Octopus Manager

I’ve previously wrote about my thoughts in HR (here too) as well as some stories about my brushes with them. I had never thought about eradicating them entirely though – but Greg Jackson from Octopus Energy actually did that, for his 1,200-strong company. I thought that’s beyond remarkable, and once I read the story, it made perfect sense to me.

Greg’s point about how HR and IT departments can infantilise the employees and end up drowning creativity in bureaucracy and process is almost definitely true. It doesn’t mean it is easy to manage a company without these functions though. He has placed that onus on the manager, which can be quite challenging. Though in today’s highly automated world, there are a lot of the traditional HR functions that is actually already automated or outsourced.

Unfortunately, in a bureaucracy, even when things are not automated, it can seem as though the human touch has been long lost. An anecdote to this is a true story I’d like to retell: an employee who was usually allowed to make transport claims when going from his home to client meetings outside the office had to first drop off his ailing dog at a friend’s place so that the dog would not be left alone at home. However, because the friend’s place was a detour from the meeting location, he paid out of his own pocket for transport from his own home to the friend’s place, then got a cab to the client’s place. When he tried to make a transport claim from the friend’s place, his claim was rejected because the origin location of the trip wasn’t his home address. Even when he appealed to HR on the nature of the situation, the staff (read: humans) were not able to make an exception even when his line manager was supportive.

I think the value here is really in empowerment of the employees and getting the management to do the emotional labour of managing remuneration, incentives, training needed for employees rather than leave it to some specialised department. The way I think about the future of HR is that it is no longer an administrative function but that of empowerment and improving productivity through watching out for mental health. And if that is all incorporated into management, it might actually give management the needed boost and reason to continue existing.