Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Five steps to business success. (And you are all really wonderful readers . . .)

A former colleague of mine was once given the advice:
If you want to get on in this company, find a department that's full of no-hopers. That way, even if you're mediocre, you'll appear outstanding.
It seems that there might be a degree of truth in what he said, if an article in The Economist is to be trusted.

The Economist: The will to power

Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford Business School has been teaching a popular course on “paths to power” for a number of years. He condensed many of his findings into a book that is part academic analysis and part how-to guide, “Power: Why Some People Have It—and Others Don’t”.

Because you're all such wonderful people (of which, more later...) you probably won't have time to read the book, so here's a quick summary. (Oh, nice shirt by the way. You have the most impeccable taste)

Step One: Find a department that's on the way up.
Put simply, as the  most powerful departments are the ones that have produced the current big-wigs, get yourself in there!

Step Two: Manage upwards.
Turning yourself into a supplicant. Follow the example of  Barack Obama who asked about a third of his fellow senators for help when he first took his place in Senate.

Step Three: Become a "node".
Develop the art of forging links between separate parts of your company, and network like crazy.

Step Four: Be loyal. 
It's estimated that four out of every five CEO appointments go to insiders, and those insiders last almost two years longer in their jobs than outsiders.

Step Five: Flatter everyone in sight!
Pfeffer quotes research by Jennifer Chatman, of the University of California, Berkeley, who conducted experiments in which she tried to find a point at which flattery became ineffective. Interesting news, O beautiful and intelligent readers: there's no limit! People just can't get enough of it!

If you're somewhat sceptical about lavishing praise and attention on your peers and subordinates in an organisation, check out Lucy Kellaway's fascinating article for BBC News Magazine to see how there's just no end to the flattery that can be dispensed!

BBC: Should you strike a powerful pose?

In the meantime, where did you get your hair done? It really looks superb! It makes you look so young and vibrant. No wonder you're so good in your job. You must give me your tips for success sometime!

Have a nice day, gorgeous readers!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

An Inspector Calls

It's strange how things sometimes work out isn't it?

A colleague today asked me if I'd write something on here about the 16 days of activism to end violence against women. I'll have to admit that my initial reaction was to think that such an item would appear rather out of place on a blog that's focused on HR issues and case studies from the world of work.

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign

But a relaxing evening a home gave me the opportunity to put my feet up and read through J.B. Priestley's excellent and thought-provoking stage-play, "An Inspector Calls."

Without wanting to spoil it for those who may be unfamiliar with the play, an evening's entertainment is interrupted by a mysterious character who proceeds to question - and implicate - all the guests about the tragic suicide of Eva Smith, a young girl whose descent into despair was triggered by something very familiar to the readers of this blog: a rejected request for higher wages, followed by a dismissal by an employer.

In one of the most powerful speeches that you'll hear on stage, the Inspector speaks the following lines:
Just remember this. One Eva Smith has gone -  but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, with what we think, say, and do. We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish. Good Night.
Priestley's play is clearly fictional, but the facts are that over two women per week are killed by current or ex-partners, and that one in four women in the UK will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

Whether or not we work in HR, as J.B Priestley says, we are responsible for each other, so don't brush this issue under the carpet. There's plenty of resources available on the issue: I've included a link to just one below. Check it out.

Restored: Ending Violence Against Women

[The editor of HR Case Studies walks straight out, leaving them staring, subdued and wondering. As they stare guiltily and dumbfounded, the curtain falls]

End of Play

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Social Media will not get you into heaven.

Sorry everyone, but my background in Theology and former life as a teacher of Religious Education requires me to point out to you a simple truth:
Your use of social media is not the factor that will determine whether or not you go to heaven
On the Day of Judgement, when the Book of Life is opened, the test of whether or not you are granted access to the heavenly realm will not be how acquainted with social media you were while on Planet Earth. The Recording Angel will not be checking up on how many followers you had on Twitter, how many friends you had on Facebook, or how many contacts you had on LinkedIn.

Why, dear reader, am I pointing this out?

It's this: there's a breed of individuals evolving at the moment for whom the test of whether you're In or Out, Saved or Damned, appears to be how committed you are to the cause of Social Media.

How about this from the pages of the (I'm afraid to say it) increasingly dubious Harvard Business Review:
As a social media geek, I rarely go a day without convincing a friend that even a 42-year-old can enjoy Facebook, or hectoring a colleague about how much time and effort they could save with social media communications, or coaxing a communications pro into embracing social media as a core part of their professional practice. I bat aside the protests about age, time commitment and personal preference.
HBR: Countering the Excuses for Avoiding Social Media (and Video Games)

Convincing: OK. Coaxing: perhaps a bit patronising. But Hectoring? Batting aside protests? Aren't we going a bit over the top here? (And, incidentally, as a person who is significantly on the far side of the category described, I find the "even a 42-year-old" comment deeply offensive.)

