Monthly Archives: October 2011

The one with the taxman

Back at the end of September I attended a conference hosted by Hodes called “Connectivity: the competitive edge”. I had fully intended to a write a few posts about the content and then time passes, you know…

One of the people presenting was Mike Falvey, Chief People Officer for Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs. So in answer to the question who’s the person who’d most like to hate? The only answer that beats “the taxman” is “the taxman’s HRD”. Mr Falvey however, was not what I expected. He was energetic, charismatic and, dare I say it, fun. And here is a man who is facing a challenge that would make most people want to curl up in a ball and cry for mummy. The other interesting thing about him as an individual is that he is not a ‘lifer’ in the civil service and has worked both in the corporate sector and run his own business.

Due to the delightful combination of economic downturn and Messrs Cameron & Osborne, the civil service was in a position where in November 2009 they were obliged to commit to reducing HR spend by 50%… yes 50%. Now i’ve been on the receiving end of some challenging budget calls but 50% is a monster. That said what were they starting with?

Before commencing the “Next Generation HR Programme” (as they dubbed their initiative) there were 8000 HR people in the Civil Service with 6000 of those servicing what he referred to as ‘the big 7’ (DWP, MOD, HMRC, Home Office, MOJ, DfT, Defra). There was very little if no collaboration, very different systems and processes operated across departments and shared service or centralised resources were not high on anyone’s agenda pre-2009. Therefore maybe 50% wasn’t a monster but the culmination of the all the incremental budget cuts the civil service *could* have made when the sun was shining rather than making hay. It must also be said that Mr Falvey didn’t go into detail of the staff numbers of the big 7 at that same point but it seemed there was a lot of opportunity to do things differently and better.

If you ever sit with a friend, colleague, advisor, coach, head-hunter, etc, and talk about having challenging stakeholders imagine being an HRD in the Civil Service. Think about having politicians, senior civil servants, unions, the press and the employees themselves as stakeholders at a time when every other part of the public sector is also trying to make cuts and significant cuts of that. Then think about your stakeholders and breathe out. That’s political with both a small and big P.

All that aside, the main point that really landed with me came almost as an afterthought fairly near the end of his session, when in an almost off the cuff remark, Mr Falvey said something along  the lines of “due to the age of austerity, we were not able to use consultants and it all had to come from within”. Coming back to the time pre-Lehman’s when the world was rosier; I imagine a commitment to save 50% of Civil Service HR would have been accompanied by a hefty commitment to one of McKinsey, Accenture, BCG, LEK or similar but due to the controls on spending they HAD to do it themselves.

The question I keep on coming back to (and unfortunately there’s no way to test it) is would the outcome have been any different/more or less successful with the consultants?

I am not a management consultant hater by any means. I know some great management consultants and they are bright and can add significant value IF USED APPROPRIATELY. However, it does seem they have become the defacto validators of plans and in the case of what the civil service were doing, they weren’t reinventing the wheel.

So the other question I am left with is this: are management consultants brought it by ‘the business’ because they don’t have the answer or are they demanded by ‘the masters’ who won’t back a plan without a consultancy rubber stamp? Is the only reason the senior HR team at the Civil Service ‘got away’ without using consultants was because their stakeholders knew it would be unpalatable to ask for the rubber stamp when the cupboard was bare?

More questions than answers I’m afraid but it was an interesting session and if you get the chance to hear Mr Falvey or one of his contemporaries speak I would advise you doing so. It definitely smashed my expectations of ‘the taxman’s HRD’….



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The one where the unconference strikes back

Earlier in the year I attended the 2nd ConnectingHR Unconference. Although it was the 2nd for the community it was the first for me both within that community and also experiencing the unconference format. I wrote two posts about it at the time which you can find here and here and don’t want to rehash those but yesterday I attended the 3rd unconference and want to share some thoughts surrounding it.

