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…


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…


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…


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.

Only the lonely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you?

Till next time…


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

Soul destroying HR

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

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

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

And we all seem to have experienced it.

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

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

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

And I’ve done my fair share too.

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

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

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

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

Possibly, it’s both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What causes this?

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

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

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

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

Till next time…


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sally Anne Lawson from University Hospitals Birmingham

Victoria Bullerwell from Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust

Naina Arnett from University College London Hospitals NHS Trust Foundation Trust

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


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


Well done all.


Till next time…




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

A Modern Learning Professional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the main points:

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

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

Overall, a very enjoyable day!

Till next time…


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


Leave me alone!

The CIPD have today published their annual report into absence and wellbeing, which you can read HERE if you haven’t already. In this blog I’ll react to and comment on some of the key findings.

In particular I want to talk about the concepts of presenteeism and leaveism as mentioned in the report.  The latter was a term I’d not heard of before but describes something I was well aware of.

The CIPD reported an increase in organisations observing presenteeism from 26% in 2010, to 86% in 2018.  They also report that 69% say leaveism has occurred in the last year.  And that only 25% are tackling presenteeism, and 27% tackling leaveism.

I’ll not comment here on what implications this has for individuals and organisations, as the CIPD report has done that in good detail already, beyond I’ll say I agree with the serious possible consequences we face.

Let’s look at these in turn.

First, presenteeism. I mentioned this concept to my wife today, having browsed the main report. She fully understood it and said that she had gone to work unwell and not done her best work whilst there.

I was vaguely aware of this but asked her to expand.

She said that in her previous organisation, she didn’t get any sick pay, and with having to pay childcare costs even if our youngest child was in nursery or not, the decision to go into work was entirely a financial one for her and nothing at all to do with her own health or her level of engagement with the company.

As it happens, she was very disengaged with that company, but I wonder what came first – the disengagement, or the presenteeism? I would suggest the problem originated with the set of terms and conditions upon joining, creating a level of discontent with a basic hygiene factor that manifested itself in presenteeism and coming to work when unwell.

One could say she went into that with eyes wide open, but this is my wife and she’d make sure you’d not say much more after that if you did.

So there’s no amount of wellbeing initiatives and stress or resilience training that would have prevented that situation, and yet many organisations would roll these out as if they were a magic solution – I met with a CEO just last year who felt that such things would solve whatever problems ailed her organisation, and was adamant that there were no hygiene factors at play that were causing the lack of engagement and presenteeism that I could see.

The report rightly highlights that financial worries are at the heart of a lot of the problems, and that would be true in my wife’s case too. But would financial education and access to financial plans have solved it, as many organisations would try? No. They wouldn’t solve the cost of childcare or the company’s ability and willingness to pay sick leave.

I wonder if some of the issues could only really be solved at government level? And whether they are willing to listen to some of the problems that the report highlights? I think there’s only so much individual organisations can do to help, and even some of the things they could do may backfire.

My final thought on the subject is whether it is better for an individual to be in work, at much less than 100% on the basis that this is still better than 0%? And I have mixed views on this, what do you think?

Second, leaveism.

I remember about 16 years ago my manager at the time coming into the office when on leave. I asked him why, and he said he didn’t have anything to do with his leave and had too much work on, so was coming in to clear his emails and sort other admin out. And he used 3-4 days of an admittedly big leave entitlement to do that. And back then there was no mobile technology that might have been the cause of this, as the report suggests may be now.

Even last year I worked in an organisation where lots of staff would book leave in blocks of two weeks but “pop in” on two or three days for an hour or so at a time to check in and do some basic admin. Again here the leave entitlements were big and there was no technology to facilitate this type of leaveism, so based on my two examples I’m not sure I agree that the rise of leaveism can be correlated with the availability of mobile technology and people’s inability to switch off.

That said, it is a worrying trend, and I’ve written before HERE about my experiments with switching off. Mark Ellis has also written a great book about it. But whilst mobile and digital technology facilitates this, it is only tapping into something that already exists in the employment relationship and psychological contract and giving it a conduit to happen easily. And we shouldn’t blame the technology itself for that.

