Whose Loyalty Is It Anyway?

loyaltyHas anyone decided yet how length of service to an employer should be considered now that we have divided the workforce into neat compartments depending on what period in our history they were born? Anybody? Nobody? Maybe because it means different things to different people.

I grew up in an industry where people leaving the business was unheard of. People were suspicious of anyone who would only stick around in a job for a couple of years before moving on. Indeed, I stayed 8 years in my first HR role. Fast forward to 2 years ago when I had a conversation with a former colleague who had a specific plan to move on to a new job every 2 or 3 years to keep things interesting. Nothing wrong with that I suppose although surely what you are gaining from a role is a more appropriate factor to consider than how long you’ve worked at a particular firm. What happens if you get asked to be involved in a very exciting project 2 years and 364 days into your 3 year plan?

I don’t hear people talk about loyalty anymore. Sure, I hear people talk about ‘length of service’ a lot, but not loyalty. When I was involved in a great deal of disciplinary cases in a former employer, I used to hear trade union representatives put forward the employees x number of years in the company to demonstrate their loyalty in mitigation, regardless of the fact that it might have been almost irrelevant of the case in front of them. I recall one particular case where a representative asked me as the disciplinary chair to consider the employees many, many years of service although when I pointed out that the individual had received various formal warnings for other misconduct offences during those many, many years the representative stated that I had ‘missed the point’. I don’t think I did, but let’s not tell the rep.

I’ve also observed this being considered from a management point of view too, including at pay review times pre 2006, when some individuals with longer service received higher percentage pay increases as a reward for loyalty although it inevitably meant that those who were far better in every possible way and adding a much greater value to the organisation received less. Yes but John has worked for the company for, like, forever so there’s that.

Employers haven’t decided how they prefer to treat ‘loyalty’ either. A friend of mine had an interview for a job a few years back when the employer was concerned that my friend hadn’t moved around more in their career despite them explaining the experiences they gained in the small number of employers they’d worked for. They had spent 4 years with one employer and the feedback they received was that this made their ambition questionable.

Us operational HR folk know the importance of 2 years service in employment law in the UK when considering the relevant risks to dealing with a particular issue but again thats fairly isolated.

If we believe what we are being told about the millennial grouping of employees, and for the record, I subscribe to the viewpoint put forward by Professor Rob Briner from the Centre for Evidence-Based Management that based on meta analysis what we are fed about the millennial grouping points to few, if any differences between this grouping and others, then millennials are expected to be ‘job-hoppers’ where loyalty is not even a consideration.

I think our various generations in the workplace is not just making for a challenging working environment, but for a really interesting and exciting one. More questions like this will need to be asked but for now, ‘loyalty’ has become ‘length of service’ and no one knows whether thats a good, bad or indifferent thing.

Performance Management in Professional Sport


Before you start reading this particular blog post, I should let you know that this is littered with more questions than answers. This is my ‘ponder piece’. However if you work in HR within professional sports and have the answers to my questions, please, please, please get in touch. i would love to know the answers. If you don’t, hopefully you’ll find this interesting anyway!

This mixes two of my favourite topics – HR and Sports.

I often wonder how extremely well-paid football players (‘Soccer’ for anyone reading this from across the pond – i’ve realised from my wordpress stats that some of my readers hail from North America), get away with earning massive amounts of money whilst clearly underperforming at their football clubs.

They invariably either ;-

  1. Improve their performance and therefore thats seen as part and parcel of the game with players having good and bad spells.
  2. Remain a reasonable player, performing at a standard that their football club expects but change their status within the team, for example, from being someone who is in the starting eleven each week to someone who is instead used as cover for injuries, suspensions etc.
  3. Be loaned out to another football club, where that particular club operates in a way that might work better with the player, be managed by someone who feels they can coach the player in a different way to improve their performance, play in a different division where the football styles compliment the players’ particular style or play in a lower quality division where the underperforming players current ability, is still superior enough to be of value to the loaning team.
  4. Remain a poorly performing player who winds their contract down until it expires and they leave, attempting to secure a contract elsewhere or retiring from the sport. For this example, they almost always end up signing an extremely less rewarding contract elsewhere as their value has decreased due to their lack of acceptable performance.

