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Stuck in the past: Is HR too focused on tradition to be effective in a digital-first world?

HR has been part of business management since somewhere around the beginning of the 20th Century. In that time, the way businesses are run has changed massively on more than one occasion. But a lot of commonly used HR management practices have been around for decades, some of which actively contribute to the barrier between HR and other employees. So, is traditional HR dead? And, if so, how do we replace it?

Old-fashioned performance management versus modern methods

Performance management as a responsibility is usually shared between HR and managers. HR supplies the framework, and managers typically review the performance of the employees who report to them. But, for the longest time, many businesses have relied on annual performance reviews, despite a constantly growing body of evidence that they just aren’t fit for purpose.

Between the price of implementation and the lost hours of productivity, these reviews are pricey, as much as $35 million for an organisation of 10,000 employees in the US. Despite that, this style of performance management isn’t even effective, with roughly three quarters of UK’s employees rating their traditional performance reviews as not being useful, using terms like “time-consuming” and “pointless.”

But feedback still has an important role to play. It’s just that employees benefit much more from feedback that’s delivered promptly at the point of relevance. You’ll find that modern employees respond much more favourably to a lightweight, user-friendly platform for ongoing feedback, such as an employee check-in.

So, is traditional HR dead? Well, outdated performance management certainly is.

How traditional recruitment methods can be improved upon

Is traditional HR dead when it comes to employee recruitment? At the very least, outdated recruitment habits are an excellent example of why HR needs to modernise:

  • Don’t put all the work on one or two recruiters: A lot of organisations make do with very small recruitment departments, or even just one person. But don’t forget, hiring is really the very beginning of your onboarding process. An understaffed recruiting department can create a lack of support for applicants and new hires.

    Your existing staff can even bring in more applicants. Silkroad’s 2017 Sources of Hire report found that over 30% of hires and more than 20% of interview candidates resulted from employee referrals.
  • Unnecessary descriptors of your ideal applicant can alienate talent: Unfortunately, a lot of job advertisements typically have stock phrases about supposedly important qualities that can be off-putting to otherwise excellent employees.

    For example, “good social skills” and “active team player” probably aren’t strictly necessary for many office jobs, and can alienate neurodiverse people, such as those on the Autism spectrum, who may feel they can’t live up to these apparent requirements. But neurodiverse employees can be some of your hardest working and most innovative talent, so consider how they may interpret your language.
  • Don’t limit yourself to hiring locally: Only hiring locally can seriously limit your options, and “talent shortages” are more common than you think. Remote work has really taken off in the past year, and although the current trendy topic is definitely a hybridized working model, investing in some fully remote positions can open up new pools of potential applicants.

HR’s approach should reflect new working patterns

Speaking of remote work, the modern workplace is all about flexibility. Remote work is clearly here to stay. As many as 99% of remote workers want to keep doing it to some degree for the rest of their careers, so, while an office-based 9-5 may have been the standard for quite some time, that might well be changing. Which begs the question, is traditional HR dead now that job flexibility is more important than ever?

If it can’t adapt to the new normal of the modern workplace, then yes. Using remote work as an example, many people working from home have experienced a lack of effective communication. Keeping these employees virtually connected to their peers and in the know is essential for keeping them engaged.

But HR must also adapt to other forms of job flexibility. People working in different ways require different considerations. Job sharers will need to coordinate things like time off, and people working core hours will need to be able to easily log their work commitments.

Last but not least, many businesses are considering hybrid work models, which will require careful balancing to make sure you have the right amount of people in the office at any given time. 

How traditional HR practices create employee resentment

Effective HR processes can do so much for a company and its employees. So, why is it that so many people seem to be hostile towards HR workers? The fact is, outdated HR approaches have a lot to do with it. Some of these include:

  • HR never seems to be on the side of employees: Sometimes, it comes down to business leaders wielding their HR departments like a cudgel. But other times, managers and senior leaders often have a much more solid grasp on the finer points of employment law and staff rights than those who work for them.

  • HR people know HR, and that’s it: Different sectors have specialist knowledge that affects how you look at the workplace. So, it’s understandably annoying for staff when HR promotes policy that seems ignorant of their daily life. Putting some of your HR people on secondments with these departments can give them the first-hand experience to enact useful policy.

  • HR won’t engage with the biggest problems: Talk of policies, employee benefits and all that can seem great at first. But if you only talk about those things at the expense of deeper issues like toxicity, employee wellbeing and workplace transparency, then employees will look at you like you’re a politician ducking questions on national TV. Dodging important issues is a major reason why so many people distrust HR.

So, with all that, is traditional HR dead? We damn well hope so.

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