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.

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.

Modern meeting mayhem

You know why people like the period around a bank holiday so much? Because they get stuff done. For some reason, the organisational cogs seem better oiled around a bank holiday and we come away feeling productive and ending our days with a sense of achievement.

Is this coincidence?

No. It’s directly related to a reduction in the number of meetings being held, because people are on holiday and they become harder to schedule. And the time saved is used on more productive activity than locking grown people in a room.

Because there is an irony in business that the amount of time you spend on unproductive activity is directly proportional to seniority and the amount that you’re paid.. The higher you go, the more time you waste being sat in a room with other well paid people and an agenda.

It really is a thing of dumb assed organisational beauty and some people even boast about it, “I’ve been back to back all day”.

Think about it…..

1) Time slots – Meetings happen in half hour and hour blocks because Microsoft Outlook tells us that’s how it should be. We extend the content to fit the time, we never start with content and then work out how long it will take. You’re allowing yourself to be run by the bastard offspring of a paperclip.

2) Creativity – I don’t know about you, but I normally have my best ideas in the shower or the gym. Rarely have I sat in item 2 of an agenda and come up with a stroke of genius related to the stated topic – no matter how far in advance the agenda was sent out. Sometimes I come up with a brilliant idea for a holiday or something to do at the weekend, but that’s another thing.

3) Physicality – I’m sure the modern meeting is morphing into some sort of modern endurance sport. Here’s a thing….stand outside a meeting room and watch people’s faces as they come out. How many other contexts in life can you come up with where people come together sat in a rectangle, in a room with little air or light that doesn’t constitute a war crime?

4) Inclusion – Imagine you were fighting a zombie apocalypse. Every single person in that room is one less person nailing closed the doors and shooting the shuffling, drooling onslaught in the head (which I’m reliably told that this is the only sure-fire way to kill them), would you still have invited Bob from Accounts, just to keep him “in the loop”?

5) Actions – We spend all our time talking about what needs to be done and making lists, but nobody has time to do them. Because they’re in too many meetings. So we  meet and make them b/f or c/f until they no longer have relevance and we can move on to the next agenda item. Seriously.

So that’s all very good Neil, but what are the alternatives, we need to run this business after all?

Well, I’m not against meetings per se, I get they sometimes need to happen for governance purposes. But I can guarantee that I can diagnose the health of an organisation by their approach to meetings. Take the top 20 leaders in your organisation and look at how much of their time is taken up with meetings. Why? Because you can as sure as hell know that they’re replicating it down the organisation. And ask yourself whether this is why you hired them, to do this.

If we genuinely want people to collaborate, we should facilitate but allow them to come together organically to solve problems and create value. We need to trust and empower people to deliver against an overarching purpose. We need to set them free to contribute.

And meetings, well they don’t even touch the sides……

HR is UX

Over the past few years, I’ve written repeatedly about simplicity being fundamental to the future of organisational management. I’m not alone, and increasingly there is a trend to recognise this. You know that when Deloitte starts referring to it as an emerging trend that it is no longer niche.

And whilst it is well acknowledged that simplicity is harder to achieve than complexity. I think, simplicity is…..well a little simple.

For me, the future of HR management lies in a concept that is often attributed to technology, but has as much, if not more, to do with human interaction. I’m talking about “user experience” or UX a term that didn’t really exist in this way until the mid 90s.

But UX and the approach to it can inform our HR and people management practices both in our use of technology and in the wider approach to employees.

It’s Sunday at time of writing and I’m feeling a bit lazy, so let’s borrow from Wikipedia the main benefits of UX based design,

• Avoiding unnecessary product features
• Simplifying design documentation and customer-centric technical publications
• Improving the usability of the system and therefore its acceptance by customers
• Expediting design and development through detailed and properly conceived guidelines
• Incorporating business and marketing goals while protecting the user’s freedom of choice

Anyone arguing with any of those? No, I thought not. But do we really practice it?

Think about when you open a new technology product. Let’s take an iPhone. The design, the presentation, the simplicity that belies the complexity beneath, the configurability and personalisation, the navigation and experience. Think of the excitement you felt the first time you saw or experienced one.

When smart phones came in to existence, nobody could see the point. The seemed like an expensive, laborious waste of time and money. But in time we’ve come to find them an essential that we can’t live without.

Now there’s a thing…..