Interview with Barry Flack

Barry Flack – Founder, B F Consultancy

Hi Barry, can you give me an overview of your career to date? What’s your story?

That can be broken in to three parts – Learning my HR craft at BT in the 1990s in an organisation undergoing tremendous change and transformation. Undertaking a wide range of experiences in HR, Recruitment, Employee and Industrial Relations, with a variety of terrific mentors and teachers in a really supportive environment.

The noughties came and I became a career interim at a pretty young age from the norm (it was an end of career move for many at that date) and was blessed with working in a multitude of industries (Banking, Technology, FMCG, Start-Up, Retail and Utilities), across a wealth of roles (Programme Manager, Head of HR, Head of Talent Acquisition) inside businesses seeking to adapt to the changing world of work around them.

Finally I took the plunge early last year to take this experience, combine it with my growing expertise and establish myself in the market to deliver – consultancy / interim assignments for business, an advisory role for the growing market of HR Technology solutions and also seek to build on my own ‘award-winning’ social profile to continue writing, speaking, training and teaching on new ways of working.

Wow! That’s some experience you’ve got there. What are you currently working on?

The beauty of the portfolio career means I can balance a variety of experiences at once so presently I’m mentoring emerging HR Tech businesses in the Talent Marketplace (Weliketowork), Analytics (Predictivehire), Recruitment CRM (Beamery) and Health & Wellbeing space (Cuckoo Workout).

I balance this with working with business clients on such assignments as rolling out a new EVP, delivering a new employment brand, introducing a collaborative platform, working on the issue of belonging or training, and lecturing and presenting to a variety of global audiences. The freelance portfolio work has taken time to build and has stretched me in ways I could never have imagined but to be doing what I enjoy doing at such an enormous time of change is a blessing.

What’s been the biggest OSM (Oh S***t Moment) in your career so far and what happened as a result of it?

The moment I realised that I’d seen too many HR functions locked into a fearful, collusive relationship with limited boards obsessed with a short term focus, fulfilling a strategy of cost containment, austerity and displacement to deliver numbers. Realising that we could marry a long term view, place trust in the people we hired and seek to undo the sins of our fathers in a profession that had policed the potential evil of men and women through a variety of increasingly dumb employment experiences for over a century.

I’ve stuck principally to a value that everything we do should be about building sustainable, people-centric businesses that can prosper taking a long-term view.

What’s your view on the future of HR?

We will be subject to the same massive changes the rest of the business world is going through but we have a great opportunity to redefine ourselves if the will is there.

Productivity hacks in the shape of increasing technology capability will automate a lot of our heritage – the administrative, rules and risk measurement elements of yesteryear, meaning we are free to tackle the emerging trends ahead of us. Unlearning what has made us busy fools, contributing to an unproductive UK economy, and arming ourselves with the skills of tomorrow – analytics, social, collaboration, design experience, etc will take a shift that will leave many of our profession behind.  

There’s a lot of talk about the gig-economy and future of work at the moment, what’s your take on it?

It’s a fascinating developing story that is a manifestation of how new ways of working are here with us now but how woefully out of touch our employment and taxation systems are geared up to allow for its growth.

For example, at the sharp end of our economy, with 905,000 on zero hours contract and a wider jump in gigsters expected to hit 30% of the workforce in the next 3 years, we need to develop a means by which we shield the most vulnerable people from an obvious lack of employment protection, balance incentives for self-employment against a gap in the state exchequer and ask ourselves whether this rising labour flexibility (which margin-focussed companies like a lot) leaves us with business models and an economy that perpetuates our low skill, low productivity base we have stagnated with since the 2008 crash.

The Modern Employment Review from the Government this year has an incredible opportunity to either position us in the new economy or copper fasten our approach to short termism and margin management favoured recently in the boardrooms across the country. We live in interesting times and I hope what we do is focussed on creating meaningful jobs, focuses on highly skilled crafts and acts against poor employment practices.

‘There’s a gorilla in the room we need to talk about’ – What’s all that about then?

You refer to my first blog site – ChangingHR. The gorilla, instead of the less threatening elephant analogy, was a more powerful metaphor for the fact that too many HR functions were refusing to tackle the issue of critical self-analysis and change seriously. My view was that there were incredibly serious ramifications for failing to talk and act upon a whole pile of prevailing weighty issues – why we persisted in failing 20th century people management approaches, why leadership was broken, why talent acquisition was in need of reform, etc.

Before taking the road to reform and change we needed to accept we had a problem. I received a lot of abuse in the early days and my presentations on the changing nature of work were often dismissed. I’m pleased to see that evidence is now overwhelming and the interesting work of getting companies to relearn, adapt and prosper before its too late is now thankfully underway.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

Never lose sight of your core values, be eternally curious and humble.

If you were given £5,000 to invest in a HR Start Up business what would it be and why? (I’m not actually going to give you the £5K)

A platform that allowed those in the precarious end of our economy to have visibility of opportunity, seamless assessment of fit and a clear ‘always-on’ support mechanism to allow them access to employment protection, training, more hours, stable employment and better employers. A sort of ‘IBM Watson / AI for the masses’ that opened up opportunities and that meant employers would have to pass a proper fit test to tap into the supply of talent.

We would erode crappy candidate experience, enhance the supply and demand of talent and opportunity, raise the bar on good employment practice and start treating people like adults. All of it utilising technology for the good of mankind.

Now can I have my £5k please? 

Is there anything else you want to share or you think we should talk about?

If any of this has piqued the interest of any of your readers then they can check out my website and drop me a note if there is anything that I can do to help them and their businesses adapt to new ways of working.

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