Thursday 27 September 2007

HR consulting: challenges and opportunities



I went to the 7th Annual Consultants Forum today to see Fiona Czerniawska, Director of the Management Consultancies Association's think tank and author of ‘State of the Consulting Nation’ talk about the UK’s consulting marketplace.
The UK's consulting market is worth about £7.7bn and grew by about 16% last year. This is likely to fall off over the next year following the turbulence in the exchange markets. HR consulting is worth about £710m which has been growing at a higher 22%. However, this is likely to fall more quickly than some other areas, since, as we all know, HR is often seen as discretionary spending.
The general theme of the presentation seemed to be growing diversity in consulting provision, particularly with engineering companies such as Mott MacDonald, Arup and Atkins playing a growing role in project / programme management consulting. Even the titles of management consultants is changing, with the audit led firms growing teams of Business Advisers and the Institute of Management Consultancy rebranding as the Institute of Business Consulting. Apparently, McKinsey have even been thinking about changing the name of their consultants to 'knowledge purveyors'.
One of the factors behind this has been a shift towards using consultants to provide specific skills that clients don't have in house (rather than clients' choice being anything about firm's methodologies or approach). And associated with this is a small change of about 4% of the HR consulting market moving from the big all purpose firms like IBM and Accenture (the MCA's type C - which still have 49% of this market) to specialist HR consulting firms (type M - at 20%).
I think this is a very positive trend - for clients to ensure they maximise the value of their consulting spend, and for consulting firms, as it encourages consultants to focus on their strengths, and therefore to optimise their expertise and potential.

Wednesday 26 September 2007 VIEW

In my last post I wondered whether the CIPD might extend involvement in next year's conference through the use of social media.

So hats off to which has announced a virtual interactive educational world mega event on 12th and 13th December.

It sounds exciting!

Tuesday 25 September 2007

Final reflections on Harrogate

The CIPD conference always provides a great input of knowledge. But it is an equally useful social forum as well, enabling participants to catch up with old friends, meet new people, and discuss ideas and issues with other delegates. As became clear from the sessions I attended, the social side of business, supported by the use of social media, is becoming increasingly important too.

This change arises from several different factors including psychology, demographics and changes in the way that organisations work. David Rock examined findings of neuroscience which show how our brains are wired for social connections. So when idling, four out of five activities in the brain are to do with relationships between people. And because of his, our level of social connectedness is the key factor in determining our happiness. Lisbeth Claus pointed to the need to adjust to the younger generation, or Millennials, who are used to working through social networks aided by Web 2.0 technologies. And Lynda Gratton explained that hot spots could be formed when organisations bring together groups of people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. She posited that these diverse teams might be easier to manage on the web than face-to-face.

Responding to these changes, Anne Lise Kjaer explained her belief that social awareness and caring attitudes will increasingly define and shape businesses in the future. Emmanuel Gobillot developed on this idea stating that engagement now comes from a process of involvement and co-creation with employees working in communities of value. These communities are focused on individuals and are based upon give and take relationships. Julian Birkinshaw provided IBM as an example. Their 'Values Jam' enabled employees across the world to participate in an online, no-holds-bared discussion about the company's values which succeeded in creating a more persuasive and widely accepted output than anything a committee could have developed. Kevan Hall completed the analysis by explaining that managing these social communities requires organisations to build relationships, social contacts and a shared culture.

Perhaps next year, the conference will make use of social media to engage even more people in the conference?

Monday 24 September 2007

An HR Manifesto?

"Once our struggle was to secure minimum standards, then to extend opportunity. But we need to be honest: today the rising aspirations of the British people summon us to set a new direction.

Talent management: In Britain today too many still cannot rise as far as their talents can take them. Yet this is the century where our country cannot afford to waste the talents of anyone. Up against the competition of two billion people in China and India, we need to unlock all the talent we have. In the last century the question was can we afford to do this? In the face of economic challenge, I say: in this century we cannot afford not to. And the country that brings out the best in all its people will be the great success story of the global age.

Diversity: How many young people fail to develop the potential they have?How many women still come up against a glass ceiling that blocks their advance? How many men and women who hope to move up the ladder in mid career are deprived of the chance to upgrade their skills and jobs? How much talent that could flourish is lost through a poverty of aspiration: wasted not because young talents fail to reach the stars but because they grow up with no stars to reach for? So this is the next chapter in our progress. The next stage of our country’s long journey to build the strong and fair society.

I want a Britain where there is no longer any ceiling on where your talents and hard work can take you. Where what counts is not what where you come from and who you know, but what you aspire to and have it in yourself to become."

From Gordon Brown's first speech to the Labour Party Conference (See also here and here).

Reflections on Harrogate

One of the nicer days in Harrogate...

The CIPD's own exhibition stand

One for Jay Cross who remarked on the yellow carpet during our joint presentation at the HRD Show earlier this year (see the Internet Time blog). This time the IT zone was green...
Elsevier / Pergamon Flexible Learning featuring my book

Exiting the Conference

One of the CIPD's receptions

Meeting up with friends old and new (Tony Crossley from Ernst & Young, and Michael Wellin, author of Managing the Psychological Contract - another book I will be reviewing later on this year), thanks again Mike!

Some final reflections, which will also be printed in Thames Valley People coming up shortly. Then I'll be moving on, I'm sure everyone has heard quite enough from me about the CIPD conference by now.

Experiments in the HCM blogosphere

I found live blogging at the CIPD conference last week quite an interesting experience. Particularly when Lisbeth Claus came over to me on the Thursday morning and said that she'd been having a look at this blog. It turned out that when she was packing up after her Wednesday session she found that she had received an email from her PA forwarding my post on her session and asking "aren't you still speaking!?". I thought it was a great illustration of how real and virtual communications can be brought together very powerfully. And also of how knowledge professionals are increasingly closely monitoring and managing their internet footprints.

Another interesting experiment is The Work Clinic's charity blogathon: an attempt by Personnel Today to get as many views on workplace culture as possible while at the same time carrying out a good deed for the day!

And not particularly new, but quite impressive all the same is the HR Carnival hosted by Evil HR Lady. This is the 16th carnival, but the first I've contributed a post towards. Take a look!

Saturday 22 September 2007

Jose Mourinho: HR Business Partner

At the end of the CIPD conference, Geoff Armstrong described how, when thinking about HR business partners, he tends to picture a macho chief Executive riding on a Harley with his HR business partner holding on with arms wrapped around the CEO in order to ‘service him’!

When I think about HCM, I often picture a football (soccer) manager (coach). The role of a football manager is to select and organise the team and to plan the role of individual players both before and during the game. They manage the performance of players using match reports and videos to provide feedback. They conduct wage negotiations. And they invest in health and wellness to ensure players keep their form, and where necessary substitute players when one has an injury.

