Wednesday, 21 December 2016

HR lessons from...The Tiger Who Came To Tea

Recently I've been reading The Tiger Who Came To Tea every evening before bed to my youngest daughter. It strikes me that this tome may masquerade as a childrens book but, beneath the childish facade, there lies many serious messages for HR and our role in making organisations better places to work.

Here's my analysis.

This book is a searing commentary on cultural deficiencies, process inefficiencies and gender inequality in the workplace, and also the dangers on getting the wrong person into your organisation via a recruitment process gone awry.

It starts with Sophie and her Mummy receiving an unexpected guest at their house, and wondering who it could be.  This is teaching us to be ready for the unexpected and basically the importance of business continuity planning, as you never know what challenges your business might face, especially when Daddy isn't at home.
It then describes how they invite this random stranger into their house with little regard for their own personal safety, or hygiene in the workplace - its telling us how organisations often onboard people without really doing background checks and assessing suitability, so its a lesson to get these things right first.
 Then, to Sophie and her Mummy's horror, the tiger proceeds to eat them out of house and home, basically taking the piss out of their whole approach to inducting new staff and running roughshod over their attempts to slowly integrate this new starter into their culture.
Here, then, is an important lesson on assessing cultural fit during the selection process and making sure expectations and behaviours are made clear during the important induction process.
Its also a lesson on how to handle addictions in the workplace, because the tiger is seen to be addicted to alcohol and other drinks, and this behaviour is encouraged by Sophie stroking him when he does this - does your organisation subtly encourage and reinforce drinking alcohol in the workplace at Xmas time?  Is this considered gross misconduct?  Do you help people to manage any addictive behaviour they display?
 And then the tiger leaves, effectively resigning his position in the workplace, and leaves without serving his notice period and leaving a trail of disruption and destruction in his wake. When YOUR employees leave, how is that exit process managed?  Its important to get it right.
Finally, the boss returns (and the boss here is male, wrongly reinforcing gender stereotypes in the workplace, as it is assumed the females are incapable of resolving the situation and require the male to give them instructions on how to problem solve) and helpfully suggests that the answer to their problem is to outsource food production to a local cafe.  Have you explored outsourcing as a way of managing your flexible workforce?
The book ends by showing Sophie and her Mummy learning their lesson about not planning ahead, and beginning to work on their business continuity plan and have things in place for if the tiger should come to tea again.  This is very good advice.
But he never did.

And there ends the lesson.

Basically, get the basics of HR right and you can't go wrong.

Till next time...


PS Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Independence Day

I've been reflecting on a decent number of my connections leaving the corporate world and setting up as self employed, and I've been wondering whether there's some pattern emerging.

So this blog is me trying to make sense of this, and "thinking/working out loud".

I've noticed a good number of my connections going independent. Very recently, at least three or four have all made this leap, for their own different and very valid reasons. Earlier this year one or two did the same, and so did a couple of colleagues who left my last employer around the same time I did.

I wish the very very best to all who do this, and part of me is slightly jealous as I almost went self employed this time last year, getting as far as setting up my own business and beginning to build my portfolio of activities over a long lead in period before reversing course when I got an unexpected job offer. But I was within a couple of months of doing it. I don't know if I will in the future, at the moment I'm still happily employed and with things I want to achieve in employment too. 

I've mentioned a few Twitter-based connections who have gone self employed, but it's not a new phenomenon. In fact I belong to a networking group of L&D practitioners who have met informally for at least 15 years (how long I've been in the group, but it probably started much earlier than that) - and I remember how back in 2001/2002 most, almost all in fact, of the group were in employed positions but now, as we enter 2017, I'll be one of only two who are in employed positions. The rest have, one by one, gone self employed. Maybe that was an influence on me. 

Of course, I've had a little bit of self employment for over ten years, working occasional/regular evenings delivering CIPD (and other) qualifications for a variety of providers, but now and again fitting in freelance work on a range of HR issues or training on behalf of organisations. But this is only part time work although I do get a lot of enjoyment from it.

I do wonder though whether these things could be enough to sustain a full time equivalent income, and this was part of my reasoning for doing my 180 last year, although I was doing well in building up these income streams and adding more.

I also had an insightful but brief chat with one self employed person who really challenged me about whether I was ready to go self employed last year. They said that there are plenty of people who seem like they're having really successful self employed careers and really promote themselves well, but in reality they're struggling and it was a crowded market.

And this does seem to ring true with some people I've seen now winding up their self employed businesses and going back into employment. I've seen three or maybe four people do this in the last year, almost as many as I've seen go the other way.

But I wondered as well whether there's something about life stage and career stage that prompts some of this. For example I'd just turned 40 when I had my self employed vision clearly, and many years ago I remember two well known L&D consultants telling me they had a similar view at that age and went self employed. And many of the networking group I mentioned were of a similar age when they went self employed.

I'm not sure. But maybe it is career experience related. I've heard some people say they've had enough corporate experience (some called this corporate BS) and want to work for themselves. 

I think this says a few things. One, that there comes a point when your employed experience is optimised enough to get enough momentum behind your "run" that you can "fly". Two, that there also comes a point where one tires of being in an organisation - in HR, we often know instinctively what makes a great workplace and, if we can't work as an employee in one and shape it, we may get frustrated and go and set up our own. And Three, there comes a point where you realise what you're really great at, and want to do more of that and less of other things, and going self employed is the best way to achieve it.

And maybe Four, when you're around the age of 40, your financial situation makes it an easier thing to contemplate. Although in my case when I was contemplating it I had just moved house and took out a new mortgage, got engaged and had a third child so I was perhaps stacking the deck against myself there.

So it's no wonder I'm not contemplating self employment any more. Based on those four things, I'm not there. On one, I've got a lot more to offer my current and any potential future employer and there's things I want to achieve whilst employed there yet. On two, I was definitely there last year, frustrated at not having a voice or influence any more and needing to shape things again, but I've got those back now at my current place so it's different again. On three, I'm halfway there maybe, as I know I'd STILL make a really awesome WWE wrestler just as much and maybe more than anything else I could do, but I'm also pretty good at my HR stuff too and getting better so if it ain't broke, why fix it? And on four, nothing's changed for me.

