Riding the tidal waves of recruitment guff

guffIt appears that simplistic populism is sadly all the rage across the world – From that trumpet Trump to the UK’s ideological warriors searching zealously for more and more things to bucket under austerity cuts. Limited and loaded answers to complex problems doled out to the chattering classes. Sad really. Meaningful debate is curtailed and simplistic mantras echo the chambers. Critique and counterview is frowned upon as the rather annoying cult of happiness now dictates that we all walk around permanently appreciative with a face that’s looks like it’s been overdosed on Botox.

In our own small patch of organisational turf, busy HR fools continue to dominate, making impressive arm gestures when asked to dive into a remotely difficult work problem by referring to the ‘we don’t do brilliant basics’ patter that closes down everything. Normally the preserve of our friendly HRBP fraternity, those storm troopers paid to dose out comforting lies to the ‘internal customer’.

In the absence of dialogue our profession remains deeply buried under a tidal wave of guff where the failing status quo is continuously sanitized and propped up in a manner that would make the North Koreans blush.

Sanitized guff includes:

  1. Where should recruitment sit? – No matter what soulless organisational silo it resides it still needs to connect with the real world out there and the messy one inside. The one that hates it, to those who need it, to those who will fund it and those who worry about it. Stop this obsession. The wider business doesn’t care and it smacks of the abusive partner who constantly threatens to walk away if they don’t feel the respect their clearly fragile psyche demands.
  1. Should I write my cover letter with quill pen and spray panther musk just above my waxed family seal? – Yeah, you should because it will push the time spent on it by the average bored recruiter from 0.75 seconds to just over the 1 second mark. But the biggest crime is that ‘professionals’ are churning out ways of polishing the turd when the honest truth is that the CV and it’s antiquated ugly sister the cover letter provide little insight into the merits of an individual when considering their application. Bin it, don’t slap lipstick on it.
  1. Will I excite the talented few with 3 pages of bullet points copy and pasted and shoved into the ATS of choice as a means of my written sales pitch? – If this is truly your opening salvo in the equally fake ‘war for talent’ you’ve turned up with a peashooter for the battle pal. Get a copywriter and recognize that every touch point is aligned behind the marketing of your opportunity. For those who outsource this crime to a 3rd party then there is a special place in hell’s very own recruitment department waiting for you.
  1. Will I focus my team’s efforts on the application process for the upcoming candidate experience award or will I deal with the backlog of people who’ve spent some time trying to engage with your organization? – That the modern day Investors in People plaque is now the must-have ‘best places to work / have people filling in forms to an awards body’ is preferred and anyway we told everyone that if they haven’t heard in 5 days then we clearly accept that a little more of hatred for our brand will grow, or words to that effect.

Tidal waves of guff are visible every day if we happen to regain our child-like curiosity that has been sucked out of us by too many corporate functions or the race to the bottom that mediocrity leads us. Recruiting rituals and belief systems that are in need of being exposed as counter-intuitive at best and just definitions of insanity at worst. In the interests of much needed blogging brevity I’ll limit it to the 4 but in the immortal words of Marti Pellow, “the guff is all around us”.

In the meantime I’ve asked the LinkedIn development team to include a trumpet function on their platform when blogs and articles insulting our collective recruitment intelligence continue to deliver waves of guff.

Until next time. Remember to trumpet if you feel the guff is strong.


When #Tru tribes go to war

truHatIconIdent250If you have to pick a HR tribe to go on the lash (i.e bevvy, swally, drinkies, beers, pots, etc) with, choose recruiters. Not just because I have spent a very pleasant, chaotic yet educational day with #truLondon but for other more important reasons in my experience. Learning and Development people tend to worry endlessly about splitting the bar bill 70:20:10, Reward people tend to resemble the weird kids table at a wedding and spend the entire time avoiding eye contact and finally the self-important HR Business Partner types will leave you sitting alone as they constantly duck outside the bar taking oh-so-vital calls from ‘internal customers’ seeking reassurance for some appalling act of mismanagement.