The manager’s activities ensure that the team are ready to make the best use of their 90 minutes of competitive activity on the pitch, but during this time management is delegated to the captain or skipper who becomes the on-pitch leader of the team.

The captain generally provides a rallying point for the team: if morale is low, it is the captain who will be looked to gee up the side. The captain can also take on certain responsibilities within the playing staff, such as organising morale-boosting events and looking after younger players.

The other key role is the owner or chief executive who takes care of the club finances and other business functions including management of the stadium, marketing the team and pricing tickets etc.

I make the following analogies between football and business management:
  • Manager – HCM
  • Captain – Line manager
  • Owner – CEO

Of course, it’s not just HR that undertakes the HCM role; this involves the CEO, other business leaders and line managers too. But HR can lead this activity (so I am thinking about the British rather than Israeli model of football management increasingly in evidence at Chelsea and which Mourinho has so objected to).

A challenge I often get when explaining this analogy is that the football manager's role is running the football team, ie managing the organisation not just a support function, like HR. Well actually, this is my point. Now people are 'our most important asset', HR shouldn't just see itself as a support function. The HR function leads HCM, and HCM is about assembling the right people with the right competencies in the right place at the right time, and who can then deliver business performance. This truly is the management of the organisation.

As David Bolchover explains in the 90 Minute Manager;

"Football is the setting for one of the purest forms of management - and the most transparent. In an age when club football is more of a business than ever before, suddenly it seems business is getting more and more like football- when talent is at a premium, the ability to attract and retain the very best people - and get the most out of them individually and collectively - is of paramount importance. What better time to learn the lessons from the very best - and worst - of the ultimate man management game."

What images come to your mind when you think about HCM? Email me a picture or description to info ‘at’ strategic ‘dash’ hcm ‘dot’ com, and if I can use it and attribute it to you, you will win a free copy of my book.

Friday 21 September 2007

Review of day 3.

So another good day today. Neil’s and David’s presentations were particularly good, and although I consider myself a pretty good speaker, this is after all a key part of my role, and I do take my hat off to them both, and other HRDs, who can hold down their day job and present like this as well.

But I do wonder in connection with Anne Lise’s presentation whether both speakers were looking at what it means for HR to be world-class through today’s business paradigm, rather than that which may be required in the future.

Business and people entering organisations are changing so quickly, and the current employment dynamic is so broken, that I’m not sure… actually, I simply don’t believe that today’s left brained approach provides an appropriate framework for considering the future.

The other point I have been reflecting on during my journey home is what is happening to the CIPD show? Numbers are definitely down – the auditorium was less than half full during the final key note. And quite a lot of these people aren’t paying. Parking which used to be impossible is now easy and the taxi drivers are commenting that they’re not getting the same levels of business. Some of the exhibitors commented to me that with the change of date they’re not even getting the same numbers of students.

Why is this? I suggested to a couple of people in the CIPD reception on Wednesday night that one cause might be social media. People can access information via webinars, blogs, podcasts and many other sources so why pay to spend three days in Harrogate?

But then, I’m not sure that many HR professionals are into social media either. Handing out leaflets inviting delegates to visit this blog, I found that I had to explain what a blog is to many of the people.

Is it just that HR folks are too busy? I think this is the major worry. Whatever we might think about world class HR, the size of the gap between this and current reality is phenomenal. If HR people don’t want to visit the CIPD show, they need to ensure they’re still getting the same level of high quality inputs elsewhere.

Perhaps this blog will provide one source of inspiration. If you are visiting this blog for the first time and are new to social media, please think about subscribing and getting my posts on a regular basis (not quite as regular as for the last three days). Look half-way down the blog on the right hand side, just below the world map, and ‘subscribe by email’, or within a little bit more work to set it up, ‘in a reader’.

And please add your comments too. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday 20 September 2007

World Class HR

The conference is closing with Neil Roden (RBS) and David Fairhurst (McDonalds / Tesco) replacing Clare Chapman (NHS / Tesco).

I am feeling interested in whether these inputs will help clarify what HR's strategic role is going to be.

RBS are doing lots of great things in HR, particularly the work Greg Aitken has been leading on HCM measurement.

However out of the two, I have greater respect with what David Fairhust has been doing to change the perception of jobs at McDonalds.

David talked about how we are now entering a new era in which people are the drivers of success and which places HR in "the hottest HR of hot seats".

His perspective is that just as IT and Engineering have helped their organisations achieve their objectives by having 1. a deep understanding of what drives their organisations and 2. mastery of their disciplines - in this order, HR now has the same opportunities.  Indeed, the opportunity is so great that many CEO's, a bit like Spartacus, are saying "I'm the people leader here".

Barriers to HR having the same level of success are

1.   Focussing on strategy at the expense of the basics
2.   Specialists who can work across boundaries (what Lynda Gratton called boundary spanners)
3.   Not keeping score and demonstrating its impact on the bottom line.

I agree that in many organisations there is a need to focus on the basics and on the business rather than people, and this is particularly the case in retail (including RBS, McDonalds and Tesco) where business is actually pretty simple (Neil Roden: "We like simplicity - we're not bright enough to deal with complexity") and therefore the HR basics really do need to take precedence.

But even there, not all of the time.  Infact I think David needs to take more credit for a great strategic approach to people management than he gives himself. 

For example, he talked about McDonalds' use of social networking to form a community of 67,000 people offering a range of activities from discounts to fantasy football to maths study leading towards qualifications.  It's a site in which everyone can feel comfortable and can work on the co-creation of activities such as campaigns and customer promotions."

Yes, clearly great implementation is critical to this, but it's a great strategic approach, and closely aligned to McDonalds business and it strategy too.

I think there is an opportunity for HR to lead the business, by putting people first.

Neil Roden suggests that he doesn't know how somone can be in HR and not read the FT.  Well I agree HR people should, and I do, but I think they need to read the BPS reseearch blog too.  And, once they've established their business credibility, if they're short of time, they should put the BPS above the FT.

To some extent, this links with the move from an intellectual to emtional agenda that Anne Lise Kjaer referre to in the last session.

This is how I think HR will capture the opportunity that David has discussed.

David put up a quotation from the founder of Sony:

"We don't ask customers what they want.  They don't know.  Instead, we apply our brain power to what they need, and will want, and make sure we're ready."

If you see HR simply as a support function, then this approach does not apply to HR.  But if HR is going to drive success in the new era, then surely we can draw an analogy here.

The opportunity isn't in getting ever more business focused, it's in applying neuroscience and positive psychology, developing organisational capability in innovation, responding to the growth in emotional consumption and enabling the emergence of hot spots.

This is what I would call World Class HR.

The Future of People at Work

Last day!  Anne Lise Kjaer is a futurist who pioneered and uses the concept of multidimensional thinking - developing future concepts by analysing scientific research in conjunction with social, emotional and spiritual shifts in society ie combining left and right brain.

