Is HR your Friend or Foe?

A few years ago I appeared in an article that the Guardian published in the sadly now defunct Work section.  It was written by the charming Mark King (who now edits Moneywise) and it upset SOME people.

Mainly people in HR.

Dear oh dear.

Here is the article.

At that time I was quite a regular commentator on the Dear Jeremy page as ExBrightonBelle (for anyone that remembers me) and Mark approached me as it was obvious from my responses that I was an HR professional.

I don’t think any of us can get away from the fact that HR serves the management team over the employees. And yes as much as there will be many positive things that internal HR functions can do, they will mainly be focused on reducing costs, getting rid of difficult people and keeping the management team happy.

You can see how from a staff point of view that given those facts they may well see HR as their foe. 

What has been hugely refreshing for me since I started my own business 5 years ago is that I honestly think it’s different when you are external.  You don’t have to deal with politics, you can make recommendations and improve things and often part of our remit is coaching and developing people.  Which you never get to do as an internal person.

The other thing we do a lot of which I love is bringing the brand in-house. The Brand very much being the domain of the marketing department when you are internal.  And those two functions don’t often collaborate too closely.  You can have a Brand bible and a Staff handbook and reading them it’s like two different companies.  So being external we can also be pretty creative. In fact we have to be really to compete – why else would people choose to retain us?

Of course we are not a traditional outsourced HR business because we insist on face to face contact and agreed attendance in the office. Yes we support remotely 24/7 (but we don’t have an advice line – you just call your HR lead directly) and yes we firmly insist on the correct on brand (yours not ours) paperwork and good governance structures (we don’t offer tribunal indemnity insurance because we have never lost a tribunal – not as a company or in the professional history of our founder Ruth Cornish – so why would we slow everything down in that way) because we just don’t do tribunals.

If reading this you are kind of curious about what we could do for your business please get in touch.  We’d love to hear from you.

The first of many…

On Thursday I did something for the first time.

I hired someone!

Weird really when you think I have worked in HR for 25 years.

But what I did yesterday was take the big and exciting step of hiring someone to work for me in my company.  Over the years I have probably hired thousands of people.  But never into my OWN business.

I started it 5 years ago but until now have worked with associates.  So very flexible, and it’s a model that can work for some.

Hiring someone has been part of a determined decision and a very thought through plan to grow from a busy consultant to a business.  Our first employee is someone who will focus on Business Development. We already have our second and third lined up – someone to manage Operations and someone to lead HR consultancy.

It hasn’t been easy to find the right person.  In the end we used an agency. I think that can really help when you are small and no-one knows much about you.  Having someone else to tell a story about you and your vision. We did try our own campaigns but we have also recently changed our name.

So I’d recommend that. 

We did a 2 stage process. The very talented individual we hired met me first 1-2-1.  She admitted that she wasn’t keen initially (our location) until she came in and saw our offices. Small but perfectly formed. Light, bright and colourful. But also hearing our story, my vision and plans.

A week later she returned to do a presentation about how she’d approach the job. We had also profiled her personality.  This is critical in my opinion.

On the wall beside my desk I have a map of the personalities of everyone that works in or closely with my business.  I know how people like to work and what they are good at.  And how they like to be managed. This means I can build a balanced team which is so critical in a small business.

I’m lucky that compared to the average SME I have at my finger tips everything one needs to hire someone. Not just the paperwork but the insight about the importance of induction and clear expectations and goals.

Getting the HR side of things right is an important factor for any small business.  I was privileged to get involved with in its earlier days which is now a very successful business that everyone has heard of it.  They wrote a second book last year called “Shape up your Business in 30days” which is a very useful guide for any business owner.  We advised on the HR side of things and the section on personality is very interesting.  I highly recommend you invest in a copy.

Why HR and Marketing need to get into bed together… fast.

Traditionally HR has had more in common with Finance than Marketing – systems, payroll, forms and data.  But rarely any analysis from it; rules, regulations; what you can and can’t do. All a bit dull…

Marketeers tended to sit with Sales and care most about budgets, products, and consumers (in that order). HR practitioners were interested in future and current employees rarely thinking of them as customers in the way that the Marketing department did.

Despite apparent differences between the functions of HR and marketing, the digital world has brought them closer than ever by eliminating differences between employees and consumers who may actually be one person at the end of the day.

So much so, that most businesses should seriously consider bringing their HR and Marketing departments much closer together as it could be a healthy collaboration.

Firstly, Marketing truly understands the brand in the way that HR should.  Brands reflect a company’s reputation, embodying its values and DNA. When consumers are attracted to a company’s brand, they will probably identify with its culture too. And cultural fit drives employee engagement, and productivity. When employees share the values of the organisation, work fulfills important psychological needs and motives; and consumers achieve the same when they buy products that align with their idealised self and identity.

Furthermore, since employees are also brand ambassadors – they share both good and bad experiences of the job and the organisations via Glassdoor, LinkedIn and Facebook – engaged employees are an important asset, not only to marketing but the whole organisation. Conversely, if you hire people who have trouble fitting in they will sooner or later be tempted to harm your brand or work for your competitors. And in an age in which brand loyalty is easier to pursue than employee loyalty, marketing is well placed to teach HR about loyalty.

Secondly, the two keys to successful recruitment are (a) attracting good candidates and (b) assessing their future potential. Thanks to technology and digital advertising, marketing departments are now better placed to accomplish these two goals than traditional technology and analytics free HR departments.

Indeed, most businesses have a strong online presence with consumers, and with it comes the capacity to mine behavioural data that can be translated into valid profiles. Importantly, these profiles can be used not only to predict consumer behaviours, but also employee performance.

For example, knowing that a person has unconventional preferences and is an early adopter can predict not only their likelihood of buying innovative products, but also their ability to innovate, which would make them suitable for a creative role.

Likewise, if companies want to hire emotionally intelligent employees, they could mine consumer transactions that reflect cool-headed and smart purchasing decisions, and refrain from hiring customers who spend a lot of time complaining.

However, there is an important caveat: although the same data point may represent an employee and a consumer, the segments and typologies traditionally used in marketing are not always relevant to HR. Marketing can learn from HR to assess more relevant aspects of human behaviour (eg, the bright and dark side of personality, competencies, personal values and motivations) together with their experience of living with decisions.  If a company loses a customer, it is very different from a big Employee Relations issue that can impact badly on moral and profitability.

Thirdly, it is clear now that employees increasingly want consumer-like experiences. They don’t want a job; they want a meaningful career.  Money matters less than fun, purpose and work-life balance. Regular staff surveys are conducted to monitor employees’ involvement and engagement levels at work – just like sentiment analyses, but of employees rather than brands. And the very futures of employees depend not on their qualifications and skills, but their capacity to self-brand and sell their brand to future employers.

It seems, then, that marketing departments can play a key role in engaging, managing and developing employees.  The businesses revered by consumers will be the best places to work, and being employed by those businesses will strengthen employees’ personal brand, which in turn will strengthen the business. Traditional HR products like clunky appraisal systems; exit interviews and the formal one-way interview need refreshing and replacing. 

Ultimately, marketing is about storytelling, influence and differentiation. But the story of brands is the psychological journey of organisations, and each organisation is its people: their values, ideas, and reputation. Marketing and HR could be a powerful force in any organisation. Bringing the brand in-house to shape and create a culture that individuals wish to join. Marketing it externally. 
Looking at employee data to identify new ways to engage with employees. Creating a place to work driven by individuals not corporate needs.

It’s a very exciting thought.