The first thing to say is what a great group of people. For a group that came together largely through Twitter it’s a warm spirited, generous, enthusiastic and committed group who really do want to improve their businesses and themselves. I am genuinely pleased to be part of it and will continue to be so (I hope). It’s a credit to the people who put the passion and energy into driving it especially (for me) Gareth Jones @garelaos.

Being as this is social media (ish) what follows are 3 ‘episodes’ which have informed my reflection:

Episode 1: Monday Oct 17, Twitter

A Twitter conversation with @neilmorrison, @thinkingfox and @garelaos this week prompted me to think about what ConnectingHR’s purpose is and is there an opportunity for the passion and enthusiasm to drive significant change. Some involved in that conversation questioned ConnectingHR’s position to be able to do that with a comment along the lines of HR not being a community that needed a forum. My response at the time was that it was a group of people needing a community and truthfully that’s what it is for me. What followed was a spirited, although I believe, well intentioned exchange about the community as is.

Episode 2: Tuesday Oct 18, A London restaurant

So over a glass of something alcoholic, I then had the opportunity to continue the discussion with said same @neilmorrison, giving us both the opportunity to flesh out the discussion we had been having online but also discuss some of the potential that ConnectingHR represents (to me at least). I must point out that I had consumed a few drinks at this point so may have editorialised a little but there was definitely a conversation about how ConnectingHR could be an agent provocateur to spur the CIPD to evolve but the challenge of getting people truly engaged with it beyond the current committed bunch remained significant.

Episode 3: Thursday Oct 20, The Spring, venue of Unconference

I then had a conversation with a fellow unconference attendee yesterday @samlizars about what would happen if you walked 10 big hitting HRDs into the unconference. Would it completely stifle the free and open conversation? Would the HRDs feel frustrated about the lack of structure or directly applicable ROI to their organisations? Or actually in order to achieve its true potential does the ConnectingHR community need some big hitting practitioners to get involved and help it evolve? Another point of interest in the conversation was the perception (at least from Sam & my perspectives) about how little those big hitters ‘publically’ network and that actually getting your message to them was quite tricky.

Where this leaves me in my reflections I’m not quite sure. Likewise I’m not sure where ConnectingHR is on its journey. Whether it will remain a community of great people wanting to support and challenge one another or whether the horizon has a tipping point which could see it play a role in driving broader change is yet to see. Personally, I am frustrated that more practitioners aren’t engaging and taking the opportunity to get involved but would ‘they’ levy the charge that we just haven’t done enough to help/make them engage?

As it’s after midnight (and I’ve just had to edit all the todays into yesterdays) I think it’s time to stop reflecting and start sleeping but in closing there are a few people I would like to make specific reference to as contributing to my day at the unconference:

Natasha (@StirtheSource) for some great conversations

Gavin (@gmcglyne) for not only telling me I was talking bollocks but then using a Michael Jackson song to make his point

Dave (@Changecontinuum) for a great chat and some interesting thoughts and context

Michael (@MJCarty) for great departure from a comfort zone and fighting his corner

Sam (@samlizars) likewise for some great conversations (in addition to those referenced here)

Sarah (@sarahfmatthews) for great homemade biscuits and being one of the few people who has achieved genuinely embarrassing me (but in the nicest way)

And finally Gareth (@garelaos) who is just the guvnor (although probably cross with me for writing this!)

To the rest of the usual suspects, doffed caps and thanks for a good day.



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The one with a rant about interviews

Dating was easier when I was younger. It just involved going out, drinking just enough to get over myself, bumping into a girl and then snogging. After that was kind of the “seeing each other” bit and eventually we were boyfriend and girlfriend. Until we weren’t and the whole cycle began again. And this is in the days when you had to call a girl’s home number and ask her Dad if you could speak to her – none of this easy get out texting/facebooking/tweeting malarkey. Proper fear!

