Born this way

A few days ago I posed a question on Twitter about the impact of the behaviour and style of those who led you at a formative stage of your career has had on your own leadership behaviour and style.  Here I’ll discuss this.

Here’s the tweet.


This was prompted after a meeting with someone in my network.  Well, I say meeting, we both like to ride our bikes so instead of a traditional meeting, we spent a morning riding around the Cheshire countryside punctuated by coffee stops, and chatting about all things people management and development.  Most enjoyable.

Anyway, we got to talking about various poor leaders we have encountered, and I told the story of a particularly bad manager I’d had in recent years (we’ll call her Jane Doe), without doubt the worst I’d ever had.  And to my surprise my friend knew the person in question, had worked with them over 15 years previously when Jane Doe was starting out in their management career.

What my friend said about Jane Doe surprised me.  He said that when he knew them, they didn’t display any of the poor qualities I later experienced, but said that management was very new to Jane at that point.  He also said that Jane Doe appeared to have, at the time he knew her, a very bad manager herself who regularly reduced Jane to tears and who was known to be a bit of a tyrant.  In fact, as my friend described Jane’s manager and behaviour, I was struck by how similar it was to how Jane behaved some 15 years later with me.

Almost identical in fact.

And that made me wonder whether Jane’s experience of poor leadership and management behaviour in the formative stages of her own management career had shaped her own leadership style and behaviour as her career developed?

Hence the tweet.

I guess its a bit of a nature vs nurture debate and one to which there is unlikely to be a definitive answer, but the responses on Twitter were interesting.

Almost everyone said that the managers they had early in their career did have an impact and continue to do so.

However many people said that when they had experienced bad managers, this had made them react strongly against it and seek to avoid this type of behaviour.

Others pointed out that there are other influences, such as parents, teachers, friends/peer groups, and specific experiences.  And I’d agree with that.

But my question was hinting at whether bad managers beget bad managers, and whether good managers beget good managers.  And I think that whilst there isn’t overwhelming evidence in favour of this hypothesis, most would concede that it is at least possible – one tends to learn behaviour by observing others, and if you’ve seen a leader get results (note – define results in whatever way you will, but in this case I’m talking about compliance, obedience, and short-term performance) by acting in a certain way, then you would be tempted to copy that behaviour when you first get into management to see if it gets similar results – and it might.  And so if this behaviour you’re copying is one that reduces people to tears, but gets them doing their work – you’re tempted to copy it.

But if you’re a decent human being then you might observe this and think “hang on, there’s got to be a better way of getting results than this”.  And you’d be right.  So there’s an element of how the brain functions, of personality layers too, that will shape an individual leaders’ decision making and style – and I’m not inclined to get into discussing this here in detail but would be interested in what you think?

I’ll talk a little about some of the best leaders and managers I’ve worked for and, as I’ve been reflecting on this, I’ve listed 5 great managers I’ve worked for and have, for the first time, noticed some shared qualities, styles and behaviours that they have.

Why hadn’t I noticed that before?  Particularly as they seem to be qualities which I aspire to copy and adapt.

All 5 of them were in touch with their and my emotions.  They were all helpful, supportive, genuine people who inspired loyalty, and whose approach to getting you to do something was to make you feel that you really wanted to do it, and never to order.  There were no tears, but plenty of jokes and laughs.  There was a caring approach and a focus on family.  And they were all awesome.

Contrast that with some bad managers I’ve worked for where you could almost reverse the preceding paragraph.  One was known, behind her back, as The Smiling Assassin.  Another was known, behind his back, as The Hatchet Man.  Another had the secret soubriquet Lethal, and another was known as The Jerk.  The names are relevant because these are labels given to them by staff who saw that these leaders weren’t good leaders, and who knew their behaviours were poor – the leaders were seen as false.

But, most of them did get results.

So somewhere some aspiring managers might have been watching them and thinking they’d copy this behaviour at some point…and so the cycle continues.

I like to think I’m a decent human being and a leader with some good qualities, and I can say that that has been shaped by working for great leaders in the past.  How might I have fared if I’d been Jane Doe and working for a poor leader at a formative stage of my career?  Would I have become a poor leader myself?

I hope not.

Poor Jane Doe.

What are your views on this discussion?

Till next time…


PS in other news, my eldest son starts College this coming week, and we are also now looking for primary schools for my youngest daughter – talk about a spread of parenting responsibilities…

Hard Work

There’s been coverage in the media recently about flexible working, and as it’s a topical issue I’m wading in here on the subject once again.

The article that prompted the flurry of coverage on national TV and social media was this one. It is telling us nothing new, or at least I think so, but from the national TV coverage you’d think this was breaking news.

As you know I’ve written and spoken extensively on the subject of flexible working before, here, here, here and here.

In the talk shown on the final link above, I commented on how I liked at that time to structure my working day, but the sad truth was that I couldn’t do that often enough.  In the company I worked for at the time I made that speech, whenever I managed to do a day like the one I described, it was met with snide remarks – things like people don’t know where you are if you’re not working at the desk you have in your office (despite me being regularly in touch with people from my home work base) and, on one occasion, I was actually accused of having another job and working for someone else because my manager genuinely didn’t believe that I was working from home one day a week.

