The individualisation of HR


We’ve all heard of the consumerisation of IT. Well I think it is time for the individualisation of HR.

The collective, as we knew it, is over. The TU statistics tell you that. I know they went up a little last year, but it amounted to three fifths of not a lot. Young people aren’t joining unions. Existing members are approaching retirement. The future of employee voice is not the trade union, the elected representative, collective bargaining. Where there are shared views then they are more likely to coalesce around a hashtag than a collective grievance. The collective now means the wisdom of the crowd.

Now you know I am not a fan of a lot of generational nonsense, but junk surveys aside we are going to have five generations in the workplace before long. They will want different things from work, their line manager, their career. But it’s not a generational thing, it’s a time of life thing, a personal life thing.

‘People want different stuff from work shock.’

It is time to call a halt to the one stop shop. Stop treating everyone the same. Pensions, policies, holidays, benefits, hours of work, learning and development, pay reviews. People want choice, not to be lumped together with everyone else. Trying to please the majority, take the middle of the road, may just lead you to being absolutely average, mediocre.

Before I get jumped on, I’m well aware that organisations need some structure, a core approach. But let us flex the rest.

I want, what I want. Not what the person sitting next to me wants. I want choice. I want individuality. I’m not a bloody human resource; I’m a person, with my own particular desires, drivers, problems and challenges. And so is every other employee out there.

Build it and they will come does not cut it when it comes to attracting your talent, keeping your talent. The future of work, the future of talent, wants more.

Let HR lead the way. Let us treat people like the individuals that they are.

Become who you are


I believe that some of the things we do in HR are crossing the futility boundary; a phrase I have stolen from the pharma industry. The futility boundary occurs when a particular drug cannot be said to have anything more than a psychological effect; its benefits can no longer be conclusively proved. No better than placebo.

I am convinced in HR we do too many things just because.

Its best practice, all the big companies do it, it’s the latest fad or must have, the latest bright idea. We seek affirmation from other people, psychological reinforcement that we are doing the right things, making the right decisions. We read case studies, articles and tweets, we see cool things and we want them. It’s why in our personal life we buy the shoes, the expensive handbags, the fancy cosmetics (me, anyway). I also believe it is why we can get so preoccupied with the concept of best practice. The HR awards season is starting, and my first response to those who deservedly won the coveted awards yesterday was to quickly read why they won, figure out what they are doing in their HR department that I’m not. Just in case I might be missing something.

The cult of best practice, the desire to jump straight on that latest bandwagon, can lead to the implementation of things that don’t fit our own individual business. We think we need them because we had them in another compnay, we just probably should. Then once they are in situ, we rarely stop to review them, consider if they are still the right thing. It is now pretty much accepted by lots of HR types that the annual performance review ain’t all that useful, employee engagement surveys don’t deliver. Do you remember the first time someone said that to you, the first blog or article you read criticising them? Cognitive dissonance kicks in. Did you agree wholeheartedly, or faced with the information that this particular bit of HR stuff we have been doing for ages might not be the best thing, did you put your fingers in your ears and say ‘I can’t hear you’? How long did you stay in denial before you changed your mind? And once you have launched or introduced something in your HR department, how often do you review it check whether those clothes still fit?

So here are my own personal HR things that have crossed my futility boundary; things that I can no longer fully articulate the value of, or show any benefit from, for my own situation, right now.

  • Employee handbooks (surely the most pointless thing ever)
  • Exit interviews (second from above)
  • Job evaluation (expensive, bureaucratic, questionable value beyond box ticking)
  • Scores in a performance review when the score isn’t linked to anything (I mean why?)
  • Employee forums / committees (never been in one that got out of the canteen / car park)
  • The engagement survey (naturally)

You will have your own personal futility boundary. And it’s all yours.

Become who you are. Create your own best practice.

Image by @AATImage (Graham Smith)

The Value of Values

Values. I bet your organisation has them. Are they on a wall in a frame, in your employee handbook, displayed in reception, on your careers site, or even on the side of a mug or a pen? Do they have a whole section to themselves on the intranet? Oh, and do your organisation live and breathe them, do they guide your decision making and behaviour every day, do they reflect your culture, does every single one of your employees know what they are? And just how much time and money did you spend developing and launching them?

