Rob Jones: 10 things HR can learn from Trading Places

1928 Dollar Bill ReverseFor the first guest blog post of 2012 here on XpertHR Employment Intelligence, it’s my honour to welcome back leading UK HR “blogger blogger” (this unusual title is explained here) Rob Jones.

This post is a little unusual for XpertHR Employment Intelligence, both in terms of topic and of how it came to be. Here, Rob celebrates the (in my opinion) immaculate cinematic masterpiece Trading Places, and draws out 10 lessons that HR can take to heart from this classic film.

As Rob explains in greater detail, how this post came to be is also interesting, as it highlights the remarkable serendipities that can arise via social networking sites. I am surprised and delighted that what started as a chance remark on Twitter early yesterday morning (Wednesday 11 January 2012) turned into a rolling Twitter discussion (with its own light-hearted hashtag and – within the space of less than 12 hours – resulted in Rob sending me the draft text of the post below.

The post rather relies on an in-depth knowledge of the film. I’ve added links to pertinent clips via YouTube where relevant (and please be warned that some of these contain somewhat rum language). But if you’ve not seen Trading Places yourself, you could do significantly worse with your time than to seek it out.

So here’s what Rob has to say regarding the lessons that HR can take from Trading Places…

Rob Jones: 10 things HR can learn from Trading Places

RobJones.jpgI can’t remember whether it’s Laurel or Hardy who regularly says, “That’s another fine mess you’ve got me into” – but on this occasion the fault is all my own…

I happened to ask Michael if there were any subjects he wanted blog posts written on.

I think what followed is known as a confluence of events, as my message arrived in the middle of a Twitter conversation Michael was having with Mervyn Dinnen about the movie Trading Places.

And the next thing you know I am writing a blog post with this title….

So here goes:

1. Walk a mile in another man’s shoes

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You often hear HR people refer to ‘the business’ or ‘the line,’ but let’s not forget without ‘them’ there’s no ‘us’. If you really want to be about mobilising human resources in attainment of the business plan (or similar business school phrase) then understanding the business is absolutely critical. What is the business trying to achieve? How? How can the solutions you implement drive and improve that?

2. What goes around comes around

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Especially if you are Randolph & Mortimer Duke … but what can HR learn from this? Being part of HR endows the individual with power both in terms of access to information, access to management and the way they are viewed by the organisation. Overusing this power will absolutely create resentment from other people. So what? Well, the resenting individual could be the next stakeholder you have to influence, a colleague on a project team or the person you need help from. Apart from those reasons – it’s just mean and wrong!

3. Everyone has the same basic right

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OK I’m not that stupid, I know the film has a high concept to provide a comedic situation. But that said, what the Duke Brothers do breaks one of the fundamental rules: everyone has the right to respect and dignity at work. I think sometimes with talk of policy, contracts and values that people overlook that basic human right. So I don’t care how senior you are, how big your team is, how difficult a situation you are in – everyone you work with has this right. And if you do ever overstep – be a grown up and apologise – personally!

4. Support comes from the strangest places

If you’d asked a successful Commodities Broker who would help him when he was down on his luck, I imagine a prostitute would not have been his answer. The point I take from this is that support can come from the strangest of places. So when building your network within the organisation don’t only go for the powerful people. When building influence a number of ‘smaller’ voices can sometimes be equally powerful.

5. Knowledge is power

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Clearly knowing the outcome of a crop harvest gives you incredible power. Having already covered the power that HR information gives an individual, what point am I making? That knowing what is going on in your business is of vital importance to you. Not just the people stuff! If you are in a meeting, proposing some work, making a presentation, etc, then understanding the context of the business and the information that your colleagues know will help you make it more appropriate, resonant and effective.

6. Recognise your limits

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Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that you retain dubious Clarence Beeks types to operate in the shadows. BUT as an HR professional you will probably have a fairly broad skill-set. That breadth may not however stretch to legal expertise, employer branding, social media, facilitation, benchmarking, research or numerous other specialist skills. So recognise your limits and supplement when required.

7. Keep it ethical

Whilst we’re on the subject of Mr Beeks and his actions remember your corporate values and just as importantly your personal values. At times difficult decisions will have to be made but as well as being legal they need to be ethical, and you need to be able to look yourself in the mirror once you’ve made them.

8. Bribery and corruption is not just a piece of paper

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So the film is clearly rife with bribery and corruption. But what constitutes a bribe and how influence is brought to bear is far more subtle in real life. Having a policy is all well and good but bringing it to life for your organisation and its suppliers is another job altogether. Legal compliance aside, helping people (at all levels) understand and live by this is a challenge

9. Collaborate to achieve greater results

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As the old adage goes (and as Billy Ray & Louis demonstrate) two heads are better than one. Work with people both inside and outside HR to get better ideas, better insight, better influence and better execution.

10. Celebrate Success

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When the work is done, stop, take a moment and reflect on what has gone well and allow yourself and those around you to celebrate achieving something…. (and then get on with the next thing). Or to put it in Trading Places terms: sometimes it’s good to have the lobster and the cracked crab!

Other posts by Rob Jones on XpertHR Employment Intelligence:

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