Monday, 13 October 2014

The future is social. But only for a one-legged ladybird.

You never have to travel very far in the Twitterverse or Blogosphere these days to encounter those preaching the Gospel of Social.

The Evangelists of E-Connectedness urge us to link in, keep tweeting, and altogether network, network, network as if our lives depended on it. Collaboration, it would appear is something that is best done online, and preferably on a constant and continual basis.

Cloudsharing, tweet-ups and hackathons are (according to this particular Gospel) the way that knowledge is acquired, shared and implemented. We are always at our best when we are together, and solitary working is anathema to progress and innovation.

Well, if you're a disciple of this particular denomination, here's bit of good news: Dave Ulrich (the much-maligned and cool-to-criticise Grand Fromage of HR practice) agrees with you!

In his recent book "HR From The Outside In" (and, Dear Reader, you have read this, haven't you?) Ulrich is passionate about using technology to remove low value added or bureaucratic processes, and connecting everyone in the business through technology (and using this to provide alternative solutions to the "we all need to be based in the office" paradigm. He's as evangelistic as it's possible to be about leveraging social medial for business purposes:

"Social media is also emerging as a way to connect employees with customers. Beyond simply addressing customer problems, these platforms are becoming a knowledge hub for collaboration among employees and customers to solve problems and generate new ideas to improve products and services. Businesses cannot afford to ignore this new reality."

So, let's get connected and the world will be ours ...

Or not.

What is clear from reading Ulrich (and, I'd say, from an application of balanced common sense) is that the focus on becoming what he calls a Technology Proponent is but one of a number of competencies (six to be precise) that those of us in HR need to develop if we wish to be effective and influential. To be part of the Next Generation of HR, we also need to become much better at understanding the strategic context within which our businesses operate, increase our overall credibility and track record of delivery; concentrate on building the organisational capabilities of the businesses we work in; become adept at managing and championing change; and role model innovation and integration in everything we do.

You may choose to criticise Ulrich's particular selection of competencies, but there's not doubt that if all of us became better at all of these six areas, we'd be more effective in our jobs and improve the reputation and standing of the profession.

So it has to be said that although the future is social, it's only one leg of The Ulrich Ladybird!. And ladybirds may not be the most inspiring of creatures, but they do seem to function best when then have six legs, not just the one.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The 10 most common responses upon reading a list of the 20 most influential HR Thought Leaders

Following the publication earlier today of yet another list of the (apparently) most influential HR Thought Leaders, the editorial team of HR Case Studies has undertaken an in-depth and independently verifiable study of the 10 most common immediate responses upon reading such a list.

The results, dear reader, are presented below for your enlightenment and education. And perhaps also for your amusement.
  1. Who?
  2. Influential? They've got fewer twitter followers than me!
  3. Well if they are on that list, there's hope for me yet.
  4. No, it's not sour grapes and no, I'm not jealous, but why am I not on that list?
  5. Oh look! The guy that has pulled the list together has put himself on it!
  6. Top 20 Global Thought Leaders? List created by an American? Oh look! Everyone on the list is American!
  7. I wonder why the guy who has created the list has selected predominantly blonde women aged 25 - 35?
  8. Well at least the list gives me a good reason for unfollowing 20 people on twitter
  9. Thought Leaders? 12 of the names on the list are recruitment consultants!
  10. Oh for heaven's sake! I give up! What purpose are these lists actually supposed to serve anyway?

Monday, 22 September 2014

HR Models? Who needs them anyway?

Just what is it about British HR people that makes them so averse to adhering to any form of theoretical model ?

Or, as John Lewis puts it much more eloquently in my well-worn 1962 edition of his History of Philosophy: 

It is a characteristic of the British tradition to be highly suspicious of the theory underlying practice.

Recent discussion on Dave Ulrich's recent book has flushed out the usual HR suspects chanting the mantra of "Oh I don't subscribe to any of this HR model malarkey. I think it's much more important to find out what works for you and the business you're in. None of this one size fits all for me."

It's as if models and theories are some form of dirty word. (And as for paradigm ... well, wash your mouth out with soapy water!)

But ...

Picture this: 

"Hey", says Bobby Moore to Sir Alf Ramsey, "When we're playing in Mexico, are we sticking to the 4-4-2 formation that contributed to us winning the World Cup in 1966?" "No" says Sir Alf; "I've given up on all that stuff. Just hoof the ball all over the place when you're in Mexico and find what works for you. Make sure you're engaged with Mullery and Hurst and we're sorted." 

Or this:

"What key do you want me to play Straight No Chaser in?" says Coltrane to Miles Davis. "Hey", says Miles; "Key signatures are so unhip, man. Just play in whatever key you want. It'll sound fine. You listening too, Philly Joe? Don't bother with that time signature shit any more. If you think six in a bar works, then go with the flow."

Or this:

"Can you give me a few tips on perspective" says Da Vinci's apprentice to his master. "Actually", says Leonardo, "I'm not bothered about perspective any more. Or composition to be honest. Just paint how you feel you should paint. No need to stick to the rules or the models. Perspective is just so 1511."

Be it football, music or art, there are conventions, paradigms, structural approaches and (shh!) models that are there for the simple reason that they work. They are there because they deliver the goods, and to ignore them is to court disaster.

So why our reluctance to profess allegiance to any particular model of HR?

One reason is probably down to the lack of understanding of what a model is. One rather excellent text-book definition describes a model as an "imaginative mental construct invented to account for observed phenomena. Its chief use is to help one understand the world." Put like that it doesn’t sound quite so scary, does it? It just tells us what generally works in a given set of circumstances.

Right: time to get provocative!

I suspect that a more significant reason for the readiness with which we dispense with (in particular) the Ulrich model is that to enter into an informed debate on the subject requires you to have actually read his stuff in the first place! Let's face it, many of us just can't be bothered to put the intellectual investment into ploughing through the 261 (count 'em!) pages of his recent book, can we? Basically, it boils down to laziness!

So, where does that leave us?

Yes, there are shifts in what is popular: for every 4-4-2 formation in football there is a Total Football model to replace it; for key and time signatures there's always an Ornette Coleman or a Schoenberg waiting in the wings to usher in something new; for every Leonardo there's a Picasso or a Dali to offer a new way of looking at reality. But rarely in life does a complete iconoclast come along and destroy everything that went before and offer nothing in return.

But in HR, before we throw out the Ulrich baby with the bathwater, let's at least make sure we fully understand what we are discarding.

After all, as has been observed before: Nothing is quite so practical as a good theory

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Charity sector HR: where the real action is!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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