Thursday, 19 October 2017


In recent weeks I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about employer brand, prompted by a few different things including speaking (last minute) on a PM Jobs webinar on the subject. In this blog I’ll explore a few of my thoughts. 

It struck me how few organisations have a really well defined employer brand. Many, or most, will have an excellent customer brand but often the employer brand is indistinguishable from that. 

We hear about the rise of Trip Advisor style reviews for companies on sites like Glassdoor and Indeed, and these are indeed (pun intentional) very helpful to a potential job seeker, as well as giving the employer a chance to see how they are perceived and try to influence that. 

I recently spoke at an event where I lightheartedly asked what, if anyone was going on a date with someone for the first time, they would do before they met that person. Almost unanimously, they said they would attempt to stalk them on social media. We laughed about this but honestly I believe it to be true and a valid action too - it’s research, or due diligence, before you make any kind of commitment. 

And I further developed this point by saying potential job applicants would do the same thing about potential future employers, and in doing so would usually go well beyond the jobs/careers pages on the organisational website. This seemed to be a surprise to many, and yet it’s just as valid, possibly more so, than stalking a potential date on social media. 

In my time I’ve done both. 

But what do you do as a potential applicant if you can’t find anything? What if the organisation is, for all intents and purposes, invisible for the purpose of research beyond their own website? What if the organisation is so unconcerned by its employer brand that it relies wholly on its own website?

In most cases, people would try to speak to someone they know works there, or has worked there in the past. And there we have the best, but also hidden, bit of employer branding possible. 

Your own employees. And past employees. 

How you treat your own employees, how the employee experience is for them, will have a direct impact on your employer brand, like it or not. They are all ambassadors and they will talk regularly to a small group of family and friends about your organisation. You have to hope they say good things but sadly that probably isn’t true. And that small group of people are each individually connected to another small group and may share your employees view with that group if asked. 

So my advice is focus on the employee experience. Make it as good as you can for each individual as it increases the chances they will say good things about you when asked. They are, consciously or not, branded by you as an employer and they WILL share your employer brand whether they choose to or not. 

Past employees too are a source of employer branding information. Exceptionally few companies keep in touch with ex employees but they’re often a good source of data for a potential applicant. More than once in the past I’ve spoken to an ex employee of a company I was considering applying for, and their responses have put me off. Obviously you have to bear in mind the circumstances of their exit, and how much you trust their opinion, but even if you don’t trust them they are still out there sharing these views to others. 

So I think we should actively manage this group of ex employees, by keeping in touch and sharing information from time to time. Very much like Universities do with their alumni. 

Of particular note is how they feel they were treated during their exit. I know of one person, my friend Zeus (not his real name) who was neutral towards his employer during employment, but at the point he resigned he began to be treated very badly and was hurried out of the exit (albeit paid up in full). That treatment has affected how he views that employer now and he will happily share that experience with anyone who asks. 

Interestingly, Zeus had another interesting experience when joining said company a couple of years previously. The person who rang up to offer him the job, and would later be his line manager, tried to talk him out of accepting the position during that conversation, and then again in another conversation a week or so later. They felt that Zeus would not be a good fit and would be unhappy - which begs the question why offer the job in the first place, but that aside, it’s an interesting dynamic - a current employee trying to talk a potential employee out of coming to work there. 

Who knows how many other managers, when making job offers, let slip their views about what it is like to work there and, consciously or not, influence the potential employees view about the employer brand? Is that something we could or should actively manage?

Zeus being Zeus, he ignored this discussion as he felt he had no reason to trust the person giving the information and was determined to prove them wrong in any event, so took the offer. In hindsight though he admits that they were probably right and he should have listened to them. 

How much employee turnover and lack of engagement could be avoided if we were more explicit about such things?

I know of another friend - let’s call her Hera - who had a similar experience during the Onboarding phase when a member of the HR team (yes, really) was really explicit with her about how bad the employer was. Again, Hera proceeded anyway but again now she suspects the person was right. 

And that was from HR!

