Over the last few months I’ve contributed to the #cipdbigconvo on flexible working and working families. It’s fair to say this discussion has had a major impact on my thinking and sense of priority, and whilst I’ll update on that separately here’s a follow up blog on the concept of flexible flexible working.
You can see the output from the #cipdbigconvo here. I contributed a blog at the outset, and an Ignite talk at the concluding event. Both were on my role as a parent at work.
In the discussion, a lot focused on the need for flexible flexible working and the need to avoid a one size fits all approach to flexible working. I have blogged before on such subjects. I’ve also spoken about my approach to work life balance..
But what is flexible flexible working?
I prefer the term working flexibly. I think it neatly captures that everyone’s circumstances are different, and that there should be an element of choice and control in how everyone works, balancing the need to deliver business to customers and the need to have a happy, productive employee who contributes to their family life also.
Indeed, it’s good to see some organisations and CEOs embracing this. Philippa Jones, CEO of Bromford Group, recently wrote this article and Nick Atkin, CEO of Halton Housing Trust, wrote this article also.
But it’s not everywhere and it’s certainly not considered normal.
And there’s the key. We need to normalise it.
I want my children to grow up in a world of work where they are expected to work flexibly, and that this is the default position.
We should all work flexibly.
For some this might be Mon-Fri 9-5 in an office and if this works for the business and for them, then let them. But work is something you do, not somewhere you go, and I've always said to my teams that I don't mind where or when work is done, as long as its done.
Organisations often stipulate that they encourage flexible working. But how many really do? Organisations should instead state that they expect people to work flexibly and to manage this in an adult-adult relationship with them.
There's plenty of research available that makes the link between working flexibly and productivity, and loads of recent articles including some in Hays Journal and theHRDirector, so I'll not replicate those here other than to say there IS a link and working flexibly improves productivity.
So why don't we just ask people how we/they can structure their work to make them more productive?
I know I'd have immediate answers to that if someone asked me. Its something I've given a LOT of thought to over the last year.
My final advice to organisations is to trust people to be adults and work responsibly. I've come across a lack of trust too many times when people are trying to work flexibly. So…
Don't say "if I let X work flexibly, it'll set a precedent and they'll all want to do it" - encourage all of them to do it. Why would you settle for just one of your staff being more productive when they all could be?
Don't say "homeworking means homeworking, you can't work anywhere else other than the office or home" - let people work in coffee shops, on trains, in shared workspaces, and from other people's homes.
Don't say "one day working remotely is enough, the rest of the time you have to be in the office" - use technology to help people interact with others in different ways.
Don't say "we have the technology to allow people to work remotely, but its really only for emergencies if they can't get to the office" - let people figure it out for themselves and encourage it to happen.
Don't say "I need you to let me know if you're going to work remotely each time you do it, or vary your normal hours, and give me a reason for doing so" - because that implies permission is needed for going outside a normal practice - make it normal practice and encourage staff to JFDI.
Don't say "permission is needed from the Chief Executive for working flexibly" when its not - why would the Chief Executive get involved in such things when managers should be managing?
Make working flexibly the norm.
Till next time…
PS in other news, I've hinted at some major thinking I've been doing, and in my next blog I'll be able to explain what this means and how I'm pulling together lots of themes from recent blogs in doing so…
Last week I announced that my wife and I were expecting another child - my fourth. If you'll forgive the personal nature of this blog post, here's my reaction to the impending arrival of the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse...
Here's the photo I used to make the announcement:
That morning I'd done an Ignite talk at #cipdACE17 and, as I often do, done it poetry-style. It was on being a working parent and its challenges, and I ended the rhyme by surprising the audience, many of whom knew me well, by telling them I was going to be a Dad for for fourth time.
My first child came as a bit of a shock. He wasn't planned, and even though I was 26 at the time he was born, I didn't feel in any way ready, and those early years remain a bit of a blur to me. When my second child was born, a daughter this time, I was 29 and still didn't feel ready to be a father.
I felt that my role was to just work hard and often enough to ensure they were provided for, and this meant I wasn't the best example of a parent I could have been when they were very young. As I mentioned in my Ignite, what kind of a parent was I if I was never there? What kind of a Dad was I really, if I showed them family time was rare?
So I changed, around the time I got divorced, and became a much better parent, spending a great deal of time with my (then) two children and ensuring I managed work-life balance so my time with them was ample.
When I got divorced I thought I'd never have children again, and to be honest that didn't bother me, until I met Katie, who had no children and wanted and deserved them. Even so, my third child, another daughter, came as a total shock to us both and I wasn't sure I was ready to be a father again at the ripe old age of 39.
If only I knew.
I had forgotten everything I knew 9 years earlier and had to start almost from scratch, but found I was much better at being a parent this time - my life was more balanced and I had a great deal of control over how I worked. I'm a decent parent, but I honestly don't have a strategy or really much of a clue what I'm doing - I just wing it most of the time and it seems to work.
And now...as I said in my Ignite...
"And me, well I feel I just about manage - I do what I can. I balance things day to day, there is no long-term plan.
It takes a lot of effort, but they're worth it all and more - only now I have to cope with the arrival of Number 4..."
This time, for the first time, I have a child whose arrival has been planned.
Yes, at age 42, I'll be a Dad again - but to be honest I've got it down to a fine art now and am not worried, plus I'm in a better position financially and physically than I've been for any of the other three.
I didn't make it easy for myself by moving jobs at the time we got pregnant, even though it was a planned thing. My wife, as per last time, has been very ill and I've needed to support her by doing everything at home when she has been unable to (and that's been almost everything for nearly two months) - consequently that's made me exceptionally tired and not able to focus as I'd have liked at work, as my attention has very much been elsewhere. Its put an enormous strain on the whole family but thankfully in the last fortnight her pregnancy-related sickness has begun to settle - its not all gone yet but its better, and I've been able to focus more on work. But moving jobs and being brand new and time off and flexibility - it really does feel like a crime. And don't remind me that I won't qualify for paternity leave.
