Good HR vs. Bad HR

Can a fresh set of dry erase markers and a clean whiteboard really be tools for "good HR" (and bad)?

I had an experience this week that provided an “a-ha” moment for me about the power of “good HR” – HR support that helps bring ideas to life in ways that help organizations progress.


I was helping a small team come up with a list of performance traits that denote excellence in their field.  They plan to use these characteristics through the full HR cycle of events, from interviewing and selection to performance evaluation and professional development.

The same group had gone through a similar exercise a few years ago.  At that time, they accomplished the task – i.e., they put words down on paper – but (and this part won’t be a surprise for anyone who’s spent any time in HR or organizations in general), the document then sat on a shelf unused for years, to the point where people even forgot it existed.

An Example of Bad HR

This is a good example of “bad HR” that we unfortunately fall into in many of our organizations from time to time.  Good people (all of the people involved are thoughtful, skilled professionals) spent considerable time and effort creating a lifeless document, when they could have been spending their time creating a useful tool that reflected and capitalized on the uniqueness of their group.  This is strikingly similar to so many one-size-fits-all corporate HR programs that are rolled out robotically and unthinkingly on a local level and die a quick death due to neglect and indifference.

Lessons Learned

There were a variety of factors influencing this situation, including significant turmoil and leadership change in the organization at that time.  More than anything, though, it seems that the group was encouraged to simply “follow the script” rather than thinking through the situation for themselves and discerning how the general program could be best applied in their particular circumstances.  The result was a document that didn’t reflect their spirit, their passions, and their sense of purpose for their group – in short,  it was compliant rather than energizing, and careful rather than inspiring.

Shifting To “Good HR”

In working through the new assignment with the team, I had them start with the proverbial blank sheet of paper (or, in this case, a whiteboard).  They visualized the traits of exemplary employees and tried to paint a picture of what these behaviors looked like in their environment.  After a short while, we had a board full of phrases like “has the mission coming out their pores” and “is passionate and joyful about what they do – and everyone can see it.”  These aren’t canned corporate terms – rather, they are descriptors that speak to the very essence of what this mission-driven group is all about.  And now, they are traits they can interview for (putting words into action)!

Moral of the Story

For legal compliance purposes, some policies and programs have to be implemented throughout all segments of the organization without alteration or exception, to be sure.  However, these should be few and far between.  In the majority of cases, the seed of a good idea should be spread wherever it applies – but then molded and adapted to the needs of the local group.  Only in this way is the seedling likely to take root, be nurtured, and grow to have lasting purpose and meaning in the organization.  This is what “good HR” is all about.

What are favorite examples of “good” and “bad” HR you have seen in your careers?

One response to “Good HR vs. Bad HR

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