Friday, 25 March 2016

Knowing me, knowing you

I've recently moved organisations and have observed some cultural issues that make an individual settle easier in a new role, in a previous blog post. In this blog post I'm going to go into a bit more depth on some of the more, and some of the less, obvious cultural differences between organisations that can lead to employees feeling settled or out of place in a new organisation and which can hinder efforts at cultural integration. 

I should point out that these aren't all things I've noticed in recently moving organisations, and most relate to observations about efforts by organisations to change their culture, or situations where two organisations come together to create a new organisation and have to deal with similar integration issues for employees and culture. 

What's prompted this is going to a function celebrating staff long service milestones at a lunchtime event, and noticing some cultural flashpoints that made me sit and think.

It's issues like this that affect an employees sense of belonging. And beyond that, if two organisations try to join together, issues like this where the approach could be different can make or break the marriage between them. 

Organisations often provide technology for staff to work with, but sometimes these organisations are doing it for show, and employees aren't really expected to use the technology. I've seen this happen too, at both extremes. I've seen employees join from a high tech low expectation of use organisation and be genuinely out of their depth at a high tech high expectation of use organisation. And I've also seen employees leave a high tech high expectation of use organisation and join a high tech low expectation of use organisation and be frowned at for using their tech. Be clear on what type of organisation you are, and how you'll support those who are used to something else. 

Many organisations will talk about homeworking and other types of flexible working, but if you work for an organisation that lives and breathes that approach and takes it to its furthest extreme, and then work for an organisation that SAYS it does these but in actuality frowns upon such things and doesn't support them in practice, then it can be difficult to adjust.  I've seen that happen too. Show understanding to those who have used different practices but use their experience to help you learn and grow. 

I've mentioned before about seemingly trivial things like car parking and the dress code, but they can both help and hinder any efforts at integration into an organisation or, tellingly, between organisations.  If the car park is tightly controlled in one organisation, which then comes together with another organisation who have a much more laissez faire approach and whose staff just ignore car parking controls when visiting the first organisation, the effects on morale in the first organisation can be devastating and can more or less ruin any senior leaders' attempts at convincing the staff in the first organisation that they value and respect them all. Ensure leaders understand the effect their behaviour has on culture and how their actions can undermine any communications efforts they later make.

On dress code, if one place is casual and the other more formal in its dress code, this can also cause integration issues.  I've had this at several places as a new employee when its hard to know what to wear, but also when bringing two organisations together - having worn my signature uniform of jeans-jumper-converse for years in one place and then turned up at a new partner organisation wearing the same (having been at my own casual place of work earlier the same day) I've seen people actually GLARING at me and MUTTERING as I walked through the corridors.  And when I've gone the other way and gone formal to visit that organisation but later the same day gone back to my casual workplace, I've been accused of having disappeared for a job interview. Adopt an approach where individuals feel comfortable and not out of place, and keep that flexible enough to deal with departures from the norm as long as individual effectiveness isn't threatened. 

An odd thing that I could never quite get my head around when flitting from one organisation to another on a regular basis fairly recently was people whispering at one particular site.  These people would stand in front of you and have whispered conversations, and I couldn't think of anything more rude.  And it seemed to be site-specific, as I'd see the same people in a different place and they wouldn't do it.  So I could never figure out where it came from, but at that particular site, whispered conversations right in front of people was commonplace - but at the neighbouring site, just a few miles away, it was frowned upon.  And this was the same organisation - cultural differences can sometimes be subtle and site specific but ultimately damaging to morale. Look at subtle employee behaviours as well as more overt displays and the effect they have. 

And what about the use of the Cc field on emails? In one organisation I have worked in it was positively frowned upon, a real no-no, and for a manager it was viewed as a sign of weakness if they used Cc to copy in anyone more junior than them, and a sign of a weak culture if employees Cc their own manager into whatever they were doing, or Cc someone else's manager when they are asking that person to do something for them. And yet I've worked in other organisations where these things are the norm and, if you don't Cc, then you're the odd one out. Take time to explain how these things work and the reasons for them and encourage individuals to help you develop your own approach. 

