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.


CIPD Conference Blog #7 of many

After a quick browse around the Exhibition I'm back in a conference session, this time on delivering large scale public sector transformation through effective HR, by Low Peck Kem from the Singapore Public Service. 

This session is of interest to me given my current work in delivering large scale transformation in housing through effective HR. Nowadays I'm not too certain whether we class housing as public, private or voluntary sector, given recent ONS decisions, but we have a lot of people working in housing who used to be public sector and would think of themselves in that way, and a lot of processes and policies that have evolved from a public sector background, so this talk promises to be very relevant. 

Low Peck began by setting the scene for what it's like to live and work in Singapore, a city state with few natural resources but home to an economic miracle, punching very much above its weight. She talked about how the Singapore government worked with unions and businesses to build resilience and withstand the impact of the economic recession, and helped both to train workers and cover loss of productivity. This was an interesting dimension and one I can't imagine happening in the UK either at a governmental or organisational level. 

This helped by establishing a shared understanding of the problems they faced, and a shared vision of where they wanted to be. 

And with the biggest natural resource being their own population, which is declining, Singapore understands the need to invest in its people in lots of ways. Not just in training and development, but in encouraging them to increase the birth rate!

Now that's taking long term planning and state intervention to a whole new level. 

Low Peck talked about performance management transformation. She challenged whether the performance management processes in operation were delivering greater benefits for the individual and the organisation than the time and effort it took to administer such processes.

They weren't. So she stopped doing them and has created new processes. 

She had a number of other examples of similar challenges and drew heavily on her background of working in private sector technology companies such as HP and Agilent. Her focus was to move away from delivering efficiencies, to delivering effectiveness. 

There's a different focus from lots of the change initiatives I've seen, which have been efficiency focused. Not that these aren't good, but they have negative connotations sometimes and can only go so far before the law of diminishing returns begins to apply. So the focus on effectiveness seems more positive for all stakeholders. 

Low Peck continued by stressing the importance of building trust with your employees if you want them to contribute to transformational change and deliver effectiveness. It's probably true that change programmes focused on efficiencies won't have the same degree of employee trust. 

Towards the end of the presentation Low Peck covered what she felt the role of HR was in delivering transformational change. Her main points were:

- ensuring strong leadership
- building engagement amongst officers
- being professional and effective in their own HR services
- develop a future ready public service through partnership working, unleashing potential of workers

She ensured that the HR Directors don't report to her, they report to other operational directors. Her role is to professionalise HR only, and in doing so she relies on five pillars of success:

1. Building one trusted HR community. 
2. Uplifting the capabilities of HR people. 
3. Inspiring careers by building career develpment programmes in the public sector. 
4. Strengthen credibility by making HR fit and effective
5. Collaboration and cross learning by benchmarking and being best in class. 

She finished with a complicated slide on HR strategy that I simply can't type fast enough to translate and haven't got a camera good enough to focus on the small print!

I struggled with this session if I'm honest. Low Peck has clearly achieved a lot, more than I might ever aspire to, but there was a lot of content in here that detracted from the story and the key messages we needed to take away. I'd struggle to distil it into anything I could recount to others after the session, and wonder whether this was the best vehicle for Low Peck explaining her insights and main points. A magazine article in People Management could achieve a lot more. 


Till next time.


CIPD Conference Blog #6 of many

So Day Two arrives and I'm a bit tired. 

Blogging and tweeting for about ten hours non stop yesterday and then attending the CIPD Press Dinner and then not getting home till midnight made me a little fatigued. Waking up at 5am and not being able to sleep was perhaps always going to happen. 

Anyway, three coffees, two ibuprofen and one Lucozade later and I'm ready to blog. 

Although I am on the lookout for exhibitors with the massage people on their stand. I will visit those stands today. 

In fact, even if there are no massage people BUT the exhibitors themselves are willing to give me a quick shoulder massage then I will happily give them some publicity via this blog and Twitter. 

Yes, I'm THAT shallow. 