Basically I stuck out like a sore thumb and the culture was nowhere near ready for that type of flexible working, and I wonder whether the same is true in other cultures too and hence why the recent media coverage has seemed like big news.

I quickly left that organisation as it wasn’t giving me what I needed in work or in life, and went somewhere else that promised great flexibility, and had all the right policies and procedures in place to convince me that it was a great modern workplace.

Sadly though, these were false promises, and the policies around flexible working and the like were just lip service, and again this makes me wonder if on the face of it, we have organisations who SAY they are great at embracing flexible working, but actually they don’t really understand it or have the know-how to really make it happen.

There’s a great conference coming up run by CIPD and ACAS on making flexible working a reality, and the link for that is HERE.  I’d recommend attending if you or your organisation have any barriers in place that are preventing you operating really flexibly.

Like the kinds of barriers that I encountered…

  • Where you are told that remote working is only possible in special circumstances, or allowable if you’re an Executive
  • Where there’s flashy videoconferencing kit, real top notch technology, but which only connects two locations to each other and doesn’t allow for videocalling in from any other location
  • Where there’s a great coffee shop on site and staff are encouraged to use it, but only to buy coffee and not to have meetings there
  • Where the organisation says its a family friendly one, and understands the demands that working parents have, but require you to state your start and finish times, which are then recorded in your managers diary and any variances frowned upon and if you’re 5 minutes late, you’re told off
  • Where the organisation claims to use the latest in technology, but won’t let you get your work emails on your own device as its against IT policy, and will only give you an out of date smartphone and clunky laptop, but make you wait months for these to arrive
  • Where the organisation has only just got WiFi and promotes this as a major leap forward, but where said WiFi keeps breaking, is slow and cumbersome and requires immense security clearances to get onto
  • Where flexibility is encouraged, but working at your desk in the office 9 to 5 Monday to Friday is the “real” encouragement

I think these are barriers many organisations face and if that’s what you see in your organisation, then talk to me and I might be able to help – and get onto the ACAS/CIPD conference for more varied insights too.

These barriers had a major impact on me and no doubt would on most people.  It meant my commute was fixed in terms of time, and therefore at greater cost. I had to make sacrifices, like doing school runs, and could only manage either breakfast or tea with my family, never both.

It made me angry by the time I got to work.  Work shouldn’t be something you do when angry, but I was furious every day.

I like to keep fit and train and working flexibly allows me to do that, but all of a sudden in these organisations I was restricted, and my fitness and therefore my health suffered.

Your organisational culture needs to support people to raise concerns and difficulties, and to work with them to resolve any issues – I was more or less told to grow a pair, that as a senior manager I should accept it all as part of the territory.

Your employees have lots of things going on in their personal life that will affect them in work, and showing understanding of that is something that will help greatly.  I had a wife who was pregnant and not very well (and some other family difficulties), and this created extra pressure and requirements on me to do more as a parent and husband, and therefore meant I needed extra flexibility.  Managers need to be empathetic and understanding, and unfortunately I got none of that and was made to feel small and pathetic for even raising the issue.

I often speak and write about flexible working and realised that I was being hypocritical if I espoused what people and organisations should do, but wasn’t doing it myself – so since then in leaving employment, and setting up and running EPIC I’ve ensured that I practice what I preach.

We should, as the original article says, allow people to have more choice over where, when and with who they work. We need to help them have their Perfect Day, as often as they can.

We need to recognise that there are various multiple stakeholders in the employment relationship and in the employee’s ability and willingness to perform, and that all of these need to be kept satisfied, though perhaps not all at once or in the same way.

We also need to recognise that organisational and individual approaches to flexible working will show various iterations and inevitably lots of mistakes to find what works for all parties.  Allow people to experiment and make mistakes and learn from those.

Trust people to make choices that suit them and the organisation.

Trust them to know what the right balance is and to find it.

Otherwise, one day they’ll just leave.

To find out more about how others are making flexible working much less like hard work, go to the ACAS/CIPD conference in September.

Till next time…


PS in other news, I’m immensely proud of my eldest son who has absolutely smashed his GCSEs and is now about to enrol on his A Levels…

Only the lonely

In this blog I’m discussing the phenomenon that is the new Chief Executive in an organisation and what this has meant for HR and the company in general in my experience.

In my 22 year working career I’ve worked for just nine Chief Executives across six organisations, and have been present in organisations when the Chief Executive has changed just three times. In each of these cases the change has had a massive impact on the organisation and, in two of those cases, been a major contributor to me leaving the organisation.

I’ve also seen each of the three new CEOs instigate a big clearout of senior management for better or for worse. It seems to be a thing new CEOs do. In one organisation 50% of senior managers had departed within a year of the new CEO starting, and I thought that was extreme – but the next time it happened 85% of senior managers had gone within two years of the new CEO starting, and in the most recent example I’ve lived through 75% of senior managers had gone within 18 months of the new CEO starting.

So it really does seem to be a new CEO “thing” and it brings to mind how new football managers clear out existing backroom staff and bring in their own people.

People who they can trust. Who help them deal with the loneliness of the top job.

But this suggests that new CEOs do not trust the vast majority of existing senior managers in their new organisation. Is that true?

Well, when that new CEO was appointed, they in all likelihood didn’t tell the Board that they’d be clearing out senior management. After all, that senior management had been responsible for getting the organisation to where it is now, and assuming the organisation isn’t in major trouble then one can assume the senior managers are at least reasonably competent too.

