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 nothonthehighstreet.com 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.

Why the Bankers bonus 10yr claw back won’t change a thing.

Having been an HR Director in the City I was mildly amused by the headlines today that Bankers who are guilty of misconduct would have to pay back bonuses from the last 10 years under a Labour government.

Under previous rules, bankers’ bonuses were often deferred for a period of three to five years, during which time the bonus could be clawed back if necessary. But I bet the reality was that few were penalized like this unless it got in the headlines. More likely they were bollocked behind a closed door, no record being made of it and their bonus was paid out in the normal way.

Insider dealing is not acceptable

Of course I absolutely think that those who deliberately do something forbidden like rigging the interest rates or insider dealing or trading over ones limit should face severe consequences. As should the person managing them. And a financial penalty is appropriate but more so the fear that they will be dismissed for gross misconduct which would result in the Financial Conduct Authority deeming them not fit and proper to work in a regulated activity and career over.

But the reality is that such events are rare. And the people that work in the City do so because they wish to take informed considered calculated risks and that sort of behavior is positively encouraged.  The ones that make big profits for their firms, can pretty much call the shots.  Which is just commerciality. Imagine if entrepreneurs were regulated. A crazy thought but there are some synergies.

HR are the ones that truly know what is going on

Thing is that the politicians just don’t understand the City. No-one truly does until you have worked in-house for a number of years. If you were in a senior HR role. You really really will. Often even more so than the CEO.

Lack of consequences means the behavior won’t change

For all the City has an image of being cut throat it is actually much less likely to actively define and manage poor behavior for its high flying front office staff. Mainly because reputation is everything and even acknowledging it almost feels a bit grubby to some firms.

Even when an individual (most likely Back Office)  has committed a criminal offence such as fraud, whilst they would be likely to be dismissed their file would not be handed over to the police.  I actually think all companies (across the country) should have a legal duty to do that.  Otherwise that person will pop up somewhere else. And do it again.

Different People Practices can have a big impact

If you have ever looked at appraisal forms, where they exist and compared it to all the other intelligence in the business – what the senior folk are saying – what the clients are demanding – what the PA’s think the priorities are – together with all the metrics – you will see that they really are apples and pears.  Which does beg the question  – Why do appraisals at all accepting they are currently a measure of a ‘well managed’ firm.

The thing is that everyone I have ever worked with past or present in the City absolutely wants to do the right thing.  Professionalism is hugely valued. Especially as they know that being on top of the people agenda will help them grow and win further business.

But often they doesn’t get much of a fresh steer on the changing possibilities, 

What are needed are systems and different practices to facilitate the growth of a culture that clearly has consequences for people that are doing what is expected of them, or not.

Doing that will have much more impact on behavior that the 10 year bonus claw back.  It would also be a rather useful approach in the Civil Service but that is another blog post.

I was in Starbucks the other day when I heard…

My sister in law (well she would be if she married my husbands brother but who cares – family is family and sisters are sisters) is a brand specialist in Canada. She shared via her FB page that as she was sat working in Starbucks, she overheard the conversation happening at the table beside her. Two young girls in their early 20’s were talking about becoming a “specialist” at something.

They were discussing their goals and their future and she was in awe of their maturity and drive and ambition.

I’m also finding that 20 year olds these days are very special. They blow me away actually. What I’m seeing is that they have a fire inside them. A fearlessness. A real self-belief; they’re a new breed. I think we will see them do amazing things in this world.

These two girls were saying that most people want the quick and easy buck or career these days and that it takes about 15 years of doing ONE thing and mastering it before you can call yourself a “specialist”.

They were discussing their plans to become specialists and how they will gladly and passionately invest their time, even if it means the next 15 years of their lives. They are proud to have this goal and they have it independent of any corporate appraisal system.

I’m not so sure I was thinking that way when I was in my twenties. Even if they do change their minds, that’s still impressive,… to be sitting around sipping tea having that conversation so early on in the game. Makes me smile.

I had been working for 10 years when I felt I was an HR specialist and it was at the 15 to 20yr mark that I felt I was truly an expert. This is not to say that one cannot call oneself a specialist or expert sooner, but I do think that a certain right of passage and degree of credibility is earned after this many years.

