It’s not you, it’s me

I’ve never met a CEO who didn’t want a world class HR service.

I’ve met a number who didn’t know how to articulate it, who described HR but called it something else, who talked about the importance of talent management, skills development, workforce planning, incentivisation and organisational performance.

But I’ve never met one who has said, “people are not important and I don’t care what I get out of them”.

On the other hand, I have met a lot of CEOs who are fed up with their HR functions, with their HR teams. Who see HR as a barrier to all the things that they want to achieve and who focus on areas that they don’t see as important.

If you look at any survey of CEO priorities or concerns, you will see time and time again “people” concerns in the top five check it out, year on year on year. There is no shortage of opportunity for us, to be involved, to influence, to be central to the development of our organisations.

So what’s the point of this? The point is simple.

Where we fail. WE fail. It isn’t our organisation, it isn’t our company, it isn’t our CEO. It is our inability to win the debate, to drive the agenda, to create the opportunity. And the bitter sweet thing about this, is that we have total control.

I’m fed up of hearing about the organisation that didn’t want this, or the CEO that didn’t like that. We need to focus the debate on our own performance and the standards within our profession. If you talk to any headhunter working within HR, they will tell you of the dearth of talent. If you ask them about their experience working with HR as a client, they’ll tell you of their despair.

This isn’t about rebranding, or “having a dialogue”. This isn’t about changing our name or shiny new logos. This is about a fundamental shift in the standards that we accept in our profession and being relentless in challenging ourselves to do more.

And I understand that there will be people saying, “Morrison is banging on again” and yes I am, and I will continue to do so. Because I’m passionate about the work I do and the work that my team does. I see organisations that are demonstrating real commitment and value. But they are the few and the far.

Too often, I see sub standard HR professionals and HR teams. That are failing to embrace the opportunity that is right in front of them. Don’t listen to me, read all the articles and the stories about them. Go speak to “normal” people and ask them their experiences with HR.

The HR agenda is being hijacked by a tree hugging, granola munching minority, that talk about creating something new. These are the same people who left corporate life because they couldn’t make change happen and couldn’t stand the pace. Otherwise they’d be doing exactly what they were talking about inside their previous organisations.

And whilst they will tell you that they can make change happen from outside, the truth is they can’t, because the agenda they espouse and the mistruths they propagate are exactly the things that frustrate the CEOs. They are the weak and sickly branches of our profession that need to be clinically lopped off in order to allow us to grow and flourish.

I’d love this to be the year that we really wake up, but I don’t think that’s going to happen just yet. But if we are to move forward, we need to embrace the undeniable truth…..

It’s not them, it’s us.


  1. Simon Jones · January 12, 2015

    I was with you all the way until the third from last paragraph, since I’m guessing that you would include me in the “tree hugging granola munching minority” as I don’t work in corporate life, use twitter and do chat with other independents via social media and at networking events about how we can change the profession.

    The real villians of HR are the corporate departments with their processes and procedures and “we can’t do that because it will set a precedent” approach, who run to employment lawyers at the drop of hat because they have so little confidence in their own abilities and who frustrate the hell out of senior managers because they can’t or won’t see their role as being to help them achieve their business goals. When you work with smaller businesses, as I do, it’s very easy to do good HR if you can demonstrate that you are adding value, and that you can do things differently to the perceived “world class HR” (which usually isn’t)

    • Neil · January 18, 2015

      I wouldn’t include anyone specifically. I agree that there are poor standards in HR departments, that’s the main part of the argument. But I also believe there are too many people on the outside who preach but don’t practise.

  2. Chris · January 12, 2015

    It could be the year we wake up Neil…after all, the CIPD has just re-branded…

    What is granola?

    • Neil · January 18, 2015

      Purple granola…..

  3. amandasterling · January 12, 2015

    Hey I make my own granola and it’s pretty damn tasty!

    Do you think any CEO is going to say “people are not important and I don’t care what I get out of them”. That’d be pretty big dumb-asses if they did. No, they’re more likely to demonstrate it in their actions. I have met CEOs who have prioritised machinery over people, and it’s usually wrapped up in a whole lot of other justification so it’s not that hard to detect. I’ve also been lucky to work in some pretty great HR teams who don’t sound anything like the negative stereotype of HR that keep getting banged around and have really championed great practices despite some challenging leadership.

    I agree with your sentiment that the responsibility rests with HR. But I also wonder whether this negative stereotype of HR is dying out pretty quickly. I’ve met some amazing HR people, over the past six months in particular, who are living and breathing all of the things you are talking about. In fact, I’m now seeing more of these HR people than the bad ones. There is such a great opportunity to share stories of these people, connect others to learn from them and continually challenge their thinking.

    I think there is an opportunity to affect change from the outside. It’s more dispersed, but the quantity and quality of influence is the same.

    Just in case you need a hug Neil here’s a NZ tree for you 😉

    • Neil · January 18, 2015

      Nice tree, thank you.

      OK, so I do think that there are pockets of good practice, but the reality is that most people have a bad experience with their HR department. Don’t talk to HR professionals, talk to other employees and ask them what they think.

  4. Steve · January 14, 2015

    Interesting article Neil. An important way to influence the CEO is to speak their language. HR Analytics is one way to do this. But data on its own is not enough, what’s needed is insight and actionable recommendations. HR can benefit from analytics like their finance colleagues.

    • Neil · January 18, 2015

      I agree. And base the interventions on the combination of insight and intuition.

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