HR – where it stops and starts

A few weeks ago the kind folks at NZlead invited me to publish a post on collaborative HR. That post can be found here. As part of the post I invited people to contribute to a list of things that HR should start and stop doing in order to keep getting better.

This post is where we ended up… No claims of it being deep or being a fully thought through model – it’s a collection of thoughts and I’d just like to thank those that contributed to it. Please put your thoughts in the comments below.

The original thought to do something this broad came from a debate at Worktech about whether HR had a future. In the picture below you’ll see I’ve made everyone else on the panel either grumpy or despondent. That’s Charles Handy‘s head by the way.


 I think it does have a future and that future looks like some of the things on the right hand side of the list below. I’m delighted that the folks at Worktech have asked me to do the keynote at their first event in Berlin where I’ll be talking about the growing inability of change management programmes to cope with…change. If you are an HR professional and you like the right hand side of this list then there are some things you can start doing today to help others change – just lead and be the change you want to see. 



Complaining about the business and that they ‘just don’t get it’

Taking accountability for bringing the business together to drive results more effectively – and understanding poor decisions made by others are often rooted in you not understanding their problems

Worrying about where your Business Partners should hand over to your Shared Service Centre etc etc

Working with the business to understand what helps the business constantly improve and focusing as much resource as you can there – irrespective of job titles

Worrying about the risks of technology

Planning to ensure your business isn’t left behind – and then crippled by the investment required to catch up

Obsessing about what people will do without you there to guide them

Observing what people do when given space, time and trust and making the most of that

Writing policies in the hope that sheets of paper will magically influence people determined to do bad things

Agreeing the core principles of how you do business and recruiting people who believe in the spirit of what you are trying to do

Worrying about who gets the credit for performance

Creating successes for people to share

Creating stats to show how commercial you are

Doing things to improve the commercial capability of your business – this will involve figures but the intent is fundamentally different

Cleaning up the mess

Helping people understand how to clean up their own mess –and to make the most of the mess. There will always be mess, but great companies  turn mistakes into progress

Viewing your role as risk minimisation

Viewing your role as one of enabling performance – and thereby minimising risk of your business being competed out of the market

Worrying about what HR do

(with the exception of this blog)

Worrying about what the business needs to do and recognising that as soon as HR stands apart from ‘the business’ it can’t be at the heart of the business

Being the keeper of secrets

Being the most open department (within legal limits…). Asking for help instead of hiding problems.

Talking about collaboration

Involving more people in decisions and only laying down the law where you really need to. People being  100% committed and with an 80% correct decision  nearly always beats 100% right but with 20% of people working against you

Reading articles on how HR should work in some imaginary world where things work smoothly

Opening the question of how HR should work at your organisation up to people all across your organisation. If the above doesn’t work for your organisation that’s ok.

Blaming Operational Managers for not executing your initiatives.

Understanding their problems and selling the importance of the initiatives. If you cannot, they are probably not as important as you think.

Attempting to put HR at the centre of the relationship between the company and its employees.

Create the right tools.  Advise, guide, coach, support, train.  Then get out of the way.

With the whole slave to Ulrich thing unless your organisation is either a) pretty darn big, or b) global.

establishing what is the right approach for your particular organisation.

Morph and business – reader’s request

Morph (Photo credit: astronomy_blog)

This is the latest in a series of requested blogs – so far I’ve covered Bagpuss and Indiana Jones

For those of you who remember Hartbeat (not the one with Nick Berry), the star turn was undoubtedly Morph. He went onto to greater prominence during the hugely successful ‘Mighty Morph in Power Rangers’ series. However, as I remember him he was a small man made of plasticine. He was pretty much the scene stealer in a show which was all about teaching children about art.


