Time waits for no one

A couple of weeks ago my local video shop called in the receivers. There was a time we had four video stores to rent from locally, now we have one.

Video shops are going the same way as record shops. Suddenly obsolete and irrelevant in the face of changing times, changing technology and changing customer needs/behaviours.

For those of us working in HR in New Zealand, it’s that time of year we get asked to renew our HR Institute of New Zealand (HRINZ) memberships. After much thought and soul searching, this year I made the decision not to renew for 2014.

I wrote a post 12 months ago when I said I thought 2013 might be my last year of membership. And so it has proved to be, after 17 years I’m opting out.

As a senior practitioner, I don’t feel the Institute is offering me anything unique or different. My needs have changed in recent years, my ways of learning and networking likewise.

Last week I had coffee with Chris Till. I hadn’t met Chris before but, as the recently appointed CEO of HRINZ, he’s trying to get around and meet people who have expressed some views about where HRINZ needs to change. It was an interesting conversation.

I liked him a lot. He seems like a very down to earth, pragmatic, experienced HR practitioner and he’s quickly got a grasp on the issues he’s facing and what he needs to do about them. He has a strong sense of right and wrong. He talked very passionately about the importance of leadership. More importantly, he doesn’t come with any baggage. Rather than try and talk me out of leaving, he said he hoped I would want to come back in the future when I see what’s happened over time.

I hope so too. This is a crucial period for HRINZ. I know others who have not renewed or are seriously considering it. I would go so far as to say they are fighting for their very existence, or at least against becoming another irrelevance. HR professionals in this country and beyond are becoming increasingly connected in ways that have never been available to us before. HRINZ can no longer assume they have no competition and are the only option in town.

And that’s the dilemma that faces all of us at work. Organisations have to keep adapting and changing to keep up with changing technology, changing customer needs and expectations and the sheer pace of change. It has never been more important to have a point of difference and a competitive advantage. The “same old, same old” just doesn’t cut it anymore and HRINZ have recognised that.

I know there are some very high calibre people on the HRINZ board now working alongside a new and enthusiastic CEO. There are also many good, loyal people happy and willing to volunteer their time to be part of something meaningful and that leads our profession through the transformational change it needs.

I genuinely want to see a strong, influential, collaborative and professional institute in this country. I’m confident that HRINZ is in good hands and we will see a very different type of institute in the next 2-3 years. We need to, otherwise it will whither and die.

The clock is ticking.

Pump up the volume

Have you ever sat in a meeting room and looked around the table and thought everyone else knows more than you? Have you ever scored a promotion or a new job and thought “why me?” Ever said to yourself “I’m not really qualified to do this?”

If you have, then you probably suffer from the Imposter Syndrome – a psychological condition where people attribute their success to luck or timing or some other external factor, and believe they will be exposed as a fraud at some point in time.

According to research up to 75% of us feel like that at some point in life.

I have just read a fascinating book called The Imposter Syndrome written by New Zealand’s own Harold Hillman. I say New Zealand’s own, but Harold as actually an American who has lived here since 2003.

I’m not big on self help or coaching texts, but this one is easy to read and understand and very practical.

Hillman says there are two inner voices that speak to you. The first of these is the Critic who despite the name cares about you and puts you first and foremost. The Critic is concerned that you don’t fail. So the Critic focuses on you not failing as opposed to succeeding. The Critic’s major role is to keep you safe from harm. The fewer risks you take the less chance there is of failure.

The other key voice is that of the Coach. The Coach loves you too but wants you to stretch yourself, to take risks and be better than you currently are.

Hillman brilliantly describes how at the core of the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome is “a sense of insecurity associated with being able to meet the expectations of others….. It is how you size up a challenge relative to your own perceived capability to meet it. There is a tendency to either inflate the challenge, where it becomes bigger than it actually is, or minimize your own capability to take it on.” When this happens your first line of defence is to reach for the imposter’s mask.

Sound familiar? Imagine being like that every day not knowing that you have the ability to turn up the volume of the Coach.