Whilst I will applaud the upside of such a remarkable event such as #TruLondon for all its sparkling content and awesome, internationally talented company, the flipside is another confirmation of the rather tribal need for belonging that the recruitment fraternity seek as it closed the front door, circled the wagons and focused on the common enemy. Oh yes folks, the dreaded mention of the audience’s reference to HR as Human Remains tells me all I need to know that in the fight for liberating organisations from the shackles of old 20th century outdated management practices, some of our best would rather take pot shots than appreciate the difficulties and need to reach out across the wider community. This isn’t unique. I blogged about the Learning and Development crew going into pantomime mode also at a CIPD conference betraying its own need for the same human desire to belong.

All this parochial nonsense is really beginning to get on my breasts I can tell you. At a time when the window of opportunity flies open and screams ‘build me a people-centric new workplace’ we resort to the very thing we rally against elsewhere – big, bloody silos of functional snobbery and protectionism that ultimately stifle creativity and hold us back.

I’m incredibly proud of my recruitment bloodline but as a true people professional mongrel, I’m also never going to give up hugging my learning side, stifling my talent development and employee engaging tendencies, will never burn my old HR generalist bra nor reject the lashings that great Celtic industrial relations men gave me to ensure I turned from a boy to a man in the war against trade unionism !

So recruitment, step back from the age old animosity towards HR. Yes, the ATS has been made totally unwieldy with screens of boring fields on diversity, disability and sexual preferences but it’s not your nuts on the line when the people from risk, legal and compliance come a calling so show a bit of understanding.

And don’t get all bloody uppity when that new hire you loved steering through the interview process leaves after 10 months in the job. Your technical brilliance most probably sold the business an individual with all the predictive validity of a 1 in 5 shot to success. In any other part of the business you’d be banged up for producing a car with 3 wheels or a drug that made your hair turn blue with such odds.

Somewhere along the way we are going to have to tackle this bloody big gorilla in the room or we’ll continue to favour a safe, judgmental, local tribal preference over a collaborative effort to fix some big complex issues in the world of work. I’m keeping a close eye on Open Source HR and giving it my full support as it at least recognizes this cross-functional need.

Finally, we can have a local tribal flavor but the movement will have to come in recognizing that HR isn’t institutionally shit, or that recruitment aren’t all untrustworthy wide boys. Until then as Frankie would say “a point is all that you can score….

Until next time. I was indeed the first person in Belfast to buy Frankie Goes to Hollywood. I was also the first person in Belfast to realize they were shite.

When will recruitment leave its comfort zone ?


It’s a well-known fact that nowadays recruiters are dominating the internet superhighway with complete content overload. And when I say dominate I mean in a way that a dungeon mistress would be proud of – overbearing, painful and ultimately bringing out bouts of guilt in the poor recipient who decided to endure it.

In that big siloed chatroom, you’ll be able to soak up all sorts of guff ranging from ninja sourcing skills (come on, what age are these authors ?), the endless agency v. in-house debate, waves of talent technology that look all a bit same-y (when the average corporate Joe can only name you Taleo and Kennexa), voodoo-like selection algorithms that nobody can really explain to a client (beyond a shrug of the shoulders), employment branding (that promise to make your organisation look sexy to the disloyal band of millenials) and lastly job board aggregators that erode the work you’ve done to articulate your brand in the first place. On the peripheries are a bunch of lunatics who believe data analytics has matured beyond endless dirty data problems that nobody will admit to and the complete loony left who believe something virtuous such as candidate experience is worth pursuing but in fact are treated like Donald Trump views Mexicans amongst the mainstream recruitment media. In fact a whole bunch of relatively simplistic transactional recruitment guff that takes a push of a finger or the making of a candidate persona.

