Great HR? It Doesn’t Come From Those Big, Famous HR Organizations


We hear it all the time: “They’ve got too much to lose to take that kind of a risk.”

Or statements similar to this.

As I travel out and about on the fall HR conference tour (most state-level SHRM conferences happen in the fall) I’m reminded constantly that Big HR Shops (Fortune 500 companies, big government, giant non-profits, etc.) are not who you should be turning to for the next great HR ideas. Maybe you can turn to them for best practices, but are best practices where you want to be?

Best practice HR is the same old HR

A best practice is, by it’s nature, solid and fully vetted for years. It’s great HR from five (5) plus years ago. It’s safe, and you can’t go wrong with Best Practice HR. But please, stop trying to act like it’s “great” HR.  It’s not – it’s more of the same old HR.

There’s actually a name for this. It’s called Loss Aversion theory, which is basically:

People’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Some studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.”

What this all boils down to in HR is what you have to lose by taking a chance. Want a industry-changing benefits program? You have to get way out of the box — and Big HR Shops don’t get way out of the box.

By the way, Google is a Big HR Shop. It’s giant. So are most of the other companies you continue to see touted as examples of “Great” HR, but they really aren’t “Great” HR. I say this because I’m tired of hearing “more of the same” HR practices at conferences being played off as “Great” HR practices, and seeing my HR peers buy it as life-altering HR. It’s not – unless you have a DeLorean that can’t go back in time to when it was.

IT’s about an idea, not a brand

So you want “Great” HR?  You want HR that will change industries in five years? Then don’t get caught up with a brand; get caught up with an idea.

Too often we want the “brand” – “Oh look, Southwest Airlines HR is going to be talking – I MUST go see them!” Stop! Southwest was great 20 years ago. They aren’t anymore – they are the same now – which is still good, but not “Great.”

You don’t want to be like Southwest Airlines right now. You want to be like Southwest Airlines 20 years ago. Your goal is to find that session with that person you’ve never heard of – they have nothing to lose – because they will probably have better ideas.

I’m probably on an island with this one, because everyone wants to hear about how the “Big Boys” are doing it,  because if they are doing “it,” “it “must be good. But you know, I’m comfortable on this island. This island is full of start-ups you’ve never heard of and they are fighting to make it every day and that fight propels them into a space where the “Big Boys” won’t go.

This island has a bunch of creative HR pros who don’t have books published and aren’t paid to speak. They get their hands dirty, they make mistakes, they make – make! — great HR.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

  • John Bushfield

    Tim – You hit the nail on its proverbial head!  The problem with Great HR is the element of risk:  in my experience most HR folk are risk averse, big time.  Best Practices HR is risk free, which is why the HR world gives it so much attention.  Which is tragic, because the speed with which the HR function is changing will leave most of the current practitioners scratching their heads wondering why they have become irrelevant. 

  • Jeanne, SPHR

    As an HR professional getting ready to launch my own advisory firm, I applaud you!  This is the reason I am starting my business – there is an unmet need in my community and I want to help those small businesses focus on their future – and their future success! 

  • Seth McColley

    Great post, Tim! I think you’re on to something here. When I hear “best practice” I think of “tried and true”. It works. It’ll get the job done. But to your point, it’s more fun to get  your hands dirty, experimenting and coming up with new and innovative ideas. I’ll join you on the island!

  • Dustin Leszcynski

    I have seen this island and it is good. You can bring the initially crazy proposals to light in the big shops, it’s just a lot harder and not many are willing to risk the political battle that is likely associated. Great post!

  • Paulette

    Great article – I cam across you by searching for “out of the box HR ideas”. I have an HR consultancy and are looking for a hook with a difference. I agree with previous comments – HR needs to enjoy risk and thrive on risk to go forwards and not backwards.

  • Richard Stiller

    In my 35 years in the business I have watched Industrial Relations and personnel evolve into HR and then to HR Business partner (without most people even knowing what that means) and then the long slide backward to personnel again. As HR people becomes cops again, it’s no wonder that outside consultants get the most interesting work.