Your Daily Planet

Warning: this blog will not make you a better or happier person.

The environmental impact of today’s proliferation of impulsive, improvident musings on the political, social and economic front by everyone and their dog is hard to overstate. Thriving on Angst, it has globally led to a poisoned and unfulfilled society, expressing its protest and aggression on social media, in national elections or provocative referenda and ever more politically inspired strikes.

This digital pollution in which every factless opinion is voiced is but a sign of a deeper disconnect. Innovation has never been as pervasive, yet progress for all is hard to demonstrate. The way we work has never been as varied and diverse, still unions stubbornly hold on to dogmas from a lost era. Employers scream for well-educated talent, yet gladly robotize their workforce. Governments understand very well that companies do not pay their fair share of tax, yet persevere in slashing corporate tax in a global race to the bottom. In short, our economic model has created over the last 30 years few but formidable winners enjoying unseen wealth while armies of people have been downgraded to a form of dependency on the nation-state.

When humans are lost, they retrench in an ideology or belief in one form or another. As history reminds us, none of them proves to be the answer. While religion cunningly outsources the solution to the after-life, ideologies continue to profess immediate remedies to the woes of the world, trumping Hegel’s ‘Umso schlimmer für die Wirklichkeit’. Humans willfully negate facts to create memes, stories, movements and short-lived dreams that fit their preconceived mindset. Humans believe what they want to believe, not what is true.

Critical thinking and years of experience do not guarantee that out of the many theories currently circling the internet, you will find a fitting solution for your challenge, whether it is personal or work-related.  Am I adding to this digital pollution? Most probably. Is silence the answer? Likely not. Do my words carry meaning in a world where fiction is mistaken for reality? Not really. How then can I help overcome some of humanity’s natural stupidity?

Today I can’t. Even if I were Clark Kent. Tomorrow, who knows?

At first, I did have high hopes for the artificially intelligent robot. Thriving on unlimited data, able to learn from all sources of knowledge, understanding what is true or false, surpassing human’s cognitive capacity and critical thinking by the millions, outperforming humans on all fronts, I had thought I could trust its scientific insight and judgment, sifting through the garbage and mayhem we mortals produce. A better, braver world awaited us.

But then in a split-second doubt overcame me when I considered the intelligent robot one day would read the following: the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, is that none of it has tried to contact humans. I would have liked to trust the artificially intelligent life-form would have seen the humor of this thought and would have discarded it as irrelevant, as scientifically, our presence on earth is just a blip on the cosmic scale and neighboring galaxies are countless lightyears away, hence making contact impossible. Then it dawned on me that the robot would come to understand that humans are indeed just a blip and that its own life, albeit virtual, in passing data from one robot generation to the next, is potentially endless. Is contacting other intelligent life for AI then just a matter of time? Is the truth out there?

There are things we cannot know. Lies the only real progress in learning to be wrong all alone, as Camus said? Across the universe?

 

Untapped Leadership

We all know plenty of companies with an all-white male board, whereby the average age resembles one you might find in a retirement home. It not only makes a pathetic group photo but sadly also stands for a dysfunctional governance model, where a conservative world view dominated by groupthink fails to capture the potential value of the company. Enlisting one or two women as a shield against justifiable criticism only serves as lipstick on a pig. They figure as trophies rather than as leaders. Given the dynamic nature of today’s economic environment, the enormous challenge digitization causes and the speed of change a company needs to keep up with, any board should consist of agile customer-centric leaders who embrace new business models, champion transformation and mothball the old boys network where incrementalism rules. BeBoldForChange, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, is never something a board will propagate or defend. Forgive me the cheap paraphrase but Boards live by Be Bald and only Change when all other avenues are closed.

The board is however only the tail-end of the problem as it is practically never a catalyst for change. The real issue plays at the executive level and below. There companies clearly do not pull from the fullness of their talent pool. While everybody agrees that diversity leads to better results, the underrepresentation of women in middle and senior management remains striking. Clearly the executives in the last 50 years have lacked the courage and dynamism to address this issue.

