Comments are closed. The enemy withinOn 14 May 2002 in Vexatious claims, Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article Watch your back – they’re all out to get you. Jane Lewisprofiles the enemies of HR and outlines their modus operandi. Be afraid, bevery afraid. And watch out for…Has it occurred to you more frequently of late that you are surrounded byenemies? You may think you are well liked at work; perhaps you actually are.But the growing power of HR within many companies – and the accompanying burstof self-esteem in the profession – have had the effect of bringing more baddiesout of the woodwork than ever before. And the more they hear organisations likethe CIPD banging on about the ‘measurable and provable’ links between effectivepeople management and the bottom line, the more vicious they seem to get. What began as a sniggering campaign – the pen-pushing petty-mindedness ofpersonnel managers, their tendency to ‘bleat’ and ‘moan’, their presumptuousrequest for boardroom recognition, etc – has now boiled into a full-scaleassault. In January, Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at University CollegeLondon, published research that claimed to explode the myth of the personnelexpert. “Most people in HR have little knowledge about business,” hewrote. Indeed, “many don’t know much about HR either” and for manyPersonnel Today is the only source of knowledge, he added. Yet they have thetemerity to complain about their lack of recognition. Now it could be that, in sad HR fashion, I have been watching one too manycostume dramas, but it strikes me that HR’s current standing in the corporateworld is like that of the governess in a Victorian household: neither properlyabove stairs, nor yet below, and the subject of contempt from both sides. All good melodramas have their villains and here we attempt to list some ofthe dark forces attempting to deflect our plucky heroine from her rightfulpurpose. Some are openly malevolent, others lurk in dusty corners and seek tolure you in; all are downright dangerous if allowed to continue unchallenged. Jane Eyre eventually won her man (and her rightful position at the head ofthe dining table) by means of inherent virtue and steadfast self-sacrifice.Judging from this line-up of villains, you, dear reader, may have to playdirtier. But be of good cheer. The fact that you have got to them at all showsyou must have been doing something right. The wreckerVillain rating: 9 Why so villainous? Because these boardroom supremos are out to annihilate HR. They are thus theArch Enemy. How did they become so dangerous? Some have utopian ideas about creating a workers’ paradise free from therestrictive handcuffs of HR. Others have woken up to the fact that people meanprofits (and therefore more power within their organisation) and are determinedto add the department to their own mini-empire before someone else does. Athird group can legitimately argue they were forced into a coup by theineptitude of their existing HR department. Any examples? Yes, the list is beginning to get worryingly long. The most extreme exampleis Ricardo Semler who, having inherited his father’s Brazilian manufacturingcompany, fired every executive and abolished its entire management structure ata stroke. Under the new regime, workers set their own hours and manage thedaily running of the company. You may think scrapping formal management is arecipe for disaster, but it has certainly worked for Semler, who has restored aloss-making operation to profit. Closer to home, the most apocalyptic example is Microsoft UK, whose financedirector Steve Harvey scrapped the ‘unproductive island of HR’ after a lengthyperiod of frustration. He now incorporates all aspects of people managementwithin his own remit as ‘director of people, profits and loyalty’. How to fight back The key thing is to grab the CEO’s attention with mesmerising examples ofthe added value HR brings, as well as cautionary tales of companies that losttheir shirts when they tampered with the established management system. Youcould also warn darkly of your expertise in unfair dismissal tribunals (seeTribunal Menace, opposite). But the best defence is to abolish the HRdepartment yourself, substituting it for something suitably trendy, beforeanyone else gets the chance. The bodysnatcherVillain rating: 7 Why so villainous? The bodysnatcher (aka headhunter, or talent scout from a rival firm) is outto strip you of your best assets just when you need them most. They are also adanger to your mental health: you dissolve into paranoia every time the phonerings and come close to breaking point each time a valued employee requests aclosed door meeting. How did they become so dangerous? Bodysnatchers have always been an irritation, but they graduated to fullmenace status during the tech boom and – thanks to the prevailing skillsshortage in many sectors – haven’t looked back since. Like good generals, they make a point of studying the enemy. If you work fora public company you can be certain they will start circling like vultures theminute your share-price wobbles. Don’t forget that once they’ve achieved onesuccessful hit from your company, they gain a tactical edge from useful insideinformation. Thereafter, there’s no stopping them. You could be sucked dry. Any good examples? Loads. The main feature of new-style bodysnatching is the lengths thataggressors are prepared to go to in pursuit of your people. Professionalsnatchers offer a good deal more than a higher salary, stock options or thechance to wear shorts in the office. Their main secret is to make the hoped-forrecruit feel like they’re at the centre of the universe. And they strikewhenever they get the chance. Nortel Networks regularly sent recruiters tobaseball games, bike races and rock concerts. Its main telecomms rival Lucentspecialised in quick hire job fairs: candidates were interviewed, drug-testedand hired the same day. How to fight back At the height of the boom, old-style corporates tried to fight back byhiking salaries by up to 50 per cent (pretty effective) and introducing casualdress codes to induce a funky atmosphere (resoundingly ineffective). But themain reason so many companies were vulnerable was that they hadn’t framed aformal retention strategy. Here are some options to consider: Follow Disney’s example and give managers the authority to award salaryincreases on the spot. Encourage high-fliers to stay by allocating them personal career mentors,who could double-up as 24-hour bodyguards. Headhunt the bodysnatcher. The city suitVillain rating: 8 Why so villainous? Because they dismiss you as a whinging hanky-wringer whose