Sarri seems to be the hardest word

In this blog, written in partnership with Mark Hendy, I’ll be discussing the recent situation involving the Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri and goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga (known for obvious reasons as Kepa).

This situation occurred on 24 February and you can read more about it HERE.

My friend Graham Wilson, leadership expert, managed to get interviewed by Sky News about it which you can watch HERE from 48:10.

Both Mark and I were astonished by Kepa’s behaviour and here’s our thoughts on it.

First we considered whether Kepa was right or wrong to react as he did. We both think, unquestionably, that Kepa was wrong. As Mark says, “tactical decisions belong to the manager…Kepa disregarded an instruction from someone who had the right to make that decision. It was a selfish call by Kepa.”

And I agree. This, in HR terms, was a failure to follow a reasonable instruction at one level however there’s another view that Kepa knew his own abilities and effectiveness best and may have been better placed to know what was the right call in the circumstances. We shouldn’t necessarily encourage a command and control culture and we do want to encourage employee voice – although this seems a questionable way to exercise it. Its fine to challenge decisions, but Kepa could have run to Sarri to explain his views and let Sarri make the final call. Doing this from a few hundred yards away made this the wrong decision by Kepa.

We considered how it leaves Sarri as manager, particularly after his acquiescence to Kepa and trying to brush it under the carpet to press afterwards.

Our view is that Sarri will find it incredibly difficult to command respect from his team now. But how important is a managers ability to see through a decision and course of action, versus how important is it that they operate a democracy and can change their mind? What do we value more?

In the workplace this would be failure to follow a reasonable instruction and possible gross misconduct but Mark points out that this isn’t really a straightforward comparison. As a minimum though Kepa should, and did, face sanctions but we would also question whether Sarri himself needs a bit of a talking to by more senior leaders about his own behaviour. It isn’t clear if Sarri was spoken to and in public at least, Chelsea have backed him – as to do otherwise would be seen to be giving in to player power.

However what if Sarri had resigned straight away? He didn’t, but if he had, would he have had any claim for Constructive Dismissal? I think he would, but Mark thinks not. I think this would be a justifiable resignation on the grounds of being undermined but Mark thinks the club could not be held responsible for that. This makes Chelsea’s backing of Sarri more important as if they had not done so, then surely Constructive Dismissal would have been able to be claimed?

Finally we’ve thought about Sarri’s immediate and later reactions and the difference between them. Instantly he had an emotional reaction which we both understand. Later he had calmed down and reflected and that was fine too, but he reversed course and took blame for the situation that was at odds with the way that Chelsea then acted and the punishment that was dished out to Kepa. Far better to retain some consistency in his responses and retain some semblance of respect too.

So there we have it. An interesting case study in leadership, culture and organisational behaviour that shows, again, how football sometimes mirrors the workplace but sometimes shows how different a world of inhabits.

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, my wife has resigned from her role whilst on maternity leave and is searching for a new role. The situation is quite surreal and we have both learnt a lot from it.

Part-time Lover

There’s been recent media coverage of Labour’s pledge to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees from day one, and the Prime Ministers’ previous statement that all jobs should be advertised as flexible by default. I’ve also recently tweeted about organisational views of part-time employees, and in this blog I’ll explore these themes more.

This is prompted largely by my wife’s current search for employment. She has worked 3 days a week as a Chartered Accountant for four years and is approaching the end of her maternity leave. She is unable to return to her previous role (a long and scarcely believable story) and is looking for a new 3 day a week role.

Note I’m using the phrase 3 days a week here and not part-time for reasons I’ll explain later.

I’ve helped her promote her job search on LinkedIn but she’s very much her own person and is having lots of conversations with various recruiters although it isn’t really what she wanted to be spending the last two months of her maternity leave doing.

Straight away though her requirement for 3 days a week is proving a barrier. She knew that there would be less 3 day a week roles than 5 day a week roles, but it’s the attitudes of the recruiters that has been surprising.

