"More cowbell" is a now classic pop culture catchphrase from the annals of US comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live. The sketch, written by Will Ferrell and starring Christopher Walken as an ever so slightly deranged music producer, spoofs the recording of the Blue Oyster Cult song "(Don't Fear) The Reaper". In the sketch, Walken plays "The Bruce Dickinson" (as opposed to vocalist Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden fame) who, despite the obvious ludicrousness of the sound of a repetitive cowbell loudly playing on the band's most famous song, demands morecowbell. And more cowbell. And yet more cowbell. The band- well, an exuberant Ferrell- duly oblige. The resulting sketch is absurd and hilarious, often in equal measure. Unsurprisingly, it is widely regarded as one of the best ever skits that Saturday Night Live ever produced.
If we consider the Christopher Walken character as the single minded, high maintenance senior manager then I'm sure that, from a certain perspective, working in HR can sometimes feel being in an endless loop of more cowbell.
It doesn't have to be this way.
No one is asking us to continually adhere to processes and policies that no one likes or no one believes in any more (I'm sure you've got your own personal favourite to enter here). But we still do.
No one is wanting HR to create additional levels of bureaucracy or tick boxing exercises. But we still do.
No one is asking for the production of yet another "slide deck" to try and answer a question that wasn't actually posed in the first place. But we still do.
I have lost count of the times when, only partly in jest, I have wondered who will be quickest off the line with a blog about "The lessons HR can learn from (insert news event/personality). I might be wrong but I haven't seen, for example, the finance profession pontificate on "the accounting lessons to be learned from Lionel Richie's performance at Glastonbury festival" but HR?
It was a matter of minutes before I happened to read why "Lionel's performance showed HR that you should give the audience what they want" or "Kanye West: lessons in talent management you cannot afford to miss". This might be great clickbait but it's not organisational insight, it doesn't grow businesses and it makes you look a bit silly. And yes, before anyone points it out, I have noted the irony of me using Saturday Night Live as bait for you to read my invective.
It's understandable to try and give the audience what you think they want but the privilege afforded by being in HR is you can also provide leadership and also show what is needed. HR shouldn't settle for crowd pleasing mediocrity; we should aim for plate spinning innovation and provocation.
HR doesn't need more cowbell; but that doesn't mean it doesn't need any cowbell. It does, however, need gold plated diapers. And cojones. That's a whole other Saturday Night Live sketch, though.