2017-01-03  photo img fireworks cc0 via pexels photo 63741 by donald tong 544x208px.jpg

Over the course of traveling to 18 countries in the pursuit of better HR practices in 2016, Neil McCormick has developed a perspective on where things stand and three wishes for HR and business in 2017.

2016 has been a very interesting year. It seems globally the populist is screaming for change. It also appears that while they are screaming for change they really don’t know what they want to change to; just that they are over what they currently have. Sounds like a lot of workforce management services I’ve seen.  Interesting times ahead!

I’ve spent a lot of time in different countries this year. On last count, it was 18. I met with and chatted to managers and executives from a cross-section of organisations throughout South East Asia, China, India and the Middle East, as well as the USA. Some large, many small to medium enterprises. No Google or Amazon types in this mix. Just your “run of the mill” service providers, traders, manufacturers and retailers. I was keen to understand the collective thoughts of this cross-section of business leaders on the topic of managing the workforce and, the positioning of the Human Resources function within their organisations.

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If we listen to the rhetoric, the function of HR (HR) is progressing nicely along the path to being recognised as a strategic business partner within organisations and a critical player in the overall corporate cycle. In my experience the rhetoric doesn’t match the reality.

Many of the managers I chatted with thought HR was an administrative function and policy interpreter / enforcer. Some complained the policies that needed interpretation were so complex only those that wrote them (HR) actually understood them.

Another line of thought saw HR as insurance. Insurance against poor management practice. Somewhere to run when everything goes wrong.

Now, before you rage against the messenger, let me say that I can understand where these views are coming from. I’ve long held the belief that HR is still stuck between managing the processes of the workforce lifecycle and being the triage unit for bad workforce practices. The combination of these leaves no room or time for much else.

Which brings me to the topic at hand. I’ve limited myself to discuss only three points. What are the three things I’d like to see significantly progress in 2017?

  1. A unified definition and acceptance of the HR function’s purpose including a framework for delivery against that purpose.

Many HR departments I see are really “caught between a rock & a hard place”. I do feel for them as expectations differ within departments let alone across the organisation.

What I believe is missing is a unified definition for the “purpose” of HR. Why does HR exist? Now I realise many definitions abound but there is, to my mind, no globally recognised definition for the “purpose of HR”. Once a purpose is defined organisations can align desired outcomes (objectives) and the outputs, processes / activities and inputs one would anticipate would be needed to deliver these outcomes.

Within this definition there must be clear linkage between what HR does and what the organisation requires. For instance, if you use  workforce lifecycle as a guide you can align all HR activity against that.

Next is the need to be specific in terms of what HR does and certainly, what it doesn’t do.

I’ve not highlighted the obvious need for a universal terminology dictionary as one has been generated by the ISO/TC 260 committee as a standard in recent times.

This proposed structure will allow for John Sumser’s “spice rack” approach. Larger organisations will have many individual service lines while small organisations can combine them.

  1. Workforce data integrity improvements

There are very few organisations I’ve worked with over the years that have pristine data quality in respect to workforce information. Even though in many countries accurate records are legislated, it seems that the approach of “near enough is good enough” if the dollars align is the consensus. Some organisations cannot agree on the basics like the number of employees!

There needs to be a reason to improve data integrity. The sorts of measures highlighted in this article would give cause for added impetus to improve data quality. Without improvements in data integrity most analytics will be flawed.

  1. Metrics structured against the framework mentioned in point 1.

It seems the world has fallen in love with “analytics” again. Great! However, there are some issues with the current flurry of workforce metrics for everything. Measuring something is interesting. Knowing why you are measuring it and having a comparative is necessary.

One of the real issues with the selection of appropriate workforce metrics and the consequential reporting is in the framing of the information and the selection of the audience.

The level of interest in any metric will vary depending on your hierarchical position and focus of activity. Additionally, within this HR / workforce metric audience there are two separate and distinct groups. There’s the group within HR and then there is the broader business group.

In the business group, you could use Wang’s model or something like Board & CEO, Executive, Senior managers, Line managers and Team leaders.

The other distinct group is within the function of HR. Such a group typically comprises HR Executive, HR Managers, HR Team Leaders, HR Practitioners.

HR processes and outputs are interesting to HR but not necessarily the business in general. Business is interested in outcomes.

 Once Audience (by level) is determined then a structure is needed to determine the relevance of a proposed metric. Where does it sit in the workforce lifecycle, is there an existing metric that covers this in a different way? Does recording this metric in any way impact the potential outcome of the program or activity? If not, why record it?

A globally recognised structure, the performance audit framework comprises inputs, processes/activities, outputs and outcomes (with risks identified). These” outcomes “should equate to the delivery of the stated “organisations objectives”.

An organisation using this type of model will have the capability to quickly generate a specific list of metrics for each audience group and sub-set.

In summary, I’d love to see the function of HR clearly define its purpose and build the activities it undertakes around a meaningful framework, based on delivery of targeted business outcomes and reporting quality information measured against those specific business outcomes.

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