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  • Mark Shaw

Why HR should focus on simplifying complexity

At the 2021 Human Resource Congress, Dave Ulrich referred to the 8th round of the Human Resource Competency Study (HRCS) produced by the RBL Group and the University of Michigan. This research had identified five competency areas HR practitioners needed to remain relevant; accelerate business, mobilizational of information, advance human capability, foster collaboration, and simplify complexity.

This research has developed over the past 30 years and explains how HR has evolved from a focus on staff administrative activities, through a stronger focus on HR practices and HR strategies, to the current view that HR now requires an outside-in perspective.

While I’d agree with the five competencies identified by David Ulrich, I’d suggest that individual HR practitioners and HR departments should always target simplifying complexity before applying the other four competencies. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time.

This is especially true as HR processes have become more, not less, complex over the past 30 years.

You see, while HR has evolved from administration to the outside-in perspective, we must still deliver on the day-to-day administrative activities, policies and process and strategy. And I am continually told how these remain too complex and unwieldly.

Focusing on simplicity also supports the goals of the HR unit/department. For example, if the organisation only requires administrative support from HR, simplifying complexity is still a great value add. Equally, if the business requires HR to focus on staff retention or advancing human capability, simplifying the complexity of the associated HR processes will still demonstrate great value.

Too often I see HR practitioners and departments concentrating on the latest fad or trend only to have a poor reputation due to their complex existing processes. For example, anecdotal evidence suggests that most HR responses to COVID and associated working from home arrangements were unnecessarily complex for the organisation’s needs and priorities, let alone those of the employees and managers.

Now add the views from David and his team that HR needs to focus on actions rather than the traits they need to develop, or roles they need to play, we see the importance of simplifying complexity.

As 2023 commences, my advice to my HR colleagues is that, as you develop your full range of HR competencies, start with taking action to simplify complexity.

For more ideas and examples, spend some time at

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