Then, somewhere along the way, dating became harder. It became like dating was portrayed in American films – a contact sport or a numbers game. Going out with a girl seemed like running the gauntlet of a set of boxes requiring ticks. It ceased to be about two people just getting to know each other and finding out if there was chemistry and became about passing some test. Those were trying times – all nerves, can I remember an anecdote that will fit the situation? Am I being impressive/empathetic/funny/interested* enough (*delete (or not) as appropriate)? I usually ended up being the worst version of myself and definitely not me…

[There should be a segue in here, I know!]

A lot is written about recruitment these days. About the future of recruitment, about how it is increasingly social, how technology is changing it and how businesses need to attract talent differently. A lot of what is written (or at least what I get to see) is actually about a small part of recruitment i.e. attraction, and not about an equally important part of recruitment, selection.

I’ve read the studies (best data is Schmidt & Hunter 1998), the best predictors of job performance in terms of selection techniques are (in order) work sample tests, cognitive ability tests and structured employment interviews. What am I saying? I’m saying I get it – the structured interview is up there with the best of the best in terms of job performance, or so the research says.

Personally, I was always more of a fan of the semi structured interview. Whilst I believe that the research is valid I also believe that it doesn’t mean that’s exactly how you should do your interview. Let’s be honest an interview is not ALL about selection. It’s also a little bit about attraction – because whilst the person is sat in front of you, they aren’t saying yes…..yet.

Also, whilst I understand that validating competence through examples from previous work is a very valid process it does nothing to help you understand how the person would react given a new challenge, how they think about the possibilities and how their existing competence could be stretched or even (perish the thought) developed in your organisation. Also, and let’s be honest here, people prepare their examples.

I’ve been trying to think of a way of describing my favourite form of interviewing and the best analogy I can use is Prime Minister’s Questions. If you ever watch PMQs (and you should do at least once) it’s a fascinating process which shows the archaic process of parliament at its most entertaining. Any MP can table a question, that is submit it in advance for the PM to answer. The submitted questions are vetted by the PM’s team and possible answers are prepared in advance (you know the folder he takes to the despatch box – that’s his homework). However, should the same MP rise again to ask a further question (and the MP will likely be called by the Speaker) they are asking what’s called a “supplementary” question where it has to be on the same topic but otherwise all bets are off, and it’s down to the thoroughness of the prep and the ability of individual to think on their feet as to what happens next. That’s how I like to interview.

Ask the ‘can you give me an example of a time’ question but then probe the answer, get stuck in, explore and try to truly understand how the individual thinks and how they learned from that experience. If you spend the time ONLY asking the “give me an example” questions you are likely only testing the ability to prepare.

Which may seem something of a tangent from the dating stuff at the beginning BUT I am getting to my point (I promise). In recruitment terms I am not a pushover I like to really get stuck in and understand the individual BUT I realise the multiple requirements of an interview. I put my ‘date’ at ease, I establish rapport, I make them feel comfortable, I let them share something about themselves and reciprocate because let’s face it; I want to see the best version of them, not the version that comes out under the pressure of nerves and intimidation.

To finish the dating analogy, I never wanted to date a girl who without thinking offered a second date, but I did want a girl who realised that the whole process isn’t easy and that making it comfortable for both of us was the likeliest route to us working out whether we wanted to meet again.

And to finish the recruitment rant, I always wanted the candidate to leave the room a) wanting to come back for a further meeting and b) feeling they’d had the opportunity to present the best version of themselves. I may have failed as often as I succeeded but this was always the intention and I’m not sure how many people share it.

As a final thought, I am very happily in a relationship and to any of you reading this who are out there dating I wish you the best of British luck! I had my fill….



Schmidt, F.L. & Hunter, J.E. (1998) “The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology: Practical and Theoretical Implications of 85 Years of Research Findings”. Psychological Bulletin Vol 124, No. 2

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The one with rogues and mavericks

Early in September I was fortunate enough to take part in the DriveThruHR blog radio show. The show is hosted by William Tincup (or at least was the day I took part) and fortunately they’ve had some website issues so the show I took part in is no longer available to listen to (breathes out).