Now here’s the conundrum. What fails to grab little or any airtime amongst the recruitment glitterati is the vital issue of Strategic Workforce Planning and it’s tumbleweed sister Adaptive Workplace Strategies. The very thing that helps determine requirements beyond an arbitrary headcount plan has about as much allure as a company balance sheet at a HR night out. Think about it :

Right people – Yeah. Full marks for the recruitment branding, attracting, and selection competences. In some organisations it has also been know to bring them closer to their HR colleagues, which is nice. Full marks.

Right location – This is not the same as the low hanging fruit of opening a new office in Munich but leading the debate based on some clear talent economics as much as the size of the market. Recruitment less comfortable and recruitment waiting for the order to come through ?

Right time – This is not the same as the time to hire debate nor some low level analytics based on some historical trend analysis either.

Right cost and shape – I’m going to bundle these together and I’m pushing the boundaries beyond the balance sheet view I’ve seen for years of having typically permanent employees (with all the increasingly false premise built in) and contingent (still being categorized as being too wide or the place where the RPO takes over). As permanent continues to whither, contingent needs segmented into partnership, borrowed, freelance and open source to name a few. Not because the organization dictates it but because the world of work is changing it. Adapt or die.

I see little by way of the next technology wave stepping into this space as the problems remains too organization-centric to scale effectively as a market product with any level of margin (and who says the technologists are only in it to cash in on a potential IPO ?).

If everything else recruitment continues to focus on (from sourcing to selection) are mere transactions along the way, why are we so reluctant to take a lead in the debate and do recruiters accept that it will continue to push the function further onto the peripheries of the organization ? At the moment it’s a fragmented discussion bar a few notable consultants trying to push the agenda.

Another quick scan of a typical recruiter group discussion online suggests that cold calling, rejecting candidates and a ‘how to use (insert obscure sourcing tech) remain the safe domain of debate. The workplace is going to get a hell of a lot more complex in the years ahead if half the megatrends come true. My take is that this generation of recruitment are happy to remain in the comfort zone of transaction and seem happy to hand over the hard thinking to anyone but them. Maybe a new generation needs to change that, not constrained to crappy dialogue about silos, the ineffectiveness of HR and why they should be owned by someone else.

An opportunity exists to raise the bar. Will anyone take it ? Until next time.

Talent Acquisition Technology – Without talent design they are just toys

tatTalent Acquisition Technology (TAT) is now officially trending in 2016. Do you know your Workable from your Smartrecruiters ? Your Greenhouse from your TalentRover ? Funded to ridiculous amounts by Investors stateside, a great big tidal wave of TAT is on its way. And if you are planning on installing without any major talent design in place, then you might as well literally burn the cash.

So says this battle hardened survivor of recruitment technology 1.0. The cautionary tales are there as a warning and here’s a typical story from the postbag :

5 years ago it arrived with a fanfare. The spreadsheets were burnt and a new era of recruitment technology arrived having convinced your CFO to release £60,000 to fund an ATS. It would create ‘efficiencies’ and banish the agency from the door said your ambitious proposal. For your HRD, it would symbolize true eHR (remember when we put an ‘e’ on the front of everything to make us look cool and digital – ePayslips, e-learning and the lesser known eStillRefusestohireWomen).

Over the intervening period the world fell out of love with growth and the recruitment team was downsized. Nobody to administer the record keeping benefit it brought (and nobody read the reports) and as for the culture of managers owning the process, well that went as soon as sales began to dip and the HRD didn’t want anyone doing a ‘real job’ impacted by ‘HR matters’.

You see, back then, without a supporting talent design, it was too often about acquiring some TAT within a limited vendor landscape who treated the product like a weekend hobby for techies, bereft of changing market expectations. Inside the world of Ulrich HR, all technology investments were dished out across the specialist silos with little joined up thinking.

Now the contract is running down and you want an upgrade. The workplace is changing and you need technology to satisfy your social media channels, brand reach, candidate experience, talent pools, analytics and the short-termism of the business to just hire people NOW !! Got all that lined up ?

If you are coming into this cycle the first time or back round again, here are some of the lessons to supplement the excitement (or otherwise) of the technology tendering exercise.

