Don’t be a magpie: beware of initiative overload

HR Trends

Anyone working in HR right now must be exhausted by all the latest trends and innovations we are supposedly meant to be on top of. Each day trade journals, social media and conferences bombard us with latest technologies and newest thinking around how we can drive our companies forward by getting the best out of our people. Not forgetting the numerous HBR articles forwarded to us by our CEOs too. And this flow of ideas shows no sign of letting up. In fact, it seems as if 2017 has already been forgotten as focus shifts to the ‘key HR trends for 2018’.

Balancing business demands with the needs of our people

That said, a number of these concepts have been the catalyst for some key developments in recent HR practice. The ever-increasing pace of technological developments, changing workplace demographics and the unstable political landscape have all forced us to reassess how we manage and motivate our people. Organisations have had to work hard to respond creatively, balancing the needs of the employer with the needs of the employee, which is not always easy to do.

Buzzwords like gamification, mindfulness, predictive analytics and now artificial intelligence to name but a few, have all grabbed headlines at some point, promising to be ‘the next big thing’. However, have they been as transformative and revolutionary to the industry as their proponents would have us believe? Yes, of course each in their own right has its benefits; however the challenge for HR is evaluating which will most benefit the future direction of the business and needs of their people, whilst pushing back against those that offer no value.

Initiative overload or paralysis

HR professionals are no Luddites. In fact quite the opposite in terms of seeking to embrace new approaches and thinking. However there is a growing view that, in some cases, things are happening too quickly. This “initiative overload’ (an early 2000 buzzword by the way) can often result in one of two potential outcomes.  Either organisations attempt to cover all bases as far as is possible, ending up with a burnt-out HR team who have attempted to implement too much new thinking, too quickly with limited results. Or, an organisation that is so concerned about the possible changes to working practices that it actually does too little, resulting in a sclerotic organisation unwilling and unable to embrace the new.  Clearly, neither outcome is destined to support a successful, vibrant organisation. There is also a third path that some organisations follow: that of using new thinking to mask deficiencies elsewhere in the business.

Strong foundations

The fundamental truth is that unless basic and proven people strategies are embedded and working well across the organisation, implementing a new concept or approach risks papering over the cracks.  Let’s use people development as an example. An organisation looking to adhere to best practice takes the necessary steps to ensure that it creates an environment where people can flourish; individuals at all levels are given roles that have a degree of ‘stretch’ inbuilt; managers take the advancement of both individuals and teams seriously and are committed to ensuring that this happens; all employees are clear with regard to career paths and are offered personalised support, training or coaching to maximise their potential. This sounds expensive, and it can be if not implemented carefully and with a degree of thorough planning, however it is still likely to have more impact than an ill-conceived rollout of the latest fad.

Clearly we need to keep up to date with the latest concepts; however as people experts, HR need to be the ones advising the organisation on what is right for their people and their company. It’s not about resisting new ideas, but having that deep understanding of the organisation’s culture, its people and the confidence to vocalise where the organisation is on its evolutionary journey and recommend the ‘right approaches, as opposed to being swept along by the furore of the latest trend. It’s certainly not an easy role to adopt, but a necessity if we want to avoid masking over old problems with new approaches that fail to deliver results and don’t address underlying issues.