And I figure my logistical issues - like the multiple school run and sorting childcare - are only going to get worse, but I've got a plan to try to deal with them and I know everything will be OK in the long run - the health and happiness of my family are very important to me.
And we're thrilled at the arrival of Number Four, due 9th May - it will make our family complete, and our capacity to love will grow.
And I promise when this one is born I'll get myself a hobby or something - there's no more coming after this.
We're looking forward to May and know that life will be great.
Even if its a difficult thing to manage.
Love finds a way.
Love will find a way.
Till next time...
PS in other news, please forgive the personal nature of this post - back to more professional matters next time
So this week its been the 70th Annual CIPD Conference and Exhibition, referred to this year as #cipdACE17. I was thrilled to be part of the Blogsquad again covering the event on social media on behalf of CIPD. Here's my summary of the event.
I should start by saying a big thankyou to my current employers at the Disclosure and Barring Service for allowing me to see through this commitment that I'd made some months before joining them, despite it being a busy time, for not once moaning or making me feel guilty about going, and for recognising the huge development potential #cipdACE17 had for me and the potential it had to reflect well on them through me raising their profile. Thankyou for that.
This was my 14th year running attending the event, and although some years I've just made it to the exhibition, I've come to enjoy the conference itself just as much. The conference this year was about "Embracing the new world of work" and many sessions were focused around this theme. As usual, I found it hard to select the best sessions to go to and its a shame I had to miss more than I attended because of clashes etc.
Here's the blogs I did of the various conference sessions:
I enjoyed each of these sessions and although I missed the final two sessions, including the closing keynote, because of needing to attend to a work-related matter, I found there had been sufficient to stimulate my interest across the bits I had attended. I went away with a big long list of actions to take back into the workplace and am looking forward to doing them.
The exhibition seemed larger, and that's a good thing. There was a good variety of exhibitors and a range of free to attend sessions. I was disappointed in the overall lack of quality of free gifts - in some years gone by I'd return home with bags full for my kids but this year I filled half a bag - my kids don't want mints, pens or stress balls unfortunately.
I was also disappointed - again - with the lack of engagement some exhibitors had with social media. Not all, I should add - some were excellent - but some others did nothing to try to engage with attendees on social media and some, when asked, did not even know their own Twitter handle.
Sadly I didn't get as much time in the exhibition as in previous years, and felt I didn't do it justice - next year I'll try to redress this.
However the general atmosphere in the exhibition hall and in conference sessions was excellent, something many commented upon. The only thing I thought went wrong was the Members Lounge in the CIPD stand was poorly organised and cramped, and should perhaps be separated back out next year. Otherwise, everything was great.
And this translated well into the fringe activities but again too much clashed for me to be able to get to it all. At least 3 things happened Tuesday evening, at least 3 things Wednesday evening and at least 2 things Thursday morning - now that's good in one sense as it caters for the interest that must be there, but scheduling them all at the same time makes it difficult to attend them all. And the fringe is an important part of the Conference - its still not quite what it was in Harrogate because of the sheer size of Manchester, but its improving and can improve further.
I enjoyed speaking at the CIPD Manchester fringe event on the Thursday morning #cipdbigconvo - doing an Ignite on the subject of being a working parent - and strangely this prompted a lot of reflection from me on my current priorities, something I'll update you all on shortly.
Like many people, I got as much from the conference through networking with people and generally catching up with ex colleagues, old friends and new contacts. I'd like more space built into the programme for this - the gaps between the conference sessions were sometimes 30 minutes - and there isn't much time to get to the toilet, grab a drink, look round the exhibition AND network in just 30 minutes.
But it was great to see so many friendly faces and to talk to as many people as would listen about my current situation and how I can resolve some inherent conflict in it. Also great was the ability to input into other people's discussions and help them improve their own situations.
It was also a very tiring event as usual, made worse by the transport difficulties caused by rail and bus strikes on Day One getting there, and the closure of the M6 when going home on Day Two.
But I loved it and would do it again in a heartbeat.
I found myself thinking a 3rd day, as used to be the case years ago, would have given me and the conference the room to fit everything in.
Is it time to go back to 3 days?
Overall, a great conference and exhibition and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Till next time...
PS a time of upheaval for me in many ways - watch out for two imminent blogs updating on my personal and professional lives...
After another too short break I’m back in another session. This time it’s about Connecting HR, Finance, Operations and Business Leaders, with HR acting as an organisational facilitator to help the organisation achieve its shared goals.
This will be my final blog from today as I have some work matters to attend to this afternoon and won’t be attending the afternoon sessions. I’ll do a summary blog in a few days though with some wider observations on the whole event.
Graham Smith from Devon, Cornwall and Dorset Police started off. The two separate forces are due to merge and he had a challenge to bring together two different organisations from a people perspective. He highlighted the Daimler Chrysler merger as one that failed because of an underappreciation of the cultural and people dimensions of such transformational change.
Andy Boulting, Assistant Chief Constable, took over at this point and explained how HR act as facilitators in things like workforce planning.
I liked this figure of 8 approach as it ensured all parts of the business are included in workforce planning, and that there are strong links to organisational vision and takes account lots of different supply and demand factors. The HR practitioners have to have the right skill set and right level of trust and empowerment to be able to make this all work.
Interesting though that on this plan, analysis of supply comes before analysis of demand, and I think this is something many organisations get the other way around. They can be led by demand, and then work on matching supply to it without having first got a real handle on what supply looks like and the volumes therein.
Gill Quinton from Buckinghamshire County Council then spoke about collaboration across professional disciplines. Her role now encompasses more than just HR and that gave her a unique perspective of how HR could and needs to work with other functions to improve the organisation.
She ran through Bursins HR Maturity Model and described each level within it to outline what is required from HR teams at each level. She feels that HR needs to do a few things to drive organisational effectiveness: customer focus, business acumen and simplicity.
I agree with these three things. HR teams that I’ve had experience of have usually had one or two of these three and we have worked hard to develop the third, but it’s been a different gap in different teams in different organisations.
But, as Quinton pointed out, HR can’t develop and be excellent at these three things on its own. They need help and input from IT, Finance, and business leaders. True collaboration is required.
