Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Dilemma

This is a very personal blog about a situation for my family that I am finding very frustrating on a professional level.  One that I have the answers to, but which I am unable to do anything about.

Its a bit of a rant.  Switch off now if you're not interested, but be sure to come back for my next post.

So my fiancee is unhappy at work.  She works for a professional services organisation that only has three employees.  A husband and wife duo who happen to own the business, and my fiancee.  Both the owner-managers appear to lack interpersonal, leadership and management skills of any kind, and put no stock by employment rights or any kind of good practice HR.

And its making her unhappy.  She comes home and tells me about it, and with my HR hat on I know what she should do and what should happen.  With my coaching hat on I know how I can help the owner-managers too.

My fiancee qualified in her profession around 12 months ago, but at the time was on maternity leave.  Wanting to return to work part-time but unable to, she found what looked like an ideal part-time role close to our home, that allowed her to work just three days a week and spend time with our daughter too.  From a work-life balance standpoint it was, and is, a perfect job.  In other ways though its not a perfect job - she took a significant pay reduction to move there, and as the company is only small it only offers statutory minimum terms and conditions, whereas previously she'd been on a good salary and generous terms and conditions.

In general though it was a case of prioritising the various factors, and work/life balance came top, to the exclusion of everything else.

She found it difficult to move from a company employing hundreds of people, to one employing just four (later to become three when one employee was dismissed).  I think this is probably an adjustment many people struggle with.

And yet what does one do when one has a personality clash and problems relating to one's fellow employees?  In a large company there are lots of things that can happen - mediation, moving jobs internally, even just a physical move away from each other, and more.

But what if the employees you have problems with are the ONLY other employees there?

And what if those employees, those ONLY employees, happen to be the owner-managers?

Its a tough one.

The owner-managers do appear to place little value on good employment relations or even good management practice.  For a start my fiancee has had only ONE lunch break in six months (her Xmas meal) - she simply daren't ask to leave her desk during the working day, and even feels guilty getting up to go to the toilet, as if such breaks are monitored.  She eats at her desk, carrying on working.

I've had a go at this from an HR and H&S perspective but to no avail. The owner-managers are that intimidating that she will not assert her rights, fearing punishment if she does.

She's found evidence that her work emails are routinely checked by the owner-managers, and whilst this isn't an unheard of practice in some larger organisations, it is being done seemingly to search for mistakes and create opportunities for criticism and that's a worry.  Again, I've commented on this from an HR perspective but got nowhere.

With only statutory minimum annual leave you'd think it would be relatively easy to book, but its not.  She's never had any confirmation of holidays booked or taken, and requests to obtain this have been vaguely brushed away.  And has holidays left to take at the end of the year but has been refused opportunities to take them.  Again, I've commented on this from an HR perspective but she daren't do anything to assert her rights in case her life is made worse.

She has been quite ill this last month and did not dare take any time off sick not just because of the financial consequences, but mainly because of the way in which the owner-managers would view sickness absence and out of fear that she would be dismissed for taking sick leave.  In the end she was so ill she was unable to physically drive to work and DID take sick leave, and thankfully there were no consequences, but the fear was still there.

There are lots of examples of poor interpersonal skills too, from being shushed when asking a question then criticised for not asking questions, to regular and unjustified criticism, to vague and conflicting sets of instructions, and a general lack of care.  From a coaching perspective I sense the owner-managers are genuinely unaware of the impact they are having and have probably had no development in a leadership or management perspective, and I want to intervene.

But I can't.

And its having a horrible effect on my fiancee.  When she gets in from work, she has to get it all off her chest and ends up moaning at me, which impacts our relationship.  Even during the working day I will get a message from her saying she hates her job, or that she is crying in the toilets.

And I can't do anything.

But from an HR perspective I know exactly how I'd sort this out.  I can see exactly what's wrong, and how to put it right.

From a coaching and leadership perspective I know exactly how I could help the owner-managers to improve their leadership skills and to create a better working environment for everyone.  

From a fiance perspective I'm a man with a typical male problem solving mind.  I hear issues presented to me by a woman in my life, and I immediately start solving those problems in my head, and then out loud.  I suspect its not required, and that my fiancee simply needs to get things off her chest, but I can't help it.

I want to do something besides rant on here.

But she won't let me.  She is afraid to say anything to them because of a fear that it will make the situation worse - that complaining will somehow bring about punishment or more unfair treatment. That her working life will become hell.

And that sounds a likely outcome.  At just six months service, we all know that they could dismiss her with no reason and as long as it isn't discrimination, there's little we can do about it.

I've told her to leave, but because of the impact that would have on our childcare arrangements (still having to pay for a nursery space but without the salary to pay for it) she can't afford to leave until she has another job.  So she's looking around.

Ultimately, this highlights a few problems with our workforce and its rights in the UK.  Owner-managers in particular in small organisations can more or less run the organisation as a dictatorship.  One could say that they have earned the right to be able to do so by creating or buying the company, but it seems wrong somehow.  It seems that our hard-fought employment rights offer little protection in such situations, and so one wonders how many other people work in such situations, hating their jobs and the owner-managers and not being able to stand up for their rights.

It also surprises me that there are people out there in leadership, and business ownership, positions who have not had ANY development in a leadership sense and who are simply uninterested in good management practice.  As someone who has spent a good % of his career developing leaders and managers and implementing good management practices, I find this incredible but disturbing in equal part.

And it also makes me wonder what use my own professional knowledge and skills are when I can't help the person I'm closest to?

Finally, it also highlights that sometimes people make choices to stay in a certain organisation based on one overwhelming positive (work/life balance) and despite multiple overwhelming negatives (as described above).  Everyone will be different, but should such sacrifices be allowed to be made?  From an employee engagement perspective, surely not?

I wonder what can be done about all of this in a general sense, not specifically about our situation?

Is there a way to bring owner-managers to account and to enforce better employment rights?

Is there a way to protect employee's rights and provide better experiences in small organisations?

I hope so.

Send me your ideas.

Till next time...


