A Very Boring Post

Let me apologize in advance. You will not find “The future of HR” or “disruptive” or AI, AR, analytics, NLP, blockchain or other popular buzzwords or clickbait in this blog post. So, if you are addicted by now to the fortune tellers telling us half our jobs are going away soon and we need to upskill fast, just skip this one and go to LinkedIn, where half the posts are about these things. I read those articles too, and they are important, but that’s not what this post is about.

I will tell you about the present state of organizations and the problems that need fixing, which if not fixed, there may be no organization left to fix, no industry to disrupt, no data to analyze. If you, today’s HR leader in today’s organization, cannot fix these problems today, then you may still lose your job, not to AI, not to a data nerd, but because your CEO sees you as ineffective.

I help clients pay their people more effectively. Just in the last few years, my work has impacted the pay of over 100,000 people, easily. So I am not looking into any crystal ball as I share my observations.

Here are the problems our organizations face today:

  1. Silos—I am guilty here. I teach how to write job descriptions and I help clients develop them. But they are dangerous. At best, they provide important role clarity and accountability and help the organization ensure value for the money spent. Job descriptions also form the basis of compensation structures and other HR processes. But at worst, they act as fences, rigid verticals that box us in, permitting us to use only a fraction of our ability and resulting in punishment for “doing someone else’s job” when we try to collaborate more broadly. Job descriptions literally enable our people to declare “that’s not my job.”

    Illustration: At a big firm, I was in charge of one specialised area, and was not permitted to do broader reward consulting, though I had been global head of rewards for 3 multinationals. In fact, my incentive was based entirely on consulting in my area, despite our CEO stating that all solutions should involve multiple lines of business. Terrible alignment of incentives, for a firm that charges clients for incentive design. As a freelancer, I do what the client needs me to do, and 95% of what I’ve been doing the last 5 years, I would not have had permission to do at the big silo firm.

    Silos stifle creativity, connectedness, cross-functioning and collaboration. Let’s get people focused on needs and opportunities and whole solutions. Let’s encourage (and reimburse!) learning in adjacent areas, not just “job related” training. Let’s recognize and reward those who take initiative to see the whole problem and address the whole problem. The political sensitivity is not the client’s problem. Better to solve the problem that extends beyond your job description, than to tell your client (internal or external) it’s not your area. Agree?

  2. Courage—you cannot outsource or automate managerial courage. Robot, schmobot. Unless robots have balls, it is still up to us to call a spade a spade and take on a tough problem directly. A handphone app is not going to tell the jerk on your team to stop disrespecting the women in the group. Data analytics will not get Bob to pay his low performers less in order to pay his stronger performers more. (Analytics can point the way, but only Bob can submit his worksheet, because Bob is responsible for his budget, not an HR bot.)

    Let’s remember that job security comes from being able to do what others (including robots) can’t, and doing what others don’t want to do, like having confrontational conversations when needed.

  3. Mindset—I get calls almost every week about flexible work arrangements. Seems I am regarded as a guru. In fact you don’t need to be a guru on this topic. Successful implementation of FWAs, like many other things we try to do, come down to culture, i.e. what’s ok and what’s not ok. An organization that believes at the top that the important thing is results—not when or where we work—will need little help with FWAs, which are mostly dependent on department-level common sense. What’s needed most is a mindset change. A “laoban” mentality that believes face requires a big team with butts in seats from 9 ’til 6 will find eventually that all they have are butts in seats from 9 ’til 6.

I promised you boring and I hope you were not disappointed!

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