Why HR is like childbirth

I’m currently working with a group of final year HR students at Liverpool John Moores University. Our module for this term is strategic HRM.  Last night we were looking at organisationl culture.

I always find culture a fascinating subject. There is plenty of theory and research available.  There too are many models to help us think about the types of culture that exist.  It is a highly relatable subject, as we have our own experiences of it.  It is something that we instinctively understand because we have lived it.  Everyone who has had a job can tell you something about organisational culture, even if they don’t use the official terminology.

Most of us have had our own experiences of a good culture or a bad one – whatever that really means. We know about people who fit in to the prevailing culture, and people who do not.  We understand instinctively the impact that culture can have upon us at work.

After we had talked about the proper, academic theories, we turned to discussing our own experiences. We talked about organisations that we know, either through working there or because they have a brand profile.  We discussed the extent to which we believe culture impacts behaviour and behaviour impacts culture and whether any of those models are ever really 100% accurate.  Our conclusions were that they were not or could not be.  Nothing is ever as clear cut, as simple as a theory might suggest.  They are just frameworks for understanding.  The context, the reality is always more complex.

This particular group of students are all working whilst studying. One student noted how much this helps put discussions like this in context and wondered how much harder it might be for those studying full time, straight from A Levels, with much less work experience.

And then the analogy of the night. One student reflected on her experience of ante natal classes.  The narrative she experienced there was linear, neat.  It will be like this.

Our conclusion? Practicing HR is like childbirth. It’s messier in real life.

Who wants to work in a office like this?

This article landed in my Twitter timeline today.  A countdown of the UK’s coolest offices. Apparently (as I could only bring myself to read some of it), the list contains offices with rotating fairground rides, reggae rooms and living jungles (whatever they are).  I am betting that there is also a mix of zany colours, bean bags and maybe a football table or two in the mix.

table

I cant’ think of anywhere I would want to work less.

Cool is all too often style over substance. Personally, I’d rather work for somewhere that has inspirational leaders, a great organisational culture, decent tech for me to use.  I don’t need clouds painted on the ceiling (yes, I have seen this with my own eyes); I need somewhere that I can think.  I want to work somewhere that will help me to develop, cares about my wellbeing, allows me to be creative and contribute.

A fairground ride will not make any of these things happen.  It won’t impact productivity for the better, create employee engagement, inspire people to be their best or achieve their objectives. If you are lucky it might create a laugh or two in the workplace when it’s first launched.  It will no doubt provide for some fun Instagram shots for the social feeds.

But to me, it just feels like the modern day equivalent of putting up a sign that says ‘you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps’.

If you have money to spare in your corporate budget, I’d suggest that there will always be a better, more impactful way to spend it than installing a slide or a drum kit in the office.  (Memo, you are not Google, and neither is anyone else but Google).

As my friend Neil Usher said, cool is dead.

We don’t need more gimmicks.  We need better workplaces for all.

Reasons to work flexibly, 1,2,3

enabler 2

…. and some more besides.

 

There are many forms of flexible working. There is flexibility in terms of place – where we work, and flexibility in terms of time – when we do the thing that we do.  There’s homeworking and coffee shop working and flexitime and term-time and compressed hours and annualised hours and job shares.

Whatever the type of flexibility we are talking about, it is increasingly clear that flexibility is desired by the many and not the few. For organisations, this isn’t about family friendly stuff, but about inclusion and talent.  Despite this, many employers (or more specifically in my experience, managers) still favour the traditional 9-5 type approach for many types of work.  Having their people where they can see them.

Here are 5 reasons why organisations should support flexible working:

