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…

#CIPHRConf19 blog 2

After a brief break and a presentation from CIPHR on their future roadmap, we have an employment law update from Shoosmiths from Stuart Lawrenson and Gemma Robinson.

Stuart began by showing how the Tribunal system is under strain, giving examples of some 3-5 day hearings taking upwards of 12 months to reach an outcome, and how this creates some risk for employers as their main witnesses may leave during that time.

He then covered some recent legislative developments, starting with Gender Pay Reporting which will be prevalent in the media in coming months.  He thinks many organisations are still not ready and will file last minute or late.  He also outlined that Ethnicity Pay Reporting and Executive Pay Reporting are on the agenda and will come in sooner rather than later.

The #MeToo trend was given some coverage and it was interesting to note that many US states are now making it a requirement for employers to train their staff on sexual harassment – this move may be replicated to some degree in the UK too…

GDPR was covered too but not in massive depth as there wasn’t the time.  A little bit of time was given to recent developments in Gig Economy cases, with a focus on Pimlico Plumbers, Uber and the like but with a clear message for employers to look at their use of consultants too.

In a difficult slot, Gemma from Shoosmiths took over and started with a Brexit update, which was almost impossible to cover but she did a good job in outlining some of the knowns and unknowns – and in good detail too.

In the Q&A session afterwards, the most popular question was about the most common area HR fall foul of GDPR. Stuart said it is data retention – for example you don’t need an employee’s bank details once you’ve paid them everything they are due post-termination, but some bits of data you do need to keep for up to 40 years if its H&S related – but often HR teams apply a one size fits all approach.

And then its lunch.

I changed my mind during lunch about which of the breakout sessions to attend, and headed to the Analyse stream, chaired by David D’Souza and involving Nick Court plus Andy Charlwood and Tricia Howarth, and which attempted to answer the question “How does HR become more evidence-based?”.

The panel started off giving their views on what EBHR actually is – and largely agreed with each other. I liked Nick’s view that really EBHR is not new, but it IS a difficult skillset for many HR practitioners and is often hindered by “crap in, crap out” data systems.

DDS did a straw poll that showed that only two or three people in the audience had come from a maths or statistics background, which further served to illustrate how difficult this is.

All panelists agreed that if HR can rely upon and use robust and reliable data then its impact becomes greater, but this needs to avoid bias within the data or the person making the decision too.

I asked a question via Slido about whether gut instinct can be classed as data to be used in EBHR. Tricia said it can’t be ignored, but one needs to be realistic about whether your gut feel is 100% suited to purpose, eg does it effectively answer the question being posed?

Building on this, the panel considered what kind of data is “best” and how does one prioritise it and avoid data analysis paralysis.  Nick answered, saying data and data sets need to be representative and relevant – there’s no such thing as “best” data.

Andy built on this theme – its about the matching of data and evidence to the particular purpose, and sometimes it is about ensuring the right question is asked – unless we ask the right question its difficult to gather the right evidence.

The panel made very good use of the Sli.do functionality to gather and answer questions from the audience, and the feature does tend to work very well with a panel style debate.

A point reiterated by all of the panel was not to buy engagement surveys – its data that clouds the actual picture.

Another point made was that HR really need a statistical analysis skillset and that there aren’t enough of us with that skillset or mindset.

The panel then also began to discuss what HR can do to become more comfortable with EBHR.  Nick Court said ditch pie charts and 3D charts, and instead look at how you can use data to drive insight rather than something that just looks good?

DDS pointed out that the CIPD EBSCO database and factsheets are good sources of help, as is the Centre for Evidence Based Management, and the Organisation of Science for Work.  These would all be recommended start points for anyone wishing to learn more about data analytics and EBHR.

There was an interesting question about trust in data, particularly where data has been inaccurate or incomplete and where the organisation may have lost faith in the data. Tricia said to say sorry but draw a line in the sand and correct it.  Andy pointed out that those who enter the data need to take ownership of the data and understand that it is human error that makes data wrong most of the time.

We finished by going back to gut instinct – there’s a danger there is too much data and we lose the human approach towards HR.  Don’t create an industry for its own sake – use data that is relevant, proportionate and helpful.

Till next time…

Gary

#CIPHRconf19 blog 1

I’m pleased to have been asked to attend the CIPHR Customer Conference 2019 at Euston Square in London today, and to cover the event on social media and through blogs.

This involved a very early (5am) start for me, which for someone as currently sleep deprived as me was a bitter blow, but the first class travel on the train helped calm me and I’ve made it here in one piece.