  1. There is a huge difference between installing and changing – Don’t let the tail wag the dog. We are overwhelmed by shiny new toys but there has to be an ecosystem and a change path that has technology within it. Have you got this narrative and does the technology align to this? This is the chance to look inwardly at the value chain that now drives the talent strategy for any organisation. Use it.
  1. Your stakeholders will have different drivers. Manage them accordingly – Talent Acquisition needs to influence, lead and push the agenda. Nobody else will. That sounds obvious but the reality is that in our siloed sub-function, we often give too much away. Procurement will want efficiencies and cost savings, IT will want security guarantees, traditional HRD wants ‘direct sourcing’ (as agency avoidance pays the bill) and the CEO/CFO wants instant return on the kit. Your culture, if highly resistant, will kill the investment over time. Redefining how your extended talent landscape (agency, PSL, RPO, assessment) is impacted should also be key.
  1. Context will be key. Do you have the ability to understand where you are jumping off from (start-up, growth, maturity, redefining the brand, etc) and what the journey ahead looks like, especially when measuring investment success ? When people talk about being entrepreneurial that means defining an opportunity to breakthrough some inertia by utilizing technology, as well as people (capability), culture (high or low trust environment) and process (minimum viable standard). Make the change sustainable.

Finally, given the multitude of issues, you could do a lot worse than to invest in some interim expertise to help you navigate this complex change agenda. As a Head of Talent or HRD I have done this previously with all my technology change programmes and I can tell you it has more than paid for itself. If you want to speak to me about this further then contact me by clicking on this about me page to set up an informal chat. I’m passionate about ensuring we maximize every Talent transformation journey in 2016.

Nobody else will lead this change but us folks. Don’t accept any old piece of TAT.

Until next time.

Recruitment into Marketing – Yer havin’ a laugh

marketing adLike a long, lost sub-tribe of flagellating bedwetters, the world of recruitment has perennially been waiting, Moses sandals packed and ready, for someone to take them away from the unloved world of tyrannical HR rule. Whilst the constant has always been the dislike of their flaky kith and kin in the People world, there has a been a variety of chosen ones that has been called out over the years, with most recently top of the pops Marketing as the most desired destination for the average recruiter – and by god do we have too many average recruiters.

But I digress.

We all know that recent HR history has seen it make more u turns than a dodgy plumber – from protectors of welfare workers to storm troopers of management flexibility. Now in the big businesses it helped to create, it looks on, as the management teams demand more than efficiency, controls and subservience to thrive and survive. The recruitment teams are caught in the crossfire being asked to push PSLs, broken agency relationships, outsourcing inflexibility and cost to hire mantras when little of that delivers any true sustainable value in the changing world of work.

However, if recruitment thinks that leaving this behind to live in a land of marketing flim-flam will bring a change for the better then you are as daft as triggers brush. Marketing, with all its own legends and rituals, is equally riddled with imperfections and as the corporate pimp, its sole purpose is there to manipulate average Joe into a purchase they didn’t want to make. Marketing does not make you five pounds lighter or £1,000 richer, and for its survival at the mythical table of CEO greatness, sees no further in a business cycle than what’s in front of its nose. Now, not for a second am I throwing the baby out with the bathwater – marketing skillsets (which doesn’t include throwing corporate parties or picking partnerships) does signal a need to be more data driven and scientific (and I’d mark this better than HR but nowhere near as good as truly scientific disciplines). If this step change can be blended with the art of selling (and god forbid you ever ask a marketer to do that) that needs equally to make a renaissance in recruitment then the job’s a good un.

