Innovation, HR, and Perfectly Defined Job Descriptions

HR departments spend a lot of time forcing people to colour inside the lines, rather than understanding how some colour outside them effectively. Most HR folks can’t fathom why someone would break the parameters of their Job Description. In some cases, they set-up systems to punish those that do. Job Descriptions need to be flexible, to allow for people to use their judgment to respond to the ebbs and flows of our world. But that’s difficult for HR leaders to handle.

I recently met with a senior HR leader of a large international oil company. She had just started in her role and was venting to me about the bizarre structure she inherited. Through the boom years of the mid 2000s, the HR department expanded rapidly in an attempt to keep up with the boom. As it expanded, the specific roles became more and more specialized, to the point of absurdity. Everyone in her department had a neatly defined Job Description. On paper, it was very organized and neat. One person would make sure this form was filled out properly; another would check that form; another would input the form; another would check that the person inputted it properly. It was a 1930s factory assembly line mentality that paid well-educated professionals to perform menial tasks. Not so surprisingly, few people in her department cared about service or innovation; they just did their jobs as defined in their job descriptions.

That week, they had just mapped out their departmental processes, and visualized a dizzying array of steps involved in finding and hiring talent. It was not a single page of paper; it was a roll of paper with 100s of steps they took to hire a person (I’m not sure how long exactly, but her office wasn’t big enough to unroll it). Thankfully, she was ashamed of their processes, and was about to blowup their structure and eliminate many of their pointless processes. She hoped to liberate the talent in the talent management department.

I don’t think anyone in this company intended for their structure to evolve this way. But it did. Her predecessors had taken their eye off of their customers, segmented duties, neatly defined Job Descriptions, and shattered any semblance of innovation from this department by doing so.

Innovators don’t need HR in order to innovate, but they can sure be stifled by HR. HR leaders need to fight the urge to make decisions that only make things easier for HR. Rather, they need to make decisions that make things better for the customer. Innovation is messy. It won’t happen because Job Descriptions are perfectly defined. It will happen only after people feel safe to challenge themselves and others. Where they feel their job is more than filling out TPS reports. Where they feel it’s okay to question and challenge non-essential rules. When HR gets the heck out of the way and worries less about enforcement and more about innovation.


About Tim Vanderpyl
I am a student of leadership and human resources, and I'm blogging to share some of my thoughts and ideas with readers. I'm a CHRP (Certified Human Resource Professional) at a large healthcare organization, a graduate of Regent University's Doctor of Strategic Leadership program, and lover of the life that God has gifted me with.

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