Best Practices are perfectly appropriate. They are the organization’s way of saying, “we don’t innovate in HR. We wait for someone else to take the risk.”

The combination of vast generalizations and deep dependence on Best Practices is at the root of the lack of respect for the work of HR. By implementing off the shelf solutions, the function operates like the organization’s own ‘Men’s Wearhouse‘- all off the rack suits with only minimum tailoring. Anyone who looks closely can see the problem with the fit.

The truth is that every organization has to carefully consider where and how it innovates. It simply isn’t appropriate, in many companies, to make risky investments where the workforce is concerned. Companies that are busy protecting market share and mining incremental growth don’t need or want to turbocharge results.

There is a subset of companies, no more than 10%, who view HR as a weapon. They mine competitive advantage wherever they can find it. They compete hard in the traditional HR silos. They turn their HR advantage into market performance.

They are not typical. They probably shouldn’t be emulated until all of the risk is gone from their approaches. They sometimes prioritize Human Capital over business performance. This is risky business for most companies.

It’s important to identify Best Practices for what they are: ways to limit risk taking in an area where innovation is not desirable.

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