Archive for the 'HR Departments' Category

The Specialist Problem – one of the biggest causes of cross-functional pain

Prefer to watch this on video than read?  Just click here…5 mins with captions.

The Specialist Problem.  You might not call it that…but you know about it.  Let’s go through it.

The first mention of this problem I came across was in a book from 50 years ago by Wilfred Brown with the wonderful title of ‘Organization’.  I love it because it couldn’t be less fashionable…check out the cover…

Don’t be fooled into thinking something from this era isn’t relevant – the genius of the Beatles finished in 1970, Led Zeppelin was getting going, and besides, Newtown copped the apple way back in the 1680s and his gravity idea still seems useful… so old does not mean irrelevant.

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Business Partnering – It’s So Hot Right Now!

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On the agenda of every corporate services area, be it IT, HR, Finance or the more modern incarnations of business improvement and innovation….is business partnering.

But there’s a lot more to this than good intentions and writing it down in a plan.  Here’s what’s required to get to this to work.

‘Business Partnering’

First – what are we on about?  I like to use the ideas we can find in Patrick Hoverstadt and Lucy Loh’s book Patterns of Strategy, where they describe in detail the strategy of ‘Strategic Partner’.  One of the supplier family of strategies, this is where we look to cause change in the other partner for the benefit of both of us.

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Behaviours are bulldust

How would you react to this decree from the government:

These are the five ways we expect every citizen to behave.  All people observed not behaving in this way will be sanctioned, at first via discussions, then via bad ratings on the official record, and ultimately removal from the community.  The five behaviours can be found on government issue posters, coffee cups and lanyards which are freely available at your local post office.  You will be rated once per year on your adherence to these behaviours.

Does this sound like a community you want to be a part of?  Does it sound like a community where people are trusted to be adults and serve the best interests of each other?

You get the point.  And it’s full on.   It’s essentially an act of HR and Management sedition to suggest that all of this behaviour stuff might be bulldust.

But it is.

In the words of a better person than me: “Far out”



Well, actually, there’s a situation where behaviours are not bulldust.  If a group of people get together to discuss and agree behaviours for themselves, then fine.  What’s bulldust is the decreeing part.  The mandating.  The ‘we know what behaviours are best for you‘ part.  This is the bit that treats grown adults like they are in child care….which is eventually going to create child care behaviour, which is dependence and rebellion all at once. Read more…

Are you doing real OD work?

Maria was GM People & Culture and we were discussing the organisational development work her area was delivering over the next three years.

“OK, I’ll bite.  So what is ‘the organisation’ Maria asked.

“Try this on for size” I answered.  “The organisation is made up of the principles and practices in play that determine who gets to work here, and how they are expected to work together'”.

Maria was silent for some time.  After a while she looked up:

“I’m not sure what you mean”.

“Another angle” I replied.  “The organisation is the internal rules of the game on how people are supposed to work together, whether explicit or otherwise.”

“What sort of rules” Maria asked.

“Things like how you determine how many organisational layers are needed, who gets to make decisions about what, how processes are run, what minimal practices are expected from every manager and/or team, how people are expected to work out issues of priority, and so on.  But what we’re talking about fundamentally is your concept of what needs to be in place in a healthy organisation such that anyone who has the capability, is willing to learn and can get along with others will be able to deliver results.”

“My concept?”

“Yep, your concept, your underlying theory of your organisation, your basis for comparison should any organisational issues arise.” I said.

“And not the people themselves?”

“The organisation that the people are effectively dropped into”.

“Sounds impersonal to me.  Taking the ‘H’ out of ‘HR'”

“You’re seeing ‘impersonal’ and ‘caring’ as opposites, but that’s not the case.  Adjusting the temperature of a room to make it comfortable is not a ‘personal’ act, but it looks after people.  The same applies to working on the internal ‘rules of the game’ to make sure that they are allowing people use their capability in the direction of the organisation.   OD needs to stop doing the equivalent of teaching people how to not shiver in a cold room, when the real issue is a broken heater”.


