Punk Rock HR – A Manifesto for Better HR Strategy and Practice

I was asked by Steve Browne for a post that summed up my thoughts on how HR can get better.  Steve is Executive Director at La Rosa’s Pizza in the US and is a massive HR and rock music radical.  So here is my post with some background as to why I feel able to comment on such matters for my US cousins.

Having spent many years running the Kent Branch of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the UK, acting as a board member of their Council, working in HR for a Pharmaceutical Company and teaching Strategic HRM at MBA level, I had an extended period to study HR strategy and practice from the viewpoints of my original careers as a scientist and innovation leader. As a result, I wrote a manifesto for HR transformation in a book called “Punk Rock People Management”.  In case you are wondering if this requires HR pros to pogo whilst doing staff appraisals, relax! The “Punk Rock” aspect of the title simply refers to three underlying principles of the punk rock phenomenon that apply to good HR strategy and practice:

SimplicitySimplification in punk was about three chords or even less.  Lou Reed once claimed that anything more than three chords is jazz.  Likewise, good HR and great leaders make the complex compellingly simple. If HR is overly complex it’s no surprise if managers reach for their own versions of policies and procedures.

Keep it simple

BrevityBrevity in punk was exactly what it said on the tin. The Ramones managed to get their message across in just over two minutes and some of Wire’s early recordings coming in at under one minute, compared with the neo classical 20 minute overtures that characterised Prog Rock (Make no mistake, I’m a big Prog Rock fan as well, but we’re not here to discuss musical tastes).  To misquote Albert Einstein good HR keeps things as short as they need to be but no shorter …

Keep it short

AuthenticityAt punk’s core was the idea of telling it like it is. Good HR also keeps things real.  In practice the great HR professional speaks in the language of the business they serve rather than hiding behind HR jargon.  Jargon is a natural feature of all professions, but when it excludes rather than engages it has lost its purpose as a kind of ‘shorthand’.

Keep it real

Authenticity Lou Reed Annie Lennox

I was speaking with Ron Thomas, CEO of Great Place to Work, in the Gulf just recently. We discussed some other qualities that characterise great HR, amongst them:

Understand the business – Good HR professionals align the HR strategy and tactics with the long-term business imperatives.  It’s what I call the “HR Six Pack”:

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 17.23.04

The HR Six Pack – not modelled here by Iggy Pop …

Understand the numbers – Business starts with the financials rather than the appraisal process etc. A grip on the numbers gives you the context to make better HR decisions by fact rather than guesswork. HR professionals also need to be data savvy rather than leaving that to the IT or finance professionals.

Understand the context – You’ve got all your HR / Business qualifications right? So why isn’t the CEO wanting to implement the 9 box model, 360 degree appraisals and so on?  Business schools offer an idealized view of how things should be at work, but work rarely works like that. Successful HR professionals understand context and adopt a “best fit” approach, seizing opportunities to make their workplaces great and understanding the nuance of time and timing. This is usually superior than attempting to plug in “best practice” elements without considering the context, rather akin to attempting a kidney transplant without considering the recipient.

For more on subjects such as recruitment, induction, engagement, rewards, appraisal, promotion, innovation, training, conflict, exit and so on pick up a copy of “Punk Rock People Management” or attend one of our Music and Business keynotes or masterclasses.

FINAL COVER

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE. Connect with us on our Linkedin Company Page and join our group The Music of Business where we discuss parallel lessons from Business and Music.

Contact him via peter@humdyn.co.uk

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To 2013 – 10 Business and Music tips

Punk Rock Leadership

Punk Rock Leadership

In this new year post, I’m counting down 10 business tips as seen through the eyes and ears of punk rock.   A kind of “Business Top of the Pops” but without the DJ.  No need to pogo whilst reading these unless you must.  Punk refers to brevity, simplicity and purity of thought in business.   For more on all this, ping me a note with PUNK in the title to claim your new year’s gift – a copy of my micro book – Punk Rock People Management.