For a start she’s on maternity leave looking after a 9 month old baby. It isn’t easy to make a short notice job interview or to respond to recruiters asking her to just “come into our city centre office” for a chat about her search. Depending on the mood our 9 month old is in, it isn’t always easy to even answer the phone or indicate a time to call back! Sometimes these informal chats need to have baby in tow too.

Obviously if I’m around it’s easy but I’m not always there.

But it’s like some recruiters have no idea what being on maternity leave is all about. It’s stressful enough without having to find a job at the end of it.

There have been recruiters who have dropped her like a stone as soon as they’ve heard her mention 3 days a week. Some have said that their clients don’t want part timers, in a tone of voice that implies part timers are less productive and effective than full timers. One said that they would put my wife in touch with their Interim desk as they themselves only dealt with permanent roles, as if working 3 days a week is somehow less permanent a relationship.

The ages of our children means a need for both of us to have flexibility to do school runs etc. It means that every day, one of us can’t start work until 9am and one of us has to finish no later than 5pm, but in practice this differs day by day and isn’t massively predictable.

My wife explained her need to be able to finish at 5pm to a recruiter and they expressed a view that their clients may be able to cope with 3 days a week, but certainly not with “reduced hours” (eg finishing at 5pm) aswell, as they need staff who are committed to staying till the end of working hours.

I find myself having to state that those with caring responsibilities are not working “reduced hours” or with reduced commitment. They’re as committed as anyone and operate with greater flexibility.

Then there are recruiters who have heard my wife say 3 days a week and have ignored that completely and keep putting her forward for 5 days a week roles as if, suddenly, their persistence can overcome my wife’s inability to work more than 3 days a week.

Partly caused by, as I’ve hinted, the label of part time. It does suggest something less than what those who are full time offer. Took literally that’s correct but it’s proportionally equal and many part time staff are more productive than their full time equivalents.

I should add that there are plenty of helpful and understanding recruiters that have contacted my wife too, and she is building some helpful relationships as a result.

I remember an HR Advisor in my team asking to return 3 days a week from maternity leave. I confess I had very similar initial reactions to the recruiters above, but never said this out loud and took time to reflect on the request. I considered that the positive impact I could have on that one person by helping her with this far outweighed any potential negative consequences for the organisation and in fact no negative consequence ever actually arose.

Lots of people in the media talk about the death of 9-5 but what they mean is the death of Mon-Fri 9-5 and the traditional working week which, as I’ve spoken about lots of times, isn’t compatible with modern family and social lives anyway.

The concept of part time is a misnomer and we should not refer to it. Instead, focus on what someone CAN offer us. In my wife’s case, 3 days a week of high quality work.

Have you come across similar outdated views and how do you suggest we overcome them?

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, it’s been a busy time at home and work for all of us and we’ve been stretched really thin this last 5 weeks or so. The next 3 look the same and I hope we can cope…

Relax

Do you suddenly get a cold or other minor illness as soon as you stop work for a holiday?

I do. In this blog I’ll look at why and what it means.

This has been a thing for me ever since I was a child. I remember clearly every school holidays I would get a cold. Without fail.  I also would hardly ever get ill during school time, and don’t recall having time off at all.

But come the holidays, on came the cold.

And its been the same as an adult. I’ve been lucky enough to never feel ill enough to take time off sick, but its still a regular occurrence that when we are nearing a holiday period or just starting one that I’ll get some kind of minor illness.

It’s happened the last three foreign holidays we’ve had, and the last two UK ones, and its happened the last 5 Xmases in a row.  And that’s just as far back as I can remember.

Frankly, I’m getting sick of it.

There’s some research behind the phenomenon. Its called Leisure Sickness, as reported in this BBC article.  But despite the body of research it doesn’t appear widely recognised – and yet, I bloody well recognise it.

It always seems the same – I work really hard in the run up to a holiday, knowing I can wind down as soon as holidays come, and can feel quite stressed in the final week or so before the holiday.

