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.



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

This Time, It’s Personnel

Today marks the release of a book of blogs edited by David D’Souza, which has been crowdsourced and which I contributed a chapter to, courtesy of Ian Davidson, who originally connected me to the enterprise. “Humane Resourced” was the first book in the series and this one “This Time, It’s Personnel” builds on the success of volume I. The book is initially available at a bargain price of £2.59 and all proceeds go to charities chosen by the authors, after Amazon have taken their wedge.

This Time It's Personnel - Click to buy the book on Amazon

This Time, It’s Personnel – Click to buy the book on Amazon

This Time, It’s Personnel contains 70 articles featuring many of the leading HR protagonists I have come to know on Twitter, such as Kim Patterson, Ian Pettigrew, Amanda Sterling, Kate Griffiths Lambeth, Ryan Cheyne, Kandy Woodfield, Anne Tynan, Nicola Barber, Simon Arrowsmith, Robert Ordever, Gemma Ruecroft, Malcolm Louth, Jo Dodds, Tim Scott, Perry Timms, Amanda Sterling, Sukh Pabial, Tash Peiterse, David D’Souza himself and Ian Davidson, to name a few.

For my part I’ve written an article for the book again. This time it is a sober analysis of HR Strategy and how that should be connected to the business and tied to behaviour at ground floor level. Last time I wrote of disruptive innovation in HR via the medium of Punk Rock, a notion which I explored with Peter Cheese, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) the other week. I am myself an FCIPD (Fellow, now Former member), having left the institute because I felt it had become too inward looking and that some HR functions lack focus on the businesses that HR serves. I must say I was impressed with Peter’s input at the event I attended on the subject of recognition the other week and am reconsidering the CIPD as a result.

So grab yourself a copy of the book and help a charity whilst it is just £2.59.

Speaking of Humane Resources, I’m meeting Patti Russo later today – Patti has performed with Meatloaf for 20 years, Cher, Queen, in the Las Vegas production of “We Will Rock You” and many others. I was deeply impressed at how she has handled her dealings with people over this time in the highly pressured and ego ridden environment that is Rock’n’Roll. She is a shining example of ethical HR practice in an industry that is not renowned for such things and I’m proud to be working with her. I know David D’Souza has also faced many challenges ensuring the production of the book, including the death of his mum, but he has quite literally made sure that “the show must go on”. This song by Patti is for him to thank him for his perseverance in adversity:


Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He also 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.

Directing HR

Sex, HR and Rock'n'Roll, a heady cocktail

Sex, HR and Rock’n’Roll, a heady cocktail

I was invited to give the afternoon keynote at the HR Directors Forum, held at Mayer Brown Solicitors in the City the other week.  Here’s a few highlights from the event:

Myths and Riffs of High Performance

The morning kicked off with a big bang from Professor Adrian Furnham, who elegantly blew away some myths surrounding the development of High Performance organisations and people.  Here’s just a few of the key insights:

Adrian released some interesting research on Coaching.  Whilst in general research demonstrates that the vast majority of Coaching is fairly ineffective, he highlighted some conditions under which it works.  Like most things, it all comes down to solid preparation:

  • Ensuring the client is ready to receive the coaching – 40% contribution
  • Getting the relationship right between client and coach – 30% contribution
  • Client expectation that coaching will lead to improvement – 15% contribution
  • The coaches’ repertoire of models / strategies and tools to help the client – 15% contribution

This provided me with great levels of satisfaction and a certain level of smugness!! :-) since I always spend a lot of time making sure my clients are fully prepared to benefit from coaching.  We then have an initial session to find out if the ‘chemistry’ will work and I work from a wide palette of approaches to coaching and not just the limited ‘question based approach’ that bedevils the ‘friendly co-pilot’ style of coaching, otherwise known as the ‘dumb leading the blind’.  There is of course a place for purely “Socratic” question based coaching but it is just one approach from a much wider repertoire.

Adrian also dealt a critical blow to the beloved “Nine Box Performance Management model” based on UCL’s detailed research into the model.  Read his new book “High Potential” with Ian MacRae for more insights if you want to do this stuff properly. Adrian also wrote an article on music and leadership for Psychology Today – read it here.

Nine Lives no more ...

