If I’m honest, I’m an ENFP (sounds a bit like Alcoholics Anonymous). Delivery isn’t my favorite pursuit. I’ve learned it’s no good using my ENFP’ness as an excuse when I don’t deliver. Instead, I’ve become passionate about learning the basics of project management and surrounding myself with completer finishers who are naturally good at getting things done. Words without action, ideas without outcomes, design without delivery is a waste of time.
Symptoms of Delivery Deficiency
- Projects are started but not finished. HR enjoys developing new ideas but does not enjoy putting them into practice.
- People are easily bored, especially with follow-through, with the result that nothing is actually delivered.
- HR works purely based on anecdotes, failing to collect or analyze real data to find out what is going on.
- It fails to respond to internal customer requests, seeing them as idiots who get in the way of designing another HR scheme.
- HR people want to be prophets, not plumbers – they are only interested in being ‘strategic’ and are bored with the plumbing, the basics of HR that actually underpin its credibility.
- HR lacks the disciplines of basic planning and project management.
The impact of delivery deficiency
Of course, the biggest impact of delivery deficiency is nothing actually gets done, but this has knock-on implications for HR. HR loses credibility, which would enable it to make a real difference to the business because no one expects HR actually to deliver anything. HR is seen as a cost, with the subsequent pressure to reduce the function’s size because no one sees any value-added from what it does (or doesn’t do).
They did the sexy stuff and none of the basics, they delegated without accepting accountability.
In recent interviews with 45 CEOs I asked them if they had ever sacked their HRD. There were 3 common themes:
- In some cases, they recognized that while their HRD was good at one level, they simply couldn’t keep up as the company grew or changed. They hadn’t done anything wrong they just no longer fitted the need. ‘It was a function of the agenda. The individual didn’t have the capability to step up again. We had taken our game up a notch. She was successful in the old agenda. I would give her a reference, not a failure; it just depends on what you wanted from them.’
- Lack of integrity was the most common issue. ‘The incumbent was disengaged, devious, political, someone who didn’t have a genuine interest in people, who was out for their own interest, their own ego. In the end, the senior management team had had enough of her politicking and backstabbing and she went.’
- But delivery deficiency was a show stopper for most of them. CEOs want people who understand the business and drive great solutions but if you can’t actually make them happen in the real world, they’ll bring in someone who can. ‘They did the sexy stuff and none of the basics; they delegated without accepting accountability.’
This focus on the sexy strategic stuff without getting the basics, what I call the compulsory figures, done undermines HR’s credibility. So, what do I mean by the compulsory figures? Very few people know why skating is called figure skating. In the Olympics before 1990, the champion skater won the gold medal not just for the spectacular jumps and complex moves and for their artistic interpretation of the music, but also for the compulsory figures.
What we didn’t see on the television, a couple of days before the free program, were the compulsory figures when the skaters drew figures in the ice with their skates and were measured for their consistency and accuracy. They didn’t win the gold medal for the figures, but they didn’t get to skate for the gold medal unless they did well. For me, the compulsory figures are the basics of HR: paying people on time, recruiting, terms and conditions, etc. It doesn’t win HR the medals, but unless it does them well, the function doesn’t have the credibility to engage in the real value-added work.
- HR teams need to balance who they recruit, looking for and valuing ‘completer finishers’ as much as (or perhaps even more than) ‘ideas’ people.
- Put in place strong governance to ensure clear goals are set and delivered.
- Establish clear accountabilities for what is actually delivered and follow through with appropriate consequences, both the good and the bad.
- Place value in old-fashioned basic project management techniques, not necessarily overcomplicating things, but establishing a disciplined approach to planning and review.
- Train HR people in the discipline of getting things done and reward and recognize them for it. Find role models and heroes who are doing the basics really well or who are doing a great job of data entry and those doing strategic HR business partnering or designing new talent processes.
- Ensure that everyone, early in their HR career, spends time doing the basics; data entry, admin, call centers, etc., so they understand how tough it is and value it.
What are the HR tech implications?
We all want to be strategic HR Business Partners, but we must recognize the importance of doing the basics right. It is these basics that provide one of the biggest opportunities for HRTech. In my analogy from figure skating, the value-added isn’t in the creativity but the consistency and accuracy. This is where automation can provide a huge boost. We shouldn’t be scared of technology as it will take away a lot of the boring, mundane elements of HR, the compulsory figures, and allow us to win the gold medal, building an organization’s capability to deliver its strategy.