And then holidays come and BANG…so does the cold.

The theory goes that its the turning off of adrenaline that allows the body to relax and become susceptible to minor illness, and I believe that its true.

But what else does this mean?

As a personal trainer I understand the value of adrenaline but also it’s downsides.

As an HR professional and leader I understand the impact this has on employee wellbeing.

If employees work so hard to “clear the decks” in order to have some time off that they expose themselves to burnout or minor injury, that says as much about the organisation and its ways of monitoring wellbeing and stress levels as it does about the individual approach to work.

I’m guilty of having bad habits, developed when I wasn’t as experienced or had made as many mistakes. It’s hard to change them.

But I can try to change them in others who have yet to develop them. And I try to change them in organisational cultures so that no one else gets sucked in to them.

What value are you as a spouse, parent or family member if you work too hard whilst at work and are ill for half the time you’re not at work?

There’s got to be a middle ground.

Running my own business I get the freedom to work less when I want to and more when I want to. It means I can sometimes (note, sometimes) manage the peaks and troughs of work and holidays better than I used to be able to.

I get to relax without it being an all or nothing thing. Relaxation is massively important, but the act of relaxation shouldn’t be a shock to the system. It shouldn’t bring the onset of minor illness.

Otherwise, when we eventually retire we are going to have one hell of a shock.

Now I’m not advocating working when you’re on leave like some do, or operating on wind down when you’re at work like some do.

But there must be ways we can help people to relax more as they approach a period when they need to relax, so that they can actually enjoy being away from work and not be ill for the duration.

We don’t want people coming back from leave even more tired and stressed then when they went.

Within organisations, we can surely help people to learn how to relax at work – and who knows, this may even unlock some creativity and engagement.

As a PT and HR professional, I’ve got a few ideas about how – but what do YOU think?

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, we’ve had a great Xmas (my minor illness aside) and it was great to get all four of my children under one roof for 24 hours on Xmas Eve / Day, for the very first but hopefully not last time.

HR lessons from…The Paper Dolls

Its now time for my usual silly season blog post where I aim to show the HR lessons that can be gleaned from a well known children’s story. This year, it’s the Paper Dolls, by Julia Donaldson.

Are you ready? Then let’s begin.

The story touches on many pertinent HR and leadership lessons and I’ll draw out some of them here. Firstly, the story sets a context of an organisation that encourages creativity, innovation and collaboration, and the importance of a helpful manager…

The story then turns to diversity and inclusion, showing how, in the right culture, every employee can thrive and grow….

Sadly though the book then explains how success and happiness within an organisation often attracts jealousy and resentment, and shows how internal discord can create a sense of bullying and harassment. Tellingly, though, the culture of the organisation encourages the victims to run away rather than confront issues…

Pleasingly, the employees get away from their bully and remain happy in a different environment, but encounter bullying again, almost as if the bully is stalking their every move…

Until they finally believe they’re safe from harm in their organisation, enjoying life in their gardens and enjoying their home lives, but the reach of the bully extends to strike fear into them even outside work…

And this time the bully appears to win, causing lasting harm to the employees. However what the bully doesn’t realise is that the employees have a lasting connection to both each other and the concept of the amazing workplace, and reconnect beyond the bully’s reaches…

In this scene the book explains how relationships can survive even the most toxic of organisations, and that the employees will forever remember the good aspects of working there but come to forget the bullies…

And in the final scene the book hints strongly at how being treated badly by an organisation or bully can sometimes help to reinforce the good things in life, and provide fuel, motivation and a platform for creating and shaping even more amazing workplaces…

And so we end. A stirring story which covers the positives of innovation and creativity but also highlights the unintended and unwanted impact that a diverse and inclusive culture can have, whilst ending on a positive note in that this can, in itself, lead to the creation of better leaders.

