The HR Juggler

Archive for the ‘Performance’ Category

The title of this blog post comes from Neil Morrison, an HR professional with a gift for provoking debate and discussion and blogger extraordinaire. If you need further proof of either of these points, you should really check out his change-effect blog.

Compatibility or capability…which do organisations really value most highly? And, as HR, how effective are we in challenging the reasons behind certain individuals being promoted and others being overlooked? Do we ourselves become quite institutionalised in the organisations we work in, the decisions we validate, the values that we share and the behaviours we  encourage? At what price the continuation of the status quo?

Last week a close friend was talking to me about his career and his reasons for looking for roles outside his current organisation. This is a huge deal for him as he has worked for his current employer for 15 years and is immensely loyal and hard-working, as well as talented and capable. His recent projects have involved his team saving his company over a million pounds, so you would imagine that he would feel valued and optimistic about his future there. However, in reality, the most senior manager in his team was thanked, celebrated and recognised, but none of the employees actually involved in the work of the project received a single word of thanks. My friend’s perception was that the popular people get promoted, whilst those that are not in the ‘in-crowd’ are forgotten, overlooked and systematically neglected. Compatibility to the organisation rather than capability.

But does any organisation really want capability at the expense of compatibility and can that ever truly work? At least some of that question must boil down to what we understand by compatibility.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines compatible as follows –

  • (of two things) able to exist or occur together without problems or conflict
  • (of two people) able to have a harmonious relationship

In my view, organisations and senior management teams don’t have to be harmonious or devoid of conflict and issues to be effective. In order to successfully bring change to an organisation and for it to continuously improve its effectiveness and commercial success, employees must robustly challenge themselves and others at the most senior level; an activity and mindset that HR professionals must absolutely be part of, in order to be valuable to the organisation they work in and their own profession. Otherwise, what is the point of us?

There has to be a balance here though and capability at the expense of any degree of organisational compatibility can fail spectacularly.  If  individuals are so at odds with the culture of an organisation, which is not ready or willing to ever change, then those individuals will find it near impossible to succeed.

In truth, it is probably too simplistic to view promotion on a simple either/or basis and that the correct balance of compatibility and capability depends upon where an organisation is and what it is aiming to achieve. However, all organisations and all HR professionals would do well to guard against promoting candidates who are high on compatibility and low on capability, as this will surely be a far greater risk than the reverse.

I’ve enjoyed blogging on this topic…plenty of food for thought and lots more questions than answers. I’d love to know your views.


I am quite happy to be delegated to. I rarely, if ever, mind taking on extra chunks of work or projects, have always enjoyed the autonomy that they bring and am keen to deliver and report back on the progress that I have made. For some reason though, taking on projects and tasks often comes more naturally to me than the art of delegation does. Am I alone here? I somehow doubt it!

So, why do we find delegation hard to do and what myths are we kidding ourselves with that prevent us from doing it properly? Some that immediately spring to mind are below –

  • It’s just easier to do it myself.
  • I don’t have time to delegate
  • I have no-one I can delegate to
  • No-one else will do it as well as me

The truth is that until we take control of our workloads, stop running around like headless chickens and start properly planning what tasks we are able to ask others to do, we will always struggle to delegate effectively. The above myths are exactly that – we know logically that delegating tasks and projects makes our lives easier, but it does require personal organisation and regular follow-up, as well as support to the individual you have delegated it to, who may well be developing their skills through the experience of taking it on. 

Some other realities? Sometimes we resist delegating tasks, because they are actually easier and more comfortable than the ones that we really should be focussing on. Sometimes by doing things ourselves, we feel the false glow of supposed indispensability. Sometimes, by not delegating, we deprive others of development opportunities that could help them grow. And all of these can become vicious circles of our own and others ineffectiveness, before we know where we are. 

I, for one, am going to try to take back control of my ballooning inbox, start afresh tomorrow as I mean to go on….and get back to some serious delegating!

Is it just me…………….? Now that I would love to know 😉

So, why is HR the brake and not the accelerator? How does it need to change? That is today’s blogging challenge.

