Robey’s Blog: From Nought to HR

I’m back!  And it’s a new look and a new theme for my blog, because this week I take up the HR reins at Sprint Group Ltd, a small-ish company in Worcestershire.  I’m yet to settle on a concise and informative way of explaining what they do without sounding like an infomercial, but unless you own or want to own a commercial kitchen of some sort – restaurant, canteen, gastropub, hotel, school, café etc – you don’t really need to know[1].

For the purposes of this blog, what’s important is that they’ve never had an HR person before.

This puts me in mind, therefore, of a blog I wrote a long time ago.  In fact, it was the first one I ever wrote for HR News.  Because even though there’s never been someone here to take the lead on people matters, like recruitment, discipline, performance, learning and culture, all of those things have still been happening.  And it’s a salient reminder that HR, for all that it is my profession and my vocation and something about which I feel passionately, isn’t something companies actually need to have in place to exist and function and, indeed, profit.

So in way, my title for this blog is misleading (sorry).  Because I’m not taking my new employer from zero at all.  They’re a long way from zero.  They have contracts, and policies, and inductions.  They make appointments.  They make dismissals.  They make difficult decisions about structure and management and leadership and they’ve been doing this for over twenty years without ever needing to appoint someone to help them with those things.

But to the extent that, until now, no one has had singular and personal responsibility for those things, I am going from zero.  Zero is Sprint Group without me.  But if I think that the end of the journey – the “HR” in the title of this blog – has been achieved by hiring me then I’m kidding myself.  My arrival here is scarcely even the first step in this journey.  Nothing has been achieved in the simple act of appointing someone: and that’s absolutely true of every job and appointment and worth remembering.  Appointing someone solves nothing.  Only the actions of the someone can solve anything.

Having said that, then, I thought it was worth laying down on the record what I consider to be my priorities here at Sprint Group.

This is not my destination, incidentally.  I’m not sure that the end point of this journey is at all clear, just yet.  All that’s clear is that there’s a journey to be taken.  So my first priority is to draw the map.  And the map of the HR journey is written in data.

The CIPD is very hot on evidence-based HR at the moment, which is a good thing.  But whilst most of the noise is about the use of Big Data to inform significant studies of behaviour and motivation, even small operators need to pay attention to ebHR.  Good decisions cannot be made in a knowledge vacuum except by accident, and no one wants to run a business by happenstance.  Good decisions are made with at least some of the facts to hand.  The more facts one has, the harder it may be to sift through them to achieving a decision, but once a decision is made it will be better – and the confidence one has in the decision will be the stronger for it.

Data begins from something as simple as “who do we employ and what do we pay them to do?”  From there you can start to see the patterns and trends and decide whether they are good or bad for your business.

It begins from something as fundamental as “who’s at work today?”  From there you can start to spot problems not only with individuals but with teams, as well as start spotting health risks.

And when you start to gather data, you quickly become aware of what you don’t know.

Poor Donald Rumsfeld was pilloried for his “unknown unknowns” but history and the experience of governments and businesses the world over have justified his argument that there are great swaths of information that we just don’t know we don’t know.  And until someone starts piecing together what we do know, those critical knowledge gaps can’t be seen.

But am I going to be left alone to get on with this vital task of assembling the data that will provide my employer with the solid foundations on which to make good decisions in the future?  Of course not.  Because life never stops to wait for you to catch up.  Even while I’m trying to sift and scoop and filter, there are jobs that need filling.  There are disputes that need mediating.  There are, inevitably, forms that need completing.

And on the exciting HR roundabout goes.

With a bit of luck, I’ll be back next week to build on where I’ve begun, because we can never have just one priority, after all.  And I’ve got loads!

[1] But if you do, by all means check out our website at

Author: editorialassistant

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