Little boxes made of ticky tacky

I wrote this lovely blog about the HR Gamechanger conference. You can read it here. 

But, I also have a confession. I like to portay a lot of positivity and light. Look on the bright side right? Some people might say that is artificial but I say that there is nothing wrong with reframing things into a positive. No-one likes negativity and if you think positive you are positive, and the world is positive.

Ooh look at the rainbows and unicorns!

But I can’t sit still. I wasn’t really that positive after the HR Gamechanger conference. Not really. You see, I had two main thoughts going through my mind after that event.

First, I want to quit HR altogether and become a yoga teacher.

The second thought was really a song.

Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes made of ticky tacky

Did anyone else get made to sing that in primary school? You can read the full lyrics here.

It’s a little disturbing. Why that song you ask? Well the whole people and culture profession has been stuffed into these little boxes. Learning and development, recruitment, organisational development, human resources, operational, strategic, innovative, dinosaurs, HRINZ, CHRI, NZATD and a lot of Recruiters seem to think they’re a beast into their own. I’m sorry, but you’re not. We’re all the same, tackling the same challenges, with the same resources. Our job descriptions are just slightly different. Wait? What? Job descriptions?

It’s not about you, it’s about all of us.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I did think the HR Gamechanger was a completely awesome event! Truly, I am not a hypocrite. But I was seeing the energy and light in the room and then those who were not in the room and thinking to myself “do I really have the energy to make this shit happen?”. Working with people who just ‘get it’ is simply awesome, but working with those that don’t is stressful, time consuming and demoralising.

I have more questions than answers and I’m afraid that only a small minority are actually up for answering them. Case in point, when the wonderfully statistical stats about how HRINZ members were so satisfied with the state of the institution, their preferred organisation, were shared during the HRINZ conference I couldn’t help but question them. Yes well, those satisfied people who got off their arse to complete the survey and had whipped out their cheque books to pay their fees. Wait? What? Cheque books?

Apparently my twitter queries about these numbers did not go down to well. But seriously? No wonder finance people piss themselves laughing when they see an HR person coming with some numbers in hand! Where is the HR credibility here?

I don’t know whether to call myself HR, L&D, or OD. But funningly I seem to hang out with a lot of recruiters. What’s with that? Sending you air kisses recruiters.

But frankly, I’m embarrased to call myself any of them. Why should I? Ticky tacky boxes. Institutionalised boxes.


Wait? What? How come there is a separate institution for training and development people? How come HRINZ doesn’t have a problem with them? How come recruiters don’t have their own institution?

Recruiters seem to be way ahead of the rest of the people and culture professions. Seriously! I’m being serious! Sending you some more air kisses recruiters.

But wait.


I don’t think it’s relevant to me because I’m in learning and development. It’s not on my radar because I’m a recruiter and recruitment is not about HR. Wait? What?

Why are we institutionalising, packaging and labelling when fundamentally our professions are all about people and culture? When, if we actually pulled the sticks out of our own arses, we might learn something from each other. Yeah, you heard me, I said arses.

Why are we still talking about e-learning, Ulrich and social sourcing as the big things?

Big things are now all the little small things. Big things are structured monoliths with little flexibility. Big things are people with power, control and influence.

Little things don’t fit in boxes, they don’t sit in boxes, they’re thrown out or bundled together into a collection of things, the knick knacks, the seemingly scraps. On their own, they’re nothing. Together, they’re something beautiful, creative, innovative, and inspiring.

NZLEAD, if I can throw in a mention, made of a collection of little things, hard to box and irrelevant to the monoliths.

I’m troubled. Did you get that? This blog has sat in my drafts for weeks now. It was VERY negative and after many edits still feels negative and ranty to me. It doesn’t feel right. I don’t believe that talking like this is the way forward but I don’t know what the answers are. Do you?

16 thoughts on “Little boxes made of ticky tacky

  1. hrmannz

    I love this post.
    I love that you keep asking the difficult questions and not giving anyone an easy ride.
    I love that so much filth comes out of such a sweet mouth!
    I love that you don’t claim to have answers to all the questions.
    For my part, what is troubling me is whether these monolithic institutions can ever truly be relevant, forward thinking and thought provoking. Bureaucracy and committees kill innovation like nothing else. Their time has passed surely? As I get older and grumpier, I have less time for this sort of bullshit.
    We do the same in HR, recruitment, learning, OD, whatever. We grade, rate, benchmark, assess, rank, analyse, measure etc. all so we can put people in boxes. Is that really the best we can be? Is that really being human?