# 10 – What do you want from life? – The Tubes

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – The Tubes’ revolting anthem on happiness in life and work, coming out of observations on their fans opulent lifestyle in San Francisco, points out that consumption per se does not lead to happiness.  So, rewards given without there being some basic desire for the reward are worthless.  We did not need The Tubes or the happiness movement to tell us this.  All we had to do was to look carefully at Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory of Satisfiers and Dissatisfiers.  Somehow The Tubes’ message is more potent.  If you are not familiar with the song, listen to the rant at the end of this piece.  In more recent times, Radiohead did something similar with “Fitter Happier”.

# 9 – Blank Generation – Richard Hell and the Voidoids 


THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – This is perhaps the first and only time that Punk Rock and HR Guru Gary Hamel will find unity … Hamel recently said that “HR must help kill bureaucracy and encourage greater innovation within organistions“.  Why? That comes down to the ‘blank generation’, aka people who are actively disengaged from work.  We don’t need engagement taskforces to know this – it’s punk rock common sense.  Less obvious is how to achieve that innnovation in HR, which, after all, is usually part of the risk reduction part of the enterprise.  I spent a third of my life working on scientific innovation and quite a bit of time watching people wringing their hands about innovation on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Council and frankly, I don’t see innovation as a core HR competence.

# 8 – Oh bondage, up yours – X-Ray Spex

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – Poly Styrene’s point was really all about female empowerment or girl power.  This applies just as much to the guys.  As Poly says “Bind me tie me, Chain me to the wall, I wanna be a slave to you all, Oh bondage up yours“. Simply put, if you want to get extra performance out of people, stop controlling every last detail of people’s performance through lengthy job descriptions, KPI’s, SMART goals for everything, yada, yada …

# 7 – Public Image – Public Image Ltd

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – “You never listen to a word that I said, you only see me for the clothes that I wear” Do we look past people’s appearance towards their knowledge, skills and attitudes in interviews, appraisals etc?  After all, it’s those things we desperately want rather than an illusion.  In an age where virtually everything is choreographed at work, remember that Steve Jobs would probably have failed an interview at Apple.

# 6 – What do I get? – The Buzzcocks


THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – We know well enough from Frederick Herzberg and The Buzzcocks that pay is a ‘dissatisifier’.  In other words, if you double people’s pay, they won’t work twice as hard for twice as long.  Take away their pay and you know all about it if it is perceived as being out of balance with the effort as Starbucks are just about to discover.  Pay people well enough, but don’t just focus on pay as the reward for work.  This reinforces the conversation about ‘What do I get?’ After all RNR stands for Reward AND Recognition, not just Rock’n’Roll.

# 5 – Two Tribes – Frankie Goes to Hollywood

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – The Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg, may not have been an employment lawyer, but he may have contributed more to our understanding of collective bargaining than all the employment law authors in the world if they were laid end to end, via his song ‘There is power in a union’.  Frankie goes to Hollywood also reminded us of the classic pluralist assumption within classical thinking on unions in their 80’s anthem “Two Tribes”.  OK, Frankie are not punks I know, but they conveyed the spirit of punk rock through their music.

Punk Rock HR offers us three chords on unions:

  • See unions as an advantage in a pluralist workplace due to the money and time they can save you if you get the relationship right.
  • Focus on interests rather than positions if you are to do collective bargaining well.
  • See negotiations from all viewpoints so that you can be most effective in reaching a solution.  It is what pre-punk Scandinavians Abba would have called “Knowing me, knowing you”.

# 4 – Happy House – Siouxsie and the Banshees

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – Siouxsie Sioux’s deeply ironic lyric flags up the problem with the ‘happiness movement’.  She commented that “Happy House” contrasts the illusion of family bliss, where everyone smiles, has blond hair, has all-day sunshine, eats butter without fat, with the realities of life – depression, wife beating and so on.  Grim stuff for a pop song!  The happiness movement also seems to operate under the illusion that we are all becoming more self-actualised and self-driven, when the data seems to suggest that people are less happy than they were 50 years ago, even though we are considerably richer.  Since work is a huge part of life, the implication is that we should design jobs and work which are fulfilling.

