HR Business Partners or not

Which job roles will change/be created/cease to exist in 2018?  There are lots of predictions on this.  See, for example, MIT’s thoughts on five roles that will see increasing numbers of people required to fill them.   Or the BBC’s  ‘will your job be automated?’ predictor – where you enter your job title and it gives the automation likelihood.  The page is dated 2015 so I suspect the likelihood of some of the jobs listed being automated is increasing.  A more recent (March 2017) paper from PWC reports ‘Specifically, based on our own preferred, methodology, we found that around 30% of jobs in the UK are at potential high risk of automation and around 38% in the US.’   Generally, there’s as much dissension as agreement on what jobs will be automated.   Where researchers do seem to have agreement is that the work  ‘that taps into our social drives’ will not be automated. Andrew McAfee, one of MIT’s academics and IT expert, says:  I just don’t see anyone, even really great innovators, coming up with technologies that could just substitute for the people who are currently doing those very, very social jobs.

A job that I’ve been looking at over the last several weeks is the HR Business Partner role.  It doesn’t seem to be on any automation list, so it may be a social job, but, depending on whose view you are reading, it is predicted to:

Grow stronger,  but only if the role is ‘strategic’ HR partner which is currently ‘at best unquantified, at worst ill-defined and poorly understood.’

Grow weaker, as the roles ‘evolve from the initial concept of HRBPs to a new generation of HR roles that will help the function formerly known as Human Resources better contribute to the deployment of the business strategy, bring more value to the organisation, and take advantage of the possibilities offered by technological innovation.’

Change, because ‘business partners have become so embedded in the business and so distanced from central HR that they’ve taken the business’s typically much more short-term-orientated demands to heart to the extent of ignoring or overriding the overall business need for strategic change.’

Die, because ‘HR doesn’t seem to think of itself as an integral component of the business. HR people are not even trained anymore to understand the mechanics of business at work.’

This is all very confusing – particularly if you are an HR Business Partner, someone who thinks they’d like to be an HR Business Partner, an HR Leader re-designing their operating model, an employee wondering what products and services to expect from HR, a CEO deciding whether or not to ‘give HR a seat at the table’ (8 million google responses on the inquiry ‘HR seat at the table’), a consultant advising on the yes/no/maybe of HR BPs in an HR operating model.

Or perhaps it is not so much confusing as complex.  Because there isn’t a right answer.  And this is the one thing that the various writers and researcher on this topic agree on.  They all are of the view, exemplified in this comment from the CIPD that ‘there is not one model for delivering HR that is suited to all organisations.  How an organisation should structure is HR functions depends on its organisational strategy, wider organisational structure and the requirements of its customers and the organisation it is supporting.’

In considering the merits, or not, of an HR BP role, each HR leader with his/her colleagues has to work out first what’s best, or at least ‘good enough’ operating model for the combination of factors in their particular circumstances, and then whether or not HR Business Partners feature in the delivery of the operating model.

One place to start determining the right HR model for your organisation is to read through the differing perspectives presented in the UK’s CIPD paper Changing Operating Models. It’s 3 years old (February 2015) but a lot of it is still relevant and points to still to be explored aspects of HR including models for networked organisations.  And it contains a piece from Dave Ulrich, attributed with introducing the HR BP model.

Another place to start is the IES White Paper, (2015) HR Business Partners: Yes Please or No Thanks. In this one there is the common-sense suggestion that to get to the ‘right answer’ on both HR operating model design and HR BPs ‘What we probably need instead is better internal dialogue between stakeholders on what the optimum balance might be between HR’s role and line managers’ responsibilities. HR for its part needs to consider its structure in the light of this debate’.

Specifically, on HR Business Partners the IES notes that: ‘whilst organisations have to decide whether business partners are worth the investment, they also have to settle on their conception of the role and make sure it fits business needs, manager requirements and their own staff capability. If this critical thinking is not done there is the probability of continuing customer and colleague frustration and frequent questioning of the value of the role.’

What’s your view on the HR BP role?  Let me know.

Image: What do applicants say about your firm?