But it reinforces the point that your employees, current and past, are constantly spreading your employer brand around. Free marketing in a way. 

But is that a good or a bad thing?

That depends very much on you as an employer. 

What will you do to manage this?

Till next time. 


Ps in other news, home life has been packed with events both good and bad in recent weeks, and there are barely enough hours in the week to deal with them all, and it’s been a difficult and stressful time. Some of this I’ll share in an upcoming blog.  

Saturday, 7 October 2017

This means nothing to me...

This is the seventh and final post in a series of blogs discussing the concept of motivation and what its sources might be. Its prompted by a conversation I had with Bee Heller, from The Pioneers. Bee asserts that there are seven different sources of motivation, and is writing about each of them on The Pioneers website. 

We decided I'd write a commentary piece about each one on my own blog, and look at what's happened in organisations I've worked in and with - whether the source of motivation Bee's blog discussed has been used to good effect or been neglected; what's worked well in terms of creating an environment that enhances that motivation; and what's not worked so well or undermined that motivation for people? 

Here's Bee's blog on meaning. In it, she suggests that employee retention becomes much easier when organisations provide a sense of meaning for their work, and contrasts two differing ways of doing this - one overarching purpose, which she says has good short term effects but potentially damaging long term effects; and a pluralistic approach where lots of different ways of doing meaningful work are encouraged, which she suggests is a better long term approach. 

I agree in part with Bees thoughts. I certainly agree meaningful work is a source of motivation and can therefore help with employee retention. But I’m less certain that having one overarching purpose in an organisation is only a short term fix, and that a pluralistic approach is therefore the best way.

I have usually been able to find meaning in what I do. I’ve often recounted the story of telling my 3 year old daughter that my job was to help people be happy at work, and I guess that’s what my meaning and overarching purpose is. When I’ve worked in places where I’ve felt a connection it’s usually because the organisation has a similar ethos and let’s me do my thing.

It’s also why I often dislike doing operational HR activities as, although they’re needed, they aren’t necessarily linked to my purpose, although may well have a contributory hygiene factor.

I was in my favourite job for 11 years. This was an organisation that had a purpose to improve the lives of its customers, and that resonated so much with me that we just understood each other and could see common ground. I did my thing there for 11 years before the organisational purpose changed and I felt I no longer had that connection, and left. 

I have been in other jobs where the organisation and I had a complete disconnect about what they saw me doing and what I felt was right to do, where my role was expected to be about compliance and regulation, and no focus given to helping people feel happy at work. I have never lasted long in such places. 

I have had various bits of freelance work over the years too, and the beauty of that is that I could pick and choose work that matched my purpose. It’s no surprise that I got a lot of energy out of those bits of work and consider them some of my best work too. 

So when I get meaning from an organisation, I stay. In that sense I agree with Bee.  The search for meaning is a motivating factor, and has been a motivating factor in my leaving some roles. 

I don’t necessarily agree that the overarching unitary purpose is only a short term thing though. Uber, cited as an example, are perhaps the exception rather than the rule and I know many organisations who have maintained their unitary purpose successfully - I would suggest that the growth of Uber brought with it people whose purposes didn’t match the original meaning, and this contributed to what has happened. Had they got their recruitment right, and found people whose meaning matched their own, what did happen might never have. 

A pluralistic approach can have many benefits, as Bee does suggest, and I’ve seen this work also. But an organisation needs to have sufficient size and maturity to cope with and make the best of this. It’s no better or worse than the unitary approach, just different. 

Ultimately though, my own sense of meaning comes from helping people to be happy, whether that be through my HR work, my PT stuff, and any voluntary or freelance work I do also. It can be a motivating factor in getting me to stay at places, and getting me to leave places. 

It is possibly also why my ideal jobs are (or would have been) a professional wrestler or a Man Utd footballer, as both have immense potential to create happiness for people. 

Somehow I ended up in HR instead. But I still hope. 

Till next time…


Ps in other news, I now have a 16 year old son who is technically and in some regards legally an adult. This makes me feel very old. 

