I’m very pleased to see that Les Hayman has a blog, and that he is rattling off posts with vim, vigour and consistency. If you are interested in HR, career and life advice from someone who has been there, done that, then Les is a must read. Les was on the the extended board at SAP, he ran sales in Asia and Europe and then he ran HR.
A number of people have asked me to write of my experiences running a company internal HR department after 40 years in business roles. When I was first asked whether I would do this, rather than retiring, I felt that it was a bit like asking Attila the Hun to look after the Vestal Virgins. I have to admit that it was probably the hardest job that I ever had, the two years being both challenging and frustrating, and it changed and molded many of the views that I have about people and about management
On the state of management
One of the disappointments in my move to Europe in 2001 was that I have seen little evidence that European companies have created a culture of management as a profession. Management skill appears to be more of an add-on to vocational brilliance, rather than being viewed as an art, a science and an asset in its own right. The idea is that management skill is a “nice to have” rather than a mandatory part of an executive’s role.
On business card titles, CEO tenure, and my favourite, the Pesto Effect and buzzwords.
Ten years ago no-one had heard of pesto, and then suddenly it was everywhere. You could go to any restaurant anywhere in the world and the odds were that pesto would be somewhere on the menu.
I even saw a hot dog seller in New York who had a sign saying “Mustard, Ketchup, Pesto”.
Oh, and he lots to say about living in France.
Thinking of strikes, it is easy to imagine coal miners, railway workers and automobile assemblers with shop stewards quoting Trotsky, Gramsci and Marcuse, and brandishing a well worn copy of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. This is a naive and foolish stereotype. As this example from Yahoo! shows, industrial action is alive and well in the high tech industry. Valleywag reported on a strike at Yahoo in France.
(watch the video here if you dont see the embedded player)
Carol Bartz‘s lacerating eccentricity may captivate Silicon Valley, where she’s cutting costs left and right. Not so in Europe: When Yahoo tried to shut down operations in France, workers made this surreal, defiant video. And went on strike, naturally.Their point: Yahoo made about 1 million euros per worker from Yahoo France alone last year, and used to hype how “it’s important to have [locally] concentrated engineering activities… to innovate” in France, where it would base “one of [its] most important centers in Europe.” Yahoo France’s engineers will now stop working until Yahoo agrees that they shouldn’t have to stop working. At least they’re fact checking the internet company’s hype along the way.
There is a lesson for all “global” high tech companies. HR practices that work in the US don’t necessarily travel well. I have quite a bit of research in the pipeline on a related topic. I have seen global HR projects derailed because of worker and union opposition, forcing system redesigns and huge delays.
I’ll predict that the software industry will face increasing collective and industrial action. Social software makes it easier to organize and motivate around an issue, and create a strong collective even without the presence of a union. It makes it easy to reach the broader public too. We have seen the power of the disgruntled customer using social media to mobilise support and opinion. Employees have access to the same tools and media. Executives of global software companies will need to get a lot more savvy about global HR issues. Gosh, that degree I did in Industrial Relations might actually be useful one day.