This was an interesting case study in how to encourage and develop collaboration and one that is also relevant to current challenges I face.
So here we are on Day Two, and as predicted I’m a little more tired than I was yesterday. The evening fringe activities last night were all excellent, and then I’ve been speaking this morning at a breakfast seminar on flexible working.
I may have used the platform to make a big announcement too, something it’s been hard to keep secret. See the Twitter feed for details.
And now I’m in session D2 on enhancing your brand and attracting the right talent.
First up is Jane Graham from Wiltshire Council. She talked about the journey they went on from a traditional to innovative approach to talent acquisition and what worked for them.
The financial challenges faced by local government are well documented, and so the ability to attract the best talent is something that is also difficult. Her first case study was on social workers, where demand exceeds supply at present and there are numerous problems around recruitment and retention.
They worked with an agency to understand their current employer value proposition and to get to know their target audience more. This proved helpful because it showed them the kinds of things that attracted social workers and helped them to understand why some previous campaigns had not worked. They moved away from using stock images in their campaigns and used images of actual staff, actual things happening at work and used this to refresh their offer.
The results speak for themselves. They increased the number of applications, reduced turnover, reduced agency spend and filled more vacancies. They also had softer results that improved engagement, and helped them to move into the 21st century!
This approach seems to have worked really well and is one of several organisations I’ve seen who have been on a similar journey and really embraced new technology, analytics and a thorough approach to talent acquisition and employer brand - but in my view you get out what you put in.
Put in the right amount of effort and you’ll be rewarded.
Next up was Jon Dawson from Mandarin Oriental Hotels. They had a strategy to become one of the best known employer brands within the UK hospitality sector, separate from their parent company Marriott. They had zero presence in the UK at the time, and were doing this at the same time as recruiting 250 people to actually open and run their hotel.
The photo above shows the journey they were going on, and he outlined a challenge where the various creative people who worked with them were great in generating excitement and buzz around the brand, but the technical side of having a candidate portal wasn’t ready in time to manage this demand.
This was an interesting talk of how to create an employer brand and whole new organisation from scratch, and to me highlighted how many organisations are hamstrung by their own history and how, if they started all over again, they would end up with something completely different and at the same time more appropriate for who they are and what they want to do.
As refreshing and developing our employer brand is something we are about to work on in my current organisation, this was a very relevant talk.
But now I need a coffee.
Till next time...
Ps in other news, check out my recent big announcement...blog coming soon on that
After the afternoon break and some more hurried networking I’m in the final session of the day, session C3, on creating an organisational culture to support flexible working.
The introduction centred around the fact that the technology is there to allow and support flexible working, but that the barriers are usually cultural. I’ve found this in more than one organisation, although have found technology (reluctance to use) to be a barrier in one or two also.
Speakers from Forster Communications and Nokia gave examples of how this has been addressed in their workplaces.
Up first, Gillian Daines from Forster. Forster are a small company, and flexibility of and by employees is crucial to their success. Daines cited some examples of how flexible working has helped with the organisational objectives, and gave some statistics on how flexible working impacts on employee absence, wellbeing, retention and engagement. A lot of this was setting the business case for flexible working though, which although valid and accurate, is not really what I came to this session to hear. And thankfully she recognised this and moved onto talking about the challenges they faced.
Daines took us through a step by step approach to making flexible working work which I’ve included below.
Forster, with just 25 employees, went through this process and around half of their employees now work flexibly in some way. That’s a healthy percentage as long as all employees are able to access flexible working and those who haven’t, have made a conscious choice not to. Therein lies one of the cultural barriers - many employees do want to work Monday to Friday 9 to 5 in an office with other people.
As long as it works for them AND the business.
Up next was Gareth Davies from Nokia, who opened by admitting to be a Health and Safety professional. Brave.
Gareth talked about some for the generational differences around flexible working. Whilst he is right that there are different approaches to flexible working, I don’t think these are mostly generational differences - I think they are mindset differences, and there can be some correlation to generational origin but not necessarily.
He then talked about how connected we all are now, and highlighted the sheer range of flexible working tools that are on almost every smartphone or tablet. These pose dangers to individuals unless they are properly equipped to manage and deal with them.
Another good example of this was managers benefitting from flexibility and choosing to send emails late at night or at weekends. It’s a personal choice and absolutely fine, but when their direct reports receive these emails do they feel there is pressure or expectation to respond at a time they may not suit them? Something I’ve relatively recently switched myself onto is setting emails to send the following morning, so that I don’t interrupt colleagues home lives. It allows me to work flexibly and do what I want to do when I want to do it, but without creating pressure on anyone else who reports to me.
Davies offered some cultural tips to make flexible working work. Stopping rewarding the wrong behaviours (like working long hours) was a good step they took. They made flexible working visible and something people could and should talk about, and they gave coaching to line managers on making it work, amongst many other actions.
This was a good finish to a session that looked at how to overcome some of the cultural barriers, and a good end to a good day.
After a much needed lunch I had a chance to talk to some people from CIPD about their challenges in developing new and relevant content, particularly around OD. I was pleased to be asked to help and hope that my ideas are taken on board.
Time just gets away from you at this conference and already I’m back in another session. This time B4 and a panel discussion about adopting an ethical approach to HR.
First up was Ben Yeger, who shared his illuminating stories from his time in the Israeli army, particularly around how he almost lost his humanity through an unethical choice he was presented with. This was such a powerful memory that it was difficult to capture here, but his main point was that you need to act from a stance of peace in order to retain your own humanity and behave ethically.
Siobhan Sheridan, newly crowned most influential HR practitioner in the UK by HR Magazine and a thoroughly nice person to boot, picked up next. She drew on her own research about ethics. She felt that in her early career she was too scientific and not human enough, and recognised a point in her own career where she felt she had to change and become more human.
I had a similar Road to Damascus moment in my own career several years ago and have been on a similar journey, but I think with less success than Siobhan.
Siobhan urged us to consider the human element in everything we do, and it appears to be a hallmark of her recent and very successful career. She advised to consider the impact on people, as individuals, in everything we do.