Here's a bit more of what I'm talking about. A couple of weeks ago, I participated in an online discussion which addressed such issue as "Why HR are afraid of social media." To me the debate (to continue with the theological terminology) appeared to demonise those unconverted to the use of social media, and almost suggest that to deny the benefits of social media was tantamount to an Unforgivable Sin. I was eventually provoked into remarking that those who do not use social media are not Bad People!

As recently as this morning I observed a conversation between two guys in my network (sorry, Bill and Gareth - it's not personal!) where the health of attendees at a local CIPD branch meeting was judged largely on the number of Twitter (3) and LinkedIn (2) accounts represented by those present. 

So. Let me put out a challenge to those of you who are avid users of social media:
Where on the scale from Evangelist to Extremist are you? Are you a Missionary or a Zealot? A Fan or a Fanatic? What scope is there for someone in your circle to say "I just don't find this sort of stuff particularly relevant or helpful in my social or professional life" without you looking around for the thumbscrews?
And before sending the inquisition round to the offices of HR Case Studies, I trust that you'll note that I haven't actually stated my position on this one! The point I'm making is that if we're not careful , the message will get in the way of the (social) media.

And on that note, I will run for cover!

Monday, 15 November 2010

What the CEO wants, the CEO gets. (Even if it's illegal)

I seriously hope that I'm quoting someone out of context here, but I suspect not.

People Management online reports the results of a debate involving the leaders of three of the UK's businesses which took place at last week's CIPD annual conference in Manchester.

CEOs frustrated by HR's policy-based mindset

Responding to the question of what were their biggest frustrations in dealing with HR, the business leaders stuck to the well worn path of criticising HR for a lack of business understanding and an over-reliance on policies. 

So far, so good.

But David Robinson, chairman of Richer Sounds, seems to be heading into dangerous waters with his view. Here's what he said:
I can’t bear being told ‘you can’t do it that way'. Do not put barriers in the way. Sometimes you have to take a step back from the policy, from the law, and say ‘what do we need to do right now, and how are we going to get there?’
I'm as happy as the next man to criticise HR for a strict adherance to policies if they get in the way of helping the business achieve its onjectives. But "take a step back from ... the law"? Really?

I wonder which particular law is Robinson suggesting that we take a step back from? The law that demands that we don't discriminate? The law that requires companies to comply with minimum wage legislation? The law that requires companies to handle discipline and grievance in a reasonable manner? 

The influence and acceptance that HR craves will not be found by simply acting as the lapdog to senior managers. There are times when HR professionals need to be just that - professional - and convince those that they partner with that there are parameters within which business can operate and that to go beyond that may be inappropriate, unadviseable or plain illegal! 

The HR professional might like always saying "yes", but even the Man from Del Monte occasionally had to say "No"!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Most of what you read about HR isn't true.

Right, dear readers. You have the chance to participate in a social experiment to either establish or disprove the truth of a much-quoted item of HR-related gossip.

In a racey (which is code for "low on evidence") little article entitled "10 Things the HR Department Won’t Tell You", it's claimed that, as a matter of routine, HR departments regularly perform unofficial background checks by trawling through the internet to look for warning signs relating to potential employees.

10 Things the HR Department Won’t Tell You

After apparently "checking in with human resources experts to see what your current employer is keeping tabs on—and how your next employer could be judging you based on a whole lot more than the résumé you submitted," the author claims:
Before calling in applicants for a job interview, HR will snoop around online to make sure there are no virtual red flags. “Social media ‘stalking’ has become the norm—especially at larger companies. Beyond typing names into a search engine, companies will also employ sophisticated online monitoring platforms that dig even deeper. If there’s something on the internet you wouldn’t want your boss to see, it’s probably in your best interest to take it down.
Personally, I suspect that this is utter nonsense (at least in the UK) particularly as many HR departments are stretched to breaking point in even arranging interviews and issuing offer letters. The idea that they have time to act as cyber-sleuths looking for evidence of online dodginess is simply a fantasy.

Or is it?

Well, here's your chance to establish the truth once and for all.

I'd like to hear from any organisation (anonymity guaranteed!) that is prepared to admit to using such methods as a formal part of their selection process. I don't mean the occasional googling of an applicant, or a swift glance at Facebook to check up on the candidate's drunken antics in Ibiza. I mean a deliberate and regular investigation using "sophisticated online monitoring platforms" to delve into the background of individuals that the organisation is considering employing.