In HR we deal with Imposter Syndrome sufferers all the time, from the line manager who doesn’t have the confidence to challenge his/her own manager, to the staff member who isn’t sure how he or she is performing and needs reassurance and feedback, and the person who simply doesn’t believe they can deliver a project they have been tasked with. At the root of these “issues” I suspect are people who are simply questioning their ability and allowing the Critic to dominate the inner conversation.

So how do we deal with that? One of the last chapters in the book talks about what companies can do about the syndrome. I won’t give the author’s advice away (buy the book) but authentic leadership is at the core of it.

We are hearing more and more about the need for leadership that is authentic and real. It’s becoming flavour of the month, the moral high ground of management. But this book is right. If you can stop trying to be something you aren’t and accept that faults and imperfections are a part of you then you are halfway there.

So silence that inner Critic, get in touch with your inner Coach and PUMP UP THE VOLUME.


Welcome to the world of strategic HR – we’ve been expecting you

I had occasion last week to compliment one of my global HR colleagues on a piece of work well done and remark that it was something I would look to replicate in my region.

His witty and acerbic response made me chuckle: “Welcome to the world of strategic HR Mr Westney. We’ve been expecting you.” Actually, I taught him everything he knows.

Regular readers will know I’m not one for labels and I struggle with the whole obsession of strategic versus operational HR delineation. We don’t hear our colleagues in other functions talking about strategic finance, strategic marketing, strategic IT, strategic sales. Strategy is strategy is strategy. Think it, plan it, do it.  

At the end of the day, every HR practitioner in every HR team in every organisation in the world should be thinking strategically. The fact we still have to talk about and define it shows we still have a long way to go in our maturity as a profession.

If you aren’t forward thinking in HR, and thinking about how you can better make use of emerging technologies, data, social media, behavioural sciences and everything else out there that can raise your HR strategy above the mediocre, and if you aren’t all over how the world of work is changing and doing every damn thing you can to give your organisation a competitive advantage in every aspect of attraction, retention, performance, reward and so on then words fail me. You are failing your colleagues, kidding yourself that you matter and, more importantly, failing your profession.  

That’s the only definition you need for strategic HR.

Expect it? We need to demand it. 

Does working in HR make you sexually aroused?

Ok, admit it. You’ve clicked on this post out of interest. Sucked in by the provocative title. I know what you are thinking – has he lost his mind? Where’s he going now? Has he crossed a line?

You want an explanation? Well, let me start by saying this is not a cheap and tacky attempt to boost my blog view stats. Although ironically it probably will because sex sells as they say.

No, It was that moment when I realized someone was writing the sort of blog I would love to write. Only way better than I ever could. Let me introduce you to the wonderful Gloria Ramsbottom-Lemieux.

“Gloria” started following me on Twitter a week or two ago. She works in HR, she is Canadian. That’s good enough for me so of course I followed back. Then this morning perusing my Twitter stream over breakfast I saw this:

“I get sexually aroused by the term HR business partnership.”

It made me laugh out loud. I assumed she was being ironic so responded with “show me the ROI always does it for me.” It got a prompt re-tweet. A meeting of (probably grubby and like) minds.


Then I clicked on her links. What I discovered was a wonderful series of satirical, sarcastic, bitingly spot on observations about life in post-modern HR. She describes life in an organization that is a melting pot of all those organizations you have probably ever worked in and wished you hadn’t. All those crappy jobs and pointless tasks/projects that drive you up the wall. The HR Manager from hell!

Gloria seems to have been posting for over a year and, according to a recent post by the (male) author, has been taken seriously by some including being expelled from some LinkedIn groups for “giving lip.” He’s obviously having a pop at the over-complication of HR and the many hollow phrases we utter all the time. A book may be the final outcome and I do hope so. If it’s half as good as Who Moved my Blackberry it will be worth waiting for.

Whoever you are Gloria, thank you for making me laugh.

So all this of course BEGS the question. What are the things in HR that get you sexually aroused? Go on, I dare you!

By the way, I did once work with someone who swore a good dismissal gave him a ……well, let’s not go there.

The revolution starts at closing time

So then, social HR. What is that all about, eh?

