#2-Tone

Perry Timms
9 min readSep 29, 2022

It’s Thursday, 29th September 2022. I’m just off to Brighton to do a pre-dinner keynote (30 minutes tops including some observations and questions) and rather ambitiously, I’m to talk about a new era.

The dawning of a new way (a model’s there for sure) for how the People Profession — HR, Learning, OD (Organisation Design / Development / Effectiveness), Culture and all in between — could look like, be like and do.

I’m going to introduce tonight with a story about a group of young men from an industrial city in the Midlands of Britain (Coventry to be precise). The Specials.

Picture from www.stuff.co.nz

Formed at the height of the post-Punk musical revolution in British music, they were different. With couture and culture. A multi-racial group — when there weren’t that many of those — at the height of the dark days of the National Front and overt racism. A fusion — of British Punk, New Wave and Jamaican Ska and Bluebeat — when not many others were doing that (Punk was pretty much over and the Ska/Bluebeat era was from the 1960s and peaked at the end of that decade giving way to Reggae and outfits like Bob Marley and the Wailers).

They owned their record label. 2-Tone (licensed through Chrysalis Records) gave them creative freedom and signed up-and-coming other bands to it (Madness, The Beat, The Selecter, The Body Snatchers).

They enlisted traditionalists — Rico Rodriguez and Dick Cuthell on brass — to their post-punk version of Ska.

They were also rebels. They wrote songs about political malfeasance, they wrote songs about tough urban life. They wrote songs (literally) about Stereotypes of young life in Thatcherite Britain.

They took something supposedly past its prime and repackaged it for wider consumption but also for a revolution beyond simply the melodies and chart positions. It was a revolution in culture; in the industry they were in, in the way you take control, create your own destiny and reboot a genre.

That last paragraph: Sounds like HR anyone?

We’ve never really had a post-punk moment in HR (despite my slightly tongue-in-cheek calls to create Punk HR in the 2010s — which was met with some interest and a fair bit of derision).

HR has been the opposite of Punk. Overly aligned to the bosses of the corporate mandate/machine perhaps? Overly fixated on consistent processing of things relating to people perhaps? Overly formulaic and aligned to theory-itis perhaps?

I’m not going to crawl over that old broken glass.

In the mid-nineties, we had a glimmer of hope. A Business School Professor (who had clearly seen the signs of internal service provision in Information Technology shifting) brought a new model to HR. The Business Partner model or 3-legged stool or as it became known because of him, The Ulrich model.

And since then, it’s been this. And notwithstanding that the originator of this model himself has added, adapted, adjusted brought new thinking and several other schemas, models, phrases and frameworks, most of us in the people profession will still recognise this as the prevailing way HR is organised.

No one’s really come up with something since.

And so we might have to make as the Specials did. They didn’t say Punk is dead or Ska is over. They fused them and created 2-Tone.

Tonight, I’m going to have a go at creating our (HR’s) 2-Tone moment.

Why now? Why me? Why what I’ve crafted? Let’s see, but to answer all of those, why not?

We have some SERIOUS issues to contend with that I didn’t anticipate we would as we head into the mid-2020s. Wars, a Climate Emergency, depleting ecosystems; political turmoil; economic fragility; viruses and disease; social fragmentation and injustice; digitisation; and overall, uncertainty like perhaps never before.

Now is as good a time as any to look at something as seemingly trivial to those huge problems as how HR reimagines itself and organises for impact and value creation. And because the work machinery/system/experience is impacted by ALL of those external factors and a raft of others considered internal.

Purposeful businesses, conscious remodelling towards prosperity not just profit; fair and equitable workplaces; and even what is the place of work actually now with so much remote work done for the last 2 years? And more.

Anyway, so it IS time to look at a 25+ years concept. SURELY?

Yes. Let’s do that.

But first, let’s look at work.

What do people really want from their work? Beyond an economic exchange to earn income to live on.

We’ve had years of looking at this but in my experience, of late, this word has come to represent what is missing from work for a LOT of people.

A state of flourishing.

But, — no, no buts.

Why cannot people find a lot more comfort in who they really are as a person in the work they do? Whatever that may be? Why can’t people feel fulfilled, live a balanced life, learn more about life, even find out who they really are through their work? It’s not a cult thing to develop and become a better human being because work helps you do that. It’s a cult thing when you become a bigger a$$hole through your work though. Sure.

We don’t have to put up with the harsh, dull and toiling version of work whether that’s working in industries people used to call low-skilled; that appear mundane and that whilst necessary, weren’t top of most people’s lists in their teenage years when asked: “What job do you want when you leave education?”