Anne Lise focuses specifically on advising companies to prepare for the workplace of tomorrow.

Anne Lise started with the propositiin that the future is not some place you go, in fact you create the future.  This seemed to support David Rock's insight that our attention hardwires our brains which in turn influences our experience and what we pay attention to - providing a positively reinforcing system.

This means that we need to think about for ourselves what we believe the future will hold for us.

Anne Lise's belief is that the 21st century will be about emotional consumption.  We have been very rational - focussing on facts and figures.  So business leaders used to say "We're not interested in facts and feelings - we want facts".  But there are no facts about the future.  So to tap into the future we need to ask about what we feel it will bring.  And companies are starting to recognise the value of a softer and more human perspective.

The main trends Anne Lise believes will confront us are:

-   Smart technology
-   Globalisation
-   Asia and new economies
-   Polarisation
-   The creative class
-   Aging workforce
-   Female empowerment
-   Global sustenance
-   Health and wellness
-   Spiritual awareness.

Which of these are going to impact your HR approach?  And what are you going to do about it?

As Anne Lise says,

"When the wind of change rises, some people build walls.  Others build windmills."

Wednesday 19 September 2007

Review of day 2.

I made some poorer choices in sessions today so found some of day 2 a bit disappointing. The session on entrepreneurial leadership was OK but I should have gone to see Emmanuel Gobillot on The Connected Leader as I hear he was a good speaker with some provoking ideas. I’ve previously referred to these in a comment to my post on my daughter’s sports day (there is a connection!). So I’m going to pick up the mp3 recording of his presentation, and buy his book, and will post on my perspectives once I’ve been through these.

Or I could have gone to see Peter Reilly from the Institute of Employment Studies and speakers from Fujitsu and Nortel talking on The Changing Face of the HR Function. They discussed CIPD research finding that 53% of organisations have restructured their HR function in the last year and over 80% have done so in the last five years. The most common reason for this is to enable the HR function to become more strategic. However, the biggest challenges that HR departments face, in their bid to become more strategic include developing the necessary skills, roles and capabilities (not setting up shared services or outsourcing). This also aligns with the BCG survey findings that developing as a strategic partner is much more important than HR transformation.

And maybe instead of the Future of European HR I should have gone to see John Boudreau and Beyond HR: The New Science of Human Capital. I didn’t because I have read and seen Boudreau quite a bit before and don’t think his thinking on talentship is as clear or strategic as mine on what I call strategic HCM, but which covers very similar ground to talentship – see my post on Which Direction - Beyond HR?

But my main issue with Boudreau is this Decision Science thing. I absolutely don’t believe that strategic HR is based on decision science. The more important and strategic the elements of people management we are considering, the less amenable to this sort of perspective they become.

Yes, it may work for road sweepers at Disney. But take hot spots – a lot of Lynda’s ideas may have originated in her research, but you don’t create a hot spot in your organisation by measuring levels of engagement and co-operation etc. You do it my artfully shaping the environment in the right way so that if you’re lucky the results you’re after will emerge. Art not science.

This is what I think is the most important issue in the changing face of the HR function. It’s not transformation and it’s not even capability, it’s mindset. What do we believe about strategic people management?

We all know we need to be strategic. But what Geoff Armstrong, John Boudreau, Allan Leighton, David Rock and myself mean by this are all very different things. I think we need to have some deep and insightful conversations about this if we’re to move forward on our agenda.

Hot Spots

This is the session I've really been looking forward to.  I first saw Lynda Gratton when she presented on Living Strategy in 2000? and was so infused about what she was saying that I decided I wanted to move back into strategic HR consulting and work on this agenda.  Then in the consultancy I went to work for, we asked her to present on the Democratic Enterprise at one of our client events.

I also quote substantially from her books in mine.

I've already bought a copy of Lynda's new book, Hot Spots, but haven't read it yet, so this post focuses purely on her presentation and I my blog on her book at a later date.

Only 15-20% of employees in most organisations say that their organisation inspires the very best of them.  Lynda's work on hot spots originated by asking what would help get this up to say 40%.  This is a bit like an organisational version of Czichzentmihalyi's flow.

This means we need to understand what inspires us.  Discussing this situation in the room created a good buzz, a bit like the energy created in an Appreciative Inquiry session.

People felt exhilerated, passionate, lively, unified...  And they respected and trusted in the other people around them.

But this isn't a country club.  It also needs a co-operative mindset and a group of people with different perspectives (which provides David Rock's social connectedness). And something to ignite the latent energy in the group.  And leaders who are skills in supporting increasingly diverse, virtual teams of people who are increasingly volunteers, working in increasingly complex environments.

Hot spots are emergent, they can't be forced through command and control (Gerry Robinson might struggle to create them).  All we can do is create the environment for them to flourish.

A couple of ideas:

-   Senior execs need to co-operate with each other.  Otherwise their dysfunctionality feeds all the way down the organisation.  (I can think of a very good example of an organisation like this!). Lynda strngly recommends that people should not work for organisations like this.  If nothing else, doing so is bad for people's health.

-   Don't bother fiddling around with reward systems.  Group based reward makes no difference at all to co-operation within a team (however the wrong rewards can be a barrier to this).

-   Find ways for people with different perspectives and who don't know each other to work together (and Lynda thinks it may be easier to manage diverse teams on the web vs face-to-face - see my post on business and Second Life).

-   Ensure leaders are asking interesting questions.  For example John Browne asking how BP could be a force for good.  Or Greg Dyke' approach at the BBC.

-   Design tasks and jobs that are potential points of ignition (complex, ambiguous and meaningful).

-   Ensure teams can appreciate each others' talents, make commitments, resolve contacts, synchronise time and establish a rhythm (to avoid burn-out).

Lynda is building a movement around hot spots.  Get involved at

Building Global HR Competencies

Lisbeth Claus is from Willamette University and is co-author of International Human Resource Management.  Her focus is on operating in an uncertain world, and believes human capital is key to doing this.

I've been looking forward to this session because I do a lot of development work with client HR teams using Michigan's HR competencies (Ulrich and Brockbank, 2007) and am interested in different perspectives.

In fact, Lisbeth uses Michigagan's framework too but adds a few additional perspectives around it.

For example, I think she gives more focus to measurement, so she talked about Pliva, a pharmaceutical company is Croatia that I also know from my role in lecturing in HR management there.  They have an HR strategy map and scorecard and HR is measured against them every quarter.  The compensation of HR is linked to their quarterly results of how they support their business (well done, Silva).

I thought the most interesting part of Lisbeth's presentation was also someone else's: Andrew Savage's concept of an HR sustainability sweet spot, that I've not come across before.  This is an area of intersection between an interest in the business and an interest in employees. 

