4. March 2024

Perry Timms: 6 HR ‘rules’ to unlearn in 2024

Perry Timms: 6 HR ‘rules’ to unlearn in 2024

The past five years have been unlike any we could have imagined. With such turbulent times come the opportunity to think a little harder about what we took for granted before such uncertainty and unpredictability.

The area of ‘HR rules’ is one in which we could benefit from a lot of ‘unlearning’, to quote the great Alvin Toffler’s idea of learning, unlearning and relearning, from his book Future Shock. Unlearning is the process of deliberately letting go of or undoing previously acquired knowledge, beliefs, behaviours or habits that may no longer be accurate, relevant or effective. 

As HR rules very much frame all of those things, I think it is time to unlearn them. Like annual surveys and performance reviews, they only provide a one-time punctuation mark in the space and time of our working lives. They ask a lot of us and the mechanisms we use to make anything meaningful of the other 300+ days of the year.

Room 101 for HR rules

The UK’s BBC1 programme ‘Room 101’ was a comedy show in which guests discuss their pet hates in order to persuade the host to banish them, never to appear again. So, which HR rules do I think should be unlearned and banished, once and for all?

1. Calling employees’ initial starts ‘probation’

Your new employees haven’t committed a criminal offence and don’t need to be under intense surveillance during that time. They are eager and impression-making and want to discover how well your organisation fits them. They are not offenders, they are your future!

2. Putting new employees through ‘induction’

The word even sounds a bit like electrostimulation. Onboarding (a nicer term) should be a gradual, discovery-based assimilation of all you need to know at the points it makes sense for you to know them. Let’s make this more of an adventure than an arduous pain.

3. Setting narrow job descriptions

These trap you during performance cycles. We all know that being new to a role means you need some tightly defined parameters. But after a while, you’ll want to make this role your own and bring in idiosyncrasies and working habits that make you feel more accomplishment and create more impact.

4. Thinking policies alone create development

Unfortunately, that’s a myth. In fact, it’s a rule that doesn’t appear to create a meaningful, regular bonding connection between people who have a duty of care to each other. Give performance review ownership to individuals and teach them how to drive it.

5. Using a 9 box grid to manage talent

If there’s one absolute Room 101, it is using a 9 box grid. It marks a few people as high-potential superstars and labels everyone else as insignificant. That may not be the intention, but that feels like the outcome. We need to be more sophisticated about employee talents and find a place for them to thrive. 

6. Sticking to black and white policy-making

I’ve rarely felt inspired by HR policies. Let’s create clear policies that set a higher bar of expectations. HR is not the ‘parent’ of your organisation that has a ‘naughty step’. Instead, set noble and high-impact aspirations that will inspire people to be as far away from the misdemeanour point as possible.

Those are my six rules to break. I wonder how strongly we could make the case to our business leaders and legal advisors to use these to create a completely new experience of work.

Perry Timms

Perry Timms

Perry Timms has over 30 years of experience in business change. He was ranked number one in HR's Most Influential Thinkers 2022. He is a guest professor, author, TEDx speaker and founder of People and Transformational HR Ltd. He is also the host of Personio’s Tomorrow's People Podcast.

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