  1. Employee engagement. People like flexible working and want flexible working. Providing it, providing the opportunity for more balance, better commutes, less stress – is going to help towards a more engaged workforce.
  2. Inclusion. Fathers who want to be more involved with the care of their children, individuals with disabilities who might find a rush hour commute impossible, carers, or those with significant family responsibilities. Whatever the reason for not wanting – or being able to – work traditional office hours, flexibility can help level the playing field.   See following point.
  3. Talent acquisition – offering flexibility gives you access to a greater pool of talent. It makes your employer brand competitive.   You can hire the best person for the job – not the best person for the job that can get into your office and work your normal contractual hours.
  4. Talent retention. Engaged employees are less likely to want to leave. Ditto employees who have a working pattern that works for them and their family. Engaged employees are less likely to want to leave. It’s all connected……
  5. Cost. For those organisations that can embrace entirely flexible and mobile working this can lead to the need for less office space. Fewer desks. Lower rents. And there are those employee travel costs too. How many empty desks are there in your office when people are out and about?
  6. Life Work Balance. The often long and grinding commute. Stress of the school run. The worry about who will look after the kids if…..and so on.   Flexible working can, in my own personal experience, lead to healthier, happier staff.
  7. Productivity. Not everyone works effectively in traditional office hours, or in the typical office environment. Allowing people some flexibility around when and where they work, when they are most creative or productive – this is a mind-shift change from judging people on how long they are in the office to what they achieve.

For some roles at least, to be effective all we need is a laptop and a wifi connection. The tech is already there – it’s about maximising its potential. Flexibility shouldn’t be an employee benefit, reserved for the lucky few. For those organisations and role types where it is possible, flexibility isn’t a perk – it should be a strategy.

 

Human Up (again)

The human workplace is getting a lot of interest of late. Let’s be honest,  I haven’t invented this term.  There is a risk that we are jumping on a bandwagon here.  You know what we mean.  Someone starts talking about something at some conference.  People ooooh about it a bit in the audience and on twitter.  People start to blog about it.  Consultancies start to charge for it.  It makes it from the niche to the mainstream and then we all get bored of it and show disdain for it and think that people who are still talking about it and implementing it while we have moved onto the next shiny thing are Just. Not. Cool.

But, all the same, there is something about the concept that sticks with me. That resonates and feels like just maybe, combined with a focus on employee experience, this is the place to put our focus right now.

The Human Workplace is an imprecise term. It is capable of interpretation in more than one way.  For me, a human workplace is one that has people at the centre of their focus.  It is one that does not buy the cliché that people are your greatest asset (said by many, proved by few) but does recognise that people that work for them, are affected by them, are a user of their services, matter.  The human organisation considers how the stuff that we do makes people feel.

It is an organisation that can embrace technology and all that it brings us, whilst retaining what is inherently human. It is an organisation that doesn’t automate the heck out of everything just because it can.  Human organisations have heart.  Emotion isn’t a dirty word in the human organisation.  It is safe to be real.  It is safe to speak out.

From an HR perspective, if that is even a term that fits with the concept of a human workplace, is certainly focused more on people as people and not as resources.

Why is this stuff even important? Why does it matter?

There are plenty of reasons.

There are the traditional arguments to the people first approach. Retention, attraction, motivation, the war for talent (sorry). There is of course the never ending quest for employee engagement.

But it is more than that too.

When organisations aren’t human, when they don’t have heart, when they are not sufficiently people-focused, there are often found deeper and more troubling problems.

Sadly, there are organisations without much heart. We know that.  No matter what the careers website says, many – most – organisations are much more focused on profit and shareholders.  It’s that thing called capitalism.

We have all seen the examples on our news reports or in our Twitter timelines. Companies that are offering sweatshop-like working conditions. Others that still embrace the worst of scientific management principles.  Exploitation of workers remains an issue, today, in the UK.  There are plenty of organisations that are anything but human.

It is not, in my experience, that most organisations set out to be inhuman. Most HR teams don’t create their policies and processes with the aim in mind of forgetting the human touch, or simply not caring about how people feel about their work and experience their organisations.  Many organisations genuinely feel that they put people at the top of the agenda  – but this doesn’t stop them being no-so-human.

It happens not by design but by default or accident.

There is too much bureaucracy. Leaders lose sight of the small stuff.  The policies and the processes get bigger and more complex.

The people get lost along the way.

The way people feel gets lost too.

Let’s take that website cliché, people are our greatest asset – in much the same way that anyone can come up with a generic list of corporate values, anyone can say that their people are their greatest asset. Meaning it and proving it are two very different things.

If people really are your greatest asset, it will show up in everything that you do. It will show up in how people are recruited and inducted.  It will show up in the reward and recognition.  How people are led, the spaces in which people are expected to work in, the way the difficult stuff is dealt with (or not).

It will show up too in the performance review, the policies and procedures, the learning and development on offer. No one needs to be told whether they are valued by their company.  When it is true, they instinctively know that they are – or they are not.  It is cultural.

