Future predictions are correct

I am writing in response to Stephen Overell’s article asking Charles Handy to apologise for being wrong (Personnel Today, 16 November).

I guess many of your readers read The Empty Raincoat 10 years ago, but my recollection was of a much more positive portrayal of the future than Overell’s ‘half empty’ interpretation. Looking back, I can see that work has changed enormously over the past 10 years – much of it has been positive – and I would suggest that many of the predictions Charles Handy made are reality or near reality now.

Back in 1994, I worked for a near 200,000-strong organisation called British Telecom. How many of those people-factory monolithic bureaucracies are around today? I was one of 20,000 managers, all of whom were just cogs in a wheel, following the same routine, nine-to-five office life, and doing whatever was in the procedures manual.

By the time I left BT six years later, I was leading a team of people that had a business plan, but otherwise no rules or procedures. The entire team was home-based, and we had as many relationships and partnerships outside of the organisation as within. We worked harder (another Handy prediction), motivated by both significant bonus and share-save schemes, but mainly because we felt more empowered and could make a difference at an individual level. Work had become more challenging and rewarding.

I recall Handy predicting the ‘Shamrock organisation’ as one that would have three layers. Firstly, there would be the small core of key employees who develop the organisation, then the ‘contractual fringe’, comprising contractor and partner organisations that would be paid by results, and finally the flexible workforce, often freelance agents, who would be employed as and when required. This is the exact model for my organisation, a management consultancy called Corpra, where we have outsourced IT, accounting and many marketing functions, and provide as much work for our partner (‘freelance’) consultants as our own staff.

Perhaps Overell could think of an organisation that has not outsourced functions or is not using freelance support in some capacity?

What Handy did fail to predict was the economic growth, particularly in the service sector, that would mop up all the old corporate jobs, resulting in labour shortages rather than mass unemployment – but then he is a social philosopher, not an economist. You must remember that in 1994 we would not have recognised a call centre, nor heard of the internet.

For those of us who read The Empty Raincoat as a half-full optimistic foresight of the future and were sitting in ‘jobs for life’ corporate environments, Handy gave us a wake-up call. But more importantly, he gave us the framework to develop new businesses that were far more dynamic, exciting and flexible, and were able to either compete with larger organisations or meet their needs as service providers while they focused upon core business.

Neil McLocklin
Director, Corpra Consultancy

HR must stop playing the wounded victim

Oh dear. Yet more articles about the desirability of HR being given a higher profile within organisations.

People seek out those who can give them reliable, unbiased, commercial advice. If HR people do not provide this, irrespective of whether or not they have director or main board status, their opinion will not be sought, and they will have little influence in their organisations.

If, on the other hand, they offer relevant, worthwhile advice – and a proactive approach should be part and parcel of senior HR armoury – their input will be valued.

Surely other people are also becoming frustrated by the endless portrayal of senior HR staff as victims in their organisations?

Elaine Elliot
Details supplied

How can businesses improve efficiency?

Speakers and delegates at last week’s CBI conference have extolled at great length the virtues of improved efficiency, a reduction in red tape, better management of business, and a general improvement in the way the UK’s companies are run.

But one element is noticeably lacking in the discussion. Just how should businesses go about achieving this? What are the real, tangible, and locally relevant initiatives that they should be implementing?

Last year’s talk was all about improving productivity through a more flexible workforce. This wasn’t a fad – so why is it so clearly absent from this year’s debate?

Research reveals that today, 90 per cent of companies have adopted some sort of mobile or flexible working. The problem is that it’s being used in a point capacity – and only by 25 per cent of employees – to handle individual problems related to getting hold of information when needed. It’s not, at present, being used in a strategic capacity to improve business processes, or alter the way the UK’s workforce really works.

In short, new working practices are not being used to drive the efficiencies the CBI is calling for.

This month saw the launch of the UK’s first Flexible Working Week. It has been created to encourage businesses to look at flexible and mobile working as viable, strategic solutions to efficiency problems. The intention is to link up information supply with information demand through people, who are the most valuable asset of any company.

The CBI is encouraging efficiency, and I advocate that. However, I would encourage businesses to take a look at existing initiatives, such as flexible working strategies, to help drive efficiency first.

Don’t leap on the next bandwagon that could just become another talking shop in a year’s time, without fully exploring existing and easily available techniques that are, at present, grossly under-used.

Lewis Gee
UK managing director, Citrix Systems

Build relationships early or lose talent

I was surprised to see that your recruitment article (Personnel Today, 9 November) didn’t examine the process prior to a recruit joining a company, and how important this can be in ensuring expectations are delivered.

Many organisations are failing to deliver at this early, crucial stage, and are unwittingly losing talent by providing their candidates with a disappointing recruitment experience – a factor that can seriously affect employer branding.

Poor recruitment processes can take many forms, ranging from lost CVs and failure to process applications smoothly, through to lack of communication with candidates and poor post-interview feedback.

Getting this stage right is critical. Ensuring the recruitment process is as easy and efficient as possible helps to create a positive company image, and ensures that new recruits do not arrive with any misgivings or scepticism. Implementing systems such as e-recruitment solutions can help provide a streamlined and smooth recruitment process. They can go a long way to making sure that when a new employee arrives at your organisation, their expectations are still as high as they were when they applied for the position.

Patrice Barbedette
Managing director, Jobpartners

Metrics are the key to human capital

Paul Kearn’s response (Personnel Today, 16 November) to Stephen Overell’s ‘Off Message’ piece on human capital management (HCM) being dead in the water (Personnel Today, 2 November) seems to miss the point.

Overell was rightly highlighting the fact that the Government had missed an opportunity to lay down standards by which all organisations could be measured. To imply that the Saratoga Institute has no business credibility is an implication full of contradiction. An organisation that was founded in 1977 and whose clients include 400 of the Fortune 500 suggests that some think otherwise.

That said, Kearns rightly states that HR measurement should not be done for the sake of it, but I still think that we are all missing the real point.
The key thinking should be around what metrics do we want, and how can we get them.

Metrics should be easy to capture and report on, and unless HR ensures that IT systems achieve this, then HCM will continue to be difficult to pin down.

Grant Strelling
Managing director, Youmanage Ltd

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