Friday, 22 September 2017

Embrace at CIPD ACE

I’m thrilled to have been asked to be part of the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition Blogsquad for the third year running, and am really looking forward to attending it in November. Here’s why.

The annual conference and exhibition, this year known simply as #cipdACE17, has for a long while been the highlight of my professional year. I make every effort to get there and haven’t missed one since 2003. For me, no other event comes close in terms of the potential learning opportunities for an HR professional, nor the networking and connecting activities.

Once again it’s being held in Manchester, and the city and the event have really grown into each other in recent years. The event now makes much more use of Manchester as a venue than it ever did, as witnessed by the growing number of fringe events and social activities on the mornings and evenings around the event itself. This is a good thing and makes it feel quite special.

For the third year running I’ll be part of the Blogsquad, which is great, along with other more talented bloggers. I’d be going anyway and I’d also be blogging anyway as that’s a key way for me to learn and get my thoughts together, so for CIPD to recognise this and ask me to do it from within the tent is awesome.

I’ll be sharing content from the conference and exhibition on social media, and capturing my thoughts in more detail in my blog. Both of these I’d do anyway, and many many people do and will here too. Social media is a great way to engage with an event and really feel a part of it, so I encourage you to follow and use the hashtag #cipdACE17

The days, for blogsquadders, tend to be quite long and, to many peoples surprise, tiring but it is an effort to try to manage ones own learning as well as sharing relevant content for others and trying to be in several places at once. It’s a great opportunity for me, and almost every attendee, to catch up with people we’ve not seen for ages, connect with potential new suppliers and customers, make new contacts, and hear from the very pinnacle of the profession about what they are doing.

And this year is no exception. The theme this year is Embracing the New World of Work, and I fully expect to hear Peter Cheese tell us when he opens the event that there really is no better time to work in HR. The conference had a similar theme last year, only last year it was future focused and the implication this year is that what was once tomorrow’s world, is now here.

Last year I talked a lot about the need to personalise the world of work, and the rise in technology and AI is helping us to think this through and look at new possibilities but I don’t think we’ve done more than scratch the surface so far, so it will be interesting to hear from practitioners and academics who have done more.

A running theme in my writing is about asking employees how we can structure work, and structure contracts, to get the best from them. I know how employers can get the best from me, but how often do we in HR ask others? I’m hoping to hear from some who have at the conference.

The conference and exhibition normally get the balance about right with practitioners who’ve pioneered something new, academics who are researching what’s coming, and exhibitors who are offering a new solution, sometimes to a problem you didn’t know you had.

I’m expecting more of the same.

Check out the full programme HERE, and I’d be interested to hear what you are particularly interested in or any specific thing you’d like me to try to find out and share.

If you’re an exhibitor, then I’d repeat my advice from last year and encourage you to engage with the Blogsquad on the various media and in person, and use the platform that social media at conferences gives you to reach out to delegates.

If you’re an attendee at the event, please hunt me down and say hello, there’s plenty of breaks and networking opportunities and it would be great to chat.

Above all though, enjoy yourselves!

Till next time…


PS a difficult time recently as one of my two 17 year old cats, Gizmo, became ill quite quickly and passed away. Having been with me since a 5 week old kitten I have found this hard to deal with. She had been with me through a lot and I miss her loads. 17 years is a good age for a cat and she had had a good life, but you kind of never think this final day will come and it’s a shock when it does. Her sister is lonely now and it’s weird just to have the one cat and not both. RIP.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Turkish Delight

I’ve just returned from a holiday in Turkey and have been mulling over one of the main cultural differences between there and the UK, namely that of tipping for service received. In this blog I’ll explore this and in particular some themes relating to recognition and feedback.

I’ve just had a wonderful family holiday in Turkey. I’d not been before but it was my wife’s fifth trip and she had alerted me to the “tips expected” culture we would encounter. This was reinforced by the rep on the coach transfer from Dalaman airport to our resort and so it proved.

In Turkey, when you receive service of any kind, it seems to be an expectation that you will give a monetary tip to the provider. This isn’t only if you receive exceptional service that you are really pleased with, it appears to be service that could be by and large ordinary, ie people just doing their jobs and not necessarily going the extra mile that might justify a tip.

