Another fad, another failure

Anyone has read my blog over the last decade will know that I have been pretty vocal about the faddism in business management and leadership. We like nothing more than getting behind the latest silver bullet destined to solve all our problems. Employee Engagement, Human Capital Management, Big Data, Disruption, the list is both endless and entirely vacuous.

I’m going to add a new one for you, a term that has been creeping into the marketing descriptions of consultancies across the world like an outbreak of Japanese Knotweed.

Employee Experience.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve talked about this in the past, a quick scan through the archives shows a first post back in 2011, but you know that when a once meaningful, philosophical concept becomes the next management buzzword it will turn into first fad and then failure. Why? Simply because it loses sight of the original intent.

There is a significant commonality (and indeed irony) between both Employee Engagement and Employee Experience. Both in, their essence,  are about feeling, emotion and attachment but instead are replaced with systems, processes and measurement as the consultants promise us “sure fire ways” to drive the “performance of organisations” through “unparalleled insights” as a means to monetise our desire for a quick fix.

There is no doubt that leadership and management need to focus more on the working environment, that goes without saying. But ultimately that is about the way in which we see work and our beliefs about the treatment of employees in the workplace, not about systems, apps and fancy branded interventions. Once we’ve got the belief system in place, the rest will follow in due course.

It is too much to ask that we drop our addiction to faddism, but I hope at least we can open our eyes and realise what exactly it is that we’re doing. Change comes from within, it comes from our desire to create something meaningful and different. It seldom comes in a beautifully branded brochure.

And if you want to understand how to make the world of work a little better, start by reading this.

Insy or outsy?

I’m hearing it all too often at the moment, “we need to take an outside in approach”. It’s a movement that finds a proponent in the form of one Dave Ulrich, he of the failed HR operating model that encouraged a slavish implementation, that set the profession back the best part of a decade.

But of course, Ulrich wasn’t responsible for our misinterpretation of the model and nor is he responsible for the potential screw up we could make on an outside in approach by assuming we need external expertise and perspectives.

It’s not you, Dave, it’s us.

So let me start by suggesting that what we really need to take is an inside, outside, inside approach.

It doesn’t trip off the tongue as well, admittedly, but stay with me.

You see, everything starts with your employees. I can almost guarantee that any problem that you have, any barrier you need to overcome, any issue that needs improvement, can be better identified by the people within your organisation than anyone outside.

My evidence?

The first thing any external third-party does when you hire them? They suggest carrying out a series of interviews, focus groups, listening groups or some sort of questionnaire to understand the needs of your employees.

It really is the equivalent of giving someone your watch and asking them to tell you the time.

I’m the first person to suggest that HR people need to get their heads up and scan the horizon, but that starts by looking outside the HR function and only then outside of the business.

Yes we need to understand the economic and socio-political context in which we operate, yes we need to focus on the markets and environments in which our businesses exist. But that only has any relevance if we know where the skills, capabilities, weaknesses and opportunities exist within our own enterprises.

Look outside by all means, but first work out what it means to be inside. Because that’s is where your organisational value lies.

Back to reality

I am first and foremost an HR practitioner. That is the job that I’m employed to do, that I’ve trained to do and that I’ve fulfilled for the best part of two decades. Every day, every morning I get up and go in to work to practice my profession. The following day I come in and I see the results and the impact. I see it year after year. I was with my last company for nine years, I’ve been with my current company for over five years.

When we get things right, I get to see the results.
When things go wrong, I take responsibility.

That is the responsibility beholden on the practitioner to do what is organisationally sustainable, what is culturally achievable, to fulfill their mandate as an employee and as the temporary guardian of their remit.

As an outsider, you can talk. You can make proclamations. You can enthuse and criticise, propose and deny. You wake up and all that is left of the previous day’s noise are the final echoes reverberating around the empty stadium of your mind. You rarely see the results and never accept the failures.

Innovation, revolution, chaos and new agendas are so much easier when you only have responsibility for your self image.

If I have a wish for 2014, it is for an honest, open conversation, practitioner to practitioner, about how we can make the working lives of our employees better and at the same time improve the performance of our organisations. Without the guff and the noise of those that have no responsibility other than for themselves.

I want to hear about how we might incrementally improve things for real, not rip the rule book up in our dreams.

If you’re a practitioner I’m interested in what you’ve done, where you’ve done it, what you’ve learnt from it and what you would do differently. If you’ve got strong views but no evidence of achievement, my question to you is, why not? Why can’t you demonstrate what you believe? What are you doing to find an organisation where you can work, long term, to deliver that vision?

2014, let’s make it the year that the realists, the pragmatists, the grafters take back the agenda. Let’s make it the year that those who are delivering change, every day, lead the conversation.

Debate is helpful, ideas are good. And even better when they’re focused on delivery and grounded in reality. Let’s make this the year where we move the conversation back there.

Nobody wants to be engaged

I once said that “nothing says past it” more than Human Capital Management.

I was wrong.

Don’t worry, I haven’t suddenly become a HCM groupie.

Far from it…..

I was wrong because NOTHING says past it more than the term “Employee Engagement”.

I recently tweeted that “every time I hear this term another part of me dies“…so you can imagine what writing about it does to me.

But sometimes I just can’t help myself. We all have our crosses to bear.

I have a confession. Never…..absolutely NEVER in my life have I woken up and thought….”I wish I was more engaged”. Moreover, I can guarantee that there is not a single employee within your organisation that has either.

Engagement doesn’t exist. Engagement is the sort of term a consultant would create. And then claim it was measurable and sell it at massively inflated amounts to a profession that was insecure and desperate to find some data to prove that they were both relevant and commercial.

I have no idea where they would find a profession like that. Do you?

Please. Let’s stop.

Let’s grow up.

Let’s be human.

For generations people worked for the same companies. They worked there because the organisations valued them, they treated them well, they gave them security, they gave them incentives to stay. But, they NEVER TALKED ABOUT ENGAGEMENT.

Engagement doesn’t replace a decent pension scheme, engagement doesn’t pay the mortgage on your house, engagement doesn’t provide job security.

Engagement is a term that we create to apologise for using people to generate profit.

We need to stop focussing on vacuous self-created concepts that are completely alien to the vast majority of human beings. We need to start talking about the things that matter to people. Real people.

Call me uncool, call me old-fashioned. Call me naïve.

I’m ok with that.

You aim for engaged employees…..I’ll do what’s right for my people and treat them like valued grown ups.

I think they deserve that.