Compliance versus exceptionalism–the HR problem that won’t go away

Companies talk about their own unique war on talent, how they are best suited to attract the best there is, and spare no effort to do so. But that is often at odds with internal hiring mechanisms.

Bringing the best talent on board often means getting people for whom exceptions will be made.

Every business leader can tell you exactly who contributes and who is marginal; they have to know. And for those who add to the bottom line, the rules will likely bend in their favour.
For HR to ensure conformity and uniformity, exceptions are not embraced; if an exception is made for one, all compliance hell breaks loose, not good for policy consistency. HR and Talent Acquisition departments are best focused on attracting and retaining talent, not complying with the letter of the law.

The WSJ ran an article on 9 April which received wide coverage, on why companies choose NOT to have an HR Dept. (Link)

Exceptional talent is precisely what makes most businesses successful, not uniformity. Hiring and keeping unique people (who help drive performance) is the goal, a corporate mantra. Many HR practitioners know this intellectually but still cannot make exceptions, worried that by doing so will presage corporate anarchy.​

It gets worse. Too many companies still have HR reporting to Finance, and in my experience and observations, it never works. (If you’re at such a company, you already know it.)

I recall working on a search a few years ago, and the newly hired CFO was also given the responsibility of HR, and became my “HR partner”. A stellar CFO, but positively ghoulish and thoroughly veined with ice-water when it came to attracting talent–his concern was simply cost. Fine for a CFO, disastrous for HR. We concluded the search, everyone was happy, and I turned down the opportunity to work with him again. I’m sure he had no idea why, and didn’t care anyhow.

​HR works best when the team is liberated to know that exceptions are healthy, and can combine their best practices with that of the business leaders. Indeed, people who go into HR do so because it is the most damned important part of businesses success, not a way-station for those who ‘like working with people.’

It can make a difference if allowed to do so, being both bright and nimble to understand company and industry changes, rearranging processes within a fast moving environment rather than doing it the way it’s been done.

The business leaders I know are always looking for other business heads who can move quickly, confidently, and have ideas that make sense. HR needs to have such people who can add to that business proposition, be predictive and knowledgeable in their thoughts, and loosen up the strings of compliance to hire exceptional people. That would be a sane start.

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