Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Obsession That Is Killing HR

I have a big idea. If it gets a little traction it might change how human resources work is done in the future. It's not a new concept, but I believe the time is right for someone, particularly in Healthcare HR to speak to this opportunity.

Ideas are meant to solve problems, and my friends I see significant problems in the Healthcare HR space. I see it in my own career path, and I see an abundance of time and energy being wasted everyday on this problem.

There are two parts of my idea and each one must be executed well in order for it to work. Let's briefly walk through each component of my plan.

The Problem
One of the most significant problems I see in human resources today is our obsession with transactional work. While there is a non-stop stream of "we need to be strategic" talk in just about every HR meeting I attend, I rarely see this put into action. Why is that? Further, is Healthcare HR somehow behind the curve on the transition to actually being strategic?

Yes, there are progressive human resources teams in healthcare, yet the struggle for us all (inside and outside of healthcare) to break away from focusing on task after task continues. How do we move past this hurdle?

In my organization we've made huge progress separating out transactional work, and making it more streamlined and efficient than ever. What was the secret to our success? We had the front line HR team map out where we were failing, and what we should do to make improvements. 

Genius, right? Well, no. Fortunately our team is very engaged and did a terrific job of evolving not only our HR processes, but our culture too.

The second strategy is the most challenging of all for HR leaders to implement. This requires the discussion about transactional work and routine processes never to enter into conversations about strategic work. 

Time and time again the HR strategy meetings I've been involved with end up falling back on the routine topics of transactional work that "somehow" continues to get in the way. Why do we do that? Is it comfort in discussing old routine items? Maybe. We've been talking about them for decades, so it is probably easy to fall back into old (read here --> bad) habits.

Guess what...if you don't bring up transactional work, it doesn't get in the way. Stop talking about it and you'll find yourself with plenty of time to talk strategy.

How About You
Have you tried to push transactional work away from the strategic meeting agenda? Did it work? If so, please share your approach, as there are so many (including me) who could benefit from your success story. 

If not, take a hard look at the words you're saying in your meetings, and decide if you're adding value or simply adding noise.

I'd love to hear from you.

No Excuses.

pic pic


  1. Jay,

    It's unfortunate that healthcare is lagging other industries because we need to be more strategic in leading all the change that is happening around us. The glimpses of strategic HR work in my career have been approached one innovation/project at a time. The language and concepts we used were very different; the goals were visionary, lofty, and uncomfortable for HR people. The approach was entrepreneurial, rather than reactionary; we created something new, rather than fixing a problem or making transactions more efficient.

    Real strategic work is fun when it happens, but it is difficult to devote the time and energy to it when we are steeped in a regulatory-driven environment. I think strategic HR work has to be very intentional and focused.

    1. Thanks for your comment Bill. I couldn't agree more. We end up having "strategic priorities" vs a strategic mindset. It's good to hear that you've had successes over the years, albeit limited (like all of us), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't stop pushing.

      Good stuff...and keep pushing!

  2. Jay,

    As an HR leader, I didn't have as much trouble finding time for strategic work. In my experience, what gets in the way were these things:
    -The leader likes to talk tactics because that's what they know and are familiar with.
    -The leader doesn't have the skills to do strategic work.
    -The leader isn't willing to delegate the tactical work to the folks who can do it best.
    -The leader isn't willing to push back against a management structure that only really expects them to be tactical.

    There seems to be a combination of all these forces within most organizations. Since you are a strategically skilled leader, the problem seems less complex that it does to others. The key, in my opinion, is for HR leaders to go to school on the competencies that enable this type of transition: strategic agility, influence skills, delegation, trust, conflict. When those skills are mixed with some courage, things change. Until we close this gap, I'm afraid that most HR departments will continued to be mired in the tactical soup that plagues them.


    1. Thanks Jason. Your list is right on target. It does come down to a skills set...or gap in this case...that HR leaders need to be truly strategic (which ultimately means effective.)

      Being comfortable enough to admit that skill development is okay is a big step. For those willing to take that step it is a whole new and exciting phase of their career. For the rest, sadly they are stuck in the proverbial soup.

      Great perspective!

  3. this discussion is age old. you can't be strategic if your house isn't in order. get the house in order, keep it in order, and then focus on strategy. transactions may not be sexy, but they sure are important. and you need people and systems and procedures that are really good at them (and like them). but as i've said before, "HR has a lot to do with administrative minutia and back office; if you can't get over that, then you're probably in the wrong profession. and what does "strategic" mean anyway. that has become so cliche i'm not sure people are even sure what they mean when they say it.

    1. I couldn't agree more Charlie. There is very important transactional work to be done...which is why I believe HR leaders need to let those pieces go and allow their teams to drive those processes.

      My dilemma...which is also why this issue won't go that leadership continues to live in the transactional space, yet complains that no one respects them as a strategic partner. You can't have it both ways.

      Great to see you back on the interwebs...many thanks for the comment!

    2. i'm not really sure the two are mutually exclusive (i.e. strategic partner vs. living in the transactional space). becoming operationally savvy might prove very much to be strategic. particularly when it results in efficiency, productivity, improved user experience, etc. my guess is that if we (really) listened to what our business partners were saying, we'd hear something like "make it easier for my people to do what they are here to do." like it or not, a lot of that has to do with transactions and operations. i think a really good HR leader needs to be really good at both. and this particularly important in smaller organizations where the HR team doesn't have the luxury of assigning resources to one or the other.

    3. Great points Charlie. I think you've framed the true role of HR perfectly..."make it easier for [Operations/etc...] to do what they are here to do."

      Amen brother.

  4. Bullseye. HR is one of the few industries which hasn't kept phase with Technology. Social Media ideally should have been a part of HR (they are the ones who are supposed to understand the Employer's brand. But sadly it has ended up being a marketing department's work. Recruiters need to move fast, its more 2003, we are sitting in 2013.

    1. Thanks Shankar. Great point that HR is supposed to understand the brand...and social is certainly the modern way to message that brand.

      Good stuff!