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Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow



Crash landing back to reality after a week of glitz and glamour where I got to walk up a proper red carpet with fans and photographers all sporting a disappointed “who is that idiot?” look. But hell I milked it anyway.  So much so that I woke up the following morning having overslept and with just under an hour to pack, check out, get to the airport, through security and onto a plane.  Which I did.  Although never again…….

Anyway, the week away meant little time to blog and therefore a glut of ill prepared and ill-conceived ideas ready to spew themselves onto my keyboard and into your eyes (unless you still have them closed from the thought of me poncing up a red carpet).

The week before last saw the first TRUManchester part of the TRU series of events run by the effervescent Bill Boorman (who incidentally wrote about me this weekend but in no way relating to that – we’ve had our ding-dong, it is over and done with!). One of the tracks at the event was entitled the future of HR.  Given that this was an event for Recruiters, my initial reaction was it was akin to asking Sunday School kids to debate the future of Islam.

Over the week I’ve been thinking about this a little more.  First of all I don’t think there needs to be a debate about the future of HR.  It is the business equivalent to a debate on the future of Snickers bars when the real issue is childhood obesity.  There is a debate to be had, but we’re having the wrong one.  The real issues are about people and the workplace, about the globalization of employment, the increasing disparity between the knowledge economies and the service economies.  The real issues are why we are witnessing the last generation with a livable pension and what we do after that. The issues are global, complex and downright scary.

The role HR needs to be fulfilling is leading this debate, of engaging all of the parties, the business men, the economists, the educators, the unionists and of course, the politicians.  If we can do this, if we can lead this thinking and shape the future of the world for the better, or at least not for the worst.  If we can take a few steps forward, there will be no need to even think about the future of the profession; we’ll have defined it through our actions.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 09/20/2010 09:50

    Bang on the money Theo – but unfortunately, HR has a history of spouting hot air in this space. The CIPD has long demanded it’s seat at the top table, with promises of debate-leading, educating, shaping and engaging. It’s spent so long talking that the rest of HR needs to work twice as hard with it’s actions to make any headway. You’ve got an uphill struggle with this one.

  2. 09/20/2010 11:41

    Seeing as I hosted said track, I figured I’d better chip in.

    I will say here that those who were most interested in the future of HR were not the HR people (and there were HR people present) there but recruiters, who were keen to discuss it more.

    It was interesting to see how the responsibilities of HR varies from company to company and see how recruiters reacted to it. There were suggestions that HR should merge with other departments – maybe marketing, or operations.

    The more red tape, the worse it is it seems – for everyone. But the truth is a lot of HR still revolves around it, despite the endless discussion about tables and models and business partnering. The HR practicitioners also talked about the glass ceiling which exists in organisations for women and HR.

    The solutions considered are usually to ‘be more strategic’ and ‘business focused’ which may or may not mean anything or do any good.

    I came away from #truManchester thinking that we (HR, trainers, teachers, academics, recruiters, journalists, and yes, the unions) are united in the greatest issue facing us – the fact that the education system doesn’t provide skills suitable for employment at any level and employers are reluctant to pick up the slack and train employees. That, and, as you rightly pointed out, the pensions crisis which despite having talked to numerous ‘experts’ I’m nowhere near working out in my own head, for my own life, let alone anyone else’s. And I can’t see the migration cap helping anyone either: the skills gap is much more complicated than this policy makes out, I think.

    So I guess the mission, HR, if you choose to accept it, is to sort it out. Sort these things out in your organisation, encourage others to sort it out in theirs, and throw your weight behind all the skills and learning organisations who have been saying the same things to actually do something about the education we are doling out.

    I do believe I got a bit carried away there – sorry Theo.
    Thanks for posting your thoughts. And are you really going to sit behind a screen??!

  3. 09/20/2010 11:49

    Now you’re on it, HRD

  4. 09/20/2010 12:19

    Thanks Buddy!! You’ve just written the post I had been writing for XpertHR!! But you’ve done it way better!!
    Agree wholeheartedly with everything you say…without people there is no future business and the people that future business needs are facing a whole lot of different challenges and situations than those already in the workplace.
    Those from HR who voice an opinion on what HR should do are usually, in my mind, those who want to use HR to further their own ambitions…be they personal or business.
    Great blog…you’re back to your best!!

  5. 09/20/2010 13:07

    Sorry…massive typo in my comment which actually changes the meaning…should say :

    Those from outside HR who voice an opinion on what HR should do are usually, in my mind, those who want to use HR to further their own ambitions…be they personal or business.

    Hope you get the drift…

  6. 09/20/2010 16:33

    Great point – its the wrong debate. I often think its actually a smokescreen designed to divert us from the real issue you correctly identify – about the people.

    Charlie – re pensions – the money was never yours/ours anyway. We just thought it was. Being a pension trustee, especially for a global corporate is an eye opening (watering) experience. you wouldn’t think people would stoop so low, so publicly.

    As Theo says, we need to hold organisations/politicians/ourselves to account.

  7. g-dog permalink
    09/20/2010 22:57

    Sadly – I’ve seen very few people, much less organizations, that have a long-term view. That is clearly the need here – look to the future, identify expected changes (opportunities & risks), plan, etc. but all the while keeping that long-term view. We can briefly have a long-term picture, but then of course, need to take a text message, check voice mail, spin some PR, check Q# returns vs. promises, mollify Wall St., etc….. (on indie & corporate level).
    Short answer – we’ve all got frickin’ ADD! Long-term? There is no long-term – no consistant plan… At least not that I can see from where is sit in the lower half…

  8. 09/21/2010 10:13

    I completely agree.

    The world of work is changing and indeed needs to change. Much of how we conceptualise it een today comes from organisational psychology that fitted the needs of a time when organised labour was really becoming a “thing” at all. Now, corporations are different beast entirely, our society, its needs and expectations are hugely different, and technology has brought a whole new, added and ever-changing dimension too. That is where the HR energy needs to be focused: how can we creatively rethink work in a way that meets both business’s and individual needs?

    HR as a body is too navel-gazing for its own good. Reading the stuff the CIPD put out earlier this year around “The Way Forward” had even me wondering what the hell it was talking about – full of HR terminology that just made me want to vomit and dissociate myself from the profession.

    This is not at all, but it’s certainly one of the reasons I now sit on the outside of corporate life and work more with individuals than corporate clients. Individuals are grappling with their own changing expectations of work. The smart ones will find their own ways forward on this. For some that means staying, but for others it means quitting corporate life and doing their own thing. To use the lingo, that’s a “talent management” issue.

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