  2. Simon Jones

    “Working with people who just ‘get it’ is simply awesome, but working with those that don’t is stressful, time consuming and demoralising.” Completely agree, you need to ensure that the bastards don’t grind you down.

    This is a good rousing song to remind you of that (dodgy 80s haircuts & fashions notwithstanding)

  3. Nikki Wilkie

    I’m impressed Amanda – good blog. Agree with many of your thoughts & comments. Don’t read them as negative or ranty however read them as passionate & constructive.

  4. Sarah Mannion

    I hear you Amanda. I don’t know why it is so hard. I came back so inspired but am feeling like I spend my days arguing. Everything is a battle. I am battling for our people and others just don’t get it. i am piggy in the middle – between those at the top and those who are not. They plead with me to sort stuff out – and hear their challenges. If we just listened to our people companies would make so much more money and be better places to work. So simple and yet seems so hard.

  5. Kylie Telford (@KylieTelford)

    Wow what a post….. I’m also blowing air kisses to the recruiters for their way of stampeding ahead of the game!
    There’s nothing artificial about positivity – and I for one would rather be challenged from a positive perspective than a negative one. Keep challenging, keep asking questions and keep heart. Like you say you’re not on your own and little things together can achieve much.
    Yoga’s the perfect outlet to keep you sane and positive, and if not yoga there’s yachting!

  6. Lisa Hunter

    You know I hear you and it’s important to call things what they are too, even if that is negative (as well as being positive which like you is tends to be my natural perspective).

    I sometimes feel like I’m being strangled in HR – my job is huge and doesn’t fall into nice little boxes and I don’t want it to, and I want to be involved end to end, and work with lots of different people to get people things done. That is hard to get your head around and hard for others to feel comfortable with – you’re meant to have your role and accountabilities – what do you mean you’ll help with something outside of that, work to your strengths??

    Change is really, really hard and often those that spear head change are lonely – it’s far more comfortable being one of the team rather than striding out in front- and that’s why things stay the same so much. You’re out there alone, years ahead of what others are thinking, and you don’t have the answers – which gets thrown back in your face by the smart alecs who don’t want to change anyway! But seem to have the loudest voice often.

    I’ve been concerned that there’s a lot of talking and not a lot of doing but the tide is starting to turn ever so slowly – I think talking is the first step, then everyone that is talking has to start making small changes one at a time (this is my kaizen 1%ers coming into play). 1%ers add up over time and create change. Although we also need the big disrupters from time to time so that we can see some change before we are all in rest homes drinking chardonnay and being thoroughly obnoxious. (well that’s my plan anyway!). And we need to talk big and create the expectation that this is how it is meant to be and that is it OK to build as we go and not have all the answers. Having the answers really is dinosaur thinking now, knowledge changes minute to minute and is created so quickly the skill is to build and learn as you go rather than rely on what you know right now. We also need to create the picture for others as well as ourselves – no point us talking/doing just within HR, if we don’t want to be boxed we’ve got to talk to everyone across the business/industries/sectors. And we need to support each other and fill up our resilience buckets when we need it!

    I think it’s Kotter that talks about the ‘valley of despair’ that happens with implementing change – it’s hard, it’s dark and it’s exhausting, and only those that can visualise the end and have super hero powers of resilience are the ones that can make it happen. Keep strong and take heart – there will be sunlight, it may just take a lot of time! Although I can’t promise rainbows and unicorns. End of rant!

    1. amandasterling Post author

      What do you mean you can’t promise rainbows and unicorns? I want out, now 😉 Nah, just kidding.

      Thank you for taking the time to post a thoughtful comment. I think by talking we all connect more too.

      Conversations can change the world.

  7. Iain MacGibbon (@nzheadhunter)

    Insight can appear painful or angsty ( is that even a word?). In short, get it out. As Shrek says “better our than in” and who knows people might actually listen. Well I know at least one recruiter who does… (blows air kisses back to Amanda).
    Changing things happens with one person pushing forward then one more deciding to follow, then one more. Sound familiar? Like #nzlead which a year ago was interesting. local and a few voices. Fast forward to now, its fascinating, global and rowdy!
    So don’t worry about what you haven’t accomplished (yet) be proud of what you have already achieved.


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