The show is fairly free form and the only pointer you are given in advance is to think about the “one thing you are most thinking about most”. I talked about developing leaders in a global business as it was the thing I was thinking most about at the time. Right at the end of the show, William asked me a question about rogues and mavericks and to be honest I wish he’d asked it much earlier as the conversation started to get really good….

Ever since that day i’ve been wanting to write a post about rogues and mavericks but it wouldn’t quite come together in my head and then I saw a video clip last week amongst the tributes to Steve Jobs and, well, you’ll see!

If you look at dictionary definitions for rogue they are:



1. An unprincipled, deceitful, and unreliable person; a scoundrel or rascal.

2. One who is playfully mischievous; a scamp.

3. A wandering beggar; a vagrant.

4. A vicious and solitary animal, especially an elephant that has separated itself from its herd.

5. An organism, especially a plant, that shows an undesirable variation from a standard.


1. Vicious and solitary. Used of an animal, especially an elephant.

2. Large, destructive, and anomalous or unpredictable: a rogue wave; a rogue tornado.

3. Operating outside normal or desirable controls: “How could a single rogue trader bring down an otherwise profitable and well-regarded institution?”(Saul Hansell).

And whilst I believe in an organisational context the 3rd adjective point is most relevant (operating outside normal controls) I do kind of like the 1st noun point (scoundrel or rascal). Having asked a few people what comes to mind when you say the word rogue the responses are usually Nick Leeson, Jérôme Kerviel (who lost £4bn of Societe Generale’s money) or more recently Kweku Adoboli who is involved in an investigation around the loss of $2bn of UBS’s money.

If you attempt a similar exercise for maverick the definition is:



1. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Agriculture) (in US and Canadian cattle-raising regions) an unbranded animal, esp a stray calf


a.  a person of independent or unorthodox views

b.  (as modifiera maverick politician

Having completed a similar exercise in asking a few people what comes to mind, the wags came up with both Tom Cruise in Top Gun and Mel Gibson as the eponymous Bret Maverick (James Garner for the purists!) but the serious answers started to come back and included people like James Dyson, Richard Branson, Bill Gates (v1.0 not the establishment figure he became!) and one that made me smile was Boris Johnson.

The difficulty I have is in defining the difference between the two. When does a person of independent views or unorthodox views (a maverick) become a rogue? There is a trait described in several psychometric instruments around rule conformance and the output at one end of the trait is something along the lines of “will break rules to achieve results”.  But is everyone who breaks a rule a rogue? Are some rules OK to break? Is it OK to bend rules as long as you get the right outcome?

I don’t have the answer and would be interested in view points but the only thoughts I have to stoke the debate is that there is something in there about intent (is the intent self interest or the greater good?) and a response that came out regularly in my Masters research – breaking process rules is very different to breaking policy rules.

Oh and thing that gave me a moment of clarity was this…

So are the mavericks just the crazy ones?


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The one with the influential list

I have a confession to make….

I don’t really ‘get’ the lists of influencers that get published by various organisations at various times. Not that I don’t understand them but I don’t get how they are compiled, what they are based on or how they quantify or qualify the individuals named.

Actually, that’s not completely fair some of them make sense, like the Thinkers 50, as those people are changing the world around us and whether we want to be influenced by them is not really optional. I am talking more about the functional lists…

If I was to write a list of the people who have most influenced me it wouldn’t include the former HRD of a major supermarket gone on to lead the HR function of a major public body, it wouldn’t include one management consultant and it definitely wouldn’t include anyone who has 30,000 Twitter followers or a high Klout score.

The list would look something like this (and in no particular order):

  • My parents
  • My brother
  • My best friend
  • My closest friends
  • My first manager
  • My last two managers
  • Several people who have worked with me and for me
  • A coach I have worked with on and off for some time
  • A board colleague from a not-for-profit business I was involved with
  • People who have taught me and some I have studied with
  • The people I have met along the way who share with me and challenge me

It may sound naive to say I don’t get the lists as the chances are that some people on my list have been influenced by people who’ve been influenced by people etc but I can qualify and quantify why the people listed above are those I consider influential.

