Building HR Credibility by Avoiding HR Speak

The issue of HR speak is a real challenge, as it significantly impacts on the credibility of the HR function. It has become endemic to find a maelstrom of confusing terminology that does little to improve the practice of people management, and much to mystify managers and confuse employees, as well as damaging the credibility of HR.

Unfortunately, the by-product of too many consultants (speaking as a practicing consultant) is the temptation to develop a new definition or approach, just to differentiate, but adding another layer of complexity. Really good consultants don’t need to expound confusing terminology.

Perception of the HR function

A number of years ago, the Production Manager stormed into my office with the accusation – “Why are you HR people all the same?” I refrained from any defensive retaliation and asked him to elaborate. He explained that he was concerned that we were changing the performance review format. “What was wrong with the old one?” There was a decision by Head Office to change the format, and clearly the communication should have been better. After our discussion, I gained an enduring lesson for the future. Ensure that line managers can see the value of what you are doing in HR. Ideally, involve them in the process as much as you can. The best mid-year review process I ever developed was done in conjunction with a line manager and the HR team.

Recent Research

Recent research by Macquarie University suggests that the majority (sixty percent) of line managers actually believe and think that the HR function limits their ability to achieve business goals. This is a shocking state of affairs! As a manager told me recently, HR only tells me what I can’t do, yet what I need is some options on what I can do. The result is that HR is often seen as administrative compliance function, rather than as a strategic function.

HR still needs to build their credibility. There is a significant dichotomy in the perceptions of line managers and HR managers – which only really crystallized for me personally, when I was a line manager for three years, having to manage two divisions with 500 customers, as well as dealing with all the Finance and HR issues.

Lost in translation

Many HR Managers operate in the dark, so like the person looking for their lost keys under a lamppost, not because they lost it there, but because the light is better, we concentrate on peripheral issues that are flawed in design and susceptible to rejection.

Perhaps a good example will better illustrate my point. All organisations should have position descriptions, as role design and the allocation of responsibilities are at the heart of the organisational structure. During my involvement with various companies, I have discovered a long list of possible names, for essentially, the same document. Some of these descriptions include: Position Success Profile, Role Competency Profile, Job Description, Role Expectation Profile. I am sure readers could add to the list.

Admittedly, there has been a shift away from traditional job descriptions to a more blended approach of defining the role outputs and the required competencies, but the question remains – do we really need so many different descriptions for the same thing?

There is an almost unlimited level of creativity in creating new job titles, undoubtedly the fall-out from our confused approach to standard HR practices. Another example is the different descriptions for the HR function. We have all seen the shift from Personnel to HR, but from there it has become open season – Human Capital; People, Learning and Performance; Organisation Development; People and Culture – the combinations are confusing both internally and externally.

Effective ways to build credibility

The role of HR has never been more challenging, as we enter into this new era where HR is seen as a true business partner. It is only by clarifying and validating the role of HR, that we can also identify and measure the contribution of the HR function.

HR should discourage and refrain from the temptation to change terminology for the sake of terminology, especially in terms of employee communication and discussions with managers. Flavour of the month only stimulates inconsistency.

As a consultant, my first priority is to fully understand the needs and challenges of my clients, before I can provide them with sound advice. Only by first understanding, and then by meeting the core needs of the business and line managers, can HR create and establish a solid foundation to build on.

Let me use a final example. When you order a main course in a restaurant, you are more likely to order a tempting dessert if you were satisfied with your main meal. There is a real risk that HR may be too focused on added value projects, which are more challenging, and satisfying, rather than first delivering on the real needs of the business.

HR can and should deliver value across the business. There is much work still to do.

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