First things first, is HR really the brakes of an organisation? Sometimes, yes, although that is not always a bad thing. It surely depends at least partly on the motivation for encouraging the business to slow down – is it for a positive reason, that prevents the organisation from rushing headlong into risk without first understanding the implications? Or is it just process for process’ sake and do we at times lack the urgency, the killer instinct to close the deal for the businesses we work for? Certainly being consultative is a common HR trait and skill, which we perhaps need to learn to be more  selective about utilising.

Is HR ever the accelerator? Rarely in my experience, although there may be some circumstances that this takes place and I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

So, how does HR need to change? In my view the following would make a powerful difference –

  • Looking outwards – focussing on the external market, understanding the business we work in, not limiting ourselves to “people issues” but getting stuck into the daily discussions of all aspects of the organisation…think and behave like the Chief Operating Officer and review and align your processes and priorities accordingly
  •  Being obsessed with profit – understanding the commercials of the business you work in, what the profit levers are and what affects the outcomes your organisation is aiming for, as if your professional life depended on it. Because actually, in the business that you work for on any given day, it does…temporarily at least

If you are able to achieve both of the above things, or at least start the journey of working towards them, you will end up being so close to the business that you work in, that you instinctively understand when they need you to be the brake, in order for common sense to prevail and when they want and need you to hit the gas and drive the organisation forwards. And surely the driver’s seat is where we all want to be…..?

Beep, beep, yeah 🙂


This post is the second of my blogging experiment, where all of the post topics have been generated by others and there has been voting taking place on which topic I should blog on each day. If you haven’t voted for a topic yet, please do – I will be tackling the topic with the most votes every day for the remainder of this week. In the event of tie-break votes, I will make the final choice between the two most popular myself  ;)  


Ouch. Is it just me that recognises some element of truth in the above question? I have had the pleasure of working with some great HR line managers over the years, but I have also at times experienced a considerable gap between what we say to line managers as HR advisors and what we do ourselves as people managers. And I am also sufficiently self-aware to recognise that whilst I excel at some aspects of people management, such as providing individuals with development, mentoring, encouragement and regular feedback;  there are plenty of other areas where I definitely “could do better”.

Rather than HR being the function that attracts and retains the worst people managers…lets face it, there are plenty of other functions in most businesses that have their share of these too…it is perhaps the gap between the people management values that we advise and espouse to others and those that we at times struggle to attain within our own chains of command that contributes to the view that HR are the shoddiest line managers of all. 

In my view, some of the reasons that HR doesn’t always reach the high standards we articulate to others are as follows –

  • “Too Nice”?

I doubt I’m alone amongst my peers in preferring the motivational and developmental part of being a manager, than the relentless driving up of standards, systematic performance management and delivering of unpleasant messages. The truth is that to be better people managers HR has to excel at both sides of the coin

  • Suspicious minds

HR people can be quite suspicious by nature – we are often looking for the catch when things seem to good to be true. This trait can at times be useful….but who wants to work for someone who is anything less than trustful of them? I have seen it many times that trust between HR colleagues can be a fragile concept and it takes time to grow and develop…perhaps we need to get over this a little and give people the benefit of the doubt rather more than we do.

  • Control freakery

HR managers with control freak tendencies? Yes, I bet you know a few too…. 😉  Combine this with line management and it can become the ugly step-sister to the mistrust mentioned above. An unwillingness to delegate, the belief that things will only be done correctly if you do it yourself, a tendency to micro-manage…incredibly corrosive to the confidence and development of the individual that works for you and definitely not a good example of great people management skills.  

  • Fight fire with fire

Oh, the fire-fighting in HR. We’re just always so busy dashing here and there and fixing everyone elses issues, we are often overwhelmed by the sheer number and scale of the tasks ahead. And when it comes to prioritising, there can be a temptation to allow the tenets and discipline of good people management to slip for our own teams. Needless to say a slippery slope and one that can turn us all into poor people managers if we don’t guard against it.

  •  Do as I say, not as I do

Excellent at giving other managers advice on dealing with issues, HR is often rather less good at following its advice for its own staff. Perhaps also a factor in this is that the internal function of “HR for HR” rarely, if ever, works as effectively as it should. It’s all a bit too uncomfortable, a bit too close to home, a lower priority than working with managers elsewhere in the business.

