• Clare Hopkins

End of the HR Dept?


I have been inspired to write this blog on the back of reading the BBC article on Octopus CEO and founder Greg Jackson's perspective on the value of a HR department in his organisation.


As a CIPD qualified HR professional who spent 12 years working to make a difference in a variety of organisations, I have to say I agree wholeheartedly with Greg Jacksons perspective around the role of the day to day employee experience.


In his interview with the BBC, Greg Jackson shares that companies look for employees who can take responsibility and add value through their unique talents. However, when they join a company they end up being indoctrinated into processes and bureaucracy, which ends up preventing them from thinking for themselves and giving their best. Instead of setting up a HR department to help create the employee experience, he expects managers to take on this responsibility.


However, what I feel we are really talking about here is the huge impact senior leaders have when they put people first to cultivate a fulfilling workplace culture.


Leading by example

As the CEO, Greg Jackson has set the tone and pace for a great workplace culture at Octopus in which his employees can thrive, and he has ensured his managers are developed to take personal responsibility for co-creating this culture on a day to day basis with their teams.


It's a culture which enables his employees to take ownership by working autonomously, as they clearly feel trusted to do their best in their roles each day, and in turn co-create an innovative and supportive culture with colleagues to ultimately best serve Octopus customers. The managers have enabled an environment where employees feel free to bring their whole selves to work, and in doing so they can give their best which benefits everyone. That's the foundation of psychological safety for workplace wellbeing and business success.

As the article says "it's his distaste for 'command and control' top down management structures" that has led Greg Jackson to create a culture of empowerment with employee ownership at Octopus. It's the type of culture that's highly desirable for any employee, and when I look back in my HR career, my most rewarding roles were those working for similar leaders who allowed me the autonomy to co-create a great culture with all levels of employees across all levels in an organisation.


Ultimately Greg Jackson is a great example of what is possible with the right leadership of an organisation.


The value of HR

I think I can vouch for most HR professionals when I say that we do not enjoy being 'shelved the responsibility' for dealing with employee relation issues when a manager has not taken personal responsibility for managing the situation earlier or effectively. We are often seen as a 'last resort' and at this point the relationship has been damaged, so we are essentially called in for damage limitation, which is not why we chose a career in HR.


The very reason employment legislation exists is because unfortunately many business owners and their managers have ill treated employees. The very history of HR goes back to the 18th Century in the Industrial Revolution where businesses just saw people as a resource and wanted more productivity in factories. Social and safety reform was needed due to unethical treatment, and unfortunately in the 21st Century there are still business leaders who do not see their employees as human beings, but just a resource at their disposal.


The vast majority of HR professionals are passionate about strategically and practically helping to facilitate an empowered and ethical workplace culture where everyone thrives - this is our why.


Our talent is how much we care for people and their betterment. We invest a lot of time and money to learn ways we can help develop employees so they can utilise their natural talents and interests in their roles. We are people experts as we thrive on working with people to help guide them towards a creating a fulfilling work experience, and compliment other aspects of their lifestyle for authentic wellbeing.


We know that whilst policies and procedures are an important part of an organised system of working to help provide guidance, it's the day to day culture co-created with everyone in the organisation that is more influential to how they work.


So when leaders look to how they can cultivate a workplace where their employees and customers are happy to grow their business - a HR professional can add real value and be a catalyst for positive change when enabled to work autonomously with other business stakeholders, with the full support of senior leaders who place value on people first. That's when the magic really happens in an organisation!


The Wellbeing Dept

This article also reminded me again why I launched The Wellbeing Department, because as a HR professional I no longer wanted to be derailed from making a real difference in organisations by taking on the 'shelved responsibility' for employee relation issues, or developing policies and procedures focused just on mitigating risks and restricting employees. HR can be simple with jargon free policies (no need for handbooks) and people development processes that support individual and business success rather than hinder it.


With The Wellbeing Dept the focus is on proactive and strategic HR by working with SME leaders who really value employee wellbeing. Laying the foundation for the continued growth and sustainability of their business through a people strategy that focuses on the human aspect of employment - the psychological contract, with simple policies and processes that support the creation of a psychologically safe environment which enables everyone and the business to thrive.


I'd be interested in your perspectives on the BBC article and how HR can be a catalyst for a thriving workplace culture.


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