Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Seven facts that HR professionals need to know about Sathnam Sanghera

Over recent months, Sathnam Sanghera has inflamed, irritated and generally got under the skin of the HR community by writing a series of rabble-rousing articles for his column in the Times, with provocative titles such as Human resources departments: I've never understood the point of them and The fuss that HR makes about itself far outstrips its contribution to the world. His most recent column was a highly critical and at times insulting article directed at Cary Cooper (Lancaster Management School’s Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health) oh-so-humorously entitled Genius or rentagob? Is there an expert we can ask?

It’s clearly time for the HR community to get up off its collective backside and fight back rather than just whinge about the ill-informed populist drivel that this man spouts.

Here are a few arrows to keep in your quiver for the offensive.

He’s a journalist
As such his job is to enrage, provoke and inflame. Compared to the complexities of the HR profession, he’s got a very easy life.

He’s a swot
Graduating from Cambridge with a first class degree in English Language and Literature in 1998 clearly marks him out as someone who is much more at home in the world of academia rather than managing the critical and often conflicting demands of employees and management in a challenging commercial environment. Incidentally, previous alumni of his Cambridge college include John Milton and Sacha Baron Cohen, so there’s a wide spectrum of role models to be emulated, isn’t there?

He’s a novelist
As you’ll see from his highly self-congratulatory website, the achievement of which he’s most proud is his first book (“The Boy With The Topknot: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton.) This obviously leads one to believe that he has major problems distinguishing between fact and fiction in his writing about HR. Incidentally, one reviewer said of the book, "This is by no means a literary effort. It reads as though he is talking to himself, which is basically what he is doing."

He has had difficulty in holding a job down
Of his own admission Sanghera mentions that before settling down as a writer (not “journalist” please note: that would imply a degree of objectivity and investigation which is sadly lacking from most of his writing) he had “amongst other things,” jobs at a burger chain, a hospital laundry, a market research firm, a sewing factory and a literacy project in New York. Perhaps this maybe the source of his dislike of HR, as one can easily imagine an interviewing HR Manager questioning the likelihood of him remaining in post before the beefburger burns or the hot-wash cycle ends. But then this is a man that is on record as saying, “The hardest thing in life is to work out what you want to do. Once you have worked that out, it is relatively easy to do.”

He gives a new meaning to the word “Narcissistic”
His website consists of little else other than a litany of his achievements and awards, plus links to his writings and projects.

He has no experience of the profession that he criticises
“I’ve never really understood the point of human resources departments” he proclaims in one of his articles. But in the next sentence he admits “I’ve never dealt with HR myself.” Readers will surely draw their own conclusion to such contradictions.

He very mischievously bites the hand than feeds him
Putting aside the assertion that he’s never dealt with HR, he proudly proclaims that his “numerous prizes for journalism” include Watson Wyatt HR Journalist of the Year (“Recognising those journalists who have highlighted issues central to HR management”) in both 2006 and 2009. In 2009 he also received an award in the training and development category. Not bad for someone who has “never had dealings with HR.”

OK HR Community: On your feet and respond!


  1. So I guess he’s not one of your fantasy dinner party guests then!!

    Great piece – trouble is it really needs to feature in the Times letters page not on a HR blog site where you are pushing at an open door. Those who know HR will be able to set his views against reality – not so for those who have no experience of the profession and whose views are likely to be shaped by what they read in the press (especially if it’s written by a literary genius)!!

    But thank your for filling my quiver, it’s much appreciated!


  2. Personally, I think he should be treated like a child having a tantrum and ignored. Although the thought of putting him on the naughty step does appeal too!

  3. I have a new rule.....happy that people criticize HR and happy to have a debate, but you can only do it if you tell us what you do for a job so we can comment on that?

    Anyone want to play....go on it will be fun!

  4. If you read the previous blogs that Mr Salisbury has posted you will see that he is not averse to casting a critical eye upon the his own profession. HR isn’t perfect, what profession is?

    The point of the blog, as I read it any way, is to highlight the fact the Mr Sanghera criticises from a point of ignorance.


  5. Now this looks like fun!!

    Here we go....

    @ TheHRD I'm unemployed but used to be Global Head of Customer & Market Research for a FTSE 100 company. Comment away.

    @ BunchberryFern Nicely put and you get my vote on pretty much every point.

    @ EBTG I'd hope SS *is* on Graham's dinner party list. He'd provide a useful counterbalance to other guests that would make for a fascinating, entertaining evening.

    And my penn'orth? Well, I think the real issue here is the poor communication by HR professionals about their role and value within the companies they work for and beyond. It is this lack of effective communication that allows Sanghera to write these pieces.

    Obviously, I can only speak from my own experience but HR, like many functions, has good and bad. It is also stretched from operational pay & rations issues to strategic 'added value' demands. I've worked closely with some brilliant people at all levels in HR and I've also worked very closely with Management Boards reviewing the perfoamnce of HR functions.

    However, my lasting impression is that Board members want visibility, credibility and engagement and that the middle managers want the processes to work, quickly and with the minimum of hassle. Sadly, over many many years I can't say I've seen either of these achieved *consistently* and satisfactorily.

    Positioning and presenting HR, as a function that adds value as well as providing a necessary service, is the job of the top woman or man (aided and abetted by Board colleagues and the marketing function). And, honestly, there are few that can really do this well.

    I think its time to rework the HR business model.

  6. Well said Mikey B. And given that you are speaking from your own experience -fancy a job with the Times?

    Now here’s an idea, Mr Editor – how about arranging a HR Case Studies ‘soiree’ for contributors and subjects alike. Would be a stimulating evening me thinks!


  7. I have to agree with Sathnam Sanghera. Of course you're going to defend it as your livelihood depends on it. And it's not your fault- it was the Labour government's increasing bureaucracy which has made HR so complicated and ironically, needing so many staff to run.

    You'd really need someone outside the HR community to convince the rest of us of your purpose. Because us ordinary people trying to get jobs, are certainly not convinced of your worth.

  8. Anonymous (7th July): Thanks for the comment. I'd like to suggest that there's more to HR than employee relations inspired bureaucracy and recruitment. In fact many organisations (especially larger ones) have outsourced their recruitment service which sadly means that you're not even talking to a true employee of the company (whether in HR or not) at this important phase. At least the debate seems to be bubbling up within HR that it has a significant role to play in identifying suitable talent from within the pool of those currently out of work. That for me is one of HR's biggest challenges in the near future.