HR’s frozen middle

NOT the Chief Executive of the CIPD

NOT the Chief Executive of the CIPD

Big Companies love their frozen middles. Having created 1 million middle managers since the second world war the ‘leaders’ of these modern day behemoths worry themselves sick at how their own version of the frozen middle is being a constant pain in the ass in blocking their downward ‘strategies’ or failing to get the directives on empowerment rolled out in some deadend regional town they refuse to visit from the ivory tower. When failing to get this cracked through bouts of incessant engagement interventions they equally worry once a year about the frozen middle their forced ranking performance management programmes create for “the middle of the road, can’t get more from them” brigade of steady eddies that they convince themselves are essential but ain’t going anywhere. So with a familiarity of the concept I ask how in the name of zeus do we unlock the frozen middle of HR across the UK ?

By way of background, the following research involved 3 men in a bar during half-time at the football where the following hypothesis was formed – across HR we have roughly 20% of High Engagers, 20% of truly disengaged and 60% of complex souls that might be there for the taking if we want to mobilise a shift in mindset and output across the function – HR’s frozen middle. On the basis of the fact that the working party was drinking Stella Artois there is a 15% swing factor to be applied. I can also report that, contrary to popular opinion, the drinking of said brand left us feeling quite benevolent by the end of the night 🙂

Let’s explore these categories a little deeper and see if it resonates :

20% HR high engagers – Like the pregnant woman on the tube they wear their ‘HR on board’ badge with a pride like no other. They stride the world of social media, even on sites where you just need the flick of an eyebrow to communicate your message as well as the Twitters, Facebooks and LinkedIN must haves they carry with them on their ‘tweet ups’.  They believe that Peter Cheese is the cojones and have a blind faith in that professional body so fierce that is often reserved for Southern Baptist cults. They are primarily male but sometimes female and they blog and comment about enlightened organisations and  share and engage on topics which often drives great content. They appear fairly ambivalent to the plight of those underneath them, preferring still to be cocooned in the clique of HR social media world that envelopes them.  However, they are at least motivated and engaged enough to ponder what an enormous heap of a mess modern HR has gotten itself into and to be fair are trying to do something about it. I like this group.

Most likely to say : “Not only were we the first people in HR to buy into that ATS, we were the first people in HR to realise it was shoite…Retweet that please followers

20% HR disengaged. At the other end of the spectrum are the unreachable runt of doomsayers and begrudgers and sadly this figure is probably hugely underestimated. They consist of a bizarre demographic ranging from those who’ve spent an entire life in one depressing large HR department where knowing the attendance arrangements for shift workers is all they get measured on. They are equally old school HRDs who are still being paid a quarter of a million annually to merrily concierge their ‘client’ on transactional nonsense. They are cuckolded, cocooned and survive by staying safe and subservient. They don’t believe in the CIPD because it never made a difference to their career or their earnings. Others in this group are entering HR at the end of their careers because they have always liked people and their boss told them it would be a good fit (as he sought to cut overheads in his own department). You could literally accompany this groups’ local CIPD branch meeting with a band of bronzed Chippendales in the buff and you’d still not get a turnout. A depressingly large group of HR people, their contribution depresses me.

Most likely to say : “I fell into HR…and I like people. Sometimes. When they don’t shout at me.”

60% frozen in the middle…The demographic I am most interested in. They have probably at one stage undertook a dose of Continuous Professional Development only to be bullied out of it by an unsupportive HR work environment or a HRD who has made them look small and petty for doing it. Their working environment is obsessed with process and policy but every so often they get thrown a bone to look at ‘best practice’, that elusive nirvana every unenlightened HR professional goes in search of for reassurance only to be cast back into the fold with a view that suggests ‘we’re not ready for that yet’. They’ve been ill-served by the CIPD and when they have attended anything remotely networking it’s looked like a night out with the Women’s Institute or they have been approached by a balding middle aged man in an ill-fitting 1970s suit handing out his business card looking for his next role in Health and Safety whilst staring inappropriately at some cleavage. The training courses provided by the CIPD are overpriced and out of reach for theirs and their HR departments’ budgets and very soon that 3 figure annual membership fee for a monthly magazine could be better spent on the spiralling rent costs they must endure. The social HR world looks interesting but without endorsement or support around them and inhabited by a rather clique ridden bunch in the engaged community then it looks daunting to hop on and enjoy for many.

Most likely to say : “Right, logged on to Twitter. Next, who to follow ? Peter Cheese or Peter Andre. Peter Cheese or Peter Andre. Oh this is hard. Log off. Try later.”

So the frozen middle walks around bewildered and looking for inspiration to make the leap up the value chain or to be lost to the disengaged community forever. The latter feel comfort in having their ranks swollen by new recruits to justify their own lazy attitude to HR and the engaged demographic too often appears exclusive and equally comfortable in maintaining their own sense of minority status.

Who is going after HR’s frozen middle ?

Whilst a lot of our focus is on the quality of outcome agenda (i.e who are we and what is our hot spot within the world of work) I have tried several times to engage others on where the scaling up of our ambitions to take this number of potentially engaged and possibly talented HR people with us ? The CIPD aren’t interested. Those snakes in the grass in Talent Acquisition I discovered have the Institute of Recruiters (yeah who ?) to turn to and are more interested in pallying up to Marketing going forward, like that’s some cloak for their continued ineptitude. Without a meaningful HR attraction and retention strategy we are left to hang onto the small number of agitators talking to themselves or filling our HR ranks with mediocrity for another generation. Neither outcome pleases me.

Leaving on a positive note I’m going to use the blog to share the great content provided by an inspiring HR blogger @whippasnapperHR via the very helpful @MJCarty who get the practical dimension I’m aiming for here to help tease this community onto the social HR scene, one positive dynamic we could all encourage more.

However, it’s not the end game and there’s a follow-up blog coming up on my own thoughts on tackling the frozen middle but until then I’d like to thank our research sponsors’ very own brand of strong continental lager and would remind all our readers to remember to drink sensibly this Christmas time.

Until next time.


One thought on “HR’s frozen middle

  1. Where to bloody start? Firstly, engagement of the HR community. The CIPD is absolutely useless at that – as I found to my cost when I tried to get some action going on Adamsgate – via social media. And were unable to articulate their (our) PR strategy. Notice the ‘our’. It’s important. And the new purpose – ‘better working lives’ – if it is saying that people practices need to be ethical, hurrah. But I am not sure what it is saying. After hearing Monsieur Fromage yesterday on R4 weaselly defending 0 hours contracts (only 38% want more hours) I am just as unenlightened.

    As to HR practitioners? I don’t really recognise many in the engaged 20% as I don’t know that many people who have a good word to say about us (themselves) and the CIPD. Seriously – 20% think the CIPD is a good thing? Where are you drinking?

    Moan over. What to do about it? OK, gather those of us who care enough and let’s get the CIPD to understand that they work for us, that this is what we want, and it doesn’t include a £400k plus package for running an organisation with 300ish employees. That’s very old skool remuneration policy. And Switzerland is leading the way on that one! And if the CIPD don’t want to listen then if recruiters can have the IOR we can have our own shiny new organisation as well.

    PS recruiters only want to report to marketing because they hate HR so much. Mainly because we are shite at understanding the importance of recruitment.

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