The breakable laws of HR

A few months ago I was asked to speak at the graduation ceremony for a group of Civil Service Fast Stream folk. It got me thinking as to what things I believe about HR. One of them is about the importance of context – so I call these things breakable laws. In the same way that you can break a speed limit to save a life, I think the below are useful guiding thoughts – and what I’d stick to most of the time.

  • You’ll probably have to compromise at some point in your career. At the point compromise becomes normal or doesn’t feel uncomfortable you have lost yourself a bit. At the point you are completely compromised then you are in the wrong job.
  • You are not the moral conscience of the organisation, but you can help remind your colleagues that they have one
  • Caring and being commercial are not mutually exclusive. Don’t let anyone tell you that.
  • It’s a long career. Some days will have little joy or respite – so commit to really enjoying the days where you make progress or help others to progress.
  • Juggle looking to the horizon and understanding the now. Juggle looking outside the organisation for inspiration and inside it for context. Accept that sometimes you won’t get that right.
  • Time is your friend. Sometimes things will just change if left alone. Sometimes things will only change if you apply energy. If you can be clear on which is which then time and energy are your tools.
  • If you work in HR for long enough you will make at least one awful mistake. Commit to being the type of person who recognises and learns from their mistakes. Start with the recognition.
  • You will occasionally need to do uncomfortable things. Things you would prefer not to do. At those times how you feel is probably the least important thing happening.
  • Service is tiring. Leadership is tiring. Be hard on yourself but be kind to yourself.
  • Trust your gut but seek out alternative views and evidence. Allow your gut to tell you that you might be wrong.
  • Don’t mistake skill and will. The easiest way for someone to get out of doing something is telling you that they don’t know how. Call them on it and check they want to do it. People without the skill to do things that believe they are obliged to do something will find a way.
  • It’s rare events allow a win win situation. Relish it when it happens, engineer those situations if you can – but always prepare for trade offs.
  • Discipline and rigour allow for freedom and creativity. They aren’t mutually exclusive. Curate your time.
  • Pick the problems you will never walk past. Don’t walk past them.
  • Don’t mistake popularity for being right or being unpopular for being visionary.
  • Learn from others. All the time. Reflect on your own approach, but also theirs.
  • If nothing changed, if nothing moved, if nothing was impacted… Then you found another way not to make a light bulb AND you failed. Get comfortable reconciling the two.
  • A system fights change and yet will change. You can influence as an individual, but you need a team to fundamentally redirect.
  • The easiest way to change corporate culture is through changing a CEO. HR can play an important part, but it’s about the conversations, not the posters.
  • Lots of your best work won’t be recognised, it will be substantial but below the radar. That’s OK. That’s why it’s your best work

6 thoughts on “The breakable laws of HR

  1. Loved this. Knowing who you are, holding onto principles but knowing you need to compromise, be flexible, find options and alternatives.


  2. What an interesting and inspiring text.
    Thank you for sharing what HR is about and those laws that we should stick to in any job role you get,
    Thanks for sharing this text with us.


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