PS Merry Christmas

Friday, 18 December 2015

HR lessons from...That's Not My Duck

This week I've read an excellent series of posts by esteemed HR people covering the HR lessons from films and books they have watched and read this week. So far there has been analysis of Star Wars The Force Awakens (credit Doug Shaw), Love Actually (credit Pete Monaghan), and A Christmas Carol (credit Gem Reucroft). 

These posts have been, in equal part, inspiring, witty, analytical and terrifying. 

And now it's my turn. 

I thought I'd pick the most recent book I have read. 

It's called That's Not My Duck, and it's a searing insight into the world of recruitment and selection and talent management, with plenty of lessons for us all. 

In reality it's a Xmas present for my one year old daughter, but she saw it pre wrapping and insisted I read it to her, and we both enjoyed it so much we decided we wouldn't wrap it after all and read it again. 

So here are my thoughts on it. 

The first lesson in the book comes on the cover page, where it alerts us to the fact that this is NOT the duck we are looking for, as its beak is too shiny. In fact, the author here is telling us not to accept CVs, or to be dazzled by someone's LinkedIn profile, as these are words the candidate has presented themselves in order to make themselves look good, and we should delve beneath these initial facades to make our own minds up. In short, have a thorough and robust selection process. 

The second lesson is overleaf, warning us that this, too, is not the duck we want as its feet are too bumpy. This is a lesson to examine personality and fit in an organisation, as someone who is too bumpy may ruffle too many feathers and not fit in with the culture at all. 

The third duck is also not the duck we want as its tummy is too fuzzy. This, I would assert, is about the importance of taking up references to avoid any fuzziness or ambiguity about the suitability of the chosen candidate. Indeed, it is also a lesson to stalk a chosen candidate on social media to see if their fuzziness is a common theme. 

The fourth lesson regards the duck whose wings are too soft is surely one we all already know. It's so obvious, in fact, that I don't really need to tell you here what it is, because you've worked it out for yourself. Good on you. 

The final lesson in That's Not My Duck from an HR perspective is when we find the duck we want, and notice here that the duck is gender specific. It's a female duck, and she has children who, the author points out, are so fluffy. The lesson here is about equality and being mindful of discrimination. Too many managers and organisations will choose a man, or someone with no family commitments over a potential better candidate purely because their circumstances may be less complicated or the perception of being more committed. This book blows that right out of the water and tells us in no uncertain terms to think widely and inclusively about talent. 

Hear hear. 

And there ends the HR lessons from this book. I am imagining you will now all be updated your learning logs, PDPs and other such records. Please give me credit when you do. 

Till next time. 


Friday, 11 December 2015

Do as I say, don't do as I do

This post covers my experiences and views on being coached in recent months. As someone who does a lot of coaching, being coached myself was a new and unusual experience, but one that was highly relevant and useful. 

I've done a lot of coaching, and mentoring, so am comfortable with the process of coaching and almost always both enjoy and get a lot of energy from it. I know how individuals can benefit from coaching, and have been able to help individuals benefit from my own coaching in the past. The ability to step outside a situation and analyse it with someone independent, to question ones own assumptions and behaviours, to analyse performance and it's inhibitors, is tremendously useful and I always "sell" coaching to any leader or aspiring manager. 

As someone who does a lot of personal fitness and sporting work, both for myself and occasionally for others, and who has held management and coaching roles for sports teams, I can well understand the benefits of structured coaching and feedback in a personal as well as a business sense too. 

But until this summer, I'd never been coached myself. 

It had been a case of do as I say, don't do as I do. 

And that changed this year. I was given some feedback as part of an interview process that was brutually honest and direct, and which took me a while to recover from. I couldn't really argue with the feedback, but I'd never viewed myself in that way before and needed to process the information and didn't feel able to do that on my own as I was hurting too much. 

So I obtained a coach. I'll not talk here about who it was, or the details of what we covered, but my coach helped me to talk through how I was feeling, the detail of the feedback, how it affected me both at work and at home, and what I could do about it in the short term and longer term. 

Key to any successful coaching or mentoring relationship is the ability to build rapport and connect with each other, and the experience of working with my own coach underlined this. Not only were they someone I had immense respect for beforehand, but during the sessions they worked with me in a way that enhanced that respect and developed into a challenging yet friendly relationship. The coach was not someone with any kind of HR or OD background either, which at first I thought wouldn't work but was immediately proved wrong on. 

So being coached made me reassess the way I could coach others, and the way I viewed the coaching relationship. That doesn't mean I was unaware of the importance of those things, but I certainly expanded my understanding of them during the process of being coached. 

And the coach used simple frameworks that I knew, and which I knew that I knew, and which I would use with people I was coaching, but which I'd failed to use on myself. 

Maybe it was my ego, which had taken a severe bruising. Maybe it was the way I was perceiving things, which was definitely negative and needed reframing. Maybe I was too close to the situation and couldn't detach myself and the emotions involved.

Maybe I thought I knew it all. I was wrong. 

When I look back at the specific things I changed, the actions I took as a result of being coached, I'm astonished that I didn't see these things myself and just do them, that it took someone else to point them out. I know if I'd been coaching someone else I'd have pointed them out, asked the right questions and so on, but was unable to do it for myself. 

So for the experience of being coached, I'm grateful. It's made me a better coach, as the next person I coach will find out. It's helped me understand myself better and so be better at being me. 

Coaching gave me clarity about my situation this year, and allowed me to focus on what I could achieve in the short term and what my goals might be, and have become, in the long term. It gave me an outlet for my emotions and was cathartic in that respect too. 

In short, coaching helped with my healing and recovery. In the same way a good coach would help an injured athlete back to full training and performance, so my coach helped me. And that's why I enjoy coaching so much. 

I'm glad I realised that coaching could benefit me. I'm still surprised it's taken me so long, but hopefully I can now begin to coach myself in a better way both in business and my sports and fitness endeavours. I've certainly seen an impact in my triathlon training, which I may cover in a future (non HR) blog. 

Ultimately, there's a link here to The Power of Three as explained in my first few posts and in the About Me section above. If an individual can get the right focus in the right areas of their life, they can achieve great things. 

Having worked my way back to "full fitness" in every sense of the word, maybe there's great things beckoning for me?

Watch this space.

Till next time...


