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5 people myths we need to blow….



1) Employees are not just a means of production – Let us stop talking about the nebulous concepts of employee engagement. People are a resource, that is all. At the root of this is a fair deal for labour, you provide that and you have a quid pro quo. Does that make me a Neanderthal? Well, I don’t believe in sweatshops, but I am realistic about what most employees want, a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. The rest is neither here nor there.

2) Equality is important – We are not equal, we will never be equal. What we need to address is a “level playing field” the ability for everyone to perform, but with that goes an understanding that given that level field, some will perform better than others and they will be treated and rewarded better than others. That is true fairness, but it isn’t equality.

3) HR is a strategic function – This is the biggest load of bollocks that exists. You may be contributing to the business strategy, granted. You might be adding value, I get that. But as a function you are not strategic, you do not need to be strategic and you will never be strategic. So shut the fuckwittery down right now and accept it.

4) Being a good employer and delivering profits are opposing forces – You mention profit and all of a sudden the crunchy granola brigade start banging on about evil corporations. The vast majority of businesses do not want to shaft their workforces, they don’t want to cut corners.  Most organisations look after their people and try to make a profit. Because that is what commercial organisations do. Get over it.

5) New is better – The continued push for newness and reinvention as a means of improvement is one of the most short-sighted  and wrong-headed assumptions belittling the effectiveness of business people across the board.  Just changing for the sake of newness will not solve a problem nor will it enhance or embellish.  There is nothing wrong with the tried and tested per se…..just the way in which you are approaching it.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. david permalink
    02/15/2011 08:45

    Myths indeed – I can’t think of any senior managers or business leaders in the business who ever thought these were reality, especially on the equality theme. HR is naother matter…

    The only one which doesn’t site quite right with me is the 1st. Most people want a fair wage for fair work. Most will even tolerate working with f/wits or crap organisations. However, people want more than the process of work and by and large they want to achieve this with others. Employees are essentially a means of production – from the top to the bottom. What makes us human not machine is our desire to do this together. What makes us great is doing this well together.

    Oh Id like to add another if you’d allow it….

    “High Potential is for Management”
    Most managers can’t manage people properly. Most “High Potential” staff are only taken through the lens of managers who can’t already manage sustaining a clique of HiPo’s who are never taught good management skills but are “successful”. We all have high potential and management is only a small part of the spectrum of skills in an organisation where you can realise your potential.

  2. 02/15/2011 09:34

    I’d like to venture another – People are your greatest asset – Rosy tinted hippy pap. People lie, steal, cheat, back bite, get jealous over jack shit, gang up on others, take the easy path, think a clean inbox is engagement, refuse to learn, teach the wrong things, go on an over fed gut, shy away from pride in their work, and generally make work as hard work as they can if for no other reason than boredom. And the bigger better suited better paid they are the bigger risky losers they can be – just look at the bored rooms (RBS, Enron, Time/AOL). HR’s job is a messy one. Like you say, hell is people, but not just employees.

    • 02/15/2011 09:56

      Interesting points, but I challenge your assertion that some of the largest Corporate Governance failures of modern times were the result of boredom? Greed, certainly. Results at any cost, without doubt. I venture that boredom never played a part in it. I very much doubt that there was ever a conversation in the board rooms of the the big banks that said “Bugger, I’m bored with the same old day in, day out grind. Let’s destroy the free world as we know it!”
      People for all there faults are our greatest asset. They may need effective risk management, but where would we be without them. If HR is a dirty job, it is because we made it so.


      • 02/15/2011 10:07

        Hi Matt – how are you? Agree. Greed is probably the no 1 sin here (for employees and their masters), which is why I kind of started my semi rant with people lie, steal, cheat – maybe we could also qualify this by saying the causes of this are as complex as the people make up I’m trying to portray – short termism, individualism, cult of leadership personality, free credit, Simon Cowell (joking, but seriously). HR then as mopping up the messy consequences of Anglo-American Capitalism?

  3. 02/15/2011 12:53

    Back in business and picking your blog to start my week.

    Looking for black or white, wrong or right, or as you say “here or there” then yes, no one will fit exact category if you only give them two options. What is fair for one employee doesn’t need to be fair for other. Treating workforce as a group of same eggs is one of the biggest misconception of managing human resources. We are treating employees the same way we treat mass-produced pencils. We perceive them the same and expect of them the same. Yes, I am myself sick of terms such as engagement etc. but that is because we all talk about it but never do enough. So basically, we get used to our mediocre results of our HR intervention (for number of reasons), and before you know it we start to disrespect all concepts which made so much sense only few months a go. It is easier and much cheaper to go back to Mr. Ford or Mr. Taylor where everything was possible (as long as it was black). Being “realistic” is important but while many HR forget about business case as they make decisions, many business managers forget about “social responsibility case” and its effect on business. Hence we have HR people who follow business case and HR people who don’t. Business case is important but real secret of our “adding value” to the business is hidden in being an expert to find the magic balance between business case and social case. We can call it “employee relations”.
    Equality will be always in question especially where the way it is perceived affects business operation. I totally agree with you that we are not equal, (meaning we are all different not that one is better than the other) but as far as human goes it is absolutely crucial to work around a clock to make us understand differences and use them as a strengths in society. And if it comes to business case, well I believe that once again there is a difference between more and less successful company and more and less skilled HR team, where in one organisation people make differences to work for them and in the other cause nothing but distraction.
    And if it comes to fair pay, well once again, people need to be assessed on individual basis not as a group of pencils.
    HR as a strategic function? In my opinion it can be in one organisation and not in the other. Depending on whether human resources are also seen as company’s strategic resources. Especially when you nourish your team and make them essential part of your business, your products will reflect that. Think industries such as hospitality, having the most important front line staff paid the smallest wages. So wrong yet reality. Direct income comes right from the point of sale whether on hotel reception or in the restaurant while placing order. Most important jobs to make customer come back and believe in your product are given to least paid workers. So yes here the human resources don’t play a strategic role, but it should do.
    I agree with point 4 as it reflects how badly damaged is relation between employers and employees seeing latter as a natural victim of the success of the former. Only short-sighted and people who like to make generalisations will stick to this sort of statement.
    Point 5 is spot on. No guaranties of success whatsoever, although using this strategy is also one of the ways how to manage the change and is sometimes cheaper too.

