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...