Is Everything Hunky Dory in HR?

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hunky doryBy Andrew Spence (24/09/15)


“Wake up you sleepy head

Put on some clothes, shake up your bed”


This is from one of my favourite albums, “Hunky Dory” by David Bowie, which paid tribute to some of his greatest inspirations.

So when I think about reinvention, I think about David Bowie. Clearly I am too young *ahem* to remember all his personas such as ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and ‘Aladdin Sane’, but at 68, he is still in top form with the release of his excellent 2013 album, “The Next Day.”

Bowie is the master of reinvention, and to some extent changed the business he is in.  If you are a music fan, read Peter Cook’s excellent, “Life on Mars – Reinvention Lessons from David Bowie.”

I’d like to explain why I think reinvention is such an important theme HR.


“All the nightmares came today

And it looks as though they’re here to stay”


As a leader in HR, you will have ‘nightmare days’.

One of the challenges with working out what the business will need from HR in the future, is finding the space and the inspiration today.

With this in mind here are some reasons I think we need to re-think HR.


“Oh! You Pretty Things”


Organisations and business models are changing.

When was the last time you saw Blockbusters on the high street, or an independent book shop?  Swept away by streaming videos and Amazon, very soon we might be asking the same question about Black Cabs in London with the rise of Uber.

Since 2000, a staggering 52% of the Fortune 500 have disappeared.

All organisations are in a steady transition to the digital age which might end up being as impactful as the industrial revolution. Professor Gary Hamel explains that some of our management practices go back thousands of years, overlaid with the disciplines of the industrial age, which goes back some 120 years! So to avoid being the next Blockbusters, survivors will need to reboot their management “where values and transparency replace rules, replacing hierarchy and fear”.

As well as business models changing, so is the workforce.

We now have five generations working together in our workforce.

We are in an age of freelancers working 24 / 7 across the globe. The notion of a ‘Job’, or an employment contract, is being challenged. See for example this article by Josh Bersin, The End of a Job as We Know It.

Automation, Globalisation & ‘Uberfication’. Economists’ predictions for the future workforce vary from a world where Robots rule the workforce wiping out swathes of middle managers, to one where there will not be enough workers.


“And every time I thought I’d got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet”


Everything we assumed about people management is now being challenged.

If our management practices are from the industrial age, then so are some of our HR practices.

Annual Performance reviews? Rapidly being dumped by the likes of Deloitte, Accenture, Adobe and Gap, read this article by the Washington Post on Why big business is falling out of love with the annual performance review.

Are we currently in an existential crisis with employee engagement? You bet! Professor Rob Briner’s Don’t believe the hype of employee engagement, explains this issues with definition, measurement and the big one for me, causality.

Another core set of skills in our HR tool-box is being challenged – Change Management. If you think I have gone a bit Ziggy Stardust, then check out this article from McKinsey “Changing change management” – which approaches the question, how do we manage change in the digital age? The article suggests five areas where digital tools and techniques can make change initiatives more effective, including, providing just-in-time feedback and ‘sidestep hierarchy’. We need to challenge some of our assumptions about effective ways to manage change using more agile techniques, which is the topic of Dirk Stoltenberg’s keynote, “Agility: The Strategic Opportunity for HR” at the HR Change and Transformation Conference 2015 in London on 13/14 October.

I am looking forward to attending the conference for the 3rd year, with no speaking or chairing responsibilities this year, I will be in listening mode. So if you are going, do tap me on the shoulder, or tweet @AndySpence, and let me know about your plans for ‘re-thinking HR’.

Is everything Hunky Dory in HR?

Every HR team (and business function) will need to ‘do a Bowie’ and think about reinvention.

So find some inspiration and clear the decks as this is the time for HR to be “Heroes


Andrew SpenceAndrew Spence, HR Transformation Director, Glass Bead Consulting. 24/09/2015


I am a HR Transformation specialist with 20 years experience leading complex change management programmes in the UK, Europe and US. 

I established Glass Bead Consulting in 2006 with the aim of providing an alternative approach to HR Transformation. Businesses generally understand Why they need to change, What they need to change, but often need support on How to make it happen. I work with progressive HR Directors, CHROs, and business leaders to take a complex set of organisational problems, and help create a clear vision, and a deliverable plan. 

I have worked on over 22 major HR change and transformation programmes with some great organisations including; BP, John Lewis Partnership, Novartis, United Health Group, ESAB and the UK Public Sector including NHS Trusts, Department for Transport and HM Prison Service. 

I am passionate about HR’s role in providing meaningful work in organisations.