Information is energy, not power

How does your organisation treat information? I mean proper information, the stuff that makes a difference.

The organisational response to feedback about their information flow is normally one of two things, to instigate more formal information sharing platforms, to berate management for not cascading the content of the already existing platforms.

Meanwhile, the real information flow in the organisation doesn’t change. Because it isn’t a process, it’s culture.

We all know the phrase, “knowledge is power” but the reality is that in far too many of our organisations information is being used as such by a large proportion of our people.

It strikes me the leader’s job is to use information as energy and not as power. We are there to disseminate the appropriate information at the right time to aid performance but also to retain information, to shield people if that information would hinder performance.

And that’s a fine balance.

I don’t buy the idea that total absolute information flow is the organisational gold standard. The demands to know everything is a simple means of recognising that information is seen as power within your business.

We all know that organisations produce ridiculous amounts of data and also, particularly in these fluid times, the agenda can change repeatedly. Sometimes it just isn’t helpful to know.

Culturally advanced organisations know when to share and when not to share. Likewise, people in culturally advanced organisations recognise what they need to know and what they don’t.

And that’s where we need to aim.

The outsourcing myth

Outsourcing has hung around our profession for a while. And it is easy to see why it’s an attractive proposition for a number of reasons:

  • For the CFO it removes headcount and overhead
  • For the HRD it allows the focus to shift to strategy
  • For the CEO it provides consistent service and support

Which in many senses is an organisational wet dream.

And whilst many organisations have moved away from the third-party outsource, they are, instead, setting up internal service models to provide HR services back in to the main organization. The insourced, outsource, if you’d like.

I’ve never quite been able to get my head around this. The arguments are simple and yet at the same time completely contradictory to the demands that I hear from line managers, employees and CEOs whenever I talk to them.

  • We want someone there to support us, someone who understands our business
  • We want to be treated like human beings, not part of a process
  • We want HR to be closer to the business

The simple process of moving HR services in to a separate organization, in to a separate location and away from the rest of the organization is directly in conflict with every single opinion trend that there is. Yet still we persist.

For most employees, the only contact they have with HR is on a transactional basis. The way in which we are perceived is based on this and the data that we need to understand our organization comes through these interactions. It just makes no sense whatsoever.

Rather than pushing away the bits of HR that seem like an inconvenience, we should be looking to drive service excellence. Rather than pushing it out in to some shed in the middle of a godforsaken town with “low labour costs” (for this read high unemployment), we should be pulling this in to our core.

Outsourcing has a beautifully convenient appeal. But as a wise person said, “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is”.

Government doesn’t make bad employers

Before the election I was asked to write a piece for HR Magazine laying out my dream policy. The sad fact is that whichever party had come to power the idea of providing free cheese and wine to HR Directors was never really going to get any traction. We can but dream. But, if you’re really interested, you can see the series of articles here.

Since the election, I’m hearing a lot of noise from left leaning, liberal, tree hugging, social media loving types, highlighting the risk to the world of work and employee rights from a right of centre government. And whilst it isn’t surprising (we all know the pantomime lines after all) it does seem to neglect the power that organisations have themselves to create good work and a good working environment.

There seems to be a perspective on organisations that “if you allow them to do it, then they will” which I find patronising and naïve in equal measure. The fact is, that lots of us work incredibly hard year in and year out to make work better AND make profit. That doesn’t mean that we always get it right and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t dodgy employers out there either.

The irony is that the same people who preach trusting employees in the workplace, reducing policies and procedures and placing the emphasis on adult to adult relationships seem to change their tune when it comes to CEOs and their relationship with Government. Employees should be treated like grown ups, but companies? Heaven forbid.

I’ve been involved in the Good Recruitment Campaign, a brilliant initiative from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation supported by many, many large employers who want to ensure high standards in recruitment. I’ve also been involved in the superb Learning to Work initiative from CIPD, which also has many, many high-profile businesses working to help reduce youth unemployment and connect the unemployed with opportunities in their businesses. These are just two, I could go on.

Beside these organised initiatives, there is also good practice going on in organisations up and down the country. Leadership and management teams that are trying to run their organisations well and responsibly and also provide shareholder return. After all, we all benefit from successful companies.

We have it in our power to be either good or bad employers, to treat people well or to treat them badly, to be supportive or attritional in our working relationships. No-one makes us do anything and ultimately we have the choice. The Government doesn’t have to set the agenda for HR, we can set it for ourselves. Instead of whinging and whining about matters beyond our control, let’s get back in to our businesses and make the argument for doing the right thing, regardless of who is or isn’t in power.

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.