Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Charity sector HR: where the real action is!

I suspect that the air turned blue in many of the UK’s charities this week when the sector’s HR community read an article in this month’s People Management magazine in which an (alleged) careers guidance expert gave the advice that experience in the charity sector was probably a factor which may have limited an individual’s ability to progress into a senior level HR role.

“Our three experts show People Management readers how to get their working lives back on track” claimed the article, which then posed the question of “Is my charity career putting people off?” asked by  a Regional HR Business Partner who felt that his career had stalled, but was looking to become a Head of HR or HRD, ideally within the private sector. 

"I don’t think your age is a factor ... It’s more likely to be your charity experience" was the supposedly helpful advice given to the above individual, who voiced concern that “common misconceptions about charities are leading to my applications not being shortlisted.”

If there are any common misconceptions about the validity of HR experience gained within the charity sector, it’s time they were consigned to the dustbin of history, not only so that the solid professionalism of the sector’s HR community is recognised, but also so that those recruiting into critical roles outside this sector don’t overlook a talent pool filled with some of the most highly qualified, able, committed and inspiring individuals you could ever have the pleasure of meeting.

Let’s have a brief look at why far from providing limiting HR experience, a career in the charity sector can give an HR professional exposure to challenges which will develop skills in a way that the private sector will not be able to.

Working alongside HR colleagues in the international development provokes me into asking the following questions:

  • How many HR professionals in commercial organisations can claim to have experience of managing life-threatening negotiations with rebels who have kidnapped a number of their company’s staff? 
  • How many have been part of the rapid deployment team mobilising the response to one of the recent global disasters such as the Haitian earthquake or Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines?
  • Hands up all those who have managed the people implications of transforming their organisation from one based in the UK to one based in South Africa with regional hubs spread across the continents? 
  • How many private sector HR professionals not only do an amazing job during the week, but also are actively involved in campaigning on behalf of their organisation during their spare time?

It also needs pointing out that particularly within campaigning charities, and especially those involved in international development, the competition for roles across the organisation as a whole is overwhelmingly intense. As was pointed out in a recent article in The Guardian, 98 out of 100 applications for an internship position (in my current organisation) having either a Masters, a PhD or a Law Degree was nothing out of the ordinary. Far from getting OUT of the sector being an issue, it’s getting INTO it that is difficult for the thousands of people who want to carve out a career in a meaningful and high impact role.

Many individuals within the charity sector have made a conscious decision to move into an organisation that is in alignment with their personal values, often leaving behind a successful (and frequently more lucrative!) role in the private sector in order to genuinely make a difference in their chosen field. I’ve personally worked with fantastic HR colleagues who have earned their stripes in organisations such as BBC and IBM, as well as some of the most prestigious management consultancies, financial services organisations, political bodies and High Street supermarkets. 

On a personal note, prior to a move into the international development sector, I’ve had the privilege of working with some outstanding HR colleagues in not only the fast-paced world of manufacturing but also the high technology environment of aerospace and defence; I wouldn’t for one moment wish to downplay any of their skills, impact and achievements, but I will have to say that for professionalism, capability, enthusiasm, hard work, inspiration, engagement, and recognition from managers of the provision of a strategic and operational high quality HR service, you don’t need to look any further than my current HR team.

There's a lesson to be learned from the article in People Management magazine for all those seeking career development advice: make sure that the expert you turn to for guidance knows what he or she is talking about. Sadly the one referred to above clearly doesn't.

Monday, 16 December 2013

The year ahead in HR: Your month by month guide to 2014

Yes, it's that time of year when the blogosphere is alive with predictions of what is going to happen in the year ahead.

But here, to save you valuable time which otherwise might be wasted in wading your way through the plethora of predictions for the HR profession for 2014, courtesy of the prophetic skills of the HR Case Studies editorial team, are the only predictions that you will need for the year ahead.

