In praise of the grafter

If you managed your career through advice on Linkedin, you’d believe that aligning you work with your purpose, throwing everything out the window on a regular basis, always remaining agile and disruptive were the key to success. Trust me, they really aren’t.

Whilst there is no single key, there are so my situational and environmental factors, the biggest thing that will get you ahead in your job and in life is hard work. Nothing fancier than that. Before I’m beaten over the head with the imperial overlord arguments, let’s be clear, that doesn’t necessarily mean getting up at 4am, burning the midnight oil or being taken advantage of, it just means giving everything you’ve got in the time that you have.

Given a choice between a lazy genius and an average grafter, I’d staff my team with the latter – no question. And my advice to any young person going into the workplace is to get your head down, work hard and opportunities will come and find you in time. Because ultimately, when push comes to shove and you need something done, you always look for the grafter.

And the difference between the grafters and the lazy, is that a lazy person will always end the day thinking they’ve worked hard, whereas a grafter knows they have (and probably thinks they could have done more). The lazy are generally more interested in how they feel about their work , the grafter is interested in how others feel about their work. It comes down to the psychology that drives the work ethic.

Get your head down, put in the hard yards, seize opportunities, demonstrate your value. Then you can build everything else that is important to you in terms of meaning on top of that, it really is that simple. Unless, of course, your end goal in life is to have a career in providing unsolicited, unqualified advice to the many on Linkedin, accompanied by motivational quotes.

In which case, ignore everything I’ve said.

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.


These things I know…..

I’m speaking at a myHRcareers networking event this week. If you haven’t come across these guys, it is worth checking them out. One of the things that interests me is the chance to speak to people earlier on in their careers about HR, the world of work and what to expect (and avoid).

I kind of fell in to HR, as a lot of people did. And I made my way based on the good and the bad advice that I received from the good and bad managers around me. I never felt I particularly fitted in to the networking events or the branch events. They just didn’t seem to be people like me or who thought like me. I’m sure there were opportunities, I just never found them.

In looking back, and in preparation for Wednesday night, I thought back to the things that I’ve learnt about HR as a career and what that means.

1) Most people will have to do a whole lot of shit jobs, before they get to do a meaningful one. Most HR jobs are pretty tedious, in tedious companies, with tedious managers. You just have to realise you’re earning your stripes. Keep your head down and hold on to your dreams. In time you’ll get the opportunity to do something where you can make a difference. Remember the reason you want to, when you get there.

2) You’ll work for a lot of people who you don’t respect. The fact is that our profession is littered with more ineffective, unintentionally dangerous and damaging rejects than the QC department at Durex. That’s the way it is. Learn from them, remember what annoys you, what frustrates you and resolve to do things differently when you get the chance.

3) Nothing that you learn during your studies will help you in your employment. That doesn’t mean it is worthless; it just doesn’t help. Learn by speaking to others, listening, observing, trying and failing. You will make have less failures than you have successes, but you will remember them twice as clearly. That’s a good thing.

4) The difference between a great HR person and a rubbish HR person, is that a great person can tell you why they do their job as well as what they do. Never forget the why. And if it doesn’t have people at the heart of it, you’re a rubbish HR person in disguise.

5) This isn’t heart surgery. Nobody dies. That means that you can relax, have a little fun, be human and make people laugh. Trust me, they’ll love you more for it and it won’t cost you anything. Your reputation isn’t built on how far you can get the broom up your own arse; but if you really want to, there won’t be a shortage of people volunteering to help you with it.

Why I’m not listening. And nor should you.

Would you buy a cookbook from someone who hadn’t been near a kitchen in anger for decades? Or learn to drive from an instructor who last saw a car when they had someone walking in front with a red flag?

How about someone teaching you to shoot, who only had a track record in making bullets? Or have your house built by a plumber?

How about a mountain guide that had never been outside of Holland?

I’m sounding ridiculous, right?

When you’re looking for advice, when you’re looking for someone to help, when you’re looking for a friendly hand to guide, when you want expertise…..when you NEED expertise. Then, you want someone who has been there, taken the blows, dodged the bullets and made it out the other end. You want someone who, themselves, has done the hard miles.

So why in the world of work do we take advice from people who have come no closer to running a business than I have to running a marathon? I could tell you how to run after a bus…but that would be the limit of my experience. And you’d be foolish to listen to me on anything further.

On a daily basis, I hear lawyers telling me how to run a business. Now anyone who has ever provided HR support for a legal department will tell you that lawyers are amongst the worse people managers since Attila the Hun hung up his axe. They are great at providing legal advice, but after that….not so much.

And how about the consultants that have “worked” in HR. The ones that when you check their Linkedin profiles haven’t actually been in any organisation of any size since Margaret Thatcher was in power.

Or they just had a sucky job in a sucky company.

I don’t want to beat up on consultants, or lawyers, or anyone. Well maybe a few people, but I’m going to shelve that now and focus on my professional persona.

For the best part of 20 years, I’ve been slogging my butt in to organisations and trying to make them a better place to be for the people who work there. From the CEO to the cleaner. For everyone. And I do it because I honestly believe it makes the world of work a better place.

So I completely resent being told how to do my job better, by people who have no idea of the realities of an organization, of my daily life, of business in the 21st century.

I don’t mind thoughts, I don’t mind suggestions, I don’t mind specific points of knowledge. I am not against collaborative working. That is all good.

I’m an HR Director, I have skills, I have experience, I have knowledge, I have expertise. Every day I hone these as I work to do the right thing for my company and my employees. I bring something to the party.

And if you work in HR, so do you.

So next time someone is telling you that you should be doing this, that or the other. Ask them….when did you do that? When was the last time that you succeeded in deploying that in an organisation? What was the result?

What experience do you have that can complement MY experience?

And if they can’t answer that question to your satisfaction, then show them the door. They add no value.

And I tell you now, I won’t be listening to them. And nor should you.