# 3 – Smash it up – The Damned

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – Disruptive innovation inside companies takes considerable effort.  Sometimes it’s necessary to destroy the status quo to make way for new practices.  Smashing up existing organisational structures and cultures may look like vandalism, but given the permanence of cultures, sometimes it is the only way to make space for the new.

# 2 – What a Waste – Ian Dury

 

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – “What a waste”, like “Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll”, was a song about being in a job that makes you happy.  Perhaps all that is needed to create a high performance workplace is to develop the HR habit of finding out what turns people on and ensuring that the work gives them these outcomes.

In some cases, as Dury points out, this does not have to be Chief Executive or Vice President of HR, it could simply involve becoming “the ticket man at Fulham Broadway Station”.

# 1 – Teenage Kicks – The Undertones

THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – When I asked Professor Adrian Furnham earlier this year to identify out some factors that make for an agile innovative company, his first point was to ensure that youth has a voice in the affairs of the company.  Youth brings ideas that are untrammelled by experience, as long as people feel able to voice those ideas.  The smart HR person gives a voice to youthful and other naïve inputs to company strategy.

Send your suggestions for other punk rock songs with a business message by commenting on this blog.  Order your copy of Punk Rock People Management by mailing me with PUNK in the title.  Also available on Amazon Kindle and as a hard copy full colour book.  Coming very soon now, the new book – The Music of Business  – Here’s a quote:  This book is a great tool for people in business.  Harvey Goldsmith CBE

Punk Rock People Management - Disruptive Innovation in HR

– Punk Rock People Management – Disruptive Innovation in Business

Punk Rocker Picture by Lindsay Wakelin Photography

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About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk

Let’s pretend we’re married – Getting engaged

Let’s pretend we’re married … “Prince” attempts to forge a strange relationship with Miss Haversham and Scrooge

Employee engagement – what does it mean really?  Do more engaged employees do more and better work for longer?  Is engagement some kind of secret code for ‘in company dating’ or a causal relationship between casual workers and casual sex?  And so on… I attended an academic meeting on the vexed questions of employee engagement at the University of Kent the other day.  I took the opportunity to extract the gems from all the World Class speakers who presented.  But not before we take an insight from one of Rock’s Honorary Professors, none other than Prince:

What’s this strange relationship

Starting with Professor Paul Sparrow, Director of the Centre for Performance Led HR.  I’ve summarised Paul’s most compelling insight from his opening keynote:

Engagement is needed in the current age for three reasons:  When the world outside changes incrementally or radically; When you want to change the rules of the game for disruptive innovation or; When you want to become more fluid / adaptive

The last reason reminded me of Chris Argyris’ and Peter Senge’s work on learning companies – see the post on Britney Spears for more on this.

Dr Amanda Shantz from York University, Canada offered us some great insights into what to do with disengaged employees.  Dysfunctional relationships are at the heart of such problems and therefore part of any potential antidotes.  Once again Prince offers us a gem of wisdom via his piece “what’s this strange relationship, ship, ship, ship, ship” .  I did have a video of “strange Relationship” here but his purple holiness asked youtube to remove it – damn! 😦

Amanda more or less just regurgitated  some good old-fashioned job design ideas courtesy of Hackman and Oldham.  Despite this, I confess I found myself enjoying these since they align well with ideas I presented in Punk Rock People Management.  Just because Hackman and Oldham are a bit untrendy, does not mean that they should be displaced by a “7-dimensional model from a trendy HR consultancy firm”.  Click on the PUNK ROCK HR link to get some wholesome common sense on job design and engagement.