Roger Steare from Cass Business School, author and academic, took over nmext. He likened the decisions we all take to the decisions Ben had to take in a war zone, and Siobhan had to take as a high profile HR professional - all choices and decisions have a human element and all have an ethical dimension to them. He made a good point that although computers can now make very complex decisions, they struggle with the ethical dimensions because the computers don’t feel fear, shame or worry.
He then went on to describe the moral character of the HR professional. He said that in our personal lives we are usually very ethical, but are influenced often by the workplace and the fear factor inherent in many workplaces and lose our human element because we wish to conform to the organisational culture and prevailing order.
The bad news is, he says, we are close to Banking but even closer to the Media and Politics, and a long way from Healthcare and Nursing as professions.
He said that where workplaces are modelled on lines of feudal control, then ethical behaviour becomes difficult. This leads to fear and coercion in the workplace and diminishes the ability of the HR professional to behave ethically. But workplaces are human communities and systemic entities that can only be understood at a very local, eg team, level - and therefore can be influenced at that level.
Essentially, boil the kettle not the ocean.
Leaders need to create space and safety for individuals and teams to be open and honest with each other and challenge ways of thinking and ways of behaving, in order for us to create room for ethical behaviour.
In my career I’ve seen unethical decisions be taken, and have been called upon to defend such decisions. I am not proud of that, but it backs up the assertion by Steare that one is influenced by power held by other people and the prevailing culture in an organisation too.
Siobhan made a point that people are people wherever you go. You need to stay close enough to people to bring them with you, but not so far away as to alienate them to what you’re trying to achieve.
As someone who often has to wrestle with such dilemmas, irrespective of the ethical dimension, I found this an interesting panel discussion but one that perhaps needed longer to allow us to get into more depth.
Mark Hendy posed a question from the audience about whether we have seen a tipping point in seeing unethical business behaviour, citing lots of recent examples. Although the panel agreed with the hope and sentiment, a view expressed near to me was that we haven’t, because nothing appears to have changed in the last ten years since the banking crisis.
It’s hard to argue with the evidence on that, but I too agree with the hope and sentiment.
After a rapid break in which I somehow managed to speak to more people in 25 minutes than I thought possible, I’m back in a session. This time it’s A2 on continuous performance management, and a very well attended session too.
We start with Paula Leach, Chief People Officer at the Home Office, of whom my current organisation is a subsidiary. We share a lot of the same policies and IT platforms, so their journey around performance management was extremely relevant for me and some of the challenges I currently face.
The challenge faced by Home Office was to move away from a process that was driven by completion rates and more towards one that could demonstrate the business impact of good performance. What they had was too bureaucratic and not very engaging. They wanted to move away from performance management being seen as an HR process and one that was owned by the business and driven by the Board.
Paula ensured that all representative and other employee groups were fully consulted throughout the process and that regular blogs were published to ensure all employees could be kept appraised of and participate in the ongoing discussions. She reports a high level of engagement because of this.
Coming from the engagement sessions it was clear that staff wanted something that was employee initiated, conversational and frequent, that had a flexible structure that could be adapted to various situations. However it wasn’t an easy model to develop and this is what they did:
- changed the process by removing forced distribution, creating model conversations, and including a new assessment and standards framework
- invested in learning by providing coaching skills for managers and a two day workshop for senior leaders
- developed leadership by focusing on accountability and assurance, and correlating ratings distributions to business performance
- changed the culture by enabling rather than policing, and realising its a long journey to encourage ownership and not an overnight fix
Next up was Nebel Crowhurst from River Island talking about their own journey, which had some similarities. The drivers for change were quite similar despite the major difference in sector and culture, and the main need - for increased coaching - was also very similar. She shared some telling statistics from within their business - 95% of managers were dissatisfied with the process, and 90% of HR people questioned the accuracy of the process.
River Island are further ahead on their journey than Home Office are, and could demonstrate some valid success measures around engagement and performance that show their journey is having an impact. Home Office are about to validate their own journey metrics but detail shared from both companies suggests that the journey is worth embarking on and will bring success and much needed culture change.
Having taken a couple of organisations down this route I can attest to this but can also attest to how difficult it can be. Some organisations don’t have a culture that is ready for this and I’ve blogged separately about this before. My advice is work on the culture before you embark on changing the process, otherwise the process change may not work. This is mirrored by advice from Nebel and Paula.
This was an interesting session and very relevant to a journey being embarked upon in my current organisation.
And to quote The Gruffalo, now my stomach is beginning to rumble...
So here I am again at the CIPD Annual Conference, known this year as #cipdace17. I think this is 14 years in succession I’ve attended and it remains the best development available to an HR professional in any year, in my opinion.
I’m again part of the Blogsquad for the third year running and I’m thrilled to be given access to all the sessions and everything to do with the conference. Being part of the Blogsquad is often tiring but it’s such a great opportunity and one I am happy to support CIPD by doing. I, here for a day and a half and will be sharing content on this blog and via Twitter and LinkedIn in support of the conference.
We start with Peter Cheese giving his usual introduction. This year’s theme is embracing the new world of work, and after a nifty introductory video (a new thing in itself), Peter commented on this as he usually does. He gave a quick potted history of the 70 years of the conference, and what things were happening in society and the world of work around 1947, which included some strikingly similar things to what are happening or could happen now. He also commented on the amazing developments in the world of global politics in the last year, many of which couldn’t have been predicted just 12 months ago. His view on this is that populism and nationalism is on the rise, and attributes this to the need for people to have a voice and a perception by many people that they don’t.
A challenge that arises from this is how do we create safe environments for people to have a voice. A happy and productive workplace will do that, and be inclusive at the same time. The CIPD are working with lots of other organisations to influence how work and employment will look in the future, and Peter outlined some of their key objectives and partnerships in doing so.
CIPD believe that the best way to predict the future is to help create it. Peter asserts that HR professionals are ideally placed to leverage all the different bits of research and discussions and projects and to shape the future world of work. It’s clear though that there are many challenges ahead, and more of these challenges will be immediately visible in our new digital age, but he’s right that we are well placed to influence what happens from now on...