Not content with beating ourselves up about our lack of a seat at the mythical table (get there early is my advice. There is nothing worse than having to pull up a chair) we now find the “social HR” community (what an awful label) turning in on itself and attacking each other for sheep-like behaviour, being fake and not walking the talk. In essence, the message seems to be “it’s all too cosy and there is no impact on real life HR practice.”

Now I have no problem with the authors of such pieces. In general, I enjoy reading their posts and respect their point of view. They make me think, and if I’m thinking I’m learning.

It’s great to ask questions and have a debate and agitate but come on. None of us can change the world in 140 characters or a blog post. That’s the tip of the iceberg.

And that’s partly the issue. Who of us really know what others in our profession are actually achieving, how they are in their real life job or how they are using what they learn online?

We just have to do it and know we are making a difference in our own little part of the world. Changing HR, one conversation at a time. There won’t be a massive mind shift overnight.

That said, some of the most strategic, challenging and thought-provoking discussions I’ve had have been with previously complete strangers who also know something needs to change. What brought us together was an online discussion or a chance tweet. That for me is social HR if such a thing exists.

Often it’s those bar chats or coffee conversations with like-minded souls that add the most value, that get us thinking and reflecting on what needs to be different. We leave fired up ready to take on the world but in the cold light of morning there is often a different perspective. The reality of the moribund organization with no real desire to change, or the ranks of managers who only do their jobs for the money and don’t really care about developing people.

Aren’t we all really just stumbling around trying to work out how to be better at what we do, knowing that mediocrity is not good enough? And working out how to deliver HR with attitude and impact in our organisations?

I often sit back and think. Do I make a difference to my profession? Have I changed anything? Am I authentic in what I’m doing and saying? Am I different? No idea really. All I can say is I try. That’s all any of us can do. I’m giving it a go and pushing myself, and I write about it because I believe in what I say. But I do know I feel a lot more positive and passionate about the future of my profession and less isolated than I did four years ago.

So let’s keep talking, challenging ourselves and each other. Lets not be afraid to share something we read and say if we think it’s good, or complete crap. Read, think, discuss. It does make a difference.

And let’s keep having those bar chats too. There is always time for another beer and, who knows, it might be a life or career-changing discussion.

The revolution starts at closing time.

Leading from the front

A fantastic post by Simon Heath on his Work Musing blog this week struck a real chord with me. It was about leaders who don’t know their arse from their elbow, and how there should be a focus on breaking down silos in organisations and building connections.

I make it a rule that I don’t blog about work I’m currently doing but I’m going to make a brief exception here. Over the last two weeks I have been involved in running leadership workshops for each of the managers and leaders in my region.

In line with Simon’s message, we kept it simple. We talked about the traits that the best employers and leaders demonstrate and how can we be better managers. We gave them real life examples of some of the little things good leaders do that make a difference.

There was no mention of team types, or personality types, or team dynamics. No questionnaires that had to be completed. No analysis of individual strengths or weaknesses or leadership qualities. No identification of managerial blind spots. We simply told them what good looks like, what proactive behaviours we know make a difference, and gave them room to develop a vision for their team, the culture and values they want and then plan how they will make a difference as a leader. And we let them talk and connect. It was truly inspiring to see the light go on with so many people.

I feel we often use these team or personality “types” or labels as an excuse to justify our own behaviour. We’ve all been in those team building/sharing discussions that go something like “Well, my team type says I’m an action orientated leader who doesn’t have time for detail. If you want to get a decision out of me you need to come well prepared and get to the point.” In other words, “I’m a pompous, self-absorbed prick who is too busy to give you the time of day or have a meaningful one to one discussion with you so don’t waste my valuable time unless it’s urgent. And I’m not adapting for you or anyone.”

In a post I wrote last year, I said I thought leadership development needed a complete re-appraisal. Like a lot of things in HR, we really just need to strip out the bullshit and make it real and credible. Remind people that success in organisations comes from working successfully across the structure and building strong relationships, not by going it alone. I talked about the need for connected and “conscious” organisations. I believe that now more than ever.

Have we really forgotten how to talk to each other?

