Nowadays, we talk a lot about relations and their quality, about people’s need to belong to communities with whom they share the same set of values, as well as about employees who need to resonate with the company culture. Yet, one of the first phrases Ann Swain, keynote speaker to BD HR Summit on 25th May, mentioned to the public that really troubled me, was: “people need to choose, not to belong”. It was actually the first sign of the paradigm shift that happens in organizations, about which we talked almost all day long. About the freedom to choose, not rules imposed. About the need to contribute and to make sense, more than material benefits. And every once in a while, about millennials, from whom this entire shift probably started, fed up to have seen their parents tired and running after tangible assets, but unhappy and absent from their own lives. The event was 10 hours long and brought around tens of speakers. Some of them repeated things we already knew, but some shattered a lot the way in which we (still) see people and organizations.
Ann Swain, from APSCo, has put the work relations between people in an historical perspective, coming to the present in which work has become more and more fluid and unstandardized, the number of people working without a contract having increased, as well as those with a temporary contract or with flexible working hours – from her point of view, accepting flexible working hours being a strong point of a country, considering the current context, extremely complex. She has spoken about the 10 “soft skills” that will define the talent market until 2020: complex problems solving, critical thinking, creativity, people’s management, coordination with others, emotional intelligence, capacity to analyze and take decisions, orientation to services, negotiation and cognitive flexibility. Nevertheless, human resources leaders, though pretending about 83% that finding “talents” is their priority, they still focus on traditional recruiting tactics (70%). Ann again has explained that satisfaction at work is not determined by money alone, but also by how interesting the work actually is and how diversified the tasks are, as well as by understanding the superior business objective. This aspect came back several times along that day, most of the people putting on the map the importance of a strong organizational culture, relying on authentic and clear values with which the employees resonate, not only on slogans written on walls. Radu Manolescu from K.M Trust & Partners has insisted that leaders and managers are those who should live and resonate with these values in the first place. To my absolute joy as a Marketing person (I do not know if there were any others in the room), a lot of talk was focused on the employer branding as a reflection of an authentic organizational culture. Moreover, many speakers presented parallels between HR and Marketing and I believe that this is another important element of the paradigm shift we all face. People talked about recruiting through social media and about the need of HR people to understand digital transformation. Luke Fisher from ThanksBox said loud and clear that many companies are focused more on marketing, on clients and that the focus should be redistributed also towards the inside, to the employees, who should be treated also like clients. I think this was the most powerful idea of the day and it was taken to its peak by Lucy Adams from DisruptiveHR, who, at the end of the day, though the room was somehow emptier, managed to raise the spirits with an overwhelming and tough speech about how HR departments should cease to behave like traditional parents, extremely protective, issuing rules and imposing structures, if their purpose was to develop creativity, initiative spirit and propensity towards risk and challenge (when available, I will also upload here in the article the link to the video with her records). “Employees should be treated like adults, consumers and human beings” was her resolution, sustained by examples both comic and tough such as “training” ads in some companies, “one size fits all” communication (while in Marketing we work with segments of clients and targeted communication) and reaching the climax with the assessment modality with grades, as in school, which in fact only shows a deep lack of trust in one’s employees.
Another idea which drew my attention was the local perspective shared by Marian Hanganu from Romanian Software, who discredited the far too dramatic focus on millennials and the changes they brought in, while we could face a much bigger problem than this, namely the fact that we are smaller as a nation and that in this rhythm we could “no longer have to whom to sell and neither who to hire”. Here from again the orientation towards flexibility and outsourcing. Roxana Tanase from Microsoft also came back to the idea that HR should “grow up”, should defeat the superficiality stereotype as Marketing did some years ago and start working with structures, data and insights, remaining in the same time human. The recommendation that HR should see employees as clients came also from Jaap Hoekstra from Kilpatrick, who also insisted on the marketer type approach, sustained through campaigns and innovation. But innovation should not be novelty (Radu Manolescu), but should be real and structured – Ann Swain: project teamwork, common resources, flexible management oriented towards results and un-standardization.
As a conclusion, I could say it was a day more than interesting, with a HR conference in which I heard the word “marketing” more often than I expected, which brought me joy because this means that HR is opening up to the world around in which we live in search of a new balance between companies and employees (how long will we still use this word?), even if it is highly likely that this search may go through some storms until finding its new balance.
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