The keynote speech was from Baroness Martha Lane Fox. She has had a stellar career and has a CV with some enormous highlights. She started off by talking about how weird it is to be in your 40s (she’s two years older than me) and how difficult it can be to relate to our children who have grown up in a different world to us. She highlighted just how far we have come in the use and development of technology in the last 15-20 years, and it really is scary to try to remember how we used to operate as recently as the mid 1990s before the explosion of the internet and the rapid development of technology.
She also talked about how bad hires can impact on a company. She commented that it’s often the case when you recruit at pace and in great volume. She gave an example of one person who had a great track record and was a competent professional in his previous job, but was simply the wrong fit at the wrong time for lastminute.com and how this helped her to think more about fit when hiring people and not necessarily look at their existing skill set.
From lastminute.com she moved on to working with the government about digital inclusion and skills across the UK. She started to understand the makeup of how people used the internet because of this. Many people are great at using it, and take these skills for granted, but too many people did not have the access or skills that were needed. As part of this she began to realise that government itself needed to change how it uses technology, and how much of a challenge this was.
She passionately believes that everyone should have the same level of access to information. And right now that’s not the case. She sees this in her daily life and highlighted a big gap between the general populace and those making decisions about how society operates.
She believes that the gap around digital understanding needs to close. She believes that inclusion is key, right down to an individual level. She also highlighted the forthcoming legislation (GDPR) which will give more power to individuals to control and manage their own data and how organisations use that data - this will help shape the future of technology itself. Her third point was about closing the gender gap to help fill unfilled vacancies and challenging the existing cultures in digital sectors - not enough women and other diverse groups are underrepresented in technology sectors and this is currently holding those sectors back.
She closed by saying we are at a critical point in our own development, but that we are at the slowest point of the development. The pace will only increase. People with digital skills are useful now but their skills will be out of date quickly. People with entrepreneurial skills and people skills who are curious and resilient are critical for the future and we should seek out such people.
And then we are off to a break. I’ll do another blog on the following sessions later today.
Till next time...
PS in other news, I tried helping my son with his GCSE Maths revision last night. I really wanted to help and could see he was struggling but despite remembering being good at maths when I was at school, I couldn’t help with his particular struggles as I just didn’t grasp it myself. Never have I felt so powerless and useless as a parent. Never.
This is my own response to others’ blogs on this subject (for example Sukh Pabial) which have prompted my own recollections.
As a trainer, I don’t do anything like the volume of delivery nowadays that I used to. In days of yore, I could perhaps be doing delivery several times a week, anything from short one hour workshops to 2-3 day courses. These days I may do something once a month, and sometimes less than that.
I find I miss delivery. It’s something I get a lot of enjoyment from doing, and even though as an introvert it can often drain me of energy afterwards it’s accompanied by an inner feeling of satisfaction too. But as my career has progressed its been something I have done less and less of for various reasons.
I started out as a secondary school teacher, way back when I had hair. Those of you who have or know teenage children know exactly why I don’t teach any more, and I didn’t last too long. I just didn’t enjoy teaching teenagers who didn’t want to be there, but I found I actually enjoyed teaching per se and was good at designing and delivering lessons, so my first corporate job was in L&D designing and delivering training to employees instead, who at least wanted to be there.
So when I think back to my first time delivering training, it’s a moot point whether I hark back to my first experiences delivering a lesson to a class as a teacher, or my first experiences doing any corporate training. To be honest, the teaching experiences I genuinely can’t recall in any depth and they all tend to blur into one in my memory, so this memory is from my first real corporate training delivery instead.
Bear in mind I was a qualified teacher by this point but hadn’t trained adults before. My entire training experience was with hormonal teenagers.
And I was 23 years old.
Raw doesn’t even begin to describe it.
And here I was, helping to deliver a two day process improvement workshop to a group of middle managers in my new business.
I say help - this was a long established workshop with a very experienced lead trainer, and I’d been involved in some of the scoping and tailoring for our business, but because of the numbers involved an additional facilitator was required, and I was it. Most of the time I was just supposed to play it by ear and help with keeping to time, but there was one slot where the lead trainer knew in advance he had to be elsewhere for an important meeting and I had been prepped (thoroughly) to lead, solo, a half hour slot.
I knew my stuff. Inside out and back to front. 19 years later I can still remember the content and have recently re used some of it. It was good stuff.
And I was supremely confident. After all, I’d taken everything a group of 30 teenagers could throw at me (sometimes literally) for an entire academic year and come out smelling of roses, so how could a group of 15 adults be difficult for just half an hour?
And then she started to cry.
One of the middle managers. About ten minutes into my slot when it was going bloody well, too. She started crying and left the room.
My professional training kicked in. I got the rest of the group doing a task and said we would shortly take a break but I’d be back in a few minutes when I’d been to check on the recently departed manager.
I found her at the water cooler getting a drink and still in floods of tears, physically shaking.
I asked what was wrong and it turned out some personal problem had occurred and she had just found out about it about an hour previously, and she had become overwhelmed. Entirely unrelated to my delivery I should say, which was nigh on awesome.
In my teacher training we had been taught how to deal with upset teenagers, and to be honest this happened more often than you’d think. With safeguarding at the core of what we do, we were given training on how to console those who were upset without breaching anything to do with intimacy or anything like that.
For example hugs were out. I can’t remember much else nowadays but the one area of the body that it was considered OK to touch - at least in those days - was the elbow. In my teaching career I never did, I was too worried, but I figured with an adult this would be ok, so I decided to console her by touching her elbow.
Except no one had shown me how to do this properly. And although that sounds odd now, in my panicked state I couldn’t think what to do or how to do this sensitively.
So I just stood there vigorously patting her elbow, quite hard at times and in no way sympathetically.
For quite some time too.
Until she stopped crying. And started hitting me for being so damned weird.
At that point the lead trainer returned and my brief solo stint ended, thankfully.