Are we really so “connected”, we have no time for real conversations anymore?

If you want to be a leader in whatever you do, just put others first and be genuine. Invest the time.

Try it, it’s not that hard.

Recent posts:
This is the modern world
All in a days twerk

This is the modern world

jam_front“What kind of a fool do you think I am?
You think I know nothing of the modern world.”

(Paul Weller 1977)

We have never been more globally connected
It’s now possible to collaborate globally in real time
With social media you can share whatever you want with whoever you choose
It’s possible to carry your entire music collection around with you on a small device
You can download whatever tools you need with a simple click
You can buy almost anything online
We have literally hundreds of TV channels to choose from
Or we can stream and download what we want to watch
We are more socially responsible than ever before
Organisations actively encourage volunteering
We have the most educated workforce ever
The options for training staff are endless
We travel far more than previous generations
Change is the norm not an exception
The workforce is more mobile, flexible and has less loyalty than ever before
News is instant and rolling
In this transparent world, we are becoming obsessed with ethics, integrity and values
We carry our entire lives around with us on what we still laughingly call phones although that isn’t really their main purpose any more
The traditional 9 to 5 working day no longer exists
I could go on…

So why are we still managing people like we always have?
When did you last update your HR policies, your performance management, your in house training or check their continuing relevance?
When did you last overhaul your staff reward systems, or scrap an HR process that is no longer necessary?
Why are your personal development plans about what courses and conferences you are going to attend?

The world has changed dramatically in the last five years. Have you?

All in a day’s twerk

I read a thought provoking post last week written by a lady called Ani O’Brien on her A Soap-Box Manifesto blog. It was about whether we should expect Miley Cyrus to be a role model for young girls. There’s been a lot of public debate about that and Ani argued persuasively that we shouldn’t, and that Miley has a right to express her sexuality any way she wishes. Much to my surprise, I realised I have no argument with that.

I say “much to my surprise” because it made me think. Let’s be honest, I’m a middle-aged man so why should I even care? And if it’s not about the overt sexuality, why is it that I have such a problem with Miley Cyrus and people like her?

I have teenage children so Hannah Montana was a staple in our house a few years back. Even then she irritated the hell out of me.

Miley was a bit of a screecher it seemed to me, like many of these teenage kids show stars. Someone who had been taught that the person who spoke the loudest got the biggest canned laugh. Someone growing up in the public eye that, like her father before her, appeared to have got a little bit lucky and made an arguably modest talent go a long way. A one trick pony.

Now I’m not knocking that. Good luck to her and the hundreds of other Bieberesque You Tubing wannabes that pollute our airwaves with their formulaic manufactured trash and “dance” moves. I’m not the target audience so I don’t have to like it or listen to it.

No, what irritates me is that Miley’s recent behaviour smacks of attention seeking of the highest order. “Look at me, I’m famous and credible, I don’t give a shit and I’m getting what I want, I’m all grown up and I know what’s best. I’m the manipulator not the manipulated. Deal with it.”

And why that irritates me is because we see lots of people like this in the workplace. If you work in HR you will instantly recognise them.

“Look at me, I deserve the highest performance rating, there’s no one better, I want a big pay rise – NOW, I want that promotion, I DESERVE the bonus, I want, I’m entitled, give, give, give or I’m out of here. Deal with it.”

You know what? I am yet to come across anyone like that who was even half as good as they thought they were. Think about the people you’ve worked with in your career and I guarantee if you named your top ten performers they would all, without exception, be unassuming, modest, mature, self effacing, self aware, self deprecating, hard working high achievers. They just do it and don’t associate success with public recognition. They are the polar opposites of your workplace Mileys.

They don’t need to scream “look at me – I’m good” – their results, conduct and workplace relationships speak for themselves. They don’t polarise opinion.

They deliver far more than they ever demand or expect in return. And they don’t shout it from the rooftops or twerk their way to the attention of the whole company at the Christmas party. They are consistent, stable and trustworthy. They respond to feedback, not get defensive and go on the attack. Or just ignore it.

These people are the real work stars. They are the ones that get shit done and are still doing it while the twerkers are down the pub congratulating themselves on the success of a project that in truth they had little impact on.

