Monday, 5 December 2011

Lady Gaga: My Life in HR

Readers may be surprised to note that, despite being nominated as an “alternative” keynote speaker for the 2012 CIPD Conference, Lady Gaga has currently polled only one vote on the HR Case Studies poll.

The editorial team managed to catch up with the provocateuse of pop in the middle of her “Born This Way” tour, and ask her if she’s surprised with her low popularity rating.

Editor: Despite your popularity in the world of pop, you’ve not received many votes in support of you speaking at next year’s CIPD Conference. Why do you think that this might be?

I guess it’s probably due to the fact that most people only know of my music work, and are unaware that for me pop superstardom is just a sideline. What gives my life most meaning is the work I do as HR Director for the American Bacon Federation. Like all HR roles, it’s a stressful job, and my music career started off just as a way of de-stressing after a busy day in the office.

Editor: What are the major challenges that you’re currently facing in your HR role?

Well, within the American Bacon Federation we’re really forward-looking in a lot of what we do, so we’re considering the introduction of an electronic timekeeping system to keep a record of employees’ working time, and we’re also looking into the introduction of single-status canteens in our head office.

Editor: I hear that you’ve also been working with a few UK organisations on the internal design of office space. Can you tell us a little about that?

Sure. I think that organisations need to be increasingly tolerant of all the different belief systems present in the workplace, and currently those who espouse a bacon-focused way of life seem to be neglected. At the ABF we’ve recently converted a spare office into a space for those with a devotion to bacon to practice their belief system. I think it’s important for employees to be able to take a short break from the relentless pressure of the modern workplace and just unwind in a bacon-infused environment.

To make sure that we’re inclusive, the bacon sanctuary also features interchangeable stained glass windows so that those employees with more of a devotion to cheese or sardines can feel at home in an environment where they are surrounded by images which reflect their beliefs.

We’re also working closely with an aromatherapy consultancy to explore the circulation of various food-related scents into the open-plan offices. So far, a pilot project has delivered great results, and there’s a demonstrable link with output. At the ABF we’re calling it the Pong-Productivity Effect.

Editor: If you were to speak at next year’s CIPD Conference, can you give us an idea of what you’d be presenting on?

It would have to be the importance of using bacon in any employee well-being programme. 

Editor: Thanks for that. I’m sure that you’ll be receiving a lot more votes now that people realise the contribution that you’ve been making to HR.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

You're going the wrong way!

This morning my car is currently sitting in the small office car park where I work.

Nothing particularly newsworthy in that, I hear you say, but it actually represents a painful lesson learned over the last 48 hours.

For the last 12 months I have taken the same route to work. It's a journey of about 15 miles across the outskirts of London and normally takes me about 40 minutes through typical stop/start urban traffic. I measure if I'm on schedule against what's on the Radio 4 Today programme at particular stages of the journey: To arrive at work on time I need to be in the car by the business news, at Tolworth roundabout by the sports update, and driving over Kingston Bridge by Thought For The Day.

I've been convinced that my route to work is the shortest and fastest that I could take, and I've disregarded advice from those trying to persuade me that there are better routes to follow.

But yesterday there was serious congestion in the early part of my journey, and I decided to turn back and try a different route rather than just sit in the non-moving traffic. I was surprised at how free-flowing the traffic was and, even allowing for the disrupted journey, I arrived at work at pretty much the same time as normal.

So this morning I tried an alternative route to work. Simply turned left at the first set of traffic lights rather than driving straight across. Yes, you've guessed it: the route is shorter, faster, more free-flowing (and also more picturesque!) than my previous one, and it also means that I get to work early enough to claim one of the few coveted spaces in the car park.

So here I am, wishing that I'd tried a different route a long time ago. Just think of all the time, petrol and money I would have saved by listening to the advice of others and not stubbornly believing that I knew best and that there was nothing to be gained by considering other options.

Extending this a bit wider, I wonder how many of us hold onto opinions, prejudices, convictions and groundless beliefs and constantly refuse to consider the views and insight of others? It's very easy to be so entrenched in a position that it would take much more than mere traffic congestion to get us to consider an alternative position. Realising that you're wrong about something isn't exactly easy, and often it makes you see that in the past you were a bit of a fool.

But to do so may well lead to something more significant than just a place in the car park!

Monday, 21 November 2011

The fruitless search for employee happiness

Imagine this:

It's October 2015, and England are up against reigning champions New Zealand in the final of the rugby World Cup at Twickenham. In the 79th minute, with both teams level on points, in front of a crowd of 82,000 Jonny Wilkinson steps up to take a penalty which, if converted, will almost certainly give England the victory and make amends for the team's hapless performance in 2011.

Wilkinson places the ball, takes a couple of steps backwards, clasps his hands in his trademark prayer-like gesture and focuses his gaze on the target.

Quietly, just before he begins his run-up, the HR Director of the England Team steps up to Wilkinson and asks:

"Are you happy, Jonny?"

What would Wilkinson's response be?

More than likely it would be one of puzzlement and confusion at the nature of the question. Quite probably Wilkinson would state that at that precise moment in time the question was utterly irrelevant. I imagine that he'd say words to the effect of, "Right now, all I'm bothered about it making sure that this ball gets between those posts. Whether or not I'm happy is of no interest to me. Once I've kicked the ball and scored the points, ask me again and I'll tell you how I feel. But right now I have a job to do."

The same scenario could have been repeated this year with Jenson Button on the starting grid of the Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix in Montreal, or Stuart Broad as he prepared to attempt to claim a hat-trick against India in the second test against India at Trent Bridge.

In all these cases, the response of those in question would be to indicate that whether or not they were happy just didn't enter their mind as they prepared to undertake the task in hand, but that they simply had a job to do, and that any happiness would follow the completion of the challenge, not precede it.

So why do we seem to be obsessed with the concept of employee satisfaction and engagement? From the overwhelming range of tools and techniques available to measure and improve employee satisfaction, you could be excused for thinking that making the workforce happy was the sole purpose of HR's existence.

The pursuit of employee satisfaction seems to have become more important than ensuring that employees are fully equipped to do their jobs, and are effectively managed to enable their organisation to achieve its strategy.

Surely it's the case that happiness is a product of success, not a prerequisite for it?

Sunday, 20 November 2011

8 million UK workers are miserable. Are you one of them?

According to research reported by the Chartered Management Institute, almost eight million of us workers in the UK are unhappy in the roles we currently occupy.

The incisive, in-depth, profound, comprehensive (and 100% sarcasm free) research into worker satisfaction found that 28 per cent of workers are unhappy in their role, although only 25 per cent are currently looking for career development opportunities elsewhere. How many of the 25 per cent listen to the news, I wonder?