I wonder why there is no fifth option, an option which most other good employers have in place in similar situations. I am of course talking about performance management or capability processes.

Your typical performance management process includes a manager objectively reviewing the performance of someone who reports into them, analysing specific evidential tasks and creating a plan for improvement but recognising that failure to create a sustained improvement could result in escalating disciplinary warnings up to and ultimately, unfortunately, including termination of contract.

Capability is, after all, one of the  potentially fair reasons for dismissal.

So why does this not apply in football teams where the fourth option above appears to be occurring?

At the CIPD conference in 2015, Sir Clive Woodward gave a lecture on the DNA of a champion. It was a fascinating lecture, the highlight of which for me was Sir Clive discussing the implementation and use of the Prozone software. Prozone gives an incredibly complex and thorough analysis of how teams and players perform, providing individual statistics on distance covered, tackles made, goals attempted to tactics being applied, birds eye view of the pitch to determine opportunities for one team to exploit. If you want proof as to how much this software is used in professional rugby for example, take a look at where international rugby coaches place themselves and how many monitors are in front of them during games.

So what does this have to do with performance management in sport? In my view, isn’t the information Prozone provides, the holy grail in terms of objective analysis of players performance. This software informs the user of almost all the information the manager would need to assess whether the player is performing or not as well as the tools to monitor that performance on an ongoing basis.

With this information in place, I see no reason why a manager could not set SMART objectives around these areas to determine an improvement. For example, Joe Bloggs, the attacking midfielder at Hendy United, In the next 4 football matches you are required to ensure you make 23% more tackles, run 20% more kilometres, score 10% more goals and/or make 50% more passes.

So we’re half way there – the manager has the tools and the environment in order for performance levels to be identified, monitored and objectives to be set. By the way, the manager will also offer an incredible amount of support in the form of, for example, a dedicated passing coach, a sports analyst to work through the players prozone statistics with them and a fitness coach to improve their fitness to achieve more. This is without considering the professional nutritionist to ensure the appropriate nutritional intake is being consumed, professional chefs to manage that further and sports psychologist to work on mentality to help achieve the goals set.

Obviously if this leads to a sustained increase in performance then fantastic, problem solved, but lets keep working on this example on the basis that performance is not improved.

Lets consider that the manager now has a player who is two years in to a five year contract being paid £100,000 per month. Not inconceivable in the modern age of football. The manager has been working with the player for six months and performance is not being improved. As a result of this, no other club wishes to purchase the player or loan the player so in professional sports, the player just sits back and lets the contract run down. That’s 30 months of £100,000 per month left to incur without a reasonable return, a staggering £3 million in wages to be paid.

So in a typical corporate environment a series of warnings will be applied before ultimately the company determines it can no longer accept the poor performance and terminates the players contract. So why doesn’t this happen in professional sport? There’s a case to argue that all of the data is there for the company, and all of the support needed for the player is there to improve, so why do we not hear of this in the press. You very rarely hear of a club cancelling a players contract unless it is for a clear frustration of contract type issue, such as a player receiving a custodial sentence or failing to obtain the relevant work permit/visa allowances to work in the respective country.

As I said, I don’t have the answer and in fact, perhaps this does occur and is managed in such a way that your average Joe is simply not aware that it has occurred, but it raises some significant questions as to why this is seen as an accepted norm. I cannot help but think that the answer is somewhere within the legalities of the contracts in place, but this is just an educated guess.

If you have the answer, or can shed any more light on this, please do let me know.

Otherwise, you are probably now as bemused as I!

