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Gareth Jones

founder - ConnectingHR

HR Consultant And Co

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Blog: HR – Where has all the passion gone?


This is one of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite movies – Serendipity – I know, I know, but what can I say? I’m a sucker for a love story 😉

The quote is from the scene when Dean reads out a make believe Obituary: “The Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: Did he have passion?”
I was reminded of this word twice today, firstly by my 12 year old daughter. To say she is passionate about the environment is an understatement. She constantly follows us around the house, turning off the lights as she goes, or bursting into tears if I leave the car running for a nanosecond more than is absolutely necessary!
Today, without any thought about the risk, she remonstrated with a man in his car because he threw his litter out of the window. Passion in overdrive! You can’t knock it though, we need more like her if we are going to really save the planet. But I digress…
The second was when I read this excellent post from Sukh Pabial@naturalgrump on twitter. It was his review of the CIPD‘s #hrd12 conference and is an excellent read. He makes some great observations and also gives credit where it’s due. The comment stream is also great which is a testament to the value of the post.
I could feel the passion coming through from Sukh. Yes, the conference fell short of his expectations in some ways, but he cares, and genuinely want’s it to get better.  If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have invested his personal time in writing about it.
However, the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that the HR profession lacks some of this passion. That’s not to say there are not any passionate people in HR – the people I have met through ConnectingHR and twitter are great examples, and there are too many to list here. But the list is small overall.
Passion for people
When I consider the profession as a whole, the picture looks very different. I see process, detail, procedure, caution, data, metrics, jargon and a good dose of angst. Plenty of other things, very little passion. I can also say that in my 8 years at Courtenay HR, meeting HR folk as a day job, I didnt see much of it then either.
And I met a lot of HR folk during that period.
When I studied for my CIPD – back in the 80’s – yes I know I don’t look old enough 😉 – One of the course leaders had a mantra: "If you are interested in Personnel because you are interested in people, you had best get out of it."
At the time I convinced myself he was right, but I have since come to believe he was totally wrong. Perhaps the overall direction of HR in the last 20 years has been influenced by this view – keep it scientific, focus on the process, not the person. Do everything to increase our commercial credentials.
Maybe so, but in doing so we have, in my view, ripped the passion for people – for relationships, emotion, conversation, collaboration – from the profession and ultimately, from organisations.
We face a global financial crises of proportions not seen in most of our lifetimes which doesn’t say much for the quality of leadership in organisations does it? Or politicians for that matter. Perhaps if we could get the passion back into business, get closer to the people, each other, we might just find the answers.
The leadership of Kodak didn’t seem to have a grasp of what ailed their business, but I bet the people standing around the watercooler did.
So what say you folks? How do we put passion back on the agenda for HR? How did we lose it in the first place? Did we lose it along the way or did we have it kicked out of us?

Gareth Jones is an HR consultant and co-founder of online HR community, ConnectingHR.

We really welcome any and all contributions from the community, so please feel free to share your views and opinions with us, your colleagues and peers via our blogs section.

4 Responses

  1. Passion

     Hi Jonathan

    Totally agree! How farcical! Especially the "under the desk" scenario! Unfortunately we have built organisations around these principles and taken it to extreme. Something has to change. There are alternatives, but to many in organsations, esp at established leadership level, the world is still flat!

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Ripping stuff!

    "Ripping the passion from people" is such a wonderful image Gareth! Did it hurt as it was torn out, I wonder? Was there much blood? It sounds too passionate an act for many of the HR people I’ve come across. I sometimes feel that many of the "professional" professionals wouldn’t dare rip anything. I wish they would! Instead they act like JK Rowling’s Dementors, whose utter spritual void drains the life force from whatever comes near to them.

    I have had finance people tell me that proposals  don’t pay back quickly enough for their investment criteria and lose to other projects that also did not ever pay back – but that they had deliberately fudged the figures so that the diappointment came later, after the approval when real cash had been spent and lost.  They were just "following rules" that they as a profession had set themselves.  It is the constant grinding down to fit the machine that erodes people’s passion.

    I have had lawyers who turned four paragrahs of mutually agreed entrepreneurial partnership into 100,000 words and £80,000 spent (not value) of contract written out of incited fear that thiings may go wrong. I have had H&S experts telling me it is too dangerous to climb under a table ("under" not "on top of") a table to plug in a laptop. Its he constant fear and negativity that erodes passion.

    And I have had architects and engineers devising new ways to envision and create and fix things that have left me awestruck by the sheer ingenuity of their professionalism. That’s the genius that relights and delights the passion that is always burning somewhere inside everyone, waiting to be engaged by something meaningful.   

    It is the notion that things must be rules-based, cautious and standardised  that is so very wearing.   

    Jonathan Wilson 07971 018921 Humap

  3. HP Passion

     Hi Lyn!

    There must be life in the old dog yet?! 😉

    Thanks for the comment – I agree with you its about the business not HR, but I wanted to draw attention to the lack of it HR particularly. And great that you remember the Courtenay folk. Courtenay was a part of my career – checking in with Chris and or Peter to see how my career was developing. They dont make ’em like that anymore 😉

  4. HR lacks passion?

     Trust a Welshman to identify the key to what is missing (has been for a generation) in HR.

    "interest in people" is a positive; "liking people" is a negative reason to get into Personnel/ HR. I’m rather more senior than Gareth but remember the founder members of Courtenay with affection; now they truly had passion!

    The tendency of HR folk to stay in the office because it’s "all about numbers" is a failing which hits me every time I go into a new business. (I’m a 25 year professional Interim) 

    Walking the walk is far more important than just the talk. And no, I am equally a firm proponent of HR as a true Business Partner. If HR forgets that part of its raison d’etre then HR has no part in a business environment.

    Gareth is so right in most of what he says.

    "how to get the passion back into HR?" Remember the truism which is more true than its parts; people ARE the business. If your employees are not engaged then the business has lost it. Certainly the HR function has.

    Examples? John Lewis Partnership v. Tesco. My case rests. (of course there are many other examples). The saddest recent example I encountered was where employees were fully engaged (at least the area in which I was involved) but not senior and Corporate Management. This case was recently a cause celebre with our Government implicated and the CEO forced to resign, so….I cant go further.

    Alas, I’m at the end (nearly) of my long career; I should love to transfer knowledge and experience….but to whom? No passion in HR today. 

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Gareth Jones

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