As pendulum swings towards marketing’s fabled flawless strengths, signs of over influence are there and should be challenged by all good, questioning and cynical recruitment teams. Here are 3 examples:

  • The average talent (passive, active, untapped potential, unfundamentalist, environmentalist, gay, straight, left, free and in need of the right job in the right company at the right time and impossible to segment) does not wish to join talent communities for some fabled reasons that ‘ever since they were a young boy or girl they’ve only ever supported (insert some FTSE 50 or Fortune 500 company). Go search online for the ‘heartbroken talent community of Enron’. You’ll find that they don’t exist for the obvious reason that people don’t actually give a shit if brands / companies die. They want a job and an employer who treats them ‘well’. We just got to understand what well translates as for them.
  • Social networks are still the place where the average person goes to chill out, escape the humdrum pressures of modern life, stalk an ex-girlfriend and watch an elephant urinate over its zookeeper. Conversations and the fabled brand advocacy is not taking place in the scale or volume that we are led to believe. For all the science that Marketers believe they bring to the party, much of it is still lacking validity and is guesswork and the data thrown at us about social is right up there telling us ‘what’ but not telling us ‘why’ because that just takes too much from the market research budget and eats into the ultimate margin of the product. When you are selling a career and not a commodity then the price for getting it wrong is not a credit note but a huge big hole of toxic mess in the middle of your organisation that needs carefully dealt with.
  • Lastly, I blame marketers for selling us the myths of ‘generational blah blah blah’ with a disproportionate focus on milennials to the detriment of baby boomers who employment brand ‘experts’ associate phrases like ‘dying out’ and equating lots of reactive, conservative traits with. Worryingly this stuff gets regurgitated without much rightful cynicism or challenge amongst recruitment professionals. And you want more of this under the marketing functional ownership model?

Can we just stop right there. Taking the benefit of a wider lens to organizational issues is GOOD. Taking in the whole smoke and mirrors of Marketing-speak without perspective or fact is frankly CRAP and can I ask us to desist.

Whilst it is abundantly clear that self-flagellation is an endemic trait of HR and Talent people, the answer doesn’t lie in pitching our tent under the Marketing sky.

Until next time. Take no heroes, only inspiration. And never let your daughter marry a marketer.

Barry Flack: The future of recruitment


Barry has been at the forefront of the UK HR & Recruiting industry for many years having held senior leadership positions at the likes of Barclaycard and Primark. Barry is joining us for our Future of Recruitment & HR session alongside Matthew Jeffery, Jennifer Candee, Jeremy Russon and Jamie Leonard.

Barry shared his view in this short but to the point piece.

The future of recruitment is in the mind

The future of recruitment as we know it is as exciting as it is unpredictable. One only has to tap into the newswires coming from HR Tech conferences to see where the next new set of shiny bright toys are coming from as evidenced by the enormous investment being pushed in that area from the west coast of the USA.

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A message to you Rudy – We better think of your future


Serenading a group of young people

Last week at the end of the highly entertaining Smartworking conference organized by Quora Consulting in London town, where I was pleased to be a speaker, I proverbially shat it. A young-looking millennial type came up out of the blue and asked me some probing advice about his own forthcoming career. Whilst I didn’t have the heart to tell him he had another 79 years to work and 39 new (and probably piss poor) on-boarding experiences to experience, it did dawn on me 1) how little we focus in the corporate world on building the workplaces that will appeal to my new mate in front of me and 2) how outdated my own experiences are now to pass on my worldly wisdom.

In the rearview mirror I could sell him the life experiences I was exposed to many moons ago when the 20th century was nearing an end and the world was a simpler place. And as a fresh-faced, wide-eyed youngster at the time, I lived in a 2 dimensional world of work :

  • I was an underling and had to learn to know my place for the first few years.
  • Respect the fact that the people with longer tenure in my organization had by virtue a more valued opinion (and a bigger office) .
  • Listen to older HR people talk about themselves endlessly being distinct and separate from ‘the business’ to feed their own inferiority complex and allow themselves the narrative that ‘they’ (the equally awful internal client) never want x, y and z policy and process.
  • The CEO was the all-knowing, hairy male bhudda, sent down from whatever God you worship, to keep us profitable. When it all goes wrong it’s culture’s fault and that usually means the HRD ‘gets it’ (and not in a good way).