Here are some reflections on Morph and Hartbeat wedged into the form of business lessons

i) it is possible to recreate yourself. You can do it a number of times. You can change into things that may be more useful for your new situation – but always remember that anybody who sees the change will always remember what you were before and be waiting for you to return to that state.

ii) Emotions matter – not just words. Morph could barely speak, but you knew whether he was happy/sad/frustrated. With the advent of ‘big data’ it is more and more tempting to reduce people to numbers and lose sight of the humanity. Even if you can reduce them to numbers on a sheet it doesn’t change the fact that, if you want to retain a conscience, you should only ever make decisions if you could/would deliver them face to face and deal with the consequences.

iii) Seeing your own work showcased has a massive impactstudies have shown ignoring work has the same impact as shredding it in front of the people who created it.  Tony Hart, the presenter, used to do his work in a studio surrounded by the pictures sent in to him by children. Sections of the show would be dedicated to a montage of efforts by viewers called ‘The Gallery’. If you want people to feel valued then showcase their work, out their efforts at the heart of what you produce. If you want to operate as a team then it always has to be about the team – not just when you want it to be. Why do organistions have silos? Because the silo is the other department’s fault…

iv) creativity matters, growth is possible – I can’t draw, I can’t paint, I blurt (rather than write). I wish I could do any of these better. I am bloody awesome at writing things unintelligibly on a whiteboard. After reading Bounce by Matthew Syed I’m now pretty sure I could learn to draw or paint better if I wanted to. If you haven’t read it then grab a copy over Christmas and your ambitions for next year might become more varied and possible.

v) change is coming – since the time of Hartbeat the world has changed immensely. I backed my first two Kickstarter projects last week, including this one to indulge my passion for rubbish scrawling on whiteboards. A new series of Morph starts filming next year after 1700 people backed a Kickstarter project to bring him back. The things of our childhood resurrected as indulgences of our adulthood.

The more things morph, the more they stay the same.

Release the future

On a recent trip to Berlin we visited the Zoo. When you have a child of 3 years 11 months in tow it seems a sensible thing to do. I hadn’t been to a proper large scale zoo since my childhood and Berlin’s is world famous.  I was really looking forward to it.

We walked around in temperatures just above zero. We saw a whole host of animals that looked in despair at their confines. A rhino running up to each of the walls of his pen in turn, a leopard roaring up and down from one side of his cage to the other and a polar bear that was simply standing, staring. 


Some of the giants of the animal kingdom simply reduced to biding time in an environment far from ideally suited to them.

We spent quite a time in the monkey enclosure.

When I watched the new version of Planet of the Apes I was stunned at the time at how much they had managed to make the ‘apes’ look like they had emotions.

During our time in the zoo I watched a family of ‘apes’ play together in their small confined space, attempt to explore further and be frustrated in doing so. Their eyes looked alive and sad. I felt sad. They have real emotions. This wasn’t where they belonged.

In the bird enclosure we could see birds that had been flown in from South America. Instead of splendid and bright they looked docile and dull. My daughter explained, unprompted, that she didn’t like the birds being kept in cages as they couldn’t fly properly. It made her sad.

I don’t have an educated position on animal rights and I’m not an expert on zoo design. I said to my daughter that when she grows up I don’t think they will have zoos like this anymore, because they won’t want to take animals from their homes unless they will be happier in the zoo.

I remarked to my wife that the modern zoo felt like an absolute anachronism. If you had never heard of the concept of a zoo and I showed you a monkey and told you i) I was going to take it from its natural habitat ii) I’ll keep it in a cage iii) I’ll do that simply for our entertainment then that would sound barbaric. The zoo is a hangover from a past age, where we collected wonders of the world in one place so people could be amazed at their existence. We now know better and, whilst The Discovery Channel isn’t a straight substitute for the real thing, it is surely more acceptable.

The Berlin Zoo fails the beermat test. If it wasn’t invented and I sketched the idea on a beermat whilst we were chatting in a pub you wouldn’t think it made sense. You might create conservation areas and animal sanctuaries and all sorts of things like that – but not the old fashioned zoo.

Much of the modern world fails the beermat test. If it wasn’t in place there is no way that you would design it that way.

I’m not an anarchist in the workplace and I don’t think I qualify as an idealist. I’m pretty pragmatic but I do principles. Going into the New Year I’d ask people to think how much of their company structure, customer experience and ways of working would fail the beermat test. If you designed it from scratch is that what you’d do?

If it isn’t, then just sit down with a few people in the New Year, work out what you would do and do it.

It makes more sense than your workplace becoming something that you couldn’t sensibly explain to a child. If it is only like that because of the past – and won’t be like that in the future – surely it is what you should be changing in the present.