Performance is Key (Breaking news)

Breaking News

HR is about Performance. Is that breaking news? In itself, it isn’t. But it’s good not to lose track of that old adage. Like so many professions, HR has seen many fads passing by. But one thing remains: HR focuses on performance of businesses and people.
What has changed is the context in which businesses operate. There have been a lot of changes that influence people in business. Society is evolving and so do economic and labor markets. This leads to changing people expectations and practices.

Performance is about Value

But I believe that also the view on performance is changing. First of all we should not focus so much on the execution aspect of performance, but more on the value of it. Creating value is much more inspiring than doing things. If people know why they are doing things, they will do it with more engagement. That is the theory.
Organisations create value for multiple stakeholders: customers, employees, shareholders, society, partners, suppliers, … If we want a sustainable performance or value creation, we need to make sure that stakeholders in the organisation’s ecosystem experience that value. And of course the expectations are mutually dependent. Organisations create employment. They pay taxes. They create share holder value and provide meaningful work. Organizations deliver products and services to customers that help them to do whatever they want to do.

What Can HR Do?

Performance, in the sense of creating value for multiple stakeholders, should be at the forefront of the focus of HR. And the way to do this is to focus on the context. HR is the architect of context that fosters performance. Here are a couple of building blocks for that:

  • designing organisations that facilitate performance. This includes aspects such as culture etc.
  • hiring people who bring different attitudes and skills that support the capacity the company needs to create value towards its multiple stakeholders.
  • developing leaders who focus on value creation.
  • humanizing business processes so that people are willing and able to do what it takes to create value and meet targets.
  • embedding engagement and performance management in a way that is supportive and not burdening.
  • steering strategy through meaningful data on performance …

So in this sense, HR is about strategy execution. How many HR professionals get up every day and think about strategy execution and value creation?

The problem

The problem is that HR gets sucked into a swamp of regulatory and administrative chores. Therefore many HR professionals do not have the time to focus on strategy execution. Many of them do not focus on  value. And that’s a problem.

Don’t get carried away

A focus on performance without focussing on value for all stakeholders is harmful. We all know companies that become caricatures because performance is the only thing they look at. These companies develop often ruthless cultures that have a limited view on our challenges. And these might be successful as well. But their practices are not sustainable for some of its stakeholders. HR can introduce a human aspect to strategy execution. And that’s not (only) because it’s the right thing to do. But it’s because it’s the sustainable way to do business and meet the targets organisations set in the long run.
See also these posts :

13 ways to save HR

Bash HR

We are at it again. It’s time to bash HR. Ever since the article Why we hate HR appeared, every now and then someone wakes up and thinks they can bash HR. The July issue of Harvard Business Review was dedicated to HR. But it wasn’t bashing at all. It pointed out the lack of influence HR has. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of HR bullshit around. But there’s a lot of business bullshit around as well. And there are a lot of things HR is doing right.
It’s not my intention to point back the finger to other functions. In my career I have been responsible for other areas than HR and what I have to conclude is that everyone is looking for answers to the challenges and disruptions of today. And I also have to conclude that there are fads and fashions in every area.
Just like any other function or business area HR wants to justify its existence. In its history we have moved from personnel management, to human relations, to human resources, to human capital, … But the question if these denominations are important. Just like every business function we need to get to the core and cut the waste we are carrying.
And then I came across this post on Linkedin by Dominique Voss, HR Manager at Merck in Belgium:
HR people

HR is about People

I don’t think she’s alone in thinking that HR is about people. In essence we are here to make the people process within organizations work. Said in a negative way, if everything runs well HR is obsolete.
However, in a positive way, HR can help organisations cope with the VUCA-world knowing that it’s people and only people who will innovate, implement strategy, sell, deliver service, …
Knowing that everything has to (?) go faster, leaner, better, … it’s only by getting the people challenge right that we will be(come) competitive. The core question is  how we can create a context that makes people successful. So there you go, there’s the challenge.

Are we doing a good Job?

Are we doing a good job?

  • Probably not. Only 13% of people is engaged.
  • Is that the fault of HR? No.
  • Can HR do something about it? Yes.
  • Can HR do it alone? No.

You get the HR you deserve.

Do we really need to hate HR? It depends. Every company gets the people process it deserves. Too many companies limit the people management process to lip service, window dressing, transactional tit-for-tat, …

The way forward.

