From HRD to Head of Integrity at #HRVision14

One feature I’ve enjoyed at HRVision has been the spicing up of keynote sessions with challenging talks of a more TEDx nature, questioning some of the ethics and priorities of business. On the first morning we had Tim Macartney challenging legacy and on the second morning it was the turn of Unilever’s Geoff Macdonald to throw down the gauntlet on purpose and integrity.

It was a powerful, passionately delivered session in which he set out some thoughts for a kind of Capitalism 2.0. Some of the things he said:

  • Let profit follow purpose
  • There are too many strategies and not enough culture
  • Don’t talk about consumers, talk about human beings
  • Stop marketing to consumers and start mattering to people
  • Put purpose at the heart of everything you do

There were two specific things he said that seemed to have a big impact on delegates. The first was about the Unilever Corporate Social Responsibility team, and how they had effectively closed it as a separate function to enable them to live CSR through their people and their brand, and everything they do – ‘It can’t be a department but must live through our products

The second was a call to HR professionals to stop obsessing on being business focused and to assume the role of Chief Integrity Officer for the business – ensuring they pursue purpose ahead of profit and don’t carry on doing business in the same way. “Create the culture that shifts behaviours” he said and channelled Drucker with “in a battle between culture and strategy there’s only one winner every time“.

Before Geoff we had the energetic and engaging Hollie Delaney from Zappos introducing the conference to their core values and culture. The three most popular takeaways were:

  • Culture is everyone’s job
  • If you trust your people to do the right thing then they will
  • Organise the work not the people

Having culture as the cornerstone to recruitment, performance and hence hiring and firing may seem harsh, and might also raise questions over diversity, but it seemed to resonate well around the room.

The morning had opened with Gary Kildare, Global VP/CHRO from IBM. He told us that

  • Engagement isn’t just about people inside your organisation but everyone you do business with
  • There’s no ‘war’ between generations
  • Hierarchy is dead

…and that senior leaders need to be open to change, good listeners, accept that there are other ways of doing things and to create opportunities for everyone in the organisation to achieve and develop their potential.

To some following from afar his observations may not come as news, but at events such as this it is usually the delivery, the energy and chemistry amongst attendees in the room, and the conversations and interactions that follow, that strengthens the message. To have the global CEO of a major business open the first day and a global VP the second, also strengthened the impact.

Overall the talk of integrity, purpose and belief in a better way of doing business, the strength of culture over strategy, and of building trust was an intoxicating brew for many. Taken together with yesterday’s session on legacy and sustainability, and linking it all with the power of social networks, we’ve been offered an interesting challenge and vision to take back to our businesses.


Cultural Influences and Youth Employment

I’ll start this post with a few observations…

When a TV programme or news outlet wants to discuss climate change do they call on a scientist or meteorologist? Someone who has done extensive research?

No. They usually call on a journalist who has an opinion but little evidence to support it save for a few coincidences.

And when a TV programme or news outlet tries to discuss HS2 or a similar large scale engineering project do they call on an engineer or project manager who can bring such a topic to life?

No. They usually call on someone representing a countryside preservation or NIMBY pressure group.

Barely a day passes without warnings of a lack of STEM skills or concerns over how to get school leavers and graduates interested in studying STEM subjects.

Yet there is interest in automotive engineering – hardly surprising given how glamorous, sexy, iconic and financially rewarding Formula 1 appears from our print, broadcast and online media.

What is the first adult TV drama to which children are usually exposed?

Soap operas. Almost everyone in Wetherfield or Albert Square is either self employed or works in a micro business. They are very adaptable too – comfortably switching from market trader to estate agent or managing a kebab shop, seamstress to secretary or hairdresser. Anyone having full time employment with a large employer will almost certainly be public sector – teacher, fireman, doctor, council official, market inspector.

I have recently taken part in a range of conversations and events that relate to either self employment, youth enterprise or the shortage of skills. At each one we hear statistics of how our 18-24 year olds want to start their own businesses, or how they favour career advancement over pay and benefits, or even how they would rather be actors than engineers.

Thing is, its almost always been that way. My peers, many years ago now, all wanted to start their own businesses rather than work for large corporates. Even at a large private school (yes, I’ll admit to going to one of those) most of us wanted to work for ourselves not someone else. No-one surveyed us though.

Some of this comes from our influences during adolescence, the crucial socio-economic, cultural and family influences between 13 and 18 that help to shape values and aspirations. Certainly today’s 18-24 year olds have had 6 years of global recession, banking crash, bonus scandals, shareholder revolts, Fred the Shred, MPs expenses and the like, not to mention watching the parental generation lose their jobs, work harder for less for fear of redundancy, possibly embrace self employment, or suffer a humiliating job hunt. Little wonder that they seem to turn their back on big business.

They have also had a few years of being told that there aren’t enough graduate jobs available, that they may have to be baristas or stack shelves to prove that they can get up in the morning, that the job for life is now a life of jobs – little surprise that being your own boss may sound attractive. More a case of self sufficiency than entrepreneurial zeal.

And as I mentioned earlier, the first role models that most have of working arrangements (aside from parents) will be from the TV and popular culture, and those tend to be self employed, adaptable and resilient. It starts early too…I’m sure Bob the Builder’s flexibility, creativity and resourcefulness beats Postman Pat’s comfortable, though repetitive, job.

Most youngsters are motivated by positive role models, their cultural influences often pointing the way to how they see their opportunities. For many this will be determined by what they observe and experience, and the influences they see the rest of society embrace, hence my point about the way we present the areas that we want them to be inspired by. The lack of interest in studying certain subjects, and the interest in doing things for yourself, is a much wider, cultural issue – not one just for schools but for all of us.

Having said that, we don’t just want engineers, scientists and carers who are there for lack of anything else…we really need engineers, scientists and carers who want to do that. Who are passionate about it. Who see the value of it and the importance to society as a whole. Who feel inspired to do it.

There is no perfect fungibility of labour, hence a raft of people going to university to study engineering or medicine when they have no passion or real interest in the topic, but see it as a way to get a job, is unlikely to be the complete answer either.

As the current TV ad for #toyotahybrid urges…don’t start a career you feel no love for

Can we change that…