The End

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, and with tongue now firmly OUT of cheek, I’ve had a tough week in my personal life. Something I published has created trouble for someone else, despite there being no connection between them and my material, and led to a difficult relationship between us. On top of that my last surviving cat died suddenly at the age of 18 and, having had her since she was 5 weeks old, this was a blow I could have done without.

#cipdACE summary blog

A couple of weeks ago I attended #cipdACE and was part of the Blogsquad again. Here’s my reflective summary of the entire experience.

I enjoyed it immensely. It’s always one of the highlights of my professional year and this year was no exception.

The conference itself had a great programme with a wide variety of sessions as usual, but I felt it was of higher quality this year. I found it hard to choose which sessions to go to and the only solution I can think of for this is to get some sessions repeated, even if this means going back to three days.

I blogged and tweeted from many sessions and the links to those are below. However my main takeaways were from the sessions by Rachel Botsman, John Amaechi and Lenny Henry, unsurprisingly as these were the big hitters on the programme.

From Rachel’s session I have been reflecting on trust quite a lot and in particular how being more open and transparent doesn’t necessarily build more trust. On reflection I now agree with this and can see lots of examples of this in my personal and professional life. It will have an impact on how I coach in particular.

I’ve learnt more about trust in my first year running a business than in the previous 42 years of my life. It’s strange how individuals behave towards third party suppliers in a way they wouldn’t dream of doing to a fellow employee, and how that behaviour has shaped the way I now deal with companies.

From John’s session I particularly liked his points about the influence we have in HR or in business. Never doubt that we can change things. As someone once said, you can change the world, one conversation at a time. I like that idea.

And Lenny’s session was awesome, highlighting the role of HR in holding our organisations to account for their inclusivity and diversity, with some intensely personal examples.

The Exhibition was about the same quality as last year but did seem larger, and that’s a good thing. The suppliers were varied and whilst the free gifts are nowhere near the standard of previous years, and seem to be dwindling further year on year, there were sufficient variety of interesting suppliers to talk to.

I’ll repeat what I say every year though. Most suppliers are not plugged into the back channel on social media and this loses them valuable publicity. Many did not know their Twitter handle and lots mistook BLOGSQUAD on my badge to be my company name and claimed to have met others who worked for this company.

A good example of this was @HR_Gem at the Perkbox stand. She asked for one of their unicorns and they refused as they weren’t free gifts. She said if she could get 100 retweets would they give her one and they said yes, no doubt thinking she was mad. About an hour later she had them and collected her unicorn. I tried the same tactic the following day and was told at first that I was making it up about Gem and her unicorn as no one on the stand knew about it. Eventually one person said that someone on the stand had mentioned this yesterday and they thought they’d now get into trouble for it, and so were now not repeating it or grasping the very obvious publicity that should have come from it.

Engage with social media, suppliers. We can bring people to your stand and get you free publicity.

I can think of a dozen ways I’d have been exploiting that if I were Perkbox.

Sadly there were other examples too.

As usual, the fringe and social activities provided as much value if not more, and this is again because the conference programme is so packed with good stuff it leaves little time for networking and catching up with people. My solution here is to consider a three day conference again and spread things out more in the programme but it would also allow fringe activities to spread over an extra day. At one point in the Wednesday evening there were four things I wanted to get to, all at the same time, and I managed two.

But the conversations you have inbetween the conference sessions and at the coffee stands in the exhibition, and in the bar in the evening, are often what makes the whole experience worthwhile. The more of that that can be fitted in, the better it is.

My own social media coverage was enjoyable and I put out a good output- six blogs at the event plus this one makes seven, hundreds of tweets, plus a dozen or so LinkedIn and Instagram posts. And not to mention the pre event promo videos I did on YouTube, which many seemed to have liked. I really enjoyed being part of the Blogsquad for the fourth year running.

Overall, this was a better event than the previous year but there’s still ways to make it even better.

And one day, I might get on the main stage myself, who knows?

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, eldest son has passed his driving theory test and youngest son is now sitting up unaided. I have it all going on as a father…

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.

