I’ve been thinking a bit about Donald Rumsfeld lately. The old warhorse and former two time US Secretary of State has been popping up in my thoughts. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about language, particularly the language of HR and where it might be leading us. Rumsfeld is probably best know for his remarks about the potential lack of evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
In one of the most notorious press briefings of recent times, he said:
“Reports that say there’s — that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
Before we all start feeling smug about how we would NEVER talk in such terms, perhaps you might like to consider how HR continues to talk in a language all of its own and, far from the straight talking, tell-it-like- it-is simplicity that we all are apparently striving for, we continue to be amongst the greatest offenders in double speak, confused and confusing epithets, and downright meaningless nonsense.
Consider the following:
The “War” for “Talent”. Stop already. There is no “war” for talent, certainly not in the sense that any normal, sentient being would understand the term “war”. There is not even a minor skirmish, a riot, a bar room brawl. That doesn’t seem to stop lots of people in HR who really should know better, people who have been to really good schools, colleges and universities try and convince you that they are some modern day generals, scouring the battlefields for that elusive senior sales person, finance director or marketing executive as if they were some sort of recruiting soothsayer. It is not big and it is not clever. Stop it. Please.
Everything is not “Strategic” and Transformational”
Have you noticed that all those conference invitations promise you- as in, make you an actual promise– to “transform” your HR function? Not just “make it better in one or two areas that you might appreciate” or “improve some of your current practices that you haven’t quite gotten around to fixing” but, actually, transform it. Do you often end up being somewhat disappointed that they , err, don’t? That doesn’t seem to stop those conference organisers who will insist that their latest money making scheme will bring you “cutting edge” (it’s always, always cutting edge) insights, innovative thinking (notice, never logical or practical, always innovative) thinking. Seriously, if I take my car to the garage, I want it fixed, not transformed. If I go to the dentist, I’d like my teeth cleaned and polished not strategically enhanced. I could have a field day with some of this. Which, as I’m sure you have gathered, I am.
World Class HR
Oh, be still, my rising tide of bile and anger. What, exactly, is “world class HR“? Say it out loud; go on. World Class. World. Class. Once the rest of the office has stopped looking at you strangely, reflect back: World Class. Sounds good doesn’t it? Sounds powerful. Sounds important. Sounds like hyperbole to me. How do you define world class? Against what yardstick? how do you measure it? Manage it? This, my friends, is marketing speak for, as Rumsfeld would have it, “exactly what I want it to mean”.
It’s as if being “good” and “excellent” and “value for money” no longer hold any sort of value. Where does this all end? Presumably, if we are all working in world class HR functions then world class will no longer be what we should strive for and we should go for, oh I don’t know, intergalactic class or Ruler-of-the-nine-realms-of-Asgard class.
In these days of post 2008 recession, there is a really important role for HR to play in businesses and organisations: it’s a role that can have enormous influence and a role that can drive fantastic outcomes. We won’t do it though if we are stuck playing an endless game of HR Bingo.
Right, I’m off to shift the strategic paradigm. That was irony, by the way.