A blueprint for HR

I’ve been in the world of people management long enough to know that our profession is not without criticism. Many of the challenges we face are of our own making as we flit between almost schizophrenic versions of our own identity, causing confusion and bafflement to the people that we serve – our employees. Which is why, when you see something that genuinely has the opportunity to move the profession forward, it fills me with hope and excitement.

It would be surprising to hear such excitement come in a package, describes as, “The new Profession Map” (yes, I’m confused by the capitalisation too, but let’s just park that for now), but this has the potential to really transform our profession. Launched by CIPD last week, the product of thousands of conversations with practitioners, businesses and teams the map for the first time, articulates the profession that I know and believe in.

profession-map-window

At the heart is the core purpose, “…to champion better work and working lives. Creating roles, opportunities, organisations and working environments that help get the best out of people, delivering great organisational outcomes, in turn driving our economies, and making good, fair and inclusive work a societal outcome.” I could have written that myself.

And to do this well, we need to be led by principles, ensuring ethical practice where people and professionalism matter. We need to based our decisions and initiatives on evidence, not fads and whims and to be focussed on the outcomes of our work for our people, for our profession and for society at large.

For once, I read a set of core behaviours that matter to me – “valuing people”, “situational decision-making” and “ethical practice” to call out a few and an articulation of core knowledge that I see in truly great practitioners, understanding “culture and behaviours”, being able to demonstrate “analytics and creating value” and “business acumen” rather than simple statements of commerciality.

Of course, the success of “The new Profession Map” will be dependent on the adoption by practitioners not just in the UK, but across the globe. I know my team have already started looking at how we can incorporate this into our organisation. And that’s why I absolutely implore you to do the same, to help us come together and build a profession that is fit for the now and the future.

It is easy to be cynical and to criticise, but I find it genuinely hard to understand how anyone could not find this both useful and productive for the profession. Now if we could just deal with those capital letters, it would be absolutely perfect.

It’s ok to care

I have a confession to make. When I hear about an employee that we’ve let down or treated badly, it hurts me. I can’t stand to read or hear about cases where teams that I lead and manage have fundamentally failed in their key responsibility to manage the employment relationship of every single employee well.

It goes without saying that we cannot always please everyone, there are moments in the work of HR and people professionals where we have to handle the most difficult of workplace issues. We are the ones that enter into situations of high tension, emotion and anguish so invariably there will be times when people are upset with the messages that we have to convey. I’m not talking about these situations, I’m talking about when we fail to care.

When I was doing my professional qualifications in the 1990s, care wasn’t a word that was used much in the classroom. We talked about commercial acumen, strategic thinking and human capital, but we didn’t talk much about looking after people. Nearly twenty five years later I can tell you that the worst HR professionals that I’ve seen are the ones that don’t see the human in front of them and the best are the ones that enter every interaction with the intention to care.

As I’ve articulated many times before, our role is unique in the organisation and we should revel in that distinctiveness. As marketing teams champion the voice of the customer, we should be able and willing to champion the voice of the employee. That doesn’t mean we become unable to act in the interests of the company, of shareholders or of any other stakeholder group. It means that we create balance.

Every time we let an employee down, we let ourselves and our profession down. The phrase the customer is always right, is trite and incorrect and similarly the employee is not always “right”, but how we handle the interaction, the relationship and the management of people in our organisations should always focus on the central pillar of care.

It’s not you, it’s me

I’ve never met a CEO who didn’t want a world class HR service.

I’ve met a number who didn’t know how to articulate it, who described HR but called it something else, who talked about the importance of talent management, skills development, workforce planning, incentivisation and organisational performance.

But I’ve never met one who has said, “people are not important and I don’t care what I get out of them”.

On the other hand, I have met a lot of CEOs who are fed up with their HR functions, with their HR teams. Who see HR as a barrier to all the things that they want to achieve and who focus on areas that they don’t see as important.

If you look at any survey of CEO priorities or concerns, you will see time and time again “people” concerns in the top five check it out, year on year on year. There is no shortage of opportunity for us, to be involved, to influence, to be central to the development of our organisations.

So what’s the point of this? The point is simple.

Where we fail. WE fail. It isn’t our organisation, it isn’t our company, it isn’t our CEO. It is our inability to win the debate, to drive the agenda, to create the opportunity. And the bitter sweet thing about this, is that we have total control.

I’m fed up of hearing about the organisation that didn’t want this, or the CEO that didn’t like that. We need to focus the debate on our own performance and the standards within our profession. If you talk to any headhunter working within HR, they will tell you of the dearth of talent. If you ask them about their experience working with HR as a client, they’ll tell you of their despair.

