Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage

tim-scott's picture

There is no such thing as "Best Practice": do what works

By Tim Scott on June 27, 2022

This is probably more a general principle than a specific mini-hack but it seemed appropriate (to me, at least) to throw it in at this point - and it's something we need to be mindful of as we try to draw conclusions from the hackathon.

I've spent a good proportion of my HR career feeling guilty that I haven't always implemented "Best Practice" HR ideas in every area of the companies I have worked for. Sometimes, for a whole variety of reasons, I have "made do" with less-than-perfect processes, procedures or responses to situations. I've known they weren't 100%, but I've just got on with it. In the back of my mind, there was always this nagging doubt - "I should be implementing Best Practice here..." I think it started during my initial HR training, then it has been perpetuated by reading the impressive case studies you see in the HR press and online and in books and on TV and at conferences and celebrated at awards ceremonies.... you get the picture.

It is only comparatively recently that the realisation dawned on me that there is no such thing as "Best Practice". I think we should all repeat that to ourselves mantra-like from time to time: there is no such thing as best practice. As HR pros and business people we should focus on doing what is right for our businesses. I don't think this just means taking into account size, sector, strategy and all that good stuff - although they are all important. It also means playing different roles as the business goes through different phases, focusing on different things in changing times and being able to thank and act in different ways to meet the organisation's needs - hang on, this is starting to sound a bit like being adaptable... 

HR process being hacked:Organizational Development

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julie-drybrough-fuchsia-blue's picture

I'm in!!! Looking forward to the Storify link, capturing some Twitter chat this morning...

andy-lippok's picture

As I think I recall reading Deming said and I know John Seddon of Vanguard has always maintained that "best practice always leads to mediocrity". HR should be the firstg to ditch trying to benchmark and adopt the fallacy that is best practice. Every organisation - even those in the same industry - are so very different. What works for one will not work for the other. And how do we know it is the "best". What if in fact it is the worst thing for the adopting organisation to try doing? Mediocrity and wasted time, resources, effort and opportunity to do what's really the best, the best for that organisation.
In my view HR and people practitioners should start to become the change it and they want the organisation to be, and I reckon the key area would be around the systems thinking as espoused and demonstrated both academically and eminently practically by Deming, John Seddon in Vanguard, Senge, Ackoff, Scholtes, and countless others.

All change beings at the thinking level and not the doing level, yet the result of the change in thinking then delivers change at the doing level. Great intentions, motivation and competencies underpinned by the wrong thinking changes little.

Managers need to recognise the organisation as a system, it’s their job to remove the obstacles within the organisation. They also need to understand human motivation (Dan Pink, Alfie Kohn, etc.). Design of the work from the outside in, and focus on what is the real purpose what matters to the customer. Then, analyse the demand, design measures for what matters, then when you understand the systems thinking that determines the current way of doing things, you simply get the people who do the work to re-design the work in order to achieve purpose and what really matters, and what happens is almost magical! Service improves, costs reduce, morale increases, and the culture change happens for free. At no time do we do anything to the people, we simply get the people to work on the work. That's the systems thinking at the practical and yet quite profound level that I believe HR could help to make organisations more adaptable and adept.
If you want to work more on the Systems Thinking hack, please join the team on page 2!

bruce-lewin's picture

Hi Tim, I think you're spot on. There's a couple of pieces here (a long pdf critiquing best practice talent management) and here that essentially say the same thing...

heidi-de-wolf's picture

If we hadn't re-invented the wheel we would still be relying on stone-carved cylinders (a la Flinstone's style). And we would be reliant fully on 'experts' instead of giving innovation a go for ourselves!

Thank you for sharing!

tim-scott's picture

Thanks Heidi - fully agree with you about 'experts'. Surely we are (or should be) the experts about our own companies?!

heidi-de-wolf's picture

... and our customers in true co-creation of innovation-style ;)