Are you an HR snowflake?

Life is full of debate and discussion about issues and events. One of the joys of being social animals is the ability to express, challenge and build on the opinions of others. But always respectfully, thoughtfully and decently – no matter how robustly.

And business, like life, can be tough. There are a lot of great professionals working in-house that know how to navigate through their environments and to ultimately be successful. But the spectrum goes from some of the most inspiring colleagues I’ve worked with to those that frankly weren’t renowned for their thick skins.

Wherever you work in the broader HR family, you live and die each day based on your ability to perform in the environment in which you work. We know that we will be challenged daily and have to be robust in our pursuit of success. It isn’t a place for the weak-willed or the fragile. Not if you want to succeed.

Being robust, being willing to express a point of view, but also remaining open to challenge and being willing to listen, learn and amend your perspective is crucial. Closing off contrary viewpoints, becoming entrenched in blinding self conviction is a critical failure.

I particularly find it interesting that in areas of the profession that will talk about learning, growth mindsets, curiosity and development we so often see the opposite. If we are to be credible and valuable, then we should always stand up and practice what we preach. Not run away.

Don’t be an HR snowflake. If someone challenges your world view, take time to consider, question yourself and their perspective, recognise it as a chance to learn, grow and adapt. You have a choice, to listen, or to disengage. The successful will never, ever choose the latter path.

Pay to play

There is work, then there is the other stuff. For the purpose of this piece, let’s call that “play”. Play is everything else that you do in your life, the hours that you use at your discretion (parents and carers, I know it doesn’t always feel like this!) for things that matter to you. For the majority of us, we need to work in order to be able to play – it pays the bills, affords us the chance to do other things and allows us to eat drink and sustain our existence.

So which one comes first?

As a kid I was brought up to believe that you couldn’t have what you didn’t earn – you did without until that point. It is a belief that I’ve carried with me ever since. It is a value that drives both my work and play, and the intersection between the two.

You want a promotion, or more money? You get your head down and work hard.
You want a holiday to your fantasy location? You save until you have enough to treat yourself.
That promotion is more likely if you don’t take a holiday at that time?

I question whether this is a value set that is firmly set in the past.

There are people who will say that you should make your work your play, but that’s frankly a patronising, middle class, privileged perspective. Most people don’t have a choice about the work they do, how they do it and where or when. They work because they need to.

But in a world that increasingly seems to offer an unfair deal, are people right in looking for more for less? If your current deal is so woeful, why wouldn’t you strive for much, much more? An if it means cutting corners, if it means taking a step more than you’re ready for, if it means getting now and worrying later, then what’s the harm?

I’m not talking about a generational trend, I think this is a change that has been coming for a long, long time. The inequality that exists, drives behaviour that compensate.

When we talk about work ethic, we talk about with a critical tone. But rarely do we combine it with corporate ethic. The replacement of career paths, pension schemes and security of employment with engagement, discretionary effort and doughnut days has repercussions beyond the individual organisational context.

Work to play? Maybe we’ve thrown it away once and for all.

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.

Simplicity in practice

For years I’ve been banging on about the unnecessary complexity of the modern workplace. And whilst it is reassuring to hear more and more people talk about the need to make things simpler and, “more human”, I’m more concerned than ever that we just don’t understand what that means.

It means doing less – which probably means smaller teams and lower budgets.

It means stopping – which probably means losing elements of perceived control.

It means thinking differently – which probably means losing people.

It means a new alignment – which means creating a new purpose.

And this is why it is easier for people to stand on conference stages, write articles or sell services, than it is to achieve as a practitioner. Because these changes go directly to the heart of the way in which we operate and have operated for years. They go to the heart of everything we have been taught is right and told to value.

In many ways, the world of “management” is very like the world of diet, health and wellbeing. Full of fads and initiatives that are layered on top of one another, each promising to be the answer, when deep down we know that the problem itself is one that never used to exist – until we created it ourselves.

We celebrate the ditching of the performance review – when that is simply a symptom of a problem that we created. The desire to differentiate and measure individuals within a group.

We champion the need for candidate and employee experience – presenting the treatment of people with dignity and respect as revolutionary or new.

Understanding the solution, means looking beyond the symptoms to the root causes. In the same way that faddy diets don’t deal with obesity and can instead contribute to the problem. We need to take a systemic and focused approach that recognises the multiple complex drivers, that recognises our contribution to them and starts to unpick and unwind, rather than layer on top.

To put it simply, we are the problem and we are also the solution; but only if we choose to change.