How do you feel today? Emotion and Strategic HR


Strategic HRM is about leaving behind the pink and fluffy stuff of how people feel and what we can do to make them feel better. Instead, we are focussed on what we can measure and business outcomes. What happens though when the science tells us that we can’t have one without the other?


We are only at the halfway point of day 1 of #CIPD15, but already people are talking about what their ‘take away’ points will be this year. For me, one of them will be the headline that emotion is no longer a dirty word in HR. Helen Thevenot from Thomson Reuters put it really well here in Manchester this morning.

How we feel affects how we think. How we think affects how we behave and our behaviours are what lead to business outcomes.

I love the certainty with which Helen and others say this. We are doing what we should be doing in borrowing from other rigorous disciplines such as neuroscience and psychology to say with confidence that we know this to be the case. As Helen put it, if you are feeling grumpy or frustrated you are going to be less creative, less productive and less effective than if you were feeling positive and enthused.


We know from Cary Cooper’s keynote session this morning that mental wellbeing is affected significantly by how supported and secure people feel at work. Cary talked about the damaging impact on productivity of fear, lack of confidence, uncertainty and all those very human moments of self doubt that we all (without exception) experience. We also know that people look to others for direction and a model to follow so how we behave within our own organisations, particularly perhaps as senior leaders, is key to enabling people to feel confident about acting and working in more sensible, sustainable and natural ways.


What excites me most about this is that we in HR are uniquely placed to lead on this agenda. We have shown that we can use quantitative data when that’s helpful, but we have strengths in qualitative readings of people in organisations and the intangibles of emotion and personal experience that other functions simply aren’t able to bring.


In the debate that went on for years about how HR justifies its seat at the top table we played on the idea that HR could somehow do what the Finance function does – but with people rather than money. That was a mistake. HR is finding its true calling again as a function that is focussed absolutely on sustainable business outcomes, but through its own unique lens of understanding how people behave in organised situations, how to approach difficult ethical questions and to be stewards for the organisation and our multiple stakeholders.


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