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 They’ve now been replaced by the new generation of corporate clones – those organisations that “disrupted” the previous incumbents.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

Seeing things differently

For those of us that work in HR, being kept in the dark is nothing new. Only last week, in Hamburg, I really was in the dark……for the best part of a day.  When I look at a meeting agenda and it includes the phrase, “experiential session” that is normally sufficient to get me reaching for the Blackberry and the “urgent” email that requires my immediate attention for, well about as along as the session is going to last. But on this occasion, there was no escape.

The experience was created by Dialogue in the Dark, a social enterprise which brings together the sighted and the visually impaired and essentially turns the tables. For several hours, you are immersed in darkness and complete tasks and everyday routines with the guidance of visually impaired coaches. As they say of themselves, “Blind people are the “sighted” ones in this environment and can demonstrate their capabilities better than their sighted colleagues” and I can tell you, in my case that was absolutely the truth!

As I say, I’m not always the keenest on interventions like this, to quote someone far cleverer than I, “team building is for suckers” but as it goes, this experience was really something out of the ordinary and after a weekend of reflection, here are the things that I’m still mulling over.

Listening is hard when there is so much “noise” – So we all say we know the value of listening rather than talking (ok….well apart from you at the back, but if you see me after class we can pick that up one on one).  But when you really NEED to listen, you become aware of how much noise there is and most of it is coming from humans. We talk too much, we make too many statements, we don’t ask enough and we don’t really listen.

Trusting people is tough – This isn’t about trusting people in business, this is about trusting people with your wellbeing. We didn’t get to see or meet the coaches before we were working with them (as a visually impaired person wouldn’t get to see you or I before we offer to help them). They could have led me into walls, tripped me up or got me to pour boiling hot water over myself (yes, we made coffee in the dark) from an initial position of wanting to just do it all myself, I had to let go.

Touching reassures – When you are in the dark, when you can’t see an inch in front of you, when you don’t know which way to turn or where to go, feeling a gentle hand on your arm means the world. Am I being metaphorical? Yes and no. Touching is not wrong, just be careful.

We’re not hitting home – Or alternatively, we send too many half packets of data and rely on the receiver to decode. At one point, one of my fellow delegates informed me that there was a step ahead. As I took an exaggerated comic step up, I learned to my expense that it was a step down….thankfully my face broke the fall. He was trying to help, the information was sent with the right intention, just not the right content.

You can nudge as well as stride – In the collaborative tasks there were two types of leaders, the striders and the nudgers. The thing about striders is that they assume you’ll follow and when they realise you aren’t, they are too far ahead to make amends. Nudgers may seem to lack the dynamism, but they bring everyone home together.

Did I really get all of that out of one day? Well I guess with these things, you always have the lingering thoughts, they just sometimes need to be brought to the fore.  Dialogue in the Dark was really different, it was really valuable and perhaps most exultingly they are working withschools and children as well as adults. It doesn’t exist in the UK at the moment, lets hope someone is farsighted enough to change that soon.

*I apologise unreservedly for that last line…..

The real definition of Organisational Development?

If there is one term that I hear more and more, but means less and less it is “Organisational Development”.  I’m not sure I was ever taught what it meant all those years ago when I sat my IPD exams nor did I ever witness anyone talking about it as I cut my teeth in the profession. Yet in the last couple of years I seemed to have been invited to more conferences, training days, seminars and webinars on Organisational Development than anything else.

But the thing is….and not for the first time…..we don’t seem to know what we’re talking about.

At a recent conference I attended, the session on OD was the most popular of the lot. Not because of the quality of the speakers, they were neither spectacular nor dismal, but because we were all there hoping someone was going to tell us what it was all about (for the record: they didn’t, so I’m none the wiser).

One of the biggest mistakes that we make, in my small and completely humble opinion, is the confusion between OD and OD interventions.  Typical of the profession, we are happy getting down and dirty with the practicalities and less happy talking about the more ethereal overall concepts. One of the questions raised by a delegate prior to the conference was how to evaluate the success of an OD programme. I guess my answer would be that the problem is the question not the evaluation.

I’m not a big believer in making things complex, there are theorists out there who will tell you the models and thinkers that are best positioned on OD….when I have time to read, it is not going to be on that topic. I tend to take a simple view of all things HR and that includes OD.

If you look at the development of a human it is an organic (by definition) process. We know that humans develop differently; at different speeds, in different ways and with different results.  Within a lifetime there are various stages of development and we “do stuff” to support and aid that development. Whether that is early years stuff, learning the first words etc. Whether that is educational stuff, schooling, further or higher education. Or indeed, whether it is more experiential stuff such as the first job.

And this “stuff” is the group of interventions that support development, sure they can be evaluated and measured (if you absolutely feel the need to) but in themselves they are not the development.  You can measure exam results, but what is done with the learning is the important thing.  Likewise in Organisations, there are interventions that support the development but these in themselves, I would argue, are not Organisational Development.

Instead the overall journey that grows and develops and organisation and the big and tiny interventions as well as the less substantive, but no less important, natural development and growth of the organisation through experience, trial and error, but – and this is an important factor – in a semi-cohesive progression towards an agreed general strategic direction. That for me, comes closer to trying to encapsulate this concept of OD.

And if that all sounds woolly, I guess that is because to a certain extent I think it is. On the other hand, we could just go back to measuring process badly. Because we know how to do that.