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.

Get a proper job

In my middle teens, I dreamed of owning and running my own restaurant. It combined my love of cooking, food and entertaining with an interest in business and management. When I expressed this view to those influential in my life, the consensus was pretty clear – get a proper job.

Many years later, I’m sure the advice was well-meaning and correct. I’m not sure the world needs another mediocre restaurateur (although it could be argued that they didn’t need another mediocre HR Director either) and I struggle to think of a day I’ve not wanted to go in to work.

I wonder how many students in college and university are also being advised about which jobs and careers are “proper” and which ones they should avoid. And how are the judgments made about the “right” career paths. What makes counting other people’s money or learning and arguing a set of created laws, “proper” and yet feeding them or building their houses somehow less…well, concrete?

Is the heart of the issue is our approach to education and skills and the perceived link to future wealth and prosperity.? “Proper jobs” are seen as more secure, better paying and require more skills. And whilst this is attractive in it’s simplicity, it is hard to see how a good apprenticeship in engineering will place you in a less advantageous position than, say, a degree in criminology.

With the additional complexity of trying to understand which sectors and roles will be in increasing demand and which will see the largest impact of automation (and in what time frame), the definition of a “proper job” becomes significantly more about prejudice and perception than any predictable outcome of future fortune.

Perhaps our biggest fault as a society has been to overlook the importance of skilled, technically able careers and replace it with the fetishisation of “management” and “professionalism”. Not only are we encouraging young people away from careers that they might actually enjoy and find fulfilling, but have also inadvertently created skills and labour shortages in many essential areas.

I may not have made a very good restaurateur, I’m at peace with that, but I certainly value those people around me that are brilliantly skilled in their work and who have a depth of technical expertise in their fields that I am in awe of. And let’s face it, in a post apocalyptic society, who would you rather have on your side – a farmer, a builder and an engineer or a banker, a social media consultant and a HRD?

It’s open season for talent

It used to be that things were simpler when you wanted to recruit senior “talent” in to your organisation. Companies and sectors worked in a pretty siloed fashion and with a commercial hierarchy in place. Making it more straightforward for recruiters and managers alike.

When you needed to recruit an senior hire in to your business, you’d first identify your place in the industry hierarchy. You then had two choices, you could look up the hierarchy and identity people who were in more junior roles to your vacancy, but in a bigger organisation. Or you’d look down the hierarchy and find people in similar or larger roles, but in smaller organisations.

Of course, there were always organisations and companies of the moment. The ones that CEOs and leaders would say, “how about getting someone from ABC Corp?” but generally it was a straightforward thing.

Then things got a whole world more complicated.

As our businesses have changed and developed through the use of technology, as new “super companies” have come on to the scene and as the fetishistic adulation of the start-up has grown to gargantuan proportions, the world of talent acquisition has become much less linear.

On one hand you have the large traditional corporates, with their constant refrain of, “get me someone from Google/Facebook/Apple” and on the other, increasing evidence that these target companies are looking to established FMCG players

So what’s going on? Well nothing really, it is just the silos falling away and the increasing movement of talent both within and between industry. But the implications for those working in HR and talent management become increasingly more interesting:

  • Brand names don’t guarantee skill sets and whilst they never have, recruiting within industry always ensured a certain level of transferable knowledge that would pass as valuable. With cross industry moves it is harder to be sure.
  • Established organisations and fast growing organisations have completely different cultures and ways of working. Even if you get the skill set right, the ability to land well and navigate the organisation is an imperative for hiring.
  • The more sources there are for recruiting from, the more competitors there are for the same people. As career paths become less linear, your compelling argument needs to be greater than your status in the industry. You need to understand what you really have to offer someone from outside.
  • Compensation, benefits and career structures might need to go right out of the window. When things are no longer moving in a linear fashion, you can’t have linear structures. That offers a whole heap of pain, but it is a natural repercussion of inter industry moves.

But, at the end of the day, the biggest challenge is letting go of the things we’ve had, to gain the things we want. Bringing people in from outside of the industry, whichever way they move, means that they won’t have industry experience, it means they won’t necessarily look, behave and talk the same. And it means it will probably take them longer to get up to speed – regardless of the name or prestige of their previous company.

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.