UKIP and entitlement

I’ve heard two truly great speeches live. One was by Tony Benn and the other was by my A-Level economics teacher. I know this blog is about HR(ish), but some of the noise from UKIP has stirred a memory of that speech by my teacher.

I was lucky enough go to grow up in a part of the country where grammar schools still provide, essentially, a free public school education. It’s worth checking this map to see the uneven distribution of grammar schools in the UK. It’s also a part of the country where a disproportionate amount of people can afford to pay for a public school education anyway.

I went to school in Royal Tunbridge Wells. It was a bit like Hogwarts without the magic. When you are 16 years old it feels like your entitlement. A great education and then a nice life somewhere leafy. The large proportion of my school will have gone on to have good careers in established professions, some will have gone on to senior roles in government, the military and industry. It’s just the way it works.

Except that as I grow older I recognise that the access to power and influence isn’t strongly correlated to people being a worthwhile human beings. In that way it really doesn’t work. It’s not that I went to school with bad people, it’s just that there is a richness or depth of experience that most of us didn’t have access to that you need to truly understand the wider world. We grew up in relative shelter, but with disproportionate influence.

I studied Economics for A-Level, except that I didn’t really study it because I had no work ethic whatsoever. If you ever want evidence of grade inflation it is simply that I got an A when my revision consisted of reading the textbook on the day of the exam, over a cup of tea, whilst playing snooker at my friend Dan’s house. That is how we rolled in Kent.

Achievement, status and effort quite regularly were divorced from each other.

My school used to ‘invite’ individuals who were struggling with Economics to move to study Business Studies instead. Business Studies was easier. The result of this was that I was in a good school, studying economics, where the wheat and chaff (academically) had effectively been sorted. In the room that I studied economics, you had (theoretically) the best of British.

Within a few weeks of starting the term it became clear that you can’t really separate economics and politics. Your view of what a government should do to influence economic behaviour is anchored in your concept of right and your understanding of how and why people act. We didn’t have much to work on in terms of life experience.

On my left sat a chap who has gone on to become an award winning economist. On my right sat the kind of person who now votes UKIP. Let’s run through his mindset.

The following were absolute truths that were recognised about foreigners

  • They were poorly educated
  • They came over here to take our jobs
  • They came over here to sponge off our benefits system
  • They were criminals
  • They weren’t all bad – but you know the ones that I’m talking about.

After one of these diatribes he provided a nice nod to me by saying ‘I’m not talking about you Dave, because you were born in this country, so you are only a bit foreign, and you are in a good school’ – yes, that conversation actually happened. I wasn’t sure whether to say thanks or just ignore it. There was a lot to process.

After about half a term of this mentality being applied to every economic and social problem we discussed our teacher felt moved to give one of the best addresses I have ever heard. It is the kind that I wish popped up more often on Question Time – or just in life more generally.

To protect the guilty we’ll call the individual involved Tarquin. Tarquin had just finished a speech on the economic necessity of closing the borders. This is how I remember the response. I really hope it was as good as I remember it.

“Jesus…just…Jesus Christ young man… you dumbfound me with your prejudice, you really do. I have no fucking idea how kids like you can get an education this good and still end up so stupid, I can’t begin to understand it. You are given access to all this knowledge and privilege and the best you come up with is reasons why other people shouldn’t get access to it? You really are an idiot. Even worst than that you are a bigot. You are a bigoted idiot.

 

I walked into the staff room the other day and overhead someone talking about bigoted behaviour – so I ambled across and asked them if, just guessing, they were talking about you and they were. You are a known bigot. We have such low expectations of your moral fibre its almost tragic. I know that you justify some of your comments by the fact your father is a banker, as if that is all we need to know, but let me tell you that whilst it might count for something in Tunbridge Wells, it doesn’t dictate right or wrong in the real world. Nobody gives a shit. I’ve seen the real world, it has no resemblance to what you describe as the UK when you open your mouth to give us another taste of your prejudice.

