You Still Have To Get The Little Things Right In HR

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Earlier this week, Abercrombie & Fitch was fined a hefty sum ($1 million) for what amounted to be technical difficulties in their I-9 processing system. Here’s an excerpt from the story:

The New Albany, Ohio-based retailer did not verify the employment eligibility of its workers and lacked documentation, said Khaalid Walls, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Walls said the government had a tip that there were “severe deficiencies with their documents.”

The audit uncovered numerous technology-related deficiencies in the retailer’s electronic I-9 verification system. The company cooperated throughout the investigation and did not knowingly hire illegal immigrants, the government said in a statement.

Still of the opinion that transactional HR doesn’t have strategic value? Ask A&F what they could have done with an extra million dollars this year. Tell me if that sort of swing in cash is of strategic value to the organization.

The value of the little stuff

I get it. Doing an I-9 audit isn’t the top of anyone’s list. Nobody is chomping at the bit to do one. But you’ve got to do it. And you’ve got to have processes in place that immediately correct any errors in that process.

If I’ve learned anything about immigration enforcement over the last several years, it is that everyone is taking it pretty darn seriously now. I mean, when you have HR folks going to jail for serious violations, you would think that it would get everyone’s attention.

Nobody is keeping a CFO in place who has a nice financial vision for the company but can’t pay taxes correctly or pay vendors in a timely manner. Certainly a CFO has bigger fish to fry than janitor bill, but when the office stops getting vacuumed and people start complaining about a strange smell, things are going to change or that person is gone.

Strategic value is no replacement for transactional execution

All of this talk about getting strategic often makes HR folks forget that there is value in getting transactional stuff right every single time. Every time a paycheck is screwed up, the benefits are wonky, or you aren’t prepared for a new hire on the first day, you start to lose credibility in both transactional and strategic matters. You have to have the foundation before you can build the house.

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And I don’t really want to bring Six Sigma into an already messy picture, but wouldn’t knowing (and applying) some of the key principles of Six Sigma help to alleviate the pain of transactional HR processes? I know many office jockeys hate to bring in rigid manufacturing standards and processes into their space but at the companies I’ve worked at that have tried to implement an interpretation or “dumbed down” version of Six Sigma, it has helped eliminate mistakes and help get transactional execution under control.

Focusing less on compliance means being in compliance

When I’ve heard speakers talk about this topic, they all agree that HR needs to get the little things right but they can’t be compliance police. The way to fix that isn’t by burying your head in the sand but instead to address the outstanding compliance issues, get in line with expectations, create a joint responsibility among parties — and then focus on more important things.

I just love this idea a former boss of mine had about focus. If you are doing something so well, it is automatic you can start to focus on other, more important things without dropping the ball. So if you’re a basketball player, you learn how to dribble the ball so well that you don’t need to think or focus on it. When you attain that level of competence, you can focus on running plays, setting screens, or reading the opposing defense.

Bad dribblers never become great point guards, and the same holds true for HR. If you are bad at the things you need to do to keep your company in business, you’ll never succeed in taking those strategic initiatives to the next level.


2 Comments on “You Still Have To Get The Little Things Right In HR

  1. I remember a guest speaker telling us many years ago ‘if you don’t get the transaction stuff right, nobody is going to be interested in speaking to you about the strategic stuff’. He was, and still is, right. It is the old Satisfiers versus Motivators. The good thing about the transaction is, if you do get it right (and this is why six sigma is useful) then it should pretty much run in the corner on its own and you can get on with the fun stuff. Fix the boring bit first.

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