December 24, 2013

What's Next?

One of the best things about Christmas is having the time away from work to reflect upon the past 12 months. I admit that I haven’t found much time to properly consider everything that’s gone on throughout 2013. However I have returned to my blog of December 2012. In that blog I posted 10 New Year resolutions. They were a blend of work related and personal goals for the year. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had accomplished eight out of the ten. My shortcomings are no. 7 (I didn’t do any triathlons in 2013, although I am now a proud owner of a road bike, thank you Cycle to Work scheme) and my best guess is that I also failed to achieve resolution no. 4. (to send fewer emails). Nevertheless, a busy, challenging and fruitful year.        
I was out last Sunday evening at my local pub quiz with a close friend. In between failing miserably to answer the questions, he opined that developing and agreeing a long list of resolutions for 2014 would be foolish, suggesting in the alternative that it would be more productive to determine just one overarching aim. The example given was his personal goal to complete the Great North Run in September 2014. He argued that by achieving this then he would have to by default achieve all the other standard New Year resolutions (e.g. to eat and drink less, to exercise more, to do something new etc). His approach got me thinking as to whether I could equally determine one central goal for the year. It perhaps sounds rather irksome, but the work related goal could be to deliver everything we have said we would in Talent First and our other plans/work agendas. As for one overarching personal goal? Here’s the rub – the family insist it should be “to spend more time at home” with them – a dictomony indeed, not least as I also really want to get those triathlons done. So, it’s a real challenge for us all as we juggle our many commitments, interests and goals.  

For the time being though perhaps we should settle with simply enjoying Christmas – a very well deserved break and hopefully an opportunity for you to slow down and relax.    
May I sincerely thank you for your hard work, commitment and support throughout the year.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

December 5, 2013

Is HR Pointless?

Over the summer you may have read in the press about the demise of Lucy Adams, the Director of People at the BBC. You may also have read the aftermath, most prominently from Louisa Peacock of The Daily Telegraph who opined that Adams had managed to kill off the HR profession once and for all, adding that “HR is a pointless department that does little for the bottom line of the business”.

Although I won’t comment on the Adams case, the criticism directed at HR as a result of the woes at the BBC warrant some further thought. It would appear that most critics argue that HR professionals have sought to serve the interests of their masters rather than the wider business. We’re so often accused of navel gazing, orchestrating endless self-referential debates within the profession on whether HR is strategic and should have a place on the top table.  Moreover, we wrap these insular debates within the language of HR babble. How often do we talk and write in metaphors? For example we love to “drive out” things (only cattle are driven out?) and we’re often “going forwards” (Satnav speak?). We also like to “ring-fence” and “deliver” (surely only pizzas, post and services are delivered). We often slip in “in order to…” or “the fact that…” into sentences, both almost always superfluous statements. It isn’t just HR people that over use or misuse language but whilst I’m here I may as well mention my other pet hate – starting a sentence with a number.  So, perhaps as a profession we don’t always help ourselves.
However, probably the biggest problem the profession faces is that very often HR is not practised well. Too many HR people concentrate on learning and then applying the babble, and over emphasising their mastery of ‘technical’ and/or procedural matters. Thankfully, I believe that we operate differently here at Sheffield. We need to continue to focus on developing and applying those precious organisational skills - pragmatic problem solving, decision-making and being able and willing to reach sound judgements.

Can we communicate in a better way to emphasise our corporate contribution whilst avoiding the type of criticism often directed towards our profession? Here are a few thoughts from me:

1.       You’re an individual and you’ll be communicating with other individuals – so write personably (and professionally).

2.       You don’t therefore always need to adopt a formal standardised approach, consider offering your own judgement and opinion. 

3.       Let’s not be too defensive. We all make mistakes. When we do, apologise and then attempt to remedy the problem.

4.       We’re very busy – but there should always be time to acknowledge a query/question/problem. Providing the answer to that phone call or email may take us longer, but always acknowledge it promptly.      

5.       We adapt our communications to the recipient, but don’t forget that others may read that note. Emails are very leaky! 

6.       Is what we are saying in the best interests of the University? If you’re not sure or don’t know why it is, then ask a colleague?

In that spirit, let me ask you whether there are any top communication tips that you’ve found helpful? If so, please do share.