The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology

The Pain Threshold

The Pain Threshold

Sep 20, 2011

Lance Armstrong was a US National Champion and a World Champion long before he ever won seven (eight?) Tours de France.  The man was always known in cycling circles as the next big gun in US cycling.  In one race (San Diego I think), we were riding a horrifically fast pace, many of us in the pack heckling Lance often simply because he was a captive audience, when he just decided to ride away from us for a while to get a workout in.  Severely humbling.  He was known as a big, strong guy.  The guy who won that world championship was a guy who could sprint, a guy who had incredible short term bursts of power.  But he was never going to win the Tour de France.  That was, until, he got cancer.  Cancer did a couple things to him.  First, he lost a crapload (technical term) of weight and it transformed him into a leaner version of himself, but tapping into the same level of power that could now get him of 5 mountain passes in the Alps instead of just the last 500 meters of a race at 50mph.  Secondly, it taught him to experience pain in a way that he would never experience again.

I’ll be honest, these days when I’m on the bike, the barrier for me is not usually my legs or my lungs.  If I have a few rides under my belt, I’m really pretty good.  The problem is all mental.  I’m not in college anymore and I really don’t like pain.  There are times I’ll be doing an extended climb and one of my riding buddies will “attack” and while I often could follow, something in the back of my head says, “nah.”  I could follow the lead, but I know it will be painful.

Transforming HR is really, really hard work.  For much of the readership, it’s not just hard work for us, it’s even harder work for the employees we would deploy to the effort.  When our execs chose to switch out the payroll system, guess who gets to work long hours in December prior to a January 1 go-live?  We deal with a lot of pain to implement systems, both in effort as well as cash, and the ROI is not always financially obvious, but to get to the top of that hill, it’s something we have to commit to, and something our staffs need to commit to.

In understanding the work behind HR transformation, there are a few things to remember:

  • People actually don’t like change.  When you change their processes, they will resist doing something different than what they have done from years.  It’s not that they don’t want to support better processes, but a certain amount of fear arises when they are unsure how well they will perform in the new environment.
  • People resist making others change.  HR transformation is just that – we are changing ourselves.  But teams often protect people internally realizing that friends will lose jobs, or be forced to make unwanted shifts and compromises.
  • We get to do multiple jobs for a significant amount of time.  Not only are we going to have real jobs to do, but there will be project roles as well.  I don’t care if you bring an army from one of the large consulting firms, the internal team is going to be burdened with more work.
  • Outsourcing done right is hard.  Organizations don’t remember the depth of retained organizations that are needed, SLA’s need to be formulated to be specific and measurable, and internal staff are resistant to seeing their jobs performed differently than how they did them themselves.

Often when we deploy and new system that has the opportunity to be transformational, we focus too much on the external.  We train managers, communicate to employees, figure out who the main audiences are that we need to convert.  We assume that our own people are already bought in.  All I’m saying, is we can spend some time to look internally.  Give them some love and attention.  Encourage and motivate them.  Otherwise you’ve got a Justin at the top of the hill looking down, wondering where the hell I am and why I didn’t make it up there with you.  It was just too much pain.

3 comments

  1. Nice post, and like the Lance Armstrong tie-in!

  2. I think transforming anything these days is hard work. One area that is typically painful is transitioning from one HR technology to another. This is an area that tends to have friction.

  3. Change is painful because that’s how our bodies are wired. But it’s also through major change that our bodies adapt, learn and grow their fastest. The fruits of Change Management can be wonderful. But implementing CM without reconciling it with the people who will be impacted, is just asking for trouble.

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