Monthly Archives: January 2012

The one where the tail’s gone

In November I was fortunate enough to attend the CIPD annual conference in Manchester as part of the press contingent. Last week I found myself in a similar situation at the HR Director’s Business Summit in Birmingham. At the end of the CIPD I wrote a post called ‘The one where it must evolve’ sharing my perspectives about the limitations of the conference format. It was only in re-reading the post that I remembered the comment from Jon Ingham but my memory aside the latter event did have unconference sessions running as part of the second day’s programme.

To say they were well attended would be a slight exaggeration. I think it was only Jon cajoling people into coming that ensured a decent turn out and in looking around at the fellow table/topic hosts I must confess it did feel a bit like ‘The Usual Suspects’. That said what followed in the unconference session was an interesting conversation which will feature in a post of its own tomorrow. The first of the ‘what was interesting’ points was watching people’s reactions to being invited to participate in the sessions – dismissive, fearful, lack in comprehension or quick to talk about the other sessions they planned to attend. Whilst getting people discussing and sharing may seem attractive to some there are clearly others that are still enjoying being talked at.

I attended the second of two unconference sessions and the output from both then formed the starting point for a discussion session at the end of the day. Charitably it started slowly and I did actually feel sorry for Jon who was doing the facilitation equivalent of endlessly tap dancing… But slowly and surely the pace started to pick up aided in part by the appearance of a screen showing the tweets being shared (why the hashtag was not promoted anywhere in the conference remains a mystery and why this was the first appearance of the ‘back channel’ also I don’t get).

Jon’s fellow facilitators did seem a little reluctant to jump into the unstructured nature of the session but as someone sat there watching it happen and participating you could feel the energy and enthusiasm growing in the room and the second of the ‘what was interesting points’ is that it seemed to grow more when people had something to disagree with. My feeling is we got to the point where as it finished there did seem to be some disappointment that it was time to finish.

Having reflected on the unconference session and the plenary follow-up it does feel like an evolutionary step. I don’t think we’ll get everyone over the chasm quite yet, maybe need to have some time slots that are ‘unconference only’? I’m not sure but if you could capture the enthusiasm and discussion that was happening both in the unconference and plenary and bottle it I’m sure many conference organisers would be in the queue to buy.

I must doff my cap to Jon for putting himself out there in running these sessions and I’m sure like me many people have shared their thoughts with Jon which should hopefully help him and those in similar positions to continue the evolutionary process.


Jon has blogged on the same topic and you can find his post here


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The one where everyone gets to play

So previously on the HR Directors Business Forum….

One of the sessions I attended was presented by Rachel Denmeade who I believe is Director of Resourcing, Talent & Development (or maybe in a different order) at Everything Everywhere (the name comes from the mission – see picture), the organisation formed by the joint venture between Orange and T-Mobile in the UK.

Now we’ve all been to these sessions where senior people from well known organisations talk you through an episode from their company narrative and they fall broadly into two camps namely:

  1. We did this, we were amazing and the whole world is now amazing thanks to us
  2. We did this, some of it worked, some of it didn’t, if we were doing it again here’s what we’d do differently

Thankfully for all present Ms Denmeade chose the latter approach and a very interesting session followed. It’s an absolutely massive (such proper business language) JV and formed from two organisations that were and remain competitive – Orange is owned by France Telecom and T-Mobile by Deutsche Telecom.

There was loads of good stuff contained therein but the point that really stuck with me was the way the Senior HR team chose to resource the change programme from an HR perspective. For any of you who have lived through a significant change programme such as this (I have) the usual approach seems to be to take either external interims/consultants or the usual suspects from the HR team and give them the “new & shiny” work to do. Meanwhile, back in ‘business as usual’ a resentment is growing in the remaining team who are busy cranking out the day job looking over at the new toys and feeling isolated and left behind. In trying to create a new unified culture even the HR approach puts barriers in the way.

What Everything Everywhere decided to do was spread the work across the existing team and get people to take on additional responsibility and accountability for the JV work whilst doing BAU. In the process of this they structured how these people would increase the delegation of work to their teams and support those people being delegated to. I loved this!

Not only do people doing the day job get to play with the shiny but also the people working for them get the development opportunity of covering work at the next level and the sense of increased accountability.

In the list of things that they would do differently if they had their time again I was very pleased not to see this HR structure on the list as something that hadn’t worked and it’s an idea I will pinch pay homage to at some point in the future.

More HR Directors Business Forum stuff to come but now a message from our sponsors….


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The one with the chicken and the egg

So this week I am at the HR Directors Business forum being held in Birmingham. Having attended the CIPD conference in Manchester as a blogger I was able to gain attendance for the same reason.

The opening keynote was given by an American called Edward Lawler who to be honest I haven’t previously come across but have the nagging feeling I should have from other people’s reactions. He is an academic who has, in his own words, “Spent 40 years observing the HR profession”

A lot of what he shared was based on data collected as part of his research. His first major point concerned the fact that episodic change is largely a thing of the past and that anyone who longs for periods of consolidation in the new norm of constant change is likely to have an unrequited longing.

He shared data that demonstrated at in the US at least there is a perception that HR have increased their value to the organisation since the recession started and this is in both their own eyes and in the eyes of managers. As if we needed data to show that….

He then described what he thought of a HR’s three product lines namely:

1. Admin & transaction

2. Business Partner services

3. Strategy

and provided data that showed in most of the developed world with the notable exception of China most HR people believe they have some role in strategy but that in reality participation in strategy hasn’t really changed in the 7 years since he started collecting data on this topic.