I’m always reluctant to tip, and in fact I’m notoriously tight with my money, so the idea of being free and easy with my tipping was a little alarming. Service normally has to be outstanding for me to even begin to think about it. I certainly wouldn’t normally consider tipping a waiter for simply bringing me a meal, the waiter would need to do something exceptional to get a tip.

Maybe I’m the one in the wrong. I should add, in my defence, that I'm reluctant to part with money, and not necessarily reluctant to recognise good service - it’s the financial element I dislike that's all.

But in Turkey tips are so much a way of life that if you don’t leave a tip, it is the equivalent of actually making a complaint about poor service. The provider feels they have done something wrong or to upset you and that their service had been substandard.

This is obviously different to the prevailing culture in the UK and of course neither is right or wrong, just different. Other countries will have their own versions of this too but I’m focusing on Turkey as that’s my most recent experience.

And of course I might be in the minority here and be the unusual one. My wife certainly thinks so.

But this got me thinking about how this could work in organisations.

The culture in Turkey is one where feedback (in the form of a monetary reward) is both expected and required for anyone providing a service. The absence of this feedback is considered to be negative feedback in and of itself. Feedback doesn’t have to be earned, and is a reward for simply doing ones job.

Feedback in organisations in the UK is not as easy to come by. Some organisations claim they have an open and honest culture and good luck to them if that’s the case, but perhaps we can learn something from the Turkish culture.

I once worked in a job for 15 months and in that whole time I counted only one piece of positive feedback received from my line manager.


And I did plenty of things well. The one occasion I got positive feedback it looked and felt like the manager felt uncomfortable delivering it, and it was only because I’d done something outstanding that couldn’t be ignored that they felt they had to say something. The other stuff I did, the things that I did well but got no feedback for, they were “just doing my job” and the culture was that I didn’t require or need any feedback about those.

But I also made a couple of mistakes and I am honest enough to admit them. And did I get negative feedback for these?



And regularly revisited even when in the past too.

That said a lot about the culture, that a couple of mistakes seemed to far outweigh competent delivery of almost everything and a few outstanding contributions. You’d think this would balance out at least, and possibly tip the other way, but no.

Still though, I made sure, and continue to make sure, that I give feedback to my direct reports whenever I can, even if it is just for “doing their job”. It may not be monetary feedback, but we all deserve to know when our efforts are being noticed and recognised. People shouldn’t have to go the extra mile to get some positive feedback.

And I think this is where a lot of managers, and organisations, fall down.

Its too easy to ignore decent work done well. You don't have to save your feedback for exceptional work.  I like getting feedback and even though I *KNOW* that sometimes people give me positive feedback just to make me feel good, it still works nonetheless.

People work hard every day. Occasionally they may produce wondrous work, and at that point yes that should be recognised appropriately - but recognise the daily efforts they make - the little things.

Say thankyou.

Say well done.

Show appreciation that they are doing a decent job.

Tip people verbally, and see what difference it makes.

Till next time…


PS in other news, we're already looking at next years' potential holiday destinations, but lots of potential complications to overcome first…

Friday, 28 July 2017

Above Average

I've recently completed two linked qualifications - Level 2 Gym Instructing and Level 3 Personal Training.  In this blog I'll discuss how I found them and what I learnt.

I discussed my reasons for starting the qualifications back in October in this blog post.  Since then its been a long, hard slog completing both qualifications back to back and managing them in and around a full time job, other bits of self employed work and being with my family.

But I've enjoyed it.

The Level 2 Gym Instructing course covered the basics of nutrition, anatomy, and planning/instructing gym sessions.  And then I did the much longer and more in-depth Level 3 Personal Training qualification, which covered more.  It did nutrition again but looking specifically at the links between that and fitness and wellbeing / energy levels.  It did anatomy and physiology again but in far more detail and looking at how different parts of the body work together and react under pressure.  It covered different ways of delivering personal training too.

