Simplicity and the Urge to Tinker

June 13, 2015

Many years ago in a complex union negotiation I suggested to the CEO that we use a communications consultant to better get our message across. The trouble with communications people he replied is that they want to communicate. We can debate the rights and wrongs of that reply another time but the message was clear; there are times when business goals require that we suppress professional curiosity.

HR is often like that. There is a constant stream of new ideas and methodologies working their way through the profession and we are like moths attracted to the flame, tempted by what they purport to offer. Maybe it is something to do with having a functional title that is not a verb or the constant pressure HR is under to demonstrate strategic value. The function has never been as precise about what it does and why as other parts of the business.

We have written in this blog before about the attraction of "plug-and-play" tools only later to find that we are disappointed.  New approaches may add to the sophistication of the function but may not necessarily align with its business goals.

I was reminded of this when reading  Chuck Csizmar's recent blog about the impact of size. The theory goes that large companies tend to be more sophisticated, more professional, and more forward-thinking than smaller ones. Chuck argues that sophisticated has become cumbersome, professional has become bureaucratic and so called forward-thinking has distanced HR from the practical difficulties being faced by managers. 

The conclusion: If it ain't broke it don't need fixing and resist the temptation to complicate.

HR people want to ply their trade even when stakeholders tell us that they don't need HR to be the latest, they just want relevant delivered simply. More complexity means impersonal processes with more to confuse and aggravate. When we hear "let's get back to basics", no matter the size of the organization we should pay heed.

Companies are essentially human systems with employees seeking simple connectivity. Simplicity not necessarily sophistication, can improve that.

Direct cause and effect is winning converts causing HR process in a number of organizations particularly in the US, to become simpler. Fueled by approaching pay transparency which predicates commensurate transparency in related activities such as performance measurement, training and development. Disclosure and understanding will be easier when these processes and how they connect to each other are simple.

Making HR's purpose clearer is maybe the initiative that finally gets it recognized as a strategic contributor.

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