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November 7, 2013 / Mervyn Dinnen

HR Dreamers

The 2013 CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition opened with a keynote from Gareth Jones and Rob Goffee on creating the ‘Best Workplace on Earth’. Effectively building the workplace of your dreams…and dreams being what they are then needless to say that this one is full of engaged, inspirational, authentic and effective people all working with a shared purpose and belief in what they do.

According to Jones and Goffee employees want DREAMS…as in:

  • Difference
  • Radical honesty
  • Extra value
  • Authenticity
  • Meaning
  • Simple rules

Talk over? Well not quite. I did tweet out most of what they had to say, and four of the blog squad – Gemma Reucroft, Ian Pettigrew, Doug Shaw & David D’Souza – were quick off the blocks with a good run down of the key points they raised.

Here are some of my thoughts…

Why Would Anyone Work Here?

Not sure how many business leaders ever ask themselves, or their employees, this. Presumably many think it’s charisma, a great product or service, or just that it’s work for us or draw jobseekers allowance, but what Jones and Goffee told us was that there are four reasons – Culture, Performance, Employer Brand, Engagement. Does your business deliver on these? Does the image, or perception, match the reality?

Rob Goffee talked of living the brand and culture through purpose, standards and relationships, and of emotional sociability.

Importance of Conflict

There was a call to encourage conflict rather than suppress it. Conflict can help to drive the creative process. Leading on from this was the need to have characters around – they are the people that make the place special.

I would caution with a ‘be careful what you wish for‘. Whilst these were two very popular soundbites a business rife with conflict and characters often isn’t a very good place to work. For every example of this approach being productive I’d wager that there are plenty of others whose progress has stalled amidst poor engagement and staff attrition.

Radical Honesty

Tell the truth before someone else does” was the message to HR….”if you sanitise bad news then the people at the top will never know what’s going on“.

The angle here may have been about the need for truth and honesty and to avoid spin, but in reality everyone else bar the leadership is already on to this. It’s my theme of the Autumn – ‘Organisational Nakedness‘ – cropping up again. The truth is that outside of the business everyone is already telling the truth about your product, your customer experience, your employee experience, your candidate experience and so on. The new reality is that HR doesn’t need to persuade the business to come clean – it needs to show the cost of not coming clean. Businesses that aren’t true will soon being to feel it through the bank balance.

The Department of Rules

A dig at HR and the desire to wrap a process around everything. I’ll take this in context with one of the closing statements which was not to confuse systemisation with bureaucratisation. With a number businesses this is probably easier said than done as the concepts of trusting people and self direction are hard for many to embrace.

Rules that do exist need to be simple and tested, not complex of imposed. Do the people who have to abide by them consider them fair? The concept of fairness is one which has appeared in a few conference keynotes recently and there is nothing that dis-engages your key workers more than a feeling of being treated unfairly.

Societal Good

People want to do good work” Gareth Jones told us. “Work is a defining human characteristic. Good work equals good societies” HR needs some moral authority, and should be about doing the right thing, which should help create better societies was the message.

Quite a weight on the shoulders then. There is little doubt in my mind that HR professionals have a desire to do the right thing and make working life better for everyone, but is this what their leaders want? As Gemma asks – do you really know what the CEO wants? To create a better society through work probably requires different behaviours, which will need to be influenced by different rewards.

As Rob Goffee noted “Meaning comes from connections to others, community, cause. The most profitable businesses are not necessarily the most profit oriented

I’ve seen 3 opening keynotes at 3 HR Conferences across 3 time zones in the last few weeks and all have similar strands running through them. Whether it’s building better workplaces, investing in new technology or devising a new reward system to encourage the right behaviours, the challenges for HR come from several new business norms…

  • Openness
  • Sharing
  • Collaboration
  • Authenticity
  • Inspiring leaders
  • Heightened expectations
  • Experience over functionality
  • Self direction over controlling management

Can HR harness these to build better workplaces…or are we really just dreaming?

Organisational Nakedness

(Image created by Simon Heath)

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One Comment

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  1. Quite dreaming and get on the beam Jones and Goffee. The book is ‘nice’ but fails to deal with the hard detail. It’s easy to come up with headlines, rather harder to turn them into concrete actions.

    A good ‘corrective’ post Mervyn.

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