The Future of HR


A couple of months ago whilst scrolling through my Twitter feed (or thumbing through – i’m not sure what the kids say these days), I came across a live twitter feed of an event that was taking place in London regarding the ever evolving role of Human Resources. One of the speakers posed the question

“Why do we think HR as a function has a right to survive?”.


We will of course, but it was certainly food for thought, and something i’ve thought about a lot since I discovered the tweet. It undoubtedly resonated with me.

If you’ve read my ‘about me’ section on this website you’ll see that i’m the chair and founder of the South Wales HR Forum, which is a new forum designed to be an alternative voice for the South Wales HR community. Our very first event is taking place on April 20th in Miskin Manor in South Wales and we have speakers who will be presenting on the topic of ‘The Future of HR’.

So now you can see how much the tweet stuck with me.

But you know what? It struck a chord with a lot of other people too. The event “sold out” (I use inverted commas as the event is free, and sold out means all tickets were reserved) within less than 3 days. We also have a very healthy reserve list too. Considering this event was posted on a weekend, when people generally might not check their LinkedIn or email accounts, I think this is impressive. It demonstrates that there are a lot of people interested in this really important topic within our community.

So as a precursor to that event, I thought i’d present my view on the subject in advance.

To know where we’re going, we must know where we’ve come from right?

I started in HR at the point of it just progressing from the ‘Personnel era’. Indeed, I remember being called a Personnel Officer as opposed to my contractual title of HR Advisor and thought it nothing more than a hang up. To go even further back I was actually referred to as a ‘Trainee B*****d’ when a young HR Apprentice but thats another story altogether!

I’ve seen the significant emergence of the Business Partner model and am seeing this becoming more popular, with those who adapt this model from Dave Ulrich and adjusting it accordingly to their business and their needs as was intended and suggested.

I’m currently re-reading Dave Ulrich’s ‘HR from the Outside In’ and the development of earlier ideas to determine that the main external influencer of any business (usually, the customer) I think makes perfect sense and is a natural progression of the BP model.

The CIPD wish for the HR function to continue to be Strategic Partners, and I don’t disagree.

But hypothetical question – who should really determine our future and that of our function?

“Be the change you want to see in the world”.

Mahatma Gandhi.

We are encouraged to shape our agenda, promote best practice and support change. I have never had a problem with this, on one important condition – that its what the business in which the HR professional works both needs and wants.

Some readers at this point will be thinking that this is an obvious statement to make. Some might assume its a dangerous strategy, especially if they feel the business needs and wants their particular HR function to operate in a low level administration way or in a manner that is unethical. However, what I really mean is if the strategy we design for ourselves doesn’t enable the business to achieve what it needs to achieve, if it doesn’t help the business succeed in its quest to meet its mission and vision, then surely the strategy is redundant, and quite frankly, absolutely useless?

This is where I admire Ulrich’s comments in ‘HR from the Outside In’. It takes the strategy further. If we are supposed to be aligned to help our businesses achieve what it needs to achieve, then surely satisfying the customers demands is the higher power in that pyramid. And so if that is the case, why shouldn’t we meet with the customers of our business and see what they want from their supplier to produce a strategy accordingly. Think about it. Should patients of the NHS contribute to the direction that the HR function should help support the service towards so that the service is improved and therefore meeting the patients needs? Just one example to illustrate my point.

I started this blog post by confirming in my view HR will succeed as a function. This is because, as a function we have the ability to change at the heart of our profession. We are a resilient lot, often humble and wanting to succeed for the right reasons. We are generally not hypocritical and we know that as advocates of change we are, through the CIPD’s feedback gathering programmes and the works of people like Dave Ulrich, already gearing up for the next big change to affect our profession.

People are people, not programmed machines or factual numbers. Thats why our function will survive, just not in a way that we perhaps might have considered yet. Businesses have always needed to adapt to survive in a Darwin-esque manner, and so we have too.

And so we will.

