28th November 2014

All HR People are Insane

The great Albert Einstein is rightfully recognised for a number of thought leading and paradigm shifting theories, concepts and ideas. He is also often credited with saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”. There is some debate whether the great man actually said this but for the purpose of this article let’s assume he did.

Who said it isn’t really that important, what is important is the essence of what this saying reflects. If we do the same thing over and over why would we expect a different result?

This gets me to my life’s work – the field of Human Resource Management, and my emerging (and frightening) realisation that those of us who have chosen this field of endeavour, and others who have been involved, driven, supported (or even objected) to our work, might well fall within the scope of Einstein’s definition – that is, could we have acted like we are “insane”?… let me explore this notion.

When I began my career journey nearly 40 years ago, the exciting discussion and debate amongst my university peers and HR colleagues was how we address some key questions, like those below

  1. How do we move from being the service provider/transactional administrators to adding value as business partners?
  2. How do we build the capability of our workforce and leadership to drive enhanced performance?
  3. How do we advocate the development of a culture that supports business strategy while engaging our workforce?
  4. How do we build, implement and maintain frameworks that enable leaders and the workforce to effectively (and easily) navigate core people processes (Sourcing, Development, Assessment, Rewards, etc)?
  5. How do we become part of the core business leadership and not dwell on the fringe?
  6. How do we demonstrate the value of people-focused initiatives in a way that the business appreciates and embraces?

As I worked through my career, followed the literature, scanned the latest article or blog piece by the thought leaders, attended conferences and spoke to other HR people, these themes and goals remained ever present and on reflection, suspiciously constant. It seemed to me that many organisations and the HR teams in them were focused on some of these same key goals (and often some others).

I started asking myself…why haven’t we (HR) fixed these things yet?  One explanation was that perhaps we weren’t very good at developing solutions, or that there is a bit of “insanity” around how we have gone about addressing these key points….but I didn’t think either explanation would be fair or was the answer, because there is one very important consideration: CHANGE

These challenges are not addressed in a controlled or constant world where all the variables remain the same. Organisational life is not a controlled experiment. In fact we all know that we live and work in a dynamic world. Fluctuating boom & bust economic cycles, industry and business life cycles with consolidation and rationalisation of mature sectors, emergence of new industries and disruptive technologies and the ever increasing pace of change. All this means that the fundamental questions and challenges for Organisations and the HR people within them remain constant, but the context within which we address them is always changing…..has been, is and will continue to be! It is like mastery in any discipline. If you want to be a Formula One race driver, a pro golfer, great tennis player or a HR Master, the keys to success remain the same:

  • Know intimately the environment in which you play
  • Understand the drivers of success
  • Understand what the core skills or capabilities are to leverage these drivers and master them
  • Find the right big challenges and strive for ways to resolve them
  • Leverage the innovations and technology that come your way
  • Change and adapt as circumstances require

So while I know it’s audacious to play with an (alleged) Einstein quote, I’m going to suggest some changes that can accommodate my hypothesis:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again in a changing situation and expecting the same result”.

Seeking to master the constant challenges of HR leadership in a dynamic and changing world by adapting or modifying our approach using the rich, and growing cumulative knowledge that the discipline has at its disposal isn’t insane at all.  It’s simply good business sense.

Insanity would be allowing our focus to shift from our fundamental and critical goals and to allow ourselves to be distracted by the constant change around us. Rather this change provides the catalyst for us to create new and better ways to address the same core challenges that our organisations and disciplines demand.

The reality is that none of us are Einstein, and most of us need to leverage the knowledge and people around us to find and implement the innovative solution to some familiar or sometimes unique problems.

At Generator Consulting we have drawn together an experienced team of seasoned HR Leaders, who have managed the challenge of delivering effective HR in a changing world, who understand the core goals we all strive to achieve and have the experience of finding innovative solutions that reflect the changing world we work in.

If you sometimes feel you have to be Einstein to figure it all out, then you’re probably not alone.  But you don’t need to be – we’re here to help!

Greg Cox, Partner

Categories: Uncategorised

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