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Abrogation not assumption

April 3, 2010

I made the point yesterday that many of the tools and practices used within the HR function are focused on abrogation rather than assumption of responsibility. In a comment to that entry Dylan suggested that the phrase needed unstitching so I thought I would get the process started. The fundamental error from my perspective is linked with the basic error in knowledge management, namely the tyranny of the explicit. The classic example is the salary review. It used to be a process of judgement (a word sadly missing in management these days) to determine pay for people who reported to you. It required the ability to defend a judgement based on knowledge of the individual. What happens now is based entirely on spreadsheets. Assessments based on arbitrary general categories produce multiple tables. Distribution models that assume standard distributions of competence across units generate figures and the deal is done. The manager can now be the employee’s friend, its not their fault, the system has allocated the pay, they are just the messenger. Abrogation of responsibility not assumption.

Of course the good guys find ways round it. They recruit incompetents in the build up to a salary review to gain a profile that allows them to reward their high performers (I’m not joking its happened). Having a small team of high performers does not fit the standard profiles so hire then fire to manipulate the system. The energy which goes into this sort of crap is appalling. Managing people should be about exercising human judgement and taking responsibility for human decisions. We should be creating environments in which managers who can do that thrive. Instead we are creating a bland conformity of manipulators of statistical instruments.

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