Even the organisational approach to transparency of decision making can make a difference. In one place I worked there was total transparency, with minutes of Executive team meetings and all other team meetings published for all to see, and employees were encouraged to discuss and contribute to decision making. But many other organisations don't do this, and expecting individuals to adjust easily to a culture where there's no transparency and no openness is a big ask. Communicate the rationale for the approach but be prepared to act on feedback received. 

Another comparison is about the use of formal employee recognition schemes and awards. In one organisation I worked for these were viewed by almost all staff as divisive, elitist and cynical. But I've then been in another organisation where the same processes are viewed with great pleasure as a celebration of achievement and are looked forward to. It's weird. Ask employees for their opinions and listen to them. 

The point I'm making is that making a transition from one culture to another can be a lot harder than you think. This doesn't necessarily relate to an individual moving to a new organisation, as some of my examples do, but relate to organisational culture change initiatives and in particular the difficulties faced by organisations coming together in a merger and acquisition type structure, trying to blend two cultures together and embed new values. 

Unless thorough due diligence is done in all types of cultural integration, be that individual-led or organisation-led, then integration efforts could ultimately fail, or lead to some disaffected individuals. 

I may return to this theme in the future. 

Till next time...


Ps in other news, my son, aged 14, is now taller than me. Admittedly only if you include his hair, but it will only be a couple of months till he's much taller than me. I'm really proud of him. He's better than me in so many ways and is capable of great things. 

Thursday, 17 March 2016


I like this event and go most years. It always takes place at the stunning Lancashire Cricket Club, Old Trafford, which nowadays is across the road from where I work, which is nice. 

The event has evolved from being in a windowless basement room inside OT to one which overlooks the pitch and is in the redeveloped part of the ground. It's also evolved from a lecture style event with Peter Wallington who just ran through recent case law, to more of a conference style event with multiple speakers and some interactivity. 

And today I'm in attendance as a CIPD Ambassador, helping to promote the event and to chat to delegates. Otherwise I may not have been able to come this year as the timing fell badly with my job move. 

The first fail of the day though happened early on with the provision of large printed delegate packs with all the slides. Who does that any more? Eventually I was able to find a way for the organisers to send me the stuff electronically, but it seemed very much an afterthought. 

Second fail was the confusion around and general lack of a Twitter hashtag for the event. Again, who does that? It took a few tweets by me to the organisers to get a hashtag put together, but this wasn't helped by some of the speakers appearing to not know what Twitter was or why people would use it at a conference. 

Anyway, the event started with a good talk from Ed Cotton from TLT. He spoke authoritatively about restrictive covenants and how to protect your business through their use. A lot of the examples were pertinent as they relate to intellectual property and use of social media, and how things stored on social media during the course of employment may constitute the company's IP and not the individual. Interesting. 

Also interesting was the extent to which restrictive covenants can be relied upon. I was surprised to see how some that are considered so restrictive can be got out of, and therefore can't be relied upon. The wording is therefore key, as is the overall reasonableness of the covenant. 

About halfway through the morning the hashtag arrived. 

Some of the later bits of Ed's talk focuses on the practical steps a company can take when a key member of staff is leaving. As I've recently left a senior role in an organisation it was interesting to compare this to what happened to me when I left, and also to compare to what practical steps are taken in my new senior role. It's immediately obvious that, if I'd been so minded, I could have done a lot of damage and that both my previous and current organisations may need to tighten up on some of the practical measures when senior staff leave. 

The next talk was from Stuart McBride from TLT on equal pay and the requirements to report on equal pay. This is new for many organisations in the private sector, but a common thing for those in the public and quasi public sector organisations such as those I've mainly worked in recently. Stuart went through the new requirements and how to calculate the gender pay gap ahead of the mandatory requirements for publishing this in 2017-2018. 

This was good advice if you've not done gender pay reporting before, and it's clear that your maths and statistics skills will need to be top notch to be able to do it. Although in this day and age I still find it difficult to understand why a gender pay gap still exists, but then maybe that's reflective of the sectors in which I've recently worked and maybe my exposure to such things has been limited. 

Stuart commented that gender pay gap reporting is as much about reputation and publicity as anything else, given that there are no additional civic penalties (other than those for non reporting), so the narrative that accompanies the reporting is perhaps more important than that data and the gap itself. 

