Monday, June 19, 2006

Blue Chip Allstars

Several years ago, I worked for an English blue chip company. There are many things that differentiate a blue chip company from an ordinary company. One of those is that the blue chip company makes a great play about how important its staff is to its continued success. Blue chip companies tend to be large in terms of numbers of staff and so establish exponentially increasing personnel departments. Only they call them Human Resources. The HR department produces copious policy documents and usually produces a glossy looking employee handbook that tells its staff about the joys of working there – just in case it wasn’t immediately apparent. Being a blue chip company employee, the sky is the limit. “We’ll only succeed if you succeed”, is generally the line pitched up.

In blue chip companies, most HR departments report into a Finance Director/Vice President who also has responsibility for building & estate management, IT and Audit functions. As a result, everything that is in the Employee Handbook is costed in the same manner as the decision to paint the canteen or install a new information management system. The perception is that staff developing is just another necessary evil the cost of which has to be managed.

I decided to engage with the “Find your own path” initiative that my blue chip company HR department was keen to promote. I scheduled an appointment with my personnel manager to discuss career options. A nicer, more personable individual, I could not have wished to meet and if truth were told, if I met him today, I’d probably be weighing him up as life partner potential. He was tall, lean and athletic and he had a mop of curly fair hair that seemed to be all his own. He dutifully explained how important I was to the continued success of the company. It was because of people like me, apparently, that the company had been successful.

Using all the HR best practices, he asked open, probing and reflective questions. We agreed to continue this exploration of my career paths over the course of several meetings. I noticed how we began each meeting with him holding a blank refill pad. He took copious notes and interrupted our discussions several times to “mmm” contemplatively and nod enthusiastically. Sometimes he even mmmed, nodded and note-took at the same time, which convinced me that perhaps men can afterall multitask. I noticed that he used a pencil which I thought then was quite old fashioned. I also observed the care and attention that he gave to his note taking. He occasionally erased a word and inserted a more carefully chosen phrase or expression. He finished each session with a recap of what we’d said and highlighted certain “critical actions” with a symbol that looked like an obscure musical notation. We closed each session with a scheduling of the next meeting date.

I know that on several occasions, I left these consultations with the same uplifting feeling that I had experienced as a child after my grievous and numerous sins had been absolved in confessions. I was comforted that this massive blue chip company cared enough about my career to assign a personnel manager to pathfind with me. One day, I left the HR consultation suites – you see this company recognised the value of it’s staff so well that it had designed consultation areas into the building – and realise that we had not scheduled a follow-up meeting. So I turned on my heel and went straight back into the HR manager’s office.

I watch the HR manager screw up the carefully prepared aide memoir of our conversation into a ball and pitch it across his office to the wastepaper basket in the far corner. He pumped his forearm in a Tiger Woods-esque clench and exclaimed “Yeeesss! Go on you good thing!”

It probably doesn’t say this in the HR Manager Handbook but it really should. Basketball slam dunk practice sessions are not advisable immediate after pathfinding staff appraisal interviews. If such activities must be scheduled in close proximity, it is advisable to at least close your office door, least anyone mistake this important results-focused physical activity as a commentary on the value of the Staff Pathfinder Programme.


Blogger KnackeredKaz said...

Ha! Great post!

It's a sad fact, but in most big organisations, and even some small ones, all you are is a number and all the 'higher ups' are interested in is the bottom line.

I'm self employed so I do staff appraisals with myself. Needless to say I agree that I'm great and then I take myself out for cocktails!

5:08 p.m., June 19, 2006  
Blogger Omaniblog said...

That's a good story. I'd like to know what happened next? Did he see you seeing him? Did you ever meet again?
Let me be ridiculous...
I have been involved in innumerable meetings, and taken notes in them which I never subsequently used. Maybe he used the note taking process to help him focus on what you were saying. He may have seen the notes as having fulfilled their function as soon as the meeting was over...

7:56 p.m., June 21, 2006  
Blogger parnellpr said...

Did you give him the verbal kick in the balls he deserved?

11:17 p.m., June 21, 2006  
Blogger Paige A Harrison said...

Now why can't I have a boss like you Kaz?

Omani, There is a whole story about an office christmas party, too much gin and me telling him where to go but I'll not tell that as I don't come out of it looking very good!

Believe me, the same HR manager was going through the motions.

parnellpr, in a manner of speaking, as alluded to above, I did give the jerk a verbal kick in the balls. Unfortunately, it got somewhat wrapped up in him asking me out, and me telling him that if he was God's only son made man, I'd not date him. So he took it all as being personal, when in fact it was largely professional!

7:05 p.m., June 22, 2006  

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