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Mike Haffenden

Linking Behaviour to Bottom Line Performance

An Interview with Mike Haffenden The following interview was held between Bruce Lewin and Mike Haffenden in December 2009. Mike co-foundded the Corporate Research Forum1 and was formerly HR Director for Hewlett-Packard. The discussion focussed on a review of 2009 and themes for HR, along with exploring more broad topics for the function and profession as a whole. Bruce: So how has 2009 been for you?

major consultancy offered early on in

Mike: Well, I think the pay thing is fas-

Is there anything you would reflect on

the year that the big issue in the crisis

cinating. If there is a link to pay and

or mention going forward?

was talent, so I’m sure it’s important,

performance and I’m not sure that

but when survival’s the issue, you start

there is, then I think it’s generally

Mike: I think it’s been very difficult for

to think about performance and cost. I

accepted that what we’ve been doing


The problems with the

certainly see many organizations tack-

over the last 10, 15, 20 years has not

economy, the problems with small

ling costs, i.e. reducing the number of

been right. But I don’t see many peo-

businesses, the problems with large

people, and in some ways looking to

ple offering much of an alternative to

businesses, the lack of clear leadership

temporary reforms.

That’s been far

the way we should pay people. So, if

and major uncertainty, and reluctance

less well dealt with and in many

big bonuses are wrong, what should

for anyone to really jump on the fun-

organizations; it’s a huge opportunity

we do? If long-term incentive plans

damental problem, which is job cre-

to improve that area of performance

aren’t right, what should we do? If


and support with the performance of

incentive retention payments aren’t

an individual.

I think that’s one

right, what should happen instead?

So clearly the government have to

aspect. The second thing, of course, is

I’ve not seen anybody come out with a

start thinking about this, how to create

the huge scurrying around in the six

real sensible approach as to what

wealth, how to create jobs and if it’s

months in the area of pay and pay-

should happen next. The reason for

not going to be finance, what’s it

ment systems. A lot of misplaced gov-

that is a lot of people seem to have a

going to be?

ernment attention on bonuses and so-

significant vested interest in not

on. The consequence of that means


that many organizations have been

have been doing very well. The chief

changing over the year to reflect the

looking at what we do.

Very few

executives have liked it quite a lot. HR

economic environment or has it been

organizations have actually made the

people are quite happy about what’s

more specialist HR themes that have

sorts of changes that you’d think are

going on. So, why would you change?


going to lead to improved perform-


Have you found the agenda

ance. Mike: I think it’s interesting. Of course, Bruce: Do you think people have

strate competence, but there doesn’t

missed a trick or an opportunity here?

I recall one

Bruce: Do you think those incumbents will present any serious debate going

HR has a huge opportunity to demonseem to be an initiative.

So, the consultants that


An Interview with Mike Haffenden

Mike: Well it seems a little bit like

thoughts and good ideas as to HR’s

where people consistently delivery

turkeys and Christmas. You don’t real-

way forward. There are a number of

outstandingly well, and there are a

ly get people vote to give themselves

HR directors who, I’m not saying are

number of bloody good organizations

less money. You’re not going to get

following him. But they are certainly

in the top right. Good organization,

consultancies to vote them less consul-

agreeing with him in practice to do

good people. That’s where I think in

tancy fees and HR directors are not

some of the things that they’re doing.

the top two boxes are where an

really pivotal in the decision making

But the CIPD, I just don’t think is on the

organization should be aspiring and

process. So, I think it’s going to be

same page.

not too much to do with improving

pretty much steady as you go.

their people, of course you need good Bruce: You’ve spoken before about the

people to do it, but essentially it’s

Bruce: Do you, just thinking about the

view of classic four box model around

about creating the context of the pre-

kind of missed opportunities, and the

people in organizations. Is that some-

vious approach.

opportunities that have presented

thing that you think may help enhance

themselves over the year, do you have

either the function as a whole or of

Bruce: From a HR point of view, how

a reaction to the CIPD’s attempt to artic-

practitioner’s views within it?

much of this do you think is about get-

ulate a new thought, new visions for

ting the basics right and how much do

the profession with their kind of re-

Mike: Much of HR’s effort and initiative

you think is about more advanced or

casting of the HR function?

has been focused on improving the

more sophisticated practices?

person, and yet very often, the people Mike: I think the CIPD is in a very diffi-

are pretty good as they are, but the

Mike: I think it’s both. I think many

cult set of circumstances. This is an

context in which they’re employed

organizations don’t get the basics

organization that deals with junior

leaves a lot to be desired. We find that

right. The basics to me would be sim-

people and people who are not in the

there is not enough work in terms of

ple processes, treating people well,

private sector. So, consequently, their

improving the organization, but lots of

communicating clearly and directly,

views are not always seen as being

work on improving individuals through

and that’s not always about good

followed by significant players and I

coaching, through 360 degree feed-

things. It’s about telling people what

think Jackie Orm’s initiative to involve

back, through training, through what-

is expect of them, what you want

more senior players has been a good

ever else; but very little in terms of

them to do. It’s about ensuring that

one, but I just don’t think that they’re

looking at the organization’s design, in

people work together as a team and

going to be leading the charge. I’m not

terms of process improvements, in

that an emphasis is placed on team

sure that their initiatives are going to

terms of creating an environment for

dynamics as well as the individual. So,

drive things on so much.

people to flourish and do well and

I think, yeah, there’s a lot to do in

those sorts of things, which are


Bruce: Do you think anyone else it tak-

arguably harder to do. So, in the four

have got fairly complex things. If you

ing up the slack?

