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.