Nine Lives no more … read High Potential by clicking on the picture

It also featured superb sessions from Liz Codd, who gave great insights into the realities of assessing leadership potential in an international Asset Management Firm and from John Renz at Novae Group, who also gave a practical example of how to do Coaching well in a business context, giving pragmatic triangulation to Professor Furnham’s ideas

Never Mind the Neuro-Boll … ks …

The most difficult session was an input on neuroscience and HR.  Admittedly, it was far too short to give any real opportunity to dig into the topic so I have some sympathy for the speaker.  My main difficulty with the session is that there was very little that did anything more than to reinforce some well known truths from over 100 years of social research on the topic by Herzberg, Victor Vroom et al. We already know that money doesn’t satisfy and that recognition is more important than reward.  We also know that the alignment of goals with personal motivations matters for high performance.  The speaker admitted that the addition of the word “neuro” to just about everything is simply an example of “old wine in new bottles”.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a scientist by original profession and neuroscience is an important scientific development, but I agreed with her that we must be careful to avoid strapping it on to just about everything.

Be skeptical when being sold neuro - bollocks

Be skeptical when being sold neuro – bollocks

I fought the Law, and the Law won …

Plus a superb session from a Lawyer – YES, a superb session from a Lawyer.  I have suffered the slings and arrows of numerous talks by lawyers when I was Branch Chair and Council Board Member for CIPD, but this was exceptional.  Clear, simple advice and insights from Chris Fisher at Mayer Brown into how companies can protect their intellectual property when people leave plus a range of other topics.

Sex, HR and Rock’n’Roll

The odd ball of the day was the panel session on “Sexism and the City”.  I am a vigorous advocate of diversity in every shape and form, having worked in a meritocracy at the Wellcome Foundation, a company who won four Nobel Prizes for it’s groundbreaking work in medicines for life threatening conditions.  In such a company, the work is much more important than politically correct quotas of black / white, straight / gay, able-bodied / disabled, male / female as a driving force for the selection and development of people.   As a result we had a genuine global village at the company and I found myself wondering whether the square mile was somehow still stuck in the 14th Century?  The session included a rant from a self-confessed “alpha female” who asked for a revolution to introduce female quotas in the City.  There is nothing less persuasive than a single issue protester with a ‘sandwich board’ so it was difficult to hear the sensible arguments that lay beneath it. However there were three other panel members who put forward wider arguments, beyond the outdated idea of bringing back quotas for women in senior positions which has failed over several generations.  After all, do we really think that just transplanting women without the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes into positions is likely to make them shine?  The thinking needs to go much further than this, more along the lines of Professor Charles Handy and Tom Peters’ thought leadership in this area.  Overall, the panel session was provocative and set me thinking about the issues, so it did succeed in its aim of livening up the session before lunch after a long morning.

Adaptation, Improvisation and Organisation

I was asked to deliver the after lunch keynote … where I was rather strangely introduced as “I met some bloke who mixes rock music and business the other week” to a series of slightly confused people who were expecting a thought leader and former CIPD Council Board member rather than a busker.  Oh well, that happens from time to time! :-)  The session went very well despite losing nearly 1/3 of the time available and with this strange beginning.  Here’s my slide deck on the substantial issues of adaptation, improvisation and organisation in HR.  Contact me to discuss the issues I raised or for a personal walkthrough of the talk, where we looked at personal creativity and is relationship to adaptive or learning companies.

We finish with the main title of my talk:


About the Author:  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 or +44 (0) 7725 927585.


HR Directors Rock in the City

I’m delighted to have been asked to provide the ‘after lunch’ slot at the HR In The City event on May 22 in London, organised by Leadenhall Consulting. Featuring a cast of star speakers and facilitators, led by Professor Adrian Furnham of UCL and author of 78 books on psychology at work:

The bill for the HR Director's forum

The bill for the HR Director’s forum

I have a special offer available as a speaker at the event.  Two free tickets for senior HR people working in the City.  Drop me a line at peter@humdyn.co.uk to claim one of these free places.  I’m also able to offer a discount to readers of this blog on the early bird booking fee for individuals and groups of people wishing to attend.

I’ll be delivering a thought provoking session about becoming a true learning company from the parallel universes of HR and Rock Music. Come along and find out more about what we can learn from Madonna, Prince, Nokia, First Direct, Radiohead and many more about adaptability and improvisation.

The HR Hall of Fame - From Bowie, The Beatles, Madge to Skoda, Nokia et al

The HR Hall of Fame – From Bowie, The Beatles, Madge to Skoda, Nokia et al

Finally some HR related pieces from Madonna on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Prince on Ethics and Systemic Thinking and an interview with Tim Smit, CEO of the Eden Project on Leadership:


About the Author:  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 or +44 (0) 7725 927585.

