Sunday, 6 February 2011

Confessions of an HR Snob

Let’s face it, when it comes to Jazz, I’m a snob. No point in denying it. I’m quite happy listening to Evan Parker wrenching tortured sounds out of his sax that resemble a seal cull. Or John Stevens choosing to ignore the concept of time signatures in his avant-garde drumming. But I can cope with these guys because I know that if they were asked to rattle off All The Things You Are, Autumn Leaves or Round Midnight, they could do so without any trouble. My basic rule is: Prove to me that you can do it properly before you show me you can do it differently.

I adopt the same stance when it comes to HR.

So when someone accused me of being an HR snob (on the issue of recruitment, to be accurate) last week, I saw that as a compliment rather than an insult.

The idea is becoming prevalent that most activities that are undertaken within the HR function can be chopped off and performed equally well elsewhere. This inevitably leads to the next step of concluding that there’s really nothing much to HR, and that basically any idiot could do it.

Oddly enough, I partly agree with this. Any idiot could do most things in HR. Badly. But to deliver the full range of HR services, particularly operating as an HR generalist, takes a special sort of person, of which there are (fortunately) a significant number in the profession.

Every organisation has its own distinct set of challenges, and I doubt if mine is all that unique, so let’s have a quick look at the activities that are on the centre of the radar screen at the moment.
  • Planning engagement with the senior management team to determine what form of HR model is best suited to the organisation’s needs.
  • Responding to employee feedback to ensure that HR delivers the level of HR service that the business demands.
  • Reviewing the provision of occupational heath cover for employees undertaking assignments in over 50 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, and including challenging locations such as Sudan and Haiti).
  • Rolling out an internship programme allowing team members to gain experience within a Disaster Management Team. (If you fancy a relaxing summer holiday responding to the aftermath of the floods in Pakistan or helping out with Water, Sanitation and AIDS awareness in the Democratic Republic of Congo, give me a shout!)
  • Exploring ways increase the representation of women in the senior management team of the organisation.
  • Rolling out a Personal Conduct Policy to clarify the impact of individual employees’ behaviour on company reputation in a values driven organisation (Sky Sports: you may wish to get in touch!)
  • Launching a suite of surveys to measure satisfaction of managers and candidates involved in recruitment activities.
  • Continuing discussions and debate about the fitness for purpose of the current HR information system, and options for the future.
  • Considering what mechanisms are available and appropriate to ensure the active engagement and support of the organisation’s extensive volunteering community.
  • Throw a few other ingredients into the mix such as developing a Global Reward Strategy, the usual grind of job evaluation, ensuring compliance with the recent Equality Act and Default Retirement Age legislation, planning workshops on recruitment, grievance and discipline skills for line managers, making sure that the right people get paid (and the wrong ones don’t!) and, well, you’ve probably just started to scrape the surface of what’s on the agenda of a typical HR department in the UK.
So, before someone tells me that HR is a piece of cake, prove to me that you can do all the stuff above, and then I’ll listen.

Until then, I’ll stick to Keith Jarrett


  1. In these times of austerity can an organisation afford to waste money on all the above?
    Shoudn't they be concentrating on retaining existing experienced staff and maintaining a modest profit for shareholders?

  2. Sorry to say I’m at odds with my fellow Anon.

    Looks to me like the ‘to do’ list of the Editor can do nothing but retain existing staff as well as ensuring the organisation grows and develops to meet the needs of its sector. You ask a Keith Jarrett to play with the same musicians over and over again and, even though they may be the likes of Miles Davis, my guess is he’d vote with his feet. Better to be in an organisation that has a variety of talent to play with, where Goldberg variations as well as unfettered jazz are all encouraged!

    If it were my money I’d rather have shares in an organisation that is looking forward and outwards, not just inwards. But hey, that’s just me.


  3. As a manager, I find that the HR department explains to me the theory of how to deal with staffing issues which often struggles to translate into dealing practically with the staff member. I work within the public sector and line manage a team of 18 people so have had many dealings with my HR department over the years.

    You are clearly a very experienced HR Professional and have fantastic ideas however I find that my dealings with HR Advisors have been mixed.

    An example was where recently I was at a CIPD event on How To Have Difficult Conversations. Myself and an employment lawyer were the only two non-HR people in the room and we felt we were at polar opposites with the opinion in the room on how to deal with poor performance. Lots of theory on how it should be dealt with but a complete lack of understanding of how you would deal with it in the real world.

    I actually came away from the event feeling like HR created more problems than they solved!!

    HR is a necessary part of any organisation and companies should choose carefully when investing in HR.

    I'm probably looking at HR in the most basic of terms compared to the more strategic projects you are involved in but it's what helps create my opinion of HR.

  4. Anonymous No. 1: Well, I'll have to confess (again!) that for a moment you had me fooled. For a while after I read your comment I actually believed that you were making a serious point, and you believed that all the activities referred to were genuinely a waste of money and had no connection whatsoever with employee retention and motivation. I think the giveaway was when you hinted that the purpose of a voluntary organisation that is operating in the international aid sector might actually be one of returning a profit to be distributed to its shareholders.

    But then I realised that you were saying this very much with tongue in cheek, and were overdosing on irony.

    I am right aren't I? Please say yes?