The fundamental (missing) OD question….

“Run me through what you’ve asked Adrian to do.”  I was grabbing lunch with Maria, GM of People & Culture.  Adrian was her Senior Manager Organisational Development.

“I’m asking quite a bit” said Maria.  “I need him to roll-out a number of programs to get our people better across the board”.

“Give me the top three” I asked.

Maria laughed; “I knew you were going to make me focus on priorities.  OK, the top three are….

One, all managers will be going through difficult conversations training,

Two, all staff will undergo workshops to design to improve resilience…”

I must have raised my eyebrows or some other ‘tell’, as Maria paused for a second.  Then she went on…

“and thirdly, we’re going to do targeted productivity workshops to lift the amount of work we can do in certain areas”.

I nodded.  “Sounds like a fair bit, as you said.”

“But……” Maria asked.

“But…Adrian is your Senior Manager of OD right?”


“And the ‘O’ stands for Organisational”

“Yep”.  Maria frowned.

“So what are you going to ask Adrian to deliver that will actually develop the organisation?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, what do you consider to be ‘the organisation’.”

“The people” she replied quickly.

“I know what you mean, but I can’t get past the fact that people come into the organisation, people leave the organisation, yet the work mostly just keeps going.  So we can’t just say ‘the people’.”

Maria started to answer then stopped.  She stared at me, not moving, then after a few seconds started slowly stirring her coffee.

“You know” she said, “after more than 20 years of working in this field, I’ve never actually considered what ‘the organisation’ is.  What I’m actually asking Adrian to help ‘develop’.  Is that bad?”

“Maybe.  But I know one thing for sure.”

“What’s that?”

“You’re not alone.”


Why is HR advice optional but the system isn’t?

“What’s the difference between advice your HR person David offers your managers on raising staff engagement compared to the systems and practices he has set up to help them with it”?  We were getting close, I needed to press Jason on this.

He frowned with concentration.

“Well…lets start with what they have in common” he began.  “Both are designed to help them in doing their natural role as managers, which is to build a team that’s engaged”


“But while I don’t expect them to follow every bit of advice David gives them, I do expect them to follow the systems and practices David set up”.

“Yep.  So what’s the difference? Why is one optional, and the other one isn’t”

“I actually don’t know!” he said with surprise.

“Let me ask you this.  When David set up the systems and processes to help raise engagement….did you look at them?”

“Of course I did.  David was new at the time.  He didn’t know our industry yet, he didn’t know us.  He did a great job with what he was able to learn, then we all provided input.”

“Who signed off that that it would be a good system  for your business to raise engagement?”

“In the end, I did.  I’m the one on the hook for the engagement levels in the whole business.”

I stayed silent.  Jason looked up.

“The staff engagement practices…. it’s not David’s expectation that they’re followed.  It’s mine.  That’s the difference”.


So what happens if your managers don’t want to follow the staff engagement system?

Jason had decided that it was  his managers that were accountable for lifting the level of staff engagement, not David his HR guy.  He had also decided that if his managers didn’t want to take David’s advice (David being an expert in this area), then that was fine with him.  David was still accountable for offering his advice, or giving it if asked, just not for whether his advice was followed.

Sounded nice.  But I had a couple more questions.

“When we were talking about what leads to staff engagement last week” I began, “we agreed it wasn’t just individual actions of managers, it was also related to the systems and processes your managers work in”.

“Mmm hmmm” Jason offered, a smile starting.

“And you said it was David who put together these systems and processes”.

“Mmm hmmm”.  The smile continued.

“And you just said that if your managers don’t listen to David’s advice on staff engagement, then that’s fine with you because it’s not him that’s ultimately accountable, it’s the managers”.

“Mmm Hmmm”.  The smile dropped a little.

“So what happens if your managers don’t follow David’s system?”

The smile disappeared.


What happens if they ask for help and then don’t do what HR suggests?

“So where are we at?” I asked Jason.