 

You’ve been studying economics with me for some time now and you are still unable to explain to me how these ‘foreigners’ are both claiming the dole and stealing your jobs and all without being educated enough to do either. I can understand why you, as an idiot, should be concerned about someone with a modicum of sense and ambition stealing your job, but the other folks in this room really shouldn’t worry about that.

 

I can see you are starting to cry so I’m going to stop talking to you, but I’m also going to ask you not to talk to me until you can give me some semblance of an idea that might make sense in terms of economic theory and the real world. All you offer me currently is that your father taught you to be scared of foreigners and that 6 years of education at this school hasn’t managed to undo that. Next time you speak please offer something that gives me some more confidence in both your intelligence and basic human nature.

 

If you can’t then just shut up and listen to these other gentlemen. I’ll mark your work fairly, but I have no time for your ideas being circulated in this classroom or elsewhere”

When I hear UKIP talking I hear people with a fear of ‘their’ world being taken over. I hear the voice of people who have just enough power to want to keep other people out of it. Who understand the politics of suspicion and greed. I don’t hear the voice of the people, I hear the fears of people being stoked. I hear the worst of human nature being manipulated. I hear hypocrisy and a sneering aggression. I hear an absence of compassion masked as concern. I hear arguments that didn’t pass muster when I was 16.

I hear nothing that gives me confidence in intelligence or human nature. I hear people who dumbfound me with prejudice.

The fact the traditional party system has left us with a void doesn’t mean we should tolerate it being filled with poison. Or incoherent nonsense.

 

 

 

 

HR Social – Unicorns, rainbows and pixies

Emotivism – I feel a bit bored of social media without the fighting

Prescriptivism – everyone should fight, because I’m a bit bored of social media

Yes, it’s a trite summary of someone else’s position – but it’s provocative, likely to start an argument and possibly upsetting so it’s actually ok.

————–

Yesterday I read this blog http://goo.gl/IGMvG by Neil Morrison. Neil had been tweeting similar for the past few days, so I thought I would reply. Then some people agreed with Neil, so I attempted to pop their bubbles and things got a bit out of hand. Later on things got even less professional with people attacking each other directly and losing sight of the point altogether. The final comments posted were simply not something you would ever like to see. It was just abuse. I wasn’t involved in them, but as you can see they are personal, distasteful and not fun.

I’m guessing, but I imagine Neil is delighted that he has acted as some kind of provocateur (not delighted about the abuse, but the debate), bringing more fire to the topic of social HR. Stirring up some action, creating a platform for more openness. In contrast, what I was seeing was how quickly things disintegrate when a lack of respect is shown. I saw nothing creditable, no quality of debate, none of the upside that Neil originally posted about. It was like telling everyone in a meeting that from this point on you just need to shout loudest to win. Neil’s view (lifted from his blog) is that –

Social HR should be:

Edgy

Argumentative

Difficult

Provoking

Upsetting

Social HR has become:

Cosy

Warm

Consensual

Boring

Predictable

Guess what – I think the first list paints a picture that is horribly exclusive and the second one a horrible caricature . If the point is ‘wouldn’t a bit more constructive challenge be useful?’ then the answer is normally ‘yes’. However, to think that anything (a business or a group) should aspire to a culture that upsets people and is ‘difficult’ is something that, historically, only people already in power desire.

Since I’ve started tweeting/blogging I have been reliant on the kindness of strangers, the warmth of a community and encouragement from people that I’ve never met to make a contribution. That is how this works, we get excited about first time bloggers because we recognise the bravery in those first steps. People contribute in the hope they have something to offer – quite often it may not be ‘new’, but it will always be a slightly different angle. People do this because there aren’t monsters lurking in the background waiting to leap on their mistakes.  People do this because most people realise that, deliberately upsetting other people is counterproductive, if you want to to get the best from others, rather than just ‘win” the debate. The job of leaders is to move people through the cycle of forming, storming, norming, performing as quickly as they can – not to keep it in storming just because you used to like it that way.