The question remains what companies can do to avoid any loss of talented women on the career ladder so gender parity at the executive level comes naturally. Equal career-path development and remuneration are not enough. Nor are reinventing the workplace, CEO commitment and company-wide change programs. Although important and contributing, soft targets and awareness initiatives do not move the needle. The only thing that really signals the commitment of a company to diversity is its direct correlation to pay. Only hard targets, where variable pay is won or lost, will motivate lower, middle and senior management to address the issue. Treating the diversity target the same as a revenue or operating margin target from a reward standpoint is a prerequisite. Missing the diversity target should weigh as strong as missing revenue or operating margin.

There is more companies can do. The traditional leadership style and the traditional performance model are not helping. There’s a strong male bias to both. There is also more that governments can do. Creating the conditions and legal framework for equal opportunities never stops.

I have been lucky in my career to meet and work with great female leaders. I cannot thank them enough as they’ve enriched me beyond recognition. Sadly, I’ve seen too many not get the recognition, reward and promotion they deserved. This blog is for all of you. You represent an ocean of untapped leadership. Forty-five years ago, John Lennon sang ‘Woman is the nigger of the world’. It would have made an obvious piece of music to conclude this blog but today, I want executives to think.

My favourite mistake

All of you know by now that every blog ends with a piece of music. A song that captures the blog, or tries to, even if only by the title. Usually I start looking for a song late in the writing process. Today is an exception. While I was scribbling some thoughts, trying to explore some alternative views on Global Talent Management, the title of this song kept haunting me to the extent that I promoted it to the title of this text. As usual, you will find the music at the end of the blog. It serves as the alfa and omega of this blog.

When I think of Global Talent Management, I think along several longitudinal lines, like global standards versus local adaptation; or talent as understood by US-centric companies versus Japanese or French; or how to balance the individual versus the organization versus the context in which the organization operates; or how inclusive or elitist TM philosophies can or should be; or what strategy, structure and culture versus norms and values for TM means; or simply how diversity management intersects with TM. This and many more cross my mind.

Let me explore some of these axes.

On an individual level, GTM stand for acquiring skills and social, human, corporate and other forms of capital that augment personal competencies and business value. It allows the individual to take on a more complex, better valued, mostly managerial position across borders. If you’re not this type of individual, there’s a strong chance that TM passes you by. If you’re a technical or operational employee, you’re likely to be excluded from GTM processes. There is always the exception confirming the rule.

On an organizational level, GTM must be understood in the context of the company’s strategic capabilities: GTM relates to the strategy, the structure, the culture and the execution capabilities of the company. In short, the company is aiming through GTM to maximize the talent of those employees who are a proven source of competitive advantage and who are occupying critical positions. These 5% to 10% differentiators, these people who make a difference, are part of the GTM processes. Some companies trie to ensure that most if not all employees are aligned with the strategy, support the performance-driven culture and execute flawlessly. They might even have strong talent sitting in non-differentiating roles.

On a contextual level, GTM stands for practices that transcend organizations, networks, nationalities and sectors. It focuses on more than organizational performance. It aims to address societal issues, like diversity and inclusion. The concepts carry a different meaning in a different culture. Diversity as a concept will be very differently understood by a multicultural workforce than just getting to 40% of female employees in managerial roles. Ethnic minorities will define diversity totally differently. Same with the concept talent: while some cultures view this as potential, others limit talent to proven performance.

A specific issue that lies close to my heart is for GTM to solve the global abundance but local scarcity of talent. This is truly a global issue: in emerging economies where talent development is outpaced by the sheer growth as well as in established economies where the baby boomers are leaving the workplace in drones. More diverse, remote or virtual workforces might not suffice.

Global Talent management is clearly not the management of talented employees. Nor is it the management of talent of all employees. It is also not limited to managing skilled individuals expected to fill key managerial positions. It’s also more than cultural fit or shared values.It’s more than expatriation and job assignments. GTM is a complex construct. It relates to individuals, organizations, cultures, values and norms within an evolving context where alignment leads to employee engagement, company growth and societal improvement.

So, is overestimating TM my favorite mistake?

 

Let’s go crazy

500 years ago, Thomas More was part of a delegation revising an Anglo-Flemish commercial treaty, residing in Bruges. After his return to London, he completed his Utopia and published it at Leuven in December 1516. Utopia was written for the humanists in Europe and an elite group of public officials. More’s Utopia is a pagan communist city-state in which the institutions and policies are entirely governed by reason.

