Funny ? Funny how HR ?

I had my own way of getting the last bacon roll at the HR networking breakfast.

I had my own way of getting the last bacon roll at the HR networking breakfast.

I went to one of those breakfast HR networking events recently. For those in the profession who’ve fallen out of love with them, they are not so fun-packed events filled with either socially awkward HR people who have it written into their annual performance review to attend or pushy types who’ve prepared the same 10 questions each time to make them look clever, or get hired. Sometimes they are rescued by the promise of damn good content and that’s the clincher for me. Anything else is a bonus. I say content but I also value free bacon sandwiches and a coffee that hasn’t stewed yet.

Anyway, first half was a highly informative session on the world of unconscious bias interrupted intermittently by your archetypal obnoxious headhunter type at the back with HR Tourette’s shouting the words ‘client’, ‘me’ and ‘growth’s back’. During the break God decided to throw me a hospital pass and the obnoxious recruiter Tarquin (not his real name as given he worked for financial services he wanted his identity protected) snook up and told me awkwardly he had read my recent blog and thought I was “funny”.

What, shouted my inner voice ??!! My underlying message to the HR masses that opportunity for organisational advancement lies within their grasps if they can be bothered to work themselves up beyond their usual risk averse DNA seemed lost to….. ‘funny’ !?!!

The temptation was irresistible…….I bit. HR’s very own Joe Pesci rose from my inner soul.

“Funny how? What’s funny about it?” I spat back. Oh this felt good.

Tarquin stuttered “It’s funny, you know. It’s a good story, it’s funny, you’re a funny guy.”

I smelt blood : “You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it’s me, but I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? HOW AM I FUNNY? “

Tarquin froze. In that moment he represented everything that’s still wrong with the lazy wing of old HR. In his world the recession was being kicked into touch and job confidence was returning. His team was growing and with a business model of filling active applicants with distressed client hiring needs he had plans to make a killing after being forced to downgrade to a world of Tesco clubcards and quaff lager with the petit-boregoise over the last few years. He felt he deserved the inevitable bounceback without trying too hard. He’d dug out his “hiring for dummies in 2007” guide and turned to the chapter on making a margin on dopey HRDs inadequacies in recruitment.

Headline news readers – “Our profession is full of Tarquins and they get on my breasts”.

Whilst opportunity abounds everywhere to effect change and take risks professionally for the good of complex organisational agendas (especially at such a tipping point in society), he favours slapping lipstick on old pigs and pretending they don’t oink oink back. No contextual change in their world, no reaching into 2014 with renewed vigour and insight just same old. In my world the opening few weeks of 2014 have not been kind to me. Not that Tarquin would care but here’s a few reasons why :

  • Over the last few years I got to meet a few enlightened disruptive emerging organisations in the Talent space that I think are game changers. I enjoyed their paradoxical thinking, expertise and the way they looked at problems in a way that traditional HR and its mainstream supplier base (typically large-scale BPO and RPO) didn’t. They don’t pay me anything to market them so I’ll hold back on naming but Jesus H Christ, they’ve only just gone mainstream – swallowed up into the huge RPO abyss out there as that sector attempts to pull its bootstraps over basic RPO 1.0 to something that meets the bespoke talent needs of the organisation it faces into. As entrepreneurs who spotted a market opportunity to disrupt it was probably only a matter of time that the deep pockets of those masters of the RPO universe pounced with an offer they couldn’t refuse especially given the huge lack of original thinking in their own business models. Time will tell if this marriage dilutes the effectiveness of the offering or takes the RPOs to a new level.
  • A thing called Authenticity came along and waved its angelic wand over us all as a true differentiator for only a short period of time. Then recently, unmasking itself like a Scooby doo baddy, it has reverted to type :-

(1)    Diversity and Inclusion has been removed from corporate cupboards as growth was scowled at to be a thing of beauty once again. High profile D&I programmes from BigCo will soon be lauded in the public domain in a manner that would shame the devil. Until the next recession kicks in.