I'm also interested in hearing from any company that markets any form of "sophisticated online monitoring platform" so that the HR community can learn of what technology is available to assist in the challenge to sort out the wheat from the chaff in the search for talent

My theory is that this belief  is about as reliable as an urban myth. I would love to be proved wrong, but I doubt that I will be.

Over to you, super-sleuths!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Employee Relations: the Ugly Sister of HR

Research just undertaken 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.

HR Sector in Danger of Strikeout by Trade Union Action

And is that lack of capability in HR departments likely to pose a threat to those organisations? You bet! The research also reveals one in five senior HR professionals believe that trade union action is likely to affect their organisation in the next six months.

Of these, 20% say that this activity is likely to have a "huge impact" on the organisation.

Recent industrial action within Transport for London, the BBC and the Fire Service would add weight to this concern. There is also an increasing fear that government spending cuts could be the signal for mass strikes in the UK.

The terrifying fact is that almost two-thirds (63%) of the survey respondents say they know little or nothing about the current laws on trade unions, and 40% say they do not feel confident about dealing with union action.

So what are UK HR professionals doing to ensure that this situation is remedied? Precious little it seems, if the content of the seminars at the CIPD annual conference which starts today is anything to go by! With the exception of the Service Delivery and Information seminar stream, Employee Relations is the category of seminars and workshops at the annual conference with the fewest number of activities within it.

If you wish to be seduced by Strategy Insights and Solutions (“Overcoming the Paradoxes of Global Leadership”, “The Next Stage of HR Evolution: insight-driven HR” or “Do Leaders Really Need to be Tired? A study of resourcefulness, leadership and the power of true human vitality” for example) you’ve a choice of 14 seminars to tempt you. Employee Engagement- the HR fad of the moment –has 12 seminars with slinky titles such as “Creating your own Happiness: the science of luck” or “Why Happiness Makes Business Sense” to lead you astray.

But Employee Relations - today’s Ugly Sister of the HR world - has a mere four seminars aimed at increasing the knowledge and skills of the profession’s self-confessed dunces, and of those four seminars, only one is specifically focused on managing the relationship with Trade Unions.

As the publicity material for the one directly relevant seminar states:
Industrial relations are very much back on the HR agenda. How can you work with trade unions to deliver a more productive workforce and even become a beneficial ally during periods of change? What does a good employer– union relationship look like?
By no means is this an easy question to answer, but at some point HR will need to block its ears to the siren calls of strategy, organisational design and talent management, and realise that there’s a difficult job to be done. The job that used to be called Industrial Relations. The name might have changed, but the activity is still there to be done.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Let's keep the Man in Management shall we?

As the current edition of Management Today correctly points out, Tuesday of this week was ‘equal pay day’.
If the average woman was paid the same annual salary as she gets now, but at the same rate the average man is paid, she'd effectively have stopped earning money on Tuesday, despite the fact there’s nearly a sixth of the year still to go
To mark the occasion, women’s pressure group the Fawcett Society has produced a report calling on the Government to do more to encourage equal pay.

And how does Management Today respond? With the decisive and courageous verdict of :
But as ever, the issue is far from straightforward…
Let's remind ourselves of some of the facts on equality of pay between men and women.
  • Men earn an average of £16.07 per hour, women earn merely £13.43 – a difference of 16.4%.
  • In some sectors, notably air transport, financial services and textile manufacturing, the pay gap between men and women is even wider.
  • Despite the passing of the 1970 UK Equal Pay Act, which was intended to bring the pay of men and women into line at the current rate of progress it will take until 2067 before the gap between men and women managers is eliminated.
  • The average UK salary for a male manager is currently £10,031 more than that of a female manager.
  • At senior level male, pay outstrips female pay by as much as 24%.
  • Even at junior level the gap is significant, with male junior executives receiving £1,065 more than their female counterparts.
So in view of all this, what's Management Today's response to the evident inequality? Here are a selection of words used:
  • But it’s not necessarily that easy.
  • Figures are invariably skewed by women who choose to take time out to have children
  • Women may earn less than their male contemporaries because they have less experience.
  • ... even if the figures are correct ...
  • Many businesses simply don’t have the funds at the moment to up pay rates.
Most worrying of all is Management Today’s comment on the recent CIPD report which has predicted that Government cuts will be responsible for 650,000 job losses in the private sector:
If businesses started raising wages for women, the likelihood is that more jobs would be lost.
That's OK then. No argument. We'll just carry on with the inequality. We've done it for so long it would be a shame to change, wouldn't it?