There’s an inescapable irony in the fact that the first time i asked someone “What’s the best thing you’ve seen at the HR conference today“, they replied with a case study of a company that’s ditched HR. If the writing is on the wall, it may be worth reading it.
It’s rare that i don’t want to write, so rare that it gave me a moments reflection. What is it about today that left me deflated: not the people, i’ve met many old friends and caught up with many new ones, not the sessions, which were enjoyable, sometimes informative and certainly varied. I think rather it was the slight sense that i’ve been here before, the slight sense that i’ll be here again, and the almost certain sense that this ship is sinking.
There was talk about wellbeing. Talk about neuroscience (some of it codswallop, much of it good). Talk of engagement and motivation. Talk of culture and agility. All of it good. Then there was the exhibition hall, where i was offered cupcakes and teddy bears and glossy brochures by bored looking people who were visibly scanning me from head to toe to work out if i was important.
Ah: there it is.
I felt out of place. I felt like i didn’t fit in. A feeling reinforced when i was stopped by security whilst heading to the speakers lounge because i didn’t ‘look like a speaker‘.
To be clear: this is not about wearing a suit or a sweatshirt. I’m perfectly aware that what i choose to wear is as much of a uniform as what anyone else wears. We are all conforming to our chosen stereotypes. No, my discomfort was with the mindset, with the sense of HR, with the sense that, somehow, one part of the organisation has control over others, one part owns the rules, one part gets to judge.
I dislike it: it’s the antithesis of Social Authority and, to be honest, it seems all too often self serving and self preserving. It’s too often ‘them and us‘. A lot of good people, a lot of nice people, but one stinking mindset of control, all too often failing to adapt to the realities of the Social Age.
You see why i’m hesitant to write today? You may not have realised it, but this blog has values, which i try to stick to rigidly: to be positive, to never criticise, to be kind and constructive, and i’ll get to that bit later. But for now i’m sat in my hotel room wondering when the shoe will drop. Organisations don’t need to manage their human capital better: they need to enable the human beings to manage themselves.
Organisations need to recognise that in the Social Age, filling seats is not enough: you need to attract the very best people and retain them through genuine, magnetic engagement. Because if you don’t you will never be agile, never achieve dynamic change.
The direction that came across through most of the sessions was strong: an examination of the right areas. I just felt that the answers were more obvious than many people realise: the solution is not external, not held in a system or process. The solution is a mindset, a mindset of curiosity, adaptation and change. A mindset that recognises the evolved reality: away from organisations rooted in hierarchies of power and control, towards ones based on fairness, on equality, or purposeful energy and dynamic adaptation. The future organisation will be facilitating more than controlling.
There is a role for HR in this, but it’s not the path that seems to still be trod in many organisations today. Adapt, become facilitating, abandon ‘them‘ and ‘us‘ in favour of ‘us‘ and ‘us‘, and reach into the communities to find the answers. Then empower those communities to enact the solutions.