Today I allow myself some utopian thinking. I am imagining a United Europe in which institutions and policies are entirely governed by reason. I am imagining a Europe where there no longer us and them, whether ‘us’ is a nationality or religious conviction and ‘them’ is an investment banker or Syrian refugee. A Europe no longer shaping its future on illusions of the past, a Europe embracing change armed with values and laws. Values like freedom of thought and expression, gender equality, a democratic secular state ruled by law, etc. A union where all Europeans, by birth or immigration, integrate into a new political, economic, social and cultural reality.

Which brings me to the Brexit discussion. Reason tells me Europe would be better off without the UK. Since 1973, the UK has been a reluctant member. Margaret then, Boris now, represent the uneasy thought that Brussels is gnawing at absolute British sovereignty. Every opportunity to block further integration is seized with vigor and pride. It has stalled the EU for decades. It has also made the EU weak where it needs to be strong: political integration, especially in foreign policy, and economic and social integration, to create an economic bloc second to none. The British tend to be that distant family member we all have, who turns up at a wedding party just to spoil it.

The British mindset is governed by fear. Fear of losing control, fear of losing their way of life, fear of losing a sovereignty that in theory exists on paper but is in practice long gone through the reality of the global village. London might be the most diverse place on earth, but still, 25 miles out, the British are caught in the illusion of the good old days, when Britannia ruled the waves. Clearly the British feel like Julius Caesar who had rather been first in a village than second in Rome. Reason says: let them have the village while we’ll building Rome. Let them kill Thomas More twice.

Everybody working with leadership teams knows how important it is to align all members of the team to the same business strategy and execution. If you don’t agree with where the bus is going, you get off before you’re asked to. It is no different in team sports. It’s no different in the EU.

My heart, hopes that the British will just like Julius Caesar, see the village for what it truly is. I hope the British will cast the die and cross their Rubicon to be the first in Rome. I know today Brussels lacks the glory of Rome but not its power.

Reason however tells me to go crazy. I propose the EU holds a referendum under which conditions we allow the UK and for that matter any country on the EU bus or not.

Us dreamers

Belief in progress and development is as old as mankind. Since the Enlightenment, all of us are constantly contemplating a better world. Economic disruptors coupled with a growing scientific insight into the nature and culture of man form today a formidable alliance in predicting how the world of work will evolve. Everyday, a new book, article or tweet announces a better view with firm authority.

I started reading the intro to Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux (http://www.reinventingorganizations.com) a couple of days ago. Frederic talks about the soulful organization, explaining how every time humanity has shifted to a new stage of consciousness, it has also invented a radically more productive organizational model. He suggests we could be facing today another critical juncture and that we are about to make such a leap again. I really encourage you to watch the video on his blog where he explains the emergence of a new management paradigm.

Whether or not his thesis holds water or not, is for you to speculate and the future to reveal. What made me pause was the following sentence: If we accept that there is a direction to human evolution, then we hold here something rather extraordinary: the blueprint of the future of organizations, the blueprint to the future of work itself.

With these words, Frederic suggests human evolution to be teleological: meaning there is a purpose, an end, a goal, a direction, a progression to evolution. This idea, as old as mankind, was torpedoed by Charles Darwin on November 22, 1859. Science has since then respectfully delegated this conviction to the realm of beliefs.

Randomness, mutation and selection drive evolution but do not inherently provide direction. The economy, and hence the world of work, does not escape the laws of evolution.

The only certainty is that organizations will need to adapt to their environment to survive. Predicting the environment beyond 5 years is  impossible. Nokia doesn’t live to tell. Nor might Volkswagen.

I fear that even an essential element of Frederic’s work, namely the emphasis on growth and productivity, is bound to hit the wall in a world of finite resources. Which he recognizes. In his defense, he adds that It is probably no exaggeration, but sad reality, that the very survival of many species, ecosystems, and perhaps the human race itself hinges on our ability to move to higher forms of consciousness and from there collaborate in new ways to heal our relationship with the world and the damage we’ve caused. I seriously doubt the human race is moving into a higher form of consciousness. The European political landscape is indicating the opposite. Correcting the damage we caused to the planet might be best served without the human race around.

