7 lessons I’ve learnt in HR

I was asked last week, what advice I would have given myself at the beginning of my career. After a little bit of reflection, I think it would go a little like this.

  1. Reward yourself
    There are a number of specialisms that you can often move in to. It is very easy early on to be lured into resourcing or learning or employment relations. But if you want to make it to the top of your profession, the one you really need to get your head around is compensation and reward. That’s the area that really requires your attention, thought and understanding.
  2. Brands don’t matter
    The best jobs aren’t always with the best known companies. It is very easy to be attracted by the thought of working for the bigger brand names, the ones that will be familiar to your friends and family, but the best opportunities will often lie elsewhere. Rather than looking at the logo on the add, look at the reviews of the company, think about the experience that you want to develop.
  3. Titles mean nothing
    When I started my career, job titles were pretty standard across companies and between teams. There were always a few areas of overlap, but it was pretty linear. Very quickly things started to change and it all got a whole lot messier. Job titles mean almost nothing. You can be the CEO of a business of one, or a Manager of hundreds of people. Think content, think scope, don’t think business card.
  4. Move around
    You will learn more by changing industries than you will ever anticipate. Explore the opportunities to go elsewhere, learn from different cultures, different models, different sectors. Show you can be successful in any environment and adapt your practice. There are assumptions made that industry experience is a necessity, it isn’t, that’s just a lazy lie.
  5. Go global
    Our workplaces, our organisations and our workforces are increasingly international. And whilst people have broadly the same constitution whether you might be in the world, the way in which they interact, the way in which they consider issues and they way in which they work together will be different. Getting experience of this doesn’t mean jumping on a plane every week, instead think about how you gain good international exposure.
  6. Have fun
    Nobody is going to die from the work you do. Well, not normally. So don’t forget to enjoy what you are doing, have fun, be playful, be light-hearted and remember that the more positivity you exude the more you will get back. People spend more time than they should at work and helping them to enjoy that experience is part of your job too. Don’t think discretionary effort, think discretionary enjoyment.
  7. Don’t dig in
    Don’t go in to the trenches when you think you’re under attack, but instead seek to understand how you can change, learn and grow. A lot of the work that you do won’t be welcomed by a standing ovation and streamers and balloons. But you need to differentiate the normal reaction from the times when you get it wrong. Understand that you can learn from other people in the business about how to do great work, not just from conferences and journals.

7 steps to interview success

I shudder to think of the amount of time I’ve spent interviewing over the last twenty years, every role from the C suite, through Managing Director and profit centre heads to technical specialisms and seasonal workers. Every interview is different, but there are some things I universally see in good interview candidates. Here’s what they do:

1 ) Answer the question you’re asked – I want to start with this, because whilst I know it sounds a little obvious, you’d be surprised how many people fail to do so and talk about something completely different. Most recruiters won’t be fooled and we will be wondering whether you didn’t understand or couldn’t answer. If you’re not sure what to say then…..

2) Don’t be afraid to pause – Some of the most impressive interviewees I’ve seen are willing to take their time. They have the confidence to hold the room for a moment whilst they think of a good answer. I don’t have any problem with people using a couple of stock phrases to buy time, “that’s an interesting question” or “there are a couple of ways I could answer that”, but a pause is always better than a babble – every single time.

3) Seek to understand – If you don’t understand what is being asked for, say so. If a question could be interpreted in a couple of different ways, ask for clarity. You’re probably only going to have one shot at a specific interview (although I have asked people to go away and come back again in the past when I’ve felt they’ve been unprepared) so don’t be afraid to make sure you have the very best chance of succeeding. Good employees ask for clarity and clarification, so why shouldn’t candidates too?

4) Think through scenarios in advance – In most interviews you’ll be asked a variant of the, “can you give me an example of….” or “tell me about a time when…”. In advance of any interview think through a few scenarios that could represent one or two different things – leadership, persuasion, decision making, influence etc. By thinking it through in advance you can make sure you’ve got a variety of different options on using them and you don’t use your most obvious one first up and then keep on referring back to it.

5) Be positive with your language  – People want to work with people who are positive – its as simple as that. That doesn’t mean you need to bounce around the room and high five the recruiters, but choose your language carefully. Think about examples that show you acting in a positive light and especially think about this if you’re asked about scenarios where you’ve faced difficult situations or people. Don’t get dragged back in to the emotion of the moment, but rise above it and prevail!

6) Remember who you are – If you’re not right for a job, you don’t want it. We have all had moments when we’ve had to take on work that we didn’t want for financial or personal reasons. But in general the rule of thumb should always be that that interview is two ways. So don’t be afraid to be yourself, express yourself and avoid trying to be the person you think the company wants to recruit. Not only will you probably get it wrong, you’ll only be happy if you’re right and it isn’t who you really are.

