Are you travelling through the HR Twilight Zone ?


“You’re travelling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop, the Twilight Zone!”

Ever get the feeling some of our organisations are currently caught somewhere between the scary old 20th century truisms and the trendy new social business of the 21st ? The reality is that in this big bad disrupted organisational world of ours this is the middle ground that most of us inhabit.

Anyway, it’s been a while and I’ve been busy. Well, actually I‘ve been hanging around with a floozy called LinkedIN publisher who laughs at my jokes and stirs a level of interest in my writing that makes me feel all tingly inside. But as the folk back home often tell me, never forget where you came from and wordpress was where it all began, so I’m back, taking on the organisational bad guys with the black hats and championing those willing to take the rollercoaster of the change curve.

So recently I had the chance at the HR Change and Transformation conference in London to speak to a room full of HR peeps on corporate day release from organizational hard labour, who were looking for “success stories”. For those attending always want stories of a muscle-rippling, white vest clad HR hero battling an evil environmental force with a start, middle and dramatic winning end. Take ingredients back to the organisation and call it ‘best practice’. My slot was more late night Saturday film noir with subtitles reflecting the absurdity of how change is being played out in many of our disrupted organisations today.

You see behind us is a rapidly disappearing yet safer world of Personnel, restrictive practices, policing capabilities, the 1996 Ulrich doctrine and a whole series of 20th Century hangups about people that would shame the devil. In front of us rushing headlong like an infected new age zombie, is a multi-generational, technology-centric, world of daily chaos where only a hairdresser or a robot technician will survive. At the same time staring back on every billboard and HR magazine is the poster child of Californian Hollocracies, with their successful people-centric ethos and burgeoning IPO prices. If you are the Group HRD of the regions finest 80 year old knicker factory in the midlands then comparisons with these bad boys looks about as ridiculous as one of your elderly range garments.

It seems to me that our HR heritage, coupled with these turbulent times, has given us a bad dose of cognitive dissonance (i.e the feeling of discomfort produced by the presence of two thoughts that are in conflict with each other). And when cognitive dissonance hits, then that gives you absurdity, or the art of what dumb organisations do. Don’t believe me, what other function would stick an ugly old employee handbook on the world wide web and in return give themselves the title e-HR ? 🙂

Some further beauties from the current world of Cognitive Dissonance HR would read like this :

  1. We have a well publicised CSR programme but we hire armies of clever tax experts to divert income from the home exchequer and we laugh in the face of the Living Wage campaign.
  2. We claim to be an open collaborative organisation but we write endless social media policies aimed at putting a block on twitter and facebook.
  3. We hope to drive a coaching culture through our leadership population but persist with utilizing the highly discredited stacked ranking system to help manage our annual bonus pot.
  4. We aim to win a war for talent on the back of a procurement-led, PSL, RPO cost play strategy where screwing down the price point for the contingent recruiter feels like the end game.
  5. And finally for now we state we are an employer of choice but have a HR policy book aimed at blocking any potential acts of evil from EVERY employee.

And so it goes on. The additive nature of our HR strategy means that nothing ever seems to disappear from the catalogue but everything seems to accumulate on top. Snippets of forward-looking enlightenment are bolted on to the increasingly complex environment to a point where a laundry list and an annual HR calendar is all that matters. Everything else gets lost in the noise.

Ok. Stop there and let’s get appreciative.

What did we expect. ? My major worry is that our inability to deal with further complexity, ambiguity and business relevance is hindered by the following weighty issues for our profession : 

  • If CEOs are suffering from the complexity gap why shouldn’t we ? Perhaps the Capability gap is too daunting. From Personnel Generalists to business-centric, data scientists with a technical depth that drives relevance ? Pigs and lipstick spring to mind.
  • Characteristically, as a profession we aren’t passionate. I watch those in fashion, retail and god forbid technology consume themselves in their domains 24/7. For our profession, how do you build passion on the back of a legacy of corporate policing and counteracting potential employee evil ? Have we got the professional base we deserved ?
  • We have an image problem. Different from the capability gap we have established too often a hardwired position in the business that established HR teams find it hard to break out of. Perhaps only regime change gives us the impetus but that’s a bit revolutionary for our risk-averse function.
  • Finally a year’s blogging has taught me the sober lesson that we are too tribal. HRBPs believe they will rise to the top of the food chain, the L&D teams are apparently unloved and want to break free, recruiters have been left behind as talent has proved too complex for their transactional heritage and as a melting pot we are a bickering family held together by a now unloved Ulrich model.

How many authentic conversations are taking place with these issues central inside our ever-changing HR organisations ? How many gorillas in the room are being avoided before a plan to put people at the centre of our businesses takes root?

There are more questions than answers it seems so for now a big well done to all those fighting the good fight and working hard to pull their organisations kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Smite on those hiding behind the facade of an illusory calendar of HR events and the comfort of cognitive dissonance to fill up their days. May the fleas of a thousand camels infest their collective personnel armpits!

Meanwhile…it seems surviving inside the HR twilight zone goes on.

“Mr. H.R Manager, who believes in a magic all his own. The magic of a child’s smile, the magic of liking and being liked, the strange and wondrous mysticism that is the simple act of living. Mr. H.R Manager, species of twentieth-century male, who has his own private and special Twilight Zone.”

Until next time HR….be brave and seize the opportunity.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s