I’m an ex-client of CIPHR but going back over 15 years and have some fond memories of their main product back then and also attending training at their offices in Marlow, so its nice to reacquaint myself with them.

I was surprised, but perhaps shouldn’t have been, with the volume of people here – there were far more people than I anticipated being here and it had a much bigger conference feel than I was expecting.

We started off with a view from Rob Oehlers from CIPHR giving an explanation of how CIPHR feel they fit into the world of work and how their technology helps us to cope with its demands.

He opened by talking about how connected we are and how reliant we are on both data and technology, mostly in our personal lives, but how this sometimes doesn’t transfer into the workplace.

Rob pointed out that the need for connected HR is becoming greater and greater – driven in part by the pressure to comply with legislative, compliance and regulatory changes but also by our own personal lives where we do most of our life and household stuff online.

The CIPHR portfolio of products and services offer solutions to these issues and trends, and you can find out more by visiting their website.

Next up was Karen Moran from Disruptive HR, stepping in for her colleague Lucy Adams.

She started by sharing many of the mistakes she had made and continues to make in her career, so pleasingly was not preaching from the stage.

One good story she shared was about the need to develop and maintain adult:adult conversations in the workplace, citing Netflix as a good example where the company makes ALL employees responsible for recruitment.  She gave another example of another company asking all employees to share and be transparent about everything they were doing, and trusting employees to use social media appropriately by having a really short policy.  There were more examples she had about flexible working, and taking ownership of individual L&D.

Its clear that, when they want to and choose to, organisations CAN reap the benefits of greater employee engagement and create a better employee experience – by trusting employees, letting them make decisions and make mistakes, and simply by asking them “how can we make your day better?”.

Sadly, not all employers do this.

Karen was honest enough to share that she hadn’t always lived up to this throughout her career but she has learnt from her mistakes.

That’s a key skill for HR professionals in my view.

We are all human, as Karen says.  We make mistakes.  We have emotions.

Use them.

She then went on to help us to try to understand why HR have a bad reputation – suggesting that the reasons are that: we often focus more on process than impact, we have a parental approach, are risk averse, work in silos, have skills gaps and do not effectively use technology.

These are things I’d agree with and which I’ve seen over and over again in my roles.

Karen said that we perhaps need to move away from the HR Business Partner job title as it almost seems an apologetic title to try to convince people that we are connected to the business, when it ought to be obvious.

In the Q&A session after people pointed out that often the barrier is the CEO or MD, and in HR we may not have the leverage we need to change the organisation. Karen’s response was one I completely agree with – you can either put up with it, continue trying to change it or go work somewhere else.

How many of us vote with our feet?

Something to think about as we head into a break.

Till next time…

Gary

PS in other news, my youngest son is now 9 months and has started to sleep through the night, having done so 3/4 times now over the past couple of weeks. This has coincided with the worst period of sleep I’ve ever had.  How does that work?

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

You may have noticed the recent controversy surrounding Leeds United FC’s manager Marcelo Bielsa and his involvement in the “spygate” drama. In this blog I’ll discuss this and some implications for how we in HR deal with unethical behaviour.

You can read more about it here, but this involved Bielsa sending a person to spy on Derby County, a rival club, whilst they were training ahead of playing Leeds, and being caught whilst doing so. He attempted to avoid the controversy by first apologising, taming sole responsibility and exonerating Leeds, and explaining that in his own country this was normal behaviour (which plenty of people corroborated), and then explaining in detail how he works and how he has done this frequently in his time as Leeds manager.

There were, from Derby mainly but also others, predictable and understandable complaints that although there was no rule against the spying, it was unethical and unfair.

Before we discuss wider implications, let’s look at football and professional sport in general. I think the reaction to this says a lot more about the conflict between the old school in football who believe that you don’t need a rule for everything and people should behave “honourably” without any further definition of that, and a growing number of participants who believe you should use any resource at your disposal to gain an advantage if the aim is to win and prevent others winning, without breaking any rules. It’s an interesting dilemma and one that isn’t wholly replicated in the workplace where the aim isn’t always to win and prevent others winning.

Nonetheless this COULD happen in the workplace. It’s likelihood of happening, and our awareness of unethical practices via media coverage, are reasons why the CIPD have placed ethics more prominently in the new Profession Map and encourage HR professionals to champion good working practices and tackle poor leadership and cultures that give rise to unethical behaviour.

Part of the problem with that though is, akin to football, if there is no firm agreement on what ethical behaviour is or isn’t, it’s difficult to take action at first. Using Bielsa as an example, he seems to have had genuinely no idea what he was doing was wrong, but does seem to understand the prevailing culture now and to have committed not to do it again.

