Bringing HR into the 21st Century

Human Resources
by Guest Columnist

By Morag Barrett

Some of HR’s policies and practices (including training) seem a little dated by today’s standards. Today guest columnist Morag Barrett makes the case for why HR must be brought into the 21st century.

Barrett is the author of the bestselling book, Cultivate, and coauthor of the forthcoming The Future-Proof Workplace (Wiley). She is also the founder and CEO of SkyeTeam, an international HR and leadership development company. Originally from the United Kingdom, she has worked with more than 3,000 leaders in 20 countries on 4 continents.

Ask any HR professional what he or she thinks of the people-policies and procedures in their organization and most will acknowledge that many of them are dumb and difficult to enforce. Rules have unfortunately resulted in a reputation of Human Resources being a jobs-worth function trying to justify its existence.

There are many legal requirements designed to protect the employee from the unscrupulous employer, and in some cases they protect the employer from an unscrupulous employee. We’re not suggesting that these be ignored or thrown out. However, we would make a heartfelt plea for them to be simplified! The complexity of some of the legislation is time-consuming, for employee and employer alike, let alone the HR professional who acts as translator, mediator, and enforcer.

What we can’t get our heads around is why so many of those rules and mind-sets towards employees are still anchored in the 19th century, designed for an illiterate workforce transitioning from the fields to the factories.

Too many rules appear as a result of the transgressions of a few, and they end up controlling the many. They certainly don’t reflect an educated workforce or the needs of the futureproof workplace. Many rules actually limit learning, collaboration, and creative thinking.

Do we really need a dress code that bans “spaghetti straps”? Women can wear skirts, but men can’t wear shorts. Interesting. We assume kilts are OK?

Providing proof that a relative has died before you can attend a funeral and trying to place a finite time on grief (2 days for a parent, 1 day for a grandparent) is not only inappropriate, it’s disrespectful. And, do we really need a note from a doctor to prove we’re sick? Let’s clog up waiting rooms even more for minor ailments—while sharing our bugs.

We need to throw out the policies that penalize people for being late but don’t acknowledge the hours worked at the end of the day, in the evening, or during the weekend. Throw them out, so we don’t have to resort to legislation like we’ve seen in France that restricts after-hours e-mails. How about allowing common sense to prevail?

“Managing out” the bottom 10% of your workforce (remember this one?) only works if you can guarantee that the 10% you hire to replace them are better. The flawed assumption being that the bottom 10% of employees underperform. And more insidiously—will always underperform. And this mind set doesn’t even take into account the time required to learn the new role, or the impact on others while they fill in for colleagues who were euphemistically “let go.”

Spending hours debating 9-box positioning, when the only people who like a 9-box are those in the top right-hand box. Everyone else is just annoyed with you (and their colleague) that they are not in the top right-hand box.

Hours, months, and years (OK, a little exaggeration, but admit it, it can feel like years) are spent in the annual performance review cycle where managers are asked to grade their team, and then told to lower their grades to meet an arbitrary curve or expectation from the C-suite. It feels more like junior high than a workplace where responsible adults attend.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, Barrett elaborates on what 21st-century thinking in HR means for performance management and training.

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