A no-nonsense guide to people management for busy people

On to Professor Rob Briner from University of Bath, who posed the ‘Morrissey question’:  How bad an idea is employee engagement?  A jolly good question in my view ! 🙂  He provoked the audience in a very skilled way to question the notion that engagement is actually a good thing, supported by a good deal of well researched data.  Rob demonstrated eloquently the problem of HR gurus such as Gary Hamel, who seem to mouth the word ‘engagement’ at HR conferences more times per minute than Robert Plant used to sing ‘baby’ in the average Led Zeppelin song.

Dr Brad Shuck from the University of Louisville looked at the ever-present dilemma of measurement.  We are able to measure almost everything these days and many businesses do just that.  Just because you can measure everything doesn’t mean you should. One quote from Kahn stood out “The fragility of engagement is a function of how vulnerable we feel, and are, when we risk being fully present in a situation”.  Feels more like a poem or a lyric than a management consultancy concept 🙂  I later found out that Brad is an avid jazz and country musician which explained a lot for me.   A great treatment on a troublesome topic which has spawned a whole industry of people feeding off the measurement dilemma.

Professor John Purcell posed the thorny question “Is embedded employee voice an essential pre-requisite for engagement”.  But what did it mean?  He was really talking about reciprocity.  In Punk Rock HR terms this translates to “What do I get?” i.e. If I give you something, I will expect something in return.  I think that is a handy definition of engagement although I don’t think it is well understood in the business world.

Finally, David McLeod and Nita Clarke outlined the steps to be taken in partnership with HR practitioners and academics to make high performance a part of ‘business as usual’.  Professor Adrian Furnham’s work on this area is most incisive – see the post on Adrian Furnham for more.  Adrian and I have shared a stage and a few glasses of wine and beer.  He is the ‘boss’ on such things should you wish us to come to present this stuff in an intelligent AND engaging way.  Oh, yes, and don’t forget to ask us for a copy of Punk Rock HR via this slide deck:

We must of course return to Prince for some salutary advice on the psychological contract, reciprocity and discretionary effort.  As usual Prince takes the whole subject of engagement well beyond the usual limits – you’ve gotta love him for it 🙂

Let’s Pretend We’re Married

"If I was ur girlfriend, I'd just pretend we're married" - Oh dear I look like Thomas Dolby :-)(  At HRD 2012 with Lauren of www.growthepeople.co.uk

“If I was ur girlfriend, I’d just pretend we’re married” – Oh dear I look like Thomas Dolby :-)( At HRD 2012 with Lauren of http://www.growthepeople.co.uk

A Rock’n’Roll Christmas – Part 1

Rockin' all over the world

This year I have been blessed to meet some fantastic people around the blogging universe.  They have kindly offered to send me a Christmas message, so here for your delight are some Rock’n’Roll life and business coaching tips taken from a magical mystery tour round the world:

We start out journey close to my home in London: Meet Doug Shaw, author of Stop Doing Dumb Things to Customers, who indulges me with a bit of punk rock.  “Joe Strummer taught me to be ‘anti-ignorance’ and for sharing ‘Without People You’re Nothing’

Doug also offered us the example of Neil Ellwood Peart from the supergroup Rush – for his ability to recover from personal tragedy and his endless thirst for improvement.  A class act.  Lest we forget:

We must rush on … to platform 9 and ¾ at Kings Cross to join The Flying Scotsman.  We are met in Edinburgh by Colin Millar, aka The Ranting Scotsman.  Colin cranks it up with a leadership lesson from classic rock:  Queen’s ‘One Vision, One Mission’.

Colin rants “The title and lyrics say it all and I think it’s a great message for business people – ‘One Vision’ is first and foremost about the ‘vision’ and extrapolating what that vision is and the unity vision creates, bringing people and cause together.  I also like the concept of ‘consensus in eden’ that runs through the song”.

From a big country we then take a passage to India, to hear from Sonia Jaspal, who focuses on the power of music to create and maintain emotions.  She says “I think without music, the world would lose the most beautiful power of expressive emotions. It touches the depth of our soul. I am still a person that when I listen to some of the softer numbers I have tears in my eyes. Yeah, I need a box of tissues while watching some movies.   Also, without music, one would lose most of the inspirations in life. When one listens to beautiful music it somewhere resonates deep within. It has the capacity to change emotions and thinking.

