By John Raddall
Traditional HR is much like the family alcoholic. Everyone knows it's a problem but nobody wants to do anything about it.
Let's have a closer look at this character and see if we can find a creative solution.
The name. HR. What a name! From the coal darkened and dust-filled days of the industrial revolution where men and machines were considered "resources" and men the more difficult of the two. If you paid them too little they fainted from exhaustion. Too much and they would get drunk and stay at home. The solution? Call in HR.
London's looney left had a gender issue with manholes but somehow human resources slipped through their whacky filter. Don't believe me? When you go home tonight try calling your partner a human resource. Or your dog an animal resource. If you are lucky, you will just be locked up. Or bitten. If not Jeremy Clarkson will have you shot at dawn on the pavement in front of the kids.
And exactly what does the alcoholic do in organisations? It stores bottles everywhere. A few survey ones in this cupboard, artery clogging annual performance appraisals in that one, endless admin hidden under the stairs, and oh! the projects. Projects here, projects there, projects everywhere. And don't forget Agony Aunt, always willing to listen to everything.
So let's imagine abandoning our alcoholic and starting again. What do organisations really need, apart from a dose of common sense which is always useful.
Organisations are highly complex, dynamic, non-linear systems about which many leaders seem to know very little. Don't take my word for it. Ask your CEO or manager to explain complex, dynamic and non-linear. If he/she can do this to your satisfaction I will buy you a farm in Piccadilly Circus. What would happen then if we abandoned our HR security blanket and tried something new that actually addressed the real survival and growth needs of the system?
Organisations live and die on a turbulent and fast-changing landscape. They live in an evolutionary world where they either swim faster than the other sharks or they get eaten by the other sharks. The primary goal of any replacement of HR must be simple and practical. It must help organisations to swim faster than the other sharks.
THE SOLUTION - PERFORMANCE ARCHITECTURE
Here is my solution. Call the new function Performance Architecture. And the people who work there will be called Performance Architects where their role will be to design beautiful and practical system solutions that actually work.
These performance architects must be well trained professionals and experts in – you guessed it – complex, dynamic and non-linear human systems.
They must understand the concept of organisational energy and not in a superficial and new-agey way. They must be able to answer the Feynman challenge of genuinely understanding the concept of energy, that it is based on sound functional principles of thinking smarter and acting smarter. And that these methods can be customised and their effectiveness measured.
They must understand the concept of organisational "DNA" as something that is real and driven by conscious rules and unconscious meta-rules that are both discoverable and able to be modified. And there will be no more fluffy talk of culture and values.
They must understand that the future of every organisation is path dependent on the present and know how to use this insight in customising simple new actions today to change tomorrow.
They must fully understand the principles of evolution, that the market evolves continually and every organisation must evolve as well if it wishes to survive.
They must understand that innovation is the heart that pumps the blood of finding new and better ways of doing things every day. It is the unique characteristic that makes us distinctly human. And they must know how to convert this into new actions that will drive successful evolution and performance.
And most importantly they must know that as Performance Architects their designs will be judged on their effectiveness in practice.
MY PRACTICAL MESSAGE TO ALL CEO'S
Close your HR department today. Send all the admin stuff – payroll, insurance etc., to Finance where they love this type of work – have a celebratory wake and then open your new department of Performance Architecture, and fill it with high-energy, creative, maverick-minded, fun-loving, magical individuals who have the hearts and minds of a Leonardo Da Vinci and the determination of a Cape Buffalo. Let them loose and watch your profits soar!
Note. I have met many very talented, wonderful people in HR over the years. This article is not directed at them but at the way in which HR is structured in many organisations. Remove the chains and these special people will flourish like never before.