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…

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

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…

Gary

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…

The Voice

This is the second of two blogs discussing how I feel Glassdoor is a helpful tool for HR professionals. In the last one, HERE, I talked about how it should be part of any organisations talent attraction strategy and its use to recruiters specifically. In this blog I’m going to talk about how it has wider possible uses for HR professionals beyond recruitment, and in particular some links to employee engagement.

I’ve blogged a few times about employee engagement and have touched on how social media can be used to help with this. See HERE and HERE.

So if you’re a recruiter we know already why you’d be fussed about Glassdoor and other related sites, but what about if you’re in more general HR and rarely, if ever, do any recruitment? Why should you be bothered about it at all?

Some in HR see Glassdoor as a bit of a vanity project, and I’ve no doubt that it can be.

Some in HR, and the wider organisation, will be cynical of the whole concept after reading about how one man played the system with TripAdvisor (which adopts a similar feedback mechanism) and got his entirely fictional restaurant in his shed to be ranked the top restaurant to go to in London (see HERE) – and who could blame them?

But it’s up to us in HR to prove its worth.

Aside from the reviews by jobseekers and potentially embittered ex-employees, Glassdoor allows current employees to provide feedback on the company and a range of different things within it, including the CEO. I am not sure how many CEOs are aware of their approval ratings, but it’s a good insight into their leadership style and a great conversation starter with any CEO.

People Management recently ran an article on a similar vein to this blog, HERE. In this, a recruitment expert comments that Glassdoor is part of a wider movement towards more transparency in organisations, and whilst he was talking about how a company is perceived by those who might apply for a job there, the same is true internally too.

An example in the PM article comes from Lookers, who are using Glassdoor to capture employee feedback and measure engagement rather than using traditional surveys or even some of the newer apps. The company tells its employees that if they have feedback on any aspect of organisational life, they should post it on Glassdoor for everyone to see. As a result, they are ranked 6th in Glassdoor’s own ratings system.

Yes, companies that do this open themselves up to negative comments and have to be comfortable with a lack of control. And yes, many companies culture won’t be ready for this. There’s no verification process for the comments, but what I would say to that is that things tend to average themselves out over a longer period and that many people browsing any review site would be able to pick out a false positive or false negative review, and even to spot unusual experiences amongst a more obvious pattern of experiences.

So the key is getting more volume of feedback to enable this to happen.

As is someone in the company looking at each piece of feedback (ideally us in HR) and acting on it, whether it is just to acknowledge it or to do something about it. And in that sense it’s no different than any traditional employee engagement mechanism – the more people feel they are being listened to, the more they will use the feedback mechanism and trust in it.

So to encourage all employees to leave feedback on any aspect of organisational life is a bold step but one that could pay dividends for an organisation.

I’ve also used Glassdoor to work on employee engagement, but as part of a wider strategy and not necessarily as a deliberate tactic, though I can’t deny that it does help.

If employees have a voice in your organisation, then let them use it, Lookers style, to tell you things. And if those things are public, so be it.

I have encouraged current employees to leave reviews of the company on Glassdoor and asked them to get colleagues to do so too, and that worked well. I’ve involved employees in designing and creating content to go on Glassdoor for the company page – images, videos, and information – and let them have a say in how the company is portrayed.

And I’ve got groups of employees to look at feedback that has been left on Glassdoor and to help us determine how we could and should respond to it.

Used in tandem with other engagement methods, and as part of a culture of continuous improvement and feedback, it’s worked really well. But the culture has to be right for this to work.

If your employees are already used to using social media to share what they do and collaborate with others, they’ll take to this. If managers are used to giving and receiving feedback and using it for improvement purposes, they’ll take to this.

My advice – work on the culture first, but don’t be afraid to experiment and bring in something like Glassdoor as an addition to what you are already doing to engage employees.

It might just work.  And what, really, have you got to lose in trying?

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, the house is nearing readiness for child #4 and in a week or so we will be all set, with just some waiting to do…