Ignore the words ‘HRSocial’  and you’ll find any group benefits from being welcoming, supportive and curious. If you give support and create openness you end up with ideas. If you shoot down ideas, simply because you want to upset people under the banner of debate, then you are killing thoughts. Steinbeck said ‘ideas are like rabbits, get two, look after them and soon you have hundreds’. We now have hundreds being socialised on Twitter and blogs, it’s harder to track down the ones you might want to keep as pets… but the choice….wow.

Do you know what else kills debate? Crude polarisation. The thought that if we create something ‘warm’ then it can’t have edge and must be boring. Or that consensus means there has been no debate. Or that upsetting people shows that you have edge. That if you aren’t upsetting people they only other option is that you are obsessed with unicorns, rainbows and pixies and would never challenge something you believe to be wrong.  Some of the finest people I’ve worked known have been able to challenge, provoke and shape  my thinking without ever having to upset me. In fact, if they had upset me it is unlikely I would have allowed my thinking to be challenged.

Neil wrote a ten point agenda for change in HR that I really liked. It contains the following parts that I think apply to ‘social’ as well as in business. After all, we are people in and out of the office…

We need to stop saying “no”. Our language, our communication to the business needs to be positive, not negative. We need to be owners of good news. Deal with problems individually, not by memo. Stop sending out dumb emails, if it isn’t positive, don’t send it.

We need to accept that you don’t get influence through control, you get influence through other people’s positive experience of you. Get influence through people wanting you involved not by telling them you have to be.

We need to listen to our employees and our managers. We need to stop seeing them as being “the problem” and start seeing them as being the people that we are here to help. They are the reason we have jobs, so stop moaning about them and start listening.

We need to be more human. We need to get out and talk, interact, spend time with people, we need to be empathetic and understanding, we need to feel. Sitting in the HR department bitching is not going to change anything.

I could sign up for that for being what we need to do on Twitter, with a few tweaks; I can’t sign up for being difficult just for the sake of it. There are other people involved when we are difficult. Those people matter. If you upset someone on social because that is what you think you should do then it is cowardly. You aren’t doing it face to face, you don’t have to deal with the consequences and unlike work they were giving their energy to the conversation for free. Bad form, bad form.

So what’s new?

Neil makes the point that he is bored of reading the same old things, that everyone is still talking about engagement surveys etc.  Well, that’s true, but everyone has a different angle, in fact, when I started blogging I read an article about blogging for HR that inspired me to publish my first blog, it was written by Neil and contained the following

I won’t have anything new to say
Take it from me, there isn’t a single blog post that hasn’t been written before, fact. But there are a million different perspectives to be had on a subject and with the news constantly changing, you get a whole load of potential new topics presenting themselves each week. Blogs that add insight, perspective, thought and challenge are as popular as those that try to be at the cutting edge.

I haven’t read a blog that I haven’t taken something from, even if it is just one person’s view of the world – and I’m always glad they took the time to share their view. I was glad I read Neil’s, it gave me the chance to write this. He’s written some great stuff and I’m glad we have people injecting debate, but I can never be glad when someone is the architect of conflict, because normally it isn’t them getting hurt.

(slight caveat – this isn’t the start of the ‘Dave vs. Neil’ wars to keep people entertained. This is just a counterpoint, similar to the excellent one offered here wp.me/p2YgNX-fq by Simon Heath. Which attracted less debate, but also less bile. Neil actually has been nice to me personally, supportive and welcoming. I just want everyone to have the benefit of that)

If you want to know what ‘social’ constructively might be for I’ve added a feel good video…

 

Simple things – language and HR

The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips, animations and more

It isn’t that hard.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but the things we do actually aren’t rocket science. Unless you are currently a very involved Business Partner for NASA ( in which case, apologies – but it’s hardly brain surgery).

It does seem that s all too often we require the comfort blanket of credibility that is jargon. How can HR become more ‘commercial?’  – is it by asking people to ‘have a bluesky roundtable, lasered in on improving synergistic dialogue that will improve idea socialisation and then to carpark any issues to take them offline’?

