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.

The power of five

Five years ago, I posted my first blog post on this site. One of the worst kept secrets in HR blogging is that I used to run a different site with a little more “artistic freedom”..…but enough about that for now. Five years is a pretty long time in this modern world, things change and move on. So what’s changed in that time and what has (maybe unsurprisingly) stayed the same?

The mystery of performance management – ironically, the first post I wrote here was about the need to take a more human approach in performance management. So is the fact that corporate after corporate is rushing to deliver the headline grabbing news that they’re ditching their annual appraisals evidence that this is happening? Absolutely not. It’s all a load of bull and they’ll be silently reintroducing some sort of system in the next two years. The point isn’t that you don’t need any system, it’s that you need a human system. Two very different points with two very different outcomes. VERDICT: NO CHANGE

The death of Human Capital Management – Not long after my first post, I wrote an attack on Human Capital Management. It was probably the first post that I wrote that caught the attention. It’s a phrase and a term that is only beaten into second place in the hall of shame by Employee Engagement (more of that later). HCM and human capital metrics are as 1980s as my fashion sense….and neither needs to be subjected to the masses. Fortunately, big data has replaced HCM as the numptiness of choice. VERDICT: DEAD AND BURIED

Ethical business, trust and authenticity – A theme over the last five years has been around ethics, trust and authentic business management. Don’t get me wrong, I”m an unashamed capitalist…BUT that doesn’t mean I think we need to rip a second a**e in each of our employees. For too long big, corporate FTSE100 businesses have lied and lied and lied some more. The string of corporate failures over this time have shown us that this is’t rhetoric, but simple truth. And in return we’ve seen and increasingly humble and apologetic approach. A new dawn? Don’t you believe it. Just a pause, the vultures are circling higher than before, but don’t believe they won’t be back. VERDICT: CEASEFIRE

The engaged employee – I said I’d be back to it, so why the surprise? Engagement is simply the most poisonous and frankly dangerous management concept of the last ten years. It makes the Ulrich Model look like a warm, soapy cuddle in the bath. Put simply, in the time that we have been talking about employee engagement, the happiness of employees has decreased. That’s not me talking, that’s a fact. And yet we persist. That’s either stupidity, or insanity. VERDICT: STILL BREATHING, BUT FIRST UP AGAINST THE WALL

Our profession and our professional body – Ok, so I know this one is going to be thrown back in my face *assumes the position*, but I have more confidence in both the HR professional and the CIPD than I’ve had since I graduated back in 1864. We’re generally talking about the right things, we’re willing to have an open debate and discussion and we are hearing voices from outside of the small select group of organisations that previously dictated the agenda. It’s promising, really promising. But not time to pop the champagne just yet. VERDICT: ON THE UP

I’m not going to dwell on HR, social technology and the like. You can read that in countless free “books”, but five more years? I doubt it. By then I’ll be transmitting direct in to your brains. So enjoy the freedom whilst you have it my friends…

I’m saving the good stuff for then.

Engage your brain

There is an intrinsic stupidity around the work on employee engagement. But it’s not the one you might think it is, oh no. The real intrinsic stupidity, it goes a little something like this:

Bright eyed and bushy tailed HR professional receives the annual employee engagement survey results from ACME Consultants Ltd and declares, “we’ve increased engagement to our highest level yet, it now stands 69%”

And we need to reflect on this for a second.

– Is the stupidity that we are happy that we have staff that are less than three quarters engaged?

– Is the stupidity that we’ve taken our budget and spunked it up the wall to please ACME Consultants Ltd?

– Is the stupidity that we believe in engagement at all?

But as I say, we need to reflect.

Let’s for one slightly scary and heart stompingly dangerous moment make three bold assumptions.

– Three quarters engagement is not bad

– ACME Consultants Ltd aren’t a bunch of parasitical idiots

– Engagement is a purposeful measure

Bear with me, I know some of you are going to be hurting right now and I admit that as I write these words, my eyeballs are seeping a little bit of blood.

Because the intrinsic stupidity is none of these things.

It is this.

We increased engagement?

Did we?

What level did it start at?

How many disengaged people did you recruit?

The thing is, most people join a company motivated and happy. And yes, if you want to use the term, engaged. Most people are pleased to get a job offer and go along on their first day thinking that they’ve fisted laid the golden goose.

And then bad stuff happens. Because we disengage, demotivate and depress them with our poor management, disorganisation and completely ineffective HR management systems. We actively and slowly kill their passion.

That’s what we’re doing every day. We are managing the heart and soul and lifeblood out of the poor suckers who took the King’s Shilling in good faith. Maybe not consciously, but certainly effectively.

So this week and the week after. In fact, for the rest of your working life. Don’t focus on the shiny stupid nonsense that you think will engage people. Focus on the stuff that you do that actively disengages them.

Do less.
Think more.
Make it simple.