2018 State of the (HR) Union a.k.a it’s time for HR to …(fill the blank or Google it)

One of the perks of flying over the Atlantic in Business is that sometimes you encounter famous people. “Groundhog Day” is one of my favorite movies and seeing Bill Murray sitting just a few rows away made me think about that character, Phil – played by Murray, who has experienced the same day over and over again.  Are those of us who are involved in the management of HR related matters sharing a similar experience? Are we debating the same HR issues day after day, year after year?

It occurred to me that I forgot to make my predictions for 2018, so, let’s just sit back, relax and enjoy what’s happening right now in my head while I am thinking about the current state of affairs and even the soon to become present future of HR. (Forget “Groundhog Day” for now, let’s assume that you have had a perfect day, so it’s time to move on). If it’s all going to be robots why about humans? The notes below may or may not be connected to each other. You will see for yourself. Only 4 points today.

Leadership = HR 

For some years I have preached about the necessity of HR to be more data driven, more transparent and should make more measurable recommendations to become more appealing to the executive suite. This is happening and developing at large, but it has still not resulted in an improved position for HR.

If one thing is right about the future, it is that from now on, if we hypothesize that everyone will have access to technology, automation is going to take over most of the jobs.  The only differentiator for a company is going to be who is on board. The dominant players of the Fortune 500, who has taken over the lead from other over the last decade (the Facebooks and such), already experience this on a day to day basis. So the ONLY job of managers and leaders will be to hire, retain/motivate the best talent of the world and transform them into a highly performing team. That’s it. If we think that all processes supporting this activity – selection by automated video interviews and well aligned reliable, valid psychometric, integrated, assessments; payroll management by the fully controlled system of the tax authorities – are not going to need human intervention. Nor will there be much to do with property, machinery, production and even financial management of certain companies, maybe. Besides strategic planning the only area which needs actual manual control is HR. If this remains the most important area to influence, why not take it over fully from HR? Why not simply integrate it into the daily (and almost only) agenda of leaders?

Caution! Dehumanization! 

We must be extremely careful when we de-humanize our activities. We have seen from recent case studies from organizations that have fully automated recruitment processes, and pre-selected, interviewed candidates via automated platforms faced the challenge that most of the candidates did not show up for the final face-to-face interview. They have identified the cause to also be the advantage of the approach: meanwhile with great AI pointing through the LinkedIn activity of certain individuals that they are ready to change their job, the automated video interview really selected the best of the best, without an actual person inviting the candidates in for a final interview, they did not show up. (After the company realized this, and gave a short two-minute courtesy call to the candidates, the show-up rate increased significantly.)

The Unending Vicious Cycle of Training continues 

Today a HUGE chunk of the HR development budget is devoted to Training. Can we finally determine that most of this intervention is worthless?

We hire. If we can. We hire in some cases whoever we can get, especially if we are hiring for positions in IT, or if we want someone with a good sales record. Are they a fit for our organization?  Do they holding the same set of motivators as are found in our corporate culture? How do they react after the “honeymoon” weeks are over, and they show their real assets? Usually we hire for competencies, or at least for assumed competencies. Do these really matter for our company? 50% of the decisions are incorrect in general, and that applies to hiring as well…

In the case of leadership positions, the picture is even more complex. What do we think about winning leadership strategies for our company? Are we looking for a visionary decision maker/expert who makes excellent decisions and has integrity?

The investment in (leadership) development activities doubled from $7 billion in the 90’s to $14 billion in the 2010’s, while at the same time confidence in leadership collapsed by 50%. Seems like a nice negative correlation.

What did we do wrong? Are all training investments considered as sunken costs, or as the good old Ogilvy saying about marketing spending “50% of it is useless, but we don’t know which 50% it is…”


1, We treat everyone at the same level, although the most important would need to have a personalized experience

2, Not everyone needs training: Some are better than average, others are average while the rest are worse than average. Well, the good news is that YOU can immediately save money by focusing ONLY on the mid-tier.  If someone is better than average, why waste their time (and your money) on training?  Let them perform. On the other hand, why invest in someone who is light years away from the desired level. Let’s just focus on those who have a chance to develop and grow

3, Let’s improve the chances of a positive outcome by allocating some of that $14 B US to hire the best fit rather than those who just seem to fit.

Realistic Psychology 

Yes, realistic psychology rather than positive psychology. In the era of institute based narcissism it’s time to realize that it’s not only good in there and out there. If you want to digest this at a reading level I highly recommend reading “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” To face and accept reality, develop our own self-understanding and to receive feedback about it is the only way to develop further as a person. And this actually has something to do with the pursuit of happiness. Meanwhile we see that the myth of charismatic leadership is dying (look, even GE is going down, following the departure of Jack Welsh, once a highly regarded classic example of charismatic leadership).  The Generation Startup faces a high fall out rate, maybe because they don’t face enough of that reality. (well, it’s like the Olympics, where out of hundreds of contestants only three will get a medal. But in real life there is no Coubertin principle applied to business as here it is not about participation but only about winning.)

I have been thinking about these points for some time. Please feel free to respond and let me know if you agree or disagree. If you are a robot or a chatbot your thoughts are also welcome. Thanks.