HR Needs To Continually
Moving from benchmarking and
best practices to guidance
By Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Alan Todd
Like other functions (and organizations, leaders,
and individuals), HR needs to continually reinvent
itself to realize its potential for creating, delivering,
and capturing value.
Recently, we have had conversations with thoughtful
HR trendsetters. They almost all propose reinventing
HR through benchmarking and best practices.
Benchmarking reports how well HR is doing against
a standard (global, industry, or historical norm) to
build on strengths or to overcome weaknesses; best
practices suggest how to improve by learning from
others. Both have had a long history in shaping the
HR profession and both will continue to be important,
but we must take them a step further.
Now is the time to reinvent HR by pivoting from
benchmarking and best practices to guidance.
Instead of improving by comparing oneself to
others and by adapting what others do well, we
must move beyond these descriptions of HR work
to prescriptions. Descriptions chronicle what has
been or is being done; prescriptions anticipate
what should be done. Descriptions focus on
activities or initiatives; prescriptions focus on
results. Descriptions compare oneself to others;
prescriptions show how to improve oneself to
achieve desired results. Descriptions benchmark and
seek best practices; prescriptions guide choices to
deliver results through vested practices.
We have reviewed how benchmarking should pivot
to guidance. Let us now propose why best practice
focus needs to evolve to make guidance happen.
Pervasiveness of and Challenges to Best
For decades, all of us in the human capital profession
has relied on best practice logic. We observe what
leading companies do and try to distill and share
that information with others. Best practice work
shows up as case studies of leading companies
in seminars, talks, articles, books, workshops, and
training sessions. Best practice work shows up when
consulting firms recommend to their clients the
innovative work that their other clients have done.
But using best practices falls short when human
capital issues become ever more central to
changing business conditions. Consider the
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