And also, when the new CEO starts and meets with each senior manager, they are highly unlikely to say that they intend a clearout, that they don’t trust over half of the existing managers and that they actively intend to get rid of most of them.

So are the new CEOs lying? Quite possibly in some cases I’ve come across.

I think the new CEO comes in with the idea that they want to clear out the existing managers and a view that the organisation needs to be fixed. And a need to either bring in people they trust from previous places or to appoint brand new people who owe loyalty to that CEO.

And in order to be able to do that, they do need to lie to existing managers.

Possibly the organisation does need to be fixed in some way. Possibly it doesn’t. But it is what most CEOs set about doing regardless.

The time leading up to a change of CEO is strange too – people jockey for position quite a bit, the outgoing CEO is seen as a bit of a lame duck and unable or unwilling to make decision, and the new CEO is seen as an unknown quantity so the organisation has a sense of inertia about it until that person starts.

And when the new CEO does start, everything they say and do is analysed for possible insights into what they are going to do “next” or “eventually”.

What is worrying is where a new CEO says and does things inconsistently with different people or groups of staff – saying and doing things with front line staff for example that are different to what they say and do with senior managers. I’ve seen that happen once – the new CEO clearly wanted to be a friend to front line staff but at the same time wanted to unsettle senior managers.

Why do new CEOs do this though? Why sow such seeds of distrust amongst senior managers when surely it could just as easily backfire?

I’m not certain but it does seem to be a pattern.

And in HR, it’s difficult to know how to behave and act before and after. In one situation I carried on doing all my strategic stuff regardless and was praised by the new CEO for doing so. In another situation I carried on doing all my strategic stuff regardless only to see the new CEO more or less reverse course on most of them and leave me high and dry. And in the final situation I held off on lots of strategic stuff, waiting to see what the new CEO wanted as I was fairly new too, and was told off for not making enough progress. In two of the situations I offered advice to the CEO on how best to engage staff and leaders and was thanked for it, and in the third I did the same only to be told off for doing so.

Basically, CEOs are strange beasts who want to exercise as much control over their new organisation as possible, and are fairly content in my experience to create turbulence within senior ranks and possibly in the wider organisation in order to do so.

In my current role I regularly talk to CEOs and act as a critical friend and sounding board for their ideas. It works well for me and them, but I’ve no doubt it can be a lonely position. I still don’t know why they behave as they do when they are new though.

Do you?

Till next time…


Ps in other news, our annual holiday approaches and it will be good to be offline for the vast majority of the week, with little phone or internet signal

Soul destroying HR

I was reminiscing the other day about some of the worst bits of HR work I’d ever been asked to do, and realised that across my career there’s been a few instances of what I’d call soul-destroying HR. I tweeted about this to see if others had similar experiences, and lots had. This blog discusses this.

I think, whilst we would all like to imagine it could, there’s no way that 100% of anyone’s work is totally delightful and there will always be some element that is mundane and routine, and possibly even soul-destroying. One would hope, though, that this is as small a % as possible and efforts are made to minimise it.

HR seems to have more than its fair share of this type of work, and I’m not sure why. For a function that should be about shaping the future of work and about creating employee engagement, we have a bad reputation for doing some pretty nasty stuff.

And we all seem to have experienced it.

In a previous job I took over running the annual staff end of year celebration. The person who had done it up till then told me to my face that “HR isn’t about doing things that staff actually like and will motivate staff, HR are the fun police”. I said she had been working with the wrong type of HR people.

Even yesterday a friend was telling me about her experiences of temping in a new job. She was told by the HR manager to move her car because “small cars have to go at the edges of the car park so that bigger cars can go in the middle” and this was apparently a key function of the HR team there. Apparently the HR team at this place have an awful reputation for being the fun police too.

So it’s widespread. But in a job that brings with it some element of compliance work, it’s inevitable some of this type of work will creep in. Sadly.

And I’ve done my fair share too.

I started a new job around a year ago now. In my first month I had to end the contract of an interim manager, with two weeks notice, when that interim had been told before I’d started that he would have an extension for another four months. He had, understandably, turned down other work and made financial commitments around this. My own manager had decided that the extension was ill advised and wanted this interim manager gone a lot sooner. But instead of telling him herself, she got me to do it. I didn’t agree with it for lots of moral reasons, but had to be the one firing the bullet. Because I was new, and because I was the one saying the actual words, the interim manager felt it had been my decision and told lots of colleagues that it was my decision. My reputation within the team took a dive.

In the same job and in the same first month I was pulled in by Finance who queried some of my teams expenses, which appeared to be outside policy. Finance said that “for audit purposes” I had to investigate this possible expense fraud and so I did. There turned out to be no fraud, but some poor communication and reporting, but the investigation really pissed my team off at a time I ought to have been building the new working relationship with them. They felt I’d instigated the investigation and didn’t trust me as a result, all because Finance told me to.

And in another previous job I was told that my ideas about a ground breaking performance management system were not required, and that I had to implement a traditional appraisal and forced ranking system which the Chief Executive liked instead. Not only that, but I had to continually and constantly chase managers for completion and report completion rates (and nothing else) to the Board. And tell managers off and escalate their non compliance. And I didn’t believe in what I was doing, but I did it.

