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#cipdACE blog 4 – CIPD Manchester breakfast camp on flexibility at work #flexforall18

What a great night last night. There were so many fringe events to go to that it was hard to decide what to do. I ended up going to several but the best ended up being in the Rain Bar where around 20-25 awesome HR people who mostly know each other through social media just turned up, drank and enjoyed themselves.

The fringe side of things has vastly improved in recent years and I welcome this development.

I also slept well, and given that we are hearing from Lenny Henry later on, if my Premier Inn stay had been less than perfect he would also have been hearing from me.

I’ve made it to the CIPD Manchester breakfast camp on flexibility at work. This is a fantastically well attended event for a fringe event with about 60-65 people here to discuss making flexibility at work a reality for all.

Well done to Rachel Burnham for organising and running this event.

I write and speak incessantly about flexibility at work and it’s a common theme in many things that I do, so I was interested in seeing what others are doing.

The discussions were table based with expert facilitators moving round to ask different questions.

On the first round of this, our table discussed the challenges in convincing senior managers to embrace flexibility, and we shared many of the commonly heard and expressed barriers that we get from senior managers.

As a senior manager myself in many of my later jobs, I attempted, with varying degrees of success, to lead by example. It wasn’t always easy and I met with lots of suspicion in some places. But in other places, other people followed my example.

I guess the culture makes a difference.

Our next facilitated discussion drew on the experiences of the Flexible Hiring Champions, and this was great because we were able to listen to some real life successful examples of companies structuring their entire talent acquisition processes around flexibility and getting good results from it.

Importantly here we also discussed how some people don’t want flexibility and that they can’t or shouldn’t be forced to work flexibly. If people want to work Monday to Friday 9 to 5, let them.

A barrier here that most had encountered is that job applicants usually won’t share their desires to work flexibly until a job offer has been made, as they feel that sharing such desires would mean the job offer is not made at all.

Our third facilitated conversation was on the elements of cultures that support flexible working.

Flexibility for everybody was the first of these. But let people find their own flexibility, and give them choices.

Flexibility in all its forms is the second element. This is about understanding that flexibility doesn’t just mean one or two particular methods or styles but can be almost anything that varies when and where work is done.

The third element is trust. We often tend to trust people we can see, and if someone is working elsewhere there is a risk that they are not trusted. A good example of trust is from Sussex University who apply flexibility by default and managers must make a business case for jobs NOT being flexible.

The fourth element is about managers who “get it”. Flexibility has so much positive impact, but so many managers don’t understand this.

The fifth element was a great policy that enables, not restricts flexible working. Give managers the support and structure they need to make it work.

And the final element is technology. The technology that you get people to use when working flexibly should be the technology they use when in the office. The communication methods should be the same and the ways of working should be the same.

Our final conversation was facilitated by Manchester City Council on how they support line managers to embrace flexible working, but at this point I needed to dip out to go and see someone else.

A great start to the day.

Till next time…

Gary

#cipdACE blog 3 – the new Profession Map

This afternoon has been one long conversation with almost everyone I know in the HR profession. I’ve managed to miss two conference sessions because I got wrapped up in some great conversations with awesome people.

I’ve also had a decent wander round the Exhibition and a chat to a few exhibitors. The quality of the Exhibition is better this year.

There are also various options for evening drinks which I need to choose from, and therefore almost everyone who wants to, can get some much needed winding down over a glass of wine or bottle of beer.

I’ve finished the day by going along to a Q&A session with David D’Souza and Victoria Winkler about the new CIPD Profession Map, labelled a special press briefing but it turned out only I was there and so there was little structure to it.

I’ve got a brochure about the new map and wanted to comment on a few things that jump out to me. It is of interest to me as I’ve contributed to this along its development path for the last two years, and a lot of what I do is linked to this map.

Here it is.

What do you think? I like it.

Why?

There is obviously lots that is new or refreshed so my views here are just commenting on the things that jump out to me, rather than a full blown review, so you will want to look at it in your own time and do that.

Here’s my two pennorth.

– A greater focus on culture and behaviour, business acumen, analytics, change and digital working in the Core Knowledge section. These are welcome from my perspective as I think not enough current HR practitioners display these elements and they can only help us to become more effective within organisations

– More emphasis on ethics, courage, inclusivity and passion within the Core Behaviours. Some of these overlap with existing behaviours but the fact they are more explicit in the new map reflects the changing world of work and the role played, or to be played, by HR in this. I’ll be interested to see how these make it into the new qualifications though but they’re definitely valuable.