  1. Let’s start with a detail. Let’s get rid of the name HR. Let’s talk about people. I have taken on the title of chief people officer as a way to state what I see as the future of the function formerly known as HR. Check out this blog.
  2. Then, let’s really talk about people and focus on them. Let’s not only focus only on the active elements (competencies, productivity, …) but let’s include the entire person.
  3. Let’s understand that we need to be humble. We cannot solve everything. We cannot do it alone.
  4. Let’s understand that People Management is a process, not a function or department. Many people are involved. But there are people within companies that focus on the people process.
  5. Let’s define the role we need to play within organisations. In the future there are 5 roles: Architect, Expert, Coach, Data Strategist and Advocate. You can read about them here.
  6. If we understand it’s in essence about creating a context in which people can be successful both in life as in business, we are on the way.
  7. If it’s about context we need to focus on culture, leadership, behaviour. How much time do we spend on that?
  8. HR needs to review some of its processes. One important example is performance management. People are usually not engaged by this process. We need to get it right or stop it.
  9. HR can play a vital role in creating value for the customers. Customers meet people. And it’s the performance of the people that makes the difference, even in the age of digitalisation. The brand of a company stands or falls with the behaviour of the people delivering the service, manufacturing the products.
  10. To do all that, HR needs to focus on Leadership. HR is leadership. Leadership is HR.
  11. HR can make a difference by focusing on work. People come to work. It would be best to make sure work is adapted to their needs, strengths, ambitions. Customise work where possible. Leave the standard. Have the courage to make exceptions.
  12. HR Analytics will help, but will not “save” HR. There’s a lot of little data in HR. But using it to check progress, evaluate programs, … is necessary.
  13. And cut the crap. Forget about the jargon. Stand close to the business and the people. Loose everything that could confuse. HR is not rocket science. Keep it as simple as possible.

There’s a lot of work to do. But let’s not bash HR. Let’s not hate it. Let’s create a people process we are worthy of. You get the HR you deserve. HR gets the company it deserves. Does HR needs to be saved? I don’t think so.
David Ducheyne

Vision is what you need. Not eyes.



I love music. I often find inspiration in the lyrics. Sometimes a song provides inspiration, a last missing piece of a puzzle.Take “Reverence” by Faithless. One phrase really took my attention. “You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision”.

“You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision”

A while ago I finished a three-day teaching assignment in Algeria. I took part in an MBA-program, organized by the “Business School Netherlands”. The participants and I went through some co-creative sessions. Topics were Strategic HR, Leadership and Coaching. We had great conversation. Sometimes we were totally aligned. But some moments I saw doubts and surprise in their eyes. At other moments the surprise was all mine.
Once we had a fantastic experience of flow. We were talking about our ideal corporate environment and culture. And about the gap between the current reality and that ideal situation. To close this gap we tend to introduce HR and Leadership strategies. These look surprisingly simple at first sight. All we need is vision. Then the rest will follow.
I was not too sure about that. I wanted to go much more in detail. I wanted to explore the link between vision and strategy, between strategy and policy. I also wanted to analyse the role of leadership. But during the breaks it became clear to me why they kept on talking (only) about vision. They started telling me about the situation in Algeria. Algeria is a country in full development. There’s a gigantic need for education, management, leadership, vision and many other things.

A guided Tour through Algiers

My great participants also honoured me with a guided tour through Algiers. They told me not to look around too much. They said  the place is run-down and dilapidated. They kindly invited me to look at the potential of the place. To see that  there is a need for a vision for the future. They asked me to just close my eyes during taxi drives and to feel and listen to what was happening on the streets.
I saw some run-down buildings and streets. But still the people working in that neighborhood did not seem to be bothered or depressed by that. On the contrary. They seemed to work very hard. They seemed to have a mission in their mind. There’s the problem, my hosts told me. People work very hard, but they seem to have difficulties to see beyond just looking after their families. There is no vision on how to develop the country. No vision of  the future. No vision on how to contribute to that. No national identity.
People use their eyes to “see” the here and now. But they lack a vision. They don’t even need their eyes to do what they do. They can do their work and live their lives almost blindly.
But they do need vision to look further. And a vision can lead to true and lasting change in their country.
What do we need for building such a vision? Or maybe we should ask a different question. What keeps us from developing a vision? Often it’s about culture or habits. The conversations during the tour confirmed some research on Algeria. This brought me to the following 3 thoughts on managing change, the Algerian Way. And by looking at the Algerian way, one questions also the own approach.

  • How does a manager realize change?
  • How about the sense of time?
  • How do manager and team relate to each other?

1. Being a (Change) Manager in Algeria

“We can only dream about modern management”

“They are not managers, they act like family. But you already have family. One is enough.”

Being a manager in Algeria is a challenge. Or maybe not. Management is conservative and hierarchical. It’s defined by a strict definition of roles.

  • Conservative behaviour (e.g. dress codes and general conduct) is commendable.
  • You have to show and demand the proper respect for position, age and rank.