Not-so-human workplaces are everywhere. Perhaps you even work in one yourself.

So I’m thinking about this stuff. In the practical, not the abstract.  If we want workplaces in which we genuinely place how people feel at the top of the agenda, then there is much that HR can do in the everyday.   Blogs coming up…….

The most important right of all?

Employment rights have been much in the news of late. The Taylor Report into good work makes a number of recommendations.  I won’t cover them here as finer minds than mine have already done so.

When the law changes for any reason, people like me have to make the necessary changes to HR policies.

But as I have said many times before, when we have to revert to employment law, when we have to find a company policy on the intranet to determine what to do in any particular set of circumstances, sometimes we are half way to losing something important.

Losing our ability to see someone as the individual that they are.

The opportunity to consider the unique context.

The need for common sense, always.

Even the entire argument.

When we defer our decisions to documents, we run the risk of losing our ability to be compassionate, to apply a little tolerance, to treat people as humans and not resources.

The one right we should all have at work, is to be our imperfect human self.

And a simple, human conversation, is our most significant opportunity to change any work situation for the better.

What HR can learn from going to the cinema

This is one of those ‘lessons you can learn from’ posts. I don’t write them very often, but I had such a pleasant customer experience recently, it got me thinking.

I love going to watch a film at the cinema. But it’s something though that I rarely do, as I don’t enjoy the experience that surrounds it.  Usually, there is queuing involved.  To buy tickets, to pick up pre-paid tickets, for the toilets, for popcorn, and then to get into the actual screening.  Then there is the bit that bugs me most of all.  The adverts.  I am a stickler for punctuality.  If I go to see a film that is starting at 7.30, I’d like it to actually do so.  But the time a film is supposed to begin is usually the start of multiple adverts, suggestions to go out and buy more junk food, and trailers for films of an entirely different genre that I don’t want to see.  The actual film probably begins a good 30 minutes after that.

I’m starting to moan. I’m sorry about that.

This weekend I went to a small, local, private cinema. There was no queue.  Just a wave of your phone with the tickets on it.  There was also no queue for the sweets – and you didn’t have to take a mortgage out to buy them.  Best of all was that the film began….. on time.  There were just a couple of trailers for similar films. And… there was an intermission.  Where someone came out and sold ice-cream.  If that wasn’t enough, individual bottles of Proscecco to drink during the screening.

I didn’t love the film all that much. I might, in fact, have had a small nap during it.

But I did love the experience.

First of all, it felt personal. They clearly understand what their customers want and value, they deliver it.  In the march of progress they had held on to the special touches, like the intermission and the ice cream seller.  The staff were friendly – and didn’t appear to have targets to upsell you a larger popcorn.

There wasn’t the range of sweet stuff you get in a big screen cinema. No fancy reclining seats. And no hot food either (because there’s nothing like sitting next to the guy with the highly odorous hot dog).

In much the same way that we have seen consumers begin to value once again the small, independent and local retailers over huge out of town supermarkets, what we want as customers and as employees has changed over time.

On one hand, we want speed and immediacy. Quick responses on Twitter. Products at our doors in ever decreasing time frames.  But at the same time we want something personal.  We don’t want to feel like a cog in a machine.  Processed.

When it comes to people stuff, big isn’t necessarily better. One size only fits one.  Targets, as we know, have unintended consequences. What is valued, is highly variable for different people. For all I love technology, it is possible to lose the human touch along the way.  We don’t have to automate the heck out of everything.

While fast and fancy is good, we don’t necessarily want to trade experience and feeling for it.

Less, can most definitely be more.

 

There’s probably also a HR lesson in the price of pic n mix…. but I’m still working on that.

4am

It’s 4am.

An unfamiliar city. A lonely, identikit hotel room.

All around is still and dark.

Wondering if I am the only one awake.

Looking out of the window, the city sleeps, even if I don’t.

Feeling disconnected and far from home.

But of course I’m not disconnected at all. Literally.  An internet connection is all that I need.

And there they are. My friends, my tribe. My cheerleading squad.  In my timeline.  Via DM.  On that inspirational Slack channel.

The geography and the time zone don’t matter.  Everyone and everything that I need is just a tweet or a gif away.

And I’m loving social media just a little bit more today.