Cards on the table, this means more

A number of years ago I was helping an organisation through a significant change, the sort that goes from top to bottom. The leadership team thought through and worried about all of the changes that we made, how they’d be received and how we explained them. In everything that we went through, from changes in structures, commercial terms and locations, the most emotive topic was a change to the structure of email addresses – it caught us out. That’s just the way it goes.

If you’re in HR in the UK, you’ll be aware of the most emotive debate since Marks and Spencer made Percy Pigs vegan friendly and in the process removed all joy from eating one. I’m talking about the CIPD’s change to the membership card.

Since I qualified nearly twenty five years ago, I’ve received a traditional membership card each year in return for my membership fee. This year, like everyone else, I received a badly typeset, plasticised piece of paper.

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(now you know my middle name and my membership number…no impersonations please!)

The reaction to the change has been typically HR, over emotional and intellectually stunted, with an artificial outcry and rage. And in a balanced response Membership Director David D’Souza wrote this post on the CIPD website, whilst others on the same side of the argument say, “it’s just a card!”.

Which is of course true, but misses the point.

The CIPD have shot themselves in the foot with a decision that is naive and ill-thought through, even if it is in it’s essence correct. It is only a card, but for many it represents their membership. I have several other memberships to organisations that send a similar card (The Ramblers Association for example), the difference is that I decide on an annual basis whether to continue with my subscription and I don’t have to pass an assessment process or exam in order to get it.

For many, I imagine, this is seen as a representation of the value proposition of their membership. Indeed the card itself came in a big yellow envelope with the word, “VALUED” in big capital letters, dreamt up by someone who once read a Ladybird book on marketing, to make sure that members understand – they’re valued. The thing is, it doesn’t matter what you say, it matters how you feel, and in the same way that the email address caused disproportionate debate, this change has also led to a different conversation.

If the CIPD wants people to commit to membership for life, then a flimsy, disposable card (that I’m told rips on removal) doesn’t represent the messages that they’d intend. If they want people to see the institute as the, “internationally recognised gold standard for HR and people development”, then this feels symbolic of saying one thing and acting in a different way. If there is an opportunity for the institute to draw heart, it is that people clearly felt proud of receiving their previous card, even if they weren’t quick to declare it.

The environmental arguments that are put forward for the change don’t wash with me, I’m afraid. There are membership models out there that issue one card on joining and then only change it on upgrading or loss. With a bit of creativity, they could have launched a couple of different permanent cards each associated with a different management or workplace thinker for example. If you genuinely expect members to stay with you for life, then one card over a thirty or forty year career would be much more environmentally friendly than a plasticised paper one each year.

Let’s be clear, I don’t care about the card either way, reading about the debate made me go and find the lurid yellow envelope in a pile of catalogues and junk mail that I’d put to one side. What worries me more is that this seems to be the latest piece of evidence of the CIPD losing sight of the value proposition for their core membership. There are many organisations that have forgotten their core customer base as they’ve become distracted by peripheral activities and chasing revenue. Let’s hope the sensible and grounded voices at the institute can use this example as a warning sign to remind others of the risk of this happening to them.

7 tips for my younger self

I was talking last week to someone about the advice that I wished I’d had as a younger professional, the things that I’ve learnt over the years that if I’d had a mentor or advisor would have been really helpful counsel. Would I have acted on it? Who knows, I would probably have been too head strong to listen. I guess when you look back with hindsight and experience, things seem so much simpler than they feel in the moment.

Should they prove any use to anyone else, here’s the advice I would have given myself:

  1. Confidence isn’t competence – You’ll come across people in the workplace who have (or display) a confidence that can be overwhelming. They tend to rise faster, but not necessarily further. Confident delivery will only get you so far, don’t confuse it with competence. Don’t be put off by those around you that shimmer with this veneer.
  2. Curiosity is king – Be inquisitive, seek to learn, ask questions and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. You’ll be surprised at how many meetings I sit in where people (including myself) nod and opine without really understanding the detail. Don’t be afraid to ask as you learn, you’ll be amazed how much people will share.
  3. Always have a plan – No matter how long you’re in a job or role, you always need to have a plan. What do you want to get out of the role? How long are you staying for? What is the next step and when are you going to take it? Nobody else will be managing your career, so make sure you are all over it every day.
  4. Learn to suck it up –  As you progress your career, you’ll encounter situations and people who make you want to scream. Learning how to navigate these situations and managing these people will serve you well. See it as a challenge, see it as a project, whatever it takes to make sure you learn and will never repeat.
  5. Just say yes – Everyone is busy, everyone is up to the eyes. But saying yes to opportunity might just give you the inside track to something more exciting. Every bone in your body will want you to lower your head and avoid eye contact, but the reality is that as you move up, you need to stand out.
  6. Don’t steal the limelight – Similar to the confident ones, you’ll meet people who are brilliantly adept at being at the right place at the right time to claim success – often yours. Don’t be tempted to follow their example, they’ll get caught out soon enough. Delivery is key, so focus on making sure you’re doing the hard yards.
  7. Have fun – As well as this being your career, this is also your life. And you won’t get these years back. So make sure you’re enjoying yourself, having fun and sweating the right stuff. For most of us, nobody dies if we get things wrong. So taking life with a pinch of salt and learning to enjoy the ride is key.