It is necessary to understand this hierarchical system. People believe their managers got their promotion because of their greater experience. It is not right to question any of his decisions. And managers should not even consult their employees before deciding. Managers are often paternalistic. Professional relationships between managers and employees usually overlap with personal relationships. They act like family.

This kind of leadership culture does not really stimulate change. Change is often seen as a threat to society and to the company. So managers are generally averse to change. Changes must be seen as positive for the ‘whole’, not just for the individual.

Of course change does happen. But managers in Algeria need to take into account that change will take longer than planned. And group effort will be the driving force behind it. The group will thoroughly assess the change and everyone needs to agree to it.

Let’s be honest.  I was not able to change the group’s conviction. Not one model I showed could change their mind. But at least now the participants are aware of other existing approaches. And that’s essential. Because now there is awareness and eventually a willingness to start a journey themselves. And through this awareness and willingness they could influence their colleagues, managers, companies and their society.

2. Approach to Time

“Patience is what you need to know about and practice”

Deadlines and time are fluid in Algeria. Patience is key. Essentially in a culture of relationships, you need to take the time to get to know someone. Don’t rush. If you do, you may jeopardise any future coöperation. It’s advisable to stress the importance of agreed deadlines and how not keeping them may affect the rest of the organization. However, it isn’t unusual for a manager in Algeria to avoid confrontation over a missed deadline. The main purpose is to maintain a positive atmosphere within the team.

Some managers who have experienced global and intercultural environments, may have a different appreciation of the need of timing and deadlines. They will more likely try to meet them.

3. ‘Boss’ or Team Player?

“We don’t play, we respect and try not to be embarrassed”

Due to the hierarchical setup, it is important that the manager maintains his/her role as ‘boss’. In this way (s)he instills the necessary respect. When the manager needs to work collectively with his/her team however, it is important that he states this need and encourages the team to cooperate openly.
If an individual contributes sub-optimally, the manager needs to deal with this carefully. It is essential that the employee does not feel embarrassed in front of the colleagues. The rest of the group needs to feel able to continue to take part.

Is Europe so much different here ?
Also in my culture, corrective and even positive feedback about the performance of an individual employee is not appreciated when given in front of a whole group.

Change as compromise.

Any successful change will necessarily come from the inside. Even if it’s triggered by the world outside. Successful change will always be a compromise between necessity and urgency, and the respect for these three cultural features. Unless of course a radical event would take place.
Again I asked myself if Europe is so much different ?
Do we like change that much? Isn’t change for us often a matter of compromise as well.  Do we not accept compromise against better judgement?  Will change not pass easier if it happens in respect of our habits and values ? It is like that unless some dramatic event would take place. In that case change simply occurs. Period.

How are we doing in Europe ?

I left with the impression that Algeria still has a (long) way to go in becoming a so-called “modern” place of business. My group asked a confronting question: how are we doing in Europe ?
I would hope better. But alas. We know our own depressing corporate architectures. As we know our own conservative reflexes.
We may perhaps not want to see them because we think we have a good and solid vision. But then again, You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision.

HR strategy: Control + Alt + HR function ?

snale - HR Strategy

HR strategy, the discussion.

I’ve been in HR now for more than 15 years. In all these years the “strategic” role of HR has not been out of the debate.
Through the years I’ve noticed that this strategic role is complex and intangible. I will not try to define and describe the word strategic in this blog. You could check other literature for that. I am looking for what defines the strategic role. And I would like to answer the question how HR could become more strategic in the future.  I am aware it’s not perceived as strategic today.

The management team

There’s a perception that being a part of the management team is the most important indicator for the strategic nature of an HR manager. Only when you’re on the team, you are strategic.
But this is nothing more than a perception. I’ve known HR managers who are member of that team but who were not strategic at all and vice versa. So it’s not that. So it’s not team membership. Could the strategic role depend on the person?

The person

If an HR manager is not perceived as being strategic, surely it’s due to his or her own behaviour. There is one key question. Does the HR Manager have enough power to influence the strategic decision-making ?
Being able to influence is always an advantage. Sometimes it might be necessary. But it’s absurd to limit the strategic power of the HR function to the personal impact of the HR Manager.
So it’s not team membership or the HR Manager’s behaviour. What then is the determining factor for  HR to become strategic?

The functions and roles

Dave Ulrich has introduced one of the most influential models in HR. He clearly described 4 roles for HR. HR was to become next to the administrative expert also a champion for the employees, a change agent, and a strategic partner.