Job descriptions: dead or alive?

In Dubai this past week someone asked me what the value is in job descriptions (JDs).  (I was facilitating an org design programme, not taking a vacation).  They pointed out that a job description doesn’t indicate how a person does the job, or what he/she does once in the job.   I was on the edge of saying that they are of no value.  Which, like some others, I mostly believe.

For example, I enjoyed reading Leandro Herrero’s idea that ‘The job description is dead. It is replaced by a Lego box, no instructional manual and a map.’  In an earlier post he made the point that ‘The job description, and the label associated with it, are very often a mental prison.’

Chris Rodgers offers an escape from the JD mental prison by suggesting that instead of JDs we have Contribution Statements .  He tells us that:  ‘This sets out to answer the question: What specific contribution is the role intended to make which, if performed excellently, can make a significant difference to organizational performance and/or capability?’   It therefore begins by stating the role’s purpose – to make clear why it exists at all – and then sets out the performance aims for which the role-holder is accountable.

This focus on outputs (contribution and results) rather than inputs (resource usage and activities carried out) is an invitation to escape from the ‘activity trap’ of rigid job descriptions and procedural straight-jackets that too often limit performance – and ambition.

Another writer – agreeing that job descriptions are dead suggests that we begin by asking Why does this job exist? And then via discussion uncover ‘the three to five key accountabilities about how this job should be done’.

A further writer believes that ‘using impact descriptions versus job descriptions makes a significant positive difference.  Impact descriptions help both your team and your candidates to understand that every role exists to impact the organization in some specific way. Our roles make a difference, move the needle, and change the game.’

There are several others in these veins – Google ‘is the job description dead’ for more.  And, of course, I thought they were right.

But then I wondered:

a) how far my response was culturally conditioned.  How do other cultures respond to job descriptions?

b) As I enjoy  Herrero’s posts, and others, slating JDs am I succumbing to the psychological trait of confirmation bias. (See also here).  Preferring to read others confirming what I believe.

Maybe.  To test this, I took another tack and googled ‘Are job descriptions alive?’  Google’s algorithms instantly gave me links to jobs at Alive, a non-profit aimed at ‘lighting up later life’.  It looks like a great organization it points out that ‘There are now over 400,000 older people living in residential care in the UK. Alive is the UK’s leading charity enriching the lives of older people in care and training their carers.’

I instantly got worried, thinking that Google knows more about me than I imagined – I’ll have to protect my data better.  (My mother is 101, in residential care).

On a temporary diversion from job descriptions I looked at the blog on session replay scripts, published by Freedom to Tinker.  I am right to be worried.  Their researchers say, ‘You may know that most websites have third-party analytics scripts that record which pages you visit and the searches you make.  But lately, more and more sites use “session replay” scripts. These scripts record your keystrokes, mouse movements, and scrolling behavior, along with the entire contents of the pages you visit, and send them to third-party servers.’

Back to job descriptions.  UK employers aren’t legally obliged to create a job description for a role.  I don’t know if there is a legal obligation in other countries?   Whether they are of value or not , in the main, I found that HR sites are in favour of producing job descriptions and give advice on how to write one.  The UK’s CIPD, for example, quotes research that finds that ‘Poorly defined job descriptions drive staff turnover’.

The US HR body SHRM is firm ‘A job description is a useful, plain-language tool that describes the tasks, duties, functions and responsibilities of a position. It outlines the details of who performs a specific type of work, how that work is to be completed, and the frequency and the purpose of the work as it relates to the organization’s mission and goals.’

But organizations in favour of job descriptions also point to the requirement to keep them current, and offer advice on how to update them.  See for example, How To Revive And Renew Your Job Descriptions  and ‘At year’s end, don’t forget to update your job descriptions’

So maybe I am biased, and job descriptions are sensible and suitable.  However, I’m still not convinced of their  value to individuals, although I can see they may have organizational value.  And, even on this count, they have pros and cons as Susan Heathfield’s blog suggests in 5 Positives and 5 Negatives about Job Descriptions.

What’s your view of job descriptions? Let me know.

Image: Science job descriptions