However, the issues Frederic is trying to address are very real. We need to improve the world of work. Too many people are caught in mechanistic organizations doing pointless jobs. The improvement will not lie in higher productivity and growth but in fundamentally addressing people’s unhappiness at work. Soulful organizations deserve credit and respect in trying to address the deeper human needs. Evolution will take care of the others.

The first thing we need to address in today’s organizations is the over-emphasis on individual contribution. Food for another blog. Meanwhile I challenge any organization to be as straightforward, harmonious, warm and human as Ludovico Einaudi’s I Giorni (link) and encourage everyone in the profession to contribute just like Frederic.

 

Sobering statistics

Europe continues to treat the world of work in all its antagonistic industrial glory: employers and employees belong to 2 different worlds, regulated by laws and practices, with national governments unwilling to address today’s reality of a post-industrial society. In all of the EU member states, the labor code has become overly complex and out of touch with the Zeitgeist and modus operandi of the world of work. Proof is that we all turn a blind eye to the law stricto sensu as it is trying to harness the present into an armor of the past. Being 100% legal is not only unworkable, it’s also impossible.

I know I might read too much into the physical abuse of Xavier Broseta, head of HR of Air France, when I say the unions present at the work council meeting, realizing again their impotence and irrelevance, resorted to violence and chose the easiest target to vent their frustration. Some of you think it was just be a scandalous act by a couple of individuals. For me there’s more. The unions seem to be stuck in the industrial model while for the last 30 years it has been abundantly clear that Europe thrives on a service and knowledge economy, therefore requiring a different approach. Thirty years of wrong strategy kills all companies, unions included.

The world has not only moved on. There is another reality dawning, which might (r)evolutionize flexible work: the human cloud: work performed remotely and on-demand by independent workers. Knowledge work is easily transportable to these individuals who refuse to be employees. This allows employers to get the right person at the right time for the right cost, irrespective of their location, without employment contracts or limitations. I can imagine a world of work where independent knowledge workers will start to bid for the work on offer. Even a ‘Work Echange’, much like the NYSE, is not unthinkable. Upwork, connecting freelancers with jobs in a variety of industries, guestimates it will reach $10bn in the foreseeable future.

The most sobering statistic out of the Air France story that I discovered in the press is that only 8% of the workforce in France carries union membership. It’s high time the unions revise their strategy and start thinking about how they can influence the future legislative labor environment. They need to surmount their heritage and totally reinvent themselves. Their framework will have to be European, or potentially global, just like their environment. Violating individuals just like strikes withholding essential public services is not the answer. Abandoning current thinking and practices is a prerequisite. It will not be long before union membership falls below 5%, as the industrial share of the economy continues to decline.

Meanwhile, not only the unions but all stakeholders in the European labor market believe they’re making real progress and are modernizing at the required pace. Few acknowledge that the world has passed them by. Most are making swimming pool-size changes oblivious to the fact they are swimming in the ocean. Ask Volkswagen. They understood how big the ocean is they swim in. Air France meanwhile is still trying to fly it every day.

 

HR in a number of songs part 2

Fashion is the second thing HR is all about. Not in clothing but in mind-set.

For the last 30 years, HR has been looking to justify its existence on every possible front. In this search for relevance, HR has bounced from one fashionable idea or practice to another. Every couple of months, there’s a new tool, process, program, strategy or technology backed by an HR guru promising solutions and impact. In this quest for the Holy Grail, HR has been to the moon and back, crying foul whenever the business, armed with data and numbers, dismantled the air castles HR had so diligently built.

Some delusions have continued to live a life on their own. Today, some of the talent management but certainly all of the performance and reward practices fail to deliver on their promise. Their impact on business performance is minimal at best but always questionable and at a disproportionate cost. By November, every HR department will go in hibernation, lasting up to 5 months. HR will waste precious time and attention from both employees and managers to go through the yearly merit and bonus cycles, draining goodwill, motivation, engagement and performance on all levels.