For a couple of years now, the micro-enterprise I founded 10 years ago has been not only working towards this ourselves, and integrating it into our work, writing and research.

We think it looks kinda like this.

PTHR’s 42@work Model

Designing for a state of flourishing (people, teams and the organisation and people they serve?) — go left to right.

Fixing something that’s already set up and failing to deliver a state of flourishing? Go from right to left to find the failure point(s).

From this, I am now looking at what HR currently does in those areas, segments and domains regarding this model.

And have had a go at mapping things that need to deliver for this model thus:

So not to remove all the existing needs like Employee/Industrial Relations roles; Learning Professionals and so on. But some more specific domains mapped loosely to this experience of work model in order to create a flourishing organisation with flourishing people.

And in reality, what that really means is structuring HR LESS around 3 pillars or even as I attempted to do in 2017 with my book Transformational HR 4-Zones but shift it more significantly in (again) an homage to the Tech/IT industry (as Dave Ulrich undoubtedly did with his model — I worked with IT Business Partners as far back as the mid-90s).

Meaning Makers — what’s the point of it all? What’s the reason for being which is ultimately the vision the founders in tech enterprises have;

Systems Designers — those developers who create the platform architecture and operating systems (back-end some might say);

Product Managers — those who take the things the system needs to do and thereby produce an outcome — apps, functions, screens, look-up tables of data and information stacks in tech terms.

People Operations — the programmers of functionality and specifications that make the whole thing work. Full Stack developers perhaps?

Practice Leads and Coaches — subject matter experts and first line support etc in tech. Experts in specific fields to solve problems, bring solutions to light and work with systems designers and their people (users) in creating new functions and additional features.

Psychologists and Analysts those specially trained and qualified people who get the sciences, data trails and insight needed to help the whole thing be evidence-led, proven and responsive to the latest research and shifts in realisations and even trends.

And of course, we need the skills and capabilities to go with this new set of domains. And research conducted by People and Transformational HR Ltd. last year (meta analysis really — so researching existing research) revealed these 10 top-ranked skills/capabilities.

  1. Performance Analytics & Value Creation
  2. Psychology and Behavioural Science
  3. Experience Designers
  4. Data Science and Predictive Analytics
  5. Organisation Design
  6. Code and Design Engineers
  7. Systems Thinking
  8. Meaning Makers
  9. Psychology of Learning
  10. Agility

So thinking about these and the domains, here’s how I THINK the HR reimagined model will be as a departure from the Ulrich/Business Partner model.

But where are the ER Case Workers you say?

What about L&D as a division within?

Here’s a little more about what each domain in this model does. Using a “Uses and To Create” narrative.

and

So things are there that we need BUT we have to stop going “Where are the HRBPs, ER, L&D etc” Practice Leads will still hold spaces we need BUT we have to move to this model in my humble opinion because we need

  • Systems design being more prominent. Mostly, OD/D/E is too buried and under-deployed.
  • A products mindset. What we do in HR is create services and things people use in order to do their work. Whether it’s timesheets, or a shared parental leave guide. We must think about our colleagues as deserved of the very best products and services we can provide and I’m afraid our reputation is not of that ilk.
  • More fluidity and flexibility. The more we hard wire distinct departments within HR, the more we force our colleagues to navigate our own complexity. No, we swarm around problems, challenges and create solutions however we need to do that; invoking our skills in psychology, analytics, learning design, org development and performance improvement.
  • to bring our colleagues in more. If we’re a team of systems designers, or psychologists or analysts or product managers, we could and should invite our expert/willing colleagues to work on problem solving services with us.
  • To flip from over-capacity business-as-usual with projects done from the side-of-the-desk to strategic and tactical projects that improve business-as-usual to break that cycle of overwork.
  • More science, evidence-led practice, and data / intelligence. We’ve been talking about it for years and it’s not evident so let’s declare it, hire and skill to that need; and strengthen it.

Else throw in the towel and disappear leaving our poor colleagues to good or awful line management.

So there it is.

I’m going to deliver this keynote address this evening without visuals but I may invite people to pick up this blog post on their phones if they wanted to follow the threads. Or read it again later or tomorrow. Or chuckle a bit and put me down as a dreamy idealist and get back to the real world on Monday.

But I’ll let the Mandalorian have the last word, because my sense is…

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Perry Timms

CEO PTHR |2x TEDx speaker | Author: Transformational HR + The Energized Workplace | HR Most Influential Thinker 2017–2023 | Soulboy + Northampton Town fan