Over the last year, there’s been talk about the role of HR in the direction organisations choose to take. The HR blogosphere has been quite impressive in what it’s put out there, and it certainly gets the brain thinking. Organisations mainly in the banking sectors, various financial institutions, and more recently the G4S scandal with regards to the security resourcing at the Olympics, or the LIBOR scandal and Barclays, have all had questions asked about why the bad things were allowed to happen.
There have been a few questions banded about by HR specifically. Who should be the conscience of the organisation? Why should it fall to HR? How are companies allowed to just follow policy and not think about the human consequence? At what point did the human part of the equation just fail to be a factor?
There’s two things I’d like to write about which will help give some insight to these things. The first is about the organic growth organisations go through. At some point, successful organisation merge or acquire other organisations and the business grows. At some point, successful organisations who relied on the brilliance of their people realised that that alone wasn’t enough and efficiencies needed to be made. At some point, departments needed to be created who at first hold administrative relevance (HR, Operations, Finance) but soon grow to needing to have seats on the board because of broader responsibilities.
This natural growth means we start to see the benefit of having an efficient system. Why waste time and effort when a process can help eliminate that time and waste? We start to value less the people who made things happen, and instead start investing in systems to make the process happen. Indeed this is where systems like Six Sigma came about. Reduce a production operation by X percentage by getting rid of the waste and investing in the resources which will create gain.
What we’ve known for at least the last ten-fifteen years is that in trusting the process, we forget that people need to talk. A whole industry of consultants and experts in creating dialogue have stepped in to help this happen. Where internal teams have the capacity to do this, they are tasked with the same – help people talk. It’s odd to think that at one time talking was the easy part, and then suddenly getting people to talk was burdened with such politicking.
In psychology we learn about personality theories and the likes. They’re very useful in helping to understand the human condition and what motivates people, how to get them to be their best, and how to lead people. All manners of things from unconditional positive regard to rewarding behaviours to ergonomics have meant we poke and prod people in interesting ways when they come to work.
In everyday life we see around us structures that help us to navigate our way in this world. Religion gives a large population their moral compass in guiding their way. It acts as their conscience and as their saviour in some cases. The Criminal Justice system helps us to keep on the straight and narrow and ensures we understand the consequences of doing harm in various ways to others. The Armed Forces help give us a sense of security from threats (either potential or real). The governments of most developed lands provide us with a set of rules and policies by which we lead our lives. In life, we’ve figured out we need people to be these things otherwise anarchy would reign. In organisations, what we’ve figured out (mostly) is that we can’t engage our people otherwise we risk anarchy with those carefully developed processes.
Should HR be responsible for the conscience of the organisation? Abso-bloody-lutely. It’s an unfortunate truth that as organisations naturally grow, they just become less human. No matter the awards on the shelf that may claim they’re a great place to work. It’s the people in an organisation who make it a great place to work, because they know what that looks like. Policies and processes help to give people the structures necessary to keep things moving along. When you look beyond those, it’s the people who are making things happen.