Cards on the table, this means more

A number of years ago I was helping an organisation through a significant change, the sort that goes from top to bottom. The leadership team thought through and worried about all of the changes that we made, how they’d be received and how we explained them. In everything that we went through, from changes in structures, commercial terms and locations, the most emotive topic was a change to the structure of email addresses – it caught us out. That’s just the way it goes.

If you’re in HR in the UK, you’ll be aware of the most emotive debate since Marks and Spencer made Percy Pigs vegan friendly and in the process removed all joy from eating one. I’m talking about the CIPD’s change to the membership card.

Since I qualified nearly twenty five years ago, I’ve received a traditional membership card each year in return for my membership fee. This year, like everyone else, I received a badly typeset, plasticised piece of paper.

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(now you know my middle name and my membership number…no impersonations please!)

The reaction to the change has been typically HR, over emotional and intellectually stunted, with an artificial outcry and rage. And in a balanced response Membership Director David D’Souza wrote this post on the CIPD website, whilst others on the same side of the argument say, “it’s just a card!”.

Which is of course true, but misses the point.

The CIPD have shot themselves in the foot with a decision that is naive and ill-thought through, even if it is in it’s essence correct. It is only a card, but for many it represents their membership. I have several other memberships to organisations that send a similar card (The Ramblers Association for example), the difference is that I decide on an annual basis whether to continue with my subscription and I don’t have to pass an assessment process or exam in order to get it.

For many, I imagine, this is seen as a representation of the value proposition of their membership. Indeed the card itself came in a big yellow envelope with the word, “VALUED” in big capital letters, dreamt up by someone who once read a Ladybird book on marketing, to make sure that members understand – they’re valued. The thing is, it doesn’t matter what you say, it matters how you feel, and in the same way that the email address caused disproportionate debate, this change has also led to a different conversation.

If the CIPD wants people to commit to membership for life, then a flimsy, disposable card (that I’m told rips on removal) doesn’t represent the messages that they’d intend. If they want people to see the institute as the, “internationally recognised gold standard for HR and people development”, then this feels symbolic of saying one thing and acting in a different way. If there is an opportunity for the institute to draw heart, it is that people clearly felt proud of receiving their previous card, even if they weren’t quick to declare it.

The environmental arguments that are put forward for the change don’t wash with me, I’m afraid. There are membership models out there that issue one card on joining and then only change it on upgrading or loss. With a bit of creativity, they could have launched a couple of different permanent cards each associated with a different management or workplace thinker for example. If you genuinely expect members to stay with you for life, then one card over a thirty or forty year career would be much more environmentally friendly than a plasticised paper one each year.

Let’s be clear, I don’t care about the card either way, reading about the debate made me go and find the lurid yellow envelope in a pile of catalogues and junk mail that I’d put to one side. What worries me more is that this seems to be the latest piece of evidence of the CIPD losing sight of the value proposition for their core membership. There are many organisations that have forgotten their core customer base as they’ve become distracted by peripheral activities and chasing revenue. Let’s hope the sensible and grounded voices at the institute can use this example as a warning sign to remind others of the risk of this happening to them.

HR: A 10 point agenda for change

If you ever wanted proof of how dismally most people view the HR profession, then you need go no further than this piece from the Guardian online on Friday. What started as a question about working hours, turned in to a free for all regarding the standing of the HR profession. And by far the majority of comments were negative. Here are just some examples,

“…in my company, it’s often the victims of HR that have to stay late to fill in even more paper work, to generate the paperwork that HR needs to dispel the rumor that they have nothing to do all day but generate pointless paper work.”

“Everyone else in your building hates HR for the ludicrous and pointless self-assessments we’re put through each year.

“HR is the weak link in every company; an industry whose only purpose is to justify its own pointless existence. 

Get out while you still can, or face an entire career of being sniggered at behind your back by your co-workers.”

“We all hate our HR department, they send out pointless memos about equality and diversity, and reminders to complete your appraisal/quarterly review etc, just so it looks like their jobs are essential.”

“People in HR departments exist to preserve their pointless jobs by creating work for others to do !
Does anyone know anything worthwhile that HR has done ?”

“my experiences with Human Resources were neither humane nor resourceable. [sic]”

I could go on, but you get the gist. Everybody hates HR.

Now I could put up a stream of arguments that would point out the value of HR, indeed I and a few others did tentatively point this out, but in reality that is an utter waste of time and completely misses the point. It doesn’t matter what WE think, it matters what THEY think and if we are serious about our profession, then we need to take that in to account.