Tuesday, 1 December 2015

#leadingtheway part 4 of 4

The final session today was delivered by Emlyn Williams, from ACAS. Emlyn had the hard job of concluding the session and handling the potential embarrassment of people getting up to leave early before the session ends. Good luck to him, and he made a good start by establishing he's not your typical lawyer and is a good, wisecracking speaker. 

On a side note, one can tell that the Museum of Liverpool don't handle conferences of this nature often. They tried hard and were friendly enough, but they need a lot more experiences of the types of demands a conference of so many people can have. 

Anyway, back to Emlyn. He had a good choice of slides to make his points, and a good selection of jokes also to back them up. 

He started by sharing the well known secret that shared parental and shared grandparental leave have been met with resounding indifference by the UK workforce, yet the government has plans to expand the rights re these. As someone who could have benefited from shared parental leave I can say there is no way we would have gone ahead and done it, so I can well understand the resounding silence. 

He then briefly covered the developments in equal pay legislation where it is predicted that changes will mean little on a practical level and more potential litigation if anything. 

The introduction of the National Living Wage was briefly covered also, with Emlyn explained that, to my surprise, it only applies to those aged 25 or over, effectively making it an extension of the current National Minimum Wage and not a replacement to it. That was glossed over in the recent government publicity surely? Emlyn also explained how enforcement of the new NLW would be handled by tribunals. 

Emlyn showed a graph that showed the startling rise in zero hours contracts, which have more than doubled in ten years. However he pointed out that recent publicity around them has only uncovered how many there already were, not necessarily prompted an increase in their usage. He talked about the impact of recent legislation around the use of zero hours contracts, which only went so far.

The cap on public sector exit payments is expected to come in next April, bringing a cap on payments (in their widest sense) of £95,000, which Emlyn noted will affect MOST public sector payments due to their inclusion of pensionable pay augmentations. He was surprised at how little outcry there had been about this, and I think it's because many people haven't worked it out yet and those who have are busy negotiating an exit before it comes in. 

A sensible measure though is the proposal to introduce a "fine" for those who take such exit payments then return a short period of time on a consultancy basis. 

Using Gary Barlow as an example, Emlyn then talked about the ongoing consultation around changes to tax free payments eg redundancy. There will be a sliding scale in effect that could apply from £6,000 but change with length of service, which would affect almost every redundancy payment in the future. 

Emlyn then covered the changes to ballots for industrial action. It's clear that the changes will make it FAR harder for trades unions to get a successful strike ballot. 

And then he closed by talking about the recent MBNA vs Jones case focusing on misconduct on a works outing. This prompted LOTS of hilarity as he described the details of the case. You really couldn't make it up. The nuances of employment law, the balance of probability and the concept of reasonable belief sometimes work, and sometimes they don't. This case covers the ways in which it can work in sometimes unbelievable ways quite well. 

Emlyn closed by giving his best typos of the year, and had the audience rolling in the aisles. 

I've really enjoyed this event and must thank Pete Monaghan for inviting me to cover it on social media. It's been quite tiring, again, to be multitasking for so long and to be scanning lots of media and listening and writing at the same time. 

But it's been enjoyable. 

I look forward to using the knowledge gained from this conference in the near future. 

Till next time...


#leadingtheway part 3 of 4

Lunch flew by. My main reflection on that period of time is that the Museum of Liverpool need to either a) invest in more cups or b) improve the efficiency of their cup washing process. 

First up after lunch are Dawn Smedley and Inji Duducu talking about how appreciation changes everything. Now these two lovely ladies are sat either side of me today as I'm blogging away, so it's even more important that I write nice things about them otherwise I may not make it out of the building alive. 

Inji started off with a great anecdote about the power of appreciation and how that can drastically change both relationships and behaviour in individuals. It costs nothing but can produce big rewards. 

Inji also talked about how neuroscience can influence people's performance by giving them a different sense of reward. She explained how certain chemicals trigger the emotional reaction to rewards, and how if we understand how to access that chemical through different means than monetary rewards, we can still achieve the same outcome but at much less cost. 

Dawn spoke about how organisations need to ensure people are recognised for their efforts and input into situations. Check out this self test questionnaire and see how you do:

I freely acknowledge that I'm in the middle ground here, and though there are some days I can do a 5-6, there are other days I put in only a 1-2. I'm not sure that level of inconsistency is helpful, and explains a lot really. 

Dawn and Inji also talked about making recognition personal and meaningful so that the individual feels valued by it. This can be tricky and does take some effort, but brings the bigger rewards. This point gets to the heart of employee engagement. Inji mentioned Asda's mantra about "what gets rewarded gets repeated" and then Dawn finished off by talking about how to make recognition timely, purposeful and how we each have a choice of whether to recognise, and how to recognise. 

Be the change, they said. 

Own it.

Absolutely right. 

Let's see if I can in some upcoming changes to what I do at work. 

Following them was Cathy Brown from Engage for Success. Again Cathy spoke at the Manchester event earlier this year and I covered a lot of what she said in a previous blog, but as Cathy also built on some of her previous ideas here's a quick summary. 

Cathy echoed some of the themes explored by Peter Cheese about the changing nature of work, and gave some examples of how changing customer demands brought about by a changing world force business to adapt, evolve or fade away. Thinking about it, there are lots of examples out there in the business world of organisations who have failed to do that, and who are no longer with us. In fact twenty years ago I worked for ICI, who at that time were a major multinational corporation and described as the bell weather of British industry. Now, I don't even know if ICI exists at all, and it probably doesn't. It failed to evolve, or failed to do so fast or far enough. 

Cathy also talked about five generations in the workplace and the concept of working with ones grandparents. To illustrate how new a concept this is, I reflected on my own lifetime. When I entered the workplace in 1996 all four of my grandparents had already left it. One had died, another was within a year of doing so, another had stopped working fifteen years earlier and the other one (coincidentally the only one who is still alive in 2015) had stopped working that year. When my son, now 14, starts working, all of his grandparents will also have stopped working some years earlier, the most recent one being this very month. But I fully expect to still be working in 20-25 years when my own grandchildren are entering the workforce, and that's a growing trend. 

