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.

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.