(2)    Reward and ER will be exposed as the agenda moves to individualising the psychological contract but they remain wedded in a legacy of below inflationary wage constraint and obsessive market pay points philosophy – missing the point that we’ve downgraded real earnings so much across the piece that monthly wage packets are utterly distracting for swathes of people trying not to be distracted by it.

(3)    The Performance Management gurus, despite being confronted by the obvious analysis that the bell curve freakonomics should have gone the way of the dodo, continue to inflict literally millions of hours of wasted time telling Bob in Accounts that he’s just an average Joe. Bob, in response, feels safe in his mediocrity.

(4)    HR strategists (no laughing at the back) still look at the inter generational workplace in much the way grumpy old men comment on their kids laziness saying things like ‘back in my day we were just glad to have a Filofax and a bag of coal for a seat’.

(5)    Capability in the world of big data may still be growing but if it’s still being fronted by HR men in the executive boardroom with small HR gonads then resistance will win outright. “Our analysis suggests that the golf club hires are amongst our weakest” will be met with “sit down HR monkey and scope out our next party season initiative”. Provocation without insight and a backbone just sounds stupid HR. Man up.

(6)    Some HR Recruitment consultants have invented “stabled and salaried” as a new language for their favoured client. Sod where talent comes from, let’s just limit the field and stick with the tried and trusted folk with years of compliance and conformity under their belt.

(7)    And finally all over planet HR are those cranfield-scarf wearing denizens of HRBP-world still producing lists of ‘things to do’ in 2014 and calling it a people strategy. Bit of diversity, bit of hiring, bit of firing, heat at 200 degrees and voila it’s a people plan. OD is not a skill set for these folk yet but something you do with a needle and too much crack cocaine.

Finally back at the breakfast networking event, Tarquin giggled nervously and my look let him know I was pulling his leg. He walked nervously to the Darjeeling teabag section and in the second half never said a word.

My inner voice, sounding like a high-octane mobster, shouted out loud “Ya fecker! You almost had him, you almost had him. I wonder about you sometimes, Tarquin. You may fold under serious questioning.”

In a world where we are still not waking up to the opportunity being offered to us, this was 1 petty, small victory in a minor skirmish. The battle for the soul of HR goes on.

Until next time.


18 thoughts on “Funny ? Funny how HR ?

  1. Ohhhhh the wit, the sharpness the sarcasm and yet the deep felt and serious analysis and commentary to what seen and what is partly the root of why things the way they are. Not only does it make hugely thought provoking reading (word funny only used by those too unintelligent to understand the seriousness of the matter) but also carries out its own analysis and contribution, and there by with all these ingredients make it a unique piece of contemporary mirror on the world that could benefit from not just readjustment and retouching but rathher a total paradigm shift.

    • Huge thanks Jacob. I genuinely thought the humour was overdoing it and wanted to reach into my own insecurities that I came into blogging to affect some change in the profession. Holding the mirror up is an important part of it but I recognise we need to do more. Thanks again, you are a top bloke.

  2. Barry, I’m disappointed at your writing.

    I don’t find it funny at all. Instead I see it as a witty intelligent guy who is frustrated at his profession. Instead of offering insights or progression, you’re offering narkiness and annoyance.

    That’s all good if that’s your thing. But if you want the profession to move forward, and you’re going to act as a commentator to what you experience, then it becomes incumbent on you to offer something that helps meet the standards you’re expecting or yearning for.

    • Fistly thanks for coming on and taking the time. Appreciate it. I guess humour is a broad church and all I can do here is express my own personality in a way that conveys a story with a message that I’ve built up over the years and holds dear to me. The blog today aims a volley at those in the profession who I genuinely know have no interest in moving forward, and that’s my point. I make no apologies for calling them out and presenting them in a grotesque manner. I’ve certainly used the blogs (read back) and twitter to provide ideas, share insight and build on what I think good looks like just to prove I’m not a one trick pony. The blog today came from a comment made to me that had me worried that an underlying message wasn’t getting through. We are a highly conflict averse profession and I guess the blogs have tapped into the elephants in the room we cover up and ignore that I think need teased out, debated and resolved. Would be good to meet up and take the discussion further but whilst I recognise I’m not for everyone I am grateful for the debate and value your contribution.

