The HR Doctor: Delivery Deficiency

If I’m honest, I’m an ENFP (sounds a bit like Alcoholics Anonymous). Delivery isn’t my favourite pursuit. I’ve learned it’s no good using my ENFP-ness as an excuse when I don’t deliver. Instead I’ve become passionate about learning the basics of project management and surrounding myself with completer finishers who are naturally good at getting things done.  Words without action, ideas without outcomes, design without delivery is a waste of time.


  • Projects are started but not finished. HR enjoys developing new ideas, but does not enjoy putting them into practice.
  • People are easily bored, especially with follow-through, with the result that nothing is actually delivered.
  • HR works purely on the basis of anecdotes, failing to collect or analyse real data to find out what is going on.
  • It fails to respond to internal customer requests, seeing them as idiots who get in the way of designing another HR scheme.
  • HR people want to be prophets not plumbers – they are only interested in being ‘strategic’ and are bored with the plumbing, the basics of HR that actually underpin its credibility.
  • HR lacks the disciplines of basic planning and project management.


  • Of course, the biggest impact is nothing actually gets done but this has knock-on implications for HR.
  • HR loses credibility, which would enable it to make a real difference to the business, because no one expects HR to actually deliver anything.
  • HR is seen as a cost, with the subsequent pressure to reduce the size of the function because no one sees any value added from what it does (or doesn’t do).

In recent interviews with 45 CEOs we asked them if they had ever sacked their HRD. There were three common themes:

  • In some cases, they recognised that whilst their HRD was good at one level, as the company grew or changed they simply couldn’t keep up. They hadn’t done anything wrong, they just no longer fit the need. ‘It was a function of the agenda. The individual didn’t have the capability to step up again. We had taken our game up a notch. She was successful in the old agenda. I would give her a reference, not a failure, it just depends what you wanted from them.’
  • Lack of integrity was the most common issue. ‘The incumbent was disengaged, devious, political, someone who didn’t have a genuine interest in people, who was out for their own interest, their own ego. In the end, the senior management team had had enough of her politicking and back stabbing and she went.’
  • But delivery deficiency was a show stopper for most of them. CEOs want people who understand the business and drive great solutions, but if you can’t actually make them happen in the real world then they’ll bring in someone who can. ‘They did the sexy stuff and none of the basics; they delegated without accepting accountability.’

This focus on the sexy strategic stuff without getting the basics done – what I call the compulsory figures – undermines HR’s credibility. So, what do I mean by the compulsory figures?  Very few people know why skating is called figure skating. In the Olympics prior to 1990, the champion skater won the gold medal not just for the spectacular jumps and complex moves and for their artistic interpretation of the music, but also for the compulsory figures.

What we didn’t see on the television, a couple of days before the free programme, were the compulsory figures when the skaters drew figures in the ice with their skates and were measured for their consistency and accuracy. They didn’t win the gold medal for the figures, but they didn’t get to skate for the gold medal unless they did well. For me, the compulsory figures are the basics of HR: paying people on time, recruiting, terms and conditions, and so on. It doesn’t win HR the medals, but unless it does them well, the function doesn’t have the credibility to engage in the real value-added work.


  • HR teams need to balance who they recruit, looking for and valuing ‘completer finishers’ as much as (or perhaps even more than) ‘ideas’ people.
  • Put in place strong governance to ensure clear goals are set and delivered.
  • Establish clear accountabilities for what is actually delivered and follow through with appropriate consequences, both the good and the bad.
  • Place value in old-fashioned basic project management techniques, not necessarily over complicating things, but establishing a disciplined approach to planning and review.
  • Train HR people in the discipline of getting things done and reward and recognise them for it. Find role models and heroes who are doing the basics really well or who are doing a great job of data entry, as well as those doing strategic HR business partnering or designing new talent processes.
  • Ensure that everyone, early in their HR career, spends time doing the basics – data entry, admin, call centres etc, – so they understand how tough it is and value it.
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