So what does this mean for the people who have gone self employed, either this year or previously?  Well, they've been able to satisfy themselves with answers to each point and they're making a go of it. And all power to them. I hope they all make it work.

And maybe those who've gone back the other way found not that they'd failed in any way, but that their answers to the points had changed and they needed to return to employment to achieve something different. And again, all power to them and I hope they make it work too.

I say find something you're awesome at, and do it. If that's self employment, or employment, it doesn't matter. Only the awesomeness matters. 

Till next time.


PS in other news, our holiday saga is over. We gave in and compromised on a regular family holiday, again possibly our last one as a complete family. We've booked a week in Turkey in August but hope to supplement this with a couple of short breaks here and there. My favourite place to look at for a short break at the moment is Switzerland or Austria, can anyone recommend either place?

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

#cipdace16 - Reflections...

This time last week I was at #cipdACE16 covering the event as part of the Blogsquad. And my, how quickly a week has gone.

Now that a week HAS passed though, its given me time to reflect on what was a superb event and learning experience.

The event, as mentioned, was superb. Each year the Annual Conference and Exhibition seems to surpass itself and deliver something unique and special, and this year was no exception.

The choice of keynote speakers and the choice of conference session speakers was very good, with my only complaint being that it was genuinely very difficult to choose which session to go to as often, with four options, at least three were things I really wanted to go to. I don’t know if its possible to do anything about this but I had a feeling that I missed out on as much as I got to.

The exhibition was lively this year and the use of space continues to improve. I like the informal networking area at the end which works very well. The free sessions all seemed well-attended but because I was in the Conference itself it made it impossible to get to any of these, and I did want to. Again I’m not sure what can be done but perhaps the sequencing and overlaps could be looked at.

I was disappointed by the lack of engagement by many of the exhibitors, who had presumably paid a lot of money to exhibit. As already pointed-out in THIS POST by Inji Duducu and in the comments on that post by Gemma Dale, most of the exhibitors were not active on social media and missed a trick in terms of sales and overall engagement with attendees. Hardly any really tried to sell me anything (not that that’s easy) and many had no interest in me once they saw my Blogsquad/Press badge, which was a shame because I could have done stuff for/with them.

And the swag haul was a bit same-y too – pens, chocolates, stress toys. Where were the standout offerings to get people to come along? Its more than just a box of Celebrations surely?

There were a LOT more fringe and social activities this year and that was a very good thing, and some took place the night before avoiding EVERYTHING happening on the Wednesday night, but even then there were far too many things happening at the same time on the Wednesday evening and it was impossible to get to more than 1 or 2 of them. Again, sequencing and overlap could be looked at to enable people to make the most of the social aspect of the Conference. Those that I did go to, and those that other people told me about, really seemed to go down well.

To be honest though I’ve lost track of the number of conferences where delegates have told me they get as much from the breaks as they do from the conference sessions, and this was also true at #cipdACE16. A slight criticism is that there weren’t enough long breaks to really get around the exhibition inbetween conference sessions, attend some of the free learning sessions, grab a drink, nip to the toilet, check your phone and do all of those things before heading back into the conference. Not to mention actually talking to people you want to talk to (and exhibitors). From a timings perspective I wonder whether its worth looking at the conference going back to THREE days again like it used to – that way things could be more spread out and you’d not feel like you were sacrificing one thing to get to another all the time. If that’s not possible, I’d look to extend the two days – no reason why the Exhibition couldn’t open at 08.30 and close at 17.30 both days, giving a clear hour either side of the conference to get stuff done.

Manchester itself remains a top location, and the event is really starting to grow into Manchester after 7 years there. This year it felt like we had almost taken over the city in the same way we used to pretty much rule Harrogate back in the day. It gave the whole experience a really nice feel (helped by the Xmas markets starting too).

I enjoyed being part of the Blogsquad again and feel lucky to have been asked. It gives me a very different perspective on the event that few get to experience, and enables me to share my own learning to a wider audience aswell as promote the event.

I enjoy blogging (yes, really) and particularly live blogging from events because it’s the best way for me to ensure the learning is recorded and sinks in.

I also managed to put out 120 tweets of my own across the 2 days along with numerous retweets, and this year added Instagram into my social media output. I ALMOST got Periscope up and running but a medical emergency in one session as I was about to go live distracted me, and I never got chance again.

But, by crikey, being part of the Blogsquad is tiring – with very long days and constantly being “on” even late into the evening. I am not sure I’ve recovered since, although my 2 year old daughter is not one to let me rest or recuperate.

From a personal perspective I learnt loads, as you can see from my blogs, which to be honest only capture perhaps half of what I will take away from the event:

Blog 1 – covering Peter Cheese’s introduction and Margaret Heffernans’ keynote KN1 speech

Blog 2 – covering Steve Head and Matt King’s motivation speeches A1

Blog 3 – covering Neil Morrison, Sukh Pabial and Claire Thomas on recruitment rebooting B2 and a Panel Debate on the Future of Work C4

Blog 4 – covering Lynne Weedall and Valerie Hughes-D’Aeths’ speeches on organisational transformation D3

Blog 5 – covering CJ Green and Amanda Oates’ speeches on rethinking performance management E3

Blog 6 – covering Gianluca Petriglieri’s keynote KN2 speech (partly)

I met so many nice people, many of whom I’d met before, and many of whom I hadn’t seen for ages or was meeting for the first time. In particular it was nice to put a face to the name that is Mark Hendy, to finally meet my mentee Lisa Snell in person, and to spend time chatting with Rachel White, who I’ve known on a personal level for many years but never bumped into at an HR event before. All the rest of the Blogsquad were superb company and did a great job throughout the two days, and the staff at CIPD events/comms were both hard working and very friendly too – thanks to them for getting me involved.

I also enjoyed catching up with, separately, no less than five people who have worked for me in a previous organisation. It was genuinely nice to see them still progressing their HR careers and to see how they are doing now that we no longer work together.

I’ll end by telling you about my most bizarre experience of #cipdACE16, which still doesn’t rival being chatted up by a CIPD Researcher on their stand about 5 years ago, but is still bizarre.

I was in one of the conference sessions and sat on a table with a group of 7-8 others. The woman next to me glanced at my badge partway through, and I later noticed her tapping away on her iPad. I figured at the time that she noticed I was part of the Blogsquad and was looking up my Twitter feed, so I was pleased.