Give me a star worker over a star twerker any day of the week.

All unwrapped – the 12 Blogs of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
12 Ulrich models
11 HR hybrids
10 cookie cutters
9 sourcing partners
8 grads a struggling
7 games a playing
6 things a changing
5 liquid dates
4 changing lives
3 unions
2 finding selves
and a Fairytale in New York

12 blogs coverSo the 12 Blogs of Christmas concluded this week. As an experiment in social blogging, it was very interesting. I had no idea what I was going to get when I set it up and put no restrictions on the contributors.

Sure, I knew I would get passion by the bucket load. But beyond that, I wasn’t really sure.

I have to say I enjoyed all of the posts immensely. As I said at the outset, the authors are all people I respect and whose blogs I would read if they had them. All were inexperienced, lapsed or first time bloggers but accepted my random invite to take part with enthusiasm. No one turned me down which was the first surprise.

Logistically there were parallels with real work. Some people submitted their piece well before the deadline, some missed it by miles and had to be chased right up to the last minute.

Some wrote it and fired it through without a second thought, some agonized over the content and the quality before submitting. Some asked for no feedback, others needed constant reassuring.

Those of you with a coaching background would no doubt say there is no surprise with any of this and it underlines how everyone’s needs are different when set a task to complete.

What really surprised me was just how humble good people are. Very few of the 12 bloggers to my knowledge actively shared their posts with their own online networks via LinkedIn and Twitter. Some were all over it, but most kept relatively quiet about what they had done. Perhaps that is a Kiwi trait that we lack confidence, or don’t like to talk ourselves up too much.

Anyway, my heartfelt thanks go out to all the authors. The feedback and page views through the series has been fantastic. Christmas certainly came early for me. We had journeys of self discovery and self enlightenment, we had people who have taken their lives and careers in new directions, we had new perspectives on long debated subjects and we had some interesting insight on topical subjects and posts that challenged the status quo.

And then there was Nikki Wilkie. Nikki told a very personal tale of a life changing event that hit her this year. I knew as soon as I saw the first draft it was a truly great post. And within minutes of posting it, it grew legs of its own and took off easily surpassing the most views in one day any of my own posts have ever had. She even scored an invite to talk about the subject with Campbell Live! I’m delighted because I know how much Nikki agonized and questioned herself about saying what she did and how it would be received. She needn’t have feared. People responded very positively as the comments and feedback proved. And just yesterday, she was informed she would be getting some money from the liquidator. Truly a Christmas miracle!

And that’s what it was all about. Giving people a voice who either didn’t know they had one, or lacked the confidence to do it for themselves. My hope is that one or two of them are inspired to put “regular blogging” on their New Years resolution list!

It’s also been a fascinating year for me professionally and personally and I have learned so much and come into contact with so many different and interesting people as a result of this blog.

It doesn’t matter if you have been a regular reader, or just read this one post, thank you for your time, support and feedback/comments over the year. It is much appreciated.

One thing I have taken from this year is the importance of moving forward all the time. I am sure when we all look back on the previous 12 months, it’s important to know that we’ve:
- Continued to learn and grow professionally and personally
- Expanded our networks and thinking through exposure to different people
- Bounced back from set backs with strength and courage

If you can’t look back and say you’ve achieved at least one of those things, well WTF have you been doing with your life? Resolve to do something about it next year!

Have a fantastic Christmas and I will see you again in 2014!

Xmas NZ style

Xmas NZ style

The 12 Blogs of Christmas #12

12 blogs cover
RachelIt’s been a big year for Rachel Walker. The new National President of the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand has had a busy introduction to the role and is having to do something none of her predecessors have done – find a new CEO for the institute. In addition, she got to spend some quality time with Dave Ulrich when he was keynote speaker at the HRINZ conference in Wellington. It is suitable that Rachel wraps up this series of guest posts by looking at how perceptions of HR need to change.

Why so misunderstood?????

It sounds like a song title, but why is HR so misunderstood? One of my personal bug-bears is the common misperception that HR is the same beast it was 20 years ago. In making that assumption, there is a lack of recognition of the contribution HR can make to create value for the business. What a shame this is news to so many people.