What yesterday taught me was how effective our new digital world now is, and watching the #cipd15 Twitter stream was incredible at many points. Attending a conference is now just as much about what happens digitally as what happens in person, and that's amazing. 

So it was a good choice for me to open up day two by attending Dave Coplin's session on outsmarting the digital deluge. He was talking about outsmarting technology and making the best of our relationship with it. 

He started by talking about how we let technology run our lives and to an extent ruin our lives. And from someone who works at Microsoft, that's a big statement. 

He suggested that we need to learn to cope with it all. 

Technique one, from Coplin, is skimming. Learning to quickly scan the deluge of information we get to get a broad understanding of it without going into detail. 

Technique two is snacking. Learning to be able to dip in when appropriate and not spend too much time consuming digital information. 

Technique three is multitasking. Learning to do other things as well as obtaining information digitally. 

The multitasking bit resonates. As I'm blogging this conference, I'm having to multitask. Write, listen, digest, and scan the environment (digitally and in real life). It's hard, but it can be done if you focus properly. But Coplin suggests that each time one gets distracted you lose 23 minutes on average. And how often does that happen per day?

Coplin went on to suggest that the more data we have, the better our decision making can be. But we need to know what data we want, how we will use it, and to be able to get it and focus on it. When you can do that, you can start to accurately predict the future. 

Our problem is that we will be faced with a potentially unmanageable sources of data in every aspect of our lives, but if we can manage that then we can make our lives so much better. 

Some of the scenarios that Coplin explained came straight out of Terminator, Star Trek or any sci fi show you'd care to mention. But the technology is there and he showed how we can use the technology to improve our performance. 

Again some sporting analogies came out here, echoes of Sir Clive Woodward yesterday in using technology and data to drive better decision making. But it's happening. 

I already live my life digitally and use my iPad to run many aspects of my life. I have a work colleague who does the same with his Apple Watch. And the pace of change is increasing. 

Coplin went on to talk about us making a simple choice though. Given what we are about to do, can technology help? If it can, great. If it can't, don't use it. You'll be able to navigate your way through the digital deluge and survive and succeed. 

How often do we subconsciously make that choice, and make the wrong one?

I'm guilty myself. Too often. 

He also talked about creating a culture of flexible working where workers can make a choice about where and when the most appropriate place and time is for them to complete the task in hand. That place and time may or may not be in the office between 9am and 5pm. 

Now I think I'm already doing OK on this one, but I come across a LOT of people who don't think in this way. 

Coplin finished by challenging us to use technology as a platform for success. I wonder though how many people use it as an anchor to prevent them being their very best?

Till next time. 


Wednesday, 4 November 2015

CIPD Conference Blog #5 of many

My final session of the first day is on the subject of Laughology.  Unleashing the power of happiness in the workplace...

Now as I've commented before, at work I have often and traditionally been a very serious person. I held to the belief that work was a serious place, and HR a serious profession, and I as a senior HR professional needed to uphold the seriousness of all this. 

After all, there was no room for the "outside work" Gary to be in the workplace. I couldn't be seen to be laughing, could I?

Recently I realised I was wrong, and my attitude was preventing me forming better relationships in the workplace. 

So when Stephanie Davies from Laughology introduced her session by outlining the case for humour and laughter in the workplace, I understood completely. 

Not that I'm the stand up comedian of my current workplace, or even that outside work I'm a laugh a minute man either. 

But I acknowledge there is a middle ground, and I'm currently trying to occupy it. 

It's about thinking and reacting differently in the workplace. 

To get people to think differently, Laughology encourage people to play at work, and to use their imagination to unlock the child like persona within them. The areas of the brain that control happiness need to be unlocked. 

Stephanie got us doing a number of exercises to help us to understand how to unlock those areas. And it's true. The exercises had us laughing sometimes in spite of ourselves and in spite of the lateness of the day and that we were all tired. They were fun. 

We laughed at each other and ourselves when we came out of our comfort zone and engaged with the activity. And it's true that laughter makes you feel happier, lighter, child like even. 