You could say Bielsa was naïve and he ought to have known all of this after a while in the job and country but also that someone in Leeds management, maybe in HR, hadn’t done enough to establish what their views of ethics are and now are paying the price.

Leeds could, also, agree that they ought to have been kept informed by Bielsa but that now it has happened and we all know that a) it’s not breaking any rules and b) it has brought relative success as a tactic to the organisation, that they may agree Bielsa can continue behaving this way, despite loud protests from others.

Basically there’s no right and wrong here but what does need to happen is conversations about it to establish internal expectations, and HR should be leading those.

I asked Mark Hendy, fellow HR professional and long suffering Swansea City FC fan, for his views on this: “I’ve found the reaction to the incident more interesting than the incident itself. Almost universally, from commentators, figureheads in sport, former players and other coaches the response has been “what Bielsa has done is wrong, but we know that people have been doing this for years, it’s really not the end of the world and his punishment should be light’. As a result, I’m contemplating whether Bielsa’s actions were indeed unethical. They ‘probably are’ but when the furore died down, it appeared a storm in a teacup that really didn’t seem to offend most people. We’ve learned from history that accepted norms often change. What was once acceptable is now unacceptable and the reverse the same. Could this be one of those situations, where we need to step back and re-evaluate what ‘unethical’ really means?”

But, just because a person may have done something considered acceptable elsewhere, doesn’t mean it is considered acceptable in another organisation. That said, a person shouldn’t be unfairly criticised for making a very honest, if naïve, judgement call if no rules are broken and no one gets hurt.

Or should they? Bielsa clearly knew he may face criticism for it, because he kept his actions hidden from his employer.

That, more than anything else, if I were in HR at Leeds United, would be the thing I’d be talking to Bielsa about.

But will anyone do that?

Another thing to consider is whether if, there’s no rule or law against it, that makes an action or behaviour acceptable? In Bielsa’s case, no one got hurt and it wasn’t against the law or any rule in professional football. But does that make it OK? I’m not so sure.

I think a key role for HR professionals is to ask the right questions. I’m not so sure we have answers, but we can at least encourage debate and, where we see unethical behaviour, we ought to challenge whether it is right or not, and in my view it doesn’t matter if the behaviour may be legal – it could be considered our duty (but not ours alone) to raise awareness of such organisational grey areas.

If and when we in HR see anything we ourselves consider unethical or improper, let alone illegal, I feel we have a responsibility to speak up. Otherwise, if we don’t, lessons won’t be learnt and the unethical behaviour could continue and intensify.

I’m fairly certain this is why ethics is more prominent in the CIPD Profession Map. It was also at the heart of a talk by John Amaechi at #cipdACE in November which stuck with me, about us in HR being able to change organisations no matter if we are just one lone voice.

I try, in these blogs, on social media and in other work I do, to share my views about what is right and wrong. That doesn’t make me right, but it is me explaining what I think is right. And if that prompts people to consider their own actions, thought processes and behaviours and POSSIBLY make a different judgement call next time, then I consider it worthwhile.

Mark Hendy agrees: “When we think about what is and isn’t ethical, we often relate that to how something feels to us personally. When considering whether we think something might be unethical we consider whether it ‘feels’ right or wrong. And this is important. It is affirming. But we can also be wrong. Intuition can prove to be wrong, and is deeply personal.”

But I’m a micro organisation nowadays and don’t see things happening from inside a big organisation as previously. The examples of unethical behaviour I see are in other organisations and ones which I have no connection with, like Leeds United. All other examples I share are, by their very nature, hypothetical or derived from multiple experiences I’ve had in my career, but it’s right to share them in order to generate debate I think, though I am 100% certain they will have relevance and resonance within some organisations who can see their own behaviour mirrored in examples I share.

And again that’s a good thing if it helps those people review their moral code, and it’s something all of us in HR can do easily – speak out on such things, hold a mirror up to organisations in general and hope that just one person sees it and begins to think differently about how they lead, behave or treat other people. Even if we don’t work for an organisation that we see doing questionable things, we could consider that the people within it are not confident in speaking out, like in Leeds United, and do it for them.

Slowly, surely, we CAN change the world.

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, there have been a lot of gloomy days recently, weather wise. I really hate it when the sun doesn’t come out at all and it never truly goes light in a day. I find this adversely affects my mood. Do you have this too?

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.

Only the lonely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you?

Till next time…

Gary

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

Soul destroying HR

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

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

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

And we all seem to have experienced it.

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

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

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

And I’ve done my fair share too.

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

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

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

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

Possibly, it’s both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What causes this?

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

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

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

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

Till next time…

Gary

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