The HR Juggler

HR – Learning Lessons from the X Factor!

Posted on: November 17, 2010

Back in April, HR Magazine ran an article suggesting that Simon Cowell was the person most British employees would like to see as their HR Director.

Given that the X Factor is in full flow in the UK and that world domination can only be a matter of time once it launches in the US, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what lessons HR can learn from the X Factor and Mr Cowell.

“You’re only as good as your last performance”

Whilst the performance management process in most companies is not as brutal as eliminating the worst performing employee each week, there is an undeniable truth that senior managers perceptions of an employee’s performance can alter over time.  A star performer can go from hero to zero in the space of a couple of years and often a lot more quickly than that.  Complacency is dangerous and people are rarely, if ever, treated as indispensible in a work context.  We all have to make sure we are on top of our game and stay there.


Good feedback is direct, personal and focuses on the individual.  More often than not X Factor is an example of how not to do it, but perhaps one of the reasons Simon Cowell ended up topping the poll for most popular HR Director is because of his no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is, direct style.  I do think HR has a role in sometimes giving employees a reality check – that they are already really well paid and won’t be getting a huge pay rise; that they need to behave like managers rather than shop-stewards; that they need to stop doing xyz which is detrimental to the business .

More important though is focusing on the positive and the things that an employee does really well.  When I congratulated a sales exec in his probation period on making his first big sale earlier that morning, the astonishment on his face was priceless!  Giving positive, specific feedback is really powerful and something we can all do more of.


A quick point here about Katie Waissel, a controversial candidate who has been vilified in the press and frequently finds herself in the bottom two i.e. with the lowest public vote.  If you have not heard of her and hate all things X Factor (I doubt you have read this far!) then you can count yourself lucky.  The first short and sweet point to make here is that she is deluded and completely unself-aware; she said she wanted to leave a legacy in medicine for goodness sake!

The second point is that if she were a little more self-aware and intuitive she could make things so much better for herself.  All she needs to say when she is asked about why the judges/public have saved her and why she keeps finding herself in the bottom two is not to bleat on about how she wants people to see and understand the ‘real’ her.  She just needs to acknowledge the strength of the other performers, say sincerely how lucky she feels to still be in the competition and that she’ll carry on doing her best.

Self awareness and intuition are absolute musts for anyone in HR….and saying the right and appropriate thing in difficult circumstances is helpful too!

The last point that I will leave you with is this…genuineness and natural warmth go a long way in the X Factor, in HR and in business.  Just look at Wagner…!

4 Responses to "HR – Learning Lessons from the X Factor!"

Hi AlisonNice to see another HR professional blogging.OK, I do watch X-Factor and also I do like Katie. The main reason is that she is a fighter. Maybe she does not say the “right” things but who is to say what is right or wrong? I think your view is correct for certain workplace cultures and in many cases the only way to survive but does that make it right? The people that follow their own beliefs are the ones that make the difference, good and bad. I don’t think compliance is an attribute they consider important but then that’s maybe why they won’t move into HR 🙂 I think Wagner is still in purely due to an anti-Simon Cowell conspiracy IMHO!Just my opinion of course……Peter

Hi PeterThanks for commenting. You’re probably right that labelling statements as “right” or “wrong” is not necessarily helpful. I actually don’t mind Katie and quite like her voice – I just think she could present herself so much better with what she says and given that she seems so anxious to be accepted and liked, saying the appropriate thing would help her achieve what she believes in. I cringe every time she is asked it and gives the same “I want everyone to understand me” type response. I do also think that having an ability to give an appropriately intuitive response is a useful and desirable life skill for anyone who interacts with people a lot. Not so much to make people compliant to our views of what they ‘should’ be, but to be able to connect meaningfully and empathise etc. I think that helps people to follow their own beliefs, rather than hinders them.Wagner? Oooh who knows, time will tell….!!!

I like her voice as well 🙂 I think she may learn and Cher for example is more mature for one so young! Although even Cheryl is turning somewhat so maybe the girls are learning from their mentor lolLouis makes me cringe more with his “You look like a popstar….” tirade and he’s an old git so he has no excuse. I reckon he’d get fewer votes than conspiracy contestant!

Haha I’m late commenting back on this but I sooooo agree with you on Louis. Now, if we could vote a judge off…….!!!!And Katie and Wagner survived another day _ and Katie, at least, deservedly so!

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