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The HR ‘split personality’ simply isn’t working

Sometime during the year

Dear Employees,

For the development of budding managers, we are launching a 360 degree feedback program.

Thank You, Talent Management Team


Later in the year

Dear Employees,

We are thrilled to announce a tie-up with a so-famous-university for continued education of our top talent.

Thank You, Learning & Development Team


In the same year

Dear Employees,

To keep our teams motivated to do good work, we are launching a peer-recognition program.

Thank You, Employee Engagement Team


Sounds familiar?

HR was meant to be a single entity; the arm of business that engages with people. However, somewhere down the line, HR developed this split personality – a composite of recruitment, compensation, talent management, business partners, OD, learnings, engagement, etc. What makes it a split personality (and not a multi-faceted personality) is that:

All facets of HR operate disjointedly, having very little connection to each other.

Take for instance a very common phenomenon in organizations, i.e. attrition. When more people start leaving, the employee engagement team swings into action, rolling out interventions to “make employees happy”. Or, the compensation team rolls out “retention bonuses” for “key talent”. In parallel, the recruitment team naturally has more numbers to rehire. However, almost never does it happen, that the recruitment team is involved in conversations on why people are leaving.

Pause for a while, to marvel at the manner we operate in.

I will say it again. The part of HR which is responsible for bringing people into the organization, has no involvement or in-depth understanding of, why people are leaving the organization! This is what I mean by HR having dis-integrated into multiple sub-functions operating in silos. The biggest tell-tale sign of this dis-integration is that:

HR has become, a function of “interventions” and “check-boxes”, instead of a function that creates impact.

If you have attended any town-hall presentation of HR, the slides are mostly around a list of “HR initiatives”; something like this:

  • Learning team conducted 300 trainings
  • Business partners facilitated 50 team building activities
  • Engagement team organized “employee coffee conversations”
  • Talent management launched “leader connect”

However, the key questions remain unanswered:

  • Why did you take these “initiatives”?
  • What problem were you solving?
  • Why were these the best solutions?
  • How are the initiatives connected to each other, and to an overall goal?
  • What’s happening to the “initiatives” taken last year?
  • What is the impact – how does it affect the employee’s life?

No wonder employees and managers feel awkward, when you have to go in for the “annual ceremony” of performance conversations. If you never had a discussion in the entire year, good luck with having any meaningful conversation about what happened 12 or 6 months ago! Further, it is not surprising that the “learning goals” you chose a year ago, make no sense during the appraisal discussion.

Or, even the training programs you get nominated to, just because you and your manager need something to fill in the “developmental goals” section.

We at Dockabl, follow a simple practice for the development of our team. We don’t have the typical blanket workshops for everyone. We practice micro-dosed, on-demand learning. While on-job, any team member who feels the need to quickly learn a skill (say something to do with programming on Coursera), they ask for it, and we enable it. It has a direct impact on business outcomes. It helps the employee perform better, get rewarded better. They feel nice getting better at their job. Everything gets connected to each other – learning, performance, reward, motivation and engagement.

It’s not that organizations need to crack some Da Vinci code of HR, to get this right. Organizations simply need to crack common sense.

Common-sense that reminds us, that an employee is one human being. Also, that each employee is unique. So, a set of silos, blanket interventions driven by silos sub-functions, will simply not work.

The key handy-man enabling the HR split personality, are the legacy systems and tools.

Any HR professional in the industry using some of the most popular systems will know that they hardly provide any insights or analytical capabilities to answer questions such as:

  • Why is the employee unable to perform – what can be done to change that (currently these are gut-based solutions, dependent on the managers’ individual wisdom)?
  • Where exactly are hot-spots of problems, addressing which should be our top priority?
  • Are we demonstrating any kind of bias while appraising or rewarding employees (as diversity gains priority, these questions will become critical)?
  • What kind of developmental opportunities do we need to invest in (Currently, this is one of the most unscientific, whim and trend-based decision in organizations)?
  • Can I build a 360-degree employee-view far ahead of the 9 box – can we factor in performance journey (not just ratings), data on key values demonstrated, potential, demographics (helps understand diversity), etc?

One of the top challenges for businesses today is engaging the millennial and Gen Z workforce, amidst making sense of the technology onslaught. Days of interventions like joining bonus, retention bonus, fun and games are over. Unless HR is willing to acknowledge this problem and fix it, it cannot survive the next wave of change in the industry. As they said in the movie, Split:

“The beast is real”.

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