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…

#cipdACE blog 6 – Andy Burnham and Lenny Henry closing keynote

I’ve took some time to wander around the Exhibition for a few hours and also chat to as many people as I can. I’ve been into a couple of the free sessions for a short while and also a final conference session on employee engagement, but my final blog from the conference is covering Andy Burnham’s short slot and Lenny Henry’s closing keynote.

Andy Burnham took to the stage to question whether we are making enough progress around fairness in the workplace. He sees progress, but not enough.

Is work good enough for people?

A good question. There are still examples of poor practice, such as CEOs getting millions of pounds of bonuses whilst we still have a homeless problem.

Andy also highlighted how much may have stayed the same, citing what the trades union movement were asking for 150 years ago which seem to have resonance in 2018 too.

Unsurprisingly, he talked about how devolution can help shape the future of work and referenced the Good Employment Charter that he is leading on within Greater Manchester. This has to be a good thing, and of course you have to start somewhere but will it be enough to focus on Greater Manchester?

There are elements that are being pushed in Greater Manchester, such as basic rights, security, flexible working and more. And it is good to see this potentially being linked to public procurement to help drive compliance with it.

And aswell as this, we need to further the skills agenda and he outlined the initiatives he is setting in motion around this. There are big things afoot in Greater Manchester which, if seen through, will create a fairer society and working life, but I’d question whether it is going far enough by limiting it to GM.

And then we had Lenny Henry.

Lenny is here to talk about the challenges we all face around diversity, and began with a powerful video that shows it is still a very live issue.

He talked about his upbringing and facing issues around discrimination via his family, at school and because of the way society functioned.

Lenny’s talk was hard to blog because it was stand up comedy but actually telling some very serious messages, but I was too busy being entertained to write most of it down.

It was interesting to hear the barriers, tangible and intangible, that Lenny faced in building his career, through both covert and overt racism, and shared how his experiences had led to him beginning to campaign for greater representation from BAME communities in the media, something which has met with success after a lot of hard work.

Although he realises there is still a long way to go.

And in HR, we are uniquely placed to influence this in organisations.

Lenny gave examples of how individuals can kick start movements, and how one individual can influence the wider world, citing famous abolitionists and Suffragettes as examples.

If they can do it, imagine what we in HR can do…

Lenny then walked about Comic Relief but at this point I needed to run for my train.

It has been a GREAT two day conference, and I’ll reflect on this and do a summary blog next week.

Till next time…

Gary

#cipdACE blog 3 – the new Profession Map

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

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

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

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

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

Here it is.

What do you think? I like it.

Why?

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

Here’s my two pennorth.

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

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

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

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

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

What are your views on how this represents our profession?

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

Till next time…

Gary

#cipdACE blog 2 – session A2

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

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

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

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

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

– what are you enjoying at work right now?

– what is pissing you off at work right now?

Great questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s lunchtime now.

Till next time…

Gary

#cipdACE blog 1 – opening keynotes

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

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

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

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

The opening address was by Peter Cheese as usual.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it makes sense.

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

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

That could change a lot of my interpersonal relationships.

And yours too.

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

Now it’s time for coffee…

Till next time…

Gary

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

EPIC

I’m proud to announce the launch of my business, EPIC. It’s been a while in the making but I’m really excited for what it means.

I’ve blogged before, HERE, about my journey to being self employed. I’ve obviously done little bits of self employed work for a long time as a sole trader, and so when I left employment on 1 December I carried on as a sole trader.

However I have the advantage of being married to a Chartered Accountant and am able to access a lot of advice easily, and the advice was clear to set up a limited company as soon as practical.

It took me almost two months though and part of that was taking some time to figure out what I wanted the company to do, how it would market itself and what kind of company it would be.

In this period I spoke to lots of people in my network to help me with my thinking. Whilst I’m grateful to each and every one of them for their help, a few people really did some in depth support for me and I ought to name check them.

My wife obviously played a huge role in keeping me grounded, giving me support and encouragement, and providing instant feedback on a range of things. On Twitter and occasionally in person, I’m grateful to Ian Pettigrew, Mark Gilroy and Mark Hendy for giving up some of their time and helping me think through things like purpose, goals, clarity of direction and much more. And finally Simon Heath did a sterling piece of work with branding and visuals, much of which you can see here – thankyou.

Left to my own devices, the company name might have been something different, but each in their own way encouraged my thinking until I found EPIC.

And EPIC is here.

It stands for Evolve, Perform, Improve and Compete. And it neatly encapsulates the four strands of what I want to do and have been doing already.

I’ll not cover what EPIC will do here as there’s enough elsewhere on the website that does that, and at one level it can be viewed as simply a new name or brand for what I’ve been doing for a while anyway.

But somehow, as all good names should, it fits. It resonates with who I want to be and the difference I want to make to people and organisations.

And none of the other names I considered did, even if I thought some of them were quite clever, they were a little cold and not quite as EPIC…

So the business is launched. Business cards have arrived. Website is done (but continues to develop). Branding is done.

But I’ve been doing what EPIC stands for for a long long time now, both in house and externally – I’ve just never had a brand to showcase it or bring it all together the way I now have.

I’ll be working directly with people and organisations but also in association with other people and existing organisations to do great things. The partnerships and collaborations I’ve got in place now or ready to start are something I’m really pleased about.

I’m always seeking feedback though and if you have a view on how I can make EPIC even better, whether that’s something to do with the website or the brand or anything, then I’d love to chat.

But in terms of how I present myself on social media or in person – there’ll be no difference – EPIC just describes what has been my offer for a long time.

If you’d like to know more, or learn how to be more EPIC, you know where to find me…

Till next time…

Gary

Ps work is finally starting on the garage conversion in the next week and thereafter on a new bathroom. And about time too!