In reflecting on these, I wonder who the real baddie is here? Is it the persons who asked me to do these soul destroying tasks? Or is it me for not staying true to my principles and for sullying my own and HRs reputation by not refusing to do these things?

Possibly, it’s both.

But this appears to be a common theme in the responses I got on Twitter. Take a look at some of them below, all anonymised. There were plenty more…

• Sit through interviews of several candidates to later discover the manager was paying lip service to the process and had already picked (and informed) the successful candidate he was going to be offered the job. It was early in my career.

• Building an annual review process with agreed % increases by performance, position in band and market and then its basically ignored and the actual increase is based on mates, perception and threats of leaving

• The most textbook traditional annual appraisal system you can think of. Being told by on high we had to move someone to Underperforming (who wasn’t underperforming!) to meet a quota

• A ridiculously long-winded company-wide benchmark exercise on car allowances, to satisfy the ego of a senior leader who got an extra £12 pa as a result.

• Withdrawing over 20 offers of employment 2 days before the agreed start date due to the management teams lack of planning/communication and incompetence.

• Doing an in-depth analysis of all the exit interviews, opinion surveys and turnover data I had for the last three years to be told that my data was invalid because it didn’t match what the Director thought was the problem.

See if you can spot some common themes. For me it’s about HR doing someone else’s dirty work. About a real disconnect between HR and the business. And about HR not feeling strong enough to stand up to the business when asked to do something of this nature.

What causes this?

I confess I’ve been guilty of some of these but the important thing is that one learns from it, and believe me these are situations I’d not get into again.

But why do some in HR still get drawn into soul destroying work? I think, if you do, you may be in the wrong organisation or maybe the wrong profession.

In HR we may not be able to do fantastic work all the time, but we can be clear with the business that we are about creating a fantastic employee experience and work towards that.

If you’re in HR and want to talk to me about how you can avoid or get out of soul destroying work, or how to create a fantastic employee experience then shout – I can help.

Till next time…


Ps in other news, I’ve scaled back my training for a few months as I’m finding it hard to manage this commitment with my newborn child. In a few months time it’ll all be fine, so I’ve pulled it of my remaining 3 2018 races but have already entered some for 2019…watch out

The Coach

My son and I play one particular sport and I’ve coached him at it since he took up the game properly at age 7.  He’s nearly 17 now and, last weekend, I realised he’s become better at the sport than me.  This blog talks about this experience and what I’ve drawn from it.

The sport itself is crown green bowls, which will only mean something to those living in the certain parts of the UK.  The sport itself isn’t important to this story though, its about parenthood, and coaching.

And to an extent, living vicariously through one’s children.

The sport is in my family’s blood and stretches back many generations.  I’ve played it since I was about 10/11 and whilst I’ve been moderately successful and am above average, I’m no superstar.  I have made the best of my limited talents as a player, but have, since a very early age, been able to deeply understand the sport, its psychology, physical and mental requirements and how to win.  I just haven’t been able to put it all together to be able to do that myself, but at various times I’ve been involved with coaching players and teams (and there’s some overlap with HR, L&D and my PT work too) and been more successful with that than with my own playing career.

My son though, is a different matter.  From age 7 it appeared obvious that he had a raw, natural ability and could go far.  I decided to coach him as much as I could, though I think the history of sport is littered with overinvolved parents and undue pressure and competitiveness, so I was mindful of this.

I knew it would take 10 years or more for him to reach his full potential, so this was a LONG investment.  In the first few years, he was aged 8-9 and playing against adults and struggling physically.  My role there was just to help him enjoy the game whilst he grew up and help him to learn how to overcome physical limits.  In later years, aged 11-12, he struggled emotionally and was prone to outbursts and lots of emotions, which hampered his game.  My role there was to help him deal with the emotion and process it, to use it positively.  In later years, aged 14-15, he could clearly see his own potential but struggled with the patience he would need to cope with being some years from realising that potential.  My role was to help him learn from every game he played and keep encouraging him.

In all of these phases I’ve learnt a lot about myself and about coaching.  I’ve learnt that a coach needs to be various things, sometimes all at once, sometimes at different times, and needs to be highly tuned to the needs of the coachee.  I’ve learnt that I can vary and flex my own coaching style and deal with a wide variety of situations.

And then last weekend he won a particularly difficult match and in doing so, was displaying skills and abilities that I realised that I had not taught him.

He’d learnt them himself from watching others and reflecting.

Skills and abilities that I myself do not have and never will.

He’d watched my game, assessed my limits, and worked out how he could become better than me.

And this made me immensely proud as a father and as a coach.

As a father I’m seeing him start to believe in and realise his own potential.

As a coach I see how one of the most beneficial things I can do is to help a coachee to learn for themselves, to apply techniques on their own that help them become better and believe in their own potential.

And it was wonderful.  I had tears in my eyes.

Afterwards he was trying to describe elements of the game to me but was struggling.  He didn’t need to, because I’d watched it all, but he clearly wanted to try to process it but couldn’t find the words to match the drama that had unfolded.

I told him to tell me how it made him FEEL.

And he did.  Easily.  And he felt better for it.

In one fell swoop, one of the best coaching interventions I’ve ever made, and possibly one of the best parenting ones too.