Cathy also talked about the growing impact of technology and automation on the workforce, again echoing some of Peter Cheese's points about professions that can be replaced by robots. So she challenged us to think about what jobs will exist for humans, what skills they will require, and how we will keep the employees who undertake them engaged. 

A good question. Cathy answered this by asserting that organisations need to ensure four things are in place. 

First, a strong strategic narrative about the organisation, it's history and its future. Employees should be able to identify with this and relate to it in their individual role. 

Second, engaging managers who work with and recognise people in ways that Dawn and Inji covered earlier. Brendan Barber made the same point earlier too but he was suggesting it's still a big challenge for organisations at the moment. 

Third, employee voice, drawing on some themes that Tim Scott and Brendan Barber both covered this morning. The ability to collaborate, connect and challenge internally and externally are critical in this regard, as all speakers have commented. 

Finally, organisational integrity, where the values on the wall accurately represent the values lived and breathed by leaders and all employees. 

I wonder if you can think of a time when you were partially or wholly disengaged in an organisation, and pinpoint which of these four enablers was not present? I certainly can in some of my experiences. I've had situations where two or three of these enablers have been strong, but one or two have been missing and that's affected my overall engagement. 

Cathy finished by saying it isn't always deliberate and sometimes things can get in the way of these enablers. Her advice was to keep modelling the values, take your time, share and learn from good practice, and to use measurement tools like surveys as a tool and not the end result. I've done lots of work with both IiP and Best Companies and have been guilty of using them as the end result in the past, so it is easy to do. 

The Engage for Success movement is a positive one and draws together a lot of the themes covered by this afternoons speakers, but again a view emerging is that not all organisations are doing it the way the speakers want. 

An interesting afternoon so far.

One more blog left.

Till next time...


#leadingtheway part 2 of 4

One of the downsides of live blogging an event is that in the breaks you end up being quite busy. The wifi isn't great here so I had to try to rectify that and secure a stronger connection (which I have), grab a coffee, upload the previous blog and share it on social media, talk to a few people and somehow get to the toilet and back within 15 minutes. 

It's quite hectic and I didn't manage all of this in the first break. I'll let you decide which one I didn't manage. 

So we are back in the room and kicking us off in the pre lunch session is Sir Brendan Barber, Chair of ACAS, on building productivity in the UK. Brendan started by talking about the sheer volume of work that ACAS does, which all in all boil down to resolving issues that affect people's productivity in the workplace. 

Here he outlined the scale of the issues affecting us, and then rightly summarised the areas to focus on as:

- infrastructure
- investment
- innovation
- capital markets
- short termism
- skills
- workplace

ACAS have developed seven levers for building productivity.

First, work organisation. This is about simplicity of processes including decision making. Brendan gave an example of a decision needing 31 different levels to have an input and contribute to the eventual decision as being unhelpful. He also talked about the way that physical environments can impact on productivity as well as the design of work. 

Second, ther skills of line managers. This is not a new thing but seems to be one that isn't being easily solved or going away. Just last week I've seen an example of where some business owners, successful in many aspects, have little or no people management skills and how that is affecting the productivity of one of the very few employees they have. It startled me to see the relationship between cause and effect in that example, but it's obviously a widespread issue still. 

Third, managing conflict effectively. Obviously this was a bit of a plug for ACAS and the work that they do, but it's a relevant point, but I've been talking about building line managers skills in doing this for some time, so it's good to see it up here. 

Fourth, rights and responsibilities. Brendan here referenced some of Peter Cheese's earlier speech talking about the changing way people work and the uncertainties that inevitably develop from this. Peter and Brendan both called for businesses to better understand the ways in which people behave in organisations. 

Fifth, fairness. Brendan rattled through this one as it ought to be self explanatory, but perceptions of fairness do differ and I think this one often needs reconciling at an individual level. 

Sixth, employee voice. This has been covered extensively in other views of employee engagement so I'll not cover what it means here. 

Finally, high trust. This runs through all of the previous six, and if the trust is there between employee and employer then they have a good chance of achieving success with the first six levers. 

Brendan nicely acknowledged the point that I was thinking all the way through this, that this isn't new or indeed rocket science. But he referenced the concept of marginal gains as espoused by Sir Dave Brailsford in cycling, and related this to the seven levers by asking organisations to look where marginal gains can be made in any one of these levers in order to achieve overall success in building productivity. I guess the point is that small changes can often be enough. 

At that point Tim Scott took over for a bit of a change of energy and focus, talking about the value of social media to HR. I have to be careful here because Tim is a fellow blogger and a genuinely nice person!

Tim is talking about the virtues of social media and, of course, plugging his and Gem Reucrofts' book on the subject. I've heard Tim talk about such subjects before but, having followed Peter Cheese and Brendan Barber, I wondered how he could build on the concepts outlined by both and relate them to the development of social media at work. 

Tim gave us some relevant statistics that showed how the vast majority of working age adults now access the Internet regularly during the working day, and how those entering the UK workforce increasingly use it for almost everything so it's a growing trend for organisations to get hold of and use. It's the reality. 

Tim told us some of his own story which, in quite a few aspects, mirrored my own. He gave a good account of why HR professionals should be using Twitter and social media. He talked about the value of connecting, sharing, learning and building a personal brand through social media, specifically Twitter.  Again, I can relate directly to this, though I've come to it a little later than Tim did. 

His advice was to be yourself, dive in and to share stuff. These are all good pieces of advice. 

I enjoyed Tim's talk. It was humble, warm and humorous, and very real. And he had a good exercise to illustrate the value of sharing and talking to people. 

It's clear that social media is something that almost all workers will be doing in the future, and that organisations need to understand and use it to communicate with and to some degree manage their staff. Some very relevant and practical examples helped to underline Tim's points about incorporating social media into HR practices and, I assume, these are detailed more in his book. 

Tim suggested we should not worry about having to control social media, but worry about not understanding it. Not understanding social media is tantamount to not understanding our workers, and here is the link to both Peter and Brendan's earlier talk. Letting people be themselves on social media may contribute to people's happiness. It might also build trust and give employees a voice. 

So get onto it. 

Till next time...