So does that mean that peer and public pressure are going to be the main tools for closing any pay gaps?

After the break Stephen Wyeth, a Barrister, gave a run through of the practicalities of preparing for a tribunal. Stephens' style was refreshingly approachable for a barrister (allegedly) and he gave some good practical advice about how you can make the most of a tribunal process. 

I've come close to a tribunal appearance on a few occasions but in each case it's been settled before its reached the court itself. So I've been spared, if that's the right way of viewing it, and this advice is useful if one day I ever find myself in front of an employment judge. 

I would just question the relevance of this advice for most of the audience, many of whom would instruct solicitors to do much of the preparation for them and wouldn't be doing it themselves. 

He gave us some good insight into Without Prejudice conversations, highlighting that they can only take place where there is an existing dispute, and there are limitations as to their use and disclosure. 

Another good discussion was around what is and isn't disclosable as evidence, with annotations on documents, and any information you saw or received on any social media site being considered disclosable. 

Scary stuff. 

Stephen also advised anyone facing a tribunal to go and watch a case as an observer beforehand. This is very good advice. When I used to teach HR qualifications (classroom based as opposed to the online stuff I do now) I used to organise an annual visit to a tribunal and it was often the highlight of the entire course. But I have a damned good understanding of how a tribunal works having now seen 5 or 6 of them in action. So I'd recommend this too. 

He finished by giving a run through of how you can be a better witness when giving evidence, including some of the points on the slide below. He also said be nervous, it will look better, but do it in moderation!

And then it was lunch!

I did suggest that we could move outside into the glorious sunshine for the afternoon, but to no avail. 

First speaker after lunch was the erudite Pete Monaghan from ACAS, who I've heard before but who is always entertaining. Petes' talk included some up to date information from yesterday's budget, but he started with a useful run through of the productivity challenges facing the UK, commenting on the numerical shortages we will soon face and the dangers of another recession looming. 

He also covered the potential impact of the new National Living Wage, speculating on a few things as per the pictures below:

To be honest I'd not considered some of the potential downsides to the currently trumpeted NLW and so this was interesting stuff and made me think. And yet, weren't some of these views expressed about the NMW too?

Petes' final points were around the ACAS 7 Levers of Productivity, and he explained the origins and potential use of the model. Pete pointed out that a lot of this is common sense, but I guess we are all surprised by how often organisations ignore or just aren't aware of them. 

Much of the seven levers overlap with the levers for employee engagement as set out in the Macleod Report, and this no doubt delliberate as engagement ought to equal productivity. Still, though, it's a good model and the inclusion of an online diagnostic is good and something I'm going to investigate further as a way of starting discussions in the workplace. 

The final talk was from David Birchett, TLT, covering upcoming employment law changes. David started by covering the changes to trades union legislation, which have been covered elsewhere but are still a bit unclear to many and developing. He also covered changes to family friendly legislation particularly as regards the tightening up of the treatment of women on maternity leave facing redundancy, changes to the tax and NI treatment of termination payments and ongoing developments on working time, zero hours contracts and holiday pay. 

I find it difficult to blog about employment law and make it interesting sometimes. I've tried my best during today's session and I hope you've found it useful. 

Overall the day and event have been good and a useful update, although employment law is a dry subject and one that becomes increasingly difficult to digest the later it gets in an afternoon. I haven't a solution to this problem, but there's no doubt that the energy levels plummeted at the mid afternoon break. 

Till next time...


Ps in other news, #connectinghrmcr is coming up on 7 April - it falls on the day I get back from holiday so I'm hoping to attend and ought to be able to make it, so maybe I'll see some of you there.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

What lies ahead...

So today I've attended the Association of Colleges HR conference for the first time since 2002. The AoC are the employers body for Further Education, the sector I've now (re)joined. 

It was unusual to be attending an HR conference where I knew no one before attending, and wasn't speaking at the event. In fact the last time that happened was probably 2002 at this same conference. 

I have a view of HR within FE as being quite insular and a closed network. I'm obviously in this network now and have been warmly welcomed onto some online HR groups, but even so having scanned the delegate list I was surprised to see no names I recognised before joining the sector last week. From a diversity perspective, scanning around the room, there were far more men evident than at any other HR conference, and the age profile was also quite a bit older than I'm used to seeing. Not sure why. 