This isn’t about rebranding, or “having a dialogue”. This isn’t about changing our name or shiny new logos. This is about a fundamental shift in the standards that we accept in our profession and being relentless in challenging ourselves to do more.

And I understand that there will be people saying, “Morrison is banging on again” and yes I am, and I will continue to do so. Because I’m passionate about the work I do and the work that my team does. I see organisations that are demonstrating real commitment and value. But they are the few and the far.

Too often, I see sub standard HR professionals and HR teams. That are failing to embrace the opportunity that is right in front of them. Don’t listen to me, read all the articles and the stories about them. Go speak to “normal” people and ask them their experiences with HR.

The HR agenda is being hijacked by a tree hugging, granola munching minority, that talk about creating something new. These are the same people who left corporate life because they couldn’t make change happen and couldn’t stand the pace. Otherwise they’d be doing exactly what they were talking about inside their previous organisations.

And whilst they will tell you that they can make change happen from outside, the truth is they can’t, because the agenda they espouse and the mistruths they propagate are exactly the things that frustrate the CEOs. They are the weak and sickly branches of our profession that need to be clinically lopped off in order to allow us to grow and flourish.

I’d love this to be the year that we really wake up, but I don’t think that’s going to happen just yet. But if we are to move forward, we need to embrace the undeniable truth…..

It’s not them, it’s us.

Frugal HR

There was a time when the newspapers were full of the “end of DIY”. We were all so cash rich and time poor that it was much easier to get on the phone (or increasingly the internet) and get someone to come and do it for us. Broken gutter? Kitchen door not working? Skirting board looking a bit 1960s? And within a click or a call we were all good…disposable income spent, time saved, work carried out.

The thing is that underlying this apparently virtuous circle of events was a slightly darker reality. We were slowly becoming unable to carry out these relatively mundane and low skilled tasks. Why learn to do something, when it is quicker and cheaper to call someone in to help? Why bother debasing ourselves to these menial tasks, when we have so much more important things to focus our minds on? Like which of the 96 TV channels we are going to watch an American import on this evening.

But wait. What is this? Is this some attempt at a social critique of our times?

No, not really. Just a cack handed metaphor for the way that I see the HR profession developing. You see, back in the early days of my career, when livestock filled the street, we were all obsessed by the pending devaluation of the florin and Cliff Richard had just had his first number one hit, HR people had to do fairly much everything for themselves. So we weren’t called HR then, but that is another story and one that I don’t have time or space for here.

External consultants were few and far between. Ok, you might pull in a Compensation or Remuneration specialist to help you with your pay strategy, benefit review or a bit of job evaluation, you’d have a Recruitment Advertising Agency that might advise you on your copy or your “house style” and of course your legal advisors to tell you what you shouldn’t do, but not what you should do (there are a range of options…..). But that was fairly much it. The rest, you used your internal knowledge, your external networks and if you couldn’t get the answer, you researched and created.

Of course, that was after the last recession and budgets were tight. But as young HR professionals we learnt to turn our hands to a number of things. We might not have been experts, but we knew a bit about fairly much everything.

L&D? Check. Resourcing? Check. Employee Relations? Check.

And here is a thing…..we used to represent the company at Tribunal ourselves.

Over time I’ve seen things shift. Partly because the economy picked up and we had more “disposable cash” in our budgets, partly because we were being constantly bombarded with articles and case studies about companies that had implemented x, y and z (the organisational equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses) normally instigated by the suppliers with the sole aim of showing their wares in the market place and drumming up more business and partly because of the shift to the Business Partner model which led HR generalists to think that they were too strategic and important to sully their hands with the likes of practical HR solutions when they could be sitting in meetings talking about……stuff.

Rather than reskill the profession, which is what many would like us to believe, in many cases we have instead deskilled the profession. There is only so much room for strategic thinking within human resources. So what value is being added by the others?

In the same way that many of us have to learn to tighten our belts at home, to rediscover lost skills for cooking, sewing, mending, fixing, creating….the current economic situation offers an opportunity for HR professionals to really hone their skills and to become proper generalists. There will always be a need for external support and guidance, but that will never beat the learning of new skills, the development of our own abilities and the broadening of our own talent profiles.

There is time to think about the greater bigger issues of the workplace, there is a need to consider the greater strategic issues of the day, but a good HR professional also knows what great looks like and how to deliver it themselves. Being practical, being hands on, these aren’t bad things. The sooner we get the balance back in our professional lives the better.

And given the economic environment that we’re in there is no better moment to start than right now. And who knows, we might all have a little bit of fun in the learning process too! Now who could argue against that?