Money back if not entirely satisfied!
While every prediction of what will happen in HR in 2014 fades faster than a festive hangover as soon as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, this month also sees the publication of the 2014 "HR Professionals Who Have Been Very Influential and Achieved Far More Than Those Who Appear on Completely Subjective and Unverifiable Lists" list. It is long.
This month kicks off with the earliest appearance yet of the ubiquitous and perennial “How to Avoid Embarrassment at the Christmas Party” articles in various HR journals and websites.
A journalist with little or no knowledge of the profession announces its imminent demise. HR professionals work themselves up into a frenzy about the inaccuracy of the article, shortly before realising that no-one else is either reading the article, or in the slightest bit interested anyway.
There is despair in the UK coaching profession when a scientific study proves conclusively that motivational tweets have no effect whatsoever on personal performance. "Never mind" says Sharon (NLP Master Practitioner, Yoga Black Belt, and author of "Discover Your Inner Lioness") “The answers can be as clear as day, but if you keep looking for dark storm clouds, you will never see the sun of truth”
Rumours surface of a candidate actually being satisfied with the service received from a recruitment consultancy. Despite a lengthy investigation, ultimately no evidence of the existence of the candidate is found.  
"The seven secrets of how to achieve mega-stardom by including a number in the title of your book, while at the same time appearing awesome at interview,  redefining your personal brand and achieving fame as a thought leader" becomes the longest title to be listed on Amazon while simultaneously failing to sell a single copy. 
England crash ignominiously out of the World Cup, provoking cries of “How can this load of muppets justify the amount of money they are paid?” and “Don’t they realise that Alf Ramsey only earned £7,200 per year when he guided England to glory in 1966?”
A user of LinkedIn claims that it actually helped him find a job. This is later shown to be a marketing gimmick devised by LinkedIn.
IKEA announces its new Ulrich range of furniture. It features a stool with an interchangeable number of legs.
A case reaches the European Court of Human Rights in which the plaintiff alleges that they were discriminated against by being the only person in the organisation who couldn’t bring a claim for discrimination on any grounds. They claim that this is a fundamental breach of their human rights.
During the 2014 CIPD conference in Manchester, police are called to intervene following violence between opposing factions in a debate on the role social media can pay in promoting employee engagement and participation
The entire HR profession shouts as one, “Please, JUST FOR ONCE, can we have a year that ends without the interminable and meaningless predictions for next year?”

Thursday, 10 October 2013

How to speak like a Thought Leader in one easy lesson without even trying

The entire editorial team of HR Case Studies furrowed its collective brow this week when it read that Management Guru Tom "In Search of Excellence" Peters had given his opinion that, "Big Data will re-imagine HR"

"Such poetry," as none of the team was heard to say

"I couldn't have put it clearer myself" said no-one at all in the team.

"What the bloody hell is that supposed to mean" as everyone chanted in unison.

But fear not, dear reader. All is not lost.

To ease you into the weekend, we bring you the HR Case Studies guide to speaking meaningless HR jargon. To instantly sound like someone who can add "Thought Leader" to your LinkedIn profile, all you need is contained in the section below.

Simply choose any phrase from Group A, randomly select a link from Group B, and then add a further utterly meaningless group of words from Group C, and before you can say "Human Capital Management" you'll be talking like someone at an international HR conference!

No surgery required!

Group A
Big data
Employee Engagement
360 degree appraisal
An innovative social media policy
Our sophisticated talent management pipeline
The cloud-based HRIS
This year's Employee Voice Initiative
Our outcome-based reward system
The enterprise wellness programme
This year's employee recognition scheme
Our Web 2.0 open-source participation platform
The learning and development mechanism
Improved IT functionality
The company self-service HR portal

Group B
Has a potential to
Promises to
Offers an opportunity to
Will undoubtedly

Group C
Re-imagine HR
Minimise avoidable attrition
Facilitate peer-to-peer feedback
Maximise People Performance
Unlock hidden talent
Leverage human capital
Equip managers in evidence based decision making
Lock in below-the-line financial savings
Push the envelope of staff motivation
Generate maximum stakeholder participation
Seamlessly network critical staff
Achieve collaborative alignment
Optimise peak performance

Monday, 30 September 2013

You can lead an HR Professional to culture ...