Do we really believe that the leadership teams we work with hear something like that and think ‘great idea, team!’ – or are we hoping they will be so confused that it will act in a way similar to Latin in a legal document – to distance understanding to the point where most believe they are reliant on an ‘expert’ to make sense of what is going on.

If we want transparent and inclusive organisations (most people do) then don’t make language a barrier make it an ‘enabler’ – better still, just make it helpful.

So here is my brief list of words that we could probably kill without anybody thinking less of us, feel free to add more

Add value – try just helping. Everyone understands help. ‘Am I helping you?’ is a powerful question. ‘Am I adding value?’ is asking for reassurance

Engagement – if you can’t define engagement  in a way that doesn’t immediately make someone think of a survey – then try another word. Are you scared of people being passionate about working for you and believing in what you do? Does it sound too woolly? Or was that what you wanted in the first place.

Stakeholder management – you have customers, shareholders and colleagues.  Which ones does this impact? Go make them happy. When I think of stakeholders I think of this drawing by the fantastically talented Simon Heath (@Simonheath1)

Contracting – try just agreeing. You are agreeing something with a person, don’t turn them into a transaction – you both lose out.

Big data – you probably don’t know what this means. Have a look http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_data Suprised? Stop using it because it is trendy – try doing some basic analysis of your data

Performance management – when you say you are ‘performance managing’ someone do you mean ‘I’m finally accepting I might have to sack them so I’ve started some documentation’? Thought so. What were you doing before? When they are performing you weren’t managing their performance? That’s a bit embarrassing – you only appear to have a role in failure. Awkward

Employee attrition – you made a bad hire or someone found somewhere better to work. It is unlikely that someone ‘attrited’ – it just feels nicer to say it because when we use technical language it loses some of the immediacy. ‘What percentage of our people didn’t want to work here anymore last year?’ is actually a far scarier and useful question than ‘what is our annualised attrition rate YTD?’. People leave, they don’t attrite. At the point you apologise for ‘having to attrite the party early’ it will be acceptable.

Managing expectations effectively – just let them know why you are going to miss the target. They are a grown up, you are – have a chat instead of attempting to manage them

Generation X/Y/Z – imagine how you would feel if you went out for a meal and were allocated your food based on age… How annoyed would you be? Or if the cinema automatically ushered you away from the movie you wanted to watch – because you were 6 months older than their target demographic. Doesn’t feel like a great way to run a business does it? So don’t do it internally, learn about your people and be flexible in how you treat them – not because generations are different, but because people are. Kierkegaard wrote ‘if you label me you negate me’ . If even his generation understood that….

Significant culture change –this appears to be interchangeable with ‘transformation programme’ which in turn seems to involve ‘significant structural change’ which in turn seems to require HR professionals who are ‘experienced in consultation’ which in turn seems to involve people ‘familiar with large scale redundancy programmes and TUPE’.  They aren’t interchangeable terms, I appreciate the interdependency, but changing a culture does not primarily involve needing to be able to sack people with minimal risk

So, that is my list of shame, please feel free to add more in the comments or on Twitter.

Dave

Why only 5% of recruitment agencies are useful

(I’m happily consulting now – this was published back in May – my experiences didn’t get better….)
Ugh.

I’m currently ‘looking for new opportunities’ which, apparently, together with ‘freelance’, is what you say so that people feel comfortable talking to the person who hasn’t got a permanent role. 
 
I’ve been lucky enough to do some consultancy work, but I’m still looking for a home. Which means job seeking. And job seeking isn’t something that I’ve really had to do before. Since it has been a hellishly unfun process I thought I would share some of my learnings and frustrations, so that if anyone else is in a similar position they can think ‘wow, it’s not just me finding that….’
 
So let’s approach things in a completely non sequential order 

Is this the one where you rant about not having a job?Yes. Completely. It isn’t even really a controlled rant. I’m hopeful of a new role, the market seems to be picking up, but I’m also stunningly disappointed by a whole clutch of agencies. 

So…what are you doing in your job hunt now? 