I admit that, in common with a number of other functions, we are in a situation where people don’t understand the value until they really need it and we are often associated with “bad things” that happen in companies. But that is the fact of the matter, we can’t get away from that. We cannot deny reality, we need to tackle it face on.

  1. We need to be resourceful in bringing the right mindset into the profession. We are not a policing function, we are not an administrative function, we are here to provide solutions and facilitate not provide problems and barriers. This mindset is more important that technical skills. If people don’t have it then don’t hire them.
  2. We need to de-clutter our processes and procedures. Enough of the forms, the polices, the bureaucracy. 90% of it isn’t needed and 100% of it is hated, resented and not understood by employees and managers alike.
  3. We need to stop saying “no”. Our language, our communication to the business needs to be positive, not negative. We need to be owners of good news. Deal with problems individually, not by memo. Stop sending out dumb emails, if it isn’t positive, don’t send it.
  4. We need to accept that you don’t get influence through control, you get influence through other people’s positive experience of you. Get influence through people wanting you involved not by telling them you have to be.
  5. We need to cut down the initiatives. Every time we look at something we should clearly be able to articulate why we are doing it and why our organization (not our HR department) wants it. If we can’t, we shouldn’t be doing it.
  6. We need to listen to our employees and our managers. We need to stop seeing them as being “the problem” and start seeing them as being the people that we are here to help. They are the reason we have jobs, so stop moaning about them and start listening.
  7. We need to stop focusing on alleged best practice and start focusing on “best fit” solutions. If our organizations only need a simple solution, then just give it to them. This isn’t about winning prizes at the CIPD awards, or standing up at conferences, this is about making your organization better.
  8. We need to be more human. We need to get out and talk, interact, spend time with people, we need to be empathetic and understanding, we need to feel. Sitting in the HR department bitching is not going to change anything.
  9. We need to stop focusing on cost and start focusing on value. These two things are not the same. Even if cost reduction is on the agenda, look at the value you can get from the budget, the resources. Cheaper and faster do not equate to better.
  10. We need to tell people who do not believe in this agenda that they have no place in the profession. They should find another career voluntarily or we should help them to find one involuntarily. There isn’t a choice to stay the same, there is only the choice to change.

Every single one of us has a responsibility for raising standards and calling others to account when they do not meet high enough standards. Those of us in leadership positions need to set the example. We need to be all over and we need to start now.

This is a repost of the original, which was posted in January 2013. I’m not sure how much has changed in the six years since I wrote it.

Unpopular decisions can be right

Leadership isn’t a democratic art and frankly, nor should it be. There is a significant difference between listening, taking account of different opinions and decision by committee. Good leaders know when and how to differentiate between the two.

At the heart of this is my preferred definition of “to lead”, setting an example for others to follow. So much has been written about leadership and the art of listening that it is easy to forget that one of the core facets is acting first, being the one that others look to follow.

That’s why we in our organisational structures we often recognise leaders differently, whether that is in monetary reward or otherwise. The weight and responsibility of true leadership should fall heavy and with that comes the need to understand a multitude of data sets and views, but to be the one  to choose, to act, to decide…to lead.

In doing this we have to recognise that sometimes the choices and decisions we make will be unpopular. Our job is to embrace and not shy away from this fact, but to seek to explain and persuade those that we lead to follow us on this path. Our responsibility is to be the ones brave enough to step out of the line and plot a different path.

 

 

Start somewhere

Here’s a bet…

I reckon I could ask anyone in your workplace, or mine, to name one thing that would improve their work or working lives and they’d be able to tell me within an hour maximum.

And of course, if I asked you the same question, you’d be able to tell me too.

Yet we all sit on all of these ideas every day, because;

  • we don’t have permission
  • it’s complicated
  • we don’t have the time
  • they wouldn’t like it

All of those good ideas going to waste and instead we do a whole series of things that we don’t understand the purpose of, can’t define the value of, do because we’ve always done. We knowingly reduce our potential value.

As leaders our fundamental responsibility is to help teams to deliver the value that they hold, to allow them to contribute to the best of their ability and to fulfil their potential. To do this, we need to remove those things that prevent and get in the way.

Whilst changing cultures and refocusing teams isn’t easy, it is the reason we exist and the duty we have. We should ask ourselves, what other better purpose we could serve? Every transformation had a first step, everyone needs to start somewhere.