The 4 HR roles, inclusive the HR strategy role.
Dave Ulrich’s model of HR

This offered a framework that helped HR departments to develop into what they are  now. Various people fulfill the different roles within the department. Those people need to collaborate with one another and with the internal client.
The focus on the internal client cleared the way for the HR business partner. This is a generalist who functions as a single point of contact for the internal clients. This function also integrates a change driving and strategic dimension.
So here we were and are.
HR finally became a full function, covering the four roles. And the people in  HR departments started integrating the strategic dimension in their roles. The strategic HR role was born.
Was it ?
If all of this were true, why hasn’t the discussion about the strategic role of HR not stopped? Why have certain HR functions dramatically felt the crisis? Why have they been hit by serious cost cutting? Why was HR unable to turn the continuous “noise” about its HR strategy into satisfaction ?
Could it be that we have forgotten the people?

The people

Employees and their managers do not benefit a lot from the fact that the HR function is strategically positioned. That’s because there’s a long way between the definition of a strategy and the experience in the field.
Suppose your manager:

  • is a member of the management team.
  • supports and communicates the HR decisions to the own department.
  • is actively participating in the HR decision-making process.
  • has the active support of an HR business partner.

Then chances are that

  • the implementation of the HR strategy will go ahead smoothly
  • you will effectively feel “something” of what the HR strategy is all about.

But even then. Interpretations, convictions, emotions and misunderstandings about roles and responsibilities between the business and HR could spoil the party.
Should we conclude that an HR department can be as strategic as it wants, but that at the end of the day it’s the people who mess up ?
Absolutely not.
If people perceive the collaboration between HR and their department negatively, there is a problem. People do not experience the  HR strategy as intended. In that case HR has seriously messed up.
HR and the company face a huge challenge here. An HR strategy can only be successful if there’s a good collaboration between HR and the line managers. And I’d take it a step further. The line manager should become the real owner and executor of the HR strategy in his/her department. The HR business partner can give support and not drive the HR agenda. It’s about coaching business people towards HR (strategic) decisions. The HRBP should not take this decision him/herself.

The people processes

So the line manager is responsible for HR. And the HR business partner has a supporting and coaching role. We cannot expect our line manager to set up a “mini HR team”. That would not work. That would only lead to ineffective fragmentation of the HR function.
But line managers manage a lot of processes. So they can also manage HR-processes if they’re supported by experts and coaches. Some examples are:

  • Recruitment
  • Performance management
  • Outflow of weak performers
  • People Development
  • Team building

Let me introduce a new process the business could perfectly drive: the HR strategy process.

Control + Alt + HR function

HR Strategy is about the continuous improvement of people processes. It’s driven by the business. HR is no longer a function. It’s a process, driven by the business.
How do we have to understand these processes?
Some examples. Improvement of:

  • Hiring. How and where to attract our future talents ? Business people  know the market better than HR people.
  • Talent acquisition and development processes. Which competencies will we need within 5 to 10 years? Business people  know the future needs of the customers better than HR people.
  • Industrial relations. How can we convince the unions better than by telling them how the business is working ?
  • Internal communication. How can we integrate social media in the existing employee communication platforms?
  • Retention. How can we use the output of exit interviews more appropriately?
  • Team building and collaboration. How can we better deal with conflicts in our teams?
  • Leadership development. How will our own leadership have to evolve if we want to stay successful ?

Imagine managers becoming responsible for driving and managing these people processes. They are not only responsible for driving existing people processes but also for co-creating new ones. Of course, they are supported by colleagues and HR.
Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 20.13.24
I think these managers will be much more willing and able to:

  • see the HR strategy as their HR strategy
  • make it much more concrete for their people.
  • transform employee’s negative perceptions about HR into transparent understanding of it.

That is the real meaning of strategic HR.
Read also:

The "h" in HR stands for humble

In the two decades that I have been working in HR, I have heard HR professionals regret the limited influence HR has. They often lament the absence of an HR-seat at the board table or the lack of advocacy. I have never understood this lamentation. For me HR is not a function and it’s not a matter of holding a position at a certain level. HR is a process, not a function. In principle you do not need a separate HR-function to make sure that the management of people within companies is well done.
Many people do realise that it’s the human factor that makes the difference between excellence and mediocrity, success and failure. But a company does not need a savvy HR director to put this point on the agenda of the company. In smaller companies there is no HR-function and the task is done by the owner of the company. Of course this is not a guarantee for success, just as much as having an HR-function within a company does not automatically leads to success.
It all depends on the vision of a company about the role of their people and the way this vision is implemented in day-to-day practices within a company. The link between HR and the corporate strategy is made through the creation of a leadership brand. The title of this blog could suggest that I underestimate the value of HR. I don’t think so. HR plays a fundamental role in the success of a company. The focus of HR should not be HR in itself, but rather the success of employees, managers and of the company as a whole. The success of HR is the success of the company and vice versa. Humility in combination with this focus on success is key.
* someone asked if having humble resources is a good thing. Of course I refer to the people holding an HR-function being humble.