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He that makes himself dirt is trod on by the swine



It was about 3am this morning, I’d been asleep for hours when I woke with a start. My heart beating fast, sweat pouring down my face and an extreme sense of panic that I’d never felt before. My hands gripped the sheets, the knuckles white, as I slowly slipped out of bed trying not to wake my wife sleeping peacefully beside me. 

Downstairs,  I switched on a low light, poured a glass of water and tried to concentrate on slowing down my heart.  I took a piece of paper and a pencil from the side where the kids do their home work.  It was all becoming apparent to me now. A clarity that I had sought for years. On the paper were four lines of writing, four simple points that I knew were going to set me apart from the rest.  The answer we all search……..

  • Optimise our use of social media
  • Implement the removal of the default retirement age
  • Develop line manager capability
  • Improve our recruitment systems

It was mine…….the key to being strategic…..

Was it fuck!

People, these are not strategic issues. Nor are they the things that keep me awake at night.  We hear the relentless banging on about being a strategic function about raising the bar, about getting a seat at the top table and then we go digging around and wallowing in the dirt.  Well of course, you get what you deserve.

If HR is a brand we are sullying it day by day with our total inability to raise our heads and look anywhere above the pointless inevitability of our own tactical existence.  I’m not thinking about social media a whole lot, not because (as some would tell me) I’m backward looking, but because it means diddly squat in the grand scheme of things.  The removal of the DRA? Change a few documents and see how it pans out. Line manager capability isn’t the problem it is HR capability that is. And as for recruitment….recruitment is a process, pure and simple. 

These are not the things that are keeping me awake and I bet you they are not the things that are keeping your CEO awake at night. Maintaining margins  in an environment where inflationary pressures need to be balanced against a squeeze on consumer spending? Now we’re talking.

I’m not saying these things aren’t important, but every time you allow yourselves to be drawn into thinking that they are the REAL issue, every time that you spend disproportionate time focussing on and debating tactical interventions and process, every time you take your eye off the issues that really DO need talking about……

Every time you do that, you belittle yourself, you belittle your organisation and you belittle your profession.

Being strategic means exactly that. It doesn’t just happen because you close your eyes and hope.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. garethmjones permalink
    01/20/2011 09:33

    I hear ya, but:

    “Maintaining margins in an environment where inflationary pressures need to be balanced against a squeeze on consumer spending?”

    Is not a strategic issue either. Its a tactical business issue. Inflationary pressure goes down, margin pressure lifted. bingo. On to the next tactical issue that might affect our quarterly number. Truth is very few business have any kind of strategic insight or capability, its not just the HR function that lacks strategic prowess, or obsesses over tactical minutia.

    Removing the DRA in itself is not a strategic issue, but the long term implications are, both socially and economically. Inflationary pressures can be manipulated by interest rates and so on. The long term effect of an ageing population without a pot to piss in, and a smaller working population is a tad more difficult to address and needs to be though through now.

    Perhaps business should instead be worrying about the pressure on margins when the part of the population who currently have disposable incomes stop spending, on a long term basis – now that’s a strategic issue.

  2. 01/20/2011 09:54

    Or…you could talk about the things that really matter to HR and lead the way in the organisation…

  3. Doug Shaw permalink
    01/20/2011 11:52

    Defining strategy eh? For me it’s the art of matching resources most effectively to my environment to achieve my purpose. And a strategy is slightly different from strategy itself. A strategy is a broad plan that emerges from strategic thinking, and that thinking process is important and fun because it raises folks awareness about strategic issues. And now I am off for a lie down. Cheers!

  4. 01/20/2011 13:41

    Ooh, haven’t heard the strategy/tactics definition debate for a while. A rule of thumb that’s served me well…. Strategy – where we’re going ( making sure that’s still sensible). Tactics – how we get there. Clearly there’s a rinse/repeat angle here too.

    I tend to agree with the sentiment of the post – and that got me onto thinking what are the *strategic* HR issues that rattle around my head? Mostly how we access talent. And that “employment” is an historically recent phenomena, and maybe there’s a better model that we have quite cottoned onto yet.

  5. Deadbeat Mum permalink
    01/20/2011 20:47

    The reason my copy of People Management goes straight to recycle 😉

  6. 01/27/2011 08:22

    @garethmjones – I don’t think we need to say any more on this do we? 🙂

    @Judy – I’m not sure that I agree “the things that really matter to HR” are neccessarily the right things to progress. In many cases it is fadism and fancy….

    @Doug Shaw – Budge up….I need to lie down too now!

    @JayneHilditch – I like that last thought…..interesting.

    @Deadbeat Mum – I don’t think you’re the only one…..


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