Tata Steel – The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts


I was extremely saddened to hear of the announcement this week that Tata Steel intends to sell off its UK steelmaking operation, a business which directly employs around 15,000 people in the UK, and has many more thousands employed externally throughout its supply chain.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am biased. And this ones personal. I spent almost a decade employed at the company’s Port Talbot steelworks, which employs approximately 3,500 people of the 15,000 stated above. I pass the site every day on my way to work, and many of my friends work there.

I live less than 10 miles from the site, and I can assure you, the impact of this business failing and resulting in mass job losses will decimate my local area.

Many reports will talk about the politics, whether this is an effect of the UK’s membership of the EU, the fact that cheap steel has been dumped into the UK too easily from China and the measures that the government could take, but this blog post isn’t about any of that.

When others comment on Tata Steel they are right to discuss that much of the Port Talbot plant is state of the art. One of its Blast Furnaces is less than 10 years old, the BOS gas recovery system recycles gas to be used as energy within the plant, and the site has its own harbour and road infrastructure, more in-depth and complex than most towns. Despite the reports claiming that this particular site is losing £1m per day, there is significant value in the company. However, as per the subject of this blog, the true value of Tata Steel UK is that of the assets, combined with the outstanding workforce that are employed.

Tata Steel Strip Products UK as the welsh arm of the business was called during my time with the company, has always been the subject of much speculation. The sheer economies of scale and the business’s exposure to various external issues has meant that the companies good times have been very good, but its bad times have been devastating. In the late 2000’s, when improvements had to be made, a recently appointed Managing Director realised that something needed to be done to try and secure its future. An inspirational visionary, the MD very quickly realised that it was not funding, capital expenditure or changes in the commercial environment required to make the business viable, but the maximisation of the combined ability of its greatest asset, its workforce.

The three and a half thousand workers all engaged in the MD’s plan and embarked upon a journey to challenge and change everything that needed changing. The organisations values were reinforced, the mission and vision was clearly communicated, and key goals were made known to everyone. This culture change programme started a fire that I don’t think has ever gone out.

In a recent webinar with Dave Ulrich, he stated that;

“Leadership is not about what I am and what I do. Leadership is creating value in other people”.

The value, that the employees of Port Talbot and Llanwern created under this incredible leader, included health and safety records being broken, a better rolling run-rate that had never been achieved before, steel production volumes being increased and the highest number of new jobs being created for decades.

When difficulties became apparent, the same MD led the workforce in a cost reduction exercise saving a figure I believe was 200 to 300 million pounds (my memory is fading!), without any redundancies.

Tata steel provides highly skilled jobs for the people of South Wales, including much sought after apprenticeship positions, graduate roles, skilled engineering positions as well as highly specialist team members, and career paths aplenty for professional positions such as human resources and finance.

I will never forget the day that I found out I had been successful in my application to be a HR apprentice at the Port Talbot plant. The pride in telling my family that I was joining this prestigious organisation was incredible. Throughout my career I had nothing but help and support and very significant investment was made in my development so that I could return on that investment and add greater value to the organisation that was having faith in me. But my story is a mirror image of the many other thousands employed there who enjoyed the same faith being stored upon them, not to mention those that came before and after me too.

During my time with the company, I realised that there was just something about steelworkers in Port Talbot and Llanwern that was magnetic. It was the passion. Passionate about being a Tata employee, passionate about working at the Port Talbot or Llanwern plant, and passionate about working for a company of such magnitude and importance to the local community.

This workforce has achieved the unachievable, has once before turned around a failing plant, and stayed strong through much adversity. This is why the workforce needs and deserves to be rescued. 

This is the biggest challenge this group of employees may have ever faced in their working careers, but if ever I had faith in a workforce that could rise above this challenge and prove to any prospective new owner that they deserve to be saved, its this group of people.

Thats why our government needs to ensure it doesn’t give up on securing the future of these plants for these workers, because these workers have never given up.