Also, according to the findings, UK workers think a good salary is the key to happiness at work, with 64 per cent of respondents stating that a good salary would make them altogther more cheerful. Herzberg, where are you now that your transatlantic cousins need you?

Who commissions these surveys? I though that the Ministry for Research into the Flipping Obvious was one of the quangos that was wound up just after the current coalition government was elected?

Let's face it, we're living at a 17-year high point in unemployment. According to the Office of National Statistics, the unemployment rate stands at 8.3%. Between July and September of this year, UK unemployment rose by 129,000 between July and September to 2.62 million.

For the UK's youth, the situation is even more bleak, with over 20% of those aged 16-24 out of employment.

To make matters worse, inflation is wobbling at around the 5% mark, and bank interest rates for those fortunate enough to have any savings are so low that the biscuit tin under the bed seems an attractive location for any few coppers remaining at the end of the month.

Bearing all the above in mind, is it actually surprising that UK workers are not currently constantly convulsed with laughter?

What is irritating is not so much the fact that the outcome of such reseach could be predicted in advance, but that there is a hint that if employees are unhappy, it is inevitably the fault of management who must thereofore also do whatever it can to turn its workforce into deliriously happy chappies!

Or am I just being Mr Grumpy?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Once upon a time there was a wicked old HR Manager ....

I recently spent some time talking with the Senior Management Team of an organisation, discussing their perceptions of HR and also what sort of service they required from HR in the future.

On a number of occasions, leaders would tell me that they had heard that it was said of HR that they were slow, inaccessible, a blocker to progress or some other negative comment. When asked for a specific example of this, the senior manager would often backtrack slightly and explain that “I haven’t found this to be the case myself, but I’ve certainly heard other people saying such things.” 

My response was (as politely as possible!) to suggest that it wasn’t particularly helpful for anyone if unsubstantiated rumours, gossip and anecdotes were passed off as if they were accurate, and that spreading such views should be contained and suppressed.

Someone far less diplomatic than I might have commented, “If you haven’t got any evidence behind your statement, then you need to shut up.”

Controlling the truth of what is said of the HR profession is a difficult challenge, particularly as such nonsense is regularly spouted about us.

Here’s an example: Yesterday, a widely circulated article asked the question “Is HR Killing Another Generation of Technology Innovation?” The article concerns a recent report in the Wall Street Journal which mentions that companies can keep track of their workers by checking their status updates on various social media sites. “When HR organizations start to use these tools to track employees and measure productivity, we have killed another generation of trust and innovation that HR should be fostering” says yesterday’s article.

So what’s the picture that we’re given? It’s one of an HR function that sneakily - or possibly formally - checks up on employees to make sure that they are in the right place at the right time and that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. It’s one of an HR function that is suspicious of the company’s employees and therefore utilises available technology to keep an eye on what they are doing. Big Bad HR, doing its normal thing of suppressing innovation and destroying the trust of its employees.

Only one problem. The original Wall Street Journal article doesn’t mention HR once. There's nothing in there at all to suggest that any such initiative is being driven by HR.

But from reading yesterday’s article, you’d be excused that this is all part of The Big Plan of HR to control a company’s employees. It’s just another example of the way that sloppy reporting starts to spread stories about HR that are far from the truth.

My plea: let’s get behind the facade of the half truths about our beloved HR function. When the stories are based on truth we need to respond. When they are based on myth, we need to expose them as such.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

German Rock Music and Plain-Speaking HR: Tenuous Links and Self-Indulgence!

Time for a tenuous link or two, plus some shameless self indulgence today.

First, here's the self-indulgent bit. Unless you're German, the chances are that you won't have encountered the German rock band Juli. It's a shame really, as they are equally as good, if not far better than most of the bland processed junk that we are fed in the UK. The same goes for a number of other German rock bands such as Wir Sind Helden and Silbermond.

They are all popular in their native Germany but have had limited success outside their home country, for the simple reason that they only sing in German.

Here's a quick experiment: check out the video of Juli's "Perfekt Welle" on the sidebar on the right. This song got to number two in the German charts and sold a healthy 160,000 copies. Incidentally, the song, which concerns (at first glance) a surfer who is waiting for the Perfect Wave to ride on, was removed from the German radio playlists just after the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, when the lyrics were thought to be rather inappropriate.

Go on, give the song a listen.

Done that? Good. OK; now it's time for a question: What would record sales of bands such as Juli be like if the band performed in English, I wonder? Perhaps I'm simply betraying my preference for melodic and intelligent rock, but I'd like to believe that an English-speaking audience would be happy to part company with the odd couple of quid in exchange for the purchase of a CD (do people buy CD's anymore, or am I totally out of touch?) of the band. Put simply, I supect that if the band sang in English, they'd be as popular outside their native Germany as they are within it.

Right. Time for the tenuous link. How much of what we say as HR professionals is expressed in a language that only we understand? Don't we sometimes use terminology that overcomplicates what we're doing, and don't we sometimes do that because underneath it all we realise that our message is very simple, but by using long words it gives us the appearance of being experts in a highly technical field?

Basically if we spoke the language of the masses, wouldn't our message be heard and understood by a wider audience?

So who's with me as a founder member of the Campaign for Plain-Speaking HR?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

HR, Organisational Development .... and all that Jazz

Now that the 2011 CIPD Conference in Manchester is in the past, I've had a couple of days to reflect on the highs and lows, and consider which of the seminars and sessions will be the most likely to leave lasting impressions, and also to ponder what the annual gathering says about those of us who work in the people business.

My immediate observation is that HR remains a profession in search of an identity. The long-running debate on what unique offering can be made by HR has clearly not yet been resolved. In particular the question of what is the relationship between HR and Organisational Development rambles on pretty much as it has done over the last few years, with little likelihood of an answer or agreement.

One or two of the sessions pointed to a recognition that we know that OD is something that HR professionals are supposed to "do", despite the fact that we're not quite sure what it is. Much as I enjoyed participating in one of the longer afternoon workshops promising I'd leave with a deeper of understanding of organisational development and leadership, I'd argue that there was little in the session that most HR professionals would recognise as solid OD content.

I was reminded of a gig I went to in a pub a few years ago, where the band (Metro Jazz, I recall with amusement) announced their first number with the words "This is a Jazz song by The Jam" and then launched into a relatively faithful-to-the-original rendition of Going Underground. Down in the Tube Station at Midnight, and Eton Rifles were also each introduced as "Another Jazz song by The Jam."

