Managing People: Two Essentials That Underpin Effective HR Practice


There’s nothing special about sound HR practice. They are neither unique nor mysterious. Ordinary human beings can become quite skilled at practicing effective HR. I should know. I’ve worked in and around HR for about 50 years.


It all started when I found myself working as a Pay Clerk at the University of Melbourne in 1963. It wasn’t even a job I’d applied for. The University gave me the job while they sorted out an administrative problem with my enrolment as a mature age student.

Since then, I’ve worked in a wide range of businesses and industries either as a consultant or employee.

The Two Essentials

That experience has lead me to discover two essential “underpinnings” for effective HR practice. These apply particularly to managing employee performance, employee management or however you wish to describe so called “people management”.

But be warned. What you’re about to read won’t sit well with many HR “practitioners”. And there’ll be managers and employees who’ll accuse me of preaching heresy too.

The Gurus Won’t Tell You

And another thing: you won’t find any mention of my “underpinnings” in specialist books and articles by HR gurus.

The two underpinnings are

  • Business Primacy
  • Effective Marketing.

Business Primacy

Business primacy says that what’s best for the business comes first. It overrides all else. It has two main elements for managers and employees

  • The prime responsibility of the employee is to make a measurably positive contribution towards business success
  • The prime responsibility of the manager towards employees is to put systems in place that make it impossible for the employee to fail to make such a contribution.

Ensuring the sustainability of the business is the prime responsibility of both manager and employee.

If what you’re doing in HR can’t be directly linked to business success and sustainability, you should probably stop doing it.

Effective Marketing

This is most succinctly summed up by my friend, Bix Berry. “Marketing isn’t everything,” says Bix, “but everything is marketing”. I mean marketing in its broadest sense. I don’t mean merely promotion or advertising or product placement.

Business Focus And Target Market

Effective marketing demands a crystal clear business focus and a narrow, specific target market. Anything and everything that staff and managers do must not only support those two basics. It must be seen to support them too.

Successful marketing is at the heart of real business success. Effective staff performance cannot be achieved without successful marketing. Every employee is involved in marketing. And marketing involves every employee. It doesn’t matter what they do, where they do it, with whom or how important it seems to be.

As Peter Drucker once said, “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer”.

Lose sight of the central importance of marketing: lose sight of the heart of the business: lose the likelihood of effective HR practice.

Implications For Managers

  • Effective HR is the responsibility of the manager. It cannot be abdicated, even to HR specialists and consultants.
  • Effective HR starts with effective marketing. If employees aren’t absolutely clear about your business focus and target market, they cannot perform adequately.
  • Always focus on your total business and target market. Unless you do, employees can’t perform adequately.
  • Always focus on your total business. What’s good for your business as a whole is more important than what’s important to any part of it.
  • So called “personality clashes” are usually symptoms of role and goal conflicts. Sort out those conflicts. Eliminate the “clashes”.
  • Team performance is more important to business success than individual performance.
  • Small-medium business is special. It has unique characteristics. Slavishly imitating the practices of large business won’t improve small-medium business. Remember, if you want your business to be the next Apple or other large successful company, replicate what they were doing when they were the same size and stage of development as your business is now.
  • Integrate sound HR practice into the day to day activities of all sections of the business.
  • Avoid slavishly following management fads. It doesn’t matter how trendy or fashionable they become. Don’t be seduced by the hype.
  • Trust your employees to give you the performance you seek. Remember, it’ll show if you don’t trust them. And they’ll react accordingly.
  • Concentrate on employee performance not employee behaviour. Leave behaviour to psychologists.
  • If your systems are poor, your people will fail.

Words Of Wisdom

Many people claim to be experts in HR. I think that it pays to look beyond the so called experts and gurus for sound advice.

Here are three quotes that I’ve found valuable

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for certain that just ain’t so.” Mark Twain

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” John Wooden

“As a leader my job is to motivate them so that they can go home and be proud of their work.” Ricardo Semler


You need good HR because people are an essential resource to help achieve a sustainable business. And they are certainly a very expensive resource. But good HR has no particular virtue of its own. It simply isn’t “rocket science.” HR practices that don’t help achieve business success are of little use in your business.

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