#leadingtheway part 1 of 4

.Today I'm attending an event run by ACAS in Liverpool called Leading the Way: The Future of People Management. I'm covering the event on social media for ACAS along with the esteemed Tim Scott, so you may see a few tweets and blogs from me today on the subject. 

I'll start by saying how unusual it is to see an HR event take place in Liverpool. It's kind of refreshing to see as so much takes place in Manchester. Today's event is at the stunning Museum of Liverpool, and is in some ways a follow on to another ACAS event that took place in July in Manchester, which I covered here:

Pete Monaghan from ACAS opened the event summarising the aims of the event and introducing the agenda for the day. Gary Millar, who holds various roles in Liverpool, took over to set some context for the event and outline how he will facilitate the event. Gary handed over to Max Steinberg, CEO of Liverpoool Vision, who gave us a good summary of how Liverpool had transformed itself over the last decade. 

For those of you who haven't been to Liverpool recently, it's almost unrecognisable from its past and it's a truly stunning modern city. I came here today to the Museum of Liverpool having not been to the dockside area of Liverpool for maybe 15-20 years and it's much improved. There has been an awful lot of work going on and Max outlined a few challenges that are still to be tackled by Liverpool Vision. Liverpool currently has a lot to shout about and should be proud of its approach to regeneration and investment. 

Of course Liverpool isn't alone in this, and lots of other cities have done similar. But The Guardian, amongst others, have written about the possible dangers of regeneration left unchecked. See And I wonder what this trend could leave us with, if left unchecked? Could all cities be built and run on the same model? Undoubtedly attractive and successful, but will they be places that people - all kinds of people - can afford to live? 

Maybe. Let's hope so. 

My main unanswered question, and only briefly hinted about by Max, is about whether anyone is coordinating the work done by all current and future Liverpool businesses to get the right talent in place for the future success it wants? Individual businesses yes, groups of like minded businesses probably, but who is taking the overall strategic view? Gary Millar answered part of this by talking about the need to engage with primary school age children, which is a point I've made a couple of times in previous blogs. But I don't know whether this is a coordinated effort to tie into one overall project. 

If any of you can shed light on this, let me know. Because Liverpool, if viewed as one entity, needs a hell of a People Strategy. 

Peter Cheese is up next. A lot of this talk echoed some points he made at the Manchester event earlier in the year, and I've covered some of these before, but as he had updated some of his thinking and points in the intervening months then I'll summarise again. 

Some of Peters key themes shaping the future of work have been covered extensively elsewhere - namely the globalisation of the economy, and the rise of social media. 

Peter also shared what jobs are likely to be done by robots or computers in the future. HR didn't appear on this list but many transactional jobs did. I wonder WHY HR work couldn't be done by robots though? Surely if the robots are intelligent enough, they could? Or is Peter saying that HR work involves too much emotion for robots to handle? Maybe Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation could handle the HR analytics side of things, but wouldn't be good in a complicated disciplinary?

What he did say though was that workers will increasingly work in different ways, in smaller organisations and connect in different ways than they do now. And he showed that 80% of business value now comes from intangible assets like employees, compared to a MUCH smaller percentage 20-30 years ago. This is true. 

He also outlined the dangers of continuing to cause workers stress, that we should be looking at how people balance their work and life, and how we make workers content and give them a sense of purpose. 

He challenged us to question whether our people management practices are good enough for the future world of work? Maybe they're not. He says we should focus on employee happiness, now a genuine business concern.

When my eldest daughter was just 3 she asked me what I did at work. I don't know if you've ever tried explaining HR to an adult let alone a toddler, but it's hard. I settled on "I make people happy at work". She was satisfied with that, but now thinks I do something involving painting because that's what would make her happy at work. 

But ultimately isn't that what HR is? Not painting necessarily, but finding that mix of activities that unlock employee happiness, and then reaping the rewards of their engagement and productivity?

He concluded by talking about the proliferation of data that's out there about individuals and work, but how little of this is put to good use. I've covered this in some other posts and very recently in conversation with a Chief Executive of an organisation. HR needs to win the debate with Finance about workforce data and to really make something of it. 

I often talk about the amount of data available on modern footballers and other sportsmen, and how that is used, constantly, to analyse and improve performance. But how often do we find this in the workplace? Not often enough, but the data is there if you'd care to look for it...

His final point drew on neuroscience to understand human and organisational behaviour. We can understand the changing external context, we can draw together our insights and analytics, we can have the right HR practices, but we also need to understand and work towards a better understanding of human behaviour and how they relate to organisations. 

True, that. 

Till next time...


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

#housingday - working in housing

Today, Wednesday 18 November, marks the third annual #housingday. I've spent over half my professional life working in housing and am pleased to be able to add my voice and thoughts to the collective movement today. 

To find out more about #housingday, have a look at this link. It's not the only thing happening in housing this week to raise its profile, but it's the most visible and in all likelihood will involve the most people. As coordinated social media campaigns go, it's a biggie and an important one. 

In 2014, as the article showed, #housingday was very successful at raising the profile of the sector, the work it does, and the issues it faces. It was followed by other well-run and successful campaigns in the run up to this years General Election and, so it seemed at the time, there was a shared view between politicians and housing organisations about the issues facing the sector and society at large. 

Regardless of ones political persuasion, the Conservative majority government came as a bit of a surprise and hasn't been a good one for housing and those working in housing. Whatever thoughts the housing sector had about shared understanding of the problems faced by social housing, evaporated as it became clear that there was nothing like a shared understanding of how to tackle said problems. 

The summer budget in July brought this sharply into focus. You can read more about it in short form here - although there have been longer and more informed posts since which outline how housing can and could respond to this. 

Suffice to say though that this years #housingday is a tad more important than the last, as it needs to show a sector united in purpose and voice, and one not in crisis. 

I don't mind admitting that I fell into housing by accident. Probably, so did many people, as I don't recall housing even being mentioned as a career option when I was at school or university. I'm fortunate that I'm in a profession, HR (or OD, L&D, whatever you prefer and whatever is the focus of what I'm doing most of at any one time), that spans most sectors and my skills and knowledge are, by and large, transferable to other roles in other sectors. 