Sonia’s favorite song is from an Hindi movie titled Safar (Journey). The song is ‘Zindagi Ka Safar’ (Life’s journey) sung in Kishore Kumar.  It is portrayed via an actor suffering cancer.   He is singing the song:

Moving on to Canada, home of Bryan Adams, Celine Dion and Francois Guay, who leads the Attack Defend Disrupt blog.  His choice of music that offers us a lesson in life or business is ‘More than a Feeling’ by Boston:

Francois takes up the story “This song contains my favourite guitar riff ever.“ Editor’s note – I can sign up to that!  “Although most people see it as a man disappointed in a having lost someone he loved, the song to me is all about reaching your goal, i.e. When you achieve one of your key goals that is “more than a feeling” it’s sublime and must be reproduced again and again.”  Seems like a lot of people agree that music inspires us to focus on and reach our goals.

Back to Blightly to meet Alison Chisnell, HR Director of Informa and author of The HR Juggler.  Alison’s song with a message is Billy Joel’s ‘All About Soul’.  She takes up the story:  “The context is that as an idealistic 18 year old, I had just begun a six month stint working in a children’s home in Zimbabwe as part of my gap year and in the early days I felt isolated, homesick and terrified that I had made the wrong decision. This song resonated as a reminder to commit fully to the adventure I was experiencing, to bring my values and passion to the task at hand, to ‘man-up’ and become more resilient and to accept that standing up and being counted was and is a good thing. Bland is rarely, if ever, good….so don’t be afraid to be you and get stuck in! Just because it isn’t easy doesn’t mean that it won’t be hugely rewarding.”

Staying on the theme of soul, we finish with Sharon Howard, who offers us lessons in life and business from Bill Withers about the importance of delegation, support and asking for help. We all need the help of others in order to succeed and they need us too, we all need somebody to lean on 🙂 A truly inspirational piece:

Coming up, we have more stories from bloggers and cool people all round the world.

Hope you have a Rock’n’Roll Christmas! – if you have not yet treated yourself to a free copy of my new micro book ‘Punk Rock People Management’, get an electronic copy by mailing me at peter@humdyn.co.uk.  I look forward to hearing your comments on this blog, suggesting other songs that have meaning for you.

Have a great Punk Rock Christmas - Click on the picture for the free book - Picture by Lindsay Wakelin Photography http://lindsaywakelinphotography.com/

Networking in the Dragons Den

I’d previously commented on the role of planned luck in making business networking work, following my recent visit to Greece.  Yet another few pieces of planned spontaneity came together the other day.

I’d been asked to make a film for the Open University Business School as an advocate of their MBA programme.   To make the most of their time and film crew, I devised a “3 for 1 offer”, by bringing along some great fellow MBA colleagues: Phil Hawthorn and Kim Tasso, a strategy/business development consultant and writer on management/marketing in the professions.  Here’s the film The Open University made, shot outside Dingwalls, the famous London Rock venue:

p.s. Video made by Louise Hill-Hottinger of Chalk Square Media– superb work with no fuss.

This led to an invite to the inaugural professorial lecture by Evan Davis, Presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Today, The Bottom Line and BBC One’s Dragons Den.  I had been keen to give Evan copies of ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’ and ‘Punk Rock People Management’ and had wondered how to do that in an evening where there were more than 200 people present and there would be no time for detailed conversation.