Ever thought of what you are achieving day-to-day in the context of shaping an organization my new young friend would enjoy?

Think for a second that so many of those shaping the organization have a working universe populated typically by the generation Xers and from time to time the baby boomers of the board. Sometimes you get to walk past the office junior (aka the millennial) who has made it past the 2 year graduate programme without resigning or without the gumption to be a start-up CEO themselves. But in the main, that’s it.

In short, Big business, FTSE 100, Fortune 500 etc are, in the main, struggling to be attractive to the millennial generation by taking the necessary bravery to think longer than a day’s trading or a quarterly performance period or god forbid the annual budget. CEOs, deserving the HR teams they’ve created, are short of answers to multi-generational organisations after a career of business school teaching fixed on Taylorism and the enduring legacy of the silo and hierarchy in business. Let the next guy sort out the VUCA thing.

Now back to my dilemma last week. Had I not felt the eerie silence of the above hitting me between the eyes or the need to sing out the lyrics to the Specials ‘A message to you Rudy‘, my reflective side would have said to the young man to learn the ability to adapt, remain eternally curious and seek out the ‘opportunity’ no matter how small that seems. Keep up the good fight to keep simplicity at the core of your thinking and be comfortable with not knowing – that’s what the knowledge sharing community is there for. Oh and keep learning  new skills as they become obsolete quicker than the time you’ve filled in the course happy sheet.

If there is one thing about the complete dislocation of work and society we are going through at the minute is – we’re all in it together and to resolve the disconnection with the rising millenials I’d encourage signing up to a bit of reverse mentoring though the excellent MyHRCareers or the CIPD’s Steps Ahead scheme if you can take a day off work to get through their paperwork. It’s a small step to reconnect.

Who knows, for the time it takes to sit through another meaningless presenteeism weekly justification of your existence meeting that we do so well in HR, you could begin to take seriously and practically the understanding of what our organisations need to adjust to stay relevant to the growing numbers of young people in work. Who knows, you might just be surprised what you learn.

Until next time.

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.

You’re not from round these parts – SME & unconscious bias

Putting as many people in a car as possible appears to be a core competence for HR in SMEs

Putting as many people in a car as possible appears to be a core competence for HR in SMEs

Like everyone else I’m pleased to see that the backbone of the country’s recovery – the SME market – is reporting an increase in hiring and confidence seems to be on the up. Small is beautiful seems to be all the rage in HR circles. Hey you get to work in your converse boots, everything seems so damn positive and there’s a slide in the office. What’s not to like ? 🙂

Over in the big, complex beasts of yesterday’s HR world it’s a different picture. Late adopters to change have been forced into efficiency action on the back of declining revenues by grabbing the 1995 Ulrich book of HR solutions and adopting it like the white label solution it never was. Hey presto, big concierge organisations become smaller, leaner and cheaper in what remains the biggest trick since Copperfield made a plane disappear on TV. And in the midst of re-engineering the HR function lies a bigger challenge to provide leadership in reimagining the 21st century organisation out of a 20th century legacy construct whilst keeping the show on the road. Not for the faint hearted but some honourable attempts are underway led by some talented HR people.

Both organizational problems are rich in opportunity, learning and fulfillment for the HR function. They require somewhat different solutions but sadly in our rush for driving simplistic answers to difficult problems I’m increasingly worried by the stench of unconscious bias emerging in the SME world that does nothing for getting this right. The unconscious bias issue has been around forever (thankfully Financial Services is growing out of this trait but was a prime example that banking HR was unique back in its cock sure days) but it’s sad, although not unusual, to see it raise its ugly head again.

Less overt than its predecessor, in the eyes of those sourcing talent for the SME growth agenda, bias against those not from that organisational type who’ve worked in big organisations are characterised as being incapable of surviving without departmental support or network, unable to act at speed, slow and unresponsive, unable to get involved with contrived fun or just be different from those already in post. All frankly poppycock at an individual level but a reality of what is going currently in too many of our high growth SME organisations acting myopically and colluded in by their internal and external recruitment partners. It’s a practice that should be filed away with the nonsense that millenials are workshy and disloyal. Baseless, lazy but evident if you scratch the surface. And like any lie, repeated enough it reaches a reality that seals into the consciousness of everyone doing it until it’s a norm.