We don't do enough of it in the workplace. And I don't do enough of it per se. 

In the case study (INS), humour and laughter had been used to creat a new set of organisational values and to engage staff with a new culture.

And if you can help individuals, teams and organisations be happy, you'll make a big difference to performance. So I fully understand and embrace the Laughology principles. 

My eldest daughter, when just a toddler, asked me what I did at work. Ever tried explaining HR to an adult, let alone a three year old child?  I thought for a while and told her my job was to make people happy at work. She now thinks I do something with paints as painting is what makes her happy. 

I don't paint. 

But ultimately I, as an HR professional, do try to make people happy and if I can do that, they ought to perform.  

I also need to make myself happy, and I'm working on that. Watch this space. 

I've enjoyed Day One of #cipd15 and even though I'm tired, I'm looking forward to the evening activities before getting back here in the morning. 

Till next time. 


CIPD Conference Blog #4 of many

'After a ridiculously healthy lunch I tried to get around the Exhibition to pick up goodies, but never actually managed it due to running into numerous people and getting sidetracked. 

Now I'm sat listening to Sir Clive Woodward talk about the DNA of a Champion. I've admired Clive's work for a long time and have read his Leadership book a few times. 

Talent alone is not enough is the phrase he opened his speech with. Talent can only get you so far, and melding various talents together is the more difficult task. 

Clive shared his view of what else you need to make the most of talent. You need to study your craft and be interested in it, and you need to be a sponge in order to soak up new techniques and skills. 

I agree wholeheartedly with this and my development from couch potato to above average triathlete is based around those principles. I recognise I can only get better by showing an interest in being the best, and by watching and learning from others. And so that's why this year I've joined a triathlon club and started adapting my training regime after watching others who are better than me. 

In managing a team, Clive asserts that one needs to identify students and sponges and work with both. 

Clive showed us how he used technology and the emerging tech of things like Prozone, now commonplace in analysis on Monday Night Football with Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, to develop his team but develop the use of IT and use of data and analytics to look at performance within the England Rugby Team. 

Absolutely right, too. 

The sporting world is years ahead of the business world in its use of technology driven data to analyse its best performance. What is interesting though is how Clive really pushed for the front line staff (rugby players) to develop their own IT skills and analytical skills to review their own and others performance, as opposed to this being something the manager or coach did solo. 

In my own training and sport, I am all over the data I have about myself. I use it to improve what I do, to set myself targets and to motivate myself. I can't imagine training or performing without it. 

But how often do we see that in business?

Clive started using Prozone and similar tech to look at the game and performance in a different way, and sometimes began using it instead of looking at actual video footage. And then he broke down the whole of a game of rugby into just seven areas, and began capturing the knowledge of every person involved in the team in each of the seven areas. 

This is knowledge management at its most basic, but also being applied in an advanced way. If that makes sense. 

Clive showed how everyone could contribute to this and collaborate with each other using technology. But in a way it's the Wikipedia principle, downloading the knowledge of everyone and putting it in one place for all to see and use. Again, how often does this happen in business? Not as often as it should. 

But having the knowledge is one thing. Using it, as Know How, is another. Converting the knowledge into strategy and tactics is tricky, and often needs to be done under pressure. So the ability to use knowledge under pressure and to perform is critical. 

And Clive coaches this ability using the T-Cup principle. Thinking Correctly Under Pressure. It's common in sport, but not in business. 

Clive got individual players to come up in coaching sessions and talk about what they would do in a pressurised situation, then he expected them to do it for real. 

I've done this in my triathlon training. For example in the swim lots of things can go wrong, most commonly colliding with other swimmers and the risk of losing your breath and swallowing water etc. You can't practice for this as it's difficult to recreate, but you can think through what you would do in such a situation. So I plan for it and visualise it. What would I do if it happened? And then of course it DOES happen and you remember what you've told yourself. 

And it works. 

But we don't do this kind of visualisation and planning often in business. 