Come to think of it though, I don't recall HR being mentioned as a career option at school either, so it's not like I had any kind of grand plan aside from my oft-mentioned desire to be a professional wrestler for WWE or play for Manchester United.

But I found myself applying for an HR role in a new housing organisation, one about to be spun off from its local authority parent and become a standalone organisation. The prospect of working in a "new" company, and helping to shape it's culture, it's transformation and its development over the years was a big attraction. The opportunity to work with a group of people who wanted to do the same was pulling me there. 

At the time I didn't care what the organisation did. It happened to be social housing, but for all I cared it could have been nuclear weaponry, taxi driving or the worlds largest search engine. 

I gave myself two to three years to work my magic, make an impression and get out of there to something bigger and better. 

And I told people this. My goodness, I was arrogant. 

But I stayed because housing and housing people have a kind of way of making you feel comfortable and as though you're making a huge difference at the same time, that there is another massive challenge around the corner where your unique skills will be needed. 

So the job satisfaction has been immense. And here I am nearly 12 years later still here. Ok, housing has played to my ego at times and that's been great, but in that time I've helped people and housing organisations to do great things. 

And I've enjoyed it. Mostly, at least. 

And I do a range of things in the social housing sector that spread beyond my main HR duties and which I see as contributing to the growth and development of the sector through its people, in whatever small ways I can. I've been involved in mentoring via CIH and HDN, and helping talented and enthusiastic housing staff develop their skills and thinking and make connections to help others do the same. I've delivered training workshops to groups of aspiring housing professionals helping them to be more effective in their working and personal lives. I work directly with the CIH on their education programmes, helping to train and prepare a new generation of housing professionals. And I sit on the CIH regional board in the north west, looking at how we can all work together to raise the profile of social housing, it's work and its staff and collaborate together on important issues.

During those pieces of work, I have often asked housing staff why they came to work in housing, or more importantly why they have stayed working in housing. The answers are always strikingly similar, and lead well into a discussion around motivational theory and in particular Herzbergs theories. Housing staff will usually tell me why they work in housing and, without prompting or reference to the Herzberg model, will accurately describe its motivators as the reasons they continue to work in housing. 

Usually it's about making a difference and being able to see that. Often it's about the variety of the work and the support from colleagues. Sometimes it's about the development they get and the recognition their work brings. Occasionally people will reference the hygiene factors without realising and talk about their level of satisfaction with working conditions, supervision and the like. 

And yes, housing has changed over the years. Very few people would have mentioned commerciality or efficiency 12 years ago and get now you wouldn't get very far if you didn't grasp and value these principles. Its worth pointing out though that no-one ever says they came into housing in order to generate efficiencies, or to develop their commercial skills.

And yet that's what housing work, at many levels, now requires.

And the budget changes mean that housing organisations are going to have to be ruthless in many areas of service delivery and even in many areas of people management and development.  Efficiencies and commerciality may become core areas as housing organisations pare back services to essentials only and seek to manage and reduce their cost bases.  Making a difference to people's lives might be considered a nice to have in the future?

I suppose one can draw comparisons with public sector cuts in recent years and one could say that housing has got off lightly in that time, and that many public sector organisations have had to make tough decisions about public services and the staff who deliver them.  All very true.

Also true though was that the public sector lost a lot of talented staff, aswell as (obviously) a lot of staff who may not have been the most effective and whose approach no longer fitted in with the new organisational ethos and culture.

And so the same may happen to housing.  Already I see some staff choosing to leave the sector - not leaving a specific employer for another because the same issues are facing all housing organisations - but leaving the sector altogether because the things that got them into the sector are diminishing.  Again, professions like Finance, HR, IT, Communications, are all fortunate enough to be able to do so.  Already I see many long serving staff in housing-specific roles choosing to leave organisations because they can see how the organisation will change around them and the bits of their roles they enjoy starting to diminish.

There is a danger at the moment that the work that many housing organisations do that is considered "value adding" or could be termed "non-core" and not critical to the efficient operation of a social landlord will reduce or even cease.  So much of what social landlords currently do DOES add value though, and comprises much of the things that its employees say attract them to continue to work in housing.  And these things may not be there in the same quantity in the future.

Housing organisations may have little choice at the moment on what they have to do, faced by challenges brought upon them from external influences.  But they can choose how they behave towards their customers and staff, how they communicate changes and how they keep their staff involved and informed in making the changes.  Doing so is likely to reduce the flow of people leaving the sector aswell as managing the profile and reputation of the sector and its employees.

There is a role for professional bodies and employers bodies like the CIH and NHF to get more involved with organisations and help them to manage such changes aswell as marshalling resources on their behalf and looking at the sector-wide issues created at the moment.  Both such organisations can usefully help individuals to improve their skillsets at a time of major change and provide support to organisations seeking to do so.  Both have started to do so and deserve praise for this.

Individuals working in housing need to ensure they keep themselves motivated and keep their skillsets up to date.  However they also need to be honest with themselves and ask themselves whether they will still be motivated by housing work in the future if such work is to drastically change.  I suspect many will choose to leave the sector rather than do work they aren't motivated by, so the sector needs to consider how it can respond to that.

The government seems set on its current path, unlikely to change.  The housing sector is bracing itself for unprecedented turbulence.  Will #housingday change any of this?  Unlikely, but it will be interesting to see what people in the housing sector are saying and doing about what is happening.

I will be watching and reading with interest...

Till next time...


PS in other news, I've entered all my races for 2016.  Eight of them.  I may need to blog about my rationale for this and how I'm preparing for them...

Sunday, 8 November 2015

#cipd15 reflections

So I'm back now from the CIPD Conference and much of it seems like a dream. But lots of things have been running through my mind, and blogging is as good a way as any to deal with them. 

This year, as has been obvious, I've been part of the CIPD Blogsquad. This involved promoting the event via social media and my blog both before and throughout the event. I was part of a team of 10 such bloggers and we were officially part of the Press covering the event, although as we were all amateurs I would be very interested to know what the professional journalists thought of our presence and work. Did we assist or detract from their own work?

Being part of the Blogsquad was clearly a boost for my own not inconsiderable ego, as it offered me the chance to swish around the event showing my press badge, hobnobbing with the top echelon of HR professionals including the rest of my fellow Blosquadders, high profile HR journalists and magazine editors, and even Peter Cheese himself who dropped by to say hello. 

