A memorable exchange I once had with a former HR colleague went like this:
Me: “When Workforce Planning accounts for cascading gaps because you filled some jobs from within, that’s commonly viewed as HR best practice.” Colleague: “Oh really, Well I think best practice is simply the practice that works best!”
Borrowing a line from the classic movie Cool Hand Luke … his statement “helped get my mind right.”
So one suggestion coming out of my initiation into the world of practical HR thinking: Whenever you hear someone say: It’s “HR best practice”, perhaps you should ask if they’re following a blueprint crafted specifically for their organization and business context. And if they’re not, odds are that particular practice will come under some scrutiny soon, and perhaps shortly thereafter, the individual that architected the practice.
Many of us were a bit taken aback when we heard highly regarded Zappos was generously paying new hires to quit if they were dissatisfied, and not just because it was likely deemed more cost-effective in the long run. It was mostly because the company’s brand is totally about “best customer experience imaginable” and this is so much more than a tag line. One of countless examples is that their customer service reps never use scripts. Genius, common sense, or both. You decide, but also think about whether this would work for a phone company. Fat chance as they say.
As With New Employees, Best is Mostly About Fit
Elsewhere, a number of well-known large companies including LinkedIn, Virgin America, Best Buy and Netflix have started experimenting with unlimited paid time off. The rationale: time away from the job helped with employee productivity; e.g., by avoiding burn-out. Beyond that benefit, trusting employees not to take advantage of the company can make them feel – and therefore act — like part owners of the business. This practice worked for these employers, particularly when employees and managers discussed adequate coverage for key duties in their absence, but clearly it’s not a universally great fit. Consider the impact on an impending re-start of a nuclear power plant if even one senior-level nuclear or safety engineer was in urgent need of some downtime. “Adequate coverage” is in the eye of the beholder.
Outside the realm of potential life and death consequences, however, innovative crowd-funding company Kickstarter abandoned its unlimited vacation policy when they thought it was sending some type of message (subliminal?) to employees to take less time off. So a creative HR practice designed to minimize burn-out was actually burning people out!
As in the aforementioned exchange with that colleague, best practice does indeed come down to what works in a particular business context; and when you’re talking about a new HR practice under consideration, desired corporate culture might be the #1 element to focus on. In high-tech startups, a very informal, “we’re one family” culture and typically doling out some equity are used to attract top talent. Arguably it’s also to compensate for a lower salary initially. By way of contrast, when was the last time you saw someone’s canine companion taking a stroll inside a blue-chip investment advisory firm?
Bottom Line: HR practices are “best” when they support both a company’s culture and its workforce strategies designed to create a great customer experience.
Let’s not be wedded to any particular best practice within the HR / HCM domain, as best practices are really tools to effectively manage an ever-changing operating landscape.