The answer arrived quite by chance.  I got off the train at Milton Keynes to find Mr Davis on the platform, looking for the stairs.  “Are you going to the Open University Evan?” I asked.  His 1st impression was that he was being approached by a busker (I had a Sex Pistols T-Shirt and a guitar about my person, so it was not an unreasonable assumption! 🙂 Once he realised I was an MBA tutor and not a stalker, he invited me to share a taxi to the University, giving me a unique opportunity to help him prepare for the audience he faced that evening and also to share the books.  He kindly agreed to have a read in between everything else he does and I was delighted to have met him on a 1:1 basis rather than in the hustle and bustle of a busy event.  To hear Evan Davis’ inaugural lecture click on the links – LECTURE and Q&A.  Here’s a picture of us at the lecture later on.

Rock’n’Roll Economics – at the Professorial Lecture

Check out Punk Rock People Management.   The book recently overtook Dave Ulrich, Gary Hamel and the usual HR Gurus, having hit No 1 on Amazon in management and HR books.

Speaking of Dragons Den – I leave you with this mashup by the BBC on Steve Jobs:

Knowing me, Knowing you aha – In praise of Slough

Whilst my life as a keynote speaker, mixing music with business concepts, is considered to be more exciting than the usual speaker fare by some of my colleagues, I often forget to mention that I spend about 50% of my time doing quite ordinary business consultancy without rock music.  Such was the occasion a few weeks ago, when Slough Community Leisure called upon my services to help them rethink their 5-year strategy in the wake of changes in their market, customer and stakeholder base.

If you run a leisure centre, never mind all the HR boll …cks about “People are our greatest asset”.  It really IS all about your people – there’s nothing else to separate you from the rest.  Customer service separates the sheep from the goats in terms of whether you get customers, keep them, or get them to become fans of your product / service and become active referrers.  This requires an emotionally literate workforce.  We only have to look at the comic emotional bankruptcy of Alan Partridge to see the polar opposite of the way Slough Community Leisure operates:

So, what do I like about Slough Community Leisure.   Well, the clue is in the title of this post, otherwise known as Emotional Intelligence.  Thick books have been written about EI by Daniel Goleman and many others, but it comes down to the issue of internal and external mastery, or as Abba put it ‘Knowing me, Knowing you’:

Emotional Intelligence unplugged

In Slough Community Leisure’s case, they think carefully about the customer experience – this includes offering services specifically targeted to particular groups e.g. late night go karting.  It is also modelled down to the last detail in everything they do both face to face and online.  It’s the same critical competence that first direct use to rise above other players in the banking industry.

To finish, let’s see another take on Abba’s genius – The Abba section starts at around 5 minutes 37 although the rest of the video is yet another masterclass in emotional (un) intelligence:

Please share your thoughts on innovation customer excellence here.  A recent interview on the topic with Tom Peters can be found at Innovation Excellence.

10 Rock’n’Roll Business Tips

Here’s a short post in the form of 10 pieces of business wisdom, summarised through the words and music of rock music, presented in a PowerPoint show.  To get the show go to ROCK WISDOM  and click on the icon ‘Download Rock Wisdom’.

To whet your appetite, here are some of the 10 tips, without their business lessons to ensure you go look at the show – it’s worth it.

The great pretender – Queen

Puppet on a string – Sandie Shaw

The great escape – Blur

Video killed the radio star – Buggles

This town ain’t big enough for the both of us – Sparks

Purely for pleasure, let’s see one of the points on marketing made musically by the genius that is Prince, in the form of ‘U Got The Look’ from his seminal album ‘Sign O’ The Times’:

If you like the slideshow, you will love Punk Rock People Management.  This new book recently overtook Dave Ulrich, Gary Hamel and the usual HR Gurus, having hit No 1 on Amazon Kindle in management and HR books.   There are a number of options available to get your copy:

Beautiful full colour print version

Kindle version – UK

Kindle Version – Worldwide

FREE pdf version of the book by e-mail

The print version of the book makes an excellent and unique Christmas present.  Check this review out by the Open University Businsss School.  I recently presented a copy of the book to Evan Davies, BBC presenter of The Today programme and Dragons Den.

I’ll leave you with another musical version of one of the 10 Rock / Business lessons from the slide deck, from Blur, in the form of ‘The Universal’ from their ‘Great Escape’ album: