Broken Arms and HR.

I got the chance to speak to Owen Ferguson of Good Practice today. I liked Owen the first time that I met him and after that point confirmation bias took over and I couldn’t help but like him.

We were chatting about a host of stuff today including the research they do at Good Practice when Owen said something I loved, which I will badly paraphrase below.

Too often HR and L&D are like a doctor rushing, uncalled, to the side of a person with a broken arm. They appear and ask the person whether they would consider changing their diet to lower their cholesterol. Whilst that isn’t a bad suggestion in itself, it is hardly the priority for someone with a broken arm. The patient again gestures towards the arm – the doctor walks off in a huff disappointed that their advice on how to lower blood pressure wasn’t followed.

The point is that the advice is sound, but if you don’t match the priorities of the people you are serving and don’t support or intervene at the right time then you won’t make progress.

There is an element of earning trust and working alongside the people you are supporting with any job and pushing a solitary agenda and then asking why people aren’t paying attention is of no benefit to you or the organisation. If you want a business to share or explore different priorities then you might need to help some people with their priorities first.

So next time you are working out how to get your next HR initiative done make sure you aren’t ignoring the broken arm that someone is complaining about.

Rigging your review: this works and it shouldn’t

It’s always handy to know how to rig or beneficially influence a process. Especially if you work in HR and you want things to be fair.

So here is a list of things that people should watch out for their colleagues doing. And if you run the process it’s worth reflecting on how you compensate in your process for real or accidental manipulation.

1. Complain about your salary not matching market rate in the run up to the process. Why? Because it’s the time in the year when you are most likely to get significant movement in the salary budget. There’s little point complaining one month after.

2. Deliver your best piece of work in the month heading up to the review. Why? Because the process should recognise overall outputs/inputs over a year, but we tend to place more emphasis on recent achievements. A strong Q1 is in the distant past. A strong Q4 and you are an ‘up and coming’ star.

3. Get matey with people across the business. Why? Because most processes involve a broader review by senior teams in other departments. You need to pass the good egg challenge in order to keep the positive rating that 1 & 2 have delivered you.

4. PR relentlessly. Why? Because organisations continue to reward the work most easily made visible. The person behind you quietly getting on with being awesome? Far less likely to get rewarded well than Ted, who brags about every single thing he has delivered at every single opportunity. People know about Ted. Why? Ted talks

5. Don’t argue with the boss in the run up to the review. Why? Ideally you want to be irreplaceable. Most bosses still believe supportive and compliant to be irreplaceable as it requires less work than thinking and responding to challenge.

6. Be a guy. Why? Because it unfairly helps in so many ways… I’d insert the research but the cut and pasting would tire me out.

7. Circle the wagons by insisting any failure is down to the business area that most recently annoyed your boss. Why? Any criticism of your performance will be deflected by a broader ‘I think we know there are some issues there’. They’ve had similar problems so they can hardly criticise you for not making more progress.


Please note the author has no need of such tactics as he relies on his beard to denote wisdom and creativity.

Dragnet, Being Naked and Politics.

(Yeah, it’s a Brexit one, it’s about the debate around Brexit. My only publicly expressed view on the Brexit decision remains that it’s very important) .

There’s a crucial debate going on at the moment, except that there really isn’t. Or to put it another way, you have to look really hard to find something worthy of being called a debate and that saddens me. This is about the debate, not a view on the rightness of wrongness of any potential outcome.

I tend to lob in pop culture references into my writing and I offer three for you now… The debate makes me think of Dragnet, the Bluetones and John Lennon. Here’s why.


Whether you have seen the original TV series or the movie with Tom Hanks and Dan Akroyd you’ll know that Sgt Joe Friday in Dragnet wanted ‘Just the facts, m’aam’.

And I wish that occasionally we’d find a disinterested observer, without a case to make, who could just call out the facts. Of course facts are complex and open to interpretation, but wilful misinterpretation should be made some kind of crime. It’s already a crime against the truth.

Separating the signal from the noise has never been harder. Separating truth from cliché has never been harder. There are too many people trying to win and not enough trying to work out what a win would really look like. ‘Lies, damn lies and statistics’ isn’t supposed to describe a multiple choice question about your preferences for portraying your side of the debate.

And you need to be sceptical, because even facts aren’t straightforward. Joe Friday didn’t say ‘Just the facts, m’aam’, or at least the facts aren’t straightforward.

The Bluetones

In the jangly genius of Bluetonic by The Bluetones there are a few lines that are zingers when it comes to quality of debate.

I give you, for your entertainment, the following.

You may not see things my way, like my method or my reasons, but you can’t tell me that I’m wrong

You may not see things my way, I don’t care because I’m not asking

That appears to be my Facebook timeline.

More interestingly for me there is a line that’s always stuck with me.

When I am sad and weary and all my hope is gone, I walk around my house and think of you with nothing on

There’s a beautiful ambiguity as to which of us is wearing the Emperor’s New Clothes in that statement. About whether I’m vulnerable or I have mentally disrobed you. It’s a wonderfully deceptive phrase and could mean one of two completely different things.

Ambiguity kills education. That doesn’t mean everything is clear, but it means it you deliberately aren’t clear then you retain power, but the world loses any sense of meaning except through the interpretation of the individual.

John Lennon

All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth

Organisational veneer – Scratch the surface

The thin veneer that both organisations and people maintain vexes me. It gets my goat. It is a bugbear. An annoyance. A useless distraction from and distortion of truth. What happens when we scratch it?

I’m sure we all manage our reputations to a degree, we are human and it’s a part of that. You might not call it that and the prime motivation for your action probably isn’t that, but most people care. But I’m talking about people and organisations more concerned with managing perception than reality. Where their version of the truth makes little accommodation for how things are.

I’ve seen an organisation recently clearly attempting to manipulate ratings on a well known website that is designed to rate how good an employer an organisation is. Astring of negative reviews from leavers about how poor the culture was followed by a veritable tidal wave of internal reviews (all with very similar ratings and wordings) which popped up on the site in a short time frame. It’s sad they have time enough to do that and not enough awareness or commitment to get things right in the first place.

Similarly, I’ve been in more than one conversation recently where people are clearly wanting to come across as reasonable and then mortally wronged, because high ground is handy. The arc of the conversation is predictable and the goal is point scoring. Not to be up front or honest or progress the conversation. Throughout my career I’ve found a strong correlation between people saying ‘Let’s get our cards on the table’ with being able to see a whole deck of cards hidden clumsily up someone’s sleeve. They use a phrase that I associate with some really honest people – they are just using it dishonestly.

It saddens me. Not allowing the truth out for long enough to be vulnerable costs us all. Whether you are an organisation or an individual the truth should matter, not effectively creating a mirage.

So next time that you see an organisation appear on stage talking about how well they treat their people then try speaking to some of their people to get to the truth.

The next time someone feigns hurt at a perceived slight to gain something else – then just treat it as something else you know about them.

The world has too many people trying to win a debate and too few trying to get to the truth. That truth includes ugly bits. Scratch away the veneer and deal with the reality.