Can something as unpredictable as human behavior be managed systematically to optimize effectiveness?

Posted by Quinten van Es on Thu, Dec 22, 2016

innovative.jpgThe need for consistently outstanding human resource management is self-evident, but best practices don’t work the same way for every company, and, inexpertly applied, can constrict innovation.



McKinsey has found that globally scaled best practice solutions are frequently irrelevant to local operations, while too much effort spent on local tailoring can eliminate the
cost and time savings the best practice was meant to achieve in the first place. And Mike Myatt, writing for, reminds us that existing methodologies and best practice approaches aren’t always right for companies, and that there’s no “substitute for wisdom, discernment, discretion, subject matter expertise, intellect and creativity.”

Sensitivity, intuition, and even non-inferential knowledge are especially important for the HR
profession, which at times can conflict with the concept of “best practices.” Peter Cappelli of
the Wharton School says business leaders need to recognize that good human resource management is about making choices predicated on what works well for your company. Cappelli points out one of the toughest jobs of HR today is supporting business strategy, which is “increasingly a moving target.” This requires HR to think and plan for the long term while simultaneously preparing in the short-term for a variety of if-then scenarios. This sort of skill requires intuitive judgment, foresight and creativity.

Another subjective challenge facing the HR professional is evaluating all the “cool new research
and insights” about talent management and leadership and deciding which ideas and philosophies to adopt and integrate. Consider the Netflix example: the company abolished vacation days, giving employees the freedom to determine how much they need. They also dispensed with reimbursement policies, based on the same logic that employees should be trusted to make the choices that are best for the company.

This is a radical and exciting new approach now, but in a few years or less it may prove to be a fad. And even if it works in the long term for Netflix, it may not work for all types of companies. Still, companies need to actively encourage this kind of atypical experimentation, as this is where innovation comes from. Many business experts feel the best HR solutions in the future will result from talented leaders who find novel ways to re-apply or re-engineer best practices. For instance, the trend toward “microwork” (work relationships becoming less employment-based and more project-based) is one of the most urgent issues that companies continue to grapple with.

Leaders will have to build solutions that combine fulltime employees with part-time, freelance and crowdsourced, and the best solutions will have to be tailored, creative and innovative. An employment model that relies heavily on contract workers won’t work well for property, so those companies will have to find different ways to adapt to the changes in the labor market. Some of the most important best practices to emerge recently have come from creative thinking that was anomalous:

• While the field of recruiting was focused on how to identify “star producers,” researchers at
Harvard identified toxic workers and techniques for screening these counterproductive employees
• Deloitte did away with annual performance ratings and rankings, and was quickly followed
by Adobe, Accenture, Microsoft, GE, and Gap, which also adopted non-traditional performance
feedback processes
• Juniper Networks routinely strips every “best practice” down to its essential guiding principle, then re-builds a custom system or process for the company based on that principle

Essentially, companies are asking their HR departments to be flexible enough to be creative
and innovative while continuing to link in their performance to metrics-oriented results. While this task appeared Herculean just a few years ago, with the powerful best practice of certification, it now has become a very attainable goal.

“In 2016, most CEOs will tell you that talent is their organization’s most precious asset, and that their culture is their best competitive advantage. Yet for many companies there remains a gaping hole between that rhetoric and reality.” – Marcus Buckingham, performance consultant and author


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Best practices in general have the most impact on business performance when they are embraced companywide, starting at the top, and adopted smartly and sensitively by expert individuals. Top Employers Institute provides certification that ensures leadership in HR best practice implementation. HRCI provides certification that helps companies identify individuals who have both the knowledge and critical judgment skills to apply the best practices. On their own, certifications are correlated with better business performance – companies with Top Employers certification, and companies that have more than five HRCI certificants, show better results than companies that don’t.