The one with the chicken and the egg

So this week I am at the HR Directors Business forum being held in Birmingham. Having attended the CIPD conference in Manchester as a blogger I was able to gain attendance for the same reason.

The opening keynote was given by an American called Edward Lawler who to be honest I haven’t previously come across but have the nagging feeling I should have from other people’s reactions. He is an academic who has, in his own words, “Spent 40 years observing the HR profession”

A lot of what he shared was based on data collected as part of his research. His first major point concerned the fact that episodic change is largely a thing of the past and that anyone who longs for periods of consolidation in the new norm of constant change is likely to have an unrequited longing.

He shared data that demonstrated at in the US at least there is a perception that HR have increased their value to the organisation since the recession started and this is in both their own eyes and in the eyes of managers. As if we needed data to show that….

He then described what he thought of a HR’s three product lines namely:

1. Admin & transaction

2. Business Partner services

3. Strategy

and provided data that showed in most of the developed world with the notable exception of China most HR people believe they have some role in strategy but that in reality participation in strategy hasn’t really changed in the 7 years since he started collecting data on this topic.

He then produced a diagram that I can not replicate here but it basically showed the progression from Human Capital & Business data >> Business Strategy >> HR practice, Organisational Design &  Change Management and here’s where I finally reach my point.

Should current human capital data play a role in defining strategy? Or to put it another way – should the people fit around the strategy or should you design strategy that fits your current organisation? Which should come first?

I must confess if you’d asked me that question 10 years ago I would have without hesitation  answered that people should fit around strategy. Now 10 years older and with a little more scar tissue I must confess I sit somewhere between the two. With so many change initiatives failing (depending on the source between 55% and 90%) are the smart businesses those that get the best result they can from what they have rather than risk a failed change to get to an organisation ‘at the end of the rainbow’?

Part of me still feels a little bit bad typing that last paragraph. It feels like defeat to even consider not changing just because other people fail in their efforts but given the current context (UK GDP down 0.2% in Q4) is the brave thing to do caution and not trying ‘hail Mary’ activities that may appear heroic are actually desperation?



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2 responses to “The one with the chicken and the egg

  1. Its akin to the question of whether organisational culture drives the workplace solution, or vice versa. The response is the same as to your question – it is the integration of the two, combined with a preparedness to flex and change as the landscape and other factors intervene, that creates a successful outcome. The chicken, egg, all the other farmyard creatures, the farmer and his family and employees, the machinery, the weather, EC farming policy – they all have to get along, and to know they have to get along. Linearity has very little place in the modern world.

  2. Maybe I’m being too literal but the answer to your question of “Which should come first?” is neither…. Strategy should be designed to create your future organisation & it’s offering. The businesses that successfully lead (not manage) change are those that use their current resources effectively AND find the resources they don’t have to achieve their goal.

    BTW on HRs product lines, I think I’m missing a speaking opportunity… at this years ConnectingHR UnConference I suggested that there are three categories of HR professional 1)”Deep people people”; 2) High-level business; and 3)Process. Luckily @MJCarty captured my ramblings here :

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