Revisiting HR Failures

A question was raised in CiteHR , to understand the reasons behind the failure of HR. Certain areas including the alignment of HR and the focus from operational activities to strategic were discussed

Human Resource is the custodian and enabler to organization. Managing talent is the mainstream to an organization’s success. Just as a cog in the wheel enables the rotation, so does HR. Certain implementation of  programs or the lack of it, can create a dissonance in functioning of the organization. These letdowns become a yardstick for future. The reasons for the debacles will remain at variance with the sector and immediate environment. Yet they can be categorised in few principal areas.

Business focus: If the business goals are not aligned with the HR initiatives it may create disaster. The best practices will not yield to any result if it doesn’t correspond to the next business targets. For e.g.: Technological integration remains a focus during a merger. This is planned on the basis of scalability. If the focus of the merger is to gain technological leadership in the market, HR needs to align the data integration accordingly.

HR Focus: It’s essential to review the HR Processes and audit them regularly. The economic environment changes, so does the business prerequisites. The HR processes would require refurbishing the SLA defined on the processes. Dr. John Sullivan in, ‘The think piece: How HR caused Toyota to crash’, identified eight HR processes contributing to the failure. It begins with reward and recognition that fuelled rapid growth in production and sales, ignoring the reward for acknowledging the safety based inputs. The training focussed on the plan/do/check/act. The spotlight should have been to the last two accentuating on the negative external safety-based information. Hiring failed as the assessment couldn’t identify the talent who would not sweep the error under the carpet and stand up for truth to the management. The performance management system didn’t detect the group think. The corporate culture was biased towards the positive information, consequently diminished the red flags on security. The leadership development, retention and risk assessment in HR missed identifying the revenue impact of the human error, employee turnover rate and cost of keeping a bad manager on board.

People focus: Every talent is unique yet they build into signature behaviour across the continuum within their sectors. It’s important for the HR to understand such behaviour. For e.g.: The sentiments in Banking and Financial Sector remains volatile as the talent behaviour corresponds with the market swings. Manufacturing may skew more towards stability whereas talent in the IT/ITES sector would look for fast growth with rich experience. Empirical understanding about the talent behaviour is essential for predicting the response and resistance. M. Ann Welsh and Gordon E. Dehler discussed the core issues from individual resistance in ‘Paradigms, Praxis and Paradox in the analysis of organizational change: The generative nature of control’. They wrote,” Resistance is inherently reflexive. Indeed, the four forms of resistance we’ve identified form a pathway of reflexivity (Holland, 1999) – thinking critically (the heretic), thinking reflectively (the tempered radical), thinking transformationally (the constructive deviant) and thinking chaotically”. HR Services would remain sensitive to such individual behaviour. This includes the heretic, the tempered radical and the constructive deviant contributing to the organizational control. Under such circumstances, an ‘Employee Champion’ approach would guarantee the success of the HR initiatives. An ‘employee first attitude’ will stand a success, when measures such as lowering pay to avoid downsizing is accepted collectively for the greater good. 

Apart from these main points, there can be other reasons contributing to the HR shambles. It’s imperative to measure the maturity level of the organization before implementing any initiative. Few organizations may still remain at the nascent stage, hence allow quick implementations in succession. Whereas, the organization is in a stable phase, may remain rigid to newer ideas. Paradoxically the new organizations may respond with a lot more volatility to any change compared to the stable ones. Furthermore, business leader buy-in may create a bottle neck. At times no matter how clearly the business problems have been drafted in the HR Initiatives, selling the solution to the business leaders may remain a challenge. Additionally, the organization may go through some structural changes which would require an assortment of HR involvement. However, if the decision makers are hostile, there’s little left to be done. Finally, industry specific cycles which bring in dissensions will remain an HR challenge to be resolved.

  • kshantaram

    how could hr cause Toyota to crash! strange. seems a blame hr game when things go wrong as sensitive hr people will take it lying down nobody to protect it right from the top management to the line functions and the employees feeling isolated.

    how could Toyota have such a poor hr set-up – is not the leadership to all share the blame for not focusing on the hr set-up and participating in conceptualising the hr processes actively and championing the cause of hr with the line managers. may be there are lessons to be learnt collectively as an organisation while evolving hr policies and implementing the spirit of the same collectively leading to enhanced employee engagement,etc.

    Toyota could afford to have the best hr team in place, train them, have handsome hr budgets, allocate time for hr in the daily schedule, invest in technology and processes and leadership training, etc. the management team cannot be simply observers singling out hr when things go wrong impacting productivity or corporate image generically speaking.
    even if there was a need to single out could not the top management identify the problem and take corrective action well in advance promoting the right people in the hr team, the right processes and systems rather than reacting and making hr a scapegoat.

    the company gets the hr that it deserves – hr is the common thread among all the management functions and is influenced by collective opinion, top management support, and co-operation while implementing the hr processes and policies without overemphasis on production and productivity none having time to spare for hr agenda or participating just symbolically to please the MD.

    if hr is not aware of business processes it could be the top management too to share blame for not involving hr or providing such historic training in the development of hr, having the right people in hr with the needed contemporary competencies or training the current team utilising the team skills effectively – having not been too late in the process and impatient thereby, ensuring team cohesiveness in hr approaches without expressing an upper hand over hr once policy decisions have been freezed formally and collectivley.

    i am only wondering how a company of the stature of Toyota could crash just because of hr – was the top management making a strategic mistake in ignoring hr priorities in the organisation fostering the right culture and policies with collective responsibility.

    if a new product is to be designed and launched you have the best technocrat, the best design and testing facilities, the best team in place, the best of training imparted, the best of rewards and recognitions, the best of marketing efforts, etc – is this the case for hr too!

    hr is expected to learn things on it’s own, struggle on it’s own to push a hr process and policy, beg people for support, sit quiet when intimidated, the line sentiment is more valued as the line functions are supposed to support business directly and the line managers cannot be hurt in business interest, hr can be sacked and replaced easily and the show can go on not impacting the bottom line in visible terms and have to churn out statistics to prove the impact of training, hr processes, etc easy to question and timepass without anybody actively coming out with a solution. time is wasted in statistical wars without the heart in place of what really needs to be done each one washing hands avoiding the blame for poor implementation of hr processes across the functions, the leadership confused on what is the real story while pretending the show is on.

    yes, the Toyota story could be a classic case in point for further strengthening hr on the corporate board proactively across organisations with the right teams, training, technology, and collective organisational processes. is there a role model that Toyota could follow for hr processes in terms of knowledge management demostrating hr effectiveness which perhaps has not been stated here showing the path too rather than announcing the Toyota hr crash!

    hope i have been able to express sentiment in the right perspective for further ramblings and reflections on the evolving hr storyline whether Toyota or elsewhere drawing global lessons.



  • HR is a cog to the wheeI, an enabler. I echo your thoughts on the learning points from Toyota crash. The HR processes could have detected the mess, as mentioned in the article. Agreed on the management support. If the management becomes hostile or ignores any feedback from HR, we would have such cases repeatedly.

  • Data entry india

    very nice.