holier-than-thouconcerns about the well-being of employees just get in the way of deals. Worse, they encourage your CEO and financial director to take the same lineby treating them to tickets for Twickenham, the opera or a bumper night out atSpearmint Rhino and generally dazzling them with City glamour. This means youget no say in negotiations for mergers and acquisitions (though inevitably itwill be up to you to clean up the ensuing mess) and your dreams of a seat onthe board go up in smoke. Perhaps the worst blow that the City Suits inflict is to transmit theirobsession with shareholder value, at the expense of everything else, to yourcompany’s senior management. The usual consequence is that you lose yourtreasure chest of talent in a vicious round of downsizing. How did they become so dangerous? Having spent the better part of the last century ignoring HR completely, thearrival of the service economy has forced the Suits to concede that people maybe important after all. Their fury about being proved wrong is what is fuellingtheir mighty antipathy. They loathe the idea that “personnel” haspretensions to grandeur. Any good examples? Sadly too numerous to list. But to quote one senior JP Morgan hand:”These people are a nightmare. I refuse to deal with them.” How to fight back A tricky one this: the Suits have already grown impervious to claims thatpeople management affects the bottom line and will certainly demand you showthem proof in figures (which you probably haven’t got). Somehow you must gain their respect in a language they understand. Take aleaf from the book of Logica’s HR director and insist on a £7.2m salary. The tribunal menaceVillain rating: 6 Why so villainous? Because even the most ethical, squeaky-clean operation can fall victim tothe serial tribunal plaintiff with the fanatical gleam in their eye. And whenthey target you, you can forget about doing any other work for months, such isthe legal and bureaucratic quagmire you’ll be in. And then there’s the issue of dirty laundry: it’s common practice forlitigants to air as much as possible. One minute they’re suing for unfairdismissal, the next they’re alleging that senior colleagues take coke in theloo. How did they become so dangerous? The easy answer is to blame the tribunal system/equal opportunities legislation/sexualharassment laws, but that would be a dangerous cop-out – we all need thoselaws. The simple truth about most vexatious litigants is they were born thatway. Any good examples? One of the most tenacious examples in recent years is Natasha Sivanandan, aformer race relations adviser at Brent, who has spent lengthy tranches of hercareer suing everyone from the BBC, through Enfield Council, to the HackneyAction for Racial Equality for race discrimination (the latter risks bankruptcyat her hands) and now works full-time on her back-log of cases. Even herfather, Ambalavner, a distinguished writer on racial affairs and director ofthe Institute of Racial Relations, has criticised her “constant”claims of victimisation. She says: “I am successful because I am a raceadvisor and I know the law.” How to fight back An extreme way would be to put an embargo on all firing and hiring (reallyvexatious litigants tend to sue every time they are rejected for a job), butthis is clearly a non-option. With the legal system apparently powerless tostop serial claimants, your only hope lies in not encountering one. The eurocratVillain rating: 5 Why so villainous? The chances are that many of you will disagree with this entry. And it’strue we could just as easily have chosen the opposite work/life system promotedby Uncle Sam (if only to highlight the nightmare of ‘rank and yank’, ‘hug acolleague’ and those piddling holiday entitlements Americans seem happy tosettle for). But even the most ardent Europhile has to concede that much ofwhat is coming out of Brussels is an HR nightmare. Even before you get onto thesubject of what it costs UK companies to comply with the mass of newdirectives, consider what they’re doing to your prospects. Just as you thoughtyou could come over all strategic, you get shoved back into admin hell. How did they become so dangerous? Because the EU replaced Louis XIV’s famous pronouncement ‘L’«état c’est moi’with a new slogan, ‘La bureaucratie c’est tout’. Any good examples? Where do you want to begin? Try the forthcoming directive on employeeconsultation, in which employees of all but the smallest companies will have tobe consulted in all major strategy decisions. It is as close to a nightmare asit gets. Essentially, you are being asked to incorporate legislation modelled onearly 20th century German work councils into the 21st century Anglo-Saxon modelwe know and love. For more examples consult the Daily Telegraph. How to fight back Turn the situation to your advantage by becoming expert in the loopholes ofEU social law (although there aren’t many). Alternatively, join Dixons’ founderStanley Kalms manning the barricades in Whitehall. Point out the poor state ofmost European economies compared to the thrusting UK lion. The charmerVillain rating: 2 Why so villainous? The company charmer usually takes the form of a charismatic line manager,renowned for an earthy sense of humour and the conviction that your aim oftransforming the organisation along more people-centric lines is a ludicrouswaste of time (and money). In fact, given that they tend to run their departments as private fiefdoms,they are against change of any sort. Typical ploys are to laugh at your efforts to inculcate values, go behindyour back in the recruitment process, make up rude words to the corporateanthem, and do everything possible to circumvent policy and good practice. Ifit suits them, they steal your good ideas. The worse thing is that they’re frequently unsackable: they make more moneythan anyone else, their staff adore them and they’re the CEO’s main soundingboard. How did they become so dangerous? Charmers are dangerous beasts when cornered and they see HR in general, andprogressive initiatives like knowledge management programmes in particular, aspersonal threats and inconveniences. Any good examples? Loads. In one US manufacturing company matters came to a head when a seniormanager, irritated by a new 360 degree management initiative, bellowedobscenities and threw his lunch-tray at the HR vice-president. How to fight back Fight them on their own terms by establishing your own charismaticpower-base. Alternatively, pretend to succumb to their charms: many are highlysusceptible to flattery. Send them on an anger management course or, better still, to the BreconBeacons for an impossible-to-survive management survival course.