But it also challenged me in ways I wasn't expecting. Live blogging the sessions was hard work, involving typing, reflecting, digesting and listening at the same. It became exhausting at times, particularly when combined with the need to be scanning other social media, reacting to it and putting stuff out via various channels. It was also fatiguing to be "on" for nearly 16 hours on Day One and then to get just over 5 hours sleep before Day Two. 

Ok, I didn't NEED to go to the press dinner on Day One, so could have rested, but it was an important part of the experience. Even if I had lost most of what little conversational ability I have by then due to tiredness!

As a Blogsquad member I had to choose my conference sessions carefully, balancing my own interests with what I thought people might want to hear and looking at what other blogsquadders were covering so that we didn't all go to the same session. I was happy with my choices and managed one blog per session as you may have read. 

Some of the main themes of the conference I observed in the sessions I went to were:

- the importance of having access to data and technology to drive better performance and analytics, but a warning not to let technology make decisions for you
- a need to grow and diversify ones own network and to remain in control of it
- understanding the emotional side of change and in human performance issues
- a need for business to become more human and understand its employees better

There were others I'm sure, but these reflected the session choices I made perhaps. For more detail on these, check out my blogs from the conference itself. 

I also spent a fair bit of time in the exhibition, although not as much as in previous years due to the short spaces of time available to do so between conference sessions. It meant I couldn't get to ANY of the free exhibition sessions which was a shame. I did get a fair bit of free stuff from the exhibition as usual, which pleased my family, but didn't get much chance to talk to exhibitors. 

And this was not just a problem with timings. In previous years I've had an ID badge that gave my job title and company name. Exhibitors thus had two "ins" to talk to me - my job title marked me as someone with purchasing responsibility and decision making responsibility, so I was a natural target for almost every exhibitor and they could pitch accordingly. And my company name was enough of a question for them to ask what we did and see if there was a match with their stuff. But this year my badge said Blogsquad and Press. I could see exhibitors shying away from me, not knowing what their opening line should be or whether there was an area of mutual interest. 

That was a shame, though I did approach exhibitors I wanted to speak to, and had a good experience on many stands. Lots were happy to engage with me as a blogsquadder and lots offered good quality banter via social media too, which was excellent. (Shout out to IiP who particularly did this well)

The exhibition was larger this time round and utilised the space better, too, something I've criticised at previous events in Manchester, even if I couldn't find anyone offering free massages on their stand. 

On the social side of things, the fringe events were excellent and there was a far better social and networking aspect to this years event than some previous ones in Manchester, and this came very close to replicating the unique social atmosphere that Harrogate used to have, and that's a good thing. There were good opportunities for networking and lots of space to do it in, and a variety of options for evening activities if you wanted them. I'd like to see this side of things grow, and perhaps expand to the previous and subsequent nights as my only criticism was that almost everything was happening simultaneously on the same evening. 

I also rued the fact that I didn't stay overnight in a hotel, meaning I had to restrict my alcohol intake and also leave halfway through the night, but in previous Manchester conferences there hadn't been enough going on in the evening to make me want to stay, unlike in Harrogate. 

So what else have I reflected on?

Well, for the first time since it moved to Manchester I came away from the event completely enthused, full of energy and looking forward to putting my ideas to work and also to going back to the conference next year. I don't know whether that was because of being in the Blogsquad or because the conference was truly excellent, or because of the better social activities, or a mixture of it all. 

The conference made me think and learn, and having to blog at the same time was an excellent way of making me listen carefully and digest instantly, as well as giving me a permanent record of my learning to refer back to. I won't detail what I think I learnt here, that's all in the blogs. But suffice to say the conference expanded my thinking significantly. 

The conference, and in particular the experience of being in the Blogsquad, helped me to get to know a group of people who I hope will be very important to me in the future, and helped me to make some new and significant contacts in our profession. 

It also made me think in detail about the next speaking engagement I have, at the HR Directors Summit in Birmingham in February, and about how I can follow such talented speakers and respond to a raised bar as well as cope with being viewed and blogged about myself!

The rest of the Blogsquad did an exceptional job, better than me, in capturing events in their own unique ways, and if you want to see everything all in one place then follow this link to Ian Pettigrew's excellently curated Storify.

And now what?

Well it's back to work for me now, entering a very busy phase in my current work, but also keeping one eye on a changing future for me and beginning to plan out the next phase of my career. 

Thanks to CIPD for letting me be part of the Blogsquad, and thanks to the other Blogsquad members for making me feel welcome. Thanks to anyone I encountered at the conference too for making it so memorable. 

Till next time...


Thursday, 5 November 2015

CIPD Conference Blog #9 of many (penultimate one)

So I made it to the final session at #cipd15. Immediately prior to this I made a final sweep of the exhibition floor and SHAMELESSLY obtained many free gifts. 

I figure I was doing the exhibitors a favour and saving them having to carry them home. 

Anyway, this is my penultimate blog for the conference, I'll do a final one in a day or so commenting on the whole experienced and summarising what has happened. So this is the last one to focus on one particular session. 

And boy am I tired. 

I didn't realise how tiring it would be to type and listen at the same time. 

Some of you are surprised that a man can even do two things at once. Get over it. 

So here I am listening to Herminia Ibarra talk about Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader. 

She wins the prize of being the only speaker who has actively tweeted me during the conference. So immediately she's onto a winner with me. 

Herminia is talking about leadership in a new world. This should build upon many of the themes explored during the conference. 

She went out amongst the audience to illustrate some points and this was an interesting move by a keynote speaker, one I will definitely try to imitate. The point she was making was to try to own the room when teaching, and it worked. 

She carried on, highlighting the difference between insight, based on internal knowledge and past experiences, to outsight, based on the opposite. She said you can act your way into new ways of thinking. 

And yet outsight is strategising, one of the things that C level executives say they don't spend enough time doing. And it's because it takes too much time to devote the time to even something we know we should. 

It's what Ibarra calls the Competency Trap, focusing on things you do well and easily, and things you enjoy. 