So if HR aren’t perceived as great people managers, what do we need to do to get better? In four words: take our own advice. Let’s face it, we know how to do this stuff, we advise managers on it all the time and we do it well…let’s take some time to honestly appraise where we’re doing well and where we could do better. And how about being really revolutionary and asking the people who work for us for their feedback? Now that could be a great starting point.

What do you think?


This post is the first of my blogging experiment, where all of the post topics have been generated by others and there has been voting taking place on which topic I should blog on each day. If you haven’t voted for a topic yet, please do – I will be tackling the topic with the most votes every day for the next five days. In the event of tie-break votes (and there is one for tomorrow’s post as it currently stands!), I will make the final choice between the two most popular myself 😉 

I have recently read Eat That Frog, a book by Brian Tracy that promises to provide “21 great ways to stop procrastinating and get more done in less time.” I was already familiar with the concept of eating your frog, i.e. tackling the most difficult and dreaded tasks first and getting them out of the way, but am always open to ways of managing my time better.

I’m not sure I could say the book has entirely changed my working life, but it does have some good tips and useful reminders, some of which I have implemented and thought I would share –

1) Written goals are powerful – identify what you want to achieve, which of these goals will make the biggest difference to your life  and what the steps are to making it happen…and write it down!

2) Plan your day in advance, ideally the night before. Identify which of the tasks are the high value ‘frogs’ with real consequences for you and the business. Always do these first.

3) Understand where the true value of your ‘to do’ list lies – its usually 20% of your activities that account for 80% of your results.

4) Its OK to creatively procrastinate and choose not to do low-value tasks

5) Bite-size chunks are fine on the most complicated, difficult tasks; the trick is to get moving and keep moving on them in a systematic way

6) Work with a sense of urgency, be optimistic about the positives and when you can, structure your day so that you tackle your toughest tasks at the times when you have most mental and physical energy

7) Use technology to maximise your efficiency, but don’t be ruled by it. Turn the phone, laptop, blackberry off…and enjoy the silence, for at least one day a week

8 ) Prioritise relentlessly.

9) Focus while you are at work, so that you can fully switch off while you’re at home

10) Going to bed early is often the most effective thing you can do to have a productive day at work the next day

So, I’m resolving to eat a few more frogs and create some good habits which last.  And I’m quite proud to have written this post within a day of finishing the book 🙂

How about you – any tips to share?

Do you know what you are meant to be doing in your role and how you should be doing it? I don’t. Increasingly frequently, I have been faced with situations that are not only completely new to me, but also to all of the other very senior people I work with. These are most certainly interesting times!

To give you some context: over the last two months I have liquidated a business in the Far East, dealt with a number of whistle-blowing claims in various global territories, drafted employment contracts for a joint venture in China and investigated alleged data theft. And honestly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t dealt with any of those things individually before, let alone concurrently.

What I have learnt…and am learning!…is this –

  • You don’t have to know everything, or to have done it before, you just need to find someone who does know the information that you need to guide you through the logical steps. This person may not be internal, in fact in most of the above scenarios it has been a specialist employment lawyer, often based in the country involved
  • Dealing with new challenges is interesting and intellectually stimulating. Whilst my role is currently much harder and more unpredictable than I had imagined, I am coping and thriving amid the temporary chaos
  • Doing new things is great for professional confidence
  • Panicking never helped anyone 😉
  • Asking for help is fine…it is also often really sensible.
  • Sabrina Baker wrote a great blog recently about needing the mountain for personal growth, which really resonated with the tough challenges that are taking place in my workplace at the moment
  • Understand and play to your strengths, but watch out for your weaknesses. One of my strengths is the ability to operate fluidly and laterally in a complex, fast-paced environment. The time I really need to watch out for is when it all calms down and I will need to switch to implementing robust processes and procedures.
  • Building relationships internally and externally is absolutely key
  • Make complex things simple, not ever more complicated than they need to be
  • Enjoy feeling temporarily indispensable to the business…but never forget that you aren’t!

Do you know what you’re doing? What challenges are you dealing with at the moment? I’d love to know!

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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…!

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