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 They’ve now been replaced by the new generation of corporate clones – those organisations that “disrupted” the previous incumbents.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.

Enough with the case studies

How many companies are there in the FTSE100?

Daft question right?

So how about this one….what percentage of UK companies do they constitute?

The answer is less than half of one percent. And even if you take out sole traders the number doesn’t quite reach 1%.

SME’s employ 13.6m people within the UK and firms employing less than 100 people account for 65% of new jobs created each year. If you include the companies sub FTSE100 but not classified as SME you get somewhere near to 90%.

So why is it that we seem so fixated by a limited number of companies explaining the “right” way to do HR and people management?  If you look at any conference list or journal article you will invariably see the usual suspects arise.

Now I should add that I don’t have anything against these companies or the people who speak per se.  But I don’t think that the constant focus on a select group does anything to improve the collective knowledge of a profession or helps creativity, entrepreneurialism or innovation.

When I was learning my trade it was Marks and Spencer’s that were being hailed as the people to aspire to.  That was in the mid 90’s and of course not many years later they were experiencing the worst, self-imposed, decline in their history.  Likewise not so long ago Royal Bank of Scotland were being hailed and recognized for their success in people management – I don’t need to add much more to that. And one of the latest entrants to the scene seems to be Nokia, which I find curious given their current “burning platform”.

So given that there s why does this happen? Well I think there are a couple of factors at play,

–       We think that big is beautiful and assume that because an organisation is large it is good. The only reason a company is in the FTSE100 is because of its financial muscle, not its intelligence

–       Once you’re on the circuit, you’re on the circuit – easy for lazy conference organisers and big brands require no explanation (is there anyone in American HR who hasn’t been made aware of Zappos?)

I’m not saying that interesting ideas can’t come from the big boys (although I do think size inhibits not enhances innovation) but by the law of averages there must be a whole host of other people out their doing good things. If we’re really interested in driving innovation and creativity in the profession then we need to hear from companies and HR Directors who are doing truly intelligent people interventions, ones that are culturally sensitive, business focussed and have demonstrable value (no this isn’t a pitch for business!). And from the feedback that I heard recently, I’m not alone.

Conference organisers/journalists – take note.