7) Ace the beginning and end – Whether people like it or not we all have biases. Many of these you can’t do anything about, that’s down to the recruiter. But you can impact the primary and recency bias. Everyone will tell you to get to an interview on time and compose yourself, but this is really important – make sure you have a couple of lines planned for when you’re introduced. And similarly, close the interview well, thank people for their time, wish them a good day, whatever. It isn’t really the content that matters, just the impression. Don’t, as I once did, stand up and fall straight over – you’ll literally be taking a dive….

So what the hell is OD?

One of the first posts that I wrote when I moved to this blog was called, “The real definition of Organisational Development”. To this day it remains one of the most visited posts with the vast majority of visitors coming from a Google search. This, of course, is in no way related to the insight or expertise that I share more to do with the fact that it is a question that people are still asking.

I’ve had cause to talk about this subject again over the past few weeks and it started me reflecting on how my thinking had changed since 2011.

I start with a belief that organisations are systems and that our job as practitioners is to improve organisational performance through an understanding of that system, the tensions, the areas of friction, the opposing forces and, through this, take a cohesive approach to interventions to drive better performance.

That’s the easy part.

The hard part is that the reality is like knitting fog. The role of OD professional is to survive the necessary ambiguity that is inherent in the profession long enough to support the delivery of the interventions that provide the organisation with enough reassurance that they know what they’re doing. I use “support” here on purpose, because the truth is they probably won’t own the areas of intervention themselves. They can’t.

For me, warning signals flag when I hear of OD being associated with other specialisms, “I’m responsible for L&D and OD” tends to fill me with dread. I understand why it’s done, because the L&D becomes a crutch for the ambiguity. An ability to hang your “overhead heavy” hat on something that can be measured or defined. But OD isn’t L&D at all, it’s far bigger than that.

Enough of what I think, let’s look at an example. I’ve picked the definition from the CIPD, which seems as good as any, of OD being the ’planned and systematic approach to enabling sustained organisation performance through the involvement of its people’. In which case the interventions have to range across the organisation, to use all the levers available to us. Including compensation.

And I rarely hear “OD people” talk about reward, data or analytics, preferring instead to focus on “leadership development”, “team solutions” or “engagement”.

Four years later, I’m even more convinced of OD as one of the most important areas of practice within the sphere of HR. In some ways, I think it is another way of defining strategic HR management. But I don’t think we’ve progressed much further as a profession in making it a reality, mainly because we’ve positioned it in many cases as “super sexy learning and development”. Just look at the jobs that are advertised.

It would be a shame if we took an opportunity to play in a different space and reduced it to something comfortable, reassuring and known. If we missed the chance to refocus our efforts, our thinking and our profession. We need to accept that with higher thinking, with pioneering, with genuine strategic thinking comes a level of fogginess or risk of seeming “woolly at the start. But that the potential outcomes and benefits to the organisational system are far greater than anything else that we have ever done.

We want to be together…..

I’ve written before that the true value of Human Resource Management is in taking a systemic approach to organisational performance. HR is at its strongest when it provides a convincing, cohesive agenda based on organisational understanding and environmental awareness. Understanding the internal and the external environments and delivering seamlessly across the organisation.

HR is at its weakest when it is fragmented, isolated, distant, disconnected and seemingly counter intuitive.

We’ve all seen the models of HRM that show the inter linkages between specialisms and functional capability, but more than that we can use our common sense to understand the importance. If reward strategy is aiming to achieve something different to the performance management approach, which is built on different principles to the learning and development plan and has nothing in common with the resourcing goals. Then we intuitively know that this is one screwed up organisation.

HRM is a broad church, as a profession it accepts people with specialisms, it accepts people transferring in from other professions and it accepts inter dependencies with other areas of business. The skill of the HR leader is to recognise the breadth, diversity and inter connectedness and yet to be able to present it in a cohesive, recognisable and understandable manner. It isn’t always easy, but it is always achievable.

As with any broad church, you’ll also find the conflicts, the tensions, the insecurities and the chips on shoulders. You’ll hear claims for greater seniority, more importance, recognition and responsibility. Learning and Development feels overlooked and not taken seriously enough, Resourcing wants to be seen to be more strategic, Compensation and Benefits doesn’t understand why people can’t be more compliant and Generalists believe they have a God given right to walk on water.

That’s just the way it is.

The role of the HR leader is to manage the tensions, to help build knowledge and understanding of the value of collaboration, cohesion and consistency. To take the view of the employee, the manager, the leader and not to be inward facing and self obsessed. Put simply, nobody cares about the internal relationships other than us, they just get in the way of delivering successful organisations.

We are stronger when we’re together, we’re weaker when we’ve divided. It is as simple as that.