I left after about four numbers. It was fun, but it wasn't Jazz. I'd gone to hear a Jazz group, but was treated to a few frivolous moments of English Punk Rock/Mod Revival. Just calling something Jazz doesn't make it Jazz. Just calling something OD doesn't make it Organisational Development either.

The CIPD's own definition of OD is "A planned and systematic approach to enabling sustained organisation performance throught the involvement of its people." Even the somewhat confusing syntax of that definition betrays the confusion that persists in the minds of many of us in the HR profession.

To be quite honest, althought I firmly believe that OD is important for HR, I'm not totally clear on what it is.

Are you any wiser?

Anyway, to avoid frying my brain, I'm going to listen to some real Jazz. Enjoy the clip in the sidebar on the right. It's by the Esbjorn Svensson Trio, whose leader died in a scuba diving accident in 2008 at the tragically early age of 44.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Theology and HR Converge at 2011 CIPD Conference

One of the themes that appears to be running through the CIPD conference in Manchester this year is that of playing to your strengths.

Sessions which cover this theme include:

  • Making an impact: using your strengths for exceptional working relationships
  • Taking a strengths-based approach to performance management
  • Strengthening resilience against stress at work

And then of course there’s today’s closing keynote address by (swoon ladies, for it is The Handsome One!) Marcus Buckingham , who has made a lucrative career for himself exploring the concept of finding your strengths and using them. 

Areas to be covered by Marcus Buckingham include:

  • Recognising the strengths that exist in your organisation and how to utilize them for individual and business success
  • Acquiring tools and techniques for ensuring your people are leveraging their strengths, and being supported to do so by managers and leaders

The strengths-based approach represents a subtle shift from previous attitude to people management, including how we equip those in the HR profession to perform in their roles. Gone are the days when the focus was solely on providing HR professionals with new skills, be those ones of negotiation, consultancy or business partnership. Now the focus is much more on identifying abilities already possessed and putting them to good use.

It’s more a case of Stop Trying To Be Someone Else, and Start Being The Person That You Already Are.

As a Theologian in the world of HR, I would say this, wouldn’t I, but this is not a particularly new idea.  The New Testament Parable of the Talents covers exactly the same theme: that of recognising what your gifts, abilities or strengths are, and putting them to good use in the service of others. In fact the New Testament approach to talent development is far more radical than anything that you’ll hear at the CIPD Conference this year. The New Testament doesn’t simply say that it would be A Good Idea if you used your talents. It tells us that you can either Use Then Or Lose them. It suggests that to ignore the abilities that you have is actually irresponsible.

So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.

So, Dear HR Case Studies readers: Do you know what your strengths or talents are? And, more importantly, are you using them?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Where have all the blonde girls gone?

Until yesterday, my only visit to the CIPD Conference and Exhibition was back in the Thatcherite era of the late 1980s.

Clearly a lot has changed since then.

But there are two groups of people who very much in evidence at my last Conference in 1988, that are noticeable by their absence this year:

Tall, long-legged blonde girls and fat, ugly blokes.

Let’s take the girls first. Back in 1988 it was practically impossible to navigate your way from one end of the exhibition accompanying the conference itself without being accosted by a succession of impossibly attractive and amply-bosomed, flaxen haired beauties. Generally they would offer you the chance to win a bottle of single malt whisky or a bottle of champagne in exchange for your business card and their sales pitch about time and attendance systems or employee loyalty schemes.

Somewhere over the years the girls have disappeared, as have most of the alcoholic incentives to chat with the representatives on the stand. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that in Manchester this year, it’s easier to talk to Alcoholics Anonymous (they are next to the ACAS stand) than it is to get a drink in the exhibition centre.

The other group that are missing are the fat, ugly blokes.

Their absence is actually more of a concern. These are the Trade Union representatives who in the 1980s were a regular sight on the presentation stage at almost every annual HR (sorry, Personnel Management) conference. People like John Edmonds of the EETPU, who would regularly share the platform with Peter Wickens of Nissan to talk about how a deal for single union recognition had been struck at the car manufacturer’s Washington plant. 

Generally, the focus of their speech would be on how UK companies needed to move away from a confrontational industrial relations style to one that was more collaborative and inclusive.

Back in 1988, the annual CIPD conference in Harrogate (so perhaps they just do things differently across the Pennines) was rich in opportunities to explore employee relations issues. This year there’s not one seminar, masterclass or workshop that covers this particular issue.

Is this because employee relations conflict is a thing of the past? The strikes planned for the end of this month by public sector workers clearly indicates that this is not the case.

Research undertaken recently reveals that more than half (54%) of UK senior HR professionals are working in teams in which no one has experience of dealing with trade union action.

If the impact of the current austerity measures in the UK leads (as it surely must) to further disruption in the workplace, I wonder how many of the attendees at this year’s conference might wish that they could have learned a bit more about dealing with a difficult employee relations situation, rather than discover yet more about talent pipelines and future-proofing your organisation.

One final thought: if HR isn’t capable of managing employee relations issues in future, who’s going to pick it up instead of us?

Monday, 7 November 2011

How to experience the CIPD Conference without leaving the comfort of your own home

As many of the readers of HR Case Studies will know, the annual CIPD HR Conference is taking place this week in Manchester.

Clearly getting there will be a problem for those HR Case Studies readers based in (I jest not) French Polynesia, Guadeloupe, or the Turks and Caicos Islands.

So if you're one of those who will unfortunately be absent from the CIPD conference, here's a way to enjoy the intellectual stimulation of the event from the comfort of your own kitchen.
  1. Download the attached document
  2. Print the document on good quality paper
  3. Cut out all the words into separate strips of paper
  4. Choose a selection of terms (carefully extracted from this year's conference programme)
  5. Apply glue to the back of your selected terms
  6. Arrange your selected terms into a (possibly) meaningful sentence which may (or may not) be uttered by one of the conference speakers
  7. Apply to a flat surface of your choice
  8. Stand back and observe your handiwork
  9. Marvel at the result
  10. Share your learning with other HR Case Studies readers
Download your HR Case Studies DIY CIPD HR Conference here

Young readers: make sure that you get your parents' permission before slicing through the tablecloth with a Stanley knife, or sticking your newly-created strategic musings over the Canaletto in the hallway.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Executive Pay: The Subject Which Must Not Be Named

It’s the week of the annual CIPD conference, where the great and the good of the HR world get together to “learn from best practice examples from leading organisations ... pick up practical tools that you can implement right away in your organisation... and hear the most current thinking from high quality speakers who have been there before.”

And with split second timing, one of the most high profile members of the profession makes a public attack on the excesses of executive pay, saying that “top pay has been found to bear little or no relation to company performance”

He goes on to say that, “Perhaps it would help to make directors and CEOs more accountable to their employees. Perhaps there should be employee representatives on company boards.”