    So point 1.2.3 are not myths in my opinion, but will become one if we all give up on our HR role so quickly.
    Point 4. 5. are definitely myths.


  4. 02/15/2011 14:44

    Hello. I particularly like your second point. Fairness is definitely not equality, Marcus Buckingham would doubtless be proud of you. And lots of companies would do well to recognise what you have said – and act on it.

    And I particularly dislike your first point. For starters what is a fair day’s pay? No one knows because it suits employers to keep people’s pay information a secret. Control freak fools. And this practice probably suits under performing employees too.

    Currently I manage to draw around £3,200 from my company every month to pay the bills and have some fun. Even though that’s a lot less than I was earning as a £100k plus general manager in BT, I think it’s very fair. Not sure who I’d fuss to about it if it wasn’t mind you!

    In my experience a lot of companies say they want creative thinking which inevitably brings mistake making with it. And often the same companies punish mistakes. So very quickly people learn to shut up and get on with it. Stay out of trouble.

    In point five you nail it. Newness “is one of the most short-sighted and wrong-headed assumptions belittling the effectiveness of business people across the board”. Spot on – the answers are almost always in the minds of the people already. They just need some encouragement to get them out, and then some decent leadership to allow people to get on and make the good stuff happen. Trouble is – I don’t think that sits well with your assertion that “the rest is neither here nor there”.

    Maybe what most people want is something akin to simply having a job, and not showing themselves up? How soul destroyingly dull.

  5. Corporate Daycare permalink
    02/15/2011 15:47

    I really wish you would just tell us how you really feel. 😉

    I live by the mantra: “Fair doesn’t mean equal”.

    However, I’m not sure I entirely entirely agree with your point that employees are just a resource. Paper is a resource. But I don’t worry have to concern myself about whether the paper is working over-time / having medical issues / not meeting expectations. I agree that there is too much fluff behind the engagement movement, but there is certainly truth in needing to be aware of and reacting to employee’s needs beyond getting paid.

    Great post.

  6. 02/16/2011 08:49

    Now, at the risk of falling into your ‘I’ll deliberately be controversial to provoke debate’ trap I have to say the first four points are rubbish. It’s like I’m back in the 90’s working in Personnel!
    People aren’t an asset; they don’t depreciate. HR *is* strategic if done properly because it involves culture and being good to people makes good business sense.
    Careful what you say, some CEO’s might believe you! 🙂

  7. Cazzi permalink
    02/16/2011 15:27

    Your point on fuckwittery – This is why I am ashamed to be labelled HR. HR can and should be strategic and I certainly am. I regularly go into organisations that are led by egomaniacs who don’t have the results to back that up, leadership teams who are on a lead, organisations who spout performance and yet are peppered by incompetents and I, as notionally a HR person, hold up a big scary mirror to these failings. Guess what, I don’t get much repeat business but they always acknowledge the kick up the arse was exactly what was needed and it generally reflects very quickly in the bottom line. I am not afraid to formulate business strategy becuase I have senior non-HR experience and in reality most business-models are based on a simple formula and just require common sense (why is it so rare?). But 99% of HR people are not strategic and have never proved themselves at the sharp end. I would sack any HRD or senior HR who has not had a senior role in the front line – HRDs should not be tactical and should prove their place at the top table is justified or get out.

  8. 02/17/2011 15:03

    Two reactions, one to theintrapreneur’s “People aren’t an asset; they don’t depreciate.” Oh, but they do; sometimes through self-neglect, sometimes – and more often – through demoralisation, ignorance, poor line management and so on. Most people arrive in a state of willingness: it’s very rarely how they leave. It’s the HR departments who can’t explain why that need sacking, not the ones who are squabbling about whether they deserve to be at the top table or not. (Their nutritional requirements are the same as everyone elses, unless we’re discussing the need to feed egos?)

    And “new is better”. As others have said, absolutely bang on. Better is better. New is new. Overlap is mostly coincidence. And a lot of the time someone is pointing to cause and effect, it’s because they can claim to be the cause.

  9. 02/27/2011 15:05

    @david – Work is work for most people, that is all I’m saying…nothing more nothing less.

    @HRbeginner – Nah…they’re all myths….

    @Doug Shaw – Well I’d start by talking about a living wage rather than a minimum wage…..

    @Corporate Daycare – Stop being the voice of reason will ya? 🙂

    @theintrapreneur – Nothing wrong with good old fashioned Personnel you know….

    @Cazzi – Thanks for taking the time to comment…..couldn’t agree with you more…..

    @Ed – Yes. Totally.


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