If you haven’t heard of Lucy Adams, you are missing out. Lucy Adams is a reformed HR practitioner, formerly the HR Director at the BBC, who has written and consults on transforming the way HR works. The honesty with which she writes is refreshing to me – she is willing to call out the truths and challenges that face HR as a discipline.

A recent blog post of hers got my attention and led me to her book, HR Disrupted (more on that shortly). The blog is titled the same as this post: Let’s stop making the irrelevant more efficient. The last paragraph in the post could easily become an addition to the GetNerdy manifesto. Her words:

I don’t believe great HR is neat and streamlined, nor solely focused on efficiency. I believe that it is beautifully messy, reflecting the equally messy human beings we work with. I don’t believe we should celebrate the implementation of a universal, one size fits all process but instead look for creative and agile solutions, tailored to a variety of needs. Above all, we must stop ourselves from making the irrelevant more efficient.

As an HR Operations leader, my first reaction was of horror – I can get very focused on efficiency as a good of its own, and certainly fall prey to expecting managers and employees to be idealized fully-rational econs rather than humans. Our focus needs to always be on impact, not for us but for the organization. This might mean doing nothing at all… or doing something 15 different ways. Our minds need to be open to solving problems in the best way, not implementing a chosen solution efficiently.

The entire blog post is worth reading. Click here. But in case you want some quick ways to think about whether your process efficiency efforts are misguided, here are four exercises Lucy recommends:

  1. Take 3 end users and ask them how the current process adds value? How does it help them make it better for customers, improve the calibre of their teams or increase the motivation of their people? If they struggle to tell you, maybe you need to start afresh.

  2. Keep asking WHY. Use the Six Sigma technique of asking “Why?” five times to get to the root cause of the problem. Using this approach can help us to avoid simply fixing a process inefficiency and get to the real reason why we’re doing something. 99 times out of 100 we’re trying to change human behaviour. Streamlined processes will only get you so far.

  3. Apply the marketing tactic of identifying your “customer personas” – or in our case, employee personas. Creating these can help you sense check your approach and make sure your processes are designed around the real and specific needs of your employees. One perfectly formed process may not be the right answer.

  4. Ask yourself, “what if we had NO process for talent management/performance management/succession planning, etc?” What would that mean for our leaders and employees? What would they do in its place? Chances are the better leaders and employees would do the right things anyway. Which leaves us with the awful realisation that most of our unloved and irrelevant process is designed to compensate for the poor ones. Is that how we want to spend our time and energy? How about we focus more on what the better ones do well and look to create small behavioural nudges that replicate these actions to a wider group?

Lucy’s book, HR Disrupted, is a must read. I don’t agree with everything she says, but I can’t agree more with the premise that we need to be stepping back and questioning our work. You can click on the image at right to order the book from Amazon.