HR Vocabulary Lesson #3 – Consistency

If you follow my recent postings over on my company blog, you may have seen a couple of posts on HR vocabulary (ambiguity and emergent). I am trying to better communicate the vagaries of the HR struggle through the use of single words hoping to better cement these ideas with HR people.

The first two words were ambiguity and emergent. I felt that those words describe the business world of today. A ton of ambiguity in what we are tasked with accomplishing, and most of the time our objectives can’t be mapped out and planned for—they emerge. Once one thing happens, another unexpected thing happens—and the time frame between the changes are so fast we have little ability to set any kind of process in place to manage it.

And that is foreign to most of us. We are taught in school and in our formative training years at most companies to handle things systematically… logically. The only place I see companies really “manage” business today is within some of the new startups. They began in a world of ambiguity and emergent issues… and continue to compete in it. I think that is why so many of the new ideas in HR seem to—wait for it—emerge from those types of companies.

Vocabulary Lesson #3

But today I offer another vocabulary word for HR folks… Consistency…  and the need for creating processes and procedures that are consistent.

HR is the department of consistency. It is the center of the “consistent” universe. If a policy is to be written—it is to be written to apply to all or to none. If we have office furniture, everyone gets the same color. (See my FOT post from 4 years ago, “HR Plays too Much Defense”.)

But if you accept that the world is more ambiguous—and that many of the problems HR encounters are emergent—then the least likely success strategy is one of consistency.

Consistency is the enemy in today’s business world… and the enemy of human beings in general.

Humans are diverse. Humans are ultimately variable. Humans chafe under conditions of consistency. Trust me on this one: if you have more than one child just try to make things consistent—it won’t work. And, now that I think of it, it really doesn’t work well when you treat them different either. (Face it—kids are a whole different issue.)

I know there will be a bunch of you that will raise the red flag and suggest that consistency is required to avoid lawsuits and problems. I know. You’ll tell me it is easier to create a policy that is consistent. I know, you’re right. You’ll tell me that it makes your job and your managers’ jobs harder when there is more latitude in the rules. And you are so right on that, as well.

But none of that matters.

You can be consistent in the face of ambiguity and emergent problems—and worry about keeping talent and recruiting talent (which is hard, too) or you can work harder at being less consistent and take on the additional workload of making it work.

Either way, you’re going to work harder. You just have to choose at which end of the equation—the beginning or the end.

I think it is better to work hard at the beginning and figure out the best way to tackle the issues of change with more imaginative policies than deal with the stink-eye from the CEO and CFO when turnover and recruiting problems arise.

To sum up, I’ll just drop in a quote from one of my favorite quotables…

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” Oscar Wilde

Based on the HR pros I know—they are hardly unimaginative. I know they can do this.

What do you think? Is being consistent easier or harder in the long run?



FOT Background Check

Paul Hebert
Paul Hebert is the Senior Director of Solutions Architecture at Creative Group Inc and a writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. Over the course of his career, Paul has worked closely with clients to design influence, marketing, motivation, incentive, loyalty, recognition and reward programs to increase effectiveness and reduce costs. Paul is a recognized authority on incentives and performance motivation. Want to know what’s going to motivate your people to perform at their best and impact the bottom line? Want to know whether your service award program really means anything at all? Curious what psychological principles drive sales behavior? Paul’s your guy… unless you fervently bow down to Maslow. Check out his personal blog at "What Is Paul Thinking?" when you're tired of his FOT rants.


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    Anyone who has children will know that one size of policy does not always fit all. But here’s the rub: it’s what management and executives expect, because it fits the way organizations – especially large organizations – work. As the workforce becomes increasingly diverse, with an increased use of contractors, the single-policy approach will steadily become less feasible. What can HR to persuade the executive that it is no longer the optimal approach?

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