Maybe we should talk more about the culture in the organisations that allows leaveism to happen, about the workplace hero’s that think sending emails late at night or at weekends is a sign of working hard or being busy, and about the expectations that senior leaders place on employees and how they lead by example.

I am a big believer in individual choice. If individuals wish to work late at night or at weekends, then if that’s genuinely their choice, great. Likewise if they want to take time off to go for a run during the day or do the school run, again great. And if doing a bit of work when on leave helps them, then also great but only if they take some time for themselves when NOT on leave. It’s about choice, and treating people like grownups.

So whilst the report highlights leaveism as a problem, it’s more a symptom of a different problem than a problem in itself, but nonetheless the report is right to point out some of the implications it has.

There’s a lot of work to do, and in EPIC I work with individuals and organisations to help them do that type of work. Talk to me if you need support.

The report is huge and there’s far more to it than what I’ve discussed here, so go and check it out.

Till next time…


PS in other news – and now we wait…my wife is 39 weeks pregnant, she’s already into her maternity leave, I’ve completed all my main commitments and have gone into my planned one-third capacity month long paternity leave, the house is ready, we’re all ready, and counting the days now…

Jumpers for Goalposts

In this blog I’ll be talking about the way in which the performance of football managers is judged, and trying to draw out some lessons, parallels and implications for how we judge performance in business.  I’m aided in these observations by both David D’Souza and Mark Hendy, who have kindly contributed some thoughts in response to my own.

Its prompted by looking at two Premier League managers who have recently had an HR-type experience in their roles – Mark Hughes, so recently sacked by Stoke City for leaving them in a relegation position, then hired by Southampton who are themselves in danger of relegation; and Alan Pardew, only hired by West Bromwich Albion in November but sacked by them just four months later.

It made me wonder, out loud on Twitter, why it seems to be a regular thing that so-called “failed” managers keep getting new jobs and why no-one appears to reach a conclusion that the manager in question may not be up to the task in question.

It prompted quite a few responses, and made me think there’s more to this, hence this blog.

Let’s go.

I should say I’ve probably unfairly picked on Hughes and Pardew, but they are the most recent examples of a particular trend, so I’m highlighting them here.

So why does it happen?  Is there anything unique about football, the position of football manager or indeed the managers themselves that creates this situation where managers who one organisation have deemed to have failed are appointed to new roles regularly?

I’m not sure it would happen in business – in an average 50 year old career, with 10 or more jobs, you’d expect perhaps to find one or two jobs that you didn’t fit with, where you were deemed to have “failed” and left quite quickly.  But would these failures be so public and follow you round like they do in football?

Both David and Mark have pointed out that the long term rewards for short term performance are so extreme, and football is kind of a unique culture as a result of this.  David suggests that this encourages football organisations to gamble on managers who have the relevant experience, and some degree of success within that experience, if not a solid track record of success.  Its also true to point out that there is a limited pool of managers and a limited stock of managerial jobs, and both of these have an impact too – so I guess we can say organisational and sector context plays a big part.

But why do football organisations repeatedly gamble in such ways?

Wouldn’t you rather have someone guaranteed to bring success?

I think this shows that football organisations have a very different ways of judging both performance and success, and are prepared to gamble on a short term fix of a new manager who they know is only likely to be successful over a matter of months rather than years.

And there’s research to back up the “bounce” that a new manager brings.  David reminded me that The Guardian posted this article a few years ago about the hire and fire phenomena, and rightly pointed out that other sectors wouldn’t go with it – that other sectors value the success brought by managers building long term visions, ways of working and positive cultures – rather than short term successes.  But football appears different.  As Mark points out, there is a statistic that often gets banded around when a club at risk of relegation makes a managerial change, that states that most clubs achieve an upturn in performance and often results in between 5 and 7 extra points in the next 10 games (so 5 to 7 out of 30 EXTRA points) than they would likely receive based on form prior to the dismissal. Therefore, he says, it’s worth making a change, because between 5 and 7 extra points is likely to be the difference between relegation and survival.  After all, as David adds, 7 Premier League clubs had changed their managers by Christmas (and more since) but only 3 of them will be relegated – so the chances of surviving with a managerial change appear greater than without one.