Harry Potter and the dark side of work

I was delighted to be invited by my good friend Professor Adrian Furnham to the launch party of  his new book  High Potential along with Kate Griffiths Lambeth.  High Potential is Adrian’s 78th book, co-written with rising star Ian Macrae.  The book is a superb compendium of practical ideas about psychology at work, written in an engaging style without all the usual jargon that the so-called professionals like to use to befuddle and ensnare us.

Highly Charged, High Voltage, High Potential - With Adrian, Ian and Kate at Bloomsbury - The Home of HP:  Harry Potter and High Potential

Highly Charged, High Voltage, High Potential – With Adrian, Ian and Kate at Bloomsbury – The Home of HP: Harry Potter and High Potential

The conversation and company were great and Kate and I shared some thoughts about the dark side of life afterwards over some warm beer.

On Twitter and Relationships

Twitter is a massive “Johari Window”, where people crash into each others lives, loves, hopes and fears in just 140 characters.  But, out of this chaotic and complex series of exchanges come a few genuine friendships and connections.  Amongst the people I am glad to know, like and trust that I would not know without Twitter are Trevor Lee, Kate GL, Mervyn Dinnen, David D’Souza, Andrew Sentance, Meg Peppin, Doug Shaw to name but a few, so Twitter works.   However, misunderstandings are the norm on Twitter and I always make a point of meeting people who interest me using more traditional means, such as a cup of tea and a proper dialogue. So 140 characters only take me to the point of “Knowing me, Knowing you, aha” and one needs more than this to create a proper relationship.  More a case of “Text and Drugs and Rock and Roll” … :-)

140 characters is insufficient to move us out of mutual oblivion on Twitter, but it can help us make a start ...

The Johari Window: 140 characters is insufficient to move us out of mutual oblivion on Twitter, but it can help us make a start …

On High Potential

One of the fascinating conversations we held with Adrian and Ian Macrae was on the impact of loss on high potential.  Adrian, Ian and myself share the loss of a parent at an early age and it certainly affected our drive and determination.  But the issue is complex and Ian gave personal witness to his own example, where he and his brother reacted quite differently to the loss.  This neatly explains why some people lose something precious early on in life and “stay in a ditch” whereas others decide to “get out of the ditch”.  Entrepreneurs such as Michelle Mone, inventor of the Ultimo Bra, points to early hardship as a spur to her success, but the relationship is complex and it does not necessarily work the other way, i.e. treat your kids badly to make them into leaders, as one of my MBA students once suggested !! :-)


From the Gutter in Glasgow to the G Cup and G String – Michelle Mone’s entrepreneurial journey started with extreme hardship

On The X-Factor

Adrian eloquently explained the problem that can arise when confidence exceeds talent, using the X-Factor as a superb illustration.  High Potential explores the ‘dark side of personality’ and Adrian used Steve Jobs as an example of someone with a number of unappealing traits but who was saved by his unique vision and his ability to almost always make great decisions.  The substitution of confidence for talent is also a potentially dangerous cocktail …  Just witness this demonstration of mutually assisted narcissism on the X-Factor: Adrian ironically pointed out that Bloomsbury had made a great choice in commissioning the book, having also spotted the talent that is J.K. Rowling.  In this context, I was reminded of this simply great piece of popular psychology about the difference between talents and choices from Harry Potter:

Thanks for a superb evening of intelligent conversation, insight and inspiration.

High Potential - Click the picture to get your copy

High Potential – Click the picture to get your copy


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 or +44 (0) 7725 927585.

Creativity – I love you

Creativity is seeing something different in the ordinary ...

Creativity is seeing something different in the ordinary …

Seven questions to prompt your own reflections on your creativity.

  1. What do you consider your creative strengths?
  2. How do these make you uniquely able to do what you do?
  3. Where are the applications for these strengths – in business, in life etc.?
  4. How might you develop your creative strengths?
  5. Are any aspects of your creativity liabilities in certain situations?
  6. What untapped parts of your life are currently unused in your work?
  7. How might you make better or different uses of these strengths?