Let’s debunk this myth – there is no research data to underpin this nonsense. Damn good people exist in both organisational types as do the under performers, the mediocre and the lazy. The common determinant for success is providing skilled people with the right environment to flourish and to have a supportive environment. Then great things can happen. 

This isn’t rocket science. We are programmed to gravitate to people who are like us but it is as highly damaging to an organisation growth agenda than choosing a wrong new product or market. The immaturity of the new SME market needs challenged for the sake of their own survival. 

So when organisations and their associated Recruitment agents (inside and out) go down the route of sourcing from nothing more than a lazy company name search, they miss at its heart a complex and diverse business agenda calling out for them to work a lot harder in the recruitment process. They are by their nature diluting the potential success of the enterprise at the very time it needs diversity. Through experience, this stage of a burgeoning small organisation is less about being the same as everyone else but having a broad set of skills to tackle the following complex organisational issues :

  1. Supporting the founder in moving from the passionate patriarch / matriarch to CEO choices without interrupting the flow of the enterprise. Focusing on the build out of a leadership team / model that is complementary, diverse and aligned to the values / success of the entity. Keeping this front of mind as the start up reaches new levels of organisational maturity at a rapid rate. 
  1. How to scale the organization quickly to meet the pace of growth, keeping the enterprise true to the values of the organization at a workforce level. Heavy emphasis on a ruthless, well-oiled recruitment machine that avoids the scenario painted above to go down the bias route.
  1. Adaptive people strategies and interventions that are unique to the organization and not lifted off the shelf from elsewhere (I spoke once with a CFO at a Tech startup who wanted to maintain continued control of people through a stack ranking performance management system). Strike a balance between legal compliance to understanding how policies define how it feels to work here – the culture.

Depeche Mode once sang “People are People” and the fact remains that there is no such thing as an SME super gene out there beyond the entrepreneur that kicked off the venture in the first instance. Everything else is a variable and needs hard work to seek out the right ingredients. Getting the right talent in is a fundamentally important part of the growth agenda and too many organisations are taking an amateurish approach to the problem at this stage, limiting talent pools as a result of this bias and failing to bring a talent centric approach to the growth agenda as a direct consequence to the impact scaling up has on the culture and success of the business.

The fact that so many of our HR supply chains are broken in relation to the big corporate market is a growing acceptance in our profession. Not enough light is being shone on the early breaks in the same supply chain in the burgeoning SME market. Racing to get as many people into a mini cooper on a friday afternoon can act as much as an illusory echo chamber as those less flamboyant interventions in our mature organisations.

Are you spotting the dangers in your organisation before it becomes a problem ? Is a bums on seats safe recruitment strategy of hiring likeminded sophisticated enough to meet the growth aspirations ? Perhaps it’s time to have a closer look at the way rapid hiring is potentially diluting the effectiveness of the organisation.

Until next time. Time to take the SME talent agenda seriously.

The random collision of people and places

How HR and Facilities have traditionally worked together

In a blinding moment of utter selflessness, I’ve committed the rest of my professional life to building bridges. Not the big iron ones between land masses that requires me to face my fear of vertigo but the ones riding on the back of a slow-burning realisation in society that the next defining shift for work is the promotion of collaboration as a key differentiator. Command and control, dontcha know, is so last century !

But if I take myself out of the habitual visualizing of a future movement of well-chiselled, high cheekboned, collaborative HR working men and women aggregating insight like there is no tomorrow, the starting point today is certainly not for the faint hearted.

You see, jumping off points for changing anything are well, just bloody difficult. Despite LinkedIn influencers telling us how we should act before it arrives, the fact of the matter is that we don’t and for many of our organisations, only big ugly tipping points will force us into the change curve kicking and screaming like a scorned, drunken banshee.