At the end of the session she turned to me and apologised for staring at my badge but explained that she recognised my name and thought she knew me. She further went on to say that she did indeed know a Gary Cookson, and was friends with said person on Facebook, but having looked at their profile during the session and then looked back at me, she realised we looked COMPLETELY different (eg he had hair) and therefore I was not the person she knew.

And not once did she say she knew me from Twitter, or this blog.

I wasn’t sure what to say and said as much. At that, she smiled and left.

Till next time…


PS in other news, we’re approaching a point in our house where we’ve been there just over 2 years and it needs a fair bit of work doing to it. We have a choice whether to do this and commit to staying there for the long-term, or move. It’s a tough choice!

Thursday, 10 November 2016

#cipdace16 blog 6 - KN2

And here we are in the final keynote speech. I shamelessly ducked out of the penultimate session so that I could spend enough time giving attention to the Exhibition, both talking to suppliers and filling my swag bag. I also spent time talking to old and new contacts and had a blast. 

But boy am I tired now. 

And no one was giving neck and shoulder massages. Time was when you could get 3/4 in one afternoon at this conference. Now there's none. 

Bad times. 

In general though the Exhibition had a good vibe about it this year. There was a lot of variety in providers and not so many pushy ones as last year, with many being happy to chat in general terms without necessarily trying to sell. The breakout spaces around the hall were well used and there was a nice, relaxed atmosphere. 

I wonder though when suppliers will start to realise that pens are not a good, modern gift. I hardly use one nowadays. And when they'll find a more modern way of entering their prize draws than leaving a business card? I've not had a business card for six or seven years as social media and other electronic media have passed them by. 

So I'm in the keynote from Gianluca Petriglieri who came with a huge reputation and didn't disappoint. 

His talk was about competence not being enough, and that's something that has been a bit of a theme in sessions I've attended. He also mirrored some themes explored by Peter Cheese in the opening speech yesterday about a lack of trust in the workplace too. 

He asked us to discuss a time when we were well led. Both Ian Pettigrew and I, when discussing this, talked about people we used to work for who were good leaders but who we only came to fully appreciate after they or we had moved on, when someone less good took over and we experienced poorer leadership styles. 

Gianpiero asked us all how we knew we were being well led and some of the audience struggled to answer this. I know I did. I suppose I didn't know at the time what a good leader they were, but having experienced others since I now know how good that person was. And I do struggle to really define what he did that was different. 

His point was that we struggle to really know whether leadership exists, in the same way we can't say for certain that love exists. 

Someone pointed out that they do exist in how they make us feel and act, even though they are not tangible things. Gianpiero agreed with that, and added that you see it (both leadership and love) when someone does something to benefit you without any obvious gain for themselves. 

He said that leadership is a cocktail of skills that get another person to do something that they wouldn't do of their own volition. Therefore leadership is the exercise of influence. 

At this point I needed to run for a train but I was enjoying this speech and would encourage you to catch up with the rest of it via Ian Pettigrew's blog and storify. 

I'll do a summary blog post on #cipdace16 in a few days time when I've had chance to reflect properly, but right now I'm shattered and missing my family. 

Till next time...


#cipdace16 blog 5 - session E3

I've finally been round the Exhibition, or at least two thirds of it. My bag is steadily filling up with swag, so my family may be happier tonight when I get back. 

And now I'm in session E3 about rethinking performance management, something I'm currently giving a lot of thought to in my day job. 

CJ Green from Servest opened up, highlighting their huge growth over the last seven years, with rapid change. When she came into Servest she had an efficient appraisal process but it was cumbersome at times and her success was measured on how many appraisals she could get done. 

She asserted, and I agree, that it's the quality of the conversation that matters, not the process. In her review of the appraisal process with a mixed group of staff, trying to move to a more continuous improvement culture, there was a split room and no consensus amongst them. 

She noted that much of her desire for replacing the appraisal process with something else was her own view that she disliked appraisals and wanted something else, irrespective of anyone else's preferences, so this was a wake up call for her. 

I think I'm guilty of this too. 

She talked about people being uncomfortable with the removal of the appraisal process, but if that's people's belief then let them keep it as long as they can show the performance data that highlights their performance management processes Inc appraisals are working. 

This is a good idea. But it's also about relinquishing control and trusting managers to manage performance in a way that works. There are worries that managers may do nothing, but they found that this worry was unfounded. If you have adult-adult conversations then people will work out a process that works for them, it doesn't need to be driven by HR. 

Amanda Oates from Merseycare NHS Foundation Trust then took over. She explained some of the cultural and service delivery challenges that the trust faces. All the trusts main challenges were workforce related, and required organisational transformation beyond a mere restructure. 

Much of her barriers stemmed from within the HR team, in that the systems didn't help, the skills weren't right, the reputation was poor, data was non existent and more. And she used these as themes to redevelop the HR function and by extension the organisation. 

This talk was very good and I haven't been able to capture all the detail of it. Amanda did ensure that what she did had a direct link to service improvement and listed a fair list of HR and organisational measures that improved as a result of her retooling of the HR functions. 

My main observation though was that the two talks didn't really fit with each other. Both talks were very good and probably deserved a longer session each, but this session had the feel of two talks bolted together without a great deal of thought. 

But right now, my thoughts are turning to lunch, and a full wander round the Exhibition. 

Till next time...


#cipdace16 blog 4 - session D3

Here we go again. Day two of #cipdace16

Last night was good, although there were perhaps too many things all happening at the same time which spread me pretty thinly. 

I also live too close to Manchester to justify staying over so I got the train home, only to find it diverted because of a fallen tree, so I got home very late. Daughter then decided to get up minutes after I fell asleep, and two further times in the night before getting up just five minutes before my early start alarm. 

So I'm knackered and about as much use as an out of date chicken goujon (see Inji, I did it). 

My first session today is D3 about organisational transformation, headed by Lynne Weedall and Valerie Hughes D'Aeth, both of whom I've heard speak separately before so it was interesting to see them interact with each other. 

Lynne was integration lead in the Dixons/Carphone merger and talked about the need to recognise emotion in any change process. I've been through an M&A process in recent years and will be going through another in the near future so it's a topic I've reflected a lot on and I can understand the emotion involved in the process. 

