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In this world of continuous technological advances and globalisation, there is increasing pressure to replace old ways and traditions with updating and upgrading towards the new. But is this the best attitude to adopt in HR? Gary Brewer, head of reward, organisational development and HR Asia at William Grant & Sons Ltd, discusses.

Tradition and family history have been much on my mind in the last week or so, for two reasons:

Firstly, it was something of a momentous occasion when my wife and I finally purchased a croft – aproperty and a small package of land – in Tubeg, Skerray, north Scotland, that had been in her family’s hands for a number of generations. I was comforted to know that it would remain within her family for years to come.

And when we got round to restoring and decorating the house, the question arose of what to do with the many invaluable heirlooms, books and trinkets that had been passed down the family line. These precious objects not only created a sense of connectivity with the past, they also ignited a wish to be respectful of the family legacy.

However, we realised that it was still a necessity to draw the line between retaining the legacy, and clearing out the clutter. The objective was to strike the correct balance between disposing of the objects that served no purpose or carried no emotional connection from those that represented the best of a by-gone era, and those that had some personal meaning for my wife.

Family history also came to mind with the launch of two campaign films within my employer, William Grant and Sons. The Maverick Whisky Makers of Dufftown continue the work of the Grant Gordon family, who have been creating whisky since 1887.

The first film dramatises the moment in 1886 when William Grant left his position as an accountant in order to attempt starting his own family distillery. The second film, Cask of dreams, re-acts the quest of Grant’s great-grandson, Sandy Grant Gordon, who took Glenfiddich ‘Straight Malt’ whisky to New York in 1963.

If it ain’t broke (in HR), don’t fix it

In the midst of this reflection on past times, what is the lesson for the world of HR today? We need to work out what really matters. What stands the test of time, and what should we be proud of? What has outlived its purpose and has no place in the modern day employment environment and needs to be removed, refreshed or replaced?

It may be that our vision and values have been designed for the long-haul and remain in robust health. It may be that particular systems, whilst having operated satisfactorily for a considerable period of time, have reached a point where we begin to question their on-going usefulness (and examples within the world of reward and performance management in particular spring readily to mind). It may be that as cultures evolve, particular organisational structures and roles could be delivered in a new and more engaging way.

The challenge for us is to be able to determine what we should continue to respect, preserve and indeed celebrate – the temptation is to dispense too readily with the past, when it has much to teach us – but also to be able to set aside a measure of sentimentality and not to fall prey to continuing with an approach or mindset just because we’ve always done it that way.

I know from my own experience at a croft in Tubeg that it is often, at a personal level, a challenging experience to dispose of the clutter, while maintaining, preserving and perhaps even enhancing the best of the past for future use.

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Written by Gary Brewer, global head of reward & OD, William Grant & Sons

Gary Brewer is global head of reward & OD for William Grant & Sons. He has formerly held lead HR roles across the Pharmaceutical, Financial Services, Media, Transport and Public Sectors. A Fellow of the CIPD, Gary is currently an Employment Tribunal member and has also held various Board and Consultancy appointments.

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