It’s time for HR service providers to take accountability for what they sell


charlatanCross post from HRmaturity.com  (please visit this site for some great blogs and thought leadership on HR Maturity)
Today I spent some time wandering around an HR conference and Vendor expo in Sydney. I like doing this partly to ensure I’m up to speed with what’s on offer, but also to look for any fundamental changes taking place in the HR industry. On my agenda today was to ask all the Vendors & Service providers I met one pertinent question -“Did they have any accountability for their product/solution success after the sale?”

As I expected, most of the answers contained elements of ongoing support contracts, help with the design/implementation/creation of the solution and similar rhetoric. I couldn’t find any vendor that would categorically take any accountability for the outcomes expected from their offerings.  The key argument was that they were not in a position to take accountability as ownership passed from them to the buying client and decisions made by the client could not be influenced by the vendor.

Here is the problem with these arguments – it’s a convenient “cop out” and smacks of simply wanting to take the money and run! It was a similar argument that many consumer product manufacturers used in the 90’s when they said they could not be held responsible for how a consumer used their wares, and if it killed the consumer in the process, well that was simply not their problem (to be harsh and blunt) – but times have changed and many countries now have strong consumer protection laws in place where the producer of a consumer product is accountable and responsible for ensuring the product brings no harm to the buyer and does what it purports to do. Of course there is an equivalent onus on the buyer to use the product as it was intended and according to instructions.

This notion of responsibility and accountability between the producer and buyer of consumer products didn’t happen quickly. There was a maturing and education process that took place over years to get producers to understand that they could still make profits, but they had to do it responsibly and take accountability for negative impacts experienced by the buyer.

If I look at so many HR departments, they are littered with tools, solutions, ideas, schemes, strategies and other paraphernalia that was procured over years, all with great expectations of achieving fantastic outcomes, but they didn’t.  And so, the failed solution got thrown out onto the proverbial HR solution junk heap, and the search for something better and greater continues. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to push all the blame onto HR solution providers and vendors, but I reckon there are many that would go out of business if there was a legal obligation to ensure their HR wares achieved the outcomes they claimed.

I would like to see HR vendors and service providers playing a far stronger and leading role in assessing if a buyer is positioned to use their tool, solution or idea before committing to selling it to them. The onus should rest with the seller, (who after all is supposed to be the guru in terms of their solutions) to help educate the buyer around the necessities for their solution to be successful, and have the professionalism and guts to withhold a solution if these critical elements are not in place. In short, HR vendors need to skill up in making a professional diagnosis, and assessing any risk and negative impact that their solution will have on an organisation, its employees or associates. There needs to be severe penalties for those that “sell and run”.

Making HR a successful and value adding part of an organisation requires the commitment of all stakeholders and it’s time for the charlatan HR vendors to change their ways or move out of the industry.