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Return of the bollock (for one day only)



“Unlocking potential” must be right up there with “people are our greatest asset”, “the war for talent” and “employer branding” as one of the largest pieces of yawny bollocks spouted in the world of business.  The words sound great, like “eat as much as you can” but the reality is always a somewhat less appealing glutenous mass and generally ends up as a pile of shit.

What do we mean by “unlocking potential”?  In most companies, I would hazard a guess that they mean “make you work better/harder” or at best perhaps “move you to another role where you can do less damage”.  Is that really about potential?  I daren’t put a number on the emails that arrive in my inbox informing me how this software or that training can help “unlock the potential of your workforce”.  Type it into Google and you get over 14 million results!

The total misnomer here is that by saying you are going to unlock someone’s potential, you are first and foremost saying that they haven’t done so already which you don’t know until you try to unlock it.  So how can you say in advance that you can when maybe the potential is as free and running naked through the streets? Aha, I can hear the consultants say, but people have unending potential.  In which case, surely you  have never truly unlocked it?  Either way it makes no sense. 

This is the kind of circular argument that Freudians use, “You are in love with your mother” they say, “Err….no I’m not, she’s nice and all that…but…..ya’know…..” I reply, “”Ahhh, but then you are repressed…”

If you want to see people who are going anywhere near “unlocking potential” go and see teachers working with kids with special educational needs, go and see the supported workers helping alienated children and youths integrate back with society, go and see the coaches working with disabled sports people.  These are people who are truly helping people to go places that they never dared dream was possible.

Unlocking potential in the work place?  You try to unlock my potential mate and you’ll get more than you expect!

12 Comments leave one →
  1. 03/18/2010 21:58

    Or the prison officer unlocking the cell door

  2. 03/18/2010 23:44

    Yeya! Always nice to see bollocks in print. 🙂 Agree with sentiments on mystery potential – how can candidate X whom you hired for his/her proven experience in Y still be suffering from “unlocked potential”?

  3. G-dog permalink
    03/19/2010 00:33

    Software & training don’t unlock potential – mentoring does. And – “our people are our greatest asset” is rarely (dare I say ‘never’) backed by the corporate actions/rules/etc. that would be ALIGNED with that sentiment (i.e., they think we believe that when they say that – it must be true. Oh rapture – to be so valued in my job).

  4. 03/20/2010 07:56

    All misnomers, invented by HR consultants to market their products and services.
    Credit to them, they are all great pieces of marketing that are built on 1 consumer insight: “HR professionals feel powerless and lack control”, and the straplines follow 2 marketing communication principles:
    1.create the impression of elevated status and control for HR pros;
    2.make it ambiguous enough to create a smokescreen that lasts long enough for you to invent the next one.

    What is also great about the ones you mention is that they appeal to different egos, so it gives the ‘buye’r a choice on how they want to be positioned in terms of status and control.

    1.unlocking potential – HR are the gatekeepers who hold the keys
    2.people are our greatest asset – HR are the traders who hold the market intelligence
    3.the war for talent – HR are the military strategists who have the ammunition
    4.employer branding – HR are the designers who have the identity guidelines

    By the time the smoke clears ‘as if by magic, the shopkeeper appears’ with a shiny new costume. Bring on number 5.

    5. employee engagement – HR are shrewd investors who hold all the financing instruments

    I’m still convinced there is no smoke without fire on engagement. There is a 1/2 day event on 15th April at IoD that presents 4 different perspectives – CEO, MD, HRD and Head of IC, cutting across 4 sectors – defense, retail, banking and telecomms. more details here..

    Be great to see you there, only I’m not sure how you would introduce yourself?

  5. 03/22/2010 09:22

    @Fernandomando – Unlock your inner convict???

    @Geekette – As you know I feel the need to say bollock on a somewhat over regular basis. I think its a disease……

    @G-dog – You mean people don’t believe us when we say they are our greatest asset? Crap!

    @Sean – Is that a Mr. Ben reference I see lurking in there? Forgiving the shameless self publicity….£67 to listen to people talk about engagement? Are you mad!

    • 03/22/2010 11:03

      Well done for spotting the Mr Ben reference, I’m now getting a sense of which generation you belong. For bonus points – can you recall his address?
      Thanks for forgiving the publicity HRD, and I think you have a point on price, the event is well underpriced as most commercial organisers charge 10 times that and you can listen to the same old suspects on a shameless self promotion campaign.
      Still, it is a recession, and I could offer a goodwill discount for anyone that contacts me via this blog.

      • 03/23/2010 10:56

        @Sean – it was Acacia Avenue I think, but I’m not entirely sure what number……! Am I right?

      • 03/23/2010 11:08

        Close. 22 Acacia Avenue was the home of Bananaman, nearby was Festive Road where you would often see lots of children playing in the street as Mr Benn made his way back from the shops to his house at No 52.

  6. G-dog permalink
    03/23/2010 00:26

    “@G-dog – You mean people don’t believe us when we say they are our greatest asset? Crap!”

    I don’t know about others – I can only say that I don’t believe it – at least not when I can see the behaviours & actions from management vs. this throw away tagline allegedly to make me feel “special”. This may be true at some, very rare, companies – at least until they grow to have >10 employees, go out as an IPO, and/or get M&A’d by a bigger company…

  7. marianne Frank permalink
    03/23/2010 06:37

    Unlocking potential.
    Time are we giving enough time to reflect.
    I find time is the one thing we as imployees don’t get and yet thats the key time and time to reflect. You are expected to figure everything out especieally yourself after any crappy input and preferring yesterday.
    Teachers and public services no exceptions.
    Society seem so in love with Mr Stamps order and regulations.
    Sadly I find the whole thing is going to have the oppressive effect especieally within teaching where creativity and individuality especieally as teachers seems to be more and more fround up-pond.

  8. 03/23/2010 10:58

    @G-dog – Small is beautiful!

    @Marianne – Thanks for taking the time to comment. I certainly agree that teachers come under a lot of pressure to conform and it doesn’t seem to have had the positive effect on educational standards that they’d hoped for.


  1. Eat as much management-speak as you can « Flip Chart Fairy Tales

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