Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Your decision is required!

Do you remember that sinking feeling you used to experience at secondary school when your clearly unprepared teacher (and it was usually either the English or the RE teacher) uttered the energy-draining words:

We’re going to have a debate.

You knew exactly what would happen. 30 minutes of uninformed discussion led by the clueless, with contributions from the self-opinionated, ending in a final vote which might as well have been taken at the beginning, so negligible was the movement of minds that the debate had achieved.

I experienced that sinking feeling yesterday when I stumbled across a blog asking the question:

“What place the Unions in 2011?”

I think that the comment of “are Trade Union leaders simply self serving, rewarding themselves handsomely from members subscriptions whilst embarking on a shameless quest of self promotion” gave readers a slight clue as to the opinions of the blog writer.

The few comments on the blog were divided between those that thought that Trade Unions were A Good Thing, and a similar number that regarded them as A Bad Thing.

So, time for a bit of mischief!

Do you remember those times when your school teacher was slightly more prepared, and suggested a balloon debate, where pre-selected individuals were allocated roles of various historical characters and they had to justify why they shouldn’t be thrown over the side of the slowly sinking balloon?

Well, the writer of the blog just happened to be a recruitment consultant (spit!)

So dear readers, in the balloon there’s just the three of you: you, a Trade Union leader (simply self serving, rewarding themselves handsomely whilst embarking on a shameless quest of self promotion) and a recruitment consultant (simply self serving, rewarding themselves handsomely whilst embarking on a shameless quest of self promotion)

The decision is yours. One of them has to go.

Who’s it going to be? Trade Union leader or Recruitment Consultant

Cast your vote at the top of the blog!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Why? Why? Why?

OK, dear readers. Examine the following three statements:
If you pay exceedingly generous bonuses to a select few individuals at the pinnacle of any management hierarchy, it will inevitably lead to those businesses being better managed, and consequently improving shareholder value.

If you remove the ability of employees to request the right to work flexibly, it will inevitably lead to increased productivity within the workforce.

If you remove the practice of collective pay bargaining in the NHS and education sector (presumably requiring each region to undertake such activities independently), this will also boost productivity.
All three of the above statements are ones which form the backdrop to much debate within the UK’s management community at the moment.

OK, the debate is never put in such stark terms, although the recent proposals put forward by the Institute of Directors for the drastic curbing of employee rights come pretty close to it.

'Axe' public sector union rights, say business leaders

Management, especially where it involves people, is never a precise science, and therefore the laws of cause and effect don’t exactly apply.

But for a generous bonus culture to lead to better financial performance or reduced rights for employees to lead to improved productivity there must in theory be an unbroken chain of causality that can be observed and investigated.

If the statements above are true, it doesn’t matter how many links there are in the chain, but there must be a connection between the cause and the effect.

Can someone help me out here: why do we believe that our generous bonus culture has led to increased financial performance? And why do we believe that reducing the rights of employees will similarly lead to increased productivity?

I’m not looking for an explanation of every link in the chain. Just the first one will do.

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

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Recruitment: None of HR's Business.

Ever participated in an online chat with a group of like minded professionals? (No, I don’t mean that sort of chat, thank you very much. None of that in these hallowed surroundings)

I mean one where a group of individuals get together to thrash out an issue together, generally for an agreed period of time, and with contributions from just about anyone with an opinion.

Let me tell you what happens when people get together (like last night) to discuss the issue of recruitment.

Normally the debate is chaired by someone with a vested interest in the issue being discussed. So you think you’re involved in an open debate, whereas in reality it’s a thinly disguised marketing activity on behalf of the person chairing the debate. (Sorry Bill . . .)

Next thing that you’ll notice is that the issue up for debate will be totally non-controversial. Something along the lines of “Has recruitment got anything at all to do with HR, or wouldn’t it really be better to hand it all over to us guys in the recruitment industry”.

Nothing at all contentious there then.

You will by this stage also have noticed that the assembled multitudes are predominantly from the recruitment profession, who hover like vultures around the (perceived, in their view) expiring body of the HR community. The reason for this is pretty simple. Recruiters use social media and, incidentally, think that anyone who doesn’t use it is sinful, wicked, out of touch, misguided, demented, and generally a bad sort. HR professionals on the other hand, generally are not such big fans of social media. So it's not so much a debate as a slagging off of HR without them being there to add their tuppenceworth.

The debate will normally commence with a few of the recruiters making carefully considered arguments about the relative merits of differing strategic HR models, citing various luminaries such as Ulrich, Legge, Tyson and Storey. Actually, I’m lying here, as most of the guys in the recruitment camp have never heard of any of these theorists, mainly as they have zero experience of working in HR, so they wouldn’t understand a well thought-out HR strategy if it bit them on the leg.

The contribution of the recruiters is more likely to be along the lines of, “I’m not sure what HR is all about, and as far as I’m concerned, they can do away with it.” They also seem to have the view that the main function of HR is to slow things down and provide tortuous advice on employment law. “Less input from HR is always good, as they only ever slow the process down” is the sort of comment that is thrown into the mix. Basically it’s the same sort of twaddle that you hear from The Man In The Pub on a Friday night.

Let’s throw in a question at this stage (HR Professionals only!) Have you even consciously slowed managers down in their endeavours to recruit?

If you’re lucky, you’ll get one of the big guns from the recruitment industry making a profound (i.e. HR Case Studies code for “utter nonsense!”) comment such as, “of course recruiting isn't an HR function, it a business delivery function.” This is the sort of statement that makes you wonder where you lost the plot in the world of HR, especially if you are an HR generalist who is seen by those who you work alongside as crucial to the provision of a comprehensive HR service including employee relations, learning and development, performance management and (Whoops! Nearly forgot! Recruitment)

The saddest thing about all this is that the guys who really matter are not even involved in the debate. I’m talking about the managers who are calling for a joined up recruitment service provided by someone who understands their business and can partner with them to acquire the necessary talent to make the business plan a reality.

If there are any of you managers out there, you’re views are more than welcome.