"The spot will be different in each of our organisations so each HR function needs to understand what it means for them."

The future of European HR

The session was opened by Philip Krinks at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) reviewing their recent survey of European HR: what will be important in 2015 and where HR does not currently have capability.

Key factors are managing talent, change / cultural transformation, demographics and work-life balance.

This review was followed by inputs from Martin Ferber from Pfizer and Brendon McCann from Independent News and Media.

Given pharma's 15 years product development cycle, Pfizer were already thinking about the future of HR when they participated in BCG's research.

Martin talked through some great developments in change / cultural transformation, demographics, talent and diversity.

Pfizer use Gallup Q12 to measure engagemennt, supporting change and cultural transformation, and emphasise "you don't need big strategic plans for engagement, you need to get the manager in there doing their job".

I'm not sure about this.  In many knowledge based roles, and I presume pharmaceutical research, engagement comes from a wide range of factors, particulalry senior leadership, organisational values etc.  The line manager role is less important as knowledge professionals often feel they know more about the particular area they are working on than their manager.  So managers have less ability to make a difference locally.  Developing managers is clearly a key part of an engagement strategy, but there is more, and I think Pfizer may be missing a trick here.

Independent News has a 24 hour product development strategy and less sophisticated HR so hasn't focused on the future as much as Pfizer.  As a result, Brendan's presentation focused much more.on the newspaper industry than on what HR's role within his company / the indsutry.

Social media is having a big impact on the newspaper industry.  Brendan quoted Independent News' competitor, Rupert Murdoch as saying;

"My two young daughters will be digital natives.  They'll never know a world without ubiquitous broadband internet access.

The next generation of people accessing news and information, whether from newspapers or any other source, have a different set of expectations about the kind of news they will get, including when and how they will get it, where they will get it from, and who they will get it from.

So unless we awaken to these changes, which are quite different to those of 5 or 6 years ago, we will, as an industru, be relegated to the status of also-rans."

Brendan's presentation also focused more on potential ideas than actual experiences.  But these covered strategies within talent, demographics, work life balance and becoming a learning organisation.

Entrepreneurial Leadership

Rita Gunther McGrath from Columbia Business School has been talking about how organisations can become more entrepreneurial.

Her key point: it's not easy. Very few companies manage to grow organically (just 24 or 6.9% of non-US based companies with market cap > $1 bn have grown at 5+% per year over 3 or 4 years).

The key is the right business disciples (ie human and organisation capital, or organisational capability). These are:

- A mindset of entrepreneurial leadership
- A focus on capturing value from dissappointments (contrasting with yesterday's focus on learning from strengths)
- Discovery driven planning (planning when you don't really know what you're planning for).

Ventures into new areas depend on assumptions, not knowledge. But these assumptions typically get forgotten within 6 weeks. Learning is truncated.

Rita provided a (not particularly original) sory of Disney which got too confident after successful launches of parks in the US and Japan but forgot to test their assumptions when opening up EuroDisney (for example assuming that people would buy large cups of basic coffee and move on quickly rather than sitting and chatting over a small cup of a higher quality drink).

HR can help organisations avoid this sort of learning disability.

In particular, it can ensure the organisation:

- Specifies an attractive scope
- Develops clear paths for new ventures
- Creates organisational commitment to pursuing opportunities
- Creates an entrepreneurial climate
- Prune projects and businesses, but capture value from them.

Long-term organisational commitment is the most important of these to me. Like most areas of business, if it's to have any real effect on an organisation, innovation needs to be a key focus for a sustained period of time. And therefore Rita's 5 points above are an example of a best fit approach for an organisation in which innovation is a key strategic requirement.

As Rita says:

"If you want innovation, it has to be in spot 1, 2 or 3. And that has a cost - it means something else gets a lower priority."

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Review of day 1.

I think I chose the right sessions today. I had also been attracted by the opportunity to see Allan Leighton, but as it turned out, he was stuck in Canada and made his appearance, somewhat delayed, by video. Also, from what I hear, he didn’t say anything which would have changed my mind about his perspectives on strategic HR.

So, a couple of conclusions from today:

1. Traditional training which has largely been replaced by more informal, social learning still has its place. Both I and most of the people I talked to preferred David Rock’s high content presentation to Kevin Money’s more facilitative style and the repeated opportunities to talk to another member of the audience. Most people go to Harrogate for ideas. We can reflect on what we’ve heard and make our own connections after the event.

2. We may all agree that HR needs to be more strategic, but we don’t yet have clarity on what this strategic future holds. David Rock’s call to educate the organisation about neuroscience contrasted with Gerry Robinson’s call to cut the bullshit (I don’t mean to criticise neuroscience, but I think Robinson would have put this in his bs category).

3. Social media (including blogging) provides a great opportunity to increase the number of connections, which as David Rock explains is the greatest contributor towards a satisfying life.
I do however worry sometimes that the HCM blogosphere is a closed, hermetic system in which bloggers read and sometimes comment on, or more often build upon each others’ posts, but which get very little attention outside of this world.

If you're reading this after meeting me at the CIPD conference, welcome and thank you. Send me a comment using the email icon below:

World Class Business

The final session today is an interview of Greg Dyke (LWT, Channel 5, BBC etc) and Sir Gerry Robinson (Coca Cola, Grand Met, Granada etc) by Jeremy Paxman, kicking off the conference with a focus on HR's role in world class business (the conference also finishes with a session on world class HR).

Paxman: "So what is the secret of your success?"

Robinson: "It's about clarity.  The ability to say what you want, the ability to say what the organisation iis going to do, to cut out the bullshit.  People generally want to do the right thing.  Once they know what it is, they'll do it."

Dyke: "The ability to motivate, inspire, to make you feel better.  To get the people who work for you to be confident, to do things on their own motivation.  So that they feel valued, to infuse them rather than scaring them to death.  To be authentic, to just be you"

Paxman: "Well the alternative isn't very attractive is it!"

Both Robinson's and Dyke's replies work for me logically and cognitively.

But if I was working in one of their organisations, it would be Dyke's responses that would inspire me emotionally.

Putting positive psychology to work

This session is being presented by Kevin Money at Henley.

Psychology has a tendency to focus on the negative - exploring what is wrong with people, depression rather than happiness, criminal behaviour rather than socially engaged behaviour etc.

So too do many individuals and organisations. A good sign of this is when an organisation focuses on sickness absence rather than engagement.

Positive psychology focuses on what goes right, on people's strengths, on happiness. But Kevin referred to Martin Seliigman's findings that happiness is result of a pleasant, engaged and meaningful life rather than the pursuit of life.

He also quoted AC Grayling, The Meaning of Things:

"Knowledge and progress are primary, causing happiness as a side effect; they are the goal, and the attendant happiness, when it comes, is a sign that they are being reached."