Another mishap took place an hour or so later when, taking a break, I draped an arm over the flipchart. Without realising it was one of those flipcharts (which I’ve never seen since) that could rotate from portrait to landscape orientation and it was currently unlocked. The flipchart spun like a windmill and I ended up on the floor.
Honestly, I’ve delivered better sessions.
Till next time…
Ps in other news, my youngest daughter Poppy turns 3 this week. That 3 years has gone SO quick…
In recent weeks I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about employer brand, prompted by a few different things including speaking (last minute) on a PM Jobs webinar on the subject. In this blog I’ll explore a few of my thoughts.
It struck me how few organisations have a really well defined employer brand. Many, or most, will have an excellent customer brand but often the employer brand is indistinguishable from that.
We hear about the rise of Trip Advisor style reviews for companies on sites like Glassdoor and Indeed, and these are indeed (pun intentional) very helpful to a potential job seeker, as well as giving the employer a chance to see how they are perceived and try to influence that.
I recently spoke at an event where I lightheartedly asked what, if anyone was going on a date with someone for the first time, they would do before they met that person. Almost unanimously, they said they would attempt to stalk them on social media. We laughed about this but honestly I believe it to be true and a valid action too - it’s research, or due diligence, before you make any kind of commitment.
And I further developed this point by saying potential job applicants would do the same thing about potential future employers, and in doing so would usually go well beyond the jobs/careers pages on the organisational website. This seemed to be a surprise to many, and yet it’s just as valid, possibly more so, than stalking a potential date on social media.
In my time I’ve done both.
But what do you do as a potential applicant if you can’t find anything? What if the organisation is, for all intents and purposes, invisible for the purpose of research beyond their own website? What if the organisation is so unconcerned by its employer brand that it relies wholly on its own website?
In most cases, people would try to speak to someone they know works there, or has worked there in the past. And there we have the best, but also hidden, bit of employer branding possible.
Your own employees. And past employees.
How you treat your own employees, how the employee experience is for them, will have a direct impact on your employer brand, like it or not. They are all ambassadors and they will talk regularly to a small group of family and friends about your organisation. You have to hope they say good things but sadly that probably isn’t true. And that small group of people are each individually connected to another small group and may share your employees view with that group if asked.
So my advice is focus on the employee experience. Make it as good as you can for each individual as it increases the chances they will say good things about you when asked. They are, consciously or not, branded by you as an employer and they WILL share your employer brand whether they choose to or not.
Past employees too are a source of employer branding information. Exceptionally few companies keep in touch with ex employees but they’re often a good source of data for a potential applicant. More than once in the past I’ve spoken to an ex employee of a company I was considering applying for, and their responses have put me off. Obviously you have to bear in mind the circumstances of their exit, and how much you trust their opinion, but even if you don’t trust them they are still out there sharing these views to others.
So I think we should actively manage this group of ex employees, by keeping in touch and sharing information from time to time. Very much like Universities do with their alumni.
Of particular note is how they feel they were treated during their exit. I know of one person, my friend Zeus (not his real name) who was neutral towards his employer during employment, but at the point he resigned he began to be treated very badly and was hurried out of the exit (albeit paid up in full). That treatment has affected how he views that employer now and he will happily share that experience with anyone who asks.
Interestingly, Zeus had another interesting experience when joining said company a couple of years previously. The person who rang up to offer him the job, and would later be his line manager, tried to talk him out of accepting the position during that conversation, and then again in another conversation a week or so later. They felt that Zeus would not be a good fit and would be unhappy - which begs the question why offer the job in the first place, but that aside, it’s an interesting dynamic - a current employee trying to talk a potential employee out of coming to work there.
Who knows how many other managers, when making job offers, let slip their views about what it is like to work there and, consciously or not, influence the potential employees view about the employer brand? Is that something we could or should actively manage?
Zeus being Zeus, he ignored this discussion as he felt he had no reason to trust the person giving the information and was determined to prove them wrong in any event, so took the offer. In hindsight though he admits that they were probably right and he should have listened to them.
How much employee turnover and lack of engagement could be avoided if we were more explicit about such things?
I know of another friend - let’s call her Hera - who had a similar experience during the Onboarding phase when a member of the HR team (yes, really) was really explicit with her about how bad the employer was. Again, Hera proceeded anyway but again now she suspects the person was right.
And that was from HR!
But it reinforces the point that your employees, current and past, are constantly spreading your employer brand around. Free marketing in a way.
But is that a good or a bad thing?
That depends very much on you as an employer.
What will you do to manage this?
Till next time.
Ps in other news, home life has been packed with events both good and bad in recent weeks, and there are barely enough hours in the week to deal with them all, and it’s been a difficult and stressful time. Some of this I’ll share in an upcoming blog.
This is the seventh and final post in a series of blogs discussing the concept of motivation and what its sources might be. Its prompted by a conversation I had with Bee Heller, from The Pioneers. Bee asserts that there are seven different sources of motivation, and is writing about each of them on The Pioneers website.
We decided I'd write a commentary piece about each one on my own blog, and look at what's happened in organisations I've worked in and with - whether the source of motivation Bee's blog discussed has been used to good effect or been neglected; what's worked well in terms of creating an environment that enhances that motivation; and what's not worked so well or undermined that motivation for people?
Here's Bee's blog on meaning. In it, she suggests that employee retention becomes much easier when organisations provide a sense of meaning for their work, and contrasts two differing ways of doing this - one overarching purpose, which she says has good short term effects but potentially damaging long term effects; and a pluralistic approach where lots of different ways of doing meaningful work are encouraged, which she suggests is a better long term approach.
I agree in part with Bees thoughts. I certainly agree meaningful work is a source of motivation and can therefore help with employee retention. But I’m less certain that having one overarching purpose in an organisation is only a short term fix, and that a pluralistic approach is therefore the best way.
I have usually been able to find meaning in what I do. I’ve often recounted the story of telling my 3 year old daughter that my job was to help people be happy at work, and I guess that’s what my meaning and overarching purpose is. When I’ve worked in places where I’ve felt a connection it’s usually because the organisation has a similar ethos and let’s me do my thing.
