HR Functional Reviews — A Practical Guide

Where is the best place to look to find the answers you need?

Paul Helsby HR


Let me start this post with a joke.

A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a lamppost and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he has lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes, the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he mislaid them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk answers, “this is where the light is.”

Does this have any relevance in a business context?

In part, because when we are looking for solutions to the more complicated issues that we face in business, we don’t always look in the most likely places. We tend to look where it is easier to do find them — e.g. Under the streetlight — even if we know that the more severe issues — and their solutions — may be elsewhere. Businesses will periodically review, or audit, the many risks that they face and the effectiveness of the controls that they have in place to help mitigate them — a gap analysis of sorts. Experience tells us where those risks are likely to be. Experience also helps us to identify when managers try to send us off course. We need to be resilient to such attempts to deter us.

Why might a manager who runs a department with higher than average turnover suggest that it is not a good time — due to X, Y and “most definitely Z” — to conduct an engagement survey across his team?

Is it easier to proceed with the surveys in departments run by managers who are supportive of the process, than in those where they seem intent on putting obstacles in the way?

Yes, but just because it’s easier, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

What about the team leader who persistently fails to provide details of performance review documentation, and whose team are rated far higher than all others in the Company? Does the relative team performance correlate with the high managerial assessments? Have other managers been able to supply the necessary documentation when requested?

The easy option is to review the information you have been able to get. Surely it is better to have an overview of 90% of the business completed within a reasonable timescale than to miss the reporting deadline by potentially waiting indefinitely for one person to respond?

Again, possibly easier and quicker, but not necessarily the best approach.

With experience, it becomes easier to establish where the issues are most likely to be. So, taking a’ torch into the field’ would be more appropriate than continuing to search where you know that you’ll find very little that is useful.

Another joke:

Where a tourist lost in the West of Ireland, asks a local farmer for directions to Dublin. The farmer replies: ‘Well if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here’.

NB — There has been some criticism that this joke is potentially racist, in that it portrays the Irish farmer as being somewhat stupid. I don’t think this is the case. Knowing where best to start a journey, shows great wisdom.

Where to start an audit or gap analysis also matters. As with any journey, you can either take the scenic route, or the quickest, most logical path from A to B.

A logical approach to information gathering, both minimises the amount of intrusion for the organisation and maximises the effectiveness of the investigation.

Consequently, I tend to look at issues in the following order:

  • Strategy, structure & MI
  • Policy & procedures
  • Succession Planning & Talent Management
  • Recruitment processes
  • Exit procedures
  • Performance Management processes
  • Remuneration and benefits
  • Payroll

Fewer hold-ups. No re-traced routes or U-turns. No detours. Not only do I follow this hierarchy of issues, but where possible, I try to establish from the business leaders what they are expecting, or believe to be happening in the Company. I then undertake some fieldwork with the assistance of their direct reports, to reveal if they are correct or not.

However, I would never try to trick anybody into exposing a previously unknown truth. My preference is to work in collaboration with all levels within the business. I like to establish what the Company is doing well and where there are gaps between ‘their practice’ and ‘best practice’, provide suggestions for improvements that they could make.



Paul Helsby HR

HR Consultant @ PR-HR Solutions Ltd. Writing to share experiences — good and bad — gained from 25+ years in HR.