Marcus Buckingham's / Gallup's research on strengths relates to this. So does Appreciative Inquiry.

The session also dealt with story telling as a means of providing a satisfying life. The stories we tell show how we interpret events and how we script our lives. They also tend to act as self-fulfilling prophecies. In terms of the last sessions' focus on neuroscience, they act at the cognitive level but are also a fast route to influence the emotions.

And Kevin told a story about Clive Woodward, coach of the England rugby team that won the 2003 world cup. One of the things that Woodward did was to encourage his team to reflect on success rather that failure. The team realised that they tended to very good at the start of a game but would fall apart during first 10 minutes of second half. Woodward got the team to recreate the start of the game at the beginning of the second half by putting on a new kit etc.

What are the stories told in your organisations and what stories do you tell? Using Steve Downing's categories, are these the quest, the downfall, the contest or the scam?

Kevin's summary:

"Everyone experiences emotion at work so the challenge for employers is to get their people to think more positively and learn from what others do well. It is up to those at the top to create a positive culture where employees take time out to reflect and share experiences in terms of what is working well and why."

The new science of change

My first session is with David Rock, author of Coaching with the Brain in Mind.

David's belief is that we are at the early days of the age of the brain, and that some recent insights in neuroscience, aided by magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography and quantitative electroencephalography etc can help organisations improve the way they change.

One of these insights is that the brain is a connection machine. As we interact with the world we make hypotheses about why things are as they are, and in doing this, the brain makes new connections. As Marvin Minsky explains, "The principal activities of brains are making changes in themselves".

We love making new connections. On the other hand, disconnections cause people to get tired, shrink in themselves and become less open to new ideas.

To help someone change, we need to facilitate self-directed neuroplasticity ie to help them make new connections, getting energised in the process.

We also need to reduce threat in the environment (David talked about status, fairness, friend or foe, choice) so that people are able to process new information in working memory rather than the limbic system which takes over when there is too much emotional arousal (leading to Daniel Goleman's amygdala hijack).

David also talked about the degradation of information over time, so I don't feel that bad about forgetting about a lot of this content since my psychology degree.

Other than degradation, another barrier in using these insights may be the language that they use. HR functions that believe they can only use the language of the business and finance to facilitate management of people and change in organisations are going to find it difficult to do much with this.

I'd recommend that other organisations explore and use these insights when they manage change.

Back in Harrogate

It's a lovely, sunny day in Harrogate, and it feels good to be back.

I think I've been coming here, on and off, but mainly on, for about 15 years, ever since I did my CIPD exams. I've been to the conference maybe about 5 times and some of the sessions have been quite instrumental in my career choices. For example, Lynda Gratton's session on Living Strategy in 2000? was a major factor behind moving out of a line HR role and into strategic HR and then HCM consulting. So I'm really looking forward to Lynda's session on Hot Spots later.

I've also presented (at what used the be the fringe) - the last time in a session called the Coblers' Shoes where I launched a strategic approach to talent management for HR.

Other times I've been on an exhibition stand representing various consultancies. And if not, I have generally attended the exhibition as a visitor.

So it really is good to be back and it should be a good 3 days.

Monday 17 September 2007

CIPD Show: Is it worth going? Would you rather eat your hat?

HR Zone has been asking whether the CIPD Show is worth going to.

Karen Russell, people director for Kentucky Fried Chicken, is quoted as saying:

"I went once and wasn't impressed. The things people talked about, they'd been doing for a long time. There was nothing cutting edge in my opinion and too much was covered; I find events that focus on one topic are more useful."

I think that's a bit harsh. The CIPD has missed me off the platform, that's true, but there are lots of interesting sessions planned. As I note for HR Zone,

"I'm a fan, and attend whenever I can. I don't know anywhere else that I could get to see the range of world-class speakers so cheaply."

OK, it's cheap for me as I won my tickets for free, but I'm a fan nevertheless. I'll be blogging from the conference (hopefully live) over the next 3 days.

Wednesday 12 September 2007

HCM wiki

When the HR blog power rankings were announced a couple of weeks ago, I noted with interest that the 103 blogs being reviewed had been selected as those focusing on ‘HR / Human Capital', probably without much thought as to the difference between these categories, or even whether there is a difference (sorry if I've got this wrong Kris).

There were also a few other things going on in the HCM blogosphere at the time and which had also caught my interest, and which I then started to link together with this HR / Human Capital issue:

1. The importance of having a clear, shared terminology to aid communication and understanding, which had been triggered by Jason Corsello’s poll on what term we should use for the application of analytics, metrics and performance indicators to measuring your workforce.

Therefore, I had already been thinking about posting on my views about human capital management (HCM), and in particular on HCM vs human resource management (HRM).

2. The business use of social media, involving a number of people and their various perspectives in assembling and developing thinking about a subject as opposed to one particular expert communicating their own individual thoughts as in the traditional publishing model.

This then got me thinking about the need for a self-organising and collaborative approach to developing the sort of clarity I believe would be useful in this field.

I had in fact come to more or less this conclusion at the end of my book:

"I think Denise Kingsmill was right in her belief that Accounting for People would lead to further evolution in thinking about HCM. I think it has, and this book is evidence of that. I think thinking will continue, and perhaps one day a definition we can all agree with will emerge."

I just didn't know enough about social media while I was writing my book to realise that this technology provides the ideal basis to enable the sort of conversation I felt was needed.

So the idea that occurred to me is whether I could interest some of the other bloggers in the HR/Human Capital space to contribute to a wiki to agree a couple of definitions for human capital management, talent management etc.

I really don’t know whether this is likely to work and how much interest there will be from others in doing this. After all, most of the other bloggers who I think are in the HCM space don’t even mention HCM within their blogs. (And some who do, I don't think are, if that makes sense!)

Also, even if there is interest, how easy will it be to find agreement between us?

Well, probably not easy, but it should surely be possible? After all, with the exception of George Bush and a few other controversial issues, Wikipedia seems to manage to do this on a much broader basis.

So my hope is that the opportunity to collaborate on a definition of HCM will appeal to some of the other regular bloggers in this area, and that also some of my clients and other contacts will contribute too.

So, I’ve set up a wiki to enable this collaboration. And I've entered some initial thoughts. Please review here, and update with your views:


Or comment here:

New reward consultancy on the block

So Accenture enter the reward consultancy business.

Accenture don't do things by halves. I was one of the initial group moved into their (well, Andersen's) change management group nearly 20 years ago. One day there was just a small group of education consultants, and the next, a team of 30+ focusing on change management.

They'll no doubt be a very serious competitor in the reward space.

Monday 10 September 2007

The world may be flat but people are not

I've already posted on the need to personalise HR activities to each person in an organisation (or at least those identified as talent).