I’ve been reflecting lately that we do a lot of stuff in HR because we think we should, because everyone else does it, because it is best practice. We try and keep up with the neighbours, even if the neighbours are bigger, with deeper pockets. Do we consider enough and ask whether they are right for our individual organisations, what problem they are really solving, how much it is actually costing us, where is the value?

Most companies have values. They have become an accepted part of corporate life. I’ve certainly been involved in creating a few. I have absolutely nothing against the principle of an organisation articulating what they stand for, what their culture is all about. Or indeed what they would like it to be. But I do have two questions for you. Think of your own espoused list of values. Do they really reflect what your company is all about? Do they feel true? And my second question: what purpose are they serving? Because if they aren’t recruited against, managed against, talked about and believed, then what did you spend all that money for?

My final criticism of values is just how generic and homogenous they can tend to be. Flexible, innovative, excellence, customer service, trusted. Sound familiar? Values get launched in a big frenzy, and then end up being nothing more than that list of words owned by HR that appears in the handbook, in the pretty frame in reception.

I know that there are organisations where values really matter and are part of the fabric of daily working life. It just feels to me that they are in the minority. But I bet whether they are embedded or not, the majority spend plenty of time, money and effort in the development and launch.

So what is the value of values? If you make them live, make them breathe, then yes, they will have value. They will explain to your employees, to future employees, to managers and customers what your company is all about, what they can expect from you, how working for you will feel. They will guide and inform. But if they are just words on a mug or pen, why don’t you just spend the money on something less corporate instead?

Image by @AATImage (Graham Smith)

The ‘E’ Word

There has been much talk on twitter and in the HR blog world lately about employee engagement, much of it prompted by a tweet from Neil Morrison in which he said ‘every time I hear the word engagement, another part of me dies’. I’ve been watching the development of the debate with interest. As many other commentators had written such eloquent blogs I wasn’t going to add to it, but an article, here: I saw at the weekend posed a question that made me itch.

The article was called ‘Whose job is engagement: HR, CEO or dedicated head of engagement’. Actually, when you read the full text it isn’t really advocating that engagement should be the responsibility of one person, but this idea that engagement can be owned is for me, one of the central problems with the whole concept.

I don’t particularly like the word engagement, although I guess it has to be called something. What does bother me is when it is treated like a project, a programme or initiative. Treating it in this way drives the wrong thought processes. It isn’t something that should be a SMART objective, something that requires a formal plan, a work stream or an executive sponsor. You also don’t need to spend a ton of cash on a survey. HR teams already collate a load of management information that will tell you whether your employees like working for you or not; sickness, retention, turnover, grievance levels will all give you an insight. Or you could go mad and just walk round and talk to people.

When it comes to ‘engagement ‘you just have to build it in to everything you do. When you make a decision, you have to ask yourself how this will impact your people. Now don’t think I’m coming over all fluffy. I’m not suggesting that your decisions should be guided by whether people will like them or not. But take them in the full knowledge of how it will make people feel, and specifically how they will feel about the company. If your decision is going to give people the hump, maybe it is still the right thing to do taking everything into account.

If the word we are going to use is engagement, then it is the responsibility of every single person, every decision maker in an organisation. Engagement cannot be owned. It is not a dog.



Image by @AATImage


What do you stand for?

I’m in a reflective sort of mood. I guess it’s the new year. Something has been on my mind for a few weeks now. Towards the end of last year, I went to a seminar. The speaker asked: ‘what do you stand for?’ It didn’t resonate. Then he asked it again: ‘what do you stand for, really?’  I didn’t have an immediate answer, and that shocked me.

I know what my personal brand is all about. If you read my twitter bio it tells you that I’m into employment law, employee relations, recruitment and coaching. I’m also pretty interested in all things social media, leadership and the future of work. But these are just HR subjects in reality; these interests don’t say anything about what I stand for professionally. So I thought about it. Then I thought about it some more, and I’ve come up with a list of what as a HR professional, I believe I should stand for. I’ve also added in a few ideas about what we shouldn’t be all about.