– Within Specialist Knowledge, a section on the Employee Experience, a particular specialism of mine. More sections with an L&D/OD focus, reflecting my view that HR needs to have a greater emphasis on OD skill sets to help organisations improve, and a new section on People Analytics, reflecting the growing specialisms in these areas. All of these are welcomed too.

I’ve not spent a great deal of time studying this, and there’s clearly more work to do to roll this out and develop them fully, but the work to date has been positive and it’s good to see it at last.

There are more briefings on the CIPD stand, on Thursday at 11am, and a more formal launch is imminent.

What are your views on how this represents our profession?

And that’s the end of my day at the Conference although there are plenty of fringe events later. I’ll possibly see you at some of these.

Till next time…

Gary

#cipdACE blog 2 – session A2

I’m back in a session on large scale structural transformation.

The intervening 45 minutes passed in a blur and I barely had time for a coffee and a toilet break inbetween so many people who I wanted to say hello to. People really seemed to have enjoyed the opening keynote speech, and so did I.

This session focused on the restructuring and redevelopment of Aston Martin, and the speaker started by explaining the problems that Aston Martin has had in recent years. Essentially the business had been in a cycle of boom and bust for many years, and lots about their business model was not conducive to sustainability.

This was their redeveloped strategy. The approach was a holistic one with representatives from all functions, and these function heads still meet weekly to look at strategy and overall business sustainability. This builds on the concept that people are part of the solution, not the problem. They have used all their peoples ideas to help redefine the business.

In this they have asked people questions that I always advocate organisations and leaders ask their staff:

– what are you enjoying at work right now?

– what is pissing you off at work right now?

Great questions.

Aston Martin began working establishing patterns of behaviour to build one team and one way of working, beginning with the top team.

The speaker shared a picture of their top team, which was all male, all white, and thankfully he realised how this looked and highlighted how this had changed recently, but this made me wonder how much of Aston Martins problems were as a result of the composition of that top team?

The next speaker was Stuart Henderson, Group Head of HR and OD at Together Housing Group. This was interesting because a few years ago I applied for this job and he must have got it when I didn’t.

He talked about the challenges faced by five organisations merging at once, and this is a situation I’ve dealt with in the past and he outlined what kinds of things the group needed to do to ensure the transformation worked.

They began with establishing general design principles to drive their new structures. They also spent time ensuring line managers were on board, and that trades unions were fully involved and informed.

Here’s how HR continues to contribute to Together Housing, which is noble and nothing wrong with it BUT I don’t think this is anything startlingly new and many organisations will already be doing this.

One key takeaway from me was about checking whether your leaders have the right skill set. Stuart said that many of your managers will be able to steer a ship. But how many can plot a new course, or build a ship? This is something I think many organisations who struggle with change don’t give enough attention to.

An interesting pair of speakers with some good practical insights into change management and transformation.

But it’s lunchtime now.

Till next time…

Gary

#cipdACE blog 1 – opening keynotes

I’m here at #cipdACE for the umpteenth year running. It’s the highlight of my professional year and has been since about 2003 when I first went to Harrogate.

Whilst I retain a fond memory of the Harrogate days, the conference these days in Manchester has really come into its own, and what tends to make that happen is the fringe that takes place before and after each day, which adds to the social event feel. Harrogate had that in spades, and now so does Manchester.

I’m in the Blogsquad for the 4th year running and I’m also representing my 4th different organisation in that time, although this year I’m working for myself and loving it. I love being in the Blogsquad too, it’s great to be able to share the content that I see and hear and get involved with so much that’s going on.

My journey today was not too bad, aside from cramped trains meaning I had to stand all the way.

The opening address was by Peter Cheese as usual.

The real Peter Cheese this time and not that imposter who appeared in the promo video.

Anyway. In his opening keynote, Peter touched on various topical events and happenings that are having an effect on the world of work, starting with Brexit and the Gender Pay Reporting legislation, highlighting how the world of work is changing as a result of these and other forces.

The picture above was Peter’s views on how we in HR are shaping the future of work. He gave a quick run through on how we contribute in each of these areas, but then moved onto building professionalism itself, referring to the recently completed review of the Profession Map which is having a soft launch today. If you’re interested in finding out more, the CIPD stand has talks about it at 11am on both days.