I'm just listening to a really great HCI webinar by Amy Finn at Saba (so this is my first live blog).

Great content and a great title which refers to the need for individuals of every generation to be recognised for what and who they are. Difficult when each generation requires different things (see slide).

I'm going to review the archive recording again, and will come back with a longer post after this.

The meaning of this blog

One more post on my reivew of Meaning Inc. (here and here).

As well as noting how organisations can provide meaning for employees, Bains et al also list seven criteria to test for yourself whether you are living a meaningful life:

  • Do I have an invigorating sense of purpose that ignites my passions?
  • Do I have aspirations beyond living a high-quality and pleasurable life?
  • If others were asked would they be able to identify my core values?
  • Do I have a distinctive set of strengths that make me feel unique?
  • Do I feel I connect in a meaningful way with others around me?
  • Do the aspirations and goals that I have stretch me?
  • If my current dreams were to come true would I feel that I have had a worthwhile life?

I thought sharing my responses against one of these questions (I think answers to all seven would be rather repetitive and probably quite dull) might provide an interesting contrast to sorts of things people share when participating in the random facts meme.

So, do I have an invigorating sense of purpose that ignites my passions?

Yes, absolutely. I believe the way that organisations manage their people is changing. That organisations are going to have to start offering people truly valuable experiences that support their individual value requirements. And that line managers are going to have to start truly managing and coaching their people. I see my purpose being to help nudge this change along a little bit faster. And my blog is part of this.

Saturday 8 September 2007

Can / should HR take on more accountability? (2)

I do a fair amount of process design work with my clients. These are often business teams in organisations where business processes have been able to grow out of control. And sometimes they are HR teams, for example as part of a HR capability development programme, helping HR to interact with the rest of the business in a very different way. For these teams, we generally use HR processes to help get up to speed on the process design methodology.

The methodology I use is a lot broader than that described by Hammer and Champy and focuses much more on how people use processes to achieve their objectives, rather than the process mapping stage itself (it’s interesting to note that subsequent to their joint book on re-engineering, both Hammer and Champy separately linked the failure of many re-engineering projects to their lack of focus on people and implementation).

One useful tool within the methodology is a RACI (pronounced ‘racey’) analysis. RACI stands for Responsibility, Accountability, Consulted and Informed and describes a hierarchy of involvement (see example slide from one of my workshops). Accountability is the highest level of involvement at the top of the hierarchy so the acronym should really be ARCI (but ‘arsey’ doesn’t sound so polite):

  • Accountability describes where the buck stops, who is held to account
  • Responsibility describes where the work is done, who is responsible for carrying out a task
  • Consulted are the critical people who need to contribute prior to completing the activity
  • Informed indicates that it is less critical for this person to be involved but they need to be updated and informed about the outcome of the activity.

When working with HR teams to redesign HR processes, we have typically made managers both Accountable and Responsible, noting that HR can be Consulted or Informed. But is this necessarily so?

The result of doing assigning Accountability and Responsibility to managers is that HR takes the sort of support role referred to in my previous post by Allan Leighton.

But are some additional results also the general dissatisfaction with the HR functions of many organisations, and the low levels of engagement of their people?

The principle that managers should be Accountable for their people and that HR should support this activity sounds good in principle. For example, in may book, I describe the following, typically colourful exchange with Tim Miller, Standard, Director of People at Chartered (who also wrote the foreword for the book):

Miller: “Ulrich suggests that HR should be spending seventeen per cent of its time on being an employee champion – it’s utter rubbish. This is the fundamental role of the manager – to manage the relationship between them and their staff. If HR gets in the way it diminishes the role of the manager and wastes HR’s time.”

Ingham: “Although I don’t think this is quite what Ulrich is suggesting – he’s not saying that HR should spend time with employees, but they need to be employee advocates, to understand what factors would motivate them, to be their sponsors.”

Miller: “But why do they need to do this? The argument’s intellectually flawed. The biggest advocates of staff should be the managers. There will be the occasional case where managers discriminate or employees are short-changed but these will be one-offs. And yes, HR needs to provide a sense of arbitration, but it’s deminimus. HR’s job is to make the heads of the organization more effective and help them make their managers more effective. But we need to stay out of doing it for them – if we surrogate for poor managers then we’ve got a big problem.”

It’s a great point, and I don’t mean to suggest that HR should take on people management activities or Responsibilities for these activities from line managers. But leaving them with Accountability for people management only works in organisations that value the management of people in practice as well as in principle (Standard Chartered and a few other organisations like GE are in this category but many are not). Otherwise managers having accountability often just means that nobody takes accountability.

A few essential requirements are probably:

  • There is a clear role for line managers which focuses on managing people rather than technical activity (and this means there is probably a career structure for people who don’t fit into this role)
  • There is effective performance management, including the performance management of managers
  • People are only promoted or recruited as managers if they have the capability and motivation to line manage
  • Reward for line managers depends on the activity of line management and the effectiveness and retention of the people they line manage.

So I’m not suggesting that HR should be Responsible for the execution of HR processes - this needs to be left with the line manager. And I’m not even suggesting that HR can be Accountable for the implementation of processes. But HR can (should?) be held Accountable for the output of these processes… not at the level of business results… but in the quality (alignment, effectiveness etc) of human capital.

HR typically counters this suggestion by explaining that they don’t manage the managers and cannot be held Accountable for what managers do. But surely the implementation of HR processes is at least if not more important than their design. So if line managers don’t use the processes as planned, either the processes are inappropriate, or the change / communication / education processes haven’t been up to scratch.

So I would suggest that within an HCM approach to people management, HR should be held Accountable: for human capital, ie the capability and engagement of employees and the behaviours of leaders, and organisation capital: the effectiveness of organisation structure and the suitability of the culture etc.

(And in the case of Royal Mail, HR should be held Accountable for effective relations with the company’s workforce).

So, what do you think? Come on, I must surely get a few comments on this!

Can / should HR take on more accountability? (1)

People Management has trailed an interview with Allan Leighton, Chairman of the UK's Royal Mail*, prior to his presentation at the CIPD Conference. In it, Leighton calls for HR to "be more strategic and less focused on day-to-day management processes".

Yawn, snore.

What's more interesting is what Leighton sees as this 'strategic' role:

"There’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo out there. HR isn’t responsible for the people in the company. Managers are the ones who are responsible.

I don’t think (modern work practices such as flexible working or diversity are) anything to do with HR. It’s all to do with managing and line managers. In retail, the store managers are responsible for all their people – they’re often a thousand miles away from the HR department.

HR has a clear role – to help create the policies, help to monitor the progress and help to get training for people.”

Blimey. So that's HR's great 'strategic' future then.

* Royal Mail's workers have recently been on strike and the situation remains uncomfortable. Any connection?