Clive finished by talking about attitude and having a passion for detail, showing how the margins of victory and success can be so narrow, that one needs to make the most of ones talent by having the right attitude, the right approach to learning, an awareness of technology and the benefits that data can bring, and a passion for using knowledge and working hard. 

Great teams are made up of great individuals, said Clive. But these individuals need to be able to work together and learn together. 

Food for thought. 

Till next time. 


CIPD Conference Blog #3 of many

One thing that's different this year is that I can't spend as much time stopping to chat to exhibitors as I'd like, or previously have. With only half an hour between conference sessions and the need to work on the lowest level of Maslows Hierarchy of Needs in that short space, exhibitors are losing out on my custom at the moment. 

I will try to put that right later. There looks to be some good stuff out there. 

Right now I'm in another conference session on using HR Business Partners to drive culture change. Helen Thevenot from Thomson Reuters spoke about how this had worked in her organisation. The key question she started with was "what more can I do to results?"

Now this, to me, seems like an obvious question to ask and I'm surprised more HRBPs aren't asking it of themselves or those they work with. 

But Helen explained this is related to their "mood elevator", and asking HRBPs how they have helped other people achieve THEIR goals and measuring them on both of these as well as their use of technology. 

So that's something to consider. How many HR staff appraisals focus on the achievement of personal goals, as opposed to the achievement of other people's goals? And how many HR staff appraisals look at the use of technology by those HR staff and the people they work with?

I guess the key thing to take away from Helen's talk was to challenge HRBPs to think differently, and to put other people's needs and goals ahead of their own. 

But I recently did some pay benchmarking of HRBP roles in the housing sector and the median salary was below £30k (but not much). I wonder if those roles are true BP roles and whether there's a mindset and skill shift required to allow those individuals, or others, to act as true BPs, and be remunerated as such. 

The other speaker in this session, Steve Foster, focused on what drives culture, is it created by processes or does it create processes? He gave examples from TfL about how levels of bureaucracy can stifle culture change, and sometimes it's hard to change the culture without rethinking the processes that allow the organisation to work. He spoke about the need to have a change framework - any will do - and stick to it. 

That's a good point because I've seen lots of change programmes fail because there isn't an underlying change framework or perhaps several competing ones, and because whilst everyone signs up to the new vision and wants to change, the organisational history, legacies, artefacts and processes don't allow the true culture change to happen. 

There's no point wanting to be fast acting, fast thinking and flexible if any change needs multiple layers of signoff and a protracted negotiation and consultation phase. The two don't mix. 

Foster asked three key questions to help you introduce successful change. Firstly who is key to success and able to influence? Secondly where is being a change agent on your priority list? And thirdly how can you develop teams and not just individuals? Focusing on these can embed change. 

I'd agree with this, it makes a lot of sense and backs up my own experiences of delivering large scale change, something I'll explore further in a future blog. 

He finished by asking people involved in change to think emotionally and not rationally. Now that's a new concept and something that lots of senior leaders don't think through fully sometimes. I'm a highly emotional person, my MBTI score and TMSDI profile say so. I make decisions based on gut feel and look for evidence to back it up later, rather than the other way around. I'm not suggesting I've got it right, but I think that considering emotional factors is a crucial thing in change programmes and it's not just about having a rational, logical reason for change. Sometimes people want to react and think emotionally. 

And now it's lunchtime. It's been a good morning, focusing on change and mental health. Let's see what the afternoon brings.

I need to stock up on free goodies from the exhibition. I didn't bring this big bag to take it home empty. 

Till next time. 


CIPD Conference Blog #2 of many

The first session I've been to today has seen Professor Sir Cary Cooper talking about mental wellbeing and health.

There's a lot that he covered and I can't type quick enough but here are some things that resonated with me.

He talked a lot about presenteeism and what is causing the rise of it across the UK. A large and growing group of people now attend work without being well enough to do so, and this is as big an issue as those who take time off because they aren't well.

Sometimes these people are coming in to work because they are engaged and want to be there, but sometimes it's fear of taking time off. And yet we all know someone who is there in body but not in spirit, and who seemingly does little or no productive work on a regular basis. Cooper suggests that this group accounts for as much as 28% of the workforce. 