I was further surprised by the relative peaceful hashtag leading up to the event, with 90% of tweets coming from exhibitors. 

Why are HR professionals different in FE? I am not so sure, but I'm going to try to change it. 

We started off with an introductory speech from Marc Whitworth, Director of Employment Policy at AoC, who gave us an update on sector wide developments and some of the negotiations taking place at a national level. 

The first keynote speech was from John Callaghan, Chief Executive of Solihull College. John gave an overview of the challenges facing the sector, and offered some interesting insights into why some mergers will be resisted and may not work. Having gone through a merger style activity in the last two years where both sides wanted it and sought it, it's an interesting concept to me to have unwilling mergers, particularly on both sides. 

John urged the sector to be proactive and take control of our destinies. This is good advice, not just for organisations but for individuals too. The problem is, says John, what we do won't really change but the structures we have to do it with will need to, and increasingly the sector will be judged on its ability to churn out employable people with sought after skills, and therefore judged as much by industry as anyone else. 

John finished by giving advice on the role of HR, summarised in this photo. 
I am perhaps too new in the role to know how well placed my organisation and team are to meet these challenges, but I'm confident we can even if we aren't ready right now. 

Up next was Samantha Clark from Irwin Mitchell. She gave an overview of the types of things HR can do to contribute to organisational effectiveness. The speech would have been perfect for those new to HR, or students perhaps. Maybe she had just pitched her speech to the wrong level of attendee. The advice was practical and straightforward, just old news for me. 

What was interesting was Samantha's run through of her legal toolkit, including "strategic redundancies" and the links to protected conversations, without prejudice discussions and settlement agreements. Samantha encouraged their use to enable change but to proceed with caution. 

After the break I'm in a session looking at HR lessons from the area review process. My new organisation has recently been through this but the outcomes are not yet known, so one of my tasks will be to pick up the outcomes, so this promised to be a good session. 

Pete Haynes from Solihull College, who were amongst the first to go through the process, likened it to a game of poker but again stressed the importance of transparent and open negotiation between Colleges. 

Warren O'Donovan from Salford City College highlighted the types of information that HR is likely to be asked for, and how this presented challenges with the types of data that systems held and how this highlighted the shortcomings of some HR systems in use in FE. 

Musrat Zaman from Lambeth College was at a very early stage in the review. She also focuses on the need to get ones data right and the challenges they face in doing this and providing narrative to support this. She talked about other processes running in parallel to area review around mergers and inspection processes, and whether area review will have any impact on this. 

What these anecdotes hammered home to me is how different the FE sector will look, structurally, within 2-3 years. I hadn't fully appreciated this when joining the sector, but it's an interesting time to join the sector at least and not too dissimilar to the situation that faced social housing when I left it, though I'd suggest that social housing is more a master of its own destiny than FE at this stage, although FE are perhaps 12-18 months further down the line in these types of sector wide changes than social housing is. 

Another useful lesson from those that had been through it was the realisation that other FE Colleges are not their competitors, that it is often Sixth Form Colleges and private training providers who are the competitors, and that FE Colleges can at least work more closely together to promote the sector at large, even if they don't come together structurally.

There was a lot of good, practical advice in this session but more for organisations who haven't had their area review yet. For me, with the review done and outcomes almost ready to be released, I'm not convinced I'll be able to use the majority of it. The main lesson was about getting your data ready and being ready for any outcome. 

After the lunch break there was an opportunity to go to one of several provider demonstrations, but none of these really grabbed me so I stayed in the exhibition space and chatted to those who were there. 

The first keynote of the afternoon was from Dunstan Arthur, a business psychologist from CEB. Dunstan had a range of information about the changing environment in which FE operates, and told us that individuals and organisations need to adapt and evolve. He spoke about new ways of working and in particular the concept of enterprise contribution, which is not only being good at your own job but being good at helping others be good at their jobs. People who can do this achieve twice as much outcomes as those who just focus on their own tasks. 

In the photo above Dunstan outlined how organisational approaches to building collaboration and networking will fall foul of one of the four scenarios he has noted. 

