Value add or value for money?

I saw a tweet this week from respected American HR practitioner/Speaker and #DisruptHR driver Jennifer McClure which immediately caused me to leap in and say “I don’t agree.”


Back when I started my HR career I remember being told by my first mentor that my job was to put the right people, in the right place, with the right skills at the right time.  That made sense to me at the time and I repeated that mantra often to others.  But that was back in the days when we were slowly morphing from personnel to HR. The world of HR has shifted considerably since then.

I think I know what Jennifer was getting at though, which is that HR just need to do the basics right and do them really well.

But for me that’s not adding value.  That’s just giving value for money.  Doing what you are paid to do.

I guess it’s all about definition and degrees of value. Why I took against Jennifer’s tweet is because we’ve become obsessed as a society by both having to, and wanting others to, “add value” in everything we do.  As if somehow doing the job we are paid to do professionally and competently simply isn’t enough anymore.

I’ve probably been as guilty as anyone of over-using the phrase in the past to describe a more enlightened and progressive HR model. But what does it mean?  Sure, there are times when I will challenge, question and suggest new ways of doing things as part of my work.  But that’s usually part of the brief and what I’m being paid to do. I am expected to add value.

But there are other times when people know exactly what they want and just want it done i.e. exactly what they have asked for and no more. They know where the value is in that. Good business as usual delivered with the minimum of fuss. And that’s fine too. We should be comfortable with that. There is nothing wrong with just meeting expectations if that’s what’s needed. If we were all doing value add excellence all of the time, then it wouldn’t be excellence or adding value. Just the norm!

Perhaps that is one of the reasons we are all so busy these days?  The constant pressure to exceed expectations at every turn is both stifling, overwhelming and dare I say it, just unnecessary.

HR simply does not need to add value at every interaction to justify its existence.  Not everything you do needs to be great, not everything needs to add value. It just needs to make sense and not prevent your greatest assets from doing what they need to do. Then and only then, can you think about adding value – pushing your organisation forward by spotting those opportunities to change, improve, develop and innovate. Understanding the internal climate and knowing what is right for the organisation.

Right people, right place, right skills, right price, right time is what every CEO should demand as a minimum.  Get that right, and only then do you earn the right to add value.

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