Size doesn’t matter

Statistically speaking, you’ll not always be right.

The amount of money involved in the decision has absolutely no mathematical bearing of the probability of you being correct.

Yet, it will have a direct and absolute correlation with your ability to accept your mistake.

And that, in three sentences we unveil perhaps the greatest folly of business and in turn, HR.

I’ve observed this over the years that I’ve been in corporate life, the larger the stakes, the lower the propensity to accept the reality of failure.

Like a punch drunk gambler at the casino table of life we pour good money after bad to assuage the egos of those that set us upon this path.

I wrote last year about the changes in technology that allow us to approach investment discussions in a different way. Since then I’ve seen a number of conversations with the likes of Undercurrent and Josh Bersin about the need to approach business cases like a start-up.

Low barriers to entry. Short cycles. Fast failure.

Yet the argument, whilst unassailable in its logic, still falls on deaf ears. Because of the simple fact that corporate life is predominantly male.

And men value size, not satisfaction.

Where are the bragging rights in showing off a small, low-cost, pilot project, when we can talk about multi million pound investments with gargantuan Powerpoint presentations that suggest the future value of something but with no empirical evidence, whatsoever, to support.

It isn’t the efficiency of your car, it’s the size of the engine. It isn’t the quality of the meal, but the price of the bill.

In business, we still determine value and importance by volume. We pride ourselves on the investment more readily than the return.

Until we can change our perspective of success from that of the old corporate norms, until we can challenge the way in which we judge efficacy and performance within our (predominantly traditional) businesses, we will not be able to face up to the new economic realities and we will show ourselves as wanting, as vulnerable to the faster more agile, less egotistical organisations entering in to our markets.

We need to redefine success criteria within our businesses in order to survive. But that starts with redefining the value that we put on our own corporate careers.

Let’s build a legacy that ensures future recognition, rather than build a monument to ourselves.

Insy or outsy?

I’m hearing it all too often at the moment, “we need to take an outside in approach”. It’s a movement that finds a proponent in the form of one Dave Ulrich, he of the failed HR operating model that encouraged a slavish implementation, that set the profession back the best part of a decade.

But of course, Ulrich wasn’t responsible for our misinterpretation of the model and nor is he responsible for the potential screw up we could make on an outside in approach by assuming we need external expertise and perspectives.

It’s not you, Dave, it’s us.

So let me start by suggesting that what we really need to take is an inside, outside, inside approach.

It doesn’t trip off the tongue as well, admittedly, but stay with me.

You see, everything starts with your employees. I can almost guarantee that any problem that you have, any barrier you need to overcome, any issue that needs improvement, can be better identified by the people within your organisation than anyone outside.

My evidence?

The first thing any external third-party does when you hire them? They suggest carrying out a series of interviews, focus groups, listening groups or some sort of questionnaire to understand the needs of your employees.

It really is the equivalent of giving someone your watch and asking them to tell you the time.

I’m the first person to suggest that HR people need to get their heads up and scan the horizon, but that starts by looking outside the HR function and only then outside of the business.

Yes we need to understand the economic and socio-political context in which we operate, yes we need to focus on the markets and environments in which our businesses exist. But that only has any relevance if we know where the skills, capabilities, weaknesses and opportunities exist within our own enterprises.

Look outside by all means, but first work out what it means to be inside. Because that’s is where your organisational value lies.

Education is too important for politicians

I’ve written before about our supply chain.

It always strikes me as bizarre that as a profession we talk about the value of people, but we seldom discuss, in real detail, the production of the resource that is central to our being.

Education.

Anyone who has been involved in education in any form will know that the one thing that defines our education system is constant change.

We plan our education policy on cycles of a maximum of five years. And yet our educational cycle is a minimum of 14 years. Which means that as a child, as a student, you could easily have four or five different educational policies in place during your education.

Different targets

Different focus areas

Different  inspection regimes

Different syllabuses (syllabi?)

Different exams

And the changes introduce unnecessary drag and inefficiency in to the supply chain as teachers and leaders attempt to understand, assimilate and implement the requirements of the latest policy.

But not only does that inefficiency mean that we’re not maximising the return on investment in educational resource, it also means that we are providing confused and often contradictory messages to both students and parents.

If we are serious about skills and education providing a competitive advantage to the UK, we need to take a longer term approach that builds consistently towards a future skills agenda and underpins our economic success.

Which means taking it out of the hands of politicians and raising it above the quagmire of vote winning, electioneering soundbites and delivering it into the hands of expert educationalists and economists.

I wrote a piece for HR Magazine recently on this, but simply put, if we want to be serious about our role in the strategic direction of our organisations and United Kingdom Plc, it needs to start with us taking education seriously.

So when the canvassers come and stand on your doorstep, don’t just ask them what their policy on education is, ask them how they’re going to ensure long-term stability in education.

Regardless of who is in power.

The future of work is…

A recent fad appears to be making predictions about the future of work. Made by the same demographic that watched Tomorrow’s World in the 70s and proclaimed that by the year 2000 we’d all be going around in flying cars and eating meals in the form of pills.

The excitement is real and genuine, every time a high-profile organisation does anything goofy, we hear “that’s the future of work”. Which totally misses the point. This isn’t about,

  • Social connection
  • Collaboration
  • Mobile technology
  • Holacracy (I can’t even bring myself to say it)

At the end of the day, the basis of work is an exchange of labour for reward. Not much changing there any time soon.

Too much of the debate is led by the middle-income, middle class, semi professional demographic. Who, it seems to me, are forecasting what they would like to see happen rather than basing it on anything solid.

So what are the trends that we are definitely seeing?

But none of these things are new. We’ve seen them all before. In fact, they represent the trend for significant parts of the history of work and employment.*

  • A gap between rich and poor
  • The skilled and the unskilled
  • Regional wealth
  • Longer working life and the dependence of the infirm*

In some ways, you could argue that the last fifty years have been the blip. When we look at the future of work, we need to look a little bit further afield…..

But it isn’t forward, it’s back.

And there’s not a single, shiny new management trend in sight. Just a significant challenge for all of us involved in the world of work to face up to.

*UPDATE: Thanks to @FlipChartRick for seeking clarification on this point. The use of the word “trend” is perhaps a little loose and reality might have been a better choice of words.