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.

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