I learnt a great deal and am indebted to the teaching staff at Trafford College for helping me through this qualification, aswell as to Donna Hewitson, Damiana Casile and Alison Morton for being willing test subjects and case studies at various points.

I've developed my skills in a range of areas and of particular note I've really honed my coaching techniques as essentially that's what PT is.  I've added huge rafts of knowledge around nutrition and anatomy that have proved useful in both my personal and working life.

And I've discovered that not only do I *really* enjoy PT work, but I'm actually pretty good at it too.  Its a damn shame there's not loads of money in it otherwise it could be bye-bye HR.

And yet I think there's space in my life for both HR and PT, and think the two are complementary.  Without my existing HR (and L&D/coaching) knowledge I'd not have been able to grasp some of the basics of PT and instruction and knowing how to motivate people. And without my PT knowledge I wouldn't be able to coach in business as holistically as I can do, or to look at employee wellbeing in a new light.

So there's definitely room for both and I'll be using my HR skills in any PT work I do, and my PT skills in my HR work too.

But how much PT work will I do?  Very little.  Its something I may fit in around any full time work I do, and pleasingly is something that can easily be done in evenings and weekends.  But I have given my philosophy some thought and know how I’d do it. 

Above average in physical fitness is achievable for most people. Olympic standard isn’t. I would want to work with people who aren’t happy with who they are and want to change. Those who recognise they could be better and want to learn all the various things that need to happen to be better, from nutrition, to focused training and objectives, to understanding physical limits and work life balance issues, to understand the rules and the need for support, the need to make lasting lifestyle changes. Those who want to be “above average” and harness the Power of Three.

I would want to work with people who are interested in becoming Above Average, without the pressure of trying to be the best - who want to be a bit better than others, without the commitment needed to go out and win races and competitions - who want to feel good about themselves but don't think they have time and energy to completely transform themselves.

I think I can use this philosophy in my main HR work too, and look forward to doing it.

Right now I've finished with formal learning though, but I don't think I'm finished forever. I do enjoy learning and have a few other qualifications and accreditations in my sights.

For now though I'm really looking forward to putting what I've learnt recently into practice, both in PT and in HR.

Till next time...


PS in other news, its almost holiday time...

Monday, 17 July 2017

On the move

As many will know by now, I’m due to start a new role soon. Here’s my thoughts on what’s happening. 

I’m taking up the role of Associate HR Director at the Disclosure and Barring Service in Liverpool and I start on 1 August. I’m excited by the challenges ahead and it promises to be great for my own development and is a really good opportunity to make a noticeable difference to an organisation that wants to transform itself and sees HR as critical to that transformation and overall journey. 

I joined Trafford College as HR Director since February 2016 and learnt an awful lot in my time there. I shall miss the HR team, who I really enjoyed working with and who are a talented and enthusiastic team who anyone would feel lucky to lead. They are partway through their own transformation and are well placed to see it through. I shall also miss several of the Leadership Team with whom I’d forged good, strong relationships, and I hope to keep in touch. 

That was also where I was lucky to undertake my Personal Trainer qualification, which will be the subject of a separate blog, and I can highly recommend that particular course and the staff involved in teaching it. My PT qualification is 99% complete with just one assessment left and that’s to be done next week. It’s been a great learning experience.

But there comes a time in any role when it’s time to move on, and it has been an interesting time leading HR within Further Education, a sector which has its own share of challenges and many from an HR perspective. 

Just as when I left my role before this one, I thought long and hard about going self employed / freelance, something I have blogged my thoughts on before HERE. I had the same debates with myself again and reached pretty much the same conclusions, although confess I got closer this time than previously. 

I still want to work within an organisation, with a team around me, and help to change and improve people, processes and organisations from the inside. I still feel I’ve got a major contribution to make to organisations as an employee and as a senior HR leader. I know I can make things better. 

And that’s what I’m doing from 1 August. 

Let’s get started. 

Till next time. 


