Tuesday, 31 May 2011

HR: Here to serve people, not software

A recent survey (was that a groan I heard?) suggests that only 39 per cent of HR professionals believed that their HR software system did all the things that they wanted it to do. (The precise phrase was “possessed the full level of desired functionality”) In fact almost half of those questioned disagreed or even strongly disagreed with the statement that they were happy with the HR software system.
Rewind to the day that the system was purchased or installed. You can guarantee that it was expected that it would be the saviour of many an HR professional, and would produce gorgeous organisation charts, automatically update succession plans, and dynamically track employment applications through the recruitment maze. The marketing brochures promised strategy at the click of a mouse. Data turned into useful information. The HR professionals had expectations of becoming an alchemist transmuting lead into gold. Or at least transforming exit data into a pretty pie chart.
But how quickly things change after installation.
Suddenly the hoped-for saviour becomes an angry deity squatting in the office, demanding a daily sacrificial offering of inputted data, conforming precisely to the ritual demands of the system, otherwise the livelihood of the nation is at risk, the rains fail to arrive, and the crops wither in the field.
The old story of failed expectations.
As the survey concluded:
“Most HR professionals want to think and act strategically to support their business, and while software can help them achieve that, it can also be a source of frustration if the wrong tools are selected.”

Or, to put it in more theological language, HR professionals should be mindful that they are here to serve people, not software

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Darren, Sepp, Ratko and Footsie

And behold, I saw the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and their names were Darren, and Sepp, and Ratko, and Footsie.

Darren (son of Alex) did evil in the sight of the dwellers of the land. For verily he did deceive the tribe of Prestonia, and did lead them into the bowels of the region of the Championship. So great was their fall that they were captured by the wicked nation of Npower. And it came to pass that Darren did pledge allegiance to the empire of Peterborough, and did lead them into the verdant pastures of the Championship, yea even into the tents so recently vacated by the tribe of Prestonia. But the people of Prestonia did heap curses on Darren, for he had greatly offended them.

Riding upon a pale horse was Sepp, who did conjure up evil spirits against his adversaries in the kingdom of Fifa, and did lay false charges against those opposed to him. “The nation of Fifa is not in a crisis, only some difficulties,” spake Sepp unto the congregation. But Sepp’s iniquity was great, and he walked in the statutes of the heathen. And many arose in the land who spoke thus, saying, “Verily thy days are numbered.”

The rider of the third horse was Ratko. (Are not the evils of his reign in Bosnia written in the annals of history?) Ratko fled from the judges of the land, but verily a net was cast for his capture, and all the people of the land rejoiced. Yet mighty was his protestation that he was smitten with the botch of Egypt and would not withstand his delivery unto the judges of The Hague. But behold, a multitude did arise that did demand that he was delivered into the hands of the wise ones who could make measure of his iniquities.

But behold, I looked and saw the rider of the fourth horse, and his name was Footsie, and I was exceedingly afraid. Footsie did worship at the altar of Mammon, and did render himself impure through idolatry and worship of filthy lucre. Footsie departed from the path of equity and justice, and did increase the wealth in his treasury by 32% year on year even when his people were in the grip of famine. The stink of the evil deeds of Footsie arose unto the heavens. And mighty was the affliction of the people on the land of Footsie, and loud were their grumblings. Yet many of the tribe of HR were silent.

And it came to pass that I saw an angel who beckoned me, and said, “Fear not, for the time of the punishment of the riders is at hand. As it is written, “They shoot horses, don’t they?””

He that hath ears to hear, let him listen to the words of the blogger.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

New Survey Demolishes Established HR Thinking

Regular readers of HR case Studies will be aware of the editorial team’s scepticism at the number of surveys that are commissioned in the HR world. Normally such surveys are thinly disguised marketing tools to “prove” that the service offered by the sponsor is the answer to all the world’s problems, and that you’d be daft not to give them a call and beg them to help you. Generally the surveys tell us in quantitative terms (and attempt to blind us with statistics) something that even the dumbest of us would have taken for granted anyway.

But a recent survey undertaken by the Chartered Management Institute radically breaks with this tradition and reveals something that will leave readers slack-jawed and wide-eyed with amazement.

It seems (brace yourselves) that managers might be to blame for worsening workplace morale.

Recoil with shock all those of you that thought that good morale in the workplace was actually the responsibility of the outsourced catering staff (See Gary Hamel’s seminal work, “Syrup Sponge and Custard: Unlocking Employee Engagement with Tasty Desserts")

Faint with horror anyone who still clings onto the well-researched theory that there is a demonstrable link between the United Kingdom’s performance in the Eurovision Song Contest and workplace productivity (See Ulrich and Brockbank’s influential Harvard Business Review article “Boom Bang-A-Bang: Competitive Advantage Through Employee Polyphony" (Foreword by Sir Terry Wogan)

Stagger under the impact of the paradigm shift that explodes the view that it’s really the responsibility of the employees themselves to keep morale high (see Paul McKenna’s bestseller, “I Can Make You Rather Jolly”)

The ground-breaking conclusion came as a result of the CMI's "Spring economic outlook survey" which found that 70% of managers admitted that morale in their organisations has dropped over the last six months. Throwing all the well-attested theory aside, the Chartered Management Institute has responded to the findings by suggesting that managers themselves could be responsible for the decline in morale.

Incredible, isn’t it? Just not at all what you'd expect.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Welcome to LastMinuteHR.com !

Need a reactive HR service that gets you out of a hole?

