It sounds like the start of a bad xmas cracker joke – what do you get when you combine our nations’ ongoing inability to deliver decent customer service and the eternal organisational whipping girls of Human Resources ?
But not everybody is laughing. Since 1995 and the invention of the three legged stool of big modern corporate HR that Ulrich gave us, it can be argued that there has been a succession of business-speak presented to the good people of HR about the nature of reinventing the internal function. Given the overwhelmingly insular perspective of many of these HR folk, it’s been a roaring success too. I’m not talking about the brash business partnering types or even the ivory tower dwelling HR expertise types but the poor folk earmarked for the world inhabited by R2D2 programmed and scripted responses to the legacy, yet mundane, world of old Personnel. I’m talking about shared services, where the savings for the HRD will be made and transactional, repeatable, script based worlds will dominate.
What do you mean you didn’t get the memo ?
If you’re currently on the journey then reignite your inner curiosity, follow the money and watch out for the following underlying meanings to modern HR change speak :
Number 1 – After a long period of not doing so, we are investing in HR to the tune of tens of millions – means “Our old HR computer, having been endlessly tinkered with down the years and which has all the functionality of an old typewriter and the user experience of an etch a sketch has finally fallen over and passed it’s shelflife. If we don’t replace it soon we don’t have even a basic understanding of our workforce. Nowadays, we also get a free Applicant Tracking System thrown in with it if it comes from the exact same stable as the HRIS owner. Now don’t say we don’t invest in HR”.
Number 2 – Our end game is to provide a truly differentiated HR offering for our business – “We are currently clinically obese in size and must reduce by a half. I, as your Global Head of HR, sitting in a mahogony filled office in a European city have no idea what 85% of you actually do but finance has called me out and I’ve got to deliver swingeing cuts. I hope the business appreciate it but I guess they’ll continue to keep giving the sexy transformational bits to the non-HR bits of the business.”
And finally, number 3 – This service-y bit of the HR model is definitely not a call centre. No way. No siree bob – means “Not quite now but soon we are building a call centre complete with a Percentage of Calls Answered board and it’ll ultimately be in a city where the average daily wage is just above the price of a frappucino. Or in Warrington beside a pound shop. It’ll be a slow burner and we’ll make it work in our corporate corridors first but that’s where we are going because the case for doing so is compelling.”
In simple terms the leadership challenge at hand is to transition from a position of ridiculously expensive HR concierge (i.e the old HR generalist world) to one of abstract separation under a cost-cutting banner.
The paradox that the customer service industry discovered, of course, is that service and cost-cutting are contradiction in terms. The finance guys are as happy as proverbial pigs now that the spreadsheets reflect a reduction in a unit cost but if there is one elephant in the room that is the danger we face when sucking the intimacy of business relationship for the majority of the old HR organisation. Press 1 if you are a new joiner, press 2 if you are a new leaver. Press 3 and find someone who doesn’t have the wit or the script to help for either, unlike in the old days when Mary from HR could be the one stop shop.
I’ve watched the profession struggle with the switcheroo for a generation. I understand the difficulties of moving an old model based on high-touch relationships to one where most of its historic activities are done remotely but we have to assess the price of the distracting dance we create currently. What harm does the continuation of the white glove service to those who are paid the most and who retain the most concierge, regardless of the cost of the service to the organisation. Equally, the repeatable process element has meant that talent has been scooped up in the bathwater given the fact you can allegedly track it in transactions. Not really a war for talent going on there more of a TA weekend in the Shetlands firing blanks. Good luck fellas snaring the good guys on the back of your RPO-dominated, reactive, order-taking recruitment machine.
So as the model expands into places that have resisted change since 1995 when ancient, ship-sinking crooner Celine Dion ruled the world, perhaps the fudges will become eroded and we should concentrate on a central, honest compelling message – HR is undergoing a tipping point that will see it lose its historical legacy where huge swathes will become part of a wider business services organisation that is both technology and people intensive. It’ll rub shoulders with finance, IT and facilities queries and reinvest savings into simple technology enablement to forego employing humans. Replacing it in the future will be a smaller HR profession rooted in greater level of technical knowledge and business insight, coupled with a greater look of consultancy driving differentiated solutions in a co-sourced business model that enlightened organisations are willing to a pay a premium for. They will probably call it something that doesn’t have a H or an R in it and that’ll just confuse the CIPD chasing its cash cow. The risk is we lose intimacy but the blunt truth is that if we are honest with those in the developing HR services switcheroo they are being cut adrift from the differentiated future of a people-oriented, knowledge-based internal consultancy arm. Finance know it. The transformation teams devising it know it and the CEOs worrying about margins expect it. Will HR functions wait until the call centre board goes up and the interactions get measured before it calls a team meeting to tell its people ? Probably. It beats conflict.
Celine Dion was ultimately replaced by a robot and it has been singing to packed houses in Vegas for 5 years. If it can happen to her then Mary from HR will soon be an unwaged droid dealing with the average Joe workers’ employment needs in an old disused branch of a high street bank that’s been closed down due to a proliferation of on-line services. The worrying thing is what will all those people who like to “work with people” do then ?
Until next time, I’m putting you on hold to the dulcid tones of Celine’s robotic double. 🙂