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?