Confessions of a benefits manager: Team tactic talk

The new American head of HR sets out his ‘roadmap’ for the department, and Candid contemplates the delights of Swindon

Big Bad Boss, poor man, has a new manager. Changes at that level don’t happen too often around here. While there is a steady churn of middle managers as they are used up, burnt out, or simply fired for the sake of it, the Higher Beings (our executive management) tend to be a very stable group. Given the level of our executive benefits, it is hardly surprising. Now the head of HR has shocked us all by walking away from his very lucrative long-term incentive plan to join one of our rivals. Bizarrely, the guy he replaces there has backfilled his role here, so there can’t be all that much in it financially. The new guy is called Chuck, which sounds quite cuddly, although nothing could be further from the truth.

It is not often I feel sorry for Big Bad Boss, but I do just now. A new manager can be such a nuisance. They rush round, peering under stones and asking awkward questions. BBB is looking positively haggard with the stress of it all. Every plan or project he tells Chuck about, they did differently and rather better at his last company. I can see Big Bad Boss muttering ‘So why didn’t you stay there?’ under his breath. Indeed.

We all have to sit in a meeting to hear Chuck’s new radical vision for HR. Predictably enough, it is just like the old vision, roughly: ‘Do more with less staff.’ OK, so those weren’t his exact words, but you get the gist. We’ve got to work smarter and act as true business partners, with, er, the business. As if we haven’t heard any of this before.

He has a special HR ‘roadmap’ that shows an unmanageable number of projects to be completed by the end of the year. Many projects are overhauling programmes that have only just been revised and are running just fine as they are. However, a new head has to make his mark somehow. It doesn’t matter what we have done already, Chuck is going to ‘fix’ it. Ouch.

He then goes through his list of special HR competencies he wants us all to demonstrate. Yes, they are just like the old ones, too. We must all have leadership skills, technical skills, teamwork, blah, blah. Yawn. Zzzz. I am startled out of a snooze by Chuck asking me for my feedback. Thinking quickly, I suggest we need legal skills, especially among the Generalists. They won’t like me for saying it, but it’s perfectly true. Anytime anyone wants to know if we can fire someone or if we can change someone’s contractual benefit, the HR Generalists, who are supposed to know this stuff, come and ask us. That just can’t be right.

Chuck then announces he wants to have one-to-one meetings with all his first- and second-level reports. Big Bad Boss had his introduction yesterday, and I know he had to go home for a lie down afterwards. Yikes. My meeting is today and I’ve had no time to prepare. It is like an interview.

Where did I go to school? What year? I don’t have my CV in front of me, so I can’t really remember. Chuck
is writing it all down carefully. I have a nasty feeling he is going to send it all off to some agency to check if I am

He then asks me about my interests. I can see he is working through the checklist in the ‘Build a strong team’ handbook. I tell him I’m interested in fitness and team sports. It isn’t true at all, but it always goes down well with Americans. Chuck goes into a long soliloquy about his favourite baseball team and how he went to see them last week. Do I like baseball? What is my favourite team? I don’t think I can bluff that far, so I have to admit there isn’t much of it over here.

Things go rapidly downhill when he asks me about my career aspirations. Would I consider working in the US? This is a tricky one. The truth is, I might consider it if we were based anywhere vaguely interesting and cultured. Well, OK, in America I guess I’d have to settle for interesting. However, our HQ is in Hick Town, Middle America, land of the inbred and overnourished. I wouldn’t live there if you paid me a location hardship allowance. But how do you say that to someone who has probably spent his whole life there and thinks it would be an honour for some lousy European to get to go? I mutter something inaudible, and luckily he seems to let it go.

Chuck then announces all his specialists must have field experience so we can be proper business partners to the, er, business. He suggests sending me to work in our Swindon office for three months. Swindon? Three months? I mean, have you been to Swindon? Hick Town is beginning to look quite attractive by comparison. Chuck hasn’t actually thought to ask if I have any field experience, so I rapidly tell him about that time I spent a month (well, nearly two weeks) in Newbury helping with a recruitment drive, and several interminable days, which felt like years, in some ghastly northern town on an acquisition project. Does that count as field experience? Nope. I need
to learn to be a proper business partner to the, er, business. Oh p-lease. I can’t believe I can just be sent to work somewhere on a whim like that. Hasn’t slavery been abolished?

Next time…Candid gets a bad performance review

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