Monday, August 15, 2011

HR: Butchery or Deli?

To a hammer everything is a nail, and to a butcher everything is a piece of meat.

What associations do you have with butchers of butcheries? Personally, I like the idea of getting a fresh cut just the way I like it, but going to the place of smelling of crushed bones and blood is for the intrepid and valiant. You might get the same feeling from visiting a nurse drawing your blood with a long needle or your HR Department.

What associations do you have with deli shops? I like taking my time with browsing through the rows with quaint olive oils, decadent cheeses and delectable meat treats. Similar sensations can be caused by profoundly positive emotion such as a successful date, a leisurely yacht trip or visit to your HR Department.

Why do we see such discrepancy in how people view their HR services and people? Apart from the fact that every perception is purely individual, I would agree that there are two types of HR: the evil one and the good one. I have not heard about something in the middle. The evil HR are butchers: they care for numbers and less for real people, cling to processes and policy books until the very end and even fire people. The good HR are deli chefs: they design complex and exciting transformation projects, coach and train employees and communicate at every convenient occasion. As you understand, both are severe exaggerations and the truth is "somewhere out there".

The truth is that a solid HR professional must be good in all four aspects of the trade defined by the guru of business science Dave Ulrich, be it orientation at people or processes, looking far into the future or being immersed in daily routines:

Variability and constant change make it an imperative to be skilled in all four. At times, you need to consult and deeply understand the underlying problems your employees are going through, and at time you need to bang the policy book on the table, and - yes - when the company is between the rock and the deep sea, layoffs are inevitable: the trick is in seamless and natural switch from one "HR gear" to another and being more or less equally comfortable with each. Unfortunately, books and HR theory are little help in this case. Speaking from experience, it is only practice that makes perfect. No matter how many books I read or training courses I attend, it is only when I sit down with a close-to-retirement father of four to work out the details of his retrenchment that I really understand what our profession is about.

Finally, internal marketing plays a great role. Since perception is reality, it is not what you are, but what others say you are. Do not hesitate to invest in functional promotion and branding. I have seen some very successful functional marketing campaigns (IT, HR, Finance, Supply Chain, etc.), and I should say that the ROI of such projects is manifold.

HR is really about being a deli. "Butcheries" are faux-pas nowadays and cookie-cut solutions won't express anyone, particularly the Gen Y quickly flooding the workplace. "Delis" are places where added value is generated, where opportunities for diversification thrive, where excellence is the rule of the game. There are positive tendencies that HR is given more and more responsibility for business decisions and "a place at the table", but unfortunately not always do HR managers know what to do with that power and freedom to operate. The intent and implementation dilemma again.

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