I’m going social media crazy.Twitter has been a great tool, allowing me to feel part of a community and to discuss and input on HR issues. I’m writing this blog due to people inspiring me with theirs and my first blog post attracted more views from across the world than I thought was possible. The HR community in New Zealand have been an unexpected bonus addition to my network and I hope I retain my loyal readership in Canada!

I suppose I started doing this in the hope someone might spot me online and think ‘I like the way he thinks’ – now it is more about adding purpose to my days and I’ve met some great supportive, smart people.


I do have a couple of agencies that have been absolutely great and understand what Kierkegaard meant when he said ‘if you label me, you negate me’. I mean this in a broad sense, I haven’t made them take a Kierkegaard interpretation assessment. 

They are working hard for me, but  I’m aware others have my CV gathering dust in a ‘I might have to do some work to earn commission on this, I’ll wait until someone phones me and specifically asks for a David D’Souza’ pile.
So you used social media to circulate your CV to cut out the agencies? 

Yes… I designed an online CV http://goo.gl/fySbh that hopefully does more justice to my capabilities than my normal one (more of that in a minute…). This CV has been generously shared by a few people that I am thanking here – and some others that I’ve already thanked online….I’ve thanked Neil Morrison in two blogs in a row, so I will never mention him again, in order to prevent him checking my blog every day to see a new tribute.
 
@recruitgal @neilmorrison @GarethMartin46 @sukhpabial

The CV has got a pretty good reception, so if anyone wants to steal the template or any advice then let me know.
So why, with such awesome award winning recruitment agencies about today did you have to rely on appealing to the kindness of strangers to tweet your CV? 
 
Great question, glad you asked it.Very convenient. 
 
It became clear to me after a short while of trudging around agencies that they fit into three categories

i) great – interested in you and prepared to be proactive on your behalf  (about5 per cent)
ii) competent – if you have a straightforward skill set and will accept anything they offer (25 per cent)
iii) abysmal – not interested in anything except  ‘HR Manager, CIPD qualified, worked in Blue Chip multinational matrixed environment in FS’ . This is to the extent that if I had walked in and declared a desire to be King of America I might have had more feigned interest (70 per cent)


I’m looking forward to my next role and vengefully striking the 70 per cent off that company’s PSL. This may seem an overreaction, but 

  • putting someone forward for a role and then not giving them a progress update  then not replying to emails and calls from the candidate to get an update? Shocking. I’ve had 3 large agencies do that. Forget business ethics, forget efficiency. Manners still matter. 
  • Travelling an hour to meet someone who hasn’t read page 2 of your 2 page CV? Done that too.
  • Another genuine exchange…’We reviewed your CV and thought you would be interested in this role as a qualified Occupational Psychologist’. ‘but I’m not a qualified Occupational Psychologist’ ‘oh, what do you do again?’. 
Maybe you are just a really poor candidate?
 
Possibly,even if I was, poor candidates deserve to be treated with dignity too. Agencies should be managing the candidate experience across the piece – not just for candidates that progress.
 
My CV, on its own, doesn’t bring to life that I’ve done and what I’ve contributed, I’m just awkward like that. Have I managed the agencies well? Probably not. Is it still reasonable to expect more from them? Yes. 

Having done a fair bit of recruitment in my time I know the questions that will be in the mind of the hiring manager  e.g. Why leave this place at this time? How big was that company? He claims to do several things – what is he actually? Why would an OD Manager have a Shared Services Manager reporting into him?  He just sounds too charismatic and good looking to be real?

So I’m smart enough to know that I probably haven’t passed the initial CV sift. I accept that, but if you met me for coffee it would be a different story,  I just don’t fit well into a box. 

In an industry where people are talking consistently about challenging the status quo, being commercial and looking for diversity that should be a USP, not a block. I do culture, data, operational and strategic – why would you want someone to do less? 

And if agencies aren’t prepared to challenge perceptions and promote my capabilities  – how are they earning a fee and what are companies paying them for?. 

I don’t want them picking up a fee for placing me if they haven’t done any work – and when I get my next role I will be resisting paying them a fee for simply shuffling paper towards me without more context. Rant over. Enjoy the video if you haven’t seen it..
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