Lots of merger type processes involve loss, and so people go through the usual cycle of reactions to any loss. People willl struggle to let go of issues and emotions whilst they are still dealing with their loss and organisations often fail to address this. 

I suffered and saw a lot of loss in my most recent merger type experience and I struggled to let it go, and it wasn't helpful that there were multiple losses and I was expected, and told to, just get on with it and somehow expected to be an ambassador and advocate for the new organisation despite all that loss and emotion. It's hard. I couldn't do it. 

Lynne then talked a lot about the comparisons between mergers and marriages. I've written and spoken a lot about this and it was nice to see some of my own ideas coming out on stage, reassuring that some of the big hitters in HR think the same as me!

She talked about the need to do cultural due diligence before the merger, and build change capability by looking at culture and looking at desired post merger culture before the merger happens. Let frontline staff work together delivering services rather than sending them on change and transformation workshops. 

Lynne finished by saying that whatever your role in a merger or integration you will learn from it, emerge stronger and with greater skills. This is very true and apt for my own situation. Whilst I enjoyed the pre integration stuff and was totally on board with everything, something happened at the point of merger and switched me off completely so that the trust was gone and I hated my post merger experience, but what I can't deny is that I emerged stronger and with a greater skill set and range of knowledge that has served me well since and will do in the future. 

What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger, quoted Lynne from Victoria Beckham of all people. 

Valerie, from the BBC, then took over, looking at the transformation that has taken place to develop a leaner BBC. She outlined the challenges facing the BBC from a financial and service delivery perspective, which are vast. 

She set out some organisational design principles that have helped them transform. In an organisation of 21,000 people they have only 7 layers of management and a maximum span of control of 1:10. I wonder how many organisational restructures begin with and hold true to these kinds of design principles?

The BBC also did a professional services review with the aim of minimising back office services, which is something many public sector organisations have had to do, and they had an aim of reducing spend on back office services from 10% to 6%, which considering the BBCs budget is a big reduction in spend. 

She talked about the need to manage stakeholders, both internal and external, in managing change and transformation. The BBC have a range of mechanisms to help them handle this, which were sensible options covering a range of media and channels. 

Interestingly, Valerie talked about the HR transformation that was part of the wider change. More areas came into HR such as internal Comms and apprenticeships. The HR budget had to reduce by £60m and also the entire team had to move from West London to Birmingham. 

And 60% of the team left and were replaced by new HR staff, which is a very high percentage and suggests that some of the change either wasn't understood by the original HR team or impacted them too negatively. I think this is inevitable and doesn't mean the change is wrong, but it needs careful handling to ensure people are bought in and, if they're not, that they know that that's ok and they can opt out and leave the organisation with their heads held high. 

That wasn't always the case in my own personal experience but it's good advice nonetheless. 

This was an interesting talk about lessons learnt from organisational transformation and it would be interesting to learn more about the detail involved. 

Coffee beckons. 

Till next time...


Wednesday, 9 November 2016

#cipdace16 blog 3 - sessions B2 and C4

Lunch came and went in a blur and I've not managed to get round the Exhibition yet except to one or two stands. I had fun doing the quiz and some filming on the DPG stand, and looked enviously at some cupcakes on other stands that I will seek out later if I get chance. 

I'm now in session B2 with HR superstar Neil Morrison and one of my fellow Blogsquad Members from last year, Claire Thomas. They talked about how they had reimagined the recruitment experience at Penguin Random House. 

I liked the ideas expressed here. Neil's take on it was to imagine the experience as akin to a customer experience in a retail transaction, and just as companies seek to retain customers through engaging with them through the purchasing process, so companies should seek to retain talent by engaging with them through the recruitment process. 

They asked us What if...we could each reimagine our own recruitment processes. Discussion on my table started off by someone suggesting scrapping the face to face interview and replacing it with realistic job simulations. There seemed to be consensus that there is something wrong with the interview process. So why do so many organisations hold dearly to it?

Another discussion centred around whether knowledge based or behaviourally based interview questions work best. Most organisations seemed to be having a mix of these despite an acknowledgement that there is little insight gained from knowledge based questions. 

My recent experience has seen some appointed candidates withdraw post offer but pre start, often when they are in for a day finding out a bit more about the job in readiness for their imminent start. I am wondering what happens at that point that we couldn't show them during the selection phase? Withdrawing from a process is fine if you don't think a job is for you, but doing so post offer is frustrating for any employer. 

Ultimately many organisations simply don't look at the recruitment process from the perspective of the candidate, and they should. The candidate is "buying" the organisation as much as the organisation is "buying" the candidate, so both sides need that opportunity to fully disclose what each will bring to the dance. Lots of organisations on my table discussions seemed to agree with this but were struggling with how to do it and how to resource it adequately. 

I loved the concept of a soft microphone thrown around the room to facilitate open discussion here. 

After a manic break and sugar intake I'm in session C4 debating the future of work via a panel debate. I haven't managed to get round even 20% of the Exhibition and my swag haul is almost non existent, something I have to work on tomorrow. 

Richard McKinnon started us off with an insight into how, even if the world and its technology changes around us, the psychology of human beings doesn't and we need to continue to be sceptical, continue to be awkward and continue to ask lots of questions. I'm fairly certain my three children have this down to a fine art. 

The second speaker, Valerie Todd, said we need to use technology to break down barriers to inclusion and engagement in workplaces, not sue technology to erect or reinforce barriers. 

The third speaker, Neil Carberry, drew on historical examples for us to learn from but set us challenges on how to deal with increased automation. We've been through this before, historically. He suggested we need to get close to the leaders of our businesses so that we can influence the change. We need to reclaim technology and ensure it enables people not shuts them down. And we need to constantly work on trust in the workplace, something reinforced by recent referendum and election results. 

The fourth speaker, Laura Harrison, talked about the need to ensure the capabilities of HR professionals are up to speed with what's facing us. It's not so much about working with people's skills and knowledge, but instead working with people's hearts and minds. We need people to bring their whole self into work and engage with what we are doing. She advocated HR going back to its roots in terms of finding a place for people in organisations whilst the world changes. Think about the ways in which we can create environments and cultures of innovation and collaboration. 

