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.

Uber, Netflix, Facebook and Google teach us nothing

Where once the FTSE100 and Fortune 500 were the darlings of the industry, lining up to share case study after case study. They’ve now been replaced by the new generation of corporate clones – those organisations that “disrupted” the previous incumbents.

You can learn to “Uber” your recruitment processes, reinvent HR the “Netflix way”, learn to manage “Facebook talent” and, of course, create the company that everyone wants to work for thanks to Google.  Without mentioning taking time to remove your management in order to be like the Z word that cannot be repeated.

As we watch even the mainstream companies rush to be the first in their sector to do away with performance reviews (they’ll be back…..mark my words), what should you be doing? How can the average HR practitioner keep up with the heady trend of HR reinvention and disruption?

Well, you can start by doing nothing.

Zip, diddly squat, nada. Talk a walk, enjoy the autumn leaves, watch the squirrels bury their nuts.

Remember how you hated being told how to do it like RBS, HSBC and Marks and Spencer? Remember how GC, Diageo and Mars made you feel inferior just by standing in a room?

It’s the same thing. Just with a new type of shiny.

The key to successful HR management is the same as interior design. Be sympathetic to the structure, think about practicalities, have an eye for creativity and a drop of flair. But remember what your budget is, where you’re starting from and always, ALWAYS get planning permission.

Because in the same way that you wouldn’t apply explicit geometric design to an 16th Century coach house, or brutalism to a Tudor mansion, nor should you necessarily try to apply holacracy in a traditional engineering business, or values based leadership in a tobacco company.

What is missing from our profession, isn’t a new set of case studies it’s a sense of creative thinking, innovation and invention. By all means look at what other people are doing to inform and educate. To give you ideas and to provoke thought. But find your own solution in your own business.

Uber, Netflix, Facebook and Google teach us nothing, they just show one way. Rather than lining up to be the next one to swallow the Kool Aid, why don’t you try to create something for yourself? Not only will it be more rewarding, it’s a hell of a lot more likely to work.