The opening keynote was from Rachel Botsman, talking about the currency of trust.

Trust is a term that is bandied about a lot, she said. But we don’t spend enough time focusing on it.

She started with an exercise to gauge levels of trust in various public figures. But trust is contextual and based on what people say or do to us, and as such it is highly subjective.

She gave a great anecdote about how trust is based on signals that people give out, using her childhood nanny as an example. There was high trust there until an incident happened. How did her parents get the decision to trust someone with their children so drastically wrong?

The reason is that people can project an illusion of information that can often convince people to trust them. When trust breaks down, we see elements of bad character that the illusion has covered up.

She then talked about how to build trust. There are obviously two parties to the trust exchange, the trustor and the trustee. She described the way in which signals pass between both parties to ensure that trust is built up, or not as the case may be. Her point was that, just as money is the currency of transactions, trust is the currency of interactions.

This is an interesting point and one I need to reflect on in more detail, but has tremendous implications for coaching and mentoring work I do.

When you meet someone new or do something new, you are making a trust leap. But the more people that do this, the more the next people making this leap will trust automatically without question.

She did a great exercise to demonstrate a trust leap by asking us to give our phones to the person next to us. Sometimes a trust leap is what is needed. But in making that trust leap, you immediately look for signals and other elements that help to build that trust.

Why do we have to make a trust leap in order to build that trust? The signals are there without the trust leap taking place.

She then moved onto the concept of the Trust Battery. This is a concept that I have blogged about before, but which I call Credit. I recognise this well. It’s about how people often start within organisations with their Trust Batteries at half full, and it is the things they say and do that make it higher or lower.

It’s a great tool to have constructive conversations about people’s behaviour and the relationships you have with them. BUT the more transparency in the relationship, the less you need to have and believe in trust…

That’s a mind blowing concept. As I, and many others in the audience, felt it was the opposite.

But it makes sense.

If you know everything about someone, if you know how they are thinking and behaving, you don’t need to trust them.

But if someone doesn’t share everything you DO need to trust them.

That could change a lot of my interpersonal relationships.

And yours too.

What a great opening keynote speech with lots of personal takeaways.

Now it’s time for coffee…

Till next time…

Gary

My first job

My eldest son has started his first paid job. He’s washing up in the kitchen of a country pub. Watching and hearing about his experiences has made me reflect both on early jobs I had and what value I may have got from these, and whether the employee experience extends as far as those doing casual work to earn money to support their studies.

My eldest son is 17. He’s beneath all the tax, NI, pension thresholds and so the money he gets is pure cash spending money. He gets the minimum wage. At age 17 many people have already got experience of work, but it’s the first time for him and it has been interesting to see him approach this and I’ve had to try to resist giving him advice on how to navigate the world of work as I think it’s important that he finds his own way through the early days.

He has no idea what he wants to do, career wise, and this job is just money to help him whilst he studies his A Levels.

His experiences in his three weeks so far have been interesting, to me at least. It’s casual work but is on the far extreme of casual. His hours are flexible and set a day or so in advance, and whilst his work is repetitive and boring, he is learning about customer service, process management, service delivery and a few other things aswell as the importance of turning up on time and so on.

I tweeted about this and asked people what their first jobs were. You can have a look at some of the dozens of responses I got on Twitter, but there were a lot of paper rounds and milk rounds, both of which I’d consider bygones of a different age but a rite of passage for many my own age.

Interestingly, most people recalled these jobs with fondness, despite no doubt hating it at the time, and I wonder whether there’s something about the distance that time brings and also an appreciation of the raw, innocent person one once was and how open to new ideas and ways of doing things you were.

I suspect the employee experience wasn’t even a concept back then, and engagement levels may have been either high, low or inbetween but hardly anyone noticed or cared.

What was your first job and what was your experience like?

I had a series of short term jobs all in breaks from or alongside studying and found I learnt loads in each one, but often about life aswell as work.

My first job was cutting chips in a chip shop on a Saturday morning, about five hours work for which I’d get the princely sum of £5, which seemed a lot back then. I learnt I didn’t like peeling and cutting potatoes but also that the chip shop felt it had a USP, which was pies, and that it’s whole operation was built around pie making and selling, despite being a chip shop, which really surprised me. I also learnt that the owner of the chip shop was King in that shop, and that what he said (often with swear words) went, and if you didn’t do it straight away then you could be out of a job within minutes. A great insight into authoritarian leadership.

