Let’s Hear More about the Unsung Heroes


At the moment there seems to be a stifling dullness about the so-called “Thought Leadership” in the world of HR.Almost by default, the same names appear in the “Most Influential” polls that appeared in them a decade ago: Writers who once were fire-breathers, Academics (who presumably eschewed putting their great ideas into practice) and a herd of HR “Big Beasts” whose credentials in recent years have actually taken quite a dent - some have now actually left the monoliths in which they worked their "miracles".


Event platforms are quite often occupied by people who probably barely touched the actual levers of change outside of the rarified atmosphere of the boardroom.


Similarly, the awards ceremonies for “Excellence” in HR seem to be the exclusive domain of HR departments with inexhaustible resources. Any organisation with the luxury of ample manpower and flabby budgets can puff up their achievements in the fields of Diversity and CSR; how many employers of less than 250 people would have these seriously on their radar, especially when Survival is the priority right now?


For all this self-congratulation, is there evidence that HR has advanced in influence in the corridors of power?


To judge by the anecdotal evidence coming out almost on a daily basis, the answer is probably no. If HR had influence, then the never-ending stream of stories about poor employment relations would surely not be happening, assuming that HR had the right policies in place and ensured that their sponsoring organisations adhered to them.


Furthermore, indications are that HR’s influence at the highest level has certainly reached a high-water mark for the time being. In the midst of the current crises, the profession has been unable to capitalise on its strategic position. Perhaps we just haven’t been strategic enough; the received wisdom is that if we had no administration to fill our days, we could all be strategic.


Perhaps of more value to anyone wanting to understand what “Excellence” really is would be the experiences and expertise of those people in the front-line of HR activity; HR managers who inspire their teams, who get things done and who think up solutions, some of which are all too often achieved against a backdrop of scarce resources, corporate inertia, unimaginative managements and the “not invented here” mentality.


After all, it’s about the Walk, not just the Talk (and there’s more than enough of the latter!).


You’ll find that people who have actually done the hard work will be more interesting to listen to than those who just talk about it and then delegate to others to carry out, and it’s easy to relate to. Listening to people like Tim Smit (of Eden Project fame) and Gordon Ramsay, is uplifting. There is always something very special about people who do what they say they are going to do. Dia Simms (heading one of Sean Combs’ multi-million dollar companies) says: "My best asset is reliability. People are so amazed when you do what you say you're going to do. It's the smallest thing in the world, but it's the hardest thing to find".


A good approach would be to seek out people who make certain aspects of the job well: who have made Learning & Development innovations, pioneered a way of managing Absence, brought in methods of improving performance and measuring it; maybe even finding people with better than average Retention or who find it easy to Recruit. Every successful story is worth examining to see what can be replicated. It doesn’t necessarily mean a “best practice” story, as there could be any number of causes contributing to success that may have nothing to do with the initiatives in the first place!


Also meriting praise, and a rare species to boot, would be HR people who actually do things on time. HR is probably one of the worst professions for Time Management skills. I’m an HR practitioner, and have to acknowledge the fact that in over 30 years in the function I have very rarely encountered a meeting with HR involvement that started – or finished -on time. The standard excuse is that we are so very busy, but we let ourselves down with our prioritisation. Let’s hear from some of our colleagues who succeed in what they do and manage their time well.


So, next time someone suggests a “Forum” and wants some key speakers and contributors, just get out of the comfort zone of the “Usual Suspects” and do some serious research outside of the ivory towers – unless of course your target audience is also based in those selfsame towers.