July 15, 2024

Architectural Concepts Guide

Elevating Home Design Standards

An interview with Lucy Adams, author of ‘HR Disrupted’

3 min read

While HR has changed significantly in the last several years, some experts say the function still has more room for improvement.

One of those experts is Lucy Adams, CEO of London, England-based consultancy Disruptive HR. Her 2017 book, HR Disrupted, explores what Adams sees as the function’s fundamental problems, and has been revered as a quintessential read for HR pros. In 2021, she revisited those problems in a second edition of her book, and found that not much has changed.

Adams shared with HR Brew what people leaders can learn from her book.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are takeaways from your book?

Any HR professional picking up the book would hopefully be hit by two things. One is an insider’s view of why what we do has to change. I’m not an academic, I’m a practitioner, so my ideas were formed on the job, as it were, as opposed to being formed in a university or as a researcher…So, it’s filled with my own humiliations and failures, and successes to a certain extent, but mainly humiliations and failures as an HR director…The other main thing I would hope that readers would pick up is that it offers a framework for thinking about doing HR differently…[with] the EACH framework.

That stands for “employees as adults, consumers, and human beings,” and it was a shorthand that I arrived at to try and describe the overarching macro-trends that we’re seeing…So, very simply, it’s about moving HR away from parenting…Moving HR away from one-size-fits-all to a more consumer focus. Really recognizing that we need to tailor customize what we do to have relevance and impact, and thirdly, the human piece [of] HR…What I hope I do is to offer some alternative to those core HR processes that we’ve been doing in a certain way for years, that actually are now being challenged, because they don’t work.

What changed between the first and second editions of the book?

I produced a second edition for the obvious reason that Covid had happened. And, at the time, when I wrote the second edition, I was very hopeful that Covid was going to fundamentally speed things up…In fact, that hasn’t actually happened, but I was hopeful at the time in 2021. But, an awful lot is actually still relevant, because we were disrupted before Covid. And, so a lot of the themes in there, about, “Come on, this just can’t make sense anymore to continue to do this parental, one-size-fits-all process, heavy approach, because we don’t trust managers to manage,” all of that is still relevant. When I talk to HR leaders today, they’re still talking about the fact that we need to improve line managers, that they don’t trust line managers to manage.

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How do you recommend HR leaders help managers?

Our burden is that we are surrounded by managers who are managing people [but] who probably should [not] be…They wanted to move up the organization, and so going from that great single individual contributor, they’ve now got a team of people. Many of them never sought that. It wasn’t their ambition to manage people…What we need to do is to not group everybody into the same band, and say that they’re all inadequate.

We’ve got to differentiate categories, and one of the things that we advocate at Disruptive HR is to use the marketing technique of persona to really get under the skin of why is it that those groups of managers are resistant to being a good people leader? Sometimes, it’s just that they just don’t know what to do…And those people we can absolutely work with…The second group are those individuals that could do it, but very much lacking in confidence. So, we can use coaching techniques with them. Instead of always being the expert, when they come to us for permission, or approval, or the answer instead of leaping to give them that answer, and staying in that position of high status expert, it’s actually about saying, “Talk to me about how you would approach it.”


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