 

Deal or No Deal?

When I started work, I don’t remember thinking I was due anything other than a pay cheque at the end of the month. I’d received my contract and terms and conditions and I accepted the deal  – the amount of holiday, the level of pension and the protection for sickness. That is about all there was in those days.

I figured that if I worked hard, put in the hours, managed to show a bit of intelligence and initiative that it would help me. Not to get a promotion, but to get experience and ultimately a good reference. Because when I started the job, my director had been very clear – I wasn’t going to stay.

It wasn’t that he was a hire and fire them character – far from it – but he had taken a policy to hire young, eager, recently qualified professionals and to give them a chance in the world of work. In return he realised that he got good quality people, but one’s that would want to move on pretty quickly – and he was ok with that. That was the deal.

Throughout my career, I’ve heard reference to “entitlement” more and more. It really wasn’t a term I was familiar with back in the mid 90s. And whilst I’ve worked with some people who truly believe they were the most entitled on the planet, “we’re unicorns, Neil, that’s what you need to do if you want to hire unicorns”, I’ve met more who’ve been disappointed that a promise they were led to believe, hasn’t materialised.

The thing about a deal is that it has to work for both sides, and yet as organisations too often we want to pretend we have something greater than the reality, in the belief that what we actually have wouldn’t be appetising. The implication of this is we don’t believe that job applicants and employees are capable of making an assessment based on facts and acting in accordance with their best judgment.

So instead we talk about nebulous concepts such as career enhancement, progression, development opportunities and stretch, which are easily misinterpreted and can be unintentionally disingenuous. Frustrations normally kick in at about two years into the employee journey, when people start to realise that their interpretation of the phrase wasn’t the same as the organisation’s.

There’s nothing wrong about a straightforward deal at work, in fact I’d argue there is something pretty refreshing. “If you come here, you’ll be working with good people to do your job, we will look after your health, safety and wellbeing, we will pay you x and give you y on top. You’ll learn and hopefully enjoy yourself and in the future, who knows, you might find something else here you like or you might choose to move on. And we understand and respect that”.

Deal, or no deal?

A blueprint for HR

I’ve been in the world of people management long enough to know that our profession is not without criticism. Many of the challenges we face are of our own making as we flit between almost schizophrenic versions of our own identity, causing confusion and bafflement to the people that we serve – our employees. Which is why, when you see something that genuinely has the opportunity to move the profession forward, it fills me with hope and excitement.

It would be surprising to hear such excitement come in a package, describes as, “The new Profession Map” (yes, I’m confused by the capitalisation too, but let’s just park that for now), but this has the potential to really transform our profession. Launched by CIPD last week, the product of thousands of conversations with practitioners, businesses and teams the map for the first time, articulates the profession that I know and believe in.

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At the heart is the core purpose, “…to champion better work and working lives. Creating roles, opportunities, organisations and working environments that help get the best out of people, delivering great organisational outcomes, in turn driving our economies, and making good, fair and inclusive work a societal outcome.” I could have written that myself.

And to do this well, we need to be led by principles, ensuring ethical practice where people and professionalism matter. We need to based our decisions and initiatives on evidence, not fads and whims and to be focussed on the outcomes of our work for our people, for our profession and for society at large.

For once, I read a set of core behaviours that matter to me – “valuing people”, “situational decision-making” and “ethical practice” to call out a few and an articulation of core knowledge that I see in truly great practitioners, understanding “culture and behaviours”, being able to demonstrate “analytics and creating value” and “business acumen” rather than simple statements of commerciality.

Of course, the success of “The new Profession Map” will be dependent on the adoption by practitioners not just in the UK, but across the globe. I know my team have already started looking at how we can incorporate this into our organisation. And that’s why I absolutely implore you to do the same, to help us come together and build a profession that is fit for the now and the future.

It is easy to be cynical and to criticise, but I find it genuinely hard to understand how anyone could not find this both useful and productive for the profession. Now if we could just deal with those capital letters, it would be absolutely perfect.