Friday 7 September 2007

Return on human capital

In Thursday's 'Return on the Individual' webinar, Fitz-Enz explained that since more attention is now being paid to the role of the individual, a key question needs to be, when push comes to shove, and decisions have to be made, how do we make in a way that has a positive impact on the individual as well as on the overall organisation / business?

Fitz-Enz believes that answering this question requires measures of individual performance, so that investments in talent management can be correlated to, and used to predict, company results.

I was pleased to see that Fizt-Enz promoted use of a value chain as the means of doing this, and, despite the title of the webinar, did not push a ROI calculation, which is often seen as the 'holy grail' within this area. However, as I've explained in a previous post, this is increasingly inappropriate as a measure of HCM.

The CIPD seem to have come to the same conclusions in their recent analysis of learning metrics (their analysis of HCM metrics doesn’t seem to have caught up with this) which suggests that making sure L&D fulfils the expectations of learners is much more important than calculating a post-event ROI.

In this week’s People Management, Martyn Sloman, the CIPD’s adviser on learning, training and development, and a former colleague at Ernst & Young, says:

"What we’re seeing is a move away from return on investment, which sees training as a one-off investment, towards a return on expectations. That’s a much more forward-looking measure than simply looking at a training programme after it has taken place and somehow trying to isolate the benefits."

In their Change Agenda on the Value of Learning, the CIPD explain that business managers welcome qualitative as well as quantitative assessments of the value of learning. In fact, four types of valuation (rather than evaluation) may be appropriate depending on senior management's trust in the L&D function, and the extent to which the organisation's agenda is long or short term: learning function efficiency measures; key performance indicators and benchmark measures; return on investment measures and return on expectation measures.

I think the CIPD’s analysis on ROI is very compelling, although worry slightly about their focus on the 'partnership model' which emphasises that ‘value’ should always be defined by the receivers.

This focus comes through in the People Management article as well. It quotes Jimmy Naudi at Christian Aid as explaining that internal trainers should not lose sight of the fact that they were still operating in a customer-seller relationship:

"The bottom line is that if you cannot demonstrate that you are providing an efficient and effective service, your organisation can choose to go elsewhere. One of the key things I try to encourage my people to think about is, if the organisation had the ability to choose between our learning and development function or taking their business elsewhere, who would they choose?"

I know it's not a commonly held view, but I think HR / L&D needs to be a bit more assertive than this - there is danger in simply accepting existing expectations as a basis for deciding on an approach to evaluation. OK, this may be a step forward from L&D simply assuming that it knows what the organisation requires, but I don't think it's the ideal situation either.

Just because managers ask for a ROI doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the right thing to do to provide it. So, in the CIPD’s forthcoming Research into Practice report on the Value for Learning, I state:

"Learning and development should not be just an order taker…We should be influencing business leaders’ expectations. Many managers may not even understand that they need development or what sort of development should be provided, never mind how it should be evaluated. So even if an organisation employs that rare breed of manager who actually want to see an ROI calculation, learning and development needs to decide whether it should accept or challenge the situation."

The development of an appropriate approach to measurement should be part of the development of an HCM strategy itself. HR should be careful not to be boxed in by existing expectations of the business about the contribution people can make to this business, or that HR can deliver, or about how this contribution / delivery should be measured.

The business impact of Performance Management

I've written at length about the research evidence showing HCM's impact on business results.

One area in which I've always struggled to provide much evidence is performance management, which is a problem, as I do a lot of consulting in this area, and some research showing how effective performance management supports business performance would be very useful.

Well here it is. This is from a presentation made by Jac Fitz-enz on a Human Capital Institute webinar, Return on the Individual, yesterday.

The results come from a survey conducted last year by Fitz-Enz’ Workforce Intelligence Institute. They asked 740 companies two questions:

  • How do they align individuals with the organisation: are personal objectives expressed quantitatively and linked directly to corporate goals?
  • How do they pay for performance: is pay linked to formal, active system components ie job descriptions, personal objectives, performance reviews etc?

The survey found that strong performers in these two questions significantly outperformed others in terms of ROE, revenue growth and net income growth (shown on graph).

Fitz-Enz also described a process for measuring the impact of activities like performance management through a value chain approach in which activity measures are linked to human capital measurement, for example, for poor performance management:

  • 'Percent who improved performance' with 'Performance differential monetary value'
  • 'Percent of number redeployed,' and 'Percent or number terminated' with 'Effects on co-workers / business'.

These can then be linked to the sorts of business results on the graph.

Wednesday 5 September 2007

HCM books

And here is a map developed using Amazon for 'Jon Ingham'. My book is a smaller circle just above the centre.

It looks like I've got material for a few more book reviews now!

HCM websites

Brain Based Biz have posted on TouchGraph's system for mapping the network of connectivity between websites, as reported by Google's / Amazon's / Facebook's database of related sites.

Here is a map for 'Human Capital Management'. I can't find my website or this blog, but if you look carefully you'll find that the Amazon page for my book does get in.

There are lots of other sites I still need to have a look through. Many relate to Oracle and SAS illustrating the heavy focus of IT firms in the area, US government departments and Goldman Sachs gets well profiled too.

Spiky leaders and spiky companies

In Meaning Inc, Gurnek Bains notes that many of the best business leaders are 'spiky': they possess incredible and distinctive strengths, but also some similarly significant limitations. Leadership development should not try to develop clones, but help people be true to themselves, and to leverage their own strengths to the maximum possible.

This conclusion is supported by Gallup's work on strengths and also many of my own projects in executive assessment and development.

However, I would build on this and suggest that the best organisations are often 'spiky' too. For example, they don't try to provide meaning through all of the seven means identified by Bains. So Semco doesn't try to provide meaning through an invigorating purpose, it is enough that it has such a strong spike within rewards and work-life balance.

The consequence of this is that HR 'best practice' has limited application. Instead, organisations need to develop 'best fit' strategies that align to a particular organisation's spike.

Different people are attracted by different organisations offering different types of meaning. For example, see Lynda Gratton's recent article in the Harvard Business Review, What It Means To Work Here, where she six different ways in which work engage different individuals:

  • Expressive legacy

  • Secure progress

  • Individual expertise and team success

  • Risk and reward

  • Flexible support

  • Low obligation and easy income.

Having a clear focus on how an organisation s going to create meaning and engage employees allows it to target the people for whom this type of meaning is important.

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Meaning Inc.

Ruth, a colleague at Buck, loaned me a copy of Gurnek Bains’ Meaning Inc., which outlines the learning YSC have gained from their many psychology consulting projects.

The book provides more valuable insights about how organisations can create an environment that will enable their talent to thrive. It contrasts with Ricardo Semler’s perspective, described in a previous post that people expect too much out of work. Bains argues that:

“Work is quite simply too important to be put in the get through it cynically’ bin. People care about their work. They want the issues that concern them to be tackled. They want to feel good about a part of their life that takes up over 50 per cent of their waking hours. In short, they want their work to be meaningful.”