And then I realised another lesson as father and coach.  Its about being there for your children, helping them celebrate life’s successes and helping them deal with life’s setbacks.  As coach, its about helping the coachee process their experiences and reflect accordingly.

And above all, its about recognising the emotion in situations and using that.  Something I started work on with my son almost 10 years ago and is now bearing fruit.

I realised that no matter how good he gets – and he’s now better than me and getting better all the time – he’ll still need his coach.

And he’ll still need his Dad.

And I’ll be there.

Till next time…


Ps in other news, I turn 43 on Tuesday. I’m now past the age where my Dad finished work through ill-health, which has made me quite reflective…

You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!

I’ve been reflecting on the lack of engagement displayed by some relatively senior managers in organisations when that organisation is going through major change, specifically in each case a merger-type scenario. In this blog I’ll discuss my observations on this, as it strikes me these managers ought to be leading the change, not being disaffected by it.

I’ve been through a couple of merger type scenarios myself so I know how it affects people and the change curve the whole organisation goes on. I’ve also got friends going through similar at the moment.

In my experiences the reactions of senior managers to announcement of the mergers said everything you needed to know about the engagement levels caused by the overall employee experience. In one place, we were excited but nervous because it might change our organisation for the worse, but hopeful we could play a part in the new future. In another place, we were excited because we knew there would be opportunities to leave the organisation as a result and couldn’t wait to have those conversations.

Our experiences had led to these different scenarios.

However in the place we were happy, we had the conversation about whether we desired to leave, and none of us did, so were reassured to hear of organisational plans to do stuff with us. In the place we weren’t happy, we had whispered discussions about when each of us would be happy to leave (eg if I can make it to Christmas I’ll be happy; if they want me to go now I will), but the actual conversations never happened so the organisation knew nothing about the lack of engagement we felt.

Sadly in both cases there was a lack of honesty which cuts to the heart of the employee experience.

In the first organisation it was the organisation itself not being honest because of a fear of exit costs in one big hit upfront. It said it didn’t need anyone to leave when really it wanted them to. If the honest conversation had happened, many would have gone rather than stay where they weren’t wanted. Result – total lack of engagement amongst the senior managers when they found out.

In the other place it was the employees not being honest as no one dared speak the truth to the executives and so the organisation sailed blissfully on assuming its senior managers were all on board and committed when they weren’t. Result – total lack of engagement again.

In both cases a lack of honesty caused this. Honesty is at the heart of adult-adult relationships and the overall employee experience.

If your organisation is going through major change, you obviously want senior managers on board. It’s also reasonable to assume not everyone may want to be a part of that change. What’s stopping organisations having a grown up discussion with its senior management population, laying all the cards on the table and allowing them to make an adult choice?

Worth a shot.

This brings to mind a tweet I did yesterday about a friend who got to the final stage of a selection process and was about to be offered the role when the organisation told her about their dog friendly culture where dogs are encouraged to be brought into the office. She hates dogs, and told them it’s a deal breaker. Lots of interesting reactions to this tweet but I admire both parties here. The organisation were honest enough to say upfront about their culture and the type of experience the employee would have there, and my friend was honest enough to say that she wouldn’t enjoy that and wouldn’t take the job under those circumstances.

Grown up behaviour on both sides and commendable honesty.

I’d urge you to do the same in creating the right employee experience for your staff.

Till next time…


Ps in other news, we’ve decided to do a holiday after all this year and have booked to go to the Isle of Skye in a remote cottage for a week. Only two of my four children will be coming though, the older two may have passed their time of family holidays now…


It’s World Cup time and there has been some discussion about the use of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) decisions, as indeed there has been since it was introduced and as has mirrored similar conversations in other sports when similar things were introduced. In this blog I’m going to discuss what potential VAR has for the workplace.

If you’ve not come across VAR, then the simplest way of describing it is another referee sat watching a video feed of a game from different angles and with various technology to aid replaying the feed, who is responsible for advising the actual referee of things that referee may have missed or seen differently, with the actual referee being then able to change their original decision. It is a controversial tool in football and not without its flaws, though I think has been brought in for the right reasons.

Obviously if something like this was used in the workplace then it brings with it all manner of privacy issues, and GDPR looms into play too. But for now let’s assume we’ve managed to resolve all of these and there are no such issues, and everyone is happy to have VAR in the workplace.

Firstly who is the workplace referee who needs to make decisions? It is probably the line manager or supervisor of a group of staff as they ought to be the one closest to the “action”. So who, in this case, would be the VAR? Could this be a role for HR or one for another line manager? Pros and cons of both I think.

Secondly, what value could come from VAR in the workplace? Although I could see a great use in disciplinary situations, could it really add value in everyday situations?

Probably, where there is ambiguity over what an employee may or may not have done something, or where there’s a possible disagreement between employees or employees and their manager.

But what does this turn the role of the line manager into? Is a line manager really a referee?

I guess it’s a useful analogy. A referees role is to keep an eye on the game, ensure it flows, ensure the players adhere to the rules, and to keep an eye on time aswell as to be the arbiter in any disputes between players as to the rules.

A line manager should, in ideal circumstances, be doing the same. The idea of a line manager keeping their team performance flowing is one that appeals to me.

For that to work the line manager, like the referee, has to be a non participant. And therein lies the problem in that hardly any line managers are given the freedom to be a non participant.

