Johan Cruyff’s quote “Football is simple, but the hardest thing there is, is simple football” and that is exactly the challenge for HR. For many years HR reaches a level of over-delivery. And in fact, HR itself is responsible for that. HR often reaches an unreasonable area of HR support with too little impact. Nevertheless, it is quite well understood. HR is people business and people business is the most complicated factor of any business and without a doubt not always easy to manage. There are so many interactions HR can spend time on; recruitment, rewards, talent, succession, leadership, vitality, digital HR, diversity, training, coaching, retention, surveys, onboarding, and employer branding. The list is endless. There is only so much you can do, and above all, it is not all needed.

Too much HR?

Yes, in general, HR teams and agendas have grown too big in many organizations. The result is that HR is over-delivering in many ‘complicated’ HR activations, often without an effective strategy. Also, in conjunction, my strong opinion is when the HR department is oversized with HR managers it will automatically create an oversized and endless HR agenda.

The number of interventions and deliverables in numerous HR practices has often grown way beyond any reasonable and manageable level. And the more HR activates the more HR will get back and the circle of interaction becomes endless and above all ineffective. In line with the above, the HR personality is also often eager to be important, to solve everything, and to offer too many time-consuming ‘personal’ HR interventions. All understandable, but it does not help HR and their respective business partners.

Succession or performance management processes are always one of many good examples to explain the problem HR and HR consultancy have created over many years. The setup is too heavily systemized and time-consuming. Lots of effort with way little results. With my former employer, we introduced an HR rule “employees should only interview for another role internally when you have been at least 24 months in your current job”. A very defensive and pointless rule. The effect of this kind of policy is that you will lose it from your employee. Especially now. What was the purpose again? The more rules the more you have to manage, stay away from this.

Performance management is another one. It’s not a new issue. It is a leadership responsibility and should therefore be executed at the leadership level, maybe supported by HR. It’s not a formal HR rating process. If you manage people, you are responsible for guiding teams and performance (development). There are numerous leadership programs to support this. And otherwise, stay out of leadership.

For example, the reason for this situation lies within HR. HR is sometimes desperate to become this indispensable business partner being important and responsible for everything. And again, having too much HR support in the organization wanting to be relevant, offer business the opportunity to also shift to HR, easily. Let go of the most detailed and personal interventions. Managers will survive and will, most importantly, also learn without fully equipped HR assistance. It’s a slowly growing effect with a negative impact on both sides. HR is not a magic people matters machine, it’s too much and too complex.

HR with maximum impact

Once a CEO asked me in my first week “so tell me, what will your HR strategy entail?”. I answered, “I don’t know, tell me your strategy first and then we can see how to support your plans!”.

Over the last weeks, LinkedIn was overloaded with many nice 2023 HR models and trends tactics. They are all true but also distract from the core objectives. Do you serve the HR model or the business needs? It often activates complexity and, in my opinion, too much HR works counter-effective. What is the context of whom are you serving? Are you serving a start-up, a scale-up, multinational, private equity, or an organization that needs change? What are the HR deliverables really in that situation? These are just examples of situations with completely different HR needs. Making an impact is your focus, not an HR model.

"HR support in general must be translated back into a much simpler and clearer focus, a focus with maximum impact."

The HR role must shift to concentrate on a different direct relevant functional interaction with business leaders and their employees. HR support in general must be translated back into a much simpler and clearer focus, a focus with maximum impact. HR with maximum impact is only focussed on what the (current) business needs are and is completely serving the business to create maximum value. Therefore HR organizations need to transform into a faster, more effective, more dynamic, and simplified HR machine, executed by less HR field support. This is even more relevant with the current disruptive macro-economic and other fast-developing global stories. How do you create HR with maximum impact?

Functional strategic HR expertise

First, you need the right HR leader who positively resonates with the above. No focus, same story. Secondly, the HR leader develops the HR agenda with mostly functional HR expertise. HR support is delivered with maximum speed, simplicity, and direct business impact. For example, the HR strategy for Scotch & Soda currently is only on our Academy for stores, talent retention, senior leadership development, and HR digital. That’s it, and that is what our business is asking for. And if you ask me, in any circumstance, put your effort and money into performance management, and leadership excellence and invest in all your people to the max. Those are the accelerators for so much more.

No more HR Managers?

Well, who is responsible for HR management? This is the issue, the more HR managers in the field, the fuller the agenda. As an organization, you want to make an impact and create value through people management. But how do you do that? What is most effective?

It’s a combination of things that differs per organization. The difference lies in the context of the organization and balancing out how to serve best. Translate business context into your HR priorities. The result of that is you automatically create a smaller and more dynamic, effective people agenda served by a smaller but more effective HR team that delivers on that. In other words, focus on your strategic HR agenda with fewer HR field managers.

With the right agenda, HR executives should re-activate their role as people & organization leaders. HR leaders are about connecting, coaching, consulting, steering discussions, and creating the people strategy. A coffee chat, a temperature check, and seeking for structural organizational and people opportunities. An active HR attitude to improve people, teams & organization. This way of working has a major positive effect on overarching people matters.

You can process succession management or engagement surveys to the moon and back, but you will never get the same result versus strong integrated HR leaders. The right HR leaders know who the talents are and what to do. They know the outcome of an expensive engagement survey. They know what is going on in the organization. No matter the size of the business.

People Make the Business

All in all, HR is like football; everyone has an opinion about it! Although, we would all agree on the fact that people make the business. People are the most important and the most complicated factor in any business. And in the current environment, HR is more needed than ever. With that in mind, HR as an organization should shift to a much more focused and meaningful way of working. Our job is to translate the context of the business agenda into a focused HR agenda, served by a smaller but more dynamic and effective HR organization. The right focussed HR strategy will automatically enforce the right HR organizational setup with maximum impact. The business context is the only variable for your agenda. If you do not consequently stick to that narrative, the HR effort will always work counterproductive.