Pity the poor user who has to navigate the full set of HR policies. Photo: Shutterstock

Tuesday 10th November 2015

Too Clever By Half

The Villain: Is HR getting too intellectual?

So this week I go to visit a manager in one of our Regional Ops Centres.

He’s one of the good guys. Has a nice, homely office, too. A photo of his kids on his desk, a poster for a Bon Jovi concert on the wall and a sticker on his briefcase showing a confused Homer Simpson scratching his baldy pate.

‘You’re here to talk about competencies, right?’ he asks. I nod.

‘Bloody hell,’ he replies under his breath.

I can’t blame him for the reticence. What’s going to follow is me talking about largely theoretical guff imperfectly translated into his real-world language.

I think I’m going to make life easier for him and his business: he knows I’m going to leave him with a stupidly large sheaf of papers and a FIFA-sized headache.

The manager already has a load of intellectual obstacles to face in his daily life. For example, he can’t even ask an apprentice to put the kettle on without having to navigate an academically-inspired age diversity protocol, a job specification written in a language never actually spoken outside of Ashridge, and a complementary yet fundamentally unconnected set of ‘values behaviours.’

There’s probably even more stuff floating around his mental ether, but you get the idea.

Complication inclination

Thus the poor so-and-so sits there, chewing the end of his biro, waiting for me to get all Schroder Framework on his poor ass. His expression is that of a page three bimbo who’s been dumped into a Harvard lecture on molecular biology.

At long last, here’s my point. HR is very, very good at over-intellectualising stuff.

It’s one of the ways in which we’re attempting to ‘raise our game’, ‘take our seat at the top table’ and all those other important, but frequently misconceived, aspirations.

We’re turning into lawyers and car mechanics, using terminology specifically designed to dissuade people from trying to do things themselves. ‘This is proper clever stuff,’ we’re saying. ‘Don’t assume you’ll be able to do it yourself, because you can’t, poo-for-brains.’

The trouble is that our defensive, highfalutin jargon doesn’t stay locked up in the HR thinking box.

Instead it’s spreading through organisations like mustard gas, bewildering line managers and preventing people from using their heads because they couldn’t possibly cope without our smarts, could they?

Tricky Schroder

I’d like to say that I popped my competency framework back in my CIPD-branded satchel and just told the manager to treat people well and keep his eye on the big goal.

But I didn’t. Of course, I gave him the full hour on Schroder, emphasising that if he doesn’t implement it in detail then he’d be letting the side down badly.

And that evasion could well lead to the whole facility, including his career aspirations, collapsing around his tired ears.

Maybe one day someone much brighter than I will work out how to make HR useful without it demotivating employees by thwacking them around the head with a clever stick.

About the author

The Villain

The Villain is not here to be nice.