She highlighted the difference between being a hub or a bridge. Hubs manage, monitor, assign roles and set goals. Bridges align goals, network, develop team members, and more besides. Leaders need to be bridges. Managers can be hubs. 

She challenged us to redefine our jobs - scan the environment, step outside your main area, delegate routine work, broaden your network and be the bridge.  She mentioned the need to think of ourselves as leaders of our networks, as opposed to leaders of our teams. Or both if we can. 

I'd never considered myself a leader of my own network and yet now I think about it and look back, there are occasions when I know I have been and I can spot some bridge-related activity in hindsight.

But I don't do this often, or haven't to date. Maybe I could do more in future. 

The concept of ones own network was then developed further by Ibarra, who looked at the top determinants of chemistry in a professional relationship. Similarity came out tops. 

She helped us to look at how we can use our networks to leverage success, and how it is sometimes important that different parts of your network remain separate and don't overlap with each other. The moment everyone knows everyone else, you as the centre of the network become redundant. 

It also makes it very difficult to reimagine yourself and reinvent yourself in an existing network, you need to have a broader network or a new one. 

Funnily enough the experience of this conference and being in the Blogsquad, plus blogging in general since March and building a wider social network via Twitter and LinkedIn, has done this for me. Partly that's been deliberate to prepare me for a new future and building on some previous feedback, but partly it's just happened. But I can see how my new network relate to me in a different way than older networks who recall earlier versions of me. 

One of my early posts was called Regeneration, and that was the point I was making then. When The Doctor regenerates in Doctor Who he often either a) struggles to relate to existing companions and / or b) gets new companions who don't know the old Doctor. 

So Ibarra is developing The Regeneration Principle. And about time too. 

Ibarra then went on to talk about authenticity, being true to yourself, being sincere and acting with integrity. I've blogged a lot of personal reflections on this early on in my blogging this year, looking at the masks we wear and so on. But it's good advice and authenticity is essential if a leader is to develop and flourish. 

She encouraged us at the finish to be more playful with ourselves in order to become more authentic. And again this echoes some of my own earlier blog posts and some themes I've explored in my posts about networking, getting out of my comfort zone and reinventing myself. 

So a lot of Ibarra's content resonated a lot. And I hope it's working for me. 

It's been interesting to listen to Ibarra and some of the other speakers and I've really enjoyed it. I'll do a summary reflective blog post in a day or so, but right now I'm signing off and running for a train. 

Till next time. 


Ps in other news, I am looking forward to spending time with my family having missed them quite a lot this last 48 hours. Counting the minutes....

CIPD Conference Blog #8 of many

After a hearty lunch and a good catchup with a few people I'm back in the conference and listening to former world class table tennis player Matthew Syed talking about developing high performance and whether talent is a myth. 

His opening anecdote was to suggest that talent is not necessarily an inbuilt gift that all world class sportspeople have. His view is that great sportspeople are great because they have spent years building up their reactions and thinking skills, not that they are born with greater talent than you or I. They have just worked at it for longer, and more effectively. 

This could be the breakthrough I have been looking for in fulfilling my long held dream of either a) playing for Manchester United, or b) being a professional wrestler for WWE. 

For Syed it's about the persistent application of belief, positive thinking and oodles of practice and development of skills. He points out how many talented young sportspeople fail to make the predicted breakthrough simply because they take their foot off the gas when they smell success, and by the time they realise, it's too late to get it back. 

So Syed is saying that if you practice long and hard enough, and think positively, and believe in yourself, you can develop world class skills. 

Is that true?

Well, I'm above average at triathlons, but not world class. I've got to be above average through doing exactly what Syed says works. But I've only got to be above average. And not world class. 

Could I be world class?  Maybe. I know what I need to do, but it's not to do with innate ability. It is to do with time availability and overall desire. 

And that ties in with Syed's stance on things, that it ones own self limiting beliefs and the restrictions one places on oneself that prevents talent from being successful. 

So basically it's my own fault I'm merely above average. 

Now that sounds harsh and Syed didn't mean it like that, but he's talking about mindsets being of more significance than talent. 

And he's right. 

He went on to talk about how similar mindsets prevent talent performance in business too. Have you seen this?

There's been a running theme in #cipd15 about use of data and information to make decisions and improve performance, and Syed's talk built on this theme. 

Syed asserted that the availability of data is not an issue, but a persons willingness to access and use the data is key to improving performance. Clive Woodward said the same thing yesterday. And there's something in that. 

He also said that those people who believe they are infallible or refuse to search for areas for improvement in their own performance are doomed never to improve said performance. The need to look at marginal gains is critical. 

Syed went back to a sporting analogy, looking at the work of Sir Dave Brailsford with Team Sky and Team GB. The concept of marginal gains is well understood in sport and looking at how just a 1% improvement can bring huge success. 

Now apply that to business. 

How often do we look at marginal gains to improve performance? Often we will look at the "big bets" and not where quick wins can be generated. 

He finished by saying that Silverdale Road in Reading had produced a disproportionate amount of great table tennis players, and put that down to the collective approach to skill development, practice, encouragement that they all had. He attributes the different level of success of this group somewhat to genetics but not wholly, with the rest being down to dedication and persistence. 

I've just tweeted that in one of the sports I play, crown green bowls, five UK champions have all been born within one mile of each other in my home town in Winsford, and three on the same street albeit years apart. There's nothing genetic there but there is something about upbringing and what is instilled into them about practice and dedication, and looking at marginal gains perhaps. 

Syed's main point is that if we develop a growth mindset, either in business or in sport, we have the foundations for success. And there's a momentum about it that brings more success, hence why you find clusters of successful people in one family, one geographical location or one area of business. 

He quoted James Dyson going through 5,000+ failed experiments before reaching the version that made him his fortune. And David Beckham scoring the free kick that sent England to the World Cup finals in 2002. In each case we know all about the final action, but what we don't see is the years of dedication and practice that each had put in. 

So, Cinderella, you CAN go to the ball. If you work hard enough, apply your thinking and seek the marginal gains based on data analysis AND keep thinking positive things about yourself as well as striving for improvements constantly. 

Well, what are you waiting for? Don't let me stop you. 

Till next time.