Monday, May 15, 2017


Every now and then, former BBC HR boss Lucy Adams provides fans with a checklist of where traditional personnel management is going wrong. This month, it's a long blog post about trying to provide certainty where there can be none (she pooh-poohs five year plans, engagement surveys, etc). Here are the highlights.

 - We implement leadership competency frameworks that attempt to prescribe the ideal criteria for leadership. I have spent countless hours trying to nail the perfect set of competencies to measure leaders against. A fool’s errand. Leaders are not and never can be that perfect. And how can HR possibly predict exactly what is needed when things are moving so fast?

 - We invest heavily in workforce planning and skills gap analysis in our attempts to provide certainty about the shape and size of our organisation when 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist

 - We complete the ubiquitous 9 Box Grid to provide us clarity about the potential of our people and yet as Marcus Buckingham writes in his article for HBR on rater bias “The research record reveals that neither you nor any of your peers are reliable raters of anyone. And as a result, virtually all of our people data is fatally flawed.”

 - We produce detailed succession plans to give us comfort that we have a pipeline of leaders. Yet, as one HR Director told me recently, “When we looked at the data, over a third of current roles hadn’t existed just two years ago. So, what exactly were we planning for?”

 - We deploy psychometric assessment tools to give us certainty in our hiring process. Over 2.5 million Myers Briggs tests are taken every year. Yet, numerous studies such as the one by Annie Murphy Paul in “The Cult of Personality Testing” suggest that “Most personality tests are seriously flawed, and sometimes unequivocally wrong…. They produce descriptions of people that are nothing like human beings as they actually are: complicated, contradictory, changeable across time and place.”

 - Our performance management systems operate almost entirely on the basis of providing certainty where none exists; annual objectives that are often out of date by the first quarter, an end of year rating that attempts to summarise our entire year and our relative worth through a five-box scale and a completion rate for reviews that we can report to the board as evidence of performance being managed effectively.

 - We go through the agonies of our annual engagement surveys to get to an overall engagement score – a number that is aggregated to such a high level that it cannot possibly give us any certainty about how our people think or feel.

 - Our organisation charts, reporting lines and job descriptions attempt to provide clarity about how the company works but our real work is done in cross-functional teams that come together for brief periods and then disperse. The neatness of the org chart can’t keep up with the real world.

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