EP 80: Solving Organizational Problems with Andrew Bartlow

EP 80: Solving Organizational Problems with Andrew Bartlow

One of the things we know with certainty is that every single business problem in an organization is a people problem. So how do we diagnose areas of our organization that are not working so well, and also celebrate the areas that are? Andrew Bartlow has been in HR for 25 years working with organizations in many different industries, is the co-author of Scaling for Success: People Priorities for High-Growth Organizations, and leads Series B Consulting helping businesses articulate their people strategy to accelerate their growth. He joins the show today to discuss how HR can play a strategic role in solving the problems found within an organization.

What You’ll Learn In Today’s Episode

  • One of the primary traps that many HR professionals fall into and how to avoid it. (4:55)
  • How to take best practices and make them work for your organization. (6:50)
  • The critical question to start with when diagnosing organizational problems. (9:35)

Actionable Takeaway for HR Professionals

  • Think big about the impact HR can have on an organization. (14:50)

Actionable Takeaway for Executives

  • Start from a place of curiosity and do your best to understand what the most important organizational goals are. (14:05)

Ideas Worth Sharing

“An effective strategic HR organization will directly address your business problems.” - Andrew Bartlow Click To Tweet

Resources In Today’s Episode

Enjoy the show? Use the Links Below to Subscribe:















Click Here for Audio Transcript

Traci Scherck: Welcome to talent optimization my name is Tracy sherck and today we are talking about how do we diagnose areas in our organization that maybe aren’t working so well and then up level and celebrate. One of the things that we know is that every single business problem in our organization is a people problem.


Traci Scherck: So, if you think about that all those business problems, this could be.


Traci Scherck: blockages that are happening in your sales funnel this could be things that are happening out on the production line with errors in in products that are coming off, whatever that is.


Traci Scherck: it’s a people problem, so when we look at it through that lens, how do we diagnose those things, so we can up level our people, our processes and truly celebrate those key results.


Traci Scherck: So we have a very special guest with us today, and I want to introduce you to Andrew Bartlow Andrew has been playing in HR for 25 years.


Traci Scherck: You know he’s really worked with organizations with maturity stages many different industries he’s co author of scaling for success people priorities from high growth organizations.


Traci Scherck: And he leads series B consulting which helps businesses to articulate their people strategy and accelerate their growth so Andrew welcome.


Andrew Bartlow: Thank you so much for having me Tracy.


Traci Scherck: yeah absolutely and you know i’m curious when we talk about diagnosing business problems inside of an organization and the fact that it’s a people problem what’s that kind of first thing that comes to your mind.


Andrew Bartlow: yeah I think that business problems are what a strategic HR organization is designed and intended to solve right but they’re not separate things they’re all linked.


Andrew Bartlow: So an effective strategic HR organization will directly address your business problems.


Andrew Bartlow: And heck that’s a big opportunity for a lot of HR leaders is to get a little bit more business centric be curious about the business understand what the key priorities of that business are and make sure that your people and HR agenda more directly supports it.


Traci Scherck: Absolutely you know, and this is something that I often find myself talking with HR leaders about as hey what are your priorities and they give me their priorities, and I say hey what’s your CEO’s priorities and they’re like.


Traci Scherck: Right, do you ever have that.


Andrew Bartlow: Oh for sure that I have created a word called HRA as I talked to you know some of my HR leader mentors I asked them the same question hey what are your priorities, what are we working on.


Andrew Bartlow: And 90 plus percent of the time it’s a bunch of internal facing HR very.


Andrew Bartlow: focused activities and initiatives that aren’t as directly linked to what the business is focusing on right now, as they could be there, usually some logic leaves are kind of second, third degree stretches.


Andrew Bartlow: around what HR is working on versus what the business really cares about or even to your point a gap in knowledge around what the business cares most about.


Traci Scherck: yeah absolutely and that key alignment, you know.


Traci Scherck: This is something that so often like i’m doing a lot of conversations these days around succession planning and individualized development plans for individuals and one of the key questions that keeps coming up.


Traci Scherck: Is the knowledge drain as individuals, leave the organization, whether expectantly or unexpectedly, and how do we ensure that we have that overlap, now that sounds like an hr.


Traci Scherck: thing, yet at the same time, you know at the top of the show I mentioned, you know we’ve got issues happening in production, where.


Traci Scherck: The workflow isn’t going all the way through right well that’s a clear business problem because it’s lowering.


Traci Scherck: You know what our deliverables are specifically for the day, but if we don’t address the HR issue, which is that that knowledge gap and the knowledge transfer we’re going to continue to have a business problem right.


Andrew Bartlow: yeah one of the traps that a lot of HR professionals fall into is coming up with an HR solution and then searching for the problem that it solves.


Andrew Bartlow: yeah I I really encourage you know HR leaders that intend to be strategic to start with understanding what those business priorities are.


