I wanna tell you a story

As a child, I was always fascinated by myths and legends – whether it was tales of the Ancient Greeks, the doings of the Norse Gods, Bible stories, or King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. (It was a major reason why I called my company Ariadne). Even as a youngster however, I understood that these stories weren’t meant to be taken literally, but that there was underlying point or “historical truth” to them. And listening today to Radio 4’s In Our Time, one of the speakers pointed out that it was standard practice for Greek and Roman historians to embellish detail or make up quotes to support how “heroic” or “evil” a particular real person was.

18 months ago, I was involved with a CIPD project which involved, among other things, looking at the idea of HR “Storytelling”. This often gets cynical looks from seasoned professionals who have a view that it is a bit airy-fairy and not very business-like, and is the sort of thing that gives the impression that HR people are not really to be taken seriously. But that’s completely wrong. Telling stories is a great way to illustrate otherwise complex and technical points to non-specialists. For example, if I tried to explain the concept of “Substantial Equivalence” under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations you’d probably doze off or lose interest (in fact you may have done just by that sentence). If on the other hand I told you the story of Sainsbury’s Cleaners and their Share Options, you’d immediately understand the concept and be able to apply it to your own organisation*. In fact most of my blog posts are based around stories.

Ah yes, my blog posts. There was an interesting debate on Twitter this week about whether and how HR professionals can/should discuss things on social media, given that we’re often dealing with personal and/or confidential matters. Often in my posts you might see a phrase like “Recently I had a client who…”. So here’s where I’d better “fess up”. My way round this potential ethical dilemma is that I embellish, change or amalgamate things to create a situation where it’s not only very difficult for anyone to identify the organisation I might be referring to, but also clearer to the reader the HR point I’m trying to make. So my clients absolutely don’t need to worry that their HR issues are being aired in public while I can still make points of, I hope, wider interest to my clients and potential clients (If you thought they were literally true, sorry, but at least I’m following a very ancient tradition!)

*You can read the story here

Sacking someone? It’s just like making Risotto

Watching one of Nigella Lawson’s cookery programmes (yes I do, what of it?) I was struck by one of her comments that when it comes to cooking, “people confuse time-consuming with difficult”.

It seems to me that this is the same mistake that a lot of businesses apply to HR – and sadly it’s an illusion that many in HR like to perpetuate.

Take dismissing someone for example. “It’s hard to do” say some small business organisations and government ministers. “It should be made easier”

Actually, it isn’t hard to do. If you have an employee who can’t do the job, regularly breaks rules, is no longer able to work for you, undertakes tasks you no longer require, or with whom your working relationship has fundamentally broken down, then you can dismiss them. The time consuming but not difficult bit is that you have to follow a fair process before you make your decision. That means allowing the individual to put forward any mitigation at a hearing, letting them attend with a colleague or union rep and, if you do dismiss, allowing them an appeal.

Even the infamous TUPE regulations, which cause so many sleepless nights for employment lawyers and HR people, are – in 90% of cases – simply a tick box exercise: Have you consulted employees at the correct time? Have you supplied employee information at the correct time? Have you informed them of any changes that may be made post transfer? Are there any disputes about whether a particular person should transfer? Are there any benefits that can’t be replicated – and what are you doing about them?

Perhaps it’s the current expectation that everything will happen instantly (although businesses moaned about employment issues long before the advent of on-demand services). Or the assumption that what we don’t understand must be “complicated” (like rocket science, which is one of the simplest concepts there is).

Making a risotto involves stirring stock into rice for around half an hour. You could bung it all in a microwave for 5 minutes but if you did you’d end up with an inedible mess. Complying with employment rules is like making risotto – it’s not difficult but you need time to get the right result.