When I took over the people role at my former startup (after our 3rd co-founder and ‘Chief of People’ left), I joined an excellent Slack group full of “Head of People/Talent/HR” folks so that I could learn what I needed and ensure I wasn’t missing anything on the people experience front.

The list of HR/people topics include things like:

  • Culture and values
  • Engagement and retention
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Learning and development
  • Performance and progression
  • Policies and handbooks
  • Scaling and hiring
  • Wellbeing

Lately, however, as we work to decolonise the entirety of the work experience across our team at Mission Equality, I find myself looking at the conversations happening amongst some of the people people for top UK companies and thinking: “We’ve got this so very wrong”.

Where’s the humanity? Where are the people in this people experience?

In a recent conversation with Anne-Marie Archer, self-branded as the Anti-HR Lady, she made some excellent points which articulate the ‘wrong’ I’ve been feeling…

  • HR was never designed for the people, it was designed for the company and to protect the company.
  • Given the above remit, the fact DEI usually sits within the remit of HR/People is…wrong. You can’t have a business function whose purpose is to protect the company and ensure it complies with laws & regulations also in charge of pushing practices which are fundamentally about advocating for the people. It’s essentially a conflict of interests…no wonder DEI fails in so many companies!

And going further, if you look across the remit of this function, it further underlines the conflicts and tensions, created by the capitalist drive to make money, at all costs. Specifically…

If we need to ‘manage performance’, we’re doing it wrong…

Why do we people need to ‘perform’ in the first place? And to whose standards and levels are we measuring this performance against?

Is this really how we want to be spending our time, ‘managing’ the level/quality that others around us achieve – set by some arbitrary measures that are 100% extractive in nature – instead of managing ourselves to achieve our best?

If we need to ‘manage’ others at all, we’re doing it wrong…

If individuals are educated, empowered and facilitated to manage themselves – in all the ways – we shouldn’t need to be managing anyone else at all and can instead focus on managing our selves…managing our energy, managing our output and production, managing our emotions, managing our creativity…that’s more than enough for us to focus on to achieve our own potential.

If we were taught – by the education system – to self direct, to be independent learners, thinkers and do-ers we wouldn’t need managing at all; instead we’re spoon-fed, told what to learn, when to learn and even how to learn…and then we spend a lifetime needing to be managed.

If we need to ‘improve productivity’, we’re doing it wrong…

Productive by whose standards and measures? Is productivity THE priority at any/all costs? If we facilitate and empower people to achieve their own ‘productive’ potential, isn’t that enough? It should be. And what does that look like? Because surely it’ll change with what else might be going on at various times in a person’s life and the expectation of ‘productivity’ should also then change alongside that, no?

That’s fair, right? That’s humanity in action…Not driving people so hard – against extractive measures driven solely by money – that they become sick, unwell and depressed.

If we need to ‘benchmark salaries & benefits’, we’re doing it wrong…

Why use what is really a pretty low bar as your standard? What about asking your people what they need to live comfortably and optimally (aka achieve their own potential)? You may be paying ‘industry standards’ but if that still leaves many folks in your company struggling to survive, is that good enough? Frankly, no.

When people are worried about being able to pay their bills, it doesn’t drive performance, it doesn’t drive creativity, it doesn’t drive productivity…it yields the exact opposite.

If we need to ‘benchmark time off’ and ensure we’re providing the legal minimum requirement, we’re doing it wrong…

Focusing on a more flexible, truly people-first approach to work removes the need to limit time off, to restrict people to the mandatory legally-mandated periods and instead trusts people to take what they need.

The HR/people function in most companies exists to get more from people while staying on the right side of the law.

While many folks in HR/people do not operate from this paradigm, they’re operating in a system which demands this and is set up to achieve this.

If you’re in any doubt, look across the entirety of the practices and processes your company has and see if you can identify more than a handful that aren’t designed for the fundamental goal of being extractive and profit-driven…for the business to effectively get more for their money from each and every person in the business. I’ll wait…

This is why performance needs to be managed, it’s why the people need to be managed, it’s why productivity needs to be improved, it’s why benchmarks need to be monitored…

It’s about operating from a paradigm of power and control, driven by the capitalist focus on financial profit.

When this energy prevails, it requires an entire function – it creates a cost centre – to make sure people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s a little bit wild that this is needed, don’t you think?

What if we could simply trust people to do what they were supposed to do? What if people were given more freedom and the support to manage and direct themselves?

When this energy prevails – operating from a paradigm of trust and freedom – in a company, the leadership will experience everything they’ve ever wanted from their people….productivity, performance, creativity and more. Who wouldn’t want that?

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