Great to hear a prominent member of the HR profession to be making a public statement on such issues, isn’t it?

The only problem is, that this comment doesn’t come from any member of the HR profession. It comes from John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York.

Let’s look at what the Archbishop says in a bit more detail:

The news that Chief Executives (CEOs) of the FTSE 100 companies last year received average pay increases of almost 50 percent adds urgency to our cause. Typically these CEOs receive 300 times as much as the least well paid British employees in their companies. If they have a responsibility to their staff, it is hard to imagine a more powerful way of telling some people that they are of little value than to pay them one-third of one percent of your own salary. Top pay has been found to bear little or no relation to company performance, but even if it did, isn’t the performance of a company dependent on the work and wellbeing of all its staff?

Do you have to be a senior cleric in the Church of England to realise that paying some employees one-third of one percent of the salary of the CEO of an organisation is blatantly unfair and unjust? I think not.

But is this an issue that the HR profession seems to be happy to tackle?

Judging from the timetable for this year’s CIPD Conference it would appear that the subject of executive remuneration is the HR equivalent of Lord Voldemort: The Subject Which Must Not Be Named.

If you’re interested in Talent Management, Delivering Organisational Effectiveness or Building a Culture of Engagement and Leadership, the conference will have you feeling like a kid in a sweet shop. But if you’re looking for some open and frank discussion about the issue that has got the rest of the population gossiping, you are searching in vain.

OK, as an HR professional with a degree in Theology, I’ve probably got more in common with what Archbishop Sentamu is saying than many of my colleagues. But the question I’d like to ask is this:

If as HR professionals we’re not addressing this issue, who else is?

Come on, HR people! How about responding to this challenge of the Archbishop of York:

Our society will work best when we recognise that as human beings we are all, fundamentally of equal worth and members of one society.

Let us do it. Let us do it now.

Your comments are, as ever, most welcome

Sunday, 9 October 2011

HR Professionals found to be infected by mystery virus

A leaked Top Secret government document reveals that a sinister and malicious virus has been detected infecting the minds of many of the UK’s HR Managers. Concern has been expressed that this virus could seriously affect the performance of the UK economy, and government scientists are frantically attempting to discover the source of the infection before the epidemic spreads to other sectors of the workforce.

The symptoms of the WNA2DT virus (or, to give it its full scientific name, We’re Not Allowed To Do That) are a reluctance (or, in some cases a blank refusal) to grant managers permission to step outside tightly written HR policy, regardless of the business case for doing so.

A side effect of the virus is the infected person experiencing a form of auditory hallucination from a disembodied source, advising them to comply with sometimes outdated rules and procedures. “We’ve been told that we have to do it this way” is a typical statement made by an HR professional infected by a particularly virulent form of WNA2DT. Questioning as to who has told the HR professional to act in this way is unlikely to lead to any clear outcome.

Researchers are exploring the possibility that WNA2DT is a recent mutation of the older HRTMICDT (HR Told Me I Can’t Do That) virus that was widespread across the UK in the last decade. That particular strain which was prevalent in the managerial population normally led to managers absolving themselves of any responsibility for difficult decisions. In its most common form, managers would frequently find themselves telling their direct reports that if it was up to them, they would have given the employee in question a pay rise, but that HR had forbidden or prevented them from doing so.

The UK Infectious Diseases and Immunisation Agency are advising Chief Executives that the most effective way of preventing the spread of this virus is to ensure that all recruited HR professionals have been immunised by a course of CIPD treatment. Although a 12-month course of treatment with the CIPD vaccine offers a high degree of protection, regular group sessions with other vulnerable members of the profession are also likely to strengthen resistance.

For members of the HR community who are keen to increase their resistance to the WNA2DT virus, and consequently improve their effectiveness within their organisations, a three-day immunisation clinic has been arranged in Manchester in November. Details can be found by clicking the link below.

WNA2DT Immunisation Programme: November 2011

Carlos Tevez replaced by German Beauty

A concerted lobbying campaign by a group of influential readers of the HR Case Studies blog has forced the editorial team to remove the picture of Carlos Tevez accompanying an earlier post.

A petition signed by a significant number of readers (OK, one) said:

Please please please do another blog - if only to stop me having to look at that picture of Tevez when I log in. Not the most attractive bloke on the planet.  Reminds me of the Tazmania Devil.

As a consequence, the editorial team has bowed to public pressure and posted this blog item, so that those visiting the site have something more attractive to gaze upon.

The editorial team apologises if you have been lured to this posting expecting a glimpse of Heidi Klum, Claudia Schiffer or (showing my age) Katarina Witt.

On a serious note, Herzberg's theory of motivation would suggest that the positive effect of working in a beautiful environment would rapidly wear off, working conditions only ever being a hygiene factor rather than a motivator.

Is he right? Would you eventually get bored of being greeted by the sight of a beautiful landscape from the office window? Or even of Heidi Klum or Hugh Jackman across the desk?

Or does the readership have any more suggestions of whose presence would really motivate you to get some work done?

Friday, 30 September 2011

What would you do about Carlos Tevez?

The (alleged!) refusal of Manchester City footballer Carlos Tevez to play against Bayern Munich on Tuesday evening has attracted a significant amount of press attention, with a great deal of it focusing on the question of what can be done when such players decide that they are more important than the club itself.

Just to put things in context, Tevez is ranked at No. 7 in the tables of World’s Highest Paid Players, earning an estimated £6.7 million per year. That’s over £128,000 per week to you and me. Gulp.

But does the salary, or even the unquestionable skill of Tevez justify him being a law unto himself?

To answer that. let’s look at the views of another sporting superstar, that of Ethiopian long-distance runner Haile Gebrselassie. He’s won two Olympic gold medals at 10,000 metres and also has World Championship titles at that distance. He’s won the Berlin Marathon four times consecutively and also broken more world records than I’ve had hot dinners. (OK, it’s actually only a mere 27, but I’m sure that you get the point)

Interviewed on Radio 4 this week, Gebrselassie was asked how he’d come to be so successful. His response was revealing:
Training, discipline and commitment. I run 160 miles a week. It’s my job.
His answer mirrored that of Jonathan Edwards (whose triple jump world record set in 1995 still stands) when questioned by Michael Parkinson alongside David Beckham. Parkinson asked Edwards if he was jealous of the amount of money Beckham earned in comparison to himself. Edwards responded:
I think that I get paid pretty well for what I do, which is basically to jump into a sandpit. It’s a job.
For some reason, those fortunate enough to enjoy the riches of the world of football seems to have forgotten that they are still in an employment relationship. What they do is a job.

