Is HR the moral compass?

Like a librarian at a swingers party, one of the biggest criticisms of HR is our propensity to say no. I too have been critical in the past of the fact that we tend to use negative language and over rely on legislation and policy to substitute for clear thinking and rational argument. But sometimes, no means no.

I believe everyone has their own moral compass. And I don’t believe that as a profession we should be the first to occupy the moral high ground (I, as many others have made some shocking management decisions in our time). But I do think we have a role to make organisations and work better. That’s one of the reasons why I do what I do.

It is easy to defer responsibility to the CEO, the leadership team, the rest of the organisation and say that you were only following orders, but ultimately we as HR professionals have a duty to challenge cultural underperformance before anyone else. That’s part of our job, it goes with the territory.

That’s why I want to draw your attention to the CIPD’s Profession for the Future programme. This isn’t just about ethics and compliance, it’s about practice. And most importantly, it is about creating better work and working lives for everyone. And I can’t think of a better reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Work made better is good for the economy, it’s good for society, it’s good for employees and employers. There’s a real need to get our collective voices heard as proponents of positive action, rather than defenders of the status quo. And whilst our professional body can take the lead, it also means that each and every one of us, as individual practitioners, needs to be held accountable to a moral code.

At the end of the day, intent is important, but only action matters. So let’s take the first collective steps.

I am #HR

Most of the time I’m ineffectual. I come to work to suck value out of the organisation. My existence merely creates irrelevant work that does’t need to be done.

My colleagues don’t like or respect me, they don’t value what I do and they’d function much better without me. They know the business would be ten times more productive if I didn’t exist. I’m tolerated because that’s what businesses do.

I don’t have any influence. People don’t turn to me for advice. I operate in a vacuum have little, if any, impact on the rest of the organisation. Everyone talks about me and laughs at how ridiculously pointless I am.

Then, overnight….a “change” occurs.

I am the dark overlord that runs the business from the behind the mist of poisonous cloud that surrounds me. I move in the shadows with such power and influence that grown men weep in my presence.

The forms and processes that my evil minions devise have a black magic that possesses the hearts and minds of those that set eyes on them. Leaders and managers cower and obey my every word.They have no choice, because of the evil I wield.

I am the one true power and my intent is to bring misery and despair on all of those that I employ. I have one simple purpose and that is to dehumanise and debase every single employee that exists in my realm.

I am useless and ineffective.

Yet I am evil and malevolent.

So which one am I?

I am HR.

The purpose of work

Ask yourself the question, “what do I live for?”

Your family, your friends, your lover, that glass of wine or pint of beer on a Friday night, to run, to cycle, to fly, to serve?

When push comes to shove, if you had one thing that you could keep in your life, what would it be?

My guess is, not work.

Of course, there’s always a group of rare individuals out there that have managed to align their vocation so completely and totally with their passion that they may disagree.

But not many.

The fact is that most of your colleagues, your employees, the people who serve you your over priced coffee in the morning, work for no higher reason than their paycheck.

Is that a problem?

The purpose of work is not to create purpose, but to afford people the opportunity to find it elsewhere.

You may find meaning in religion, Bob in accounts finds in his music, Brenda the CEO in elaborate pony-play and I might find it in the bottom of a glass. Who are we to judge which is right?

Our job is to create sustainable good work, that allows our employees to live their lives outside of work, rather than create an artificial environment of belonging within our walls.

Work is work. Just that. Nothing more.

And that’s absolutely ok.


Your corporate culture is dead

Do you feel like you belong at work? Do you want to feel like you belong?

What is the role of organisations in creating a sense of purpose and belonging? Is there one, or is it all a waste of time?

When employment was for life, or as near as, there was a sense of belonging and identity. Families worked for the same employer generation after generation, towns and communities were built around industries and employers.

But that time is past and now we move as freely between organisations as we do between pretty much every other aspect of our lives. And with the increase in those that work for more than one employer, can we really expect them to feel any sense of identity with multiple paymasters?

When people no longer come to the same workplace, from the same background or even the same country, can we really expect people to feel a sense of commitment and identity beyond the payslip?

Whats clear is that the way i which we view organisational culture needs to change. No longer can we tell people what our culture is and expect them to adhere. Like the condescending finger wagging of authority that we saw in the wake of this weekend’s rugby result, we can no more tell people how they should or shouldn’t react in defeat than we can tell them who we are as an organisation and how they need to behave. The management of corporate culture is dead.

Yet at the same time, people can feel identity and belonging without being present or managed into doing so. Beatlemania showed that you didn’t have to have ever visited Liverpool or even have seen the band to find some depth of association and belonging, Manchester United have fans that buy their shirts across the world without ever having set foot in Old Trafford. And of course, people are travelling across from across the world to fight and support ISIS without ever having any connection with Syria or the fighters that are there.

What does this mean? I don’t know. More questions than answers once again. But it suggests that the way in which we think about organisational culture needs to change. It is no longer a static managed product that is delivered top down, no matter how many bottom up exercises and listening groups you hold.

It is fluid, transient and needs to appeal more than it needs to dictate. It exists because people say it does and it lives because people want it to. It’s a sum of the parts of the hopes and dreams of every single person that wishes to exist within it is. And it is entirely voluntary, for better or for worse.