Bains explains that meaning is experienced when we are able to connect our thoughts or activities with something else in a way that creates a sense of relevance or context. It is unlikely that meaning will be created if that something else is simply financial, or even commercial:

“Employees often feel senior executives are only concerned with the share price, their options and how they might look. Even when people feel that their senior executives are motivated in an authentic sense by company goals, many increasingly ask the question of whether driving brand X at the expense of a competitor’s brand Y is really what their life should be about.”

The main seven ways that meaning can be created are:

  • An invigorating purpose

  • Belonging

  • Rewards and work-life balance

  • Self-actualisation

  • Connecting with organisational DNA, values, history

  • Living a positive brand

  • Clarity of impact.

To provide employees with meaning, companies also have to have:

  • Courage to set extremely stretching goals

  • An innovative approach to benefits and the treatment of people which makes them feel special

  • A culture that allows people to be themselves and to feel they are personally making a difference and utilising their distinct talents.

It is also important that companies create meaning in authentic and non-formulaic ways:

“Skin deep and, at times, contradictory and half-hearted efforts to create meaning are, as we will show later, all too common in the corporate world. They risk raising the appetite for something which business may not be able to deliver.”

I think there are some great points in this book that should help organisations find ways to provide their people with more meaning, and which should then lead onto increased engagement, discretionary behaviour and organisational success.

Infohrm European Conference, London, 4-6 December 2007

Infohrm's 2007 European Human Capital Analytics Conference programme is now available.

Come and see my keynote on 'Creating Value through People'.

Register with Infohrm - pay by19 October to receive an earlybird discount!

Monday 3 September 2007

CIPD Conference, Harrogate, 18-20 September 2007

I’ve won free tickets through my local CIPD branch (Thames Valley) so will be attending the CIPD’s annual conference again this year (the photo is from Buck's stand at last year's exhibition).

Give me a call if you’re going to be there and would like to meet up. Here’s my schedule:

Tuesday 18 September

· 11.00 A2 The New Science of Change with David Rock (Results Coaching Systems)
· 2.30 B1 Putting Positive Psychology to Work with Kevin Money (Henley)
· 4.30 Opening Keynote: World Class Business with Greg Dyke and Gerry Robinson
· 7.00 An audience with Allan Pease

Wednesday 19 September

· 9.30 C1 Entrepreneurial Leadership with Rita Gunther McGrath (Columbia)
· 11.30 D5 the Future of European HR with Martin Ferber (Pfizer) and Brendan McCann (Independent News and Media)
· 2.45 E2 Building Global HR Competencies with Lisbeth Claus (Willamette)
· 4.30 Keynote: Hot Spots with Lynda Gratton (LBS)

Thursday 20 September

· 9.30 F2 The Future of People at Work with Anne Lise Kjaer
· 11.20 Closing Keynote: World Class HR with Clare Chapman (NHS) and Neil Roden (RBS)
. I'll then be walking round the exhibition.

Best HCM / HR blogs

I had obviously only skimmed the surface of the HCM blogosphere in my HCM Blogroll post. One of the blogs I did fortunately (and very appropriately) include, the HR Capitalist, has developed The HR Blog Power Rankings.

This (Jon Ingham's HCM) blog comes in at #14 (out of 103). Kris, I'm glad you found the blog useful and promise lots more post I am sure you would recommend to your HR colleagues...

Your initiative has also got me thinking about something I might be able to add to my blog as well...

Details shortly.

Preparing for a flu pandemic

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warns that there is a substantial risk of an influenza pandemic within the next few years. This week's Personnel Today features on article on how HR functions are (or rather, are not) planning ahead for a potential pandemic, Employees at risk as businesses ignore flu pandemic planning.

The article features a survey commissioned by pharmaceutical giant Roche which include the following findings:

  • 71% of HR/Personnel managers admit that their company has insufficient plans or are unaware of plans in place to protect their workers and annual turnover from a pandemic strike

  • Only 13% of UK workers believe their employers have HR policies in place for a pandemic

  • 85% of UK workers are concerned that an influenza pandemic would increase pressure and workload

  • 69% of UK bosses think over a third of their workforce would have increased anxiety/stress in a pandemic

  • UK bosses say 37% of UK workers would work at home or stay at home in the event of an influenza pandemic and over a quarter (28%) of UK bosses think that their staff could be off between one and four weeks, which could affect business performance

  • 64% of UK workers think their employers lack a strategy or do not know if their employers have a strategy to cope with a reduced workload

  • 71% of UK bosses predict they will suffer moderate to substantial financial losses due to mass employee absenteeism

  • In the event of a pandemic 38% of UK bosses say they don’t have or don’t know of any communication plans in place for employees and customers. Workers say that figure is much higher with only 19% believing their employer have plans to communicate on a pandemic.

The article also includes some of my comments on these findings. This is my original and somewhat longer contribition to Personnel Today:

There are so many surveys conducted these days, that it is easy to get survey fatigue and quickly pass over the latest conclusions on talent management or whatever it might be. But this survey does deserve attention. It points very clearly to a blind spot in HR’s focus. So much is said and published about the need for HR to reduce its operational focus and become more strategic that it is easy for the function to forget about some of the basics, like covering off key risks. This is particularly important at the moment with ongoing threats like SARS, avian flu and an imminently expected human flu pandemic, not to mention increased risks from terrorism.

HR teams need to plan ahead, considering the introduction of paid-time-off or sick pay programmes for staff who may need to self-quarantine themselves, and of hazardous duty pay for key employees to keep critical operations going. They also need to think about how they are going to continue business operations if employees cannot or will not travel and how they are going to deal with employees working in areas affected by a flu outbreak and who may not be able to return home. They need to prepare a communication plan and think about how communications can be launched quickly, for example, through the use of dark-sites on their intranet (web sites that can be switched on at short notice). If the risk is considered to be sufficient, they will need to educate employees about potential actions as well.

There is a clear strategic role for HR here too. HR’s focus on organisational capability means that it often has a longer-term view of the business than the rest of the organisation. HR can encourage the business to think about the key business issues associated with a flu pandemic, for example, what will be the impact on the company’s goods and services? What will the financial impact be? A good example is a retail store – they may find it difficult to encourage employees to come to work, but customers may be reluctant to visit too.

HR can encourage the rest of the business to set up emergency planning teams in preparation for a potential pandemic or other disaster, and to think about potential impacts on facilities, contracts, insurance and so on. Broader business continuity plans should be developed, and tested against a range of possible scenarios.

Maintaining business operations through a flu pandemic or other emergency will never be easy, but with the right planning, the down sides can be significantly reduced.