Minimalist HR

Andy Porter Andy Porter, Audacious Ideas, HR, The HR Profession

I’m about 15 years into my HR career at this point and as each year goes by I find that more and more of the traditional HR systems, processes and procedures (many that I used to swear by) are just downright too complicated.  And complicated is the BEST possible outcome.  At worst, they slow the business down, demotivate people, create unnecessary work and give HR a bad name.  So, it seems that I’ve become a minimalist.  I think HR can have a really important impact if we begin to embrace some of the ideas from the “green” world by doing all that we can to minimize the HR “footprint” within organizations.  This is obviously a big topic – bigger than just one blog post.  But if you’re looking for ways to reduce your HR footprint while still having a positive impact, here are a few ideas…

1.  Don’t develop HR policies for anything that my mother has already taught me.  Employee handbooks are littered with unnecessary policies, which frankly treat adults like children.  Or, the procedures are so thorough there’s absolutely no room for any independent thinking.  For example, I don’t see why most organizations need to have a dress code policy.  If Suzy likes to come to work dressed like she’s going out to the bars on a Saturday night tell her to cover it up.  You don’t need a written policy to tell someone to dress more appropriately.  And guess what?  Most people get it and dress appropriately.  I mean the last time I looked, my company didn’t have a policy requiring pants or a skirt and so far no one has showed up naked!  The point is you don’t need policies to “catch” the outliers – trust me, people know Suzy doesn’t have the best clothing taste.  But every time you implement a “mom” policy you send a subtle message to the 98% who are doing the right thing that you really don’t trust them and over the long-term, that will almost certainly damage your business.

2.  Don’t run a recognition program that requires nomination forms and a selection committee.  Admittedly, I’m dipping my toes into Paul Hebert territory here and I could be dead wrong.  Almost every company agrees at some level that it’s important to have a recognition program in place to acknowledge people who go above and beyond or demonstrate the values of the company.  I agree with this as well.  But the well meaning company puts way too many steps in the process and by the time a person gets their “real-time” recognition it’s no longer considered “real-time” at all!  If the social media world has taught us anything at all, it’s that giving a voice to the people is the most powerful voice.  If you go to a restaurant and it’s great, you get on Yelp! and write a review.  You buy something from Amazon and it’s a piece of crap, guess what – you don’t call the customer service department to lodge a complaint, you write a negative review about the seller.  The point is, all HR needs to do is help create the forum for recognition and then get the heck out of the way.  Smart people know what to do from there!

3.  Don’t use a formula to determine what to pay someone.  Ok, I’ll admit it.  Until recently I was a proponent of “Big HR”, which meant anytime you wanted to make a change to someone’s compensation you had to plug your variables into a formula.  You can’t blame me though – it all sounds so rationale!  Using hard data to determine pay is what makes pay for performance programs work.  So year after year we’d end up with massive spreadsheets with all sorts of formulas, which told us precisely what we already knew.  You gotta pay your top performers the most and everyone else competitively.  The problem is, no one really wants to be an output from a formula.  Not to mention most formulas are a)too complicated or b)completely out of the control of the employee.  In my opinion, I’d rather there be a dialogue about performance and pay and let those conversations guide compensation decisions not totally drive them.

As always, I recognize not all of these ideas can be put into practice in every organization.  But if you I’d bet there are more than a few places where you can bring a minimalist HR perspective!

Andy Porter

Andy Porter is Chief People Officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, MA which means he works with some wicked smaaht people. Some days, he indeed does wear short shorts around the office(call it a morale booster) but it really just makes people uncomfortable. Other days, he spits some mad game on cheese. No really – he’s somewhat of a cheese aficionado. But more importantly? At Broad he gets to his small part to help change the world of healthcare.