The psychologist in me knows that the recent spate of social media articles panning HR are really just designed to generate attention for the authors, in the hope they will get their 30 seconds of fame and up their readership. I’d just prefer that they get their facts straight or picked on another profession, can they not pick on our marketing cousins for example (and no I’m not suggesting we do!)?

Why is it that people feel a need to run down a profession based on their inaccurate and outdated views? There are many models along these lines, but Professor Dave Ulrich talks about 4 waves in the evolution of HR development and I paraphrase below:

1. HR administrative utility (I tend to think of this as the old personnel function). This wave focuses on the terms and conditions of work, delivery of some services and regulatory compliance e.g. preparation of employment agreements, administration of allowances/payroll. The activities are transactional.

2. HR functional expertise (I think of this as operational HR). This includes the development of innovations in leadership development, rewards, succession planning etc. This wave is characterised by credible HR best practice. This tends to be what line managers think HR is about and they either complain about us setting rules or love that we do it for them so they don’t have to.

3. HR strategy (where the focus is on making HR more strategic and adding value through developing HR Business Partner capabilities). HR takes the business strategy and develops people based priorities to support it. HR credibility comes from being at the top table, engaged in strategic conversations.

4. HR from the Outside-In (where HR aligns its work with the business context and stakeholders). HR is involved in establishing the corporate strategy with a focus on the external customer and what they want from the business. Under this model, HR doesn’t just add value, they create it due to their genuine understanding of the context they are operating within. This is transformational HR, where people practices are defined by the “yet to happen”, requiring the ability to identify emerging trends possibly unseen by others.

I have seen all these waves of HR. I have met people who think HR is only about waves 1 and 2. I find it particularly disappointing when these are people with HR in their title and sad that they think our vibrant profession is about a set of tools and processes. Fortunately most HR people in my view do understand and operate at wave 3 to at least some degree, but I can’t imagine a more frustrating experience than thinking people practices mean following processes and filling in forms!

We are starting to see advertisements now (there was a notable one in August this year) clearly targeting professionals who operate in the fourth wave – specifically asking us to leave the wave 1 and 2 material behind. There are technological solutions aplenty that streamline wave 1, and more recently wave 2. That’s what technology is for – helping us with the routine.

So the real question in my mind is if wave 4 is alive and well in New Zealand, and if so, why isn’t that better recognised? I have to say hell yes it is, there are many business focused people here who happen to manage the HR function. Unfortunately some of those choose to distance themselves from our profession as if they are embarrassed by it. Please don’t take this to mean I feel this is true of all people with the GMHR or similar badge, as this is far from the case. But what is wrong with the public image of HR if people doing the job distance themselves from the label?

So how do we change this reluctance to be seen as an HR person or the lack of understanding among other professions of what HR is about? Recently HRINZ bought the world number one thinker in HR to New Zealand. We are seeing more top class HR professionals wanting to participate in improving the image of the profession. Most importantly I believe, we are seeing people with HR backgrounds moving into CEO roles and Directorships.

I have been fortunate enough to be selected by the Institute of Directors (IOD) for their Mentoring for Diversity program, which aims to increase the number of women on NZX boards. What was interesting was the number of other women accepted who come from HR aligned backgrounds. I’m always surprised at how few HR people I know are members of the IOD or who participate in their activities. If we want to change the perception of ourselves and our background, we need to be seen by Directors, CEOs, CFOs and the like as creating value – they can’t know we do this if they don’t see us in such environments and as their equals.

My advice to HR people is to keep abreast of the implications of the likes of the Ulrich model and continue your development along those lines; be proud to be in HR and be an ambassador, correcting mis-perceptions when you have the opportunity; contribute to the profession and be active in broader business meetings, groups and programs.

Participate in marketing just who we are and what we can do, if only others knew we could do it.

Sell the secret.

Previous posts:
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #1
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #2
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #3
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #4
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #5
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #6
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #7
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #8
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #9
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #10
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #11
The 12 Blogs of Christmas – my gift to you