What would you do if an employee refused to obey a reasonable management instruction? You’d discipline then. What did Manchester City Manager Mancini actually ask Tevez to do on Tuesday? To warm up and go on the pitch and knock a ball around. To do his job. So why all the “What Is To Be Done” soul searching?

So here’s a challenge to all you HR professionals out there? What would you do about Tevez?

Friday, 23 September 2011

Motivational Speakers: It's time to get real

If you’re one of the plethora of self-styled motivational speakers who are pestering the world with their mixture of snake oil and psycho-babble, I’ve got some really sad news for you:

There are some problems in the world.

I guess that this won’t be much of a surprise to most of you, but there’s clearly a bunch of people out there who believe that simply adopting the correct positive mental attitude can make the world into a fairytale wonderland full of opportunities, jollity and general loveliness.

Take the guy ("motivational speaker, presenter, comedian") whose website I stumbled across yesterday. With a waggle of his magic finger (he does seem to point at the camera rather a lot) he’ll help you and your organisation overcome the barriers that hold you back from good performance in life, help you stop being miserable (apparently being miserable is much harder work than being happy) and generally “Make Work Your Play” (insert hand drawn smiley face here …)

His clients love him. One of the testimonials reads “he makes life seem like one big adventure with no real problems or obstacles.”

I have two words for purveyors of such nonsense:

Get Real.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve had the privilege of spending time in the West African nations of Niger and Burkina Faso. I’ve met inspiring women who have built up a collective in their village to scrape together just enough food to keep their families alive after the poor harvest. I’ve spoken to the elders of another village where the nutrition and food distribution programme means that infant mortality is gradually improving. I’ve sat in the rain under the corrugated iron roof with the group of women who are involved in a scheme to provide income by buying, rearing and selling goats. Average Gross National Income in their country is £330. They won’t get anywhere near that.

All of them were inspiring individuals, and their clarity of vision, commitment and rugged determination to succeed represents a challenge to all those who meet them.

But anyone who would dare to suggest that a quick dose of positive mental attitude could make their life “seem like one big adventure with no problems or obstacles” is a braver man than I am.

This world has its problems. Some of them are complex and demanding. But the right approach is to work together to tackle them, not to pretend that by adopting a fixed grin and a jolly demeanour they will all disappear and suddenly the world will become a magical wonderland.

Rant over. You may now get back to work. Or play. Guess it all depends on your attitude.

Psychometric Testing, West Africa Style

If you’re planning on travelling to the tiny village of Leba, which is about 50 miles to the north of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, you’ll need to take with you a guide, a translator and a very sturdy four-wheel drive to cope with the total absence of roads.

But once you’re there, you may be fortunate enough to meet the group of 12 women who have established a partnership aimed at improving the village’s harvest of basic foodstuffs, and also attempting to venture out into some very low level rearing of goats. This year, the group’s main focus is on harvesting the sesame crop, to exploit both the seeds and the oil. The group originally got together as result of a church-based literacy programme, and although they don’t currently produce enough to sell, by working together rather than independently, they have realised that participation leads to greater yields of crops.

Membership of the cooperative is a much sought-after honour, as it brings with is not only access to better nutrition, but also increased respect in the community, so some level of selection is required.

I asked the leader of the group how they decided who should be allowed to become a member, and it was clear that even in an environment that is (literally and metaphorically!) thousands of miles away from the concept of psychometric testing, and competency-based assessment, they had established some very clear criteria for acceptance into the group. These were:

Members must be able to demonstrate that they led lives characterised by discipline.

Their definition of “hard-working” is pretty simple; it means someone who doesn’t sleep in in the mornings.

Members of the group receive a small loan to help them get themselves established. To qualify for such a loan, recipients have to be able to point to other innovative practices which they have introduced to improve their livelihoods.

The group functions as a collective, so anyone who has a track record of being argumentative in the village community is unlikely to be accepted.

A stable and well-behaved family life
All of the members of the group are married, with an average of five children each. They have found that in practice, those women who are mothers of settled and well-behaved families are far more able to make a useful contribution to the work of the collective.

So, dear reader of HR Case Studies: would you get onto the shortlist?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

No jobs for the boys

Some HR challenges are much bigger than others, and one affecting the West African nation of Niger is definitely towards the problematic end of the spectrum.

As in many countries, the people of Niger generally go to where the work is. A sort of West African response to Norman Tebbitt’s suggestion to Get On Your Bike. The serious level of poverty in Niger means that work is often in very short supply, so particularly for those in the north of the country, until recently the most secure form of employment was to cross the border into Libya and fight alongside those loyal to Colonel Gadaffi.

Unfortunately, shares in Gadaffi plc have recently fallen in value, leading to the workforce being downsized (following extensive consultation with employees, of course). Realising that the climate in Libya is not exactly favourable to those who previously supported Gadaffi, and subsequently having been issued with their P45s, many of the displaced Nigerans have headed south, taking with them a wide range of weaponry, a high degree of frustration, and an increasing level of hunger. Unfortunately their return is coinciding with a potentially failed harvest due to a poor rainy season in many parts of the country.

So, dear HR Professional, what steps do you think that the Minister for Employment in Niger should do to ensure that the returning military personnel are safely absorbed into the community?

You have one hour to answer the question. This question is worth 25 marks. Please write legibly.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Are you working too long?

A question: what made you stop working last night?

For me it was the power supply in the missionary guest house in which I’m staying in Niger cutting out at about 11.00 pm. Being a good Boy Scout, I was prepared for the event, so I grabbed the strategically placed torch and crawled under the mosquito net into bed, and wilted in the heat and darkness.

I guess for most of us, a technological interruption such as a failure in the power supply is a rarity, and therefore we work for as long as we wish, even if that is deep into the night.

But clearly there was a time when (with the possible exception of those with access to industrial supplies of candles!) sunset signified the end of the working day for most people. OK, we have the opportunity to churn out more work, but does an unbounded work day really lead to greater efficiency?

Similarly the working pattern of five days of work followed by two days of leisure is to all intents and purposes a thing of the past. The weekend is dead.

Taking this a step further, for some cultures, the concept of a planting and a harvesting season is still crucial. Visiting Niger this week has brought home to me the seriousness with which the arrival (or lack of it) of the rainy season is greeted. Right now, the rain is bouncing off the roof, and the side roads are almost impassable. But it’s accepted that the rains have arrived too late to save this year’s harvest.

For those of us living in non-agrarian cultures, the concept of seasons is almost meaningless. An interconnected world means that the idea of what the Book of Common Prayer describes as “the fruits of the earth in their season” is quaintly old-fashioned. Strawberries on Christmas day? No problem.

