So I admit that I use multiple methods to dull the noise when I’m on a plane. The first are the industrial grade ear plugs from Home Depot. I love these things, but by themselves, it’s not enough. Second in the line of defense are the Bose noise reduction headsets. Combined with the ear plugs, this method eliminates most of the unwanted external noise. However, it’s really not until the music of choice is on that I’m surrounded by what I want to hear, and not all the random conversations and buzz that I want to filter out. The point is that on the plane, I’m usually trying to focus. I don’t read or watch the movies, I almost always work the entire time. The random conversations and hiss from the plane is distracting.
We deal with the same thing in HR. We get distracted by the little things that seem like big things. All too often, we focus on the details of why we can’t get a person transferred from one department to another, or the fact that the payroll taxes seem to not balance. Don’t get me wrong, these are urgent matters in many cases, and sometimes they border on the severe. We sit around in vendor selections and debate the relative functionality of one core HR system versus another, or our technologists scramble to add a field to some integration somewhere in the HR ecosystem. Again, don’t get me wrong, we have to do these things.
The problem is that fabled 80/20 rule. We spend 80% of our time chasing the fires, battling the tactical. We get so driven by the tactical that we forget to take a breath and focus. Everything we do, from transferring employees, to filing taxes, to selecting vendors and creating integration is about delivering a service that is so seamless, managers and employees don’t know it exists. We need to fix the fires, but if that’s all we do, we never fix the root causes.
It’s a hard balance to make. When I do activity analysis around HR service delivery, I inevitably find out that organizations are actually spending more than 80% of their time being tactical. The other 20% is mostly internal consulting, which is actually a good thing. The bad thing is that the best of companies will spend 2-5% of their time being strategic. What is more of a wonder, is that often, that tactical time is often spent in department meetings – not solving anything, not discussing problems and solutions. Just meeting. It’s like we all know we’re supposed to say we’re getting more strategic, but none of us really have enough guts to actually make it happen. Fact of the matter is, we like the tactical – we like the noise. When we say we’re going to outsource something, people scream. Even when all we do is outsource the administrative crap that supposedly nobody likes, we can’t get buy-in from our HR practitioners until some VP signs a piece of paper and makes our complaint a moot point.
We need to focus – and we need to realize it’s not that we can’t focus, it’s that we don’t want to. Sometimes the change management is within, not without.