What % is it in your workplace?

He also covered the factors that can make people unwell in the workplace. Aside from the expected and usual ones like long working hours, and poor line management relationships, he included the "Americanisation" of workplaces, not taking your full holiday entitlement and inappropriate work/life balance. 

On annual leave, Cooper suggested that people are working such long hours in general that they are having to take and use their annual leave to do things that are routine and ordinary family and non work stuff that they would normally do in non working time, and therefore missing out on the relaxation that annual leave is meant to bring. 

I'd not looked at annual leave in this way but equally am guilty of doing that myself. I took two days off last year to work on my garden, and so did my partner. That was because we didn't have time to do the garden in the evenings or at the weekends because one or both of us had some work commitments that were eating into those times. 

Does this happen in your workplace?

On wellbeing initiatives Cooper talked at how effective some interventions can be in reducing absence, for example EAP schemes. I've recently discussed whether it's right or cost effective for an organisation to have an EAP scheme and concluded that yes it is, but Cooper is right to point out that whilst such interventions will have an impact on some individual cases, and be enormously helpful to those people, the interventions themselves are usually dealing with the symptoms of absence and poor health rather than dealing with the causes. In short, they don't change the culture. 

An interesting point. 

I've blogged on another of Coopers themes of ignoring or switching off work emails in non working time to make that distinction clearer, and it was telling that many people in the audience understood the need to do this, but as the straw poll showed, can't do this themselves. 

Even now I struggle to leave work behind in the evening and at weekends, although annual leave days are different, but at least I've made a start. 

Cooper closed by quoting Dilbert, and Robert Kennedy. But so many of the gems of wisdom in this session came from Cooper himself, making so many salient and interesting points about wellbeing. 

A brilliant opening speech at #cipd15 from Professor Sir Cary Cooper. 

Till next time.


CIPD Conference Blog #1 of many

So here I am at the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition (ACE). And this year I'm part of the Blogsquad. 

That means you'll be seeing more blogs from me this next few days than usual. You don't have to read them, but if you do then fantastic. 

I've been looking forward to this and had trouble sleeping last night because I was a little bit excited*


The train journey was packed and I was eagerly looking round to spot fellow #cipd15 attendees. But how does one spot a fellow HR professional, without the help of a conference badge?

It proved too difficult, and I was making some people distinctly uneasy with my staring, so I had to stop. 

And I arrived in the Press Office to meet my fellow Blogsquadders, feeling a little bit nervous about what was expected from me over the next few days. 

My badge actually says Blogsquad, which is making me a bit giddy. I can see exhibitors clocking this as I walk through the exhibition hall and drawing some kind of conclusion about me base on that. Quite what conclusion, I'm not sure. 

I've picked the sessions I want to attend and am prioritising the conference sessions over the free exhibition sessions, even though those free sessions have been my lifeblood at previous ACEs. My ability to wander the exhibition hall and network is also diminished this year. But the learning I get from the sessions I attend will be enormous, both in my current role and any future work I do. 

I'll blog when I feel I can. Speed blogging is not necessarily my thing, I like to review, edit and polish my blogs once I've written them and this week I'm having to do it fast. 

It's a learning curve. 

I may even have to abandon spell checking, so apologies in advance. 

If you see me wandering round the exhibition or conference, do stop me to say hello and maybe we can grab a selfie that might make it into a later blog or a tweet.

Right now Peter Cheese is opening the conference by highlighting major trends that are changing the world of work, setting things up nicely for Professor Sir Cary Cooper to follow on.

Peter is talking about how HR needs to respond to the challenges posed by the different working environment, and at the same time build a credible profession for the future based around ethics and values, and less around rules and policies. He's mentioned the uphill battle we all face to make our profession noteworthy and credible compared to other more established professions like finance. 

Maybe a start point is to stop HR professionals hiding themselves away on trains on the way to their annual conference.

Till next time...later today probably.