Continuing this analogy, the VAR in these circumstances would clearly also be a non participant and likely another line manager, perhaps with them operating on a rota to share the burden.

But VAR exists because humans make mistakes and have limits. It’s predicated on referees making errors of judgement and not being able to see everything that goes on. It operates on the basis that mistakes are learning experiences and is intended to support referees by giving them help.

And I haven’t seen that culture embedded in any workplace so far. Managers who are encouraged to make mistakes because they can rely on another manager to help them out? Hmm. Seems far fetched based on my last two employed positions!

So would VAR translate to the workplace and would it solve anything?

I don’t think it could translate and it would have limited success and a narrow purpose if it did. The workplace hasn’t got the necessary culture.


…I can see fantastic opportunities to use it in my personal life…

Consider these scenarios:

– Two of your children fight and each blames the other for starting it

– Arguments over who emptied the dishwasher last

– Determining who used the last of the toilet roll / washing up liquid / any household product

– An ornament is knocked over and smashes and no person or pet admits they were in the vicinity

– Who left muddy footprints all over the hallway?

Call for VAR! I need this in my life.

Till next time…


Ps in other news my 16 year old son has finished school and is looking for a summer job. I’ve been helping him. What happened to the little boy I dropped at nursery for the first time nearly 14 years ago?


On Thursday evening last week I had the honour and pleasure of hosting the Healthcare People Managers Association (HPMA) Excellence in HR Awards at the Tower Hotel in London, and thoroughly enjoyed myself – this blog is about what happened and showcases the winners of the awards.

If you want to find out more about the HPMA and the great work they do then visit their website.  Recently they, and some other sector specific bodies, have signed a memorandum of understanding with the CIPD to collaborate to improve the people profession, and its great to see that happening.

Their annual awards process celebrates the very best of achievements in the area of people management within the healthcare sector, and I was delighted to be asked to host these awards.  I’ve spoken at several HPMA events this year and have been really impressed with the quality of work being showcased and the enthusiasm of their members, and this was a great opportunity to do more.

However I’d never hosted a formal event like this before and was slightly out of my comfort zone in doing so – the awards ceremony is by its very nature highly structured and scripted, and offered little opportunity for me to show off what I can do in terms of working with large crowds and keeping them entertained – but I did my utmost to make sure everyone had a great night.  It was hard to be surrounded by so much free alcohol and not drink any until after I’d done my bit!  But not quite as hard as having to get up very early the next morning to travel to York to speak on flexible working at #CIPDNAP18!

Here’s the awards, winners and some comments from the judges:

Capsticks award for innovation in HR University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust & Whittington Health NHS Trust for their highly unusual agreement which permits free movement of professionals between the organisations to improve the patient experience and to meet the public need  
Chamberlain Dunn Learning award for education, learning and development initiative Sheffield Health & Social Care NHS Foundation Trust with their innovative RESPECT training programme which has significantly improved safety for both staff and patients The winners of this category have had a high impact on safety for service users and staff. This project has achieved a culture of change in delivery and the judges were impressed that at the heart of the project the focus was on the service user
Vivup award for wellbeing North West Boroughs Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust with their creative and cost effective workplace stress management programme to tackle high levels of sickness absence and improve staff engagement The judges were wowed by this ground-breaking and exciting initiative. The winning entry is a shining example of how stress and absence can be reduced
Neyber Award for excellence in employee engagement West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust and their stroke care team, who have improved their service from an E to an A rating through staff engagement and strong leadership to become one of the best in the country The judges loved the winners’ clear message of ‘it’s just the way things are done around here’ while creating a strong culture of engagement throughout this winning team.
Academi Wales award for excellence in organisational development Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust for their novel way of deploying Advanced Paramedic Practitioners, demonstrating clear benefits to patient care In this highly contested category, the winning team demonstrated a truly transformational project which has had an impact not only on patient care but on the whole care community, providing a blueprint for the UK as a whole
Social Partnership Forum award for partnership working between employers and trades unions Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust who created a Just and Learning Culture led by staff from all levels, highlighting both accountability and learning The judges were impressed with the focus on patient safety and quality:  the enthusiasm, energy and passion from this team blew the panel away
University of Bradford award for cross-sector working Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and their project SEARCH, bringing together different organisations to give young people with learning difficulties the best opportunity of gaining employment This trail blazing project showed the clear benefits and impact that has been felt by interns and their families
BMJ Careers award for working smarter Ashford & St Peters NHS Foundation Trust with their radical approach to changing how the trust approves, books and attracts temporary medical staff The judges were impressed by the outstanding improvement both in patient care and in finance, achieved through cultural change and collaboration.
The HSJ award for strategic recruitment Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust who have partnered with over 15 multi-disciplinary teams to recruit 225 newly qualified nurses The judges were very impressed with what this winning team have done with no additional cost, using various social media platforms to achieve their aims
Award for best use of your ESR The London Ambulance Service NHS Trust whose ESR transformation programme has delivered over 85% uptake of MyESR, with over 40,000 e-learning modules completed since September 2017. The winning project is a fantastic example of team effort from a well-structured project. This team’s achievement have put ESR at the centre of change with a clear roadmap for the future.
HPMA Award for HR Analytics The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust whose collaborative project uses HR analytics to deploy staff more effectively and reduce the cost of non-medical temporary staff The judges thought this winner stood out for their focus on better patient outcomes: their use of the data has made a real and tangible impact with a huge benefit to the business
Most effective use of diversity to strengthen governance, recruitment or promotion West London Mental Health Trust with their BME leadership development programme, devised to build resilience through coaching, mentoring and development opportunities The judges were impressed with how the winning project has successfully supported under represented BME staff, by giving them access to aspiring promotional opportunities
Guardian Jobs Rising Star award (4 winners) Sarah Davies from Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust

