Reinventing HR

Part 1: In with the best people and out with the rules!

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in The Good Business Charter’s very thought-provoking event on ‘Building Workplaces Where People Can Flourish’. Led by James and John Featherby (B Lab), we talked about innovative ways of developing workplace culture in order to remain relevant and successful in the modern world. I found the event incredibly energising, and I know that others also left thinking about what they could practically do to start the journey within their own organisations.

If you’re looking for inspiration and a fresh approach to getting the best from your people, I think the attached Netflix presentation is a great place to start. You may have already seen it – it went viral some time ago and created a lot of excitement amongst HR and business leaders who were seeking more effective business solutions that relied on logic, common sense and treating employees like adults.

I’m not suggesting Netflix’s model is right for every business, nor that it is the perfect approach to talent management. However, I do think the slide pack contains some brilliant insights that could help many organisations, large and small, navigate their way and be successful in our shifting, uncertain business landscape.   The key messages for me are:

1) It’s all about your people.  Recruit high performers and treat them like the intelligent adults they are. Rather than control the ‘chaos’ that comes as your  business grows and becomes more complex with more rules, processes and hierarchy (which will only slow it down and stifle innovation), manage it through investing in, trusting and valuing talented, high performing people and give them as much freedom as possible to innovate.

2) Ditch the command and control approach to management. High performers flourish when they are inspired and understand the context. As such, move away from control (often seen in lots of detailed rules/policies, complex performance management processes and over-engineered planning) and focus on setting the scene. Netflix define this context as:

  • the goal,
  • relative priority (do we need this now or is it nice to have when we can get it?)
  • relative precision and refinement required (from no room for errors through to rough and experimental)
  • key stakeholders
  • the definition of success/key metrics.

This also means that your people managers must be able to inspire through context and allow their high performers to get on and deliver (no micro management!).  If a high performer makes a mistake, rather than blame them, the manager should ask themselves how they could have explained the context better.

3) Values that you can really do business by. Employees should share your values – your sincere, meaningful values.  The ones that you genuinely do business by.   As the Netflix presentation points out, Enron had 4 nicely defined values (including integrity and excellence), and look what happened there!  It’s no good having values ‘chiselled out in marble in your main lobby’ if they have little to do with the real values and ethics of the organisation.

So how can we make this a reality on a small island like Jersey?

Finding the best talent on a small Island like Jersey, where we often find ourselves rotating the same staff in the same jobs between similar organisations and settling for ‘mediocre’, can be very difficult.

Diversity and inclusion has to become core to your business.  The only way you’re going to increase your talent pool of high performers is by significantly widening the pool of people you attract to work for you (and probably redefining the way you perceive the essential qualities of a ‘high performer’ – is a degree really necessary, for example?).  This means thinking outside of the box, tapping into talent that may not have previously considered working for you and changing your working culture to become genuinely inclusive.

We also need to be bold and let go of old ways of working that we know in our hearts simply don’t work. When did you last really challenge the effectiveness of your HR approach, making fundamental changes rather than tweaks? Do appraisal systems genuinely make a difference to individual and company performance? Do morale boosting ‘initiatives’ really improve long-term morale and retention? And who actually reads all those legal-speak HR policies in the Employee Handbook? How many of these ‘rules’ could be slimmed down in to 5 words like Netflix’s expenses policy – ‘Act in Netflix’s best interests’ – and free everyone to work in the best interests of both the business and individuals? Now there’s a challenge…


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