Then welcome to LastMinuteHR.com!

We're here to rush in at the last minute and solve all those inconvenient and irritating little niggles caused by management oversight, forgetfulness and occasional incompetence.

Any of these sound familiar:
  • A member of your staff is about to retire, taking with him all his knowledge, leaving your business utterly devoid of a key capability.
  • A number of your employees are threatening to move to a competitor because you haven't kept your eye on salaries in your sector.
  • You got distressingly low trust in leadership scores on last year's employee opinion survey. They need to have improved for this year's survey. It's next month.
  • There's a potential Employment Tribunal case as a result of managers asking discriminatory questions at interview. It's probably a storm in a teacup. There's not a problem with asking women if they're planning a family is there? You've been doing it for ages.
  • You have an apparently consistently poor performing employee needs dismissing - TODAY! (despite having great appraisal ratings for the last five years)
  • You're tendering for a contract which requires the supplier to have Investors in People accreditation, and you don't have it. Sure, we can sort that out in a couple of weeks.
  • There's a nasty smell in the toilet, and the local MP is visiting this afternoon.
  • An administration assistant started this morning, and (despite it being the recruiting manager's responsibility) you forgot to sort out IT access for her. No problem. Done for lunchtime.
  • You need an advert for a Production Supervisor (£23k salary) in next week's Daily Telegraph. Must be in colour. You like the Telegraph. That's where you heard about your current job ten years ago. No, it shouldn't be expensive.
  • You've overspent by £5,000 on your travel budget, and need to make savings elsewhere. Sure, we can cancel next week's Management Development programme and the provider won't mind. Or charge a cancellation fee. No problem. We'll sort it. Like we always do. 
If you're experiencing any of the above problems, just give LastMinuteHR.com a call, and we'll drop whatever else we're doing, and rush in one of our highly trained staff to sort out your problem.

Just one word of warning: Due to its nature, the service offered by LastMinuteHR.com does come at a price (to you, the employee and the reputation of the business)

If cost is an issue, you may wish to explore one of our alternative services, which we believe is equally if not more effective. For further details, please visit PlanAheadWithHR.com

Monday, 16 May 2011

The two most important questions that HR can ask

The most effective questions are often the simplest ones.

And also the most dangerous

As mentioned in an earlier post, I've been undertaking research into the views of Senior Managers and Directors exploring their experience of HR service, and also their vision of what effective HR delivery would look like.

As is often the case in situations like this, half way through the exercise you realise that you wished you'd asked some slightly different questions, or phrased the questions in a different way.

Analysing the responses to the interviews has made me realise that for all the complexity of the data, there are two basic questions that need to be asked by HR people to the managers that they support:

  • What do you think HR does?
  • How well does it do it?

Answers to the first question reveal as much about managers as it does about HR, as knowledge of what HR is actually involved in is often (sadly!) severely limited. (Well, there's recruitment, and ... er ... )

Answers to the second question may be rather painful as well as informative, but without some assessment or measurement of success, knowing where and how to improve is impossible.

I wonder how many HR people reading this will dare to ask these questions?

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

16 ways of dealing with a dead horse

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that, “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount: get off the horse.” 

However, modern management thinking has identified a range of alternative strategies for dealing with the problem of a dead horse:  

  1. Change riders.
  2. Reclassify the dead horse as a paradigm shift and keep riding it. 
  3. Buy a stronger whip and flog the horse until it shows signs of life. 
  4. Do nothing: "This is the way we have always ridden dead horses".
  5. Develop a Strategic Plan for the management of dead horses. 
  6. Arrange an international programme visit to see how they ride dead horses in other countries.
  7. Perform a productivity study to see if lighter riders improve the dead horse's performance.
  8. Hire outside consultants to ride the dead horse.
  9. Harness several dead horses together in an attempt to increase the speed.
  10. Provide additional funding for external training that will increase the dead horse’s performance. 
  11. Appoint a committee to study the horse and assess how dead it actually is. 
  12. Rewrite the horse’s job description in line with the new Competency Framework Guidelines for Deceased Equine Models.
  13. Re-classify the dead horse as suffering from "Vital Life-Sign Indetectability Syndrome".
  14. Promote the dead horse to a management position.
  15. Declare that, as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overheads, and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line than many other horses.
  16. Contact IT to see if the whole stable is down, or just your horse. 
I cannot claim for one moment that any of this is original, so thanks to a colleague for sharing a variation on this theme

Need the Professionals? Call for HR.

As part of some research into HR Business Partnership, I've recently been undertaking in-depth interviews with senior business managers and directors exploring their experience of HR service, and also their vision of what effective HR delivery would look like.

One word has been used over and over again, but not always with the same meaning:


It seems to be used to indicate two entirely different meanings.

On the one hand to be professional (or, to be precise to be "a professional") is to be thoroughly grounded in your area of expertise, up to date on best practice and legislation, competent at building relationships and understanding the wider needs of the business. It seems to imply getting alongside managers as an equal, and influencing business decisions by ensuring that the people agenda is addressed. Such a professional is Someone Who Says Yes.

On the other hand professional is sometimes used to mean slow, ponderous, over-concerned with process and risk avoidance. It implies form-filling and adherence to an established way of doing things. It seems to imply a rule-based approach where the business manager is required to do things the HR way, regardless of whether this enables the business to fulfil its strategy and achieve its objectives. It's HR as policeman. Such a professional is Someone Who Says No.

One obvious question really:

What sort of professional (regardless of whether you're in HR or not) are you?