The curse of HR

As Russia 2018 reached its climax, I watched the final with my usual feelings of frustration and anger.  As an Englishman I watch all world cup finals this way. Whatever the sport – football, cricket, rugby – I feel frustration that the cup is invariably being won by a country that has won it before more than once and will probably win it again in my lifetime, and anger that it isn’t England and they probably won’t.

That’s the curse of the English. Despite all the football talent and arguably the best league in the world, we can’t quite seem to get the recipe right for the four weeks that matter every four years.  Three Lions is a song about how crap we are for goodness sake!

But this time was slightly different.  England turned up in Russia with a young, inexperienced team, expectations and enthusiasm of the public at an all-time low.  And they did well. Very well. Winning games and a lot of friends along the way. Losing a semi-final is no disgrace.

This is because something has changed in English football.

But fret not dear reader, this is not a post about football or the Ten Things HR Can Learn from the World Cup (you know someone will write it!). No, this is a post about culture and attitude.

I’ve worked in HR for 25 years and a conclusion I’ve reached is you cannot deliver anything meaningful in HR unless the impetus comes from the top and is embraced across the organisation.

The number of HR teams that are able to deliver truly transformational, game-changing approaches in their organisations is tiny, and the number of HR people who walk away from their jobs frustrated and angry that they haven’t been able to be the change they want to see are in a very large majority.  I know, I’ve done it myself.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter how close you are to your business leaders and how focused you are on providing an HR function that enables and drives performance, if your CEO and leadership team aren’t singing from the same song sheet or get what you do you’ve got no chance of broad success.

So back to football (just briefly).  What the English Football Association put in place in 2015 was a DNA Policy.  This is an approach to elite player development centred around a National Football Centre, home base of 28 men’s, women’s and disability teams of all age groups. The best coaches, the best facilities and an over-arching team philosophy. Its premise is simple:

  • Who we are
  • How we play
  • The future England player
  • How we coach
  • How we support

In little under four years you can see the results. Over the last two years, England teams at under 17 and under 20 level have won their respective world cups. The under 19’s are the champions of Europe. These are competitions that England have rarely qualified for or cared little about winning in the past.

Imagine as HR professionals if we all dispensed with elaborate people strategies and vision statements, and simply had a DNA statement for the organisation:

  • Who we are
  • How we work
  • The future employee and the skills they will need
  • How we coach
  • How we support

A philosophy rather than a strategy, a framework that gets to the very heart of our organisational culture and values, looks forward and tells you what we are all there to do.

Measure its effectiveness by the success of your organisation, not by your turnover, your time to hire, your engagement score or any other redundant metric that tells you nothing about what’s really going on in your organisation.

It’s time we made it hard for HR people, any people, to walk away from our organisations feeling angry and frustrated that they can’t be a real difference.

Because that’s the curse of HR.


6 thoughts on “The curse of HR

  1. peterthroughtheloopnz says:

    Richard, I love reading your stories. They feel:

    – playfully edgy, – insightful, – succinct, – flowing. – I love your conversational tone, I feel like you are speaking directly to me – I find ease and clarity in your use of common language with minimal-to-no jargon, – I love how you use storytelling to convey ideas – I’ll remember the DNA Policy associated with the world cup, much easier than remembering another businessy 5 point list.

    To bring another perspective to essentially the same DNA Policy:

    1. Who we are 2. How we work 3. The future employee and the skills they will need 4. How we coach 5. How we support


    1. Mātua whakawhanaungatanga (relationships first), and our values 2. How we live our values through daily practices, spaces & awareness 3. Our visions for flourishing, creative & collaborative employees 4. How we help each other 1. uncover deeper potential 2. grow skills 3. grow habits 5. How we create psychological safety to enable each other to flourish

    Mauri tau,


    1. hrmannz says:

      Kia ora Peter
      Thank you so much for your comment. possibly the nicest blog comment I’ve ever had! I’m glad my writing connects with you in the way it does. And I love your other perspective. It all points to the same connection with people!

  2. Andrew Steele says:

    Great article Richard. We in HR get what we deserve sometimes. We lack some ambition and nous. Keep up the challenge for HR to be better

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