Following a great post on Linkedin asking about people’s personal creativity strengths by Lynette Jensen in Australia, I was prompted to reflect on my own strengths in this area. Rather than filling in endless questionnaires and conducting 360 degree appraisals, I asked my wife, who probably is more accurate and truthful than the other approaches! She reminded me that I have had an unusually fortunate life in respect of creativity, having more or less mapped out my own career (she is rather jealous! :-) ).  She went on to help me notice some of the uncommon strengths that have accrued as a result of this:

  1. I have worked across 3 distinctly diverse disciplines – Science, Business and Music. This cross-curricular learning helps me make connections between things that apparently others don’t. This makes me variously wonderful, strange, deep, hard to follow and a host of other positives and negatives :-)  If working with me is rewarding but hard work, then living with me must be much worse! Fortunately, my wife has the patience of a saint …
  2. I’ve worked in industry, academia and in the community – in Industry, working for a pharmaceutical company all around the world, in academia, teaching MBA’s in creativity and innovation, in business as a consultant, author and speaker on creativity and innovation in overlapping cycles of 18 years each, plus in the community as a rock musician over my entire life. She said that this gives me the ability to work with people of all levels and viewpoints, from professors, world leaders through to people on the ground floor of companies and those people who are in the gutter, looking at the stars. She reminded me that it is uncommon to be at ease and able to work with people from all walks of life.
  3. The academic and industry part of my life makes my creativity grounded within a business context.  She points out that this is a huge difference to the ‘usual suspects’ in the field and this was confirmed by a corporate client recently, who chose Human Dynamics for a piece of consultancy work preferentially against the market leader, because of our repertoire, depth or experience and grounding.
  4. I never consider I have stopped learning, which makes me innately curious, the stuff of creativity and innovation. I live to learn and learn to live. Mental playfulness is a muscle that I like to stretch and test, sometimes to destruction.  It is a quality that is crucially missing from many companies these days, which may explain how we get hired to help people leverage their creativity and innovation.


Here’s the seven questions again to prompt your own reflections. Alternatively ask someone that knows you well:

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 23.07.19

For more explorations on what makes individuals especially creative and how to harness that power personally and corporately, check out the book “Best Practice Creativity“.  I’m presently writing a follow up volume and looking for stories and examples about what works in the field of personal creativity.  Please get in touch if you have a contribution.  Full credits given.

Best Practice Creativity - Available in English, Russian and American ...

Best Practice Creativity – Available in English, Russian and American … Acclaimed by Professor Charles Handy


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 or +44 (0) 7725 927585

What makes you happy at work?

What makes you happy at work?  Money? Praise? Doing something new? Meeting people? The ability to use your expertise? Giving something to others? Fame? Feedback? …  There’s some background to the question, in the form of a summary of Fred Herzberg’s work on satisfiers and dissatisfiers, and that of the other motivational giants in the book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll

Business mixed with music

What turns you on at work? Find out here

I was reflecting upon my own motivators the other day when a client said to me “You’ve never had a care in the world.  For you, work is play”

Whilst I accepted this casual remark in the manner in which she intended it, as a piece of praise, the person in question obviously did not know just how much I care about my work and the painstaking design activity that sits behind what I do, so that it all looks easy on the day. But, indeed she was right.  We often do our best when there is a happy marriage between our own talents and what our job requires of us. When people have asked me “what is my secret to personal motivation”, I point out that I have simply brought what I love doing into close proximity with what my customers want and need, always ensuring that their needs come before my wants.  It’s what Wham were talking about when they came up with their ‘Choose Life’ T-Shirt:

If you're gonna do it, do it right

If you’re gonna do it, do it right …

That said, there are moments in my work when I do realise just how lucky I am .  One such moment occurred the other week after I had delivered an evening keynote address in innovation for a company and we had completed some team building activities with music after dinner.  Around 10.30 pm I realised that all was well and, just for a moment, I felt I could relax  and observe the scene.  I was playing “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath with Bernie Tormé, guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, Ian Gillan, GMT et al, and was getting paid for it.  “How lucky am I”, I thought to myself.  Better still Bernie was kind enough to complement me on my playing when I drove him home later. Proof positive that praise and authentic feedback are huge “Herzberg motivators”.

Sharing a joke with a Monster of Rock - Bernie Tormé

Sharing a joke with a Monster of Rock – Bernie Tormé

So, never mind the boll…cks and books on personal development.  If you want to “Live to Work” rather than “Work to Live”, the goal is simply to marry something you love to do with something that someone else (a) wants / needs and (b) is prepared to pay you for.  If you wish us to come and do a masterclass on the topic plus a live music experience, please get in touch.  We’ve had enquiries from a wide range of people around the world, from pharmaceuticals in the USA to HMRC and a University who wants to help the local economy make a step up through innovation and export.

To finish, we must reach out again for George Michael and Co, who said it simply with the phrase “Enjoy What You Do” in their 1980’s benefit classic ‘Wham Rap”:


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