Confessions of a benefits manager: Model behaviour

A conference call by the global head of HR spells out some new guiding principles, but Candid is not impressed

Every month, the HR Overlord holds a mandatory conference call. He gathers his HR drones at HQ and the rest of us dial in. Whenever he addresses us folks in the field, he uses a special voice, speaking very slowly as if we are particularly dim. He talks a lot about thinking global, but still uses American colloquialisms, which mean nothing to most people on the call.

He makes a big deal of being inclusive of the global team by opening with “Good morning, good afternoon and good evening”, as if that makes it any better for the poor sods in Asia who have had to get up in the middle of the night to listen to him. This month we have a special treat in store: he is going to present some new HR guiding principles. How nice.

The first commandment from on high is ‘respect’. As if it has never occurred to us before, he tells us we must always treat our colleagues with respect. He says this pointedly into the microphone as though it doesn’t really apply to the people in the room over there, which of course it doesn’t. Is it respectful to make it mandatory for someone to join a stupid conference call in the middle of the night? Is it respectful to arbitrarily alter someone’s rating to fit a performance distribution? Is it respectful to tell someone off in front of the whole team? I can imagine how all this sounds to our colleagues in Asia, for whom mutual respect is part of their culture. They must struggle to understand the American version.

The second commandment is ‘honesty’. We should always give open and honest feedback, and be completely transparent in our dealings with each other. At this point, he hands over to one of his Mini-Lords to describe how this principle should be applied. It is interesting that the head of HR should choose not to talk about honesty himself. The Mini-Lord’s take on honesty is also intriguing. In her example, if a colleague is making a presentation and doesn’t speak loudly enough or moves their hands too much, Mini-Lord suggests we should point out their faults honestly. Gawd. I can hardly wait to do my next presentation in front of her and her team of nasty little finger-pointers.

She also suggests that if we notice that a colleague is not doing their full hours, it is incumbent upon us to have a chat with their manager about it. So, what honesty really means around here is keeping the snitch culture going. Her last example is to explain transparency. That, it seems, means we should always give feedback if we think there is a better way of doing things. Really? Well, I for one have given up trying to point out where things could be improved or simplified. That way spells career doom; the only right way is the American way.

Laugh out loud

The third principle is ‘timeliness’ and Mini-Lord hands over to Evil Elroy to discuss that one. It is a good job my phone is on mute, because I laugh out loud. Evil Elroy is the least punctual man in the world. He sets up conference calls for late evening and then doesn’t turn up himself. He is never less than 15 minutes late, and never apologises; his time is much more important than anyone else’s. That said, Elroy now has the gall to give us a 10-minute lecture on meetings etiquette, including turning up on time, finishing as planned and making sure to stay on track in the middle. None of which have I ever seen him do.†

I wish that asking him to speak on the topic was a clever strategy from the HR Overlord to make Elroy accountable, but I know he is blissfully unaware of the chaos created by his leadership team. If I followed the guiding principles, I would point this out, but I am not that stupid. Guiding principles will never apply to Elroy, and retribution would be swift.

The fourth principle is ‘one team’. We need to present a coherent face of HR to our customers in the business. It is no good blaming HQ for bad decisions and inadequate programmes. HR Overlord says it has been noted that there is a developing blame culture directed at HQ. No kidding. Again, he uses his special talking-to-idiots telephone voice to show this rule applies to us idiots in the field. I hear what he says, but what if they really are bad decisions and inadequate programmes? We can either be ‘one team’ or ‘honest’, but we can’t be both.

I am sure we’ve heard all this before in some other guise, but at no time have I seen any guidelines carried out in a positive spirit. It is more a framework for set-up and blame. Ever since the Overlord came on board, HR feels increasingly like a kind of dictatorship. It won’t be long before we are using waterboarding in performance reviews. People who seem to have innocent benefits questions might really be intelligence agents, taking incriminating evidence to Big Bad Boss or, worse still, directly to the Overlord. I already suspect CCTV in the ladies’ toilet.

HR Overlord wraps up the meeting, leaving a couple of minutes to point out that he has finished the meeting on time, in line with the guidelines. I just wish I was impressed.

Next time…Candid looks at what it takes to be a senior manager.

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