HR excellence versus HR stupidity

I watched the aftermath of the HR Excellence awards unfold with the dismay of a once proud father seeing the return of their drunken offspring, black eyes, a bleeding nose and in the back of a cop car. (CAVEAT ONE: Before I go on, I should point out I wasn’t at the awards nor did I follow the events live on Twitter). I was sat at home drinking herbal tea and having an early night. We can’t all be rock and roll…….

Anyone who has been to an awards evening will know that the compere is always a point of contention. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad, sometimes they’re indifferent. Turns out the chap at HR Excellence created a new category, shockingly inappropriate. (CAVEAT TWO: I’m not defending any of the content or trying to argue that jokes apparently about child abuse are in anyway funny. Just no. I wasn’t there, but it sounds quite wrong).

So it turns out people were offended. So offended that some laughed, some Victor Meldrewed on the spot and some took to Twitter. None, that I’ve heard of were so offended or felt it appropriate to walk out. There was clearly still free booze to be had, sponsors to be pleased, and we have to balance indignation with a free bar now, don’t we? But shocking nonetheless and somebody, SOMEBODY had to take the blame.

The organisers.

And so the bile and outrage and pointed indignation was directed at the folks at HR Magazine. (CAVEAT THREE: Before it is dragged up by the gutter press, I have once been photographed having a glass of wine at an event with the Editor and Deputy Editor of the magazine, but I did not have sexual relations with that woman…..)

Anyhoo, the point is….. they’re still to blame.


But the thing is this. Can you imagine anyone who felt worse about this turn of events than the organisers? Can you put yourself in their place and think how that might feel? Can you imagine the sensation in the pit of the stomach? How they slept that night? The conversation in the office this morning?

As practitioners, as professionals we constantly espouse the idea of a no blame culture. And I personally don’t think it is helpful, productive or useful to point out loudly and openly where things went wrong. I do, however, believe in learning, and when things go badly wrong most people need time to regroup and to reappraise.

Banging on constantly about the way in which they’ve fucked up is hardly productive or helpful. Nor is it thoughtful, grown up or intelligent. It is the behaviour of vacuous, intellectually stunted, egotistical, smug idiots who constantly take the moral high ground and are as risk adverse as a crash helmeted slug in a refrigerator full of lettuce.

When you find out things have gone wrong, guess what? They’ve gone wrong. They’re not going wrong, likely to go wrong or even potentially wrong. They’re full fat, 100% pure, total high energy WRONG. And you can’t change that. When things go wrong, most people feel bad. Really fucking bad.

We have a choice how we react, we can support, help, advise, nurture and console. Or we can jump and down, point the finger of blame, claim second sight and superiority. It’s a choice and the choice we make reflects on our practice and on us. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I’m not religious, but there seems to be something in that?

I want the HR profession to be bold, to be edgy, to take risks and to push the boundaries. Sometimes that will mean that we get things wrong. And if every time something goes wrong we behave like a bunch of puritanical know it alls, we will take less risks and be less exciting and less progressive. Maybe this was a risk that went wrong. Whatever, I’m sure the guys at HR mag are regretting it now, and I’m sure as hell that they don’t need the idiots rubbing it in their face.

Can bad companies do good work?

I was at the Top Employers accreditation dinner this week. I like the idea of these accreditation systems and I particularly like the work that Top Employers are doing around global standards. One of the strong arguments for them is that they’re helpful for those companies that may not be consumer brands or well-known outside of their sector. It sends a message that says, “we are a good place to work, even if you don’t know who we are”.

But should we recognise good employment practice, regardless of the goals of the organisation? Is it good enough to just be seen to treat employees well, or should we be questioning organisational purpose?

Is being seen as a good employer often a tactic to compensate for public perceptions of “moral” acceptability?

I’ve written before about the way in which RBS was heralded for their innovative people management practices, how News International promoted their “culture change programme” and I could go on and provide a myriad of company failures.

But at the same time, we also know that there are societal issues that we need to address: obesity, alcohol consumption and binge drinking, the incidence of smoking in developing countries.

When we recognise employers should we consider what those employers do? Or do we just accept that everything is fair game and let the moral judgments be made elsewhere? Where do we draw the line?

On the podium at this particular event (and I don’t intend to single out Top Employers in any way) were McDonalds, KFC, Heineken, JD Weatherspoons, Molson Coors, British American Tobacco and Phillip Morris International. Not to mention The Co-op Group last week described as “ungovernable” by its own CEO.

Should HR and people practice sit in isolation, or if it is integral to a company culture, ethos and purpose. Should we not take that into account too?