Do all these developments represent progress? I’m not so sure.

What do you think?

(Oh … as if on cue, the lights have gone out again)

If you enjoyed this, you might want to read an earlier blog item: "There is a time for all things"

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Parlez-vous fran├žais?

After participating in a management meeting yesterday afternoon, I thought I’d set you all a little test in understanding management speak.

Exercise One:
How many of the following terms could you explain the meaning of to a colleague:
  • Memorandum of Understanding
  • Orientation Curriculum
  • Ambassadorial Staff
  • Incorporation Documents
  • Ministry of the Interior
  • Company Registration
  • Country Representative
  • Cultural Integration and Adjustment
  • Non-Governmental Organisation
  • Emotional Health
Award yourself one mark for each that you could explain to someone.

How did you do? Above eight and you are clearly set out for a life in the higher echelons of management.
Exercise Two:
Repeat Exercise One, but this time do it in French.

Still score as highly as last time?

If you are like me, your score on Exercise Two will (malheureusement) have been substantially lower than on Exercise One.

The meeting I sat in had six participants: A resident of Niger (whose native tongue is French), An American, a Cameroonian, and three Brits. Guess who were the ones who needed serious help when translating to and from French? No marks (nul points, perhaps) for correctly guessing that it was the Brits (including me, I hasten to add).

Language courses have slipped down the league tables in our school curriculum. Since 2006, there has been a 22% fall in the numbers of teenagers taking a modern foreign language at GCSE. Clearly this means that we are raising a generation of employees who will be unable to communicate in an increasingly global (and therefore multi-lingual) workforce.

Does it matter? As a German colleague of mine once remarked: if you want to buy something from a German, it’s fine that you only speak English. But if you want to sell him something, you need to speak German, and speak it well.

Just a thought: enrolment for adult education classes will be taking place over the next few weeks. French anyone?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

A World Without HR

I doubt if most of the people that I’ve observed so far this week in Niger have heard of HR and, even if they have, it’s not a service that many of them will ever have a need to turn to.

Certainly not those who have cut grass from the edge of the river, and have packaged it up into enormous bundles to sell as animal fodder, sometimes to those whose cattle stroll along the side of the road, occasionally wandering in front of the motorbikes and pedal cycles which weave in and out of the traffic on the rather challenging routes into Niamey city centre.

Certainly not the numerous hawkers who offer you items ranging from low tech hand-made jewellery to hi-tech SIM cards, or the various beggars with a heart-breaking array of disabilities, all of whom seem to have a radar-like ability to spot a visitor from a more wealthy culture. Top marks to all of them for persistence.

With a life expectancy of about 53 years for men and 55 for women (in the UK it’s 78 for men and 82 for women) and a gross national income of just over £200 per head (in the UK it’s 130 times more, at £26,000) clearly Niger is far from the most wealthy country on the planet.

Therefore there’s a great temptation to indulge in the all-too-predictable “Oh, how awful” commentary, focusing on the great disparity between the likes of the UK and a country such as Niger. But perhaps it’s equally pertinent to reflect upon our own circumstances and how they affect our attitudes to others. As a friend remarked to me earlier today, “We do live cosseted lives, don’t we?”

How about taking a break from the online world, where the most passionate debates seem to be about whether HR is afraid of social media, or whether LinkedIn is the best thing since sliced bread, and have a look at what’s happening in the real world?

Open your eyes and have a look around!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

It's not in the Job Description

In 622 BC, following centuries of decline, the young King Josiah launched what has been described as the most thoroughgoing reform in Judah’s history. His actions touched every aspect of political, religious and working life.  In terms of Corporate Change programmes, it doesn’t get any bigger than this! His actions included the large scale redundancy of those employed in the nation’s pagan cults. (Only one form of outplacement available: execution.) Shrines throughout the land were closed down, and all public worship was centralised in Jerusalem.

But the catalyst for Josiah’s reform was the almost accidental discovery of a “book of the law” by Hilkiah the High Priest during the course of repairs to the Temple. Basically he was heading up a serious spring-clean operation when he stumbled across a dusty set of scrolls which made Josiah realised that the nation had gone astray from the law as given to Moses, and ultimately it spurred him into his time of reform.

OK. That’s what actually happened. But just imagine ...

You want me to do what? Tidy up the store cupboard?

I know that my Job Description says something about “any other duties as may from time to time be considered appropriate” but I didn’t think that getting down on my knees with a scrubbing brush would be part of my job. On my knees to pray, yes, but to clean the floor, no way.

And have you any idea how much these priestly garments cost me? Three shekels from D&G (David and Goliath) in Jerusalem High Street. And if you think that I’m going to get my robes dirty waving a duster around, you’ve another think coming.

Talking of dust: has anyone done a risk assessment before we get on with the job in here? There’s been quite a few cases of workmen with severe breathing problems recently, and I suspect that there’s something dodgy about the dust from those cedar wood beams. You should at least be issuing the staff with personal protective equipment.

But why are you getting us to do this sort of thing anyway? The temple to Baal in Nineveh has outsourced all its cleaning services. Apparently they’ve put a pretty demanding service level agreement in place, and managed to reduce their maintenance costs by 12% year on year. Think Big, Josiah! There’s no added value in dust removal!

And cleaning is all so ... transactional! I see myself as a strategy sort of person. This isn’t the sort of job that I expected to be doing when I spent three years in Jerusalem studying for my CIPD (Certificate in Priestly Development). My training has equipped me more as facilitator at large scale corporate events. You know, inspiring people with the Temple’s Five Year Growth Plan.  Competitive Advantage through Collective Worship. That sort of thing. 

You see, Josiah, I’ve got my media profile to think of too. I’ve been talking to a few people about publishing some of my recent work, and getting some of my writing into journals and other periodicals is the way forward. And it’s not as if my involvement in sprucing up the Temple is likely to lead to me featuring in any major publication that is read all over the world in years to come, is it?

I think that you’d better find someone else for this one.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

HR: Here to serve people, not software

A recent survey (was that a groan I heard?) suggests that only 39 per cent of HR professionals believed that their HR software system did all the things that they wanted it to do. (The precise phrase was “possessed the full level of desired functionality”) In fact almost half of those questioned disagreed or even strongly disagreed with the statement that they were happy with the HR software system.
Rewind to the day that the system was purchased or installed. You can guarantee that it was expected that it would be the saviour of many an HR professional, and would produce gorgeous organisation charts, automatically update succession plans, and dynamically track employment applications through the recruitment maze. The marketing brochures promised strategy at the click of a mouse. Data turned into useful information. The HR professionals had expectations of becoming an alchemist transmuting lead into gold. Or at least transforming exit data into a pretty pie chart.
But how quickly things change after installation.
Suddenly the hoped-for saviour becomes an angry deity squatting in the office, demanding a daily sacrificial offering of inputted data, conforming precisely to the ritual demands of the system, otherwise the livelihood of the nation is at risk, the rains fail to arrive, and the crops wither in the field.
The old story of failed expectations.
As the survey concluded:
“Most HR professionals want to think and act strategically to support their business, and while software can help them achieve that, it can also be a source of frustration if the wrong tools are selected.”