Jo Swinson then chaired a discussion about the key themes explored here. The panel discussed how HR needs to adapt in the future, and the speakers talked about helping people to interact with and use technology. A lot of focus was about how HR can deal with increased automation and use of drones, and that's something I may blog separately on in the future because I wonder whether we worry because it's new for us, and our children aren't worried at all. 

It's the end of a long conference day for me and blogging can be draining. I am now in need of a Lucozade before heading out to some of the social events this evening. If you see me looking drained tonight, come and say hello and I promise I'll liven up. 

More blogs and social media output to follow from me tomorrow. 

Till next time...


#cipdace16 blog 2 - session A1

After an all too quick networking coffee break and catching up with people I've not seen for ages, I'm back in a session, this time A1 and unlocking performance. 

Steve Head was talking about making the 1% performance difference. This is similar to the concept of marginal gains as espoused by Matthew Syed and Clive Woodward last year and its because of my personal and professional interest in this concept and it's links to sports and coaching that I went to those and this session. 

Steve talked about why coaching gives him energy, and I agree. It's about helping people to improve themselves. He showed a slide with some equations and one was wrong. He didn't point this out but asked people to give feedback on the slide, and lots of people pointed out the error rather than pointing out that 3/4 of the equations were right. His point was that we need to focus on the good stuff. You need to notice the bad stuff and do something about it, but focus on the good stuff. People who focus on the bad stuff are mood hoovers. 

To be honest I found this talk hard to blog because he was so fast and funny and it was hard to keep up. 

He gave us all a challenge called the Four Minute Rule. For the first four minutes of being with someone each day, whether at home or at work, you're not allowed to say or do anything negative or critical. This builds the habit of focusing on the good stuff, and builds engagement. 

Can you manage this?

Steve talked about The Curse of the Strong. Essentially talking about mental breakdowns, and how it is often the strong people who break down, not those who are generally weaker. He says there are some things that predispose people to mental stresses, and he listed nine things that I couldn't capture whilst typing, but they were pretty general statements that most people could recognise in themselves. He recommended creating your own Gob (Glimpse Of Brilliance) File where you collate all the compliments you gather for anything you do. I used to do this and called it my Trumpet File, and it was great to every now and again flick through it, and it was a massive boost to my confidence, ego and overall mental wellbeing. 

I'm not sure why I stopped, but it was never hard to keep going. 

I may restart this. 

Steve's talk was helpful in sharing some easy to do tips and techniques to improve the culture of performance and success.

He then introduced Matt King OBE. 

Matt shared his own story, starting with a horrific rugby accident in 2004 which broke his neck and left him paraplegic. His story was heartbreaking and I can't imagine how he must have felt in his own mind, but his descriptions were powerful and emotional. 

This too was hard to cover because of the power of the talk and because of an unfortunate incident where an audience member fainted and this distracted people. 

But Matt talked about identifying what your Everest is. For him it was getting his life back and he knew, just like climbing Everest, that it could not be achieved in one go or in the short term. He encouraged each one of us to identify what our personal Everest was, and to break it down into small, manageable, daily goals. 

Matt's journey was inspirational. He showed unlimited drive and determination and it was truly humbling to listen to his story. He linked back to Steve's opening speech and the 149 effect. Focus on the good things - his drive and desire, his support network and the parts of him (his brain) that were still working, rather than the bad stuff and the things that were broken. 


Apologies for the poor quality of this blog because the talks were so good I got pulled into the emotion in the room. 

Till next time...


#cipdace16 blog 1

So here we go again. First blog from #cipdace16. I'm lucky and pleased to be part of the Blogsquad again which is a great honour but also a very tiring one. Blogging, tweeting and frequently posting on other social media all day long, coupled with an early start, lots of networking and a late finish due to the press dinner and other social activities mean I'll be absolutely knackered later and probably grumpy tomorrow. 


I'm here both days and intend summarising my views on most of the sessions I get to along with other conference and exhibition happenings. Im also likely to be lurking around the Press Office and through the Exhibition regularly so if you see me, stop me and say hello. 

I'll also be tweeting, posting on Instagram and maybe even doing face swaps on Snapchat.

I'll also repeat my bargain from last year (unsuccessful I may add) that if any exhibitors will offer me a neck and shoulder massage (either from a qualified therapist or not, I'm not fussy) then I will frequent your stand and promote it heavily via said social media outlets.

I have NO shame. 

To the conference itself. 

Opening speech is Peter Cheese as usual. 

Peter started off by referencing the US election results and comparing the impact to that felt after the Brexit vote. His take on this is that we are not all in the same place, and not everyone's voice is being heard, and that gives us new challenges but also new opportunities in the future world of work.


Peter talked about the future of work needing to be good for people, and the challenges posed by all of the world changing around us, making it difficult to achieve our goals.


Peter asserted that the future of work is about fairness, opportunity and transparency. It's about productivity and skills, about diversity and inclusion, and about wellbeing and engagement. He's right, and he's also right that HR and the CIPD have a key role to play in shaping these agendas.


He talked about how the HR profession is evolving and how it needs to further evolve, topics I have very recently blogged on. He says we have to become experts on people and organisational behaviour, and stay strong to our principles and professional identity.


He then handed over to Margaret Heffernan for her keynote opening speech.


Margaret's talk covered some of the same ground on the future of work. Her opening analogy on productivity was interesting in that it drew on a lot of evolutionary theory, citing Darwin that it's not survival of the strongest or fittest, it's survival of the most adaptable. She claimed that many people have this theory the other way around but I'm not sure they do. She's making a good point though that the key to survival and productivity has been with us for a long long time.


She talked about teams being successful, where the most successful teams get the best from each team member and are well balanced in terms of gender. She noted that research showed that the better teams have more women in them.


She also noted that organisations and teams across the world excel when their team members display helpful behaviours and are helpful to other people in the team.


Does your team and its members display this trait? Can you measure it? If so, how?


Much of the trait of helpfulness made me think of the oft referred to term of Personal Learning Networks (PLN) - in essence a very loose team but I find my own PLN exceptionally helpful and am pleased to be helpful in return. I'd characterise my PLN as exceptionally successful in achieving my own learning goals, but much of this is based on my ability to select it's members and to quietly dispose of them if I don't find them helpful.


Of course, as a manager I have this power, but it's not as easy as that, particularly if you're one senior leader amongst many and the team in question is that senior team you are part of.