“Well, first, I’m going to make my line managers accountable for lifting the level of staff engagement rather than David my HR guy”.

“Makes sense” I replied.  “So what’s David going to be accountable for?”

Jason smiled.  “I think I’ve figured this one out.  David’s accountable for helping them lift their staff engagement.  I want him to be their expert, their consultant, their coach.”

“That makes sense too” I nodded.  “Now let me ask you this…what happens if they ask for help and then don’t do what David suggests?”

Jason frowned.  “Well, they have to.  David’s an expert”.

“But he’s not an expert in what they’re trying to produce.  He can’t be expected to be aware of all the issues in the area that are being dealt with.  There might be a perfectly good reason why they might not listen to him.  What do you do then?”

Jason rubbed his forehead.  “Give me a minute”.  I waited patiently.  Twenty seconds passed, then he suddenly  looked up with a smile.  “Nothing!”, he exclaimed.


“Nothing!” repeated Jason.  “If the managers don’t want or aren’t able to take David’s advice on staff engagement, then that’s their issue.  They know it’s their job to get the level up. I’ve given them the resource in David, but in the end, if they don’t need him, then there’s other things David can do that will be valuable.”

“Sounds like you’ve got a clear idea of how you want this cross-functional relationship to work.  Who’s accountable for what, and who can ask who for help”.

“Yep” said Jason.  “And I know what you’re going to say next.  I need to get them together and explain how I see it, get any input, then unless I hear something that changes my mind….implement it”.

“Nearly.  Just a couple more questions”


So if David my HR guy isn’t accountable for the engagement of my people….

“OK….”  Jason was thinking this through.  “So if David my HR guy isn’t accountable for the engagement of my people because their managers are…..”

I raised my eyebrows and nodded to keep the thoughts coming.

“….then what do I need David for?”.

“Good question” I replied.  “Not as in ‘good rhetorical question’, but genuinely….good question.  So what’s the answer…why do you need David?”.

“Well like I said, I want David to create an environment where staff are engaged.  But we’ve just said he can’t do that because he’s not accountable for the people he needs to get engaged.”

I nodded.  “True.  So answer this for me….are your managers in their jobs because they are specialists in staff engagement?”

“Well maybe Max”  Jason responded.  “He’s always been able to get a group of people switched on.  But as for Jenny and Kristy, Jenny’s there because she knows exactly how to set up a sales team and drive performance, and Kristy has always been great at the technical knowledge which works because her team is about quality and resolution”.

“So tell me this….if you inform Jenny and Kristy that you’re expecting a 15% bump in engagement next time the staff survey is run….how are they going to react”.

“I’ve chatted to them before about this.  They both feel that they’ve maxed out given the nature of their teams and their other goals.”

“So if you’re serious about raising staff engagement, and if they’re the ones accountable for it…..they’re going to need some help?”  I nodded along with Jason…”Would you happen to know anyone?”

Jason smiled.  “I think it’s about time I reintroduced them to their new best friend….David”.

So if a given person isn’t engaged…..who’s problem is it really?

Keeping your employees engaged high 1200x1200

“I’m getting concerned about my HR guy, he’s just not getting any movement on our staff engagement no matter how hard he’s trying”.  Jason was worried.

“What are you not seeing?” I asked.

“Engagement!”  He replied.  “Interested people.   People actually wanting to work here.  Work harder.  You know, just be into it”.

“And who do you hold accountable for that?”

Jason didn’t appreciate the circle.  “David” he said.  Slowly.  “My. H. R. guy.  Because the ‘H’ stands for ‘human'”.

“Got it.” I replied.  “So these people who are not engaged the way you want them to be…who are their managers”?

Jason didn’t hesitate: “There’s three managers.  Jenny, Max and Kristy”.

“And what were we saying is the accountability of each manager?”

I could see a change starting.  “We said managers are accountable for the results of their people and how well they work together”.

“So if a given person isn’t engaged…..who’s problem is it really?”