Or, to put it in more theological language, HR professionals should be mindful that they are here to serve people, not software

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Darren, Sepp, Ratko and Footsie

And behold, I saw the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and their names were Darren, and Sepp, and Ratko, and Footsie.

Darren (son of Alex) did evil in the sight of the dwellers of the land. For verily he did deceive the tribe of Prestonia, and did lead them into the bowels of the region of the Championship. So great was their fall that they were captured by the wicked nation of Npower. And it came to pass that Darren did pledge allegiance to the empire of Peterborough, and did lead them into the verdant pastures of the Championship, yea even into the tents so recently vacated by the tribe of Prestonia. But the people of Prestonia did heap curses on Darren, for he had greatly offended them.

Riding upon a pale horse was Sepp, who did conjure up evil spirits against his adversaries in the kingdom of Fifa, and did lay false charges against those opposed to him. “The nation of Fifa is not in a crisis, only some difficulties,” spake Sepp unto the congregation. But Sepp’s iniquity was great, and he walked in the statutes of the heathen. And many arose in the land who spoke thus, saying, “Verily thy days are numbered.”

The rider of the third horse was Ratko. (Are not the evils of his reign in Bosnia written in the annals of history?) Ratko fled from the judges of the land, but verily a net was cast for his capture, and all the people of the land rejoiced. Yet mighty was his protestation that he was smitten with the botch of Egypt and would not withstand his delivery unto the judges of The Hague. But behold, a multitude did arise that did demand that he was delivered into the hands of the wise ones who could make measure of his iniquities.

But behold, I looked and saw the rider of the fourth horse, and his name was Footsie, and I was exceedingly afraid. Footsie did worship at the altar of Mammon, and did render himself impure through idolatry and worship of filthy lucre. Footsie departed from the path of equity and justice, and did increase the wealth in his treasury by 32% year on year even when his people were in the grip of famine. The stink of the evil deeds of Footsie arose unto the heavens. And mighty was the affliction of the people on the land of Footsie, and loud were their grumblings. Yet many of the tribe of HR were silent.

And it came to pass that I saw an angel who beckoned me, and said, “Fear not, for the time of the punishment of the riders is at hand. As it is written, “They shoot horses, don’t they?””

He that hath ears to hear, let him listen to the words of the blogger.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

New Survey Demolishes Established HR Thinking

Regular readers of HR case Studies will be aware of the editorial team’s scepticism at the number of surveys that are commissioned in the HR world. Normally such surveys are thinly disguised marketing tools to “prove” that the service offered by the sponsor is the answer to all the world’s problems, and that you’d be daft not to give them a call and beg them to help you. Generally the surveys tell us in quantitative terms (and attempt to blind us with statistics) something that even the dumbest of us would have taken for granted anyway.

But a recent survey undertaken by the Chartered Management Institute radically breaks with this tradition and reveals something that will leave readers slack-jawed and wide-eyed with amazement.

It seems (brace yourselves) that managers might be to blame for worsening workplace morale.

Recoil with shock all those of you that thought that good morale in the workplace was actually the responsibility of the outsourced catering staff (See Gary Hamel’s seminal work, “Syrup Sponge and Custard: Unlocking Employee Engagement with Tasty Desserts")

Faint with horror anyone who still clings onto the well-researched theory that there is a demonstrable link between the United Kingdom’s performance in the Eurovision Song Contest and workplace productivity (See Ulrich and Brockbank’s influential Harvard Business Review article “Boom Bang-A-Bang: Competitive Advantage Through Employee Polyphony" (Foreword by Sir Terry Wogan)

Stagger under the impact of the paradigm shift that explodes the view that it’s really the responsibility of the employees themselves to keep morale high (see Paul McKenna’s bestseller, “I Can Make You Rather Jolly”)

The ground-breaking conclusion came as a result of the CMI's "Spring economic outlook survey" which found that 70% of managers admitted that morale in their organisations has dropped over the last six months. Throwing all the well-attested theory aside, the Chartered Management Institute has responded to the findings by suggesting that managers themselves could be responsible for the decline in morale.

Incredible, isn’t it? Just not at all what you'd expect.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Welcome to !

Need a reactive HR service that gets you out of a hole?

Then welcome to!

We're here to rush in at the last minute and solve all those inconvenient and irritating little niggles caused by management oversight, forgetfulness and occasional incompetence.

Any of these sound familiar:
  • A member of your staff is about to retire, taking with him all his knowledge, leaving your business utterly devoid of a key capability.
  • A number of your employees are threatening to move to a competitor because you haven't kept your eye on salaries in your sector.
  • You got distressingly low trust in leadership scores on last year's employee opinion survey. They need to have improved for this year's survey. It's next month.
  • There's a potential Employment Tribunal case as a result of managers asking discriminatory questions at interview. It's probably a storm in a teacup. There's not a problem with asking women if they're planning a family is there? You've been doing it for ages.
  • You have an apparently consistently poor performing employee needs dismissing - TODAY! (despite having great appraisal ratings for the last five years)
  • You're tendering for a contract which requires the supplier to have Investors in People accreditation, and you don't have it. Sure, we can sort that out in a couple of weeks.
  • There's a nasty smell in the toilet, and the local MP is visiting this afternoon.
  • An administration assistant started this morning, and (despite it being the recruiting manager's responsibility) you forgot to sort out IT access for her. No problem. Done for lunchtime.
  • You need an advert for a Production Supervisor (£23k salary) in next week's Daily Telegraph. Must be in colour. You like the Telegraph. That's where you heard about your current job ten years ago. No, it shouldn't be expensive.
  • You've overspent by £5,000 on your travel budget, and need to make savings elsewhere. Sure, we can cancel next week's Management Development programme and the provider won't mind. Or charge a cancellation fee. No problem. We'll sort it. Like we always do. 
If you're experiencing any of the above problems, just give a call, and we'll drop whatever else we're doing, and rush in one of our highly trained staff to sort out your problem.

