Is anyone interested in an HR boss swap?

I’ve been watching recent episodes of TV’s Boss Swap with considerable
interest. Bosses that are highly successful in one environment were wholly
unable to transfer their skills to another. Why? Was it due to something
intangible or difficult to quantify, such as company culture? If so, what does
that mean for the current HR vogue of trying to measure everything
statistically or by reference to so-called ‘hard data’?

It certainly begs the question as to whether bosses create an environment in
which the workforce thrives, or not. In Boss Swap , it quickly became apparent
that established behaviours in participating companies were a powerful force.
Attempts to change them were often unsuccessful and frequently led to the
alienation of employees. This certainly has implications for the much-vaunted process
of change management. It seems that without truly engaging the workforce, the
prospects of real success are slim.

Boss Swap gives insights into why leaders can be enormously successful in
one organisation or sector, yet fail so overwhelmingly in another. Certainly
the case is made that in HR, as in so much of life, one size does not fit all.
People strategies need to be tailored to an organi- sation, then threaded
throughout it from top to bottom.

Boss Swap was successful in that as much as the participating leaders failed
to readily transfer their skills, they did all recognise they had learned from
the experience.

There was a degree of humility perhaps, in recognising that a ‘leader’ in
one organisation could not necessarily demand or expect ‘followers’ in another.
Achievement of change, it seems, is as much about winning hearts and minds as
it is about facts and figures.

It was also apparent that none of these medium-sized organisations in the
programme appeared to have any HR professional of stature represented. Why
should this be the case, I wondered, and would things have been materially
better had there been such representation?

So what can HR professionals learn from the Boss Swap series then? Maybe we
need to accept that however successful our strategies are in one business, they
may not transfer easily. Perhaps we all need to recognise and try to capture
softer behaviours in our organisations and to value these as highly as hard
output measures. And most of all, perhaps, we should all actively seek
different experiences in our HR careers. Much improved networking would enable
us to learn from others, prepare us to lead, and lead others to lead in
unfamiliar environments.

Certainly my own experience in top HR roles in both private and public
sectors have been challenging and rewarding in quite different ways. HR boss
swap anyone?

By Paul Pagliari, Head of HR, Scottish Water

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