boxes you might have very many gov-

really need international processes,

ernment departments bottom left,

these can be quite complex, quite dif-

Mike: Yeah, I think some of the US aca-

possibly managing not very good peo-

ficult, and some of that does require

demics are doing really quite interest-

ple in an environment which isn’t

subtle or sophisticated management. I

ing work. We’ve been working with

great. Bottom right, you might have a

think it’s a combination of those

Pat Wright from Cornell and Pat is a

number of the banks that have great

things, but I do find many organiza-

thoughtful, helpful academic who is

people, but tend to do everything they

tions get it wrong most of the time.

working with some UK businesses to

can to stifle their initiative. Top left

move things forward. I think he lacks

you might have some of the sandwich

Bruce: Would make any recommenda-

the showmanship of Ulrich, which is

makers or McDonald’s who don’t nec-

tions or thoughts to advance these

probably a good thing. On the other

essarily hire the best people, but cre-

ideas? Obviously Ulrich’s work has been

hand, I think he’s got some good

ate a great working environment

championed for awhile, but do you

Equally, some organizations

An Interview with Mike Haffenden

think there’s any simple or even com-

ibly well at bringing in good people,

Mike: Well, it’s never actually been

plicated theme that’s emerged as to

moving them through the organiza-

clear as to what our contribution might

progress the function from your point of

tion, and putting them into positions of

be. We’ve got four domains that we



think HR provides tangible contribu-

Mike: I’m not a big Dave Ulrich fan. I’m

Bruce: Sure.

Do you think that’s

tions delivering the basics, which I

certainly not enthusiastic of prescrip-

because of the people, per se, or do

think HR has done very well. The other

tive solutions to problems. Each situa-

you think it’s because of the economic

three areas would be talent manage-

tion needs to be judged accordingly

environment and the respective busi-

ment, performance management, and

and appropriate measures taken.

ness model?

creating the right kind of environment

tion. The four would be, the HR opera-

needs clarity of thought.


It needs

for good people to flourish.

I think

analysis and it needs determination to

Mike: I think it’s easier at Tesco,

we’ve done far less time in those

get things done.



areas, and a lot of it’s to do with lack

You’ve got spaces that you can put

of expertise and an inability to actual-

Bruce: Do you think that the day will

people that are moving forward into.

ly make an impact. There are clearly

ever come when HR is having meaning-

So, if you’ve got jobs for bright up and

exceptions to that.

ful impact on cash flow statements or

coming people to move into, then it’s

financial measures, across the profes-

easier than if you’re a contracting

Bruce: Do you think there will be any

sion rather than worst examples?

organization. Under the latter circum-

new HR technologies coming along to

stances, the people that are entrapped

help the HR to more effectively func-

Mike: I think that’s a million miles

and they’ll go somewhere else. But if

tion in these areas?

away. The best HR directors are how-

it’s expanding and growing, you can

ever very influential within their

hold on to good people and move

Mike: I think that certainly, software


There are some out-

them as you go forward. But a lot of

tools can be helpful in terms of manag-

standing examples of people who

this is about harboring your resource.

ing talent, but I think that some the

have made a substantial contribution,

But then as an investor in an organiza-

fundamentals are going back to basics

but HR’s role in the strategic direction

tion. I’m always interested in the qual-

and getting a grasp of principles of

of the enterprise is inevitably not the

ity and caliber of talent that that

social science, how people work

same as the chief executive’s. In some

organization has got. If you think of it

together collectively, looking at cause

cases, they are a strong supporting act

as your investment portfolio. I’m not

and effect, looking at things that cause

and in other cases, they’re just not

going to put money into an organiza-

improved performance and looking at


tion that has got duffers running it.

things that cause people to grow and

And the ones that are



involved are far fewer than the ones that would like to be.

develop in organizations. We know all Bruce: Do you think there are other

this stuff, but simply choose not to

themes apart from talent that are of

apply it.

Bruce: Do you think there are any HR

broad interest to shareholder communi-

activities that either could be, in princi-


ple, or have been in the past taken to share holders or run by the CEO?

Bruce: What would be an example of something that you think is known but

Mike: Yeah, I think remuneration strat-

isn’t applied?

egy must be important and the way Mike: I think the whole issue of talent

people get paid is important. I think

Mike: The cult of the individual exists in

is important. and if look at Tesco’s

those are the two important areas.

many organizations and yet we all

pipeline of people coming through, it’s

know that success comes from having

phenomenal! Compare and contrast

Bruce: Where do you think HR fits into

effective teams. I think creating envi-

with Mark & Spencer and some other

the wider organisational picture?

ronments of team goals, team incen-

organizations. Tesco have done incred-

tives and team culture is important to

An Interview with Mike Haffenden

success. So, how would you create this environment




brought into the shared vision, the shared purpose and deliver according-

Footnotes and References

ly? I think there’s something also about the fact that this year has been very


difficult for people in work and I think that creating an environment where

Written by

people do still get something from it,

Bruce Lewin, Director

where they still enjoy what they’re

doing, and can regard work as being positive rather than negative is impor-

About Four Groups

tant as well. Four Groups have developed a new Bruce: Thank you very much for your

approach called 4G to understand

time Mike.

behaviour, relationships and culture. 4G provides its users with insight into per-

Mike: Thank you.

sonal characteristics, how relationships develop within teams and groups and how culture can be best defined and managed. 4G provides organisations with information on how best to deploy and optimise the performance of their people. It also enables preventative measures to be taken which minimise the less productive aspects of interaction and group dynamics such as friction and misunderstanding between colleagues. 4G represents a systematic approach to managing the previously intangible aspects of organisational life. The methodology is easily replicable and can be implemented quickly and efficiently.

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An Interview With Mike Haffenden Four Groups