Heffernan talked about nodes, people in organisations who know everyone and everything. I call these people hubs in my own thinking, but she talked about maximising the potential of these hubs or nodes and has found that by encouraging these people to take regular coffee and networking breaks raises the productivity of both the hub person and those they come into contact with.


As network theory goes, that's good stuff.


So, taking time away from work makes you more productive when you get back to it.


I've found that too but it's refreshing to see someone else mention it. Although the concept of FIKA has been well researched and it's something I've yet to implement in my own workplace, but maybe I should.


She built on this by saying you can measure the success of an organisation by looking at how long it takes for important information to get around that organisation.


That's an interesting measure of success. When I examine culture in an organisation I encourage people to look at HOW information moves around the organisation, but not necessarily how FAST. So that's an interesting perspective.


The nodes or hubs are critical in this dissemination of information, and I'd urge you to remember that these people can spread bad news and harmful gossip just as quickly as they can spread good news. So be careful who you use as nodes and for what purpose.


She also talked about the nature of the world now and the pace of change being such that business can only safely plan perhaps two years ahead. I once spoke to someone who worked in the nuclear decommissioning industry who was able to work on plans of 100+ years, so this will be a blow to her.


She's right though. Just look at what has happened in America overnight. Many organisations long term plans are now in disarray. It will be interesting to see how other speakers address similar issues in their workshops over the next two days. 

Heffernan also talked about how Microsoft have survived despite missing out on a number of key technological developments over the decades. She asserted that it's by having a growth mindset, in recent years at least, where every person feels they are there to learn and to grow, and look around the organisation to share mistakes and help each other learn from mistakes. She gave an excellent example of how the new Microsoft CEO made a public mistake and often cites this in his own learning journey, and will talk regularly to all employees about it in order to encourage greater learning from mistakes. 

She said one question we can ask people is who helped them get to where they are today. If they can cite a long list of people, great. If they refer to themselves, then we don't want them around. The former group of people are those who will help to build a more successful organisation, because you're acquiring their social capital which will impound your own. 

This puts managers in the role of casting actors in a play. If you can cast the best actors, you'll deliver the best play. 

Who would you cast? And who would you never cast again?

Food for thought. 

Till next time. 


Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Bazuka that VUCA...part 2 of 2

In the first part of this blog post, I discussed what types of roles I see emerging in the future of HR where we need, as Margaret Heffernan pointed out, fuse people, technology and innovation.  I also talked about what pressures and factors are causing this.

In this second and final part I'm going to talk about how this impacts on the DNA of HR and how we structure HR teams, aswell as how we can make practical choices about service delivery in the future.

I think the need to engage with multiple stakeholders, as I hinted about in the first part, changes the DNA of HR.

Its no longer enough to know about HR if you work in HR.  You will need to know and understand at least the basics of Finance, Marketing, IT etc and most importantly, you're going to need to know how people work and how they fit into organisational systems and networks both in and outside the company.

In many firms, particularly smaller ones, the most common HR delivery model is: traditional HR support; and everything else.

But its the everything else that I see as the growing and more important area.

Ulrich hints at what I think is the right model for many organisations with this quote: "HR outcomes are owned by the line, with HR professionals being architects of how to deliver these outcomes".  I think if you take this line of thinking to its natural conclusion, then HR is no longer a function but an area of practice - because at least every manager, if not every employee, plays a part in delivering what we currently look at as the traditional HR model.

This line hints at what I think HR needs to be - the ultimate generalist, not in an HR sense but in a business sense, working with all stakeholders in the business.

So how do we adapt what we do?

Mostly through a technological solution I think.

In many smaller organisations, HR system amount to just a Payroll system maybe with a few bolt-ons.  But even these are now evolving - many Payroll software companies are being left behind by the market and the rise of new and easily-accessible apps allow employees direct access to systems and platforms which changes what HR need to do.

We can now truly devolve transactional activities to the line using technology - give the line data, and information, to make decisions.  We can give the workforce the technology to make choices and manage/tailor their employment experience.

The success of companies like Uber and Airbnb show that it works when you give people direct access to service providers.  We are also used to sites like Facebook and Amazon customising our own user experience and using our data and activity to change what we see and do - so we could and should do the same for employees.

Taking this to a logical conclusion, I wonder if HR professionals, as knowledge workers, have a role delivering traditional HR any more - if an employee could simply Google or ask Siri to get them the information instead.

And for this reason I think the role of traditional HR is on the decline.

In HR, we need to grasp technology and use it - there are a lot of good examples of businesses doing good work here - I often cite Halton Housing Trust as one who is moving to a majority digital approach to service delivery with some good results (see HERE) - and if an organisation like HHT can do this for customers, can they / we do it for employees?

Yes we can.

In fact, we have to.

So, summing up...

  • There are blurred lines in our future.  HR in the future isn't going to be defined by how much HR you do, but by how much HR you don't do and how much non-HR work you have knowledge and experience of
  • Bye bye best practice. If we go down the route of individualising the employee experience then we can't say for certain that standardisation and consistency is a good thing.  Everyone will be and should be experiencing things differently.
  • The key HR role will be to help people develop the ability to cope and thrive under pressure - to perform.  By looking at individual needs and using the available technology to customise the employee experience, we can do that
My middle child, when she was aged 3, once asked me what I did at work.  I don't know if you've ever tried explaining HR to an adult, let alone a 3 year old child, but I struggled with this and eventually settled on:

"My job is to make people happy at work"

She thought about this and toddled off, coming back a few minutes later with some paints and brushes.  Her rationale was that painting was what made her happy, so she assumed my job similarly involved painting.

But ultimately, she was right.  HR in the future is about unlocking what individuals want in order to make them feel happy and perform.

Its about painting a picture for an employee of how they can contribute and how we can help.

Do you paint?

Till next time...


PS in other news, its #CIPDACE16 next week and I'm very pleased to be part of the Blogsquad.  Watch out for social media output from me on various platforms on 9 & 10 November.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Bazuka that VUCA...part 1 of 2

A couple of weeks ago I was a speaker on a webinar discussing the future of HR along with Neil Morrison and Alan Moratelli from Core HR. The webinar was perfectly moderated by Georganna Simpson from and on behalf of People Management and you can listen to it HERE

In this blog I thought I might expand on some of the things I talked about, especially because it's #cipdace16 next week and several of the speakers are discussing this very topic, not least Margaret Heffernan as keynote speaker, whose interview in People Management was the prompt for the webinar in the first place. 