Sally Anne Lawson from University Hospitals Birmingham

Victoria Bullerwell from Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust

Naina Arnett from University College London Hospitals NHS Trust Foundation Trust

Recruitment team of the year, sponsored by Health Sector Jobs West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust whose recruitment team is just 6 people and are proud to be the only ambulance service in the UK with no frontline vacancies. The winning team showed how to blend strategic and practical HR intervention to make a direct impact on frontline clinical services
Deputy HR director of the year, sponsored by NHS England Noeleen McCreanor from South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust who has made an outstanding contribution to both the Trust and throughout Northern Ireland This Deputy HR Director of the year goes above and beyond, developing others to be the best they can be: with a great connection with patients and the team while remaining self-deprecating. Collaboration is their watchword
HR Team of the Year, sponsored by the Welsh Government NHS Dumfries & Galloway, workforce and transition team who successfully engaged with 3000 staff to match them to posts for a new hospital and then ensure they were fully oriented. The judges were impressed by this major transition project delivered to an excellent standard and on time, and were bowled over by their powerful, passionate presentation from a well-bonded team. The panel all wanted to be part of this team!
HR director of the year award, sponsored by Liaison Amanda Oates from Mersey care NHS Foundation Trust In what was an extremely competitive field the judges selected the HR Director of the Year as a person who is an exceptional leader, passionate about achieving her goals to the highest standard. Amanda exemplifies what you would expect of a Director of Workforce – she is hard-working, goes above and beyond, and is always there to support others. Amanda is a visionary strategic thinker who seeks out opportunities to collaborate, improve and gain efficiencies all for the greater good of the trust and the wide NHS community.
The President’s award for lifetime achievement, sponsored by DAC Beachcroft Dean Royles Dean is the ultimate HR professional who epitomises what a forward-thinking workforce leader should be.  He has always demonstrated his passion and commitment to giving of his best to his organisation, the NHS and most of all his profession.   The workforce profession can learn so much from Dean in relation to his attitude and approach in staying true to his values. As Peter Cheese, Chief Executive CIPD, puts it: ‘I am delighted to see Dean receive this recognition for his long service and great contribution to HR within the healthcare sector. He is an outstanding, inspirational, and committed professional and as a Companion of the CIPD and the years he spent on our Board and as Chair of the CIPD, he has made a great contribution to the wider HR profession which we all recognise and thank him for.’


This was a truly great event that I was proud to be a small part of. Congratulations to all the winners, and also to the other nominees for running them so close. As I said on the night, if the CIPD and the other sector people management bodies are serious about collaborating to improve the people profession and the world of work, they could do no better than start by talking to the nominees and winners in the HPMA Awards and capturing the spirit of what they have been doing.


Well done all.


Till next time…




Ps in other news, I’m adjusting to life as a father of four but if I’m honest the last five weeks have been a bit of a blur…


As many of you know, my fourth child was born on 5th May.  William James John Cookson arrived a few days early, weighing 8lb14oz, and both mother and baby are doing fine.  I’ve written before HERE and HERE about William’s impending arrival, but in this blog I’m going to talk about the birth itself as I want to share some of the experience and particularly talk about the perspective of the father.

We were supported throughout by One to One Midwives, which is a service available in our region and supported by the NHS which provides a far greater amount of individual and personalised care to expecting mothers before, during and after the birth.  Katie went on a couple of hypnobirthing courses ran by One to One and came back one day to tell me she was going to have a home birth.

I knew better than to argue with her, but when we had Poppy, my 3rd child, Katie nearly died in hospital due to various complications, and the pair of them spent a whole week in hospital after the birth.  So I was a bit unsure as to whether a home birth was the right thing, but I went along with it as I could see that it was something she wanted to do, and I could also see how One to One were helping and supporting her.

She also talked me through what the hypnobirthing classes had taught her and I felt reassured that she could do this.

One of the main frustrations with having a baby, as any parent will know, is not knowing on which day he/she might arrive.  We were due on 9th May but realistically had to be ready two weeks either side.  Katie finished work on 19th April but with me now running my own business it was difficult to pin down a date when I’d “stop” – I took a chance and went to London on 26th April but didn’t dare have any appointments that took me more than 20 minutes from home after that.

Working for myself I was also keenly aware that I’d not qualify for paternity leave – not that I’d really enjoyed such benefits when employed either, but it meant that if I didn’t work, I wouldn’t get paid – the best I could do to balance these various issues was to reduce my workload for the entire month of May to about 40% of what it would normally be, and ensure that all of this was home based and could be done at any time of day or night.

But still it wasn’t and isn’t perfect.

Katie told me on 3rd May that she felt the birth was imminent – I’ll not share the details of why, but she gave it 48 hours and was proved right too. We spent those two days doing various things together like going out for lunch and coffees, conscious it might be a while before we could do so as a couple again.