Having come from an organisation where collaboration was encouraged, expected and almost a requirement of working there, to an organisation where performance is highly individualised, this is interesting stuff. Dunstans views would have resonated well in Torus but I'm not sure how they will translate to FE. He acknowledged that most FE performance management systems are individualised and make it hard to collaborate, and so in the sector we need to rethink our approach to reward and recognition as well as performance management. 

Dunstan suggested that we can start by asking people to quantify their own input into collaboration and to rate others contributions too. I've started to do something like this by mapping a kind of social network at Trafford but this goes beyond it and I can see how this would develop a collaborative culture. In the case study given, people could allocate ten ratings points to any other individuals based on the contribution that person had made to the raters success. Another key success factor was to allow individuals and groups to determine what collaboration means for them and to design their own structures for collaboration. 

This talk needed more time to really sink in but I liked the concepts Dunstan put across. 

He was followed by inspirational speaker Rob Brown talking about personal branding strategies to build your reputation. Rob was an excellent and engaging speaker, but his speech didn't appear to have immediate relevance to the audience or the sector. But he was interesting - I just think many weren't ready for it. 

He had six tips. 

1. Get in the game. This is about having a job where you have choice, creativity, impact, control and reward. This is the dream job, on your own terms, but you don't always get the chance to get all these. But if you make an effective contribution and are recognisable, you can ask for and take these things. To get these you need to be better than good. 

2. Get a game plan. Every individuals game plan will be different. He outlined four different types of career players. The Fatalists who wait for the world to give to them and rely on being good enough. The Hustlers are proactive but have no plan and rely on luck to get anywhere. The Planners have a plan and know what they want, but don't do anything about it. And the Pro, who has a plan and is proactive enough to achieve it. So be the Pro. 

3. Be likeable. Firstly, be happy and see the positive side of things. Give compliments and encouragement. 

4. Be valuable. Be worth knowing, in terms of your usefulness or importance to other people. This is based on: your influence or ability to make people act; your skills or stuff you do better than everyone else; your knowledge or stuff you know more than most; your connections and ability to open doors for people; your usefulness or ability to help solve problems; your productivity or ability to get things done; and your reliability or ability to keep commitments. 

5. Be visible. Network continually and dig your well before you're thirsty. Be active online, speak as often as you can, write too. Create stuff and come up with ideas. 

6. Take action. Connect to people, take the networking test online, and start NOW. Do something.  

Robs speech was excellent, just the tonic after lunch and it had something for everyone, I just don't know if everyone will heed the advice he gave. 

It was nice to be name checked by Rob in his speech as someone active online, but as I said to him as we chatted afterwards in the toilets (as you do) this was more noticeable because the vast majority of the delegates were so quiet online. I've never known a conference quite like it in the last 5 years or so. 


The conference ended for me at that point as I had to get back home to collect my daughter from nursery just after 5pm, but for me it achieved its purpose of giving me an overview of HR within FE, helping me make some connections and giving me a sense of what challenges lie ahead. 

Till next time...


Ps in other news, had my first race of the 2016 season on Sunday and did average. At least it gives me a bit more momentum for upcoming races and it's nice to be out of the six month train but no race cycle. 

Saturday, 5 March 2016

The New Boy

So last week I changed jobs for the first time in 12 years. My first week went really well but I obviously experienced being "the new boy" and this blog is about that experience, and the process of socialisation into an organisation. 

How does a new employee move from being the new boy to being settled in and feeing comfortable? Who takes responsibility for this and how does it work?

In my experience, induction processes usually focus on the formal aspects of a new role, but I think the informal aspects are perhaps as important if not more so, and these are things that aren't written down anywhere and which, often unless you ask, no one tells you. 

The process of socialisation is crucial in developing the high engagement levels linked to high performance. So why is so much left to chance, or to the employee?

In no particular order here are some of the things you could ensure a new employee finds out about in order to achieve early socialisation.

Can you park anywhere on the car park or are some places informally reserved? Will you upset someone by parking in "their" space they've parked in for years?

What does the dress code mean in practice? It may say what's not allowed, but it doesn't say what may be frowned upon and muttered about in corners even if it's technically allowed. 

How does the organisation use and expect its employees to use social media? Are employees encouraged to promote the brand and use social media during the day to talk about work issues or not? Are employees encouraged to connect with each other or not? What about live tweeting a training session? Is that seen as active engagement or not paying attention?