It was my first webinar and I really enjoyed it, despite a technical hitch that meant my slides kept going backwards after I moved them forwards! I'd definitely do it again and it taught me the impact of tone of voice when that's all you really have to distinguish yourself with. For me that means even more practicing. 

Anyway the webinar was inspired by Heffernans interview discussing the future of work, which she will expand upon at #cipdace16. I originally signed up as an attendee but got upgraded a few days earlier and decided I wanted to look at the future of HR primarily in SMEs (although this focus was eventually lost and it became more generic), drawing on my experiences of working in a few different places and what I've learnt from both conference speaking, blog and article writing and tutoring on CIPD qualifications. 

I detest the acronym VUCA. It's often bandied around by those wishing to appear trendy or cool but there's some validity in the concept. However if we are to cope with VUCA, and survive and deliver meaningful HR in this world there's a few things we need to note. Hence the title of this blog and my webinar talk. 

The Heffernan interview said that HR need to fuse technology, innovation and people. To me, this conjured up a picture of Inspector Gadget, but she's right and I think four main HR roles emerge that do this: 

  1. Data analysts. We need HR professionals who can select and use the right data. Who can throw data sets together, correlate them, analyse them and predict trends. At the moment few can. 
  2. Wellness advocates. Not just in an individual sense, but also in an organisational sense. We need HR staff who can be the guardians of organisational wellness, looking at systems of engagement and motivation and performance and how these all link together and complement each other. 
  3. Engagement champions. Plenty of large firms like Netflix, and Virgin Group, are already ditching bureaucracy and encouraging HR to let go of policy and focus on the individual. We will need more of that, of social engagement in the workplace and looking at how people are treated and how they feel about work. 
  4. Performance coach. An old role but a growing one for HR. Helping people to identify what performance actually is, and the best conditions under which to produce it. Clive Woodward spoke at last years CIPD Conference on this, and how he got players/employees to visualise being under pressure and practice performing under such conditions. He used the available technology to capture performance data and made sure players had the skills to analyse, share and discuss it. 
Heffernan also talked about the need to give people flexibility and develop adult-adult relationships. I agree, and there's a number of factors driving this that HR need to take account of (and many are, pleasingly): 

  1. One size doesn't fit all. Many organisations are gearing up to deliver 24/7 services to customers who want that. This requires the ultimate flexibility and HR have to be able to lead organisations towards that by individualising the employment experience. And if you do that, the employees are likely to do the same for customers. I read that one organisation brought in a dating coach to train its staff how to flirt with each other and customers. I laughed, but then realised that's about making people feel special, wanted, unique. So I'm all for it, and here we are back at my oft-referred to analogy of HR being pimps for the employment relationship. 
  2. The gig economy. Many employees will be spending a lower proportion of their working week with one employer, and may have multiple employers. This changes what HR teams have to do in terms of employee engagement and means we have to be more flexible. 
  3. Demographics. Plenty of available data here about an older workforce and multiple generations at work but this does prompt us to think about how employees needs will change in what can now be a 65 year working life. An organisation I was in a senior HR role for built and maintained houses, and worked on component lifespans. So a house might last 100 years and in that time it may have 4 kitchens and 5 bathrooms. That helped with workforce planning, but if we are in human RESOURCES then maybe we have to look at employees in terms of their working lifespan. I look back at myself at age 16 and I was a completely different person with no interest in HR. I'm 41 now, and who's to predict what I will want to do age 66? I may have realised my dream of being a professional wrestler! But for certain, my learning needs and reward needs will have changed. How many HR teams segment their workforce in this way?
  4. Localism. Devolution is gathering pace, and many organisations are now expected to collaborate at a local level on many things - employing more local people, delivering joined up services and addressing local skills needs. This requires a different set of HR practices. 
And in part two, coming later this week, I'll explore what kinds of HR practices and responses I think are appropriate in this future world of work. 

Till next time… 


PS In other news, Florida looks a no go now, as eldest child is against the idea and we don't want to spend all that money to spend a fortnight with a surly teenager who may ruin it for everyone. Back to the drawing board…

Monday, 17 October 2016

Don't count people - make people count

I recently gave a talk at an event called Inclusive Workplaces, focusing on how SMEs can embed E&D into their business. I was a late substitute for a speaker who is an E&D specialist, and my talk built on what she was going to cover whilst looking at E&D from an HR perspective. The talk was well received and I've put the main points down here.

I worked in an organisation that really "got" E&D and inclusivity (I'll use the phrase E&D to refer to a broad spectrum of terms like inclusion etc) and on reflecting on this experience for the recent talk, I looked at what worked in that organisation and what I'd recommend if you are looking at how to embed E&D in your organisation.

In general though my view is that E&D is about having an amazing workplace - the two go hand in hand - and if you focus the right way on engagement then you'll get E&D, and vice versa.  But here's my building blocks:
  • Commitment from the very top - we had a CEO and a Board who understood and were passionate about E&D, and kept it at the forefront of organisational thinking
  • Someone to co-ordinate and pull everything together - we had one person to centrally manage E&D and keep all the various plates spinning (though this could be a double-edged sword later on)
  • Involving the local community - there were lots of groups related to protected characteristics who were keen to help us develop services and employment
  • External scrutiny and recognition - a plethora of organisations came to inspect us, grade us and recognise our practice, and this made us up our game
  • Collecting and using data - going beyond compliance, we were able to explain regularly why we were collecting data and show examples of how we used it to drive service improvement and staff engagement
  • Managing the supply chain - involving Procurement in creating guidance for our potential and actual suppliers, giving them a step by step approach to adopt our E&D principles, offering free training for their staff if they signed up to our commitments
  • Comms team on board - we had a strong comms team who were bought into the vision and reality of an inclusive workplace, who helped us to promote events, campaigns and could highlight any successes we had
  • Reviewing the employer brand - we did videos promoting inclusive employment practices on the recruitment microsite, case studies promoting positive action initiatives and more - we also made the whole website all singing and all dancing with information available in lots of different ways, media and formats
  • Embedding into performance management - we broke E&D down down by service area with headline objectives for each area and individual objectives for staff that could be measured in appraisals, with a simple list of tasks that any member of staff could do to evidence getting involved in E&D activity
  • Taking on public duties - we became a Hate Crime reporting centre (when we didn't need to) and this helped our public image aswell as bringing this important area to the fore
  • Leading the community - we organised community events to celebrate diversity - this helped us set up support groups for both customers and staff linked to protected characteristics
Ultimately we made E&D about helping our customers, and not about looking at protected characteristics - it was our ethos, our culture and our values - and it wasn't something separate or different.