As a specialist, your work is second nature. It’s in your blood. It’s a passion. You know what works and doesn’t. You have years of leaning from mistakes and trial and error under your belt. You are driven to improve and be the best you can be.



APPRAISAL ALTERNATIVES

This leads me on to my main point.  How come there is no system or app that can capture those thoughts and plans to become a specialist or whatever the individual goal is and track them. I would love to see my thoughts, goals and various career milestones all together so I can could see the progress and personal growth I had achieved.

At Amelore we are working on something right now that does all that as well as exploits the social media world we all live in. We feel very excited. Watch this space for more information or make contact to find out more.

Bad HR Communications Damage Credibility and Impact

At Amelore we do quite a bit of work re-positioning the HR function within a business where it has lost focus.  A critical area is around communications where HR can lapse into jargon or use clichéd business-speak that most people find uncomfortable. Often people tell us that they just don’t understand what the HR department is saying to them.

I was in the City the other day and the Senior Executive I was talking to couldn’t remember the job title of the Senior HR lead as it had just changed. People Director was the answer and whilst I understand the desire to rebrand HR (another blog post) I think every time we change things, we damage our credibility. The FD is the FD is the FD.

A friend of mine contacted me to share a gem received from their HR department which she felt was a example of HR communications at its worst. I agree
“The HR organisation continues it’s change journey as we transition to our new Target Operating Model in 2015, looking to the future and the impact the Enabling Program will have on the HR structure and new ways of working for everyone.”
And HR said to me…
Really!!!! And what does that actually mean to anyone? And is what they are proposing what the business actually wants or needs? I doubt it very much.
Here is what I would say:
 

“The HR department has reviewed how it works so it can operate more efficiently and reduce costs and headcount.  In 2015 we will move to a new structure and way of working with the business.”
 

Think of our golden two page rule re a CV.  HR communications need to be a lot shorter and snappier. We should look to our marketeer colleagues who know how to communicate quickly with consumers. If they wrote like the HR department no one would ever sell anything. 
 

Look at the brilliant strapline of the current advertising campaigns for notonthehighstreet.com “How to live a life less ordinary”.  Says it all really. Buy our products and make your life and you more interesting. We get it.

But imagine if the HR department had been in charge. They may have said something like this: “If you wish to look to the future and transition to a new way of living, to enable you and your family to operate more efficiently with greater well-being and contentment please look at the list of our products and register your interest.”

Enough said?
 

On our HR Bootmap programme we go into some detail on HR communications because it is so important. And we throw lots of current HR speak and jargon on the good old Amelore Bonfire.
 

If you would like more information about HR Bootcamp, please get in touch with us.

New Year blog – Common mistakes employers make

Happy New Year everyone and goodness I have had quite a gap since my last blog.  2 years to be exact but some content from it did get me quoted (well quoted out of context) in Private Eye which was fun. 

Our new blog is going to have an HR take as we will share some of our expertise but we will also challenge some traditional HR thinking and identify practices that we may want to throw on the HR bonfire

The New Year is inevitably a time to review the existing workforce and it is often when redundancies or dismissals are on the agenda. 

The key thing for employers is to avoid making costly mistakes.

Oops!


The most common mistake employers make 

  • Not keeping good records so they have no evidence when challenged
  • Firing in the heat of the moment without any investigation 
  • Telling people they are redundant without any consultation period 
  • Suspending someone as a punishment but with no good reason or no pay 
  • Forgetting that positions can be made redundant but not people – ie if a job is going, consider other options for that employee 
  • Saying someone is redundant but writing a letter that sites a performance issue as the cause – will automatically be unfair. 
  • Being kind and allowing friends and family to get involved but making the situation more complicated – especially if those friends and family understand the process better than the employer 
  • Ignoring grievances or letting situations go on for too long 
  • Not using probation periods for new employees properly – 6months always 
  • Deducting money from wages for damaged or lost goods without the permission of the employee – you just can’t do this. 
  • Hiring quickly and firing slowly. If at all.
In our next blog we will look at 10 Golden Rules for Firing people effectively. It’s never a nice thing to do – but done well and for the right reasons helps everyone move on quickly.