All of that being said rather than just confessing that I don’t get the lists I was trying to think constructively and to think of the actions and behaviours of those who I have seen be very effective influencers in an organisational context….

So, to steal a tried and tested format, here is MY (subjective) list of the 7 habits of great influencers…

1. They have convictions but are not blinkered

They will have a clear and likely strong view but will be open to hearing alternatives and understanding the pros and cons of alternative

2. They are clear in their reasoning

Their conviction is backed up by thorough logical thought and not based on a single whim/set of data/conversation. They are able to explain their view and why they came to it

3. The outcome is more important than the credit

The best influencers I have seen are those that are wedded to the change or the outcome not those who are all about seeking the glory of leading a decision. The downside of this is often they don’t get credit or recognition whilst ‘false idols’ do…

4. They play the long game

The best people I have observed realise that Rome truly wasn’t built in a day and that to change things they are going to have to build support, build influence sometimes from the bottom up and that isn’t achieved in one conversation or meeting

5. They see the whole board

It’s a line cribbed from “The West Wing” where the President is playing Chess against one of his advisors and a global diplomatic situation is evolving. Those I admire approach influencing like chess and see all the players involved and do number 4 (the long game)

6. They know the hills to die on

Some situations/meetings will not go your way, some will make what you are trying to do seem impossible. From experience it’s knowing when to deploy your full influence/argument and when to hold off, retreat and rebuild through building

7. They know the price

Influencing requires many things but one of them it appears to me is credibility or maybe more directly organisational collateral. The masters know what it’s worth, how much they’ve got and to point 6 when to spend it. To use a poker analogy – sometimes they fold, sometimes they go all in but they know the value of the bet and of their hand.

That’s my list. Agree, disagree or have an 8th point then I love to hear them. In the meantime I’m off to lobby for a place on the list of “influential bloggers who have worked in L&D and studied organisational behaviour” it’s a small list but our lobby is very powerful 😉

Afterword: having just reread that I think I may get 3 points and a fine for overuse of cliche!

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R.I.P. Steve Jobs

For any of you who read this regularly you may be aware that at times I have trouble sleeping. That’s not technically true, I have trouble getting to sleep but once there I am generally a pro-sleeper. Last night was an exception. I read something that annoyed me and stomped off to bed a little before 10pm. My intention was to read but actually was asleep fairly quickly. The consequence of this has been to be awake at 3.30am and having checked Twitter and seen the news with respect to Steve Jobs I am sat here at 4.30am feeling compelled to write.

I first saw an Apple computer when I was in primary school. It was an Apple 2e and looked like a cream box with a green screen. It was to me at that age fairly useless apart from the fact it had a game on it called “Lemonade” where you could run your own Lemonade stand and myself and my friend James (whose Dad had bought the computer) spent hours flogging virtual lemonade to virtual customers. Apple is now a part of my daily life whether that be my phone, the music in my home, the music in my car or just how I generally now access information.

If you look at what Apple mostly under the leadership of Steve Jobs have achieved it’s quite incredible but for me the things that set Jobs apart are:

He changed the rules of the game – when you think back to PCs before Jobs rejoined Apple they were generally cream boxes with monitors. They were very functional and in describing your computer it usually sounded something more akin to a car spec. It was all technical – chip speed, memory size, hard drive size etc. Then came iMac. Apple were never going to win in the functional battle so they changed the rules and made personal computing about cool, about design, about ‘want’ rather than ‘need’

He made second mover an art form – if you look at most of the successful Apple products they are not about being first. They are about being appealing. There were MP3 players before iPod and there are MP3 players that are technically better than iPod. But the combination of design, intuitive functionality, brand, cool, marketing and integration with iTunes has made the iPod the world’s most popular MP3 player

He was effortlessly charismatic – you only have to look at the recent Facebook developer’s event and the launch of iPhone 4S this week to realise how effortlessly charismatic Steve Jobs was. His presentations were natural, fun and engaging but I always got the sense that it was just him being the best version of himself.