But there were drawbacks, as I noted in my talk:
  • Relying too much on one person - we had an excellent person to co-ordinate it with a great deal of knowledge and enthusiasm aswell as a strong network of contacts - but when this person left, we found we couldn't get anyone to replicate this and the momentum was lost
  • Allowing one PC to dominate to the exclusion of others - the strength of some community groups focused on the BME community compared to some other groups linked to other protected characteristics allowed them to dominate the agenda somewhat, out of proportion
  • Pressuring staff to get involved just because they have a particular PC - we tried setting up a staff LGB group that contained the 3 LGB staff that we knew about - and not all of these were keen to be involved.  Sometimes we'd ask their opinion just because they were LGB, and that wasn't helpful
  • Taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut - we ran some Trans awareness campaigns that were really powerful and illuminating, but we had no Trans staff or applicants and only a tiny % of Trans customers, so the vast majority of staff didn't get a chance to utilise their new knowledge
  • Other organisations don't always share your enthusiasm - be careful if you work closely with another organisation in that this organisation may not have the same approach to E&D as you do, and if you end up merging with an organisation there may be real differences to explore and one of the organisations will need to radically change its approach, which may be painful
So we had an Inclusive Workplace, with lots of things that worked, and some lessons that I learnt along the way.  I'd sum up my thinking on inclusivity as follows:
  • Have targets but don't let these get in the way of doing the right thing.  Use your E&D targets to evidence improvement and traction, rather than a stick to beat yourself with.
  • Let staff get involved in decision-making and tailoring the organisational approach to E&D - celebrate any successes and make E&D as fun and informal as possible
  • Dare to be different in your training - do drama-based workshops, and workshops on unconscious bias to help people understand the way they think
  • Break down your available data on both staff and customers by protected characteristic and look for any trends - work to redress negative ones
  • Allow people to voice any concerns they may have and have adult-adult conversations about E&D.  But if there are any instances of inappropriate behaviour - act upon and challenge these straight away.

I also think its true that you reap what you sow at work, in every sense.  If you're willing to put in the effort and energy to make your workplace amazing and inclusive, you'll achieve it.  If you're not, well, you won't, and it won't be as happy a place.

If you're going to have an inclusive workplace, focus on enriching the employee experience and make it an amazing place to work...

...So don't count people - make people count.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Carpool Karaoke

I've recently had a few conversations about mental resilience and wellbeing in the workplace.  I've reflected on what I do when I have a difficult day or set of circumstances to deal with at work.

We all have bad days.  In HR we probably have more than our fair share because at least part of what we do is helping others to deal with the bad days they are having, and some of that is bound to rub off emotionally.

Some people will deal with this better than others.  In wellbeing and HR circles this is often referred to as resilience, or mental toughness.

I'm not sure it is that, but what I do think happens is that those people have found outlets for their emotion and ways of processing it.  If that's resilience then OK, but to me resilience is something internal around personality, whereas I think what I'm describing is more outward facing around behaviour.

I've written a lot about my approach to personal fitness and how that has helped me in the past, and that's the kind of stuff I mean - just having some way of processing what you've been dealing with.  It doesn't have to be physical activity, as long as it works.

I also think having something of a support network matters too, not just at home where one would expect to have it, but at and in the workplace amongst your peers.

What do I mean?

Well, if you're without friends and people you can talk openly and honestly to in the workplace, you will struggle to process some of the emotion you are faced with there.  Everyone, no matter what their role, needs someone to whom they can talk and have a bit of a rant or moan to now and again, someone who will keep these discussions private and who will both support and challenge.

I noticed this when I moved jobs earlier this year - all of a sudden my support network at work was gone, that I'd spent 12 years building up, and I had to start all over again.  I found this very difficult, and it took 4 - 5 months before I had even the beginnings of a support network again and had that outlet.  But once I did, I immediately noticed a difference in how engaged I felt and how motivated I was.

Perhaps the best example of a support network I've ever had was a fellow senior leader at my last place of work, who car shared with me for over 10 years.  Spending 1.5 - 2 hours a day together in a confined space, 4/5 days a week for 10 years - you become close, you end up telling each other almost everything and you come to rely very much on that person as a source of support and guidance.

Most journeys home from work were each of us telling the other what we'd done that day and, on the occasions where we'd interacted in the workplace, discussing how those things had gone - discussing our views on other people's behaviour, our own behaviours, our view of the organisation and its direction, and almost everything to do with what was causing us to feel emotion at work.  We coached each other, challenged each other, argued occasionally but always felt much better at the end of the journey.  This helped me to download my emotion and get home able to focus on what was important there, without having to bore people at home with it all or being distracted by thoughts of home.

Nowadays I drive solo to work, but I still, almost a year since the car sharing ended, find myself talking out loud in the car to my no-longer-there car sharer friend and imagining his responses.  I have, once or twice, been on autopilot on my commute and realised I was headed to his house to collect him, before remembering we work in different towns now.

I watch James Corden's Carpool Karaoke videos and think these are an excellent example of people going to/from work having fun and sharing emotions, and usually arriving at work in a better state.

In my own carpool, we never did karaoke - neither of us could sing at all - but we gave each other a boost by just being there.  We were confidants for each other, and that's something that's hard to replace but if you can get it in the workplace, will be enormously helpful.

Until I find it again, I've still got my physical exercise regime.

What's your Carpool Karaoke?  How do you deal with a set of difficult circumstances at work and process the emotion so that you're able to focus on home life when you get back?

Till next time...


PS we think our next family holiday may be our last as a 5-piece family, as eldest son may be too old and too cool to come with us after next year. So we are thinking of stretching ourselves and doing a fortnight in Florida...