Do you provide tea, coffee, milk etc for staff or do they need to bring their own or join an existing kitty arrangement? And if you have to grab a cup on the first day, how do you know you're not using a cup belonging to someone else? Who washes up? Facilities staff or the employees? On my first day last week another staff member marched over to me to explain the "rules" around washing the tea towels but to be honest it was good they did because at my last place the facilities staff would wash these for you so I'd have just left it, and therefore upset people who'd have viewed me as lazy. 

Do people use Outlook to look at availability of people and rooms before booking meetings or not?

Is there a culture of copying people in using the Cc field on emails, and what happens if you "take out the Cc?"

Despite what the policies and staff handbook may say, what are the prevailing attitudes towards flexible working, reward and recognition and employee wellbeing?

How does important news get around the organisation? What are the main mechanisms for letting people know what's happening, both in a business sense and from a personal perspective?

How easy or difficult is it for people to remember all the names of the new people and departments they will interact with in their first week? For example I've been introduced to over 100 staff and haven't a chance of remembering all their names yet. And the department names, sometimes initials, don't always make sense yet. They will, but should there be an easy guide to help you remember? The same  with room naming conventions - I had a meeting in a room that was identifiable only by three letters and two numbers. I didn't have a clue where it was, but as soon as I asked someone told me where it was, how to get there and offered to accompany me. Could it be more easily explained or made simple?

Can you eat at your desk? In my new organisation, yes you can. But in my old organisation, no you couldn't and in fact it was frowned upon. I've now eaten at my desk this last week and been furtively looking around for someone to tell me off about doing so. 

When you book leave on the self service system, do you need to book your bank holidays? In my old organisation no, in the new one yes.

If technology is used in the workplace, for example tablets, how is usage of these viewed? Many organisations encourage this type of flexible working and remote working possibilities but if only a minority have the technology it can be viewed as an elitist approach and be quite divisive instead of being viewed as a productivity aid. This leads to a different view being taken of the use of paper based processes and so on. 

Obviously as the new boy I've also had the same conversation dozens of times, been asked the same questions about me and my background and done the same to others. At my last place of work I remember this well and I'm not sure there is another way around it, but one difference this time around is the presence of social media which allows some knowledge about people to go ahead of actually meeting them. That's both a good and a bad thing but in my case people have homed in on my triathlon training and that's been a source of conversation with many people, enabling the ice to be broken.

But still, I wonder what organisations can do to make this easier for all concerned? Most people who met me last week will remember the HR Triathlete but how easy is it for me to remember the USPs of the hundred or so individuals I met?

I've been wondering how many of the people I met will become very good close friends outside work? It ought to happen, but how can you tell straight away? I wouldn't have predicted the two closest friends I met at my last place would have become such good friends (to the extent that I got a bit sentimental about the two of them in my leaving speech), but thinking about it I didn't meet one of them for a few weeks as he was on holiday when I started, and didn't meet the other for around six months into my tenure. 

Weird how things go. 

But friendship is one of the things that make a new starter feel settled. Everyone I've met has been friendly and welcoming and that's a good start, but organisations do often leave new starters to find out most of the above list on their own with or without friendly coworkers. 

What else makes you feel settled?

At the end of my first week I reflected on this. 

It is achieving something, something that makes a difference. And I did. 

It is finding answers to most or all of the list at the start of this blog. And I did. 

It's also some other things, for example getting your furniture arranged in a way that makes the workspace yours and not your predecessors. It's about setting up your software with all the settings you are used to. It's about having someone laugh at a (bad) joke you make. It's about having someone come to you for advice on something. It's about being able to plan out what you need to do over the next few weeks and months and making a list of these. It's about your connections, online and offline, checking in with you to find out how you're getting on. It's about finding the best route to and from work. It's about people telling you how glad they are you're working with them. And it's about the feeling in your gut that you're not just a new boy, but someone who will soon be an old hand. 

And that, at the end of any first week, is a good sign. 

What would help you settle in to a new job, and how can organisations make it easier for newbies?

Till next time...


Ps in other news, wedding dress purchased, grooms suit being researched, wedding menu selected, stag do booked and lots more things about to happen!