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Jamie Lawrence


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HR officers are ‘beta-male chimpanzees’


The former head of HR at Dutch bank ABN Amro, Kilian Wawoe, posed a rhetorical question in a recent interview: “What can of animal is the HR officer?”

His response: “I would say we are the beta-male chimpanzees: there to make others achieve their goals.”

He also offers a thought-provoking definition of the glass ceiling: “It's the point in the hierarchy of an organisation where performance becomes essentially impossible to measure and other factors become decisive.”

What factors? “If you know the etiquette at a networking event, know how to talk about the news in the right way, if you play golf.”

He offers an explanation as to why women hit the glass ceiling: “Many women don't get that [the factors that lead to success above the glass ceiling], and try to work twice as hard. This means they miss out on the very social events that determine their career prospects.”

It’s this inability to measure performance in the banking sector, according to Wawoe, that explains why bonuses are a bad idea, rather than that bonuses are inherently bad.

“Bonuses work for simple work such as stacking items in a supermarket. If everything depends on people's willingness to work, then variable rewards do encourage them to work harder. But when the skill is very hard or impossible to measure, then bonuses are prone to lead to undesirable behaviour. Especially in banks where liability is often zero, because profits go to the banker but losses to the shareholder or taxpayer.”

There’s a lot more in the interview over at the Guardian – take a look.

One Response

  1. Beta?

    I presume the meaning is to be taken as secondary to the alphas, in envious waiting? Rather than having a prototypical meaning, or are you the harbinger of HR's passing like Beta-max into oblivion?

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

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