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How do you describe your work?

Any football fan will tell you that the players who run towards them after scoring a goal kissing the club badge on the front of their shirt will probably be leaving in the next transfer window. All too often these public and exuberant displays of faux loyalty and passion towards the team they represent are followed by an awkward press conference that see the player stating that their move was purely down to a boyhood dream, and nothing to do with the £30 million contract they’re rumored to have signed.

Yet, the players who run towards their support before turning and gesturing towards their name and number on the back attract equal criticism, as if they are indicating that they are bigger than the team around them. They may have been left on the substitutes bench by the manager the previous weekend, or might currently be in a long-running stand off with the chairman over the club’s refusal to offer him a three year contract instead of just two, or only £40,000 a week instead of £50,000. It is perceived to be an act of either arrogance or insecurity, or a combination of the two. And lets not even get started on the signature celebrations; Klinsmann’s full length dive across the turf, Gareth Bale’s heart shape with his hands, Tim Cahill’s boxing bout with the corner flag or Mario Balotelli’s cold stare into the distance, indicating that he does, in fact, have some idea as to why it is always him. To many, these are displays of colossal egotism of the worst kind.

Fans like to read a lot into how players conduct themselves when they score. They want to understand what motivates them to perform, and to discern some kind of affection for the organizations they have spent their whole lives (and an enormous amount of money) supporting. They believe that a player’s actions in those moments of ecstasy, seconds after a ball rips into the back of a net, are an opportunity to gain a rare glimpse of the soul; a fleeting moment of truth and personality in an otherwise automaton industry in which we hear very little genuine opinion.

In my sporadic amateur football career, which has to date consisted of little more than jumpers for goalposts in the local park, I haven’t had too much cause to put a lot of thought into how I would celebrate if I scored a goal in front of 30,000 people. To be honest, I haven’t had too many reasons to consider it at all. Yet, after hearing an interesting analogy recently, I started to ask myself whether I would be someone who kissed the badge, turned and pointed to my name and number, or invent a signature celebration that would become my footballing identity.

Siobhan Sheridan, Head of People for the NSPCC, speaking at a myHRcareers event several months ago, likened how HR professionals describe themselves when they meet people outside of their organization to a football shirt. She asserted that most would describe themselves as an HR manager/director, learning and development professional, reward specialist or recruitment advisor first before even mentioning the company or industry they worked in. “My name’s James and I’m an HR manager.” This is the equivalent to pointing to the name and the number (which denotes your position) on the back of the shirt. Instead, as HR professionals, we should be immersed in, and engaged with, the organizations, and the industries, in which we work. Much more concerned with the badge on the front, and understanding the leagues and arenas in which we compete.

Siobhan’s analogy reminded me of a famous old story, of which there are various versions, about the time President John F. Kennedy visited the headquarters of NASA in 1962. As he was finishing his tour of the facility, he came across a cleaner sweeping the floor. He went over and asked the man what he was doing. The cleaner responded enthusiastically, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.” The story, true or false, has been held up as a shining example of a winning corporate culture and employee engagement by management and HR theorists for the last fifty years.

So I will be describing myself from now on not as an HR manager but instead “helping my company, Symposium, to deliver knowledge by producing the best conference and training events in the UK”. Our events are our end product; the things we sell. We have marketing, bookings and accounts, sales, events production, logistics and human resources functions to name a few, but we are all working towards that end product, just as that cleaner was a part of the team working to put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface.

To be at our most effective as HR professionals, we have to ‘buy in’ to the ambitions and culture of the organizations in which we work. We have to understand the people within our organizations, the products they sell, and the markets in which they operate. So instead of pointing to my name and position on the back of my shirt, I will be feverishly kissing the badge on the front.

Right up until a bigger club comes in with a more lucrative contract offer…



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