Andrew Bartlow: And then design your solutions rather than you know what what often happens with the other way around, so talk to your CEO and your Executive team, what are the three most important things for you right now.


Andrew Bartlow: Look at the most recent board deck or investor pitch deck if you raise money recently.


Andrew Bartlow: He can do a really simple simple SWOT analysis.


Andrew Bartlow: You know if you’re part of the executive meetings if you’re if you truly have a seat at the table, then you’ll at least hear what the Group is talking about what are incentive programs based on.


Andrew Bartlow: Is it no bit, is it ebitda is it expansion is it you know top line revenue you know what is the business trying to do, once you understand that at at least a foundational baseline level.


Andrew Bartlow: Then you can much more clearly tie the actions of your HR function to those most important business priorities.


Traci Scherck: Absolutely, and part of it is talking the same talk right like ensuring that we’re not using you know the HR language that we’re using the business language to it.


Traci Scherck: and advocacy is a significant piece of that when we can say here’s the business problem here’s a potential solution that’s a business solution, you know that will tie into the whole HR infrastructure.


Traci Scherck: It allows us to move that forward, and it has to be a fit for your organization and I know you’ve done a lot of that stuff like, how do we take you know, a best practice and right size it into what an organization means.


Andrew Bartlow: yeah that’s that’s one of my favorite topics is you know what are best practices really best.


Andrew Bartlow: And, and the answer is, it depends, it depends on the context and context is king like whatever Google happens to be doing.


Andrew Bartlow: might work for them, maybe not like they have the killer APP and they have you have a ridiculous profit margin, they can do a lot of stuff that might be an effective but they’ll still be a successful company.


Andrew Bartlow: But as an organization looks to replicate somebody else’s best practice and putting air quotes up right now, you really want to understand the context that that’s happening.


Andrew Bartlow: And is it likely to work for you do, you have the same situation that that organization use that particular practice in or not.


Andrew Bartlow: And hey if you’re not careful.


Andrew Bartlow: you’ll be using a screwdriver to try to pound in nails or you know some other you’ll be eating your your soup with a fork so you want to be thoughtful about what tools and what practices you use and make sure that there’s fit for purpose in your org.


Traci Scherck: Absolutely, because it could be the best tool in the world, but it doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing there’s and I don’t know what the Ad is but it’s the Ad with the golf club hitting the Bowling ball.




Andrew Bartlow: I haven’t seen that one.


Traci Scherck: You know, but it’s that kind of a thing, like a screwdriver for a nail like are we using the right tool.


Traci Scherck: And it doesn’t just need to be the right tool for the right job but it’s also are we using the right tool for our organization for industry for those types of things.


Traci Scherck: And there’s a key distinction between remote work and in person work as well and that’s been somewhat of a misleading.


Andrew Bartlow: yeah.


Traci Scherck: From what i’ve seen with my clients anyway.


Andrew Bartlow: yeah yeah well hey I think there’s an analog to this, you know concept we talked about with HR people bringing solutions and then looking for a problem.


Andrew Bartlow: Where some business leaders will talk to their investors, or you know go go away to a you know CEO dinner and come up with some great idea that some great solution.


Andrew Bartlow: That, then, they want to implement in their organization without thinking about whether it’s a great fit or not, and I remember one Monday morning, where the CEO that I worked with wanted to go implement whole accuracy that week.


Andrew Bartlow: which was a really interesting concept at zappos back in the day, but wasn’t necessarily the right fit for that business and I had to use a lot of political capital with my CEO to talk them out of it.


Andrew Bartlow: yeah you know be be thoughtful use some critical thinking what’s the right tool for a job.


Traci Scherck: yeah and I think you know as we talked about diagnose it’s diagnosing what is the problem you know we talked about where to start you know what that is you know, asking kind of follow that lead.


Traci Scherck: But then, you know what should the HR function work on as far as the needs identification and prioritization.


Andrew Bartlow: I think there’s a really critical question, to start with, and that is.


Andrew Bartlow: What, why does the HR organization exists, like let’s start foundational there and I would suggest.


Andrew Bartlow: That at the baseline level.


Andrew Bartlow: HR exists to help an organization meet its bolts, why do we exist, and there are a bunch of stakeholders involved in that and different stakeholders may have different interests and different.


Andrew Bartlow: different goals, but if you say we exist to help our org meet its goals than the natural next question is okay, so what are those goals.


Andrew Bartlow: Who are stakeholders and what do they care about and so it’s a fairly simple you know this is kind of a mini MBA class we’re walking through right now, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.


Andrew Bartlow: right if you ask the question as an HR leader listening to this podcast.


Andrew Bartlow: Who are my stakeholders one and what do they care most about that can very quickly, help to elicit what the most important things for your organization are.


Andrew Bartlow: And then, just think about a waterfall with okay well, these are the most important things to these groups, maybe it’s an investor maybe its CEO or exact team, maybe its employees, maybe it’s Community or regulator for customers.


