Never mind the HR department

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Today, Nev Wilshire, CEO of Saving Britain Money is delivering a keynote speech at the HR Director’s Summit in Birmingham.  He is better known to most of us as Nev from BBC3’s The Call Centre.

I will confess to being a fan of the show, even if Nev doesn’t appear to be a big fan of his HR department.  In one episode he is filmed running through the building, ducking into offices to hide from the company HR manager.  There is plenty in the show to make the average HR person cringe.  And employment lawyers rub their hands in glee.

Take making people sing in induction.  Or Nev attempting to get a date for one of his employees, describing her as a ‘desperate female’, by parading her through the call centre and encouraging single men to hug her.  Then there are the arm wrestling challenges to determine whether someone can have a promotion.  Races in the car park to determine if Nev will sponsor an employee’s visa extension.  Playing Russian Roulette with raw eggs.  And Nev’s not particularly sensitive way of discussing the speech impediment of a job applicant.

We could sit here and sneer a little perhaps.  To point to the theory that says this isn’t the way to do things.  That some of these techniques could expose the company to risk and to claims. That our way is so much more sophisticated. To some sort of HR (drum roll) people best practice.

But.

Something about this is working for him. Save Britain Money came number five in the Sunday Times 100 best companies to work for.  Unlike other awards that you can enter your company for, this one surveys employees and this heavily influences the results. It’s not the only award they have won. The people that work there appear to be pretty engaged, doing what is a very hard job.

Nev’s mantra is ‘happy people sell’.  The sounds suspiciously like employee engagement drives business performance to me.  You know, that thing we are still talking about and arguing about.  Whatever our HR theory says, Nev is making it work for him, at his place.   Long may he continue to do so.

I had the opportunity to interview him today.  I asked him how he felt about being in a room full of hundreds of HR folks.  He was quite polite. But I’m guessing by the look on his face, he was wondering what on earth he was doing here. For one I am glad he came. Because sometimes we can put own heads up our respective backsides with the theories and the seriousness and the debates.

Somewhere in here there is a lesson to be learned. I’m just not sure entirely what it is yet.

Now excuse me. I’m off for an existential crisis.