As long as the business fails to integrate all the people practices in the business itself, thereby eliminating HR’ process and program ownership, HR will diligently go through the motions, doing incredible amounts of busy work with disappointing results. In parallel, as long as HR believes the Holy Grail is theirs to find, it will be the victim of fashion. Unintentionally, it will continue to work on a variation of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

There is however no reason to be pessimistic about HR’s future. Never before have so many people taken HR to heart. Never before has the business been so keen to take ownership. Never before has experience been so rich. The only way is up. HR will have to become a full-fledged business function, mastering data driving sustainable initiatives. Outgrowing the flavour of the day mindset, the HR popcorn programs and the tribal HR speak would make a great start.

There’s an incredible amount of songs with the word fashion in their title. Maybe the most fitting to this article is ‘Dedicated follower of fashion’ by the Kinks. You might argue Lady Gaga or David Bowie do a better job at singing the praises of fashion. I leave that entirely up to you.

I wanted to leave you with something more cheerful. One of the first student jobs I had was at a gas station along the highway. Working all week for a Texaco check with the sun beating down my neck. Not everything in the song mimics my history (I was actually working for Shell) but the upbeat atmosphere does. Besides, the video is just heart-warming. The chorus is just the best. Enjoy! You might have to skip a commercial.

Telephone road by Steve Earle

 

Jazzisms

Organisational structures have been around for as long as man can remember. They exist in all shapes and sizes, ruled by processes, systems, norms and eventually values. All have purpose and people in common: without people, purpose can’t be achieved and without purpose, people underperform and leave.

Whether your organisation is a ‘command and control’ hierarchy or a holacracy, it can’t survive without purpose and people rallying behind it. Add the elements of time, money, competition and bureaucracy and you have in a nutshell all the ingredients of our world of work. Any work.

Until you get to world of jazz. There is no obvious purpose to jazz, nor is there any given organizational framework to produce jazz. Jazz lacks established processes, norms and rules. It is not fulfilling a common human need, there’s little or no money involved, and there’s no competition worthy of the name: everybody plays in everybody’s trio, quartet or quintet. You could argue jazz musicians play to fulfil an inner need or to please or shock the audience. Maybe. Is it art for art’s sake? Is it pure experience? Who knows…I guess every jazz musician has a different drive, let alone values.

Still jazz survives. Not by much bit still. There’s no denying it’s a form of work and it requires some form of organisation to produce this music. Some of you might call it a cult or a religion but I don’t believe jazz musicians are trying to save humanity. There is logic to the madness, more than jazz musicians care to admit.

I believe the world of jazz does one thing exceptionally well. It has downscaled norms, rules, processes and systems to the absolute minimum. There is no room for bureaucracy or conservatism. It has transformed this mind-set into a culture of creativity and innovation, expressed in music. It continues to reinterpret its history without ever repeating the past. It defeats habit by originality. It’s in a constant flux, exploring infinite possibilities with a given set of material, just like today’s organisations do.

Organisations are like homes filled with archaic furniture. Clear some rooms to let creativity in. Jazz has the courage to pursue melodic lines and rhythms that go against the grain of orthodoxy. Organisations have the same capability. If people follow, they have found purpose.

For those of you working in a world without jazz, there’s comfort in the bus stop pictured above. This playful project funded by Awesome Pittsburgh sees a regular bus shelter transformed into Pittsburgh’s Smallest Jazz Club. Located in the city’s cultural district, the immersive bus shelter experience is reinvigorated by a high-quality sound system that plays non-stop music by local non-profit Manchester Craftmen’s Guild Jazz and features images of jazz musicians on the shelter walls.

 

Courage

At the pool in a B&B nipping a local cabernet franc, I listened to a French citizen describe his view of life, France and ultimately Europe. Considering himself an exception as a hard-working entrepreneur, he enumerated all the wrongs of France and then of Europe. None of them worth repeating as you probably heard them all before though I was painfully reminded of one when I tried to buy bread on a Sunday. All the bakeries in the villages I could cycle to were closed. Only to be reminded on Monday that the working week in central France really starts on Tuesday. Anyway, when we debated Europe and its future or demise, his views were straightforward. The EU is failing on all accounts because of its lack of vision, leadership, strategy and execution. In his words, it’s the worst run start-up acting as a mature company: the emphasis is on making the numbers, not taking risks, staying focused on the task at hand with incremental improvement and increased centralization. The EU merely tries to address the financial component while vision, strategy and execution lack. Meanwhile thousands of refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean, Greece is bankrupt, youth unemployment is skyrocketing and Hungary is building a wall. How can anybody in his or her right mind feel good about this?

