E-pinions

Why that Great HR Idea Won’t Work in Your Company

By BLR Founder and Publisher Bob Brady

Just My Epinion

Why great HR ideas don’t work. BLR founder Bob Brady explains why a good idea in one company “lays an egg” in another.

HR policies and practices are not “one size fits all.” We’ve all tried ideas that work great for a colleague but laid a total egg for us. You can call it “culture” or “fit,” or “lack of commitment,” etc., but this doesn’t get to the root cause. To find that, you need to ask, Why wasn’t there “fit”? Why couldn’t you get commitment?

Could it be that the initiative didn’t fit your strategy? Was the behavior it promoted or expected inconsistent with your mission? Was your company a bad place for that good idea?

Last week’s column focused on how HR can be strategic. We looked at three kinds of organizations: “Products,” “Operations,” and “Customer,” and ended by asking you to decide what kind you are. (To read that column, click HR Management at right, then scroll to the article, “Strategic HR: First Question to Ask”.) This week, we’ll drill down and see how to judge what ideas will “fit” your organization.

Ideas have to fit your mission

I always think of these things in terms of BLR, the company I founded 30 years ago and still run. We are a “products” company. To succeed, we have to keep coming up with innovative ways to serve you, our customers. There is a tension in the company because some of our products, like our 50-state HR services, require a lot of efficiency, pushing them in an “operations” direction. (Our editors research every topic for every state every year. They have to be efficient or we lose money!) However, efficiency is not always a good idea here. We’ve lost the wind in our creative sails when we’ve gone too far in the name of efficiency.

“Operations” companies, by contrast, succeed by delivering products and services at lower and lower cost. They thrive on ideas that drive efficiency. “Customer” companies, on the other hand, don’t. They need deep relationships with their customers, allowing them to become embedded in their customers’ operations. Pushing for efficiency over all else, as on a factory assembly line, gets in the way.

Because HR’s job is to deliver people, policies, and practices that support strategy, understanding your core mission is very important. If you don’t, you’ll be forever trying things that work for your colleagues but won’t work for you.

Here’s a brief rundown of the kinds of ideas, people, and reward structures that work for each company type:

Products Companies (like BLR)

Culture: Ideas that give people considerable independence and support invention and creativity. Structure and policies have to err in the direction of allowing autonomy.

People: Products-oriented people have to enjoy learning, be curious, visionary, creative, and artistic. They have to have a team orientation and be enthusiastic about group problem-solving. These characteristics are often more important when hiring than actual skill sets. Once you’ve found people like that, encourage long-term employment.

Rewards: Structure so people are willing to take risks. Some projects will work; some won’t, so broad-based sharing of success is appropriate.

Operations Companies (Wal-Mart, Southwest Airlines)

Culture: Much more organized; focused on efficiency.

People: Look for people who love to compete and who are driven to win. They need to love structure and be interested in refining processes.

Rewards: Variable and differentiated, driven by quantifiable performance.

Customer Organizations (IBM, Nordstrom)

Culture: Needs to adapt to the customer at the same time it adheres to core values. Must be committed to solving customer problems quickly.

People: Hire those who take the long view and build long-term customer relationships.

Rewards: Offer considerable variation and differentiation, but not as formulaic as with operations, due to the long-term focus.

This is a very abbreviated treatment of a complex subject. My purpose in writing about it is to give you some context for judging how to approach your policies and practices. My advice: First, figure out what kind of company you are. Second, formulate and evaluate your HR strategies against the needs of that … and not someone else’s …organization.

See you next time. Have a great HR week!

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  • wbrown1

    This was a thought provoking though brief article. I think some of the challenges we face is not focusing and trying to be all three, the Product organization, the customer organization and the operations. In this environment we have no basis for consistency. How we react is almost a flavor of the month, or even week or day in some cases. So, do our organizations really have to make a choice as to who we are? Common sense would seem to suggest, yes.

    Food for thought