Sweat The Small Stuff

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Its easy to ‘trip up’ in HR.

Much of the time we move at a fast pace, often with lots of conflicting priorities whilst juggling a huge case load, not to mention the sensitive information we are constantly in possession of in order to do our jobs. It’s natural when we work like this that mistakes are made, and that’s human.

Our mistakes though, can have significant consequences.

A poorly handled disciplinary could cost tens of thousands at an employment tribunal. Poor due diligence in a TUPE transfer could cost millions. Failure to support a manager with compliance related activities for pregnant workers could again, cost thousands not to mention the even more serious consequences beyond just the financial penalties.

It’s my experience however, that it’s usually not the big stuff that gets you into trouble in HR, it’s handling the day-to-day or more fundamental activities incorrectly that creates the biggest headaches. The stuff that we’ve done a thousand times before.

Big issues normally have robust safeguards built into the ‘project management’ process. For example, during a TUPE transfer, a payroll file is normally checked and validated by at least two different people before being sent to the ‘Transfer-In’ organisation. When settlement agreements are entered into, the appointed lawyer and a HR professional will check the wording individually and separately. These sorts of tasks, have methods of catching, and as such preventing, big errors, most of the time.

But it’s the fundamental, day-to-day, ‘taken-for-granted’ activities that I’ve noticed get most HR folk into trouble. A slight procedural issue in a disciplinary, a delay in dealing with a grievance, or a copy and paste error in a calculation, all of which are easily avoidable, can cause real pain that can snowball into even bigger problems.

David D’Souza has written previously that ‘The enemy of good thinking is artificial urgency’ and I agree although I’m coming at it from a different angle for the purposes of this post. This artificial urgency can, in part, cause us to lose sight of the importance of the tasks we now take for granted.

When I’m asked what I believe the most important skills are for HR professionals, I always say that its getting the basics right. Attention to detail, depth of understanding, and the ability to take nothing for granted may not sound as sexy as being ‘commercially savvy’, ‘politically astute’ or having in depth knowledge of how robots are going to replace the workforce, but their necessity lays an important foundation upon which everything else should be built.