Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition

Apart from working with small businesses, I’m also a CIPD Tutor with one of the UK’s leading HR training providers. Quite often when doing some of the more “theoretical” stuff, I can see learners’ eyes glaze over with a “what has this got to do with the real world and my job as an HR business partner” expression.

But the practical application of some of these theories and models is frequently key to many HR and business decisions.  For example, what we rather grandly like to call “environmental scanning” – with models such as STEEPLE, Five Forces and Blue Ocean – is essential to anticipating likely changes that may affect our organisations.

Take for instance George Osborne’s “National Living Wage”.  Judging by some of the reactions from some business organisations, this is the greatest disaster to hit business for years. Yet businesses have worked within the minimum wage rules for nearly 20 years and the “shock” of this new policy was that – for many – it was an unexpectedly large increase. But any business which had done any kind of serious forward planning would have been aware that all the parties at the last election were committed to significant increases in minimum wage levels – not necessarily for altruistic reasons but as part of the strategy to reduce the deficit. (I’m happy to say that a client I work with in a low pay sector had factored in big increases to their wage costs into their business plans as a result of doing some of this planning, so it hasn’t proved as much of an issue for them).

HR professionals continue to agonise about how they “add value” to businesses. Being aware of what’s going on in the wider world, and anticipating how this might affect the companies we work for, is one easy way in which we can demonstrate that HR is actually a vital part of modern business.

Are you ready for the Olympics?

Originally published in September 2011, this post is recycled regularly whenever there is a major sporting or public occasion!

Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a raft of “Olympics” policies and briefings issued by various organisations. Now I know it’s good marketing advice to tie in your public comments with a current event or issue, but an Olympics policy? When we are trying to encourage business to be flexible and both managers and staff to behave responsibly, do we need to tie them down with yet another set of rules? And how, precisely, do these Olympics policies differ from the World Cup policies being touted last year, or the Royal Wedding advice that was available in the spring?
I used to work for a bus company that operated hundreds of buses, involving thousands of drivers, in Merseyside and North London. When Liverpool played Arsenal in the Cup Final one year, did I write out an FA Cup Final policy for our garage managers to follow?  No – in fact as HR Manager I left matters completely in the hands of frontline staff and managers, who with a mixture of shift swaps, overtime and knowledge that for every football fan there was a driver who wasn’t interested in football (or was an Everton or Spurs fan!), ensured that services were covered.
It’s really a question of “work-life” balance.  If an individual has a particular interest in something happening outside work and you can accommodate a request for time off then there’s no problem. Equally if it’s an event that happens during working hours, is it really going to be that disruptive to let staff keep track of it while working? (after all, even with false starts, Usain Bolt can run 100m in less than 10 seconds).  Forward planning, not rules and procedures, is what is needed.