Thought Leadership for Lemmings
I’m fully aware what is about to follow is perhaps the most hypocritical thing I could ever write, save a column on healthy weight loss or an op-ed on the flaws of job hopping. But this industry of ours is fundamentally flawed, and the reason is simple: in a world where the barrier to entry is more or less a pulse, an entire category of “thought leaders” has emerged who, really, aren’t thinking about HR at all. Rather, their primary focus seems to be on creating problems which don’t actually exist and making them seem pressing enough to spend money on.
I’ve written extensively on these topics, but I firmly believe that if HR in general, recruiting in particular, is to continue to deliver actual value instead of buzzwords and BS, we need to dispel some myths:
1. You’re Not a Lawyer: Too many HR professionals use compliance as a crutch to justify not actually taking action. At a recent speaking appearance, when I asked the audience of SPHR types (which is to say, crochet sweaters and brooches aplenty) why they didn’t feel like they could actually impact the business and the bottom line, someone answered “GINA” (after another 6 or 7 answers all relating to compliance).
I’m guessing not discriminating on the basis of someone’s genetic information has likely not come up in any performance metric, client conversation or employee relations investigation you’ve ever had, unless you’re doing the hiring for the government in Gattaca. And with every employment agreement these days having a binding arbitration clause written in, the chances of the employee actually winning – or even knowing how to pursue – redress against employers is virtually nil.
I’m all for compliance, but if anything actually happens, while HR might be the problem, it’s never the solution. That’s why attorneys exist, and why, unlike HR, there are barriers to entry for said profession. The only bar you’re getting admitted to is sponsored by a vendor.
2. Thought Leadership Is A Sales Tactic: We love LinkedIn, but what’s weird is that it’s almost never used to actually investigate the background, experience and credentials of the people who are actually the most vocal drivers of completely extraneous and almost always unnecessary strategies and tactics that largely determine HR spend.
Example: the world’s foremost expert on ‘personal branding’ has spent approximately 6 months as a coordinator in an HR department, until recently lived with his/her parents (per point 1, libel is actually a thing, hence the gender neutrality) and receives an income based solely off selling solutions for a fictional category they, themselves, created. Probably because it sure beats food stamps for making a living.
Advertising has long known that fear is second only to sex as an extrinsic motivator, and the fact is, there’s nothing to fear except incompetence. And if you have a pulse, you’re well qualified to post OSHA notices in break rooms or file WARN notices or use acronyms to make it sound like you know what you’re talking about. The rest is a scare tactic.
Video of The Ultimate Performance Review.
3. “Culture” = Cult of Personality : The only company with a completely unified culture has one employee. What we call culture is really just relationships between people, and these are both situational and dynamic. If you really want to use culture as an effective differentiator, pay your people what they’re worth, and that whole recruitment and retention thing pretty much solves itself.
What we perceive as culture is almost unilaterally a top down directive, and exists largely as a reflection not of reality, but of what executive leadership aspires to, even as they continually undermine it in order to put people over profit. And if you’re viable enough to actually be hiring people and adding headcount, chances are profit will always win.
It’s a lot like if North Korea were a company: holding Mass Games for the Dear Leader only really reinforces a stagnant ideology that often seems to mirror demagoguery. Career websites are the corporate equivalent of Juche: putting on an elaborate show for the rest of the world when your actual population is suffering from famine.
The most effective value/mission statements ever created were by Karl Marx and Jesus, and HR is neither a prophet nor a revolutionary. Although, in the case of the latter, those carpentry skills would probably come in handy for actually building that seat at the table.
See that comment box on the bottom? Tell me why I’m wrong. Because, after all, engagement is really important for “creating conversation.” At least, I read that on a Twitter chat somewhere.
Completely agree on your compliance comment. I have seen it used too much as a blanket justification for action without true accountability – a bit of the “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Now, have I seen compliance use their powers for good? Absolutely. But it takes a lot of skill to do it right.
I am a lawyer. And the real problem with HR, and work in general, is that there are too many laws and too many rules. The systems we have implemented to improve work have become the work. And we wonder why we are burnt out, unhappy, and bored silly.
The most powerful and revolutionary tool you can use for any problem on the planet is the human brain. Trust, common sense and integrity are good too.
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