To be honest, I'm not really convinced that there are management lessons to be learned from rock music, or indeed from any form of music. (Other, of course, than from cool contemporary jazz which is simply awash with ideas about creativity, improvisation, cooperation, empathy etc. etc. !)
But having recently had the opportunity to observe at close quarters some of the world's top conductors masterfully directing the juggernaut of a 100 strong orchestra, there are at least a couple of leadership insights to be shared.
Let's take Esa-Pekka Salonen's guidance of the Royal Festival Hall based Philharmonia Orchestra to give us some tips. 
His conducting of Edgar Varese's Ameriques led one reviewer to say, "the numerous climaxes at the end of the work kept growing louder and louder, Salonen forcing his orchestra to the edge of what is possible in a concert hall". Admittedly it's a pretty obscure piece that is rarely performed, but all you need to know about the piece is that it builds to a crescendo of ear-splitting magnitude. A bit like Stairway to Heaven on steroids. As the final chord rang out, Salonen was literally on his tiptoes, arms aloft,  waving his fist into the air, pleading with the orchestra to blow, bow, or hit their instruments for a few moments longer. Like Communist Party officials not wanting to be the first one to cease applauding the Soviet leader after his two-hour speech, the musicians were latched onto the conductor's gestures, not daring to let the conductor out of their field of vision or to be the first one to expire.  When Salonen at last brought down his arms the audience went ape, as much out of relief as in appreciation.  
Interestingly, it turns out that in the afternoon's rehearsal, the conductor had refused to allow the orchestra to practice the final crescendo. Clearly he wanted the orchestra not to take for granted how the piece would end, but have to rely on him to guide them through the final few bars, and to totally commit themselves to his vision for how the piece would conclude. 
Leadership Lesson No. 1: Sometimes you need to surprise your team by taking them (metaphorically!) somewhere they are not expecting to go.
Next: Same conductor, same orchestra, different piece. 
This time EPS is waggling his stick to direct the orchestra in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. 
Sometimes he does the to-be-expected thing of waving his arms about like a man plugged into the national grid. Sometimes he bends over and almost pleads with the front row of the violins to play with more expression. Sometimes he points to the french horns inviting them to tone it down a bit. The orchestra responds to his bidding. 
But there are occasions when the orchestra is chugging along very nicely thank you very much, when he just stands there, arms at his side. No facial gestures. No arm waggling. Just stands there.
It's as if he's saying, "That's it. You're doing fine, playing what you're supposed to be, so you don't need me to intervene in any way. Just keep going."
Leadership Lesson No. 2: If your team are doing what they are paid to do, why not just leave them to get on with it? Save your grand gestures and arm waving for when its really needed. 
(Cue wild applause from appreciative audience, bow, exit stage left)

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Pretentious? Moi?

The editorial team of HR Case Studies decided it was time to top up on culture on Saturday evening, so we all sauntered along for a performance of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes at the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank. 
(OK. I know that I will have lost some of you already, but stick with it. After all, Punk Rock HR and Acoustic HR shouldn't have a monopoly on the blogosphere, should they!)
The performance was good. Conductor Vladimir Jurowski waved his stick at the orchestra and they responded to his bidding. The solo singers and large choir gave it loads. The audience were impressed and gave the entire cast a rapturous ovation.  We all thought that we'd had a decent night out. 
But apparently we'd only experienced a fraction of what The Experts had experienced. 
Writing in The Arts Desk, David Nice (Mmm .. lovely name...) opined that "Jurowski blinded us with magnesium-flare projections of Britten’s sparest sounds, London Philharmonic strings lean and hungry"  ("Presumably something that came out of the reviewers arse since he's so far up it" as one of my recently acquired twitterchums put it so succinctly)
And similarly, Edward Seckerson waxed lyrical and observed that, "Interestingly enough, the other storm – the one in Grimes’ soul which vents during the act two Passacaglia – was Jurowski’s other physical and emotional climacteric."
Clearly the HR Case Studies Team is made up of a bunch of Philistines, as the magnesium-flare projections went completely unobserved, and we didn't even get a whiff of the emotional climacteric.
OK, I'm sure you get the point. Both these reviews are full of utterly pretentious nonsense that alienates a large section of the population. Far from encouraging the uninitiated to participate in (actually, the most appropriate word is "enjoy") such performances, they portray (in this case) classical music as something that can only be REALLY understood by the inner circle of the cognoscenti with access to The Hidden Knowledge. 
Of course, in the down-to-earth world of HR, we're never guilty of such obscure, exclusive terminology, are we?
We never talk of "leveraging Web 2.0 technology in enhancing our internal human capital" do we? (I think that one is "online training courses")
The words "ensuring effective on-boarding of employees through a cross-functional welcome programme to achieve rapid alignment with organisational values" are never on our lips, are they? (In the Good Old Days, that was what we used to call "Induction")
We never send a promotional e-mail to prospective clients talking of our "bar-raising performance management methodology which integrates with our international employee participation and engagement portal" do we? (No bloody idea what that one was about, but I've still got the mail if it's your sort of thing)
It's sad to say that within HR we are prone to talk the same sort of bollocks that is spoken by those we criticise, aren't we? ("Why can't the guys in IT just say what they mean" as we often refrain.)
But using such obscure terminology doesn't help demystify the HR profession one little bit. 
Nor does it make you appear clever. It makes you look pretentious. 
And we wouldn't want that, would we?
Keep it simple, boys and girls.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

It's not my fault I'm a rubbish manager - it's genetic (and I'm a Libran)

It's amazing where you can discover linkages to the wonderful world of HR if only you know where to look!