      • I fear I have been unclear when I said I did not find the post funny. I appreciate the humour and your style of writing is certainly entertaining. What I should have said is that I don’t find the topic funny.

        I’m all for calling out bad behaviour and for calling out those not interested in moving things forward. What I find unhelpful is comment without aspiration.

        Yes, those things are ills in the profession. In the social space, they’re written about regularly. What I think is valuable is someone with your experience and awareness to really push that conversation forward and help people push their thinking.

        My apologies if I was curt, this is not my normal stance.

      • Not wanting to be/come across all Barry ‘saccharine’, but when you read such a response like the one above by you Barry, it is clear that beneath the humour, wit, sarcasm and quirky way of expressing yourself lie real purpose, real concern and real wish that things would be different. I applaud you for this ability to mix seriousness with a highly entertaining way of highlighting subjects.

  3. 1. I like darjeeling tea. Nice choice Tarquin
    2. I think I know who you mean and the RPO $$
    3. You should go to Daylesford in the Cotswolds at the weekend – HH and bankers abound. And Tarquin is not a bad name. One crowd of 3 blonde children were called ‘Flotsam, Jetsam and Sputum’ – honestly
    4. Do you not think a touch of the mea culpas if you choose to go to a breakfast meeting?? 3 hail marys should see you right.

    And, er, March date – just drop some by me and we’ll get cracking!

  4. @Julia and Barry, does not take the brains of Britain to work out the RPO and the recent acquisition.
    As for for your comment Sukh. This is Barry’s forum and his blog post and he can do whatever he likes here, in whatever way he wants. Sure he may be highly critical and he may express this in his own quirky way that some (like myself) enjoy, others hate. The point is not whether Barry can and will come up with solutions, that is not his aim, but to provide an acidic (meant positively) take on what he sees and experiences. For me it this, about the analysis and the ‘Barry view’ on an industry and its people that for the most part could do with a massive kick up the backside, that contain so much BS and mediocrity that it screams to high heaven, an industry that is at best standing still and applying yesteryear approaches. That is not necessarily that much different to how most things work in our world, but here we have in Barry’s blog posts a different and in my opinion daring and bold and different perspectives that perhaps can make some readers or others have a different perspective on matters.

    • Hi Jacob,

      The openness of writing a blog invites people’s opinion – this is both the beauty and the challenge of writing.

      In truth, there are many bloggers offering the same level of thinking and insight as Barry has done in this post.

      My comment about it not being funny was ill-worded.


      • Hi Sukh
        No offence whatsoever taken my side, so all good 🙂
        Problem in what Barry says and for that matter Julia, and or many many others in the UK and globally is that very few actually listen, few actually care and indifference and ‘wilful ignorance’ prevail big time. If you have followed Barry then you will see that he attends this that and the other events and HR gatherings, yet that it is the same old and tired formulas that get dusted off and used, and never does the likes of Barry or others those pulled forward, those used and those listened to. And that is the tragedy and the the very great pity of it all, that no one really gives a damn!

      • Sukh ‘there are many bloggers offering the same level of thinking and insight as Barry…’ Please let me know who they are, as I have never come across anyone like the good Mr F. in the blogsphere.

      • I think these blogs are well worth reading:

        Gem Reucroft,
        Meg Peppin,
        Neil Morrison,
        Mervyn Dinnen,

      • Sukh – These people quoted are outstanding bloggers. Great choices. I’d also throw in award winning blogger flipchart Rick to the mix. Great read. Plenty of room for all of us.

  5. Sukh, I know and have and are still following Mervyn, Neil and Rob, the others I need to catch up on. That said and only speaking for the three beforementioned gents, only Neil comes close to Barry’s level of critical witty and sharp take on the HR/TA industry, and then there is still quite some distance to Barry’s way of expressing himself.

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