He thought HUGE – if you look at what Pixar and latterly Apple have done it’s not about increments or minor adjustments. It’s about vision and transformation. That involves huge risk and huge courage but having the clarity to innovate and the personal drive to see it through creates something amazing.

A lot will be written in the coming days about Steve Jobs and this for me is just about getting the thoughts bouncing around my head out onto “paper”. Yesterday I had lunch with a former colleague and we were talking about a well known corporate CEO and their reputation for being tough, a piece of work, political and a nightmare to work for. My former colleague remarked how frustrating it is that seemingly it’s the ‘dark side’ leaders who make it and those from the ‘light side’ don’t. I can’t help thinking that we’ve lost one of the rebels.

Linked below is Steve Jobs’ address to the graduating class at Stamford University, filmed in 2005. It’s a lovely speech and very personal in places but ends with a fantastic quote where I will end, “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.

R.I.P. Steve Jobs


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The one with silos and turf wars

Last week I attended a conference entitled “Connectivity: The Competitive Edge”. It was organised by Hodes and had some great content and some really interesting attendees (me for one!) I’m sure with further reflection a few more posts will appear from this event but the first revolves around a session which was focussed at presenting back some research on Silos in organisations.

The survey was of 210 HR professionals – 25% HRDs, 25% HRBPs, and 50% HR Managers in UK businesses of which 75% had over 250 employees. The research was commissioned by Hodes for the conference and carried out by Personnel Today online (credit where it’s due and all that!) and Rebecca Holland from Hodes and Noel O’Reilly from Personnel Today did an admirable job of presenting back the results.

Some summary outtakes from the research

When asked how prevalent silos were in their organisation, the responses were:

45% said either extremely widespread or fairly widespread whilst 47% said exist in places. Only 8% answered either fairly rare or extremely rare.

Highest instances were functional silos, geographical silos, hierarchical silos, cultural silos and when compared for their presence versus how challenging they are then functional and geographical were the highest

The lists of impacts (in order with %s shown in brackets)

  • Effort duplicated across the business (80)
  • Cross functional opportunities not exploited (80)
  • Lack of knowledge sharing (71)
  • Lack of employee engagement on companywide initiatives (63)
  • Poor internal comms (53)
  • Increased bureaucracy (48)
  • Systems functioning poorly (42)
  • Low employee engagement with corporate brand (35)
  • Restriction to career progression (27)
  • Low productivity (22)

Changes to improve: (in high/low order for will be attempted/are being attempted)

  • Internal comms strategies
  • Structured reform and change
  • Information sharing
  • Measures of collaboration and engagement
  • Engaging employees across the org in prod/process development
  • Implementing shared systems
  • Cross departmental sales/working incentive programmes
  • Cross company mentoring


So in summary (non-scientific):

  • We’ve all got ‘em
  • They make the business be less than it could be

Obviously there was a lot more information contained in the presentation and would imagine a begging e-mail to either Hodes or Personnel Today may just get you a copy but for my part I was surprised at some of the things that didn’t appear.

Let me give that some context, having worked in several organisations of different cultures and sizes the things I would have expected to appear in terms of changes to improve would be:

  • Singular focus on customer/service/output of the organisation
  • Shared and complimentary performance targets (KPIs don’t conflict)
  • Whether top down or bottom up: all objectives ‘speak’ to the singular focus
  • Leadership is anti-silo
  • Cross functional projects/groups are common/encouraged/defacto

One of the businesses I worked in had very few silos and in reflecting on why I think the honest answer is silo mentality was unacceptable. If you were ‘caught’ demonstrating silo mentality it was frowned upon and in escalation the support would always be for the cross functional solution – when it came down to it the CEO believed the organisation was better by working together and would metaphorically ‘bang the heads together’ of those that didn’t.

Any other reactions to this data? Any other stories to share – either positive or horror?


Any errors or ommisions in the data are mine in transcription from the conference pack and not in the original work



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