My second job was an office junior in a local solicitors firm. I was on reception, and so dealt with members of the public in person and on the phone and learnt about customer service and telephone skills. I also was the chief brewer upper and learnt how to make coffee.

I was 17. And I’d never made a cup of coffee before. My parents were tea drinkers mostly and I had never liked hot drinks, so had never come into contact with coffee let alone made one.

How my life would change from that point on. I could marry coffee now.

Also I was in charge of sorting out the archives, which were messy. Aside from learning how to spot and kill spiders, I learnt how to organise and systematically file stuff, which is something I still enjoy.

I also had jobs making sandwiches and clearing tables at a service station on the M6, where a succession of people tried to tempt me into pyramid selling schemes and I learnt how unsuited I was to anything involving food preparation.

Also, if you ever bought a sandwich at Knutsford Services on the M6 in the summer of 1995, you should probably get to a doctor soon.

Here I experienced bullying for the first time, as I was physically threatened by two co workers in order to join them in deceiving and defrauding the company and doing unethical and illegal stuff. I refused, and was told I needed to quit there and then and not come back, and if I told anyone about it I would be beaten up severely. I did quit, and never breathed a word about it until now. I wonder if that still happens?

I had a job in a shoe shop where I learnt about sales techniques and how many people’s feet really smell a lot, and the motivating power of bonuses and incentives for sales staff.

I had a job in an office doing basic accounts work and worked for a manager who timed you when you went to the toilet.

And a packing job working 12 hour shifts where it was daylight when I started and finished, but inbetween times it had been dark.

And in hindsight although I hated many of these jobs, I did learn from each of them and do now look back with fondness on almost all of them.

My employee experience in these jobs was not created or shaped by HR. I never came into contact with anyone from HR or anyone senior in the organisation. My experiences were dictated entirely by my immediate manager and team mates. No corporate communication reached me. No one tried to engage me with the organisational mission and in some places I had no idea what the company really did.

But my manager and team mates had the dominant role in shaping my experience, and so I feel it must be true for my son in his first job and others too.

The good, and the bad.

I doubt very much if anyone from HR had had any influence on the managers I came into contact with in the early to mid 1990s in these roles.

But I ensure that every manager I come into contact with these days knows in no uncertain terms the power they have over the employee experience and overall levels of engagement. How the climate they create and maintain in their team impacts morale and levels of performance.

And I help them to be even better at it, through a range of techniques.

All because once, I spent my Saturday mornings cutting chips in a chip shop.

The employee experience matters, whether it is someone’s first job or their last. No matter who they are.

Let’s make the world of work a better place, one person at a time if we have to.

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, we had a difficult few days with our youngest son in hospital for 3 days with what was suspected at the time to be meningitis but ended up not being, although still very serious. He’s five months old and it was a terrible few days but thankfully he is fully recovered now.

#cipdACE

Anyway, so I’m part of the #cipdACE Blogsquad for the fourth year in succession and am really looking forward to the Conference and Exhibition.  I’ve blogged in previous years about why you MUST go to at least the Free Exhibition and Free Learning Events, and SHOULD go to the Fringe/Social events happening before and after each day, and how you COULD go to the Conference itself.

These all still apply.

Its a great event, one of the highlights of the professional year for me, and I’d love to see you there – if you spot me wandering past please grab me and say hello, or tweet me during the Conference.  Or just soak in the atmosphere and follow what the Blogsquad are doing in terms of sharing great content.

This year rather than doing a full-blown preview blog, I thought I’d do something different, and have been sharing some spoof promo videos over the last three weeks.  Here they all are:

Here’s my first preview video, with immense apologies to fans of The Fast Show… (and you’d be surprised how many people do NOT remember The Fast Show)

And my second video, spoofing Dr Robert Kelly’s BBC interview… (and you would be surprised how many people thought this was a serious video with my kids genuinely interrupting me)

And my third video, spoofing Guy Goma’s mistaken identity BBC interview… (with thanks to Mark Hendy for the idea and for playing along!)

Anyway, I hope you like them and I hope to see you there!

Till next time…

Gary

PS in other news, its coming up to a year since I left employment and started up EPIC. Its been a very busy and informative and enjoyable year…

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.

Capture

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…

Gary

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…

Gary

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…

Gary

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…

Gary

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