And on 4th May in the evening I had a sports match to take part in and had to keep my phone on and with me at all times, and got home and into bed at 10.30pm.

By 11pm Katie was up and told me her waters had broke.  I was really keen for William to be born on Star Wars Day (4th May) but he’d have had to come REALLY quickly for that to happen, and we rang the midwife to bring the birthing pool (yes we were having a water birth).  She did that, and I set about filling the birthing pool via hosepipe and kettle, and this was finally completed around 3am by which point Katie had sent the midwife away as she felt confident enough with her hypnobirthing techniques to manage these stages, though we could ring her at any time.

At this point, 3am, it looked like labour might take a further 5-6 hours.  I got my 16 year old son to come home (he was at his mums) to stand by to help out with our 3 year old daughter who would be a disruptive influence if she woke up at her usual time of around 6:30am.

But then suddenly, at 3:30am, things began to move REALLY quickly. Katie was in the birthing pool and could feel the head so she asked me to call the midwife back.

I got hold of the midwife but she was in the middle of another birth and couldn’t come back, but arranged for another midwife to call in – and said she was half an hour away.

But Katie could feel the head and was pushing so if baby came in the next 30 minutes, I was the midwife.

And we were close – Katie said she could feel a head, and I really began to panic – I wanted to ring 999 to get someone to talk me through what I needed to do – I didn’t want to deliver William myself.

The 30 minutes it took for the second midwife to turn up were the longest of my entire life.

She arrived at 4.01am, and Katie began pushing – William was born at 4.11am and I was able to just hold her hands in the final stages knowing that the midwife  was handling the delivery.

The birth itself went smoothly and all was well during and after – the support we got from the various midwives who helped us was superb and made me (and us) feel really involved, included, supported and calmed.

Since then again the amount of support we’ve had from One to One has been great – with some kind of contact almost every day.

William continues to grow and develop and we as a family are complete and happy.

We have sleepless nights and there are times when I, as a father, feel powerless and helpless as I can’t do the breastfeeding or soothe him in the way Katie can, and have to just watch.

But I know my time will come.  It did with the other three, and I love all my four children equally and am amazed at how well they are all doing in their own ways, and am proud of the contribution I’ve made to that.

Though I’m afraid my work here is done – we are having no more children – I’m getting far too old for this kind of thing.

I want to watch my four children grow up together and keep the family happy and balanced.

It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had or ever will have, but being a father is the most rewarding and satisfying too.

Till next time…


PS in other news, paternity leave is a very weird thing as a business owner – I’m the business, and its hard to down tools completely otherwise I could lose work or clients, but its nice to have such a flexible business model to enable me to do what I want and need to with my family and pick up work in quiet times.

A Modern Learning Professional

Last week I was pleased to be able to speak at #cipdLDshow on the subject of being a modern learning professional, and this blog expands upon some of the things I spoke about.

I had a great time at the event – it was my first time attending, with the London venue being offputting in terms of the out of proportion cost and time of travel making it not as easy to get to – but I’m glad I went this time.

I caught a few of the exhibition’s free sessions, all of which were well attended, and enjoyed my lengthy browse around the exhibition itself.

My own session was at the very end of Day Two, which initially made me worry that it would be affected by people nipping off early, but of the 90 or so who were booked to attend, I’d say over two thirds made it, which was great.

The format for the session I was in was based on the Ignite format – there were 3 speakers, each delivering a 10 minute Ignite Max presentation, with slides auto advancing every 30 seconds. After that we moved into facilitated discussions around the key themes that emerged from each talk.

I had the difficult task of following the excellent Fiona McBride and Julian Stodd, both of whom did great talks.

My own talk was on the subject of being A Modern Learning Professional, and intended to give a light-hearted look at how the world of L&D has evolved since I joined it back in the mid to late 1990s.

As is becoming usual for me, I delivered the Ignite Max talk in full rhyme.  You can see a recording of this, courtesy of the amazing Ady Howes:

Although it was a light hearted look at things, I was intending to observe a few happenings and I’ll summarise them here – I’d love to know your views on these or even chat to you about them – give me a shout if so.

Here’s the main points:

  • The L&D world I joined back in the mid to late 1990s is almost unrecognisable from the one we inhabit today.  That said, there are still a few self styled great trainers around who cling to how things used to be, one of which I pastiche in the video.
  • When I delivered just training, no matter how good I or it was, it wasn’t integrated into the business
  • The skills that attracted me to and got me into L&D are no longer the skills I find I rely upon in modern L&D
  • I’ve become very much an all rounder, and have developed some skills I didn’t think were part of the L&D skillset – like using technology more and more, being an integrated part of and knowing all about HR, and curating information and resources – they’re all helpful now, but they don’t come natural to me
  • To be effective in my role, I need to view organisations as systems and see learning and skills as one part of that system – but focus as much on improving the other parts as improving learning and skills

And the talk seemed to go down very well indeed.  The facilitated discussion I led afterwards confirmed that lots of other people were wrestling with and debating the same issues, and we attempted to brainstorm some ideas about how we can cope with the continued evolution of our skillset, and where that might take us.

Overall, a very enjoyable day!

Till next time…


PS in other news, its open water swimming season now, but for me its still too damned cold to get into my wetsuit and start swimming – it seems like spring has only just started, I’ll wait a few weeks!