Talking to Ourselves

As should be clear from my previous posts (like this), I’m not only a fan of social media and the benefits it can bring, but believe it has informed and improved my own HR practice. And there’s a great group of HR professionals – specifically but not exclusively on Twitter – who are not only challenging and stimulating thinking but in many cases successfully implementing these new ideas. (They’re a fun bunch of people too!)

But (and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you?) there is an element of preaching to the converted. I don’t need to convince them that there’s a better way to do HR, nor they me. Where we are still not engaging effectively enough is with the CEOs and Finance Directors, let alone the people who fund and invest in companies. There are too few entrepreneurs like Daniel Tenner or voluntary sector leaders like Pamela Ball who “get” the importance of doing good people stuff.

That’s why I was disappointed at the negative reaction on social media to the report published today by the CIPD and various partners on Valuing Your Talent (and I was guilty of some of the initial negativity). Yes, it does include the appalling phrase “Human Capital Metrics” – which I hope disappears without trace in the immediate future – but it was a chance to influence the broader debate and push people issues to the forefront of business.

And its proposals were hardly radical – the key recommendations were that companies should:

  • Quantify their labour and turnover costs
  • Analyse their recruitment costs
  • Analyse their training and development investment
  • Measure Employee Engagement

The first three are what HR departments should be doing anyway and while the fourth is contentious (in that no-one can agree what “employee engagement” is and if/how you can measure it) it’s not illogical. In fact it reflects more on our broader business management in the UK if this isn’t be done currently.

There’s a time for numbers and there’s a time when they aren’t appropriate in HR. Dismissing metrics out of hand isn’t a way forward.

My main point though is that the HR professionals who understand the need to do good stuff need to be out there engaging with the wider business community – on social media and elsewhere. The debates we have about how to make things better should be with the likes of TV’s Dragons, the MDs of bigger companies and other business leaders, not just among ourselves.

Away from the Numbers

Originally posted February 2014

I’m going to let you into a not-so-secret secret. HR people don’t, on the whole, like numbers. We might do stuff with them if we really have to (“You want sickness absence statistics, Mr Finance Director? Ok, if we must”) but deep down we’d much sooner be dealing with people, whether it’s developing systems and processes or analysing their interactions.

Don’t get me wrong – people matters are very important and if HR didn’t do them no-one else in business would – but,  while avoiding numbers,  one of the things HR people do is agonise endlessly about why the senior team/C-Suite/top table don’t take them seriously. Perhaps the two are not unconnected.

We talk a lot in HR about effective communication and talking in appropriate and meaningful language. Usually however it’s in the context of talking “down” to employees – we rarely consider it in relation to talking “up” to Directors.

So if you want to be taken seriously by business leaders, you need to be able to explain things in their language.  And that means understanding the numbers and being comfortable discussing them. It’s no wonder that HR lacks credibility when I read a debate on LinkedIn (about the CIPD’s recent survey on zero hours contracts) in which a CIPD qualified professional stated that a survey of 456 out of 1000000 wasn’t significant and that the findings (which he disagreed with) could therefore be discounted.  As anyone with a vague knowledge of statistics could tell you, a sample that size is more than 95% certain to give a true reflection of the total population – indeed you could be confident of the findings with a smaller sample size.  Similarly when discussing salaries, it amazes me that many in HR don’t know the difference between mean, mode and median when they talk about “averages” – or could explain which one is used and why.  And too often we quote meaningless figures as having some authority; one I spotted recently on Twitter was that “HR spends 2% of time on recruitment and 98% on dealing with the consequences of poor hires”. Is that meant to suggest some sort of relationship between those 2 figures? If so, what, and how?

I’m not suggesting that to work in HR you need to be a maths genius – simply that to be effective in HR it’s one of the many skills you need a working knowledge of. Wilfully displaying our ignorance damages the authority of the profession.