For instance, a recent edition of Radio 4's Start The Week (Monday morning work-out for the grey cells) concerned the rather esoteric subject of "Fairytale Physics" and explored how much of what modern science (especially Physics) claims to describe reality but in fact doesn't!

One of the contributors stated:

"There are a lot of geneticists going out looking out for the obesity gene. When I was a kid, growing up in the village, there was one man who had a known metabolic problem, and he was the only fat man in the village. Now just walk down any street and it’s full of incredibly obese people, and this is a major problem. Reducing our very nature to our genetic make-up absolves us of responsibility for our own lives in some way"

The implication was that now there is supposedly a gene for just about anything and everything (including obesity) you seem to see lots more such people who (presumably) explain their physical condition simply by saying, "I know I'm overweight, but it's genetic.

Oddly enough this doesn’t seem a million miles away from the current trend in popular psychometrics, where certain individuals use their basic level of understanding of the subject to explain their unacceptable behaviour, does it?

How many times have you heard individuals say things such as "Well I'm a Myers-Briggs ENTJ, so I'm bound to jump to conclusions and come across as a bit dictatorial aren't I?" Or "You need to understand that when I did the Transactional Analysis Self Assessment, it showed me that I've got a really strong Hurry Up driver, so that's why I often get impatient with my team"

It is perhaps even more worrying that those who take refuge behind the MBTI psychometric profile, are doing so behind a psychometric profile that is being increasingly questioned with respect to its validity. At times the "OK it may not be scientifically proven, but you've got to admit that it fairly accurately describes the character of a lot of people" sounds remarkably like the view of those who say, "I know that astrology is a load of cobblers, but actually I am a fairly typical Libran you know."

It is as if some people use their psychometric profile to justify their inappropriate behaviour, rather than use it as a way of throwing light on an aspect of their personality that they may wish to modify or eliminate.

All a personality profile can do (however valid and reputable) is to paint a picture of a person's character, style, and likely behaviour in given circumstances. What it can never do is justify that behaviour, especially when it is inappropriate. We behave the way that we do largely because we choose to do so, not because of our Myers Briggs profile, or the fact that Mercury was in the ascendant when we were born.

As ever, Shakespeare has something to say on the issue. As Cassius reminds Brutus shortly before the assassination of Julius Caesar: 

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

(And if this blog seems slightly diplomatic and idealistic, yet at the same time flirtatious and self indulgent, I guess that is what is to be expected from a typical Libran. Possibly!)

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

It's time to celebrate our failures as well as our successes!

It's that time of year again when the HR profession put on its best suit and black tie or cocktail dress and celebrates its amazing achievements at various awards ceremonies for the Best This and Most Impressive That. Drink is (allegedly) taken. Cameras are clicked. Tweets are tweeted.

The rest of the HR world looks on not quite sure whether to feel inadequate, jealous or cynical of those who have navigated their way (in uncomfortable bow-ties or toe-crunching high heels) to the awards ceremony.

But let's admit it, the amazing achievements of the award winners will not be analysed in great detail by anyone other than the judging panel. Perhaps we should be keen to learn if the success of others could be applied to or emulated within our own organisations. But our enthusiasm is sadly limited.

It's time for change.

It's time for honesty.

Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you The Most Spectacular Failure in Implementing an HR Initiative Award.

To qualify for this prestigious new award, all you need to do is document how you failed to plan properly or forgot to take into consideration the views of key stakeholders, communicated the reasons for the initiative badly, allocated insufficient budget, bought the wrong IT system to support the initiative, or simply misjudged the readiness of the organisation for your amazing strategic intervention.

The benefits to the rest of the HR community would be immense. We'd gratefully learn from your mistakes, put a last minute halt to our own organisations' plans to fall into the same trap and reconsider what initiatives we are committed to over the next year.

We'd certainly carefully read of your blunder with a sense of "Phew! There but for the grace of God ..." when the supporting article appeared on the pages of People Management.

And, most importantly, we would all have a good laugh! Only one question to be answered: Who would be brave enough to sponsor such an award?