Nowadays, we face a world of work that has been hardwired in such a manner for decades that silos have become an institutionalized art form. Adversarial and misaligned systems and cultures that do anything but encourage collaboration. The normal world order in business involves finance on one side of a God-like CEO and revenue generators on the other. Down into the descending ecosystem leaves room only at the bottom for both HR and typically Facilities to battle it out for last spot. Dependent on the state of the toilets or who HR have failed to pay this month determines who gets that last place.

And indeed, coming from the people side of this relegation battle, you’d naturally think this would breed a coherent band of sisters (typically) determined to unite against the might of the other functions above them in the relevance league table. Think again, we have more splitters in the HR space than exist in the Judea People’s Front.

Take the UK for example, the HR community is a broad church, yet two thirds of it can’t motivate itself enough to professionalise under the auspices of the monopolistic CIPD for a dramatically increasing number of pounds and pence per year. No such problem in the land of the free were competing HR professional associations are maneouvring for the heart and soul of the HR community in a war that could look like an anchorman cock fight soon. The L&D mob resent the HR mob, the baby boomers are looking forward to spending their large final salary pensions on a tasteless apartment overlooking Benidorm beach, whilst their new hire Miss Millennial looks on enviously as she cancels her retirement until she is 117 years old by knowing she will be cleaning the CEO’s robotic cognitive assistant in years to come. The small, homely, HR social-ites, skipping endlessly through fields of blogs & tweets bedecked in summer flowers and blue skies, are just enjoying the prose they write, receiving the accolades and expecting nothing back in return from their audience. Schisms and splits and silos galore.

And so on and so forth. 

The silos are endemic and as we have been left for decades to get used to our organizational system we have spent too much of our time making it more and more complex and building more and more walls between us in the process. 

But hey, guess what ? You know those perennial whipping boys in Facilities and HR ? Well, hold the front page, because a group of them from both professions have only gotten off their arses and decided to kickstart a movement designed to see off silos and the begin an era of true social collaboration.

For these unusual suspects, the Beyond the workplace initiative is all about building bridges between people and workplaces. A recognisable need exists now to help our organisations get to grips with how we think about the workplace, cope with the starting point for changing our hardwired systems and determining what sustainable activities will bring success in an exciting yet uncertain future.

I’m very honoured to be part of this fledgling initiative and like any successful social collaborative effort, it is being shaped by the crowd that drives it, seeking all-comers across the entire spectrum and beyond to build influence and drive its impact. Those motivated and expert enough are being asked to put their head above their siloed parapet and become a fellow traveller.

 “Northmen, Southmen, comrades all, soon there’ll be no silos at all” is the cry. 

I know you want to know more so here’s my call to action for now :

1. Head over and join the group on LinkedIn.

2. Follow the conversation on twitter with the hashtag #BTwC.

3. Participate in a forthcoming highly engaging Street Wisdom event in a city space near you. If in Central London grab the last spot on this week’s kick off event by booking here.

4. Lastly, why not book your place (and get a 10% discount code using code CT14BF1) on the fabulous HR Change and Transformation Conference 15-16th October and hear me talk about the initiative in more detail to an audience of senior HR folk.

Finally, both our much maligned functional areas have stared longingly at our respective navels for too long seeking that most human need to be respected for what we do. Whilst I’ve always understood how important both are, we have an opportunity to be the leading lights for once in our professional careers by making a difference to how organisations can adapt positively to the fundamental shifts facing us all.

Apathy is a very real part of today’s society and change is difficult, especially from those in organisational power systems not used to wielding such influence. Beyond the workplace needs to mobilise the hearts and minds of HR and Facilities professionals in the first instance before taking this insight into the boardrooms of Britain and beyond. Ask yourself, not what #BTwC can do for you, but what you can do for #BTwC.

Until next time, get involved and let’s make a difference.