Ps in other news, I turned 42 today. I remember my Dad turning 42 and he finished work at that age through ill health, so me getting to this age and about to start a new role has made me quite reflective on where I’m going and so on. I wouldn’t mind retiring at age 42 though…

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Baby its cold outside

Some musings on change management, prompted by a story told to me by a close friend, who we will call Zeus in order to protect their identity and that of their organisation.  It concerns how organisations can overlook group needs at the expense of satisfying individual or organisational needs.  And how too much effort is put into Refreezing a new state of affairs and not enough into Unfreezing in the first place (to use Lewin's model):

Zeus worked for one particular organisation as a senior HR leader for a long time and says it felt like being part of a family. A big change happened to that family that upset Zeus and which affected a large group of people within it, and he left when he felt he couldn’t influence what was happening any more. Zeus says he had a lot of conversations at the time that were supposed to help him deal with his feelings, and that he thought were helpful at the time - but developments since have made him realise they didn’t fully resolve those issues. He feels the organisation missed a trick in its change management programme by not allowing him to talk with others with similar feelings in the hope of resolving them for their entire group.

In short, there was a larger group of possibly up to 100 people who needed therapy, and no amount of re-positioning by the organisation and focusing on new values or new directions was going to make an impact on how that group was feeling, as it ignored the elephant in the room.

So Zeus left, and one by one lots of others have left too. When each person since has left, Zeus says there’s been a social gathering. Always in the same place at the same time, and he says these have felt a bit funereal, in that they were all there mourning the loss of something they all shared, but at the same time celebrating that life goes on.

He says that the social gatherings are nice events, very informal and very easy to be at, and the family feel they all had when working at that place carries on into the social setting. At times it’s easy to imagine they all still work together, or so he says.

But they don’t. And Zeus says they often spend some time discussing why that is and how they feel about it.  Lots of people, lots of conversations.

To him, and to me, it’s clear that as a group they haven’t let go of their feelings about what happened, about why their family had to change and what that change was. Zeus says there were good business reasons for the change, but it’s clear that there’s still feelings of resentment and hurt about a lot of things, and that no individual has successfully managed to deal fully with them.

When we talk about models of change management we often recognise the change curve in individuals, and create strategies to manage that curve for those individuals. As organisations we look to models like Kotters Eight Steps or Lewin's Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze to help us move forward with change at a strategic level, often successfully.

But I wonder whether in these models of change we focus too much on the individual and the organisation, and ignore the groups and collective social sets.   And if we focus too much on the Change-Refreeze and not enough on the Unfreeze, in helping people get ready for change.

The social gatherings Zeus attends are lovely (he says), and are always helpful because he get to talk to others who feel the same way. Who understand. It helps them all to move on.

But I wonder whether, if they had done this whilst they all still worked together, whether they would in fact STILL be working together and actively helping the organisation grow and change

When they did still work together, although some individuals like Zeus did get to talk about their feelings, they never did so together - only, he says, to "outsiders", and only post-change, never pre-change, and when they were together they ignored the elephant in the room and ignored how they were all feeling without tackling that head on.

Organisations provide EAP schemes for individuals, and have well crafted change management programmes, but we may be missing out the middle here - we might be missing a trick around group therapy.

So in managing change in organisations, yes - consider the organisation as a whole and it’s culture and structure. Yes - consider the individual and their approach to the change curve. But also consider the group or team, and how they may have a collective change curve to go through and a real need to talk to each other, not to people who they don’t know very well, about how the collective feels.

And when trying to change a culture, spend time Unfreezing people and groups from their current mindset before making any change and before trying to Refreeze in the new culture and mindset.

As Lewins model asserts, Unfreezing is as important as Refreezing, as individuals and groups need to be ready for change, and I’d argue that it’s even more important. Without doing the Unfreezing, any subsequent Change and Refreezing won’t entirely work.

Unfreeze for individuals, for teams and groups, and for the organisation. 

In Zeus' case, there was a clear change happening and a lot of effort went into executing that change and Refreezing - but hardly any went into Unfreezing in the first place.

Small wonder the change left Zeus and his peers feeling cold, and on the outside of what was going on.

Baby, its cold outside.

Till next time.


Ps in other news…