The Dead Hand of HR


I thought one of the most interesting presentations at JustMeans’ Social Media & Stakeholder Engagement that I participated in this week was given by Tim Johns, VP Corporate Communication at Unilever (see my Social Advantage post).

Tim obviously knows what will make a good line – his quote “the dead hand of HR has killed employee engagement” was quickly tweeted and retweeted.

But there’s obviously more to this than a good quote.  HR does still provide a ‘dead hand’ to many issues in many organisation.

In Unilever, they have therefore separate the pay and rations / propaganda type of communication from the other bit, focused on education, information and Reithian principles.


I think this is an issue that needs to be confronted.  I’m surprised how often HR practitioners seem to be proud of their abilities to recognise the need to dress up something they’re developing as ‘something owned by the business, not an HR initiative’.

Yes, of course, I understand the need.  But at some point, they need to address the fundamental problem too.  Get HR’s positioning right, and ensure it’s doing the right things, then HR’s involvement shouldn’t mean the kiss of death (is this a mixed metaphor or not?).


And Tim’s right, the dead hand is particularly prevalent in relation to social media.

But it doesn’t need to be this way.

On Tuesday morning (10.30am GMT), I’m presenting to a group of senior HR practitioners at an HR Society event on HR and social media.  I’m hoping to tweet some of the group’s questions, and hoping even more that I’ll get responses from some of you – perhaps by the end of the session they’ll even start tweeting questions themselves…

And then the following Monday (29th), we’ve got the UK’s first HR tweet-up.  We’ve got just over 80 people booked – all of whom (I presume) are motivated to avoid the dead hand falling in their organisation.  What are you doing in yours?





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I graduated from Imperial College, London in 1987 and joined Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) as a systems development consultant. After ten years in IT, change and then HR consulting, I joined Ernst & Young as an HR Director, working firstly in the UK, and then, based in Moscow, covering the former USSR.More recently, I have worked as Head of HR Consulting for Penna and Director of Human Capital Consulting for Buck Consultants (the HR consultancy owned by ACS).

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