So here goes:

  • Doing the right thing. We all have to do difficult things from time to time in order to deliver the business strategy. Sometimes we have to take difficult decisions, but when you enact these decisions, you do it in a way that gives people the most respect that you can. You can ensure that people are treated with fairness and equity.
  • Being a good leader. IMHO one of the most important things you can be. Giving people confidence, opportunities and space to grow. Providing thanks and feedback.
  • Coaching. Enabling. Making people resourceful.
  • Adding value by being the people expert (even if this does mean reading vast amounts of books on TUPE and trade unions in my case). Not being afraid to say when you don’t know you are talking about.
  • Being honest. Even if you have something not very nice to say.
  • Being at the forefront of new stuff. Being the person who is pushing for best practice, keeping the business up to date, and driving forward the people agenda. Any old excuse to spend all day on Twitter…………….

What I don’t think HR should stand for IMHO:

  • Telling, not coaching. I don’t tell you what to do, I give you advice and explain the pros and cons and the risks. I also don’t do it for you, it it’s your responsibility.
  • Processes. I’ve commented many times on HR processes in earlier blogs. If they don’t add value or enable decision making I am just not doing them. And that’s that.
  • Being a support function. If you are serious about your people, don’t ask me for support. Ask me to be your partner in achieving your strategy.

These are the things that I stand for. What are yours?

Top 10 HR mistakes according to HRgem

In my last HRgem blog I was fairly critical of some managers in relation to what they expect from their HR teams. However, HR aren’t perfect either. So I thought I had better even up the scales, and write a little about what I think are the biggest mistakes made in HR and by HR people. Let me know what’s on your list?

1. Being the policy police. Don’t get me wrong, polices are hugely important. It’s just that we often have a tendency (me included) to write overlong tomes that try and cover every eventuality. Then when we have finished them, we follow them slavishly. There is a time to be flexible, it’s just a matter of knowing when and how you can. Otherwise, you risk being seen as a blocker and people will go around you.
2. Being too risk adverse. The fear of the employment tribunal can make the average HR person quake at the best of times, but I often meet people who put off making difficult decisions or doing difficult things because there is risk associated with it. There is risk in getting out of bed in the morning; if all HR do is quote the reasons why not to do something they won’t be seen as credible or commercial.
3. Having HR processes for the sake of processes. I’ve blogged before about my dislike of bureaucratic HR processes. If it doesn’t add any value, it’s not legally required or the output isn’t used, then just don’t do it.
4. Inflexibility. I remember a former company where you could not move from the recruitment PSL unless they had failed to deliver for a given number of days. Now there was probably a good reason why this had been negotiated. Maybe it gave the company some great costs savings. However, no one knew this, and it impacted the business. A policy had been put in place without proper consideration of the needs of the business, and HR just parroted it at line managers who became increasing frustrated with the lack of results.
5. Having a one size fits all approach. In a few years there will be five generations in the workplace. One benefits proposition, one recruitment strategy, one way of managing isn’t going to cut it. If you aren’t thinking about this already, then you need to be.
6. Lack of commercial awareness. I admit, numbers aren’t my thing. When the monthly figures come out I find it hard work, but make the effort to digest and understand. See next point.
7. Just turning up for the HR bit. If you want to be a HR business partner, you need to partner at every level. If that means sitting through meetings about sales and marketing plans, IT strategy or improving the customer experience then so be it. If HR just turn up for a slot at the end of the meeting agenda to talk about people then you won’t be viewed as an integral part of the management team.
8. Forgetting who you work for. I know some HR people take the approach that they are there as an intermediary between the company and the workforce. They take a mediation / compromise role. Ultimately, HR are employed by an organisation for an organisation.
9. Notwithstanding point 8, not doing a bit of tea and tissues sometimes. There is a time and place for this too, in balance.
10. Failing to understand the business pressures. If you are want to implement a new clothing policy while the business is going through major problems expect to be ignored just a bit.

Of course, I have never made any of these mistakes in my career………………….