Disrupting HR?

I wish I could be like the cool kids, all the cool kids seem to disrupt…..

You know when even the establishment talks about disrupting that you’re seriously missing out. That somehow there is a boat that has sailed, you didn’t even managed to work out was in the harbour.

Everyone is disrupting. We’re disrupting the disruption that was disrupted in the last great disrupt. We’re so disruptive that we’ve forgotten what exactly it was that we were trying to do and why.

Or alternatively, we’re enthusiastically employing the lexicon of another world without really understanding what it is we’re talking about and why.

Do we need to disrupt HR? I guess it depends on what you think HR is.

If you think that HR is a series of processes and policies and procedures. If you think that HR is a static system of interventions that exist in isolation of the organisational ecosystem. If you think that HR is a practice which has failed to evolve, develop and adapt.

Then yes, maybe you do want to disrupt that.

But do you think that? Is that what we really think our profession is? A set of processes. Is that the value you add? When you talk about disruption, is that what you wish to disrupt?

What if HR is the strategic approach to managing people to deliver business performance. If it is about helping people to be better, be happier and deliver more. If it is about creating an adaptive system that changes, develops and grows as part of the organisational system within which it exists.

Do you really want or need to disrupt that?

I’m all for better. I’m all for evolution. I’m all for improvement.

The funny thing about successful organisations, successful practices is that they change, develop and evolve before the need to disrupt them occurs.

Maybe there are areas of our world that need a shake up. But let’s stop the lazy deployment of terms that we don’t really understand and don’t really mean, just to keep in with the in crowd.

You go ahead and disrupt if you really want to, I’m going to adapt, develop and grow.

And when the dust settles, we’ll see who’s further ahead.

You may be invincible, I’ll be in the background.

And that’s ok.

Let’s groove on, ‘cause it’s time to move on

I’m bored.

I’m bored of people telling us we don’t need policies.
I’m bored of people telling us we need to be on SoMe.
I’m bored of the “humanisation” of HR
And I’m bored of the endless frigging debates about performance reviews.

I’m bored of HR people being boring.

Sure, we’ve nudged on slightly over the last five years. The debates became more thoughtful, more challenging, more creative.

Then they became more boring.


Because we’re still talking about the same things we were back then.

Do you need policies? Probably. Do you need a debate about it? Probably not.
Do you need to be on SoMe? No. Do you need to write another “book” about it? God no.
Does HR need to be more human? Yes. Do you need to shut up talking about it and do it? Yes.
Is this the end of the performance review? No

There we go. We’re all done.

So how about we move on and talk about some of the things that really matter?

Increasing alienation in a fragmented society.
Technology permanently disfiguring the labour market.
Our socio-economic, demographic time bomb.
The collapse of the global education system.

And of course, the impact of Christmas jumpers on the global sheep farming market…..

Actually, how about each one of us talks about something different? How about me have a million, a billion different ideas – a cacophony of thoughts, ideas and feelings?

Agree, disagree, argue, challenge and dissent. But think. Think free, think true and don’t listen to the nonsense that I and other “voices” in the space proffer. We need more thought, less consensus and much, much less blogging.

What we do is important, what we can achieve is transformational, yet at the moment, all we talk about is the past.

Uber, Netflix, Facebook and Google teach us nothing

Where once the FTSE100 and Fortune 500 were the darlings of the industry, lining up to share case study after case study. They’ve now been replaced by the new generation of corporate clones – those organisations that “disrupted” the previous incumbents.

You can learn to “Uber” your recruitment processes, reinvent HR the “Netflix way”, learn to manage “Facebook talent” and, of course, create the company that everyone wants to work for thanks to Google.  Without mentioning taking time to remove your management in order to be like the Z word that cannot be repeated.

As we watch even the mainstream companies rush to be the first in their sector to do away with performance reviews (they’ll be back…..mark my words), what should you be doing? How can the average HR practitioner keep up with the heady trend of HR reinvention and disruption?

Well, you can start by doing nothing.

Zip, diddly squat, nada. Talk a walk, enjoy the autumn leaves, watch the squirrels bury their nuts.

Remember how you hated being told how to do it like RBS, HSBC and Marks and Spencer? Remember how GC, Diageo and Mars made you feel inferior just by standing in a room?

It’s the same thing. Just with a new type of shiny.

The key to successful HR management is the same as interior design. Be sympathetic to the structure, think about practicalities, have an eye for creativity and a drop of flair. But remember what your budget is, where you’re starting from and always, ALWAYS get planning permission.

Because in the same way that you wouldn’t apply explicit geometric design to an 16th Century coach house, or brutalism to a Tudor mansion, nor should you necessarily try to apply holacracy in a traditional engineering business, or values based leadership in a tobacco company.

What is missing from our profession, isn’t a new set of case studies it’s a sense of creative thinking, innovation and invention. By all means look at what other people are doing to inform and educate. To give you ideas and to provoke thought. But find your own solution in your own business.

Uber, Netflix, Facebook and Google teach us nothing, they just show one way. Rather than lining up to be the next one to swallow the Kool Aid, why don’t you try to create something for yourself? Not only will it be more rewarding, it’s a hell of a lot more likely to work.

HR can make the world a better place

Imagine if you could make the world a better place.

Imagine if you could go to work and contribute to a more harmonious, more secure, safer and happier world. Would that appeal?

How about if you could do that by working in HR?

We spend so much of our lives in work, our experience of the world is so often dictated by our experiences in the workplace. If we’re happy, if we’re sad, if we feel safe and secure, or manipulated, used or ill at ease.

Our ability to be able to provide for ourselves, the safety net that provides us with support when we are at our lowest points, ill, caring for dependents, dealing with the changes that life brings upon us. These things make all the difference.

A positive work experience becomes a positive social experience and a positive life experience. And this positive effect spreads further than the inside of our enterprises, it spreads in to society as a whole.

But what’s more, when we think of the role that works play in society then we can play an even bigger part in the world.

Fairness in society is driven significantly by fairness at work. A sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, a sense of participation and self-determination. All of these things drive the psychological wellbeing of employees and of society as a whole.

Fragmented societies, societies that are based on injustice, control, fear and division for the purposes of power are fertile ground for extreme reactions, for insurrection and disorder. They are repeatedly the start of a chain reaction that challenges the balance of the world.

Is it too much to suggest that HR can make the world a better place? I don’t think so. Work forms such an intrinsic part of the fabric of society, it holds such an important place in the everyday lives of us all. Why would it not have a greater effect on the equilibrium of the world as a whole?

Work shapes our lives and if we can make work better we can make lives better. But it also
shapes society and, yes, if we can make work better we can, and should, make the world a happier, stable more secure place.