I wonder though whether in focusing on the failures of managers in wider business, we could learn a little from the football world who seem to either gloss over said failures or accept that they can be outweighed by other factors and are part of a natural cycle of things.

But how much poor behaviour can be stomached?  There’s plenty of managers who have had questionable conduct during their reigns – think Sam Allardyce at England, Sven Goran Erikson at England, Glenn Hoddle at England, Terry Venables at England (I think I’m making a point here that the FA seem more willing than others to overlook questionable traits and behaviour), even Jose Mourinho in his second spell at Chelsea – but that questionable behaviour has not prevented any of them getting more work and sometimes better jobs.  Why is this?

The football organisations who hire these people are certainly willing to overlook occasional or even regular lapses in judgement either in a current role or most usually in a previous role, and presumably the individuals in question promise that it was a one off and won’t happen again.  But would we do that in business?  I’m not sure we would, and it may be that football management is most akin to a high pressure sales environment, with high reward matched with high pressure and all the downsides that that might bring.  In such circumstances, says David, any organisation might be tempted to take a serial winner with some promise of short term success despite any flaws they may have.

I also wonder if football has a skewed perspective on success.  In football management, if judged on trophies, only a very limited number of managers can be judged as successful. But it only takes a trophyless season for one of the bigger name managers for them to be under scrutiny – both Manchester City and Chelsea have been guilty of sacking previously successful managers after an even slightly less successful season, but one that would be judged a success for other clubs.

Does that mean that football organisations need to revisit their definition of success and how they judge performance?  Perhaps.  A league season lasts 38 games or more, and luck plays a big part in that. But the different teams will want different things from their seasons – for some, survival is success.  For others, European qualification is success and for others, only the title will be classed as success – and yet these organisations, despite having different performance criteria, are in direct competition with each other, not only for income, but for the assets that are the players.

And so maybe, Mark points out, I am being unfair on Pardew and Hughes because in some seasons past, they have had success when judged by their own clubs’ criteria, albeit they have then failed at that criteria at the end of their reigns.  And this, points out both David and Mark, is why clubs will continue to hire them – because they come with a reputation of being able to apply short-term fixes, albeit almost guaranteed to fail over a period of 2-3 years.

A good example of this would be David Moyes, judged as very successful at Everton whose goals were different to Manchester United, where Moyes went and was judged to have failed quite quickly.  He didn’t come with that reputation of short term fixes, but that was probably what United needed at the time.  He came with a reputation of long term success and team building, but that wasn’t what his new football club wanted.

If we saw that kind of mentality in the business world, we’d see very little growth and evolution within those organisations, and a much more short-termist approach.  I’m not convinced that’s good, but as Mark points out, we might also see greater transparency of performance management, greater accountability by those responsible for performance, and quicker decision making.  We might also see business leaders being hired, says Mark, for their ability to communicate and get results from people quickly – but on the flipside, a short lifecycle for those business leaders and a revolving door of managers.

I think I agree with both David and Mark that football’s unique nature makes it difficult or even impossible to compare with the business world – but that doesn’t stop people (including me) from making such comparisons, even if they’re unfair – in HR we aim to make the world of work a better place, and more human – and we look at organisations, regardless of sector, through that lens.  It’s a natural thing to do in my view.

But football is unique, and we can’t necessarily apply the same rules.

Although in a coming blog I’m going to look at how we might learn from football’s regular, constant and overwhelming use of data to offer performance insights in the workplace.

Till next time…


Ps in other news, work on our bathroom has commenced – it’s the last thing to do before the house (and in fact our family) are ready for the arrival of Cookson #4.  Not long 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…


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…