It’s also why I often dislike doing operational HR activities as, although they’re needed, they aren’t necessarily linked to my purpose, although may well have a contributory hygiene factor.
I was in my favourite job for 11 years. This was an organisation that had a purpose to improve the lives of its customers, and that resonated so much with me that we just understood each other and could see common ground. I did my thing there for 11 years before the organisational purpose changed and I felt I no longer had that connection, and left.
I have been in other jobs where the organisation and I had a complete disconnect about what they saw me doing and what I felt was right to do, where my role was expected to be about compliance and regulation, and no focus given to helping people feel happy at work. I have never lasted long in such places.
I have had various bits of freelance work over the years too, and the beauty of that is that I could pick and choose work that matched my purpose. It’s no surprise that I got a lot of energy out of those bits of work and consider them some of my best work too.
So when I get meaning from an organisation, I stay. In that sense I agree with Bee. The search for meaning is a motivating factor, and has been a motivating factor in my leaving some roles.
I don’t necessarily agree that the overarching unitary purpose is only a short term thing though. Uber, cited as an example, are perhaps the exception rather than the rule and I know many organisations who have maintained their unitary purpose successfully - I would suggest that the growth of Uber brought with it people whose purposes didn’t match the original meaning, and this contributed to what has happened. Had they got their recruitment right, and found people whose meaning matched their own, what did happen might never have.
A pluralistic approach can have many benefits, as Bee does suggest, and I’ve seen this work also. But an organisation needs to have sufficient size and maturity to cope with and make the best of this. It’s no better or worse than the unitary approach, just different.
Ultimately though, my own sense of meaning comes from helping people to be happy, whether that be through my HR work, my PT stuff, and any voluntary or freelance work I do also. It can be a motivating factor in getting me to stay at places, and getting me to leave places.
It is possibly also why my ideal jobs are (or would have been) a professional wrestler or a Man Utd footballer, as both have immense potential to create happiness for people.
Somehow I ended up in HR instead. But I still hope.
Till next time…
Ps in other news, I now have a 16 year old son who is technically and in some regards legally an adult. This makes me feel very old.
I’m thrilled to have been asked to be part of the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition Blogsquad for the third year running, and am really looking forward to attending it in November. Here’s why.
The annual conference and exhibition, this year known simply as #cipdACE17, has for a long while been the highlight of my professional year. I make every effort to get there and haven’t missed one since 2003. For me, no other event comes close in terms of the potential learning opportunities for an HR professional, nor the networking and connecting activities.
Once again it’s being held in Manchester, and the city and the event have really grown into each other in recent years. The event now makes much more use of Manchester as a venue than it ever did, as witnessed by the growing number of fringe events and social activities on the mornings and evenings around the event itself. This is a good thing and makes it feel quite special.
For the third year running I’ll be part of the Blogsquad, which is great, along with other more talented bloggers. I’d be going anyway and I’d also be blogging anyway as that’s a key way for me to learn and get my thoughts together, so for CIPD to recognise this and ask me to do it from within the tent is awesome.
I’ll be sharing content from the conference and exhibition on social media, and capturing my thoughts in more detail in my blog. Both of these I’d do anyway, and many many people do and will here too. Social media is a great way to engage with an event and really feel a part of it, so I encourage you to follow and use the hashtag #cipdACE17
The days, for blogsquadders, tend to be quite long and, to many peoples surprise, tiring but it is an effort to try to manage ones own learning as well as sharing relevant content for others and trying to be in several places at once. It’s a great opportunity for me, and almost every attendee, to catch up with people we’ve not seen for ages, connect with potential new suppliers and customers, make new contacts, and hear from the very pinnacle of the profession about what they are doing.
And this year is no exception. The theme this year is Embracing the New World of Work, and I fully expect to hear Peter Cheese tell us when he opens the event that there really is no better time to work in HR. The conference had a similar theme last year, only last year it was future focused and the implication this year is that what was once tomorrow’s world, is now here.
Last year I talked a lot about the need to personalise the world of work, and the rise in technology and AI is helping us to think this through and look at new possibilities but I don’t think we’ve done more than scratch the surface so far, so it will be interesting to hear from practitioners and academics who have done more.
A running theme in my writing is about asking employees how we can structure work, and structure contracts, to get the best from them. I know how employers can get the best from me, but how often do we in HR ask others? I’m hoping to hear from some who have at the conference.
The conference and exhibition normally get the balance about right with practitioners who’ve pioneered something new, academics who are researching what’s coming, and exhibitors who are offering a new solution, sometimes to a problem you didn’t know you had.
I’m expecting more of the same.
Check out the full programme HERE, and I’d be interested to hear what you are particularly interested in or any specific thing you’d like me to try to find out and share.
If you’re an exhibitor, then I’d repeat my advice from last year and encourage you to engage with the Blogsquad on the various media and in person, and use the platform that social media at conferences gives you to reach out to delegates.
If you’re an attendee at the event, please hunt me down and say hello, there’s plenty of breaks and networking opportunities and it would be great to chat.
Above all though, enjoy yourselves!
Till next time…
PS a difficult time recently as one of my two 17 year old cats, Gizmo, became ill quite quickly and passed away. Having been with me since a 5 week old kitten I have found this hard to deal with. She had been with me through a lot and I miss her loads. 17 years is a good age for a cat and she had had a good life, but you kind of never think this final day will come and it’s a shock when it does. Her sister is lonely now and it’s weird just to have the one cat and not both. RIP.
I’ve just returned from a holiday in Turkey and have been mulling over one of the main cultural differences between there and the UK, namely that of tipping for service received. In this blog I’ll explore this and in particular some themes relating to recognition and feedback.
I’ve just had a wonderful family holiday in Turkey. I’d not been before but it was my wife’s fifth trip and she had alerted me to the “tips expected” culture we would encounter. This was reinforced by the rep on the coach transfer from Dalaman airport to our resort and so it proved.