Andrew Bartlow: You can start to tie your activities to those most important interests, and so what we’re talking about right now is a stakeholder analysis and you can do it on the back of a napkin.


Andrew Bartlow: we’re talking about a SWOT analysis strengths weaknesses opportunities and threats, so you don’t need a million dollar McKinsey study to do this stuff you don’t need an MBA or a professional degree to do this stuff it’s just finding the right question.


Andrew Bartlow: And that question is.


Andrew Bartlow: Who are the people that i’m trying to serve, what do they care most about and then, what are the things that I can work on that can address those most important needs.



Traci Scherck: Right awesome.


Andrew Bartlow: yeah that’s the baseline on diagnosis it’s understanding what the needs are.


Traci Scherck: Right and that’s it right, then, once we understand what the needs are.


Traci Scherck: it’s not always just going and saying all right, this is the loudest thing that’s what i’m going to focus on it’s looking at that in perspective in context to say here’s the loudest thing but what’s the thing that’s going to make the most impact on our business results.


Traci Scherck: In the least amount of time or what’s the thing that’s going to make the most impact on our business results with the least effort.


Traci Scherck: And sometimes you start there.


Traci Scherck: um you know, to get those things and to align the team around it to commit to it and follow through with what that is.


Andrew Bartlow: yeah there’s there’s a saying that i’ll use here and I probably use too much you can move 30 things an inch or three things a mile right.


Andrew Bartlow: Right and HR organizations often end up getting stretching way too thin bright trying to serve everyone perfectly right by you know doing a lot of work on, you know that.


Andrew Bartlow: whoever happens to have the most urgent need, we are a helping profession in many ways, and many of us come from a humanistic perspective, and we want, we want to solve people’s problems and so problem pops up whack that mole and you know take care of it.


Andrew Bartlow: That I think is one of the larger reasons, a lot of HR professionals burnout the way that we do because we’re trying to please everybody.


Andrew Bartlow: and bottom line is you just can’t.


Andrew Bartlow: you’ve got to prioritize to a certain point, and so understanding, who your most important stakeholders are and what they care most about can help you differentiate the big rocks from the gravel from the sand.


Andrew Bartlow: That that’s a reference back to seven habits.


Andrew Bartlow: Yes, Stephen covey if you can get your big rocks identifying and take care of them first, then all the other customer service type stuff will will fill in in between.


Andrew Bartlow: But if you’re doing all the customer service stuff and you never get to the big rocks then chances are you’re not going to be wildly successful yep.


Traci Scherck: Absolutely for sure so as we start to kind of wrap up today because we’ve covered a ton of ground here and what we’ve gone through so i’m curious what’s one kind of key takeaway for executives listening in today.


Andrew Bartlow: yeah if you’re an HR executive.


Andrew Bartlow: I would strongly suggest start from a place of curiosity and do your best to understand what the most important goals of your business are right now.


Andrew Bartlow: And that will be your guiding light in terms of your priorities and initiatives in hr.


Andrew Bartlow: don’t come with your solutions looking for a problem to solve start with what your CEO and your board and your investors are trying to drive and make sure that you’re doing something directly and meaningfully to support progress in those areas.


Traci Scherck: Absolutely, and what about for HR professionals listening in today what’s the takeaway that you have for them.


Andrew Bartlow: yeah well, I mean that that bit of advice was you know for sure for HR professionals, I think it’s I think I just wanted to share some empathy.


Andrew Bartlow: And some support for HR professionals that get stretched so thin that are burning the candle at both ends trying to serve all of these constituents and I would just encourage HR professionals to.


Andrew Bartlow: have an understanding of their role in such that you want to do the most good that you possibly can.


Andrew Bartlow: And that’s not necessarily serving the most people with the smallest delivery tasks it’s the big ticket items that can make a real difference for an organization.


Andrew Bartlow: So I would encourage you know HR professionals to think big around the potential impact that they have on an organization and be a little easier, more gentle on themselves.


Traci Scherck: yeah this word grace right.


Andrew Bartlow: yeah yeah.


Traci Scherck: For sure awesome well if you’re interested in learning more about Andrew he has a program called the people leader accelerator on that he works, specifically with.


Traci Scherck: You know HR professionals and an executive development program there are some short sprint’s some shorter versions, that you will see as well.


Traci Scherck: Within that and so, if that’s something that you’re potentially interested in, we will have all of that information in our show notes as well, so Andrew Thank you so much for being with us today.


Andrew Bartlow: really appreciate the conversation Tracy Thank you.


Traci Scherck: Absolutely, have a great day, and we cannot wait to see you have you hear us next week.


Traci Scherck: And if you are interested in our membership program again our membership program is a monthly live program we meet every Monday at one o’clock central.


Traci Scherck: Where we have three key HR questions that we bring up weekly that are timely and then are there to answer your questions, so if you are interested in that you can also find out how to sign up for that in our show notes thanks so much and have a great rest of your day.