His disappointment ran deep. He even seemed to be in physical pain when he talked about Europe. He hoped for new courageous leaders, formulating a European vision, addressing youth unemployment through vast projects, getting Greece back on its feet and making Hungary understand it needs to change.

Multiple thoughts ran through my head as he was talking. There’s one I’ll share with you. I could not help but compare corporate organizational cultures with the current political scene: the overall lack of courage, hiding behind a set of numbers, runs through both as a common thread. What bothers me is that in business probably like in politics, the wrong behaviours get rewarded.

In business, the wrong behaviours are those that ensure financial or any other form of success in the short term while giving up on growth and opportunity in the long term. This norm signals to the employees what matters to the company. As a result, the company culture will be risk-averse, stale and driven by fear, crippling the ability to grow and innovate. Non-uniform behaviours like producing a stream of new ideas, questioning current approaches, coming up with original answers and implementing those insights, will be discouraged and unrewarded.

The courage to innovate, to question the status quo, to go after new markets and potentially fail, requires tolerance for conflicting views and a non-hierarchical collaborative working process. What this means for HR is radical. Grooming and rewarding disruption always is.

Courage comes in many forms but it expresses itself always in risk-taking and willingness to experiment. In the words of Thucydides, the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.

Just like Richard the Lionheart (pictured above) I wish you all the courage to go out and meet what is before you. The secret of happiness is freedom and the secret of freedom is courage. Thucydides again.

 

 

Ulrich’s funeral

Over the past 25 years, Dave Ulrich’s model has been the inspiration and lifeline of the HR function. The transformation from an administrative personnel department into a value-add strategic business asset has been the mantra and the raison-d’être of many HR functions. The illustrious coveted seat at the table has been the catalyst for a radical overhaul on how HR viewed itself. It changed its mission, attitude and transformed its competencies. At least that is what is prophesized by the profession.

Reality is that the seat at the table is still for many HR functions a lofty goal. Scanning through the results of many self-assessed HR functions, you cannot deny the partial if not total failure of many of them. Getting from the day-to-day paper pushing to any form of strategic value-add has proven a very tough objective.

The biggest hurdle is the HR function itself. Many HR professionals do not even embrace the strategic objective as they cannot penetrate or gauge what the requirements or benefits would be. The administrative mindset continues to rule strongly in the HR community and the army of administrators seeks safety in numbers. The purely strategic or value-add positions rarely exceed 20% of the HR workforce.

Is it an illusion that the HR function can transform beyond recognition, just like a caterpillar into a butterfly?

The past few decades have shown very mixed results. One of the consequences of the HR transformation is a dichotomy in the HR-function. Talent Management in its broadest meaning has been trying to accelerate its value-add by embedding itself in the business while the rest of the HR function has continued to sideline itself, buried in processes, policies and programs.

The traditional part of HR has reluctantly but incrementally moved with forced changes, like the introduction of technology or globalization of practices. These conservative administrators however continue to push the status-quo and are at best unintentionally harmless. They clog the business with outdated practices and beliefs and stifle the competitive edge of the company’s human capital. Yesterday’s wisdom for yesterday’s world is sadly how today’s human capital is hired, developed, rewarded and exited.

The value-add component of HR is ready to jump ship. The strategic positioners, the credible activists, the capacity builders or whatever fashionable label today applies, are disappointed and disgruntled. The association with the HR function is strenuous and unreal. The value-adders belong in the business, in innovation or change functions, as practitioners and drivers of progress, applying innovative solutions to continuously changing challenges. They continue to prove their business impact and value in daily interventions, pushing reflection, innovation and change. Their strength lies in diagnosing and fixing dysfunctional roles, people, relationships, structures and processes. They co-create with the business a talented network of associates and promote a culture of initiative, collaboration and success. They constantly focus on people and output.

So here’s a thought: reduce HR to a core team of seasoned human capital practitioners. Focus all your internal HR resources on vital talent work. Create a TTT, a talent tiger team.

For all the rest, find another solution, like partners or service centers. Traditional ‘nice to have’ HR functions do not belong in an HR department striving to unlock and create business value through people actions.