In Turkey, when you receive service of any kind, it seems to be an expectation that you will give a monetary tip to the provider. This isn’t only if you receive exceptional service that you are really pleased with, it appears to be service that could be by and large ordinary, ie people just doing their jobs and not necessarily going the extra mile that might justify a tip.
I’m always reluctant to tip, and in fact I’m notoriously tight with my money, so the idea of being free and easy with my tipping was a little alarming. Service normally has to be outstanding for me to even begin to think about it. I certainly wouldn’t normally consider tipping a waiter for simply bringing me a meal, the waiter would need to do something exceptional to get a tip.
Maybe I’m the one in the wrong. I should add, in my defence, that I'm reluctant to part with money, and not necessarily reluctant to recognise good service - it’s the financial element I dislike that's all.
But in Turkey tips are so much a way of life that if you don’t leave a tip, it is the equivalent of actually making a complaint about poor service. The provider feels they have done something wrong or to upset you and that their service had been substandard.
This is obviously different to the prevailing culture in the UK and of course neither is right or wrong, just different. Other countries will have their own versions of this too but I’m focusing on Turkey as that’s my most recent experience.
And of course I might be in the minority here and be the unusual one. My wife certainly thinks so.
But this got me thinking about how this could work in organisations.
The culture in Turkey is one where feedback (in the form of a monetary reward) is both expected and required for anyone providing a service. The absence of this feedback is considered to be negative feedback in and of itself. Feedback doesn’t have to be earned, and is a reward for simply doing ones job.
Feedback in organisations in the UK is not as easy to come by. Some organisations claim they have an open and honest culture and good luck to them if that’s the case, but perhaps we can learn something from the Turkish culture.
I once worked in a job for 15 months and in that whole time I counted only one piece of positive feedback received from my line manager.
And I did plenty of things well. The one occasion I got positive feedback it looked and felt like the manager felt uncomfortable delivering it, and it was only because I’d done something outstanding that couldn’t be ignored that they felt they had to say something. The other stuff I did, the things that I did well but got no feedback for, they were “just doing my job” and the culture was that I didn’t require or need any feedback about those.
But I also made a couple of mistakes and I am honest enough to admit them. And did I get negative feedback for these?
And regularly revisited even when in the past too.
That said a lot about the culture, that a couple of mistakes seemed to far outweigh competent delivery of almost everything and a few outstanding contributions. You’d think this would balance out at least, and possibly tip the other way, but no.
Still though, I made sure, and continue to make sure, that I give feedback to my direct reports whenever I can, even if it is just for “doing their job”. It may not be monetary feedback, but we all deserve to know when our efforts are being noticed and recognised. People shouldn’t have to go the extra mile to get some positive feedback.
And I think this is where a lot of managers, and organisations, fall down.
Its too easy to ignore decent work done well. You don't have to save your feedback for exceptional work. I like getting feedback and even though I *KNOW* that sometimes people give me positive feedback just to make me feel good, it still works nonetheless.
People work hard every day. Occasionally they may produce wondrous work, and at that point yes that should be recognised appropriately - but recognise the daily efforts they make - the little things.
Say well done.
Show appreciation that they are doing a decent job.
Tip people verbally, and see what difference it makes.
Till next time…
PS in other news, we're already looking at next years' potential holiday destinations, but lots of potential complications to overcome first…
I've recently completed two linked qualifications - Level 2 Gym Instructing and Level 3 Personal Training. In this blog I'll discuss how I found them and what I learnt.
I discussed my reasons for starting the qualifications back in October in this blog post. Since then its been a long, hard slog completing both qualifications back to back and managing them in and around a full time job, other bits of self employed work and being with my family.
But I've enjoyed it.
The Level 2 Gym Instructing course covered the basics of nutrition, anatomy, and planning/instructing gym sessions. And then I did the much longer and more in-depth Level 3 Personal Training qualification, which covered more. It did nutrition again but looking specifically at the links between that and fitness and wellbeing / energy levels. It did anatomy and physiology again but in far more detail and looking at how different parts of the body work together and react under pressure. It covered different ways of delivering personal training too.
I learnt a great deal and am indebted to the teaching staff at Trafford College for helping me through this qualification, aswell as to Donna Hewitson, Damiana Casile and Alison Morton for being willing test subjects and case studies at various points.
I've developed my skills in a range of areas and of particular note I've really honed my coaching techniques as essentially that's what PT is. I've added huge rafts of knowledge around nutrition and anatomy that have proved useful in both my personal and working life. And I've discovered that not only do I *really* enjoy PT work, but I'm actually pretty good at it too. Its a damn shame there's not loads of money in it otherwise it could be bye-bye HR. And yet I think there's space in my life for both HR and PT, and think the two are complementary. Without my existing HR (and L&D/coaching) knowledge I'd not have been able to grasp some of the basics of PT and instruction and knowing how to motivate people. And without my PT knowledge I wouldn't be able to coach in business as holistically as I can do, or to look at employee wellbeing in a new light. So there's definitely room for both and I'll be using my HR skills in any PT work I do, and my PT skills in my HR work too.
But how much PT work will I do? Very little. Its something I may fit in around any full time work I do, and pleasingly is something that can easily be done in evenings and weekends. But I have given my philosophy some thought and know how I’d do it. Above average in physical fitness is achievable for most people. Olympic standard isn’t. I would want to work with people who aren’t happy with who they are and want to change. Those who recognise they could be better and want to learn all the various things that need to happen to be better, from nutrition, to focused training and objectives, to understanding physical limits and work life balance issues, to understand the rules and the need for support, the need to make lasting lifestyle changes. Those who want to be “above average” and harness the Power of Three. I would want to work with people who are interested in becoming Above Average, without the pressure of trying to be the best - who want to be a bit better than others, without the commitment needed to go out and win races and competitions - who want to feel good about themselves but don't think they have time and energy to completely transform themselves.
I think I can use this philosophy in my main HR work too, and look forward to doing it.
Right now I've finished with formal learning though, but I don't think I'm finished forever. I do enjoy learning and have a few other qualifications and accreditations in my sights.
For now though I'm really looking forward to putting what I've learnt recently into practice, both in PT and in HR.