Just one word of warning: Due to its nature, the service offered by does come at a price (to you, the employee and the reputation of the business)

If cost is an issue, you may wish to explore one of our alternative services, which we believe is equally if not more effective. For further details, please visit

Monday, 16 May 2011

The two most important questions that HR can ask

The most effective questions are often the simplest ones.

And also the most dangerous

As mentioned in an earlier post, I've been undertaking research into the views of Senior Managers and Directors exploring their experience of HR service, and also their vision of what effective HR delivery would look like.

As is often the case in situations like this, half way through the exercise you realise that you wished you'd asked some slightly different questions, or phrased the questions in a different way.

Analysing the responses to the interviews has made me realise that for all the complexity of the data, there are two basic questions that need to be asked by HR people to the managers that they support:

  • What do you think HR does?
  • How well does it do it?

Answers to the first question reveal as much about managers as it does about HR, as knowledge of what HR is actually involved in is often (sadly!) severely limited. (Well, there's recruitment, and ... er ... )

Answers to the second question may be rather painful as well as informative, but without some assessment or measurement of success, knowing where and how to improve is impossible.

I wonder how many HR people reading this will dare to ask these questions?

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

16 ways of dealing with a dead horse

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that, “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount: get off the horse.” 

However, modern management thinking has identified a range of alternative strategies for dealing with the problem of a dead horse:  

  1. Change riders.
  2. Reclassify the dead horse as a paradigm shift and keep riding it. 
  3. Buy a stronger whip and flog the horse until it shows signs of life. 
  4. Do nothing: "This is the way we have always ridden dead horses".
  5. Develop a Strategic Plan for the management of dead horses. 
  6. Arrange an international programme visit to see how they ride dead horses in other countries.
  7. Perform a productivity study to see if lighter riders improve the dead horse's performance.
  8. Hire outside consultants to ride the dead horse.
  9. Harness several dead horses together in an attempt to increase the speed.
  10. Provide additional funding for external training that will increase the dead horse’s performance. 
  11. Appoint a committee to study the horse and assess how dead it actually is. 
  12. Rewrite the horse’s job description in line with the new Competency Framework Guidelines for Deceased Equine Models.
  13. Re-classify the dead horse as suffering from "Vital Life-Sign Indetectability Syndrome".
  14. Promote the dead horse to a management position.
  15. Declare that, as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overheads, and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line than many other horses.
  16. Contact IT to see if the whole stable is down, or just your horse. 
I cannot claim for one moment that any of this is original, so thanks to a colleague for sharing a variation on this theme

Need the Professionals? Call for HR.

As part of some research into HR Business Partnership, I've recently been undertaking in-depth interviews with senior business managers and directors exploring their experience of HR service, and also their vision of what effective HR delivery would look like.

One word has been used over and over again, but not always with the same meaning:


It seems to be used to indicate two entirely different meanings.

On the one hand to be professional (or, to be precise to be "a professional") is to be thoroughly grounded in your area of expertise, up to date on best practice and legislation, competent at building relationships and understanding the wider needs of the business. It seems to imply getting alongside managers as an equal, and influencing business decisions by ensuring that the people agenda is addressed. Such a professional is Someone Who Says Yes.

On the other hand professional is sometimes used to mean slow, ponderous, over-concerned with process and risk avoidance. It implies form-filling and adherence to an established way of doing things. It seems to imply a rule-based approach where the business manager is required to do things the HR way, regardless of whether this enables the business to fulfil its strategy and achieve its objectives. It's HR as policeman. Such a professional is Someone Who Says No.

One obvious question really:

What sort of professional (regardless of whether you're in HR or not) are you?

Sunday, 10 April 2011

You can't measure everything!

OK, I know the current trend in CVs is to make sure that you concentrate on your achievements, and to quantify all the incredible successes in your outstanding, tangible and demonstrable track-record of relentless delivery.

But one can go a bit too far, especially when that involves attempting to quantify the unquantifiable.

Here’s an example:

I received a CV this week from a recruitment consultancy drawing my attention to the merits of one of their candidates.

That he had "successfully led and managed the revamp of the performance appraisal system from conception to completion and ongoing monitoring for effectiveness" I do not doubt for one moment.

That he had "reduced staff turnover by 12%" I am prepared to accept, although I doubt if he achieved this single-handedly.

But that his "measures to improve staff knowledge and understanding of the organisation’s strategic objectives led to a 14.3% increase in staff knowledge and understanding" is something I find rather difficult to fathom.

Only 14.3% I hear you gasp? Not the industry average of 14.9%? Or perhaps your organisation has managed to nudge up the score into the magical land above 15.12%.

Clearly I jest.

How can you manage to measure something as nebulous as knowledge and understanding so accurately?

The answer is that you can’t.

Yet as HR professionals, we regularly and foolishly attempt to justify our existence (and our organisations’ investment) by ascribing success to our activities and initiatives using measures that cannot withstand even the briefest challenge.

In a world obsessed by Cost Benefit Analysis, we’d do well to make ourselves familiar with this definition:
Cost Benefit Analysis is a procedure by which the higher is reduced to the level of the lower, and the priceless is given a price. It can never therefore serve to clarify the situation and lead to an enlightened decision. All it can do is lead to self-deception and the deception of others (Boyle 2001)
Or, how about this for a bit of controversy to get the brain cells working as the week begins?
To believe that perfect, objective, non-political decisions can be reached through number-crunching and that human prejudice can be eliminated, is the hope. Yet a fixation with quantification embroils people in a paralysis of analysis. Instead of pursuing pseudo-scientific precision – the impression of dealing objectively with things – people should measure less. Instead of analysing HR costs and benefits why not trust HR professionals to identify needs, design activities, and deliver them professionally? (Stephen Gibb, Human Resource Development, 2008)
I'm sure that at lest 56.83% of you will agree

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

How to spot an HR Fad (or any fad to be honest!)

It's amazing what you find tucked away in the depths of a dry academic text book!

Lurking away in Chapter 3 of Dave Ulrich's Human Resource Champions is the following handy checklist to allow you to decide if the current trend is likely add any long-term value:

  1. It's simple and easy to use and claims to solve complex problems
  2. It claims to apply to and help everyone
  3. It's not anchored or related to any known and generally accepted theory
  4. Proponents hesitate to present it in academic settings or write about it in refereed journals
  5. Proponents can't tell you exactly how it works
  6. It's a seminar session at 75% of the conferences you attend
  7. Its proponents claim it's changed their lives and that it can change yours, too
  8. Its greatest proponents are those with the least experience in the field
  9. Proponents claim that the only way to really understand it is to try it personally; it can't be explained or demonstrated
  10. It's just too good to be true

Odd thing is, how would the HR Business Partnership model score on this one?