He then produced a diagram that I can not replicate here but it basically showed the progression from Human Capital & Business data >> Business Strategy >> HR practice, Organisational Design &  Change Management and here’s where I finally reach my point.

Should current human capital data play a role in defining strategy? Or to put it another way – should the people fit around the strategy or should you design strategy that fits your current organisation? Which should come first?

I must confess if you’d asked me that question 10 years ago I would have without hesitation  answered that people should fit around strategy. Now 10 years older and with a little more scar tissue I must confess I sit somewhere between the two. With so many change initiatives failing (depending on the source between 55% and 90%) are the smart businesses those that get the best result they can from what they have rather than risk a failed change to get to an organisation ‘at the end of the rainbow’?

Part of me still feels a little bit bad typing that last paragraph. It feels like defeat to even consider not changing just because other people fail in their efforts but given the current context (UK GDP down 0.2% in Q4) is the brave thing to do caution and not trying ‘hail Mary’ activities that may appear heroic are actually desperation?


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The one with the honest experience

Over recent weeks for some unknown (for that read completely known) reason I have been thinking a lot about the candidate experience. I was then provoked to share some thoughts when Lisa Scales at Tribepad formed a LinkedIn group to discuss the same topic and some interesting conversations are developing. You can find a link to the group here and ask nicely and I’m sure you’ll get an  invite.

The thing I keep coming back to is that in order to have any kind of meaningful conversation we need to start with the truth and that’s a difficult thing to find. Let’s face it everyone wants to present the idealised, nice polished version of their candidate experience and I’ve yet to go to conference where anyone stands up and says “we tried this but it failed” or “ours is a complete shocker”

With this in mind I started to think about how you could describe a typical (and for typical I accept the caveat that of course all of you amazing people have super candidate experiences) experience and put it in a form that would both allow and provoke discussion without it getting ummmm ‘handbag-y’. Then I talked to some friends both inside and outside recruitment and had more of a think.

So with tongue partially in cheek, here goes:

Stage 1: Attraction

At this stage you are likely offering something akin to either Miss Megan Fox or Mr Bradley Cooper. Shiny, beautifully groomed and desirable to most if not all of your target market. The only major thing likely to send your candidate running for the hills at this point is the secret code book or in plain english a job advert written in language that you need 5 years deep immersion in your organisation to understand, this will likely lead to an exit!!

Stage 2: Gaining Entry

At this point, to get anywhere near Miss Fox or Mr Cooper you need to get past the bouncer and donate a pint of blood (or complete 12 pages of questions, tick boxes and disclaimers on your ATS, having registered an account)

Stage 3: Getting the Nod

At this point you will either wait outside X-Ray for a mythical appointment and then be contacted by an over excited bundle of fun who is desperate to get you in front of their big brother (line manager), for the lucky few you may not have to go to X-Ray at all. For the unlucky few you may spend forever waiting outside x-ray

Stage 4: Selection

Depending on the level of the role, complexity of the process and investment in selection you will then be subjected to something akin to Robert De Niro in “Meets the Parents”. Hopefully this will be have been explained in advance and everything you are subjected to will have relevance to the process.

Stage 5: The Jury’s Verdict

So it get’s a bit tricky here…

Success may be the equivalent to a teenage boy on prom night – very excited, eager and keen to get on with it or a radio DJ managing a competition winner, wanting you to sound amazingly excited and coaxing answers out of you. Failure is the Grim Reaper – likely with as much chat (feedback) on why you’ve met your end. On either route you may experience tumbleweed for periods for 1 to n hours, where n is an integer between 1 and infinity (you may never hear)

Stage 6: Doing the Deal

Meet the Negotiator. This person (who may be the same person as the teenage on prom night, the over excited bundle of fun or the radio DJ) may now throw out a few hoops for you to jump through – previous payslips, signatures of 7 living grandparents, the certificate of authenticity for the previous submitted pint of blood, etc. It will then be about ensuring they get the ball in the hoop whilst trying to get you in the business. It may not be pleasant!

Stage 7: Onboarding

So you hop on board the plane, fill in a ream of Health & Safety policies, find out about the company history and get some form of tour. From there a myriad of 1 to 1 meetings with people who don’t really know what you are going to do, how it relates to them or actually why they were included on your induction plan

Stage 8: The Holy Grail

You finally make it. You finally get to have what you wanted all along. BUT and there has to be a but, thanks to the haste and the chinese whispers of the recruiting process, the changes that have occurred in the organisation during the process and the different interpretations put on the role through the process – your job is not Bradley Cooper or Megan Fox rather Ralph Fiennes or Zooey Deschanel. Not to say they are bad jobs, they look very much like the ones you first saw but they are just subtly different….

Random Stage: May Occur at any time

Let’s face it you are not the only employer out there, the rigours of the process may seem too much, the silence may be deafening or any number of things that you have no control over may happen. Probably worth bearing in mind that your candidate (or customer? or is that the line manager?) has the opportunity at any point to head for the exit… but don’t worry it’s not like they could be a consumer of your brand, user of your service, stakeholder in your future is it?

As I said at the top, of course your process isn’t anything like this…but somebody’s is….trust me!


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The one where Moriarty dies

Disclaimer: If you have not watched ‘Sherlock’ from Sunday January 15th and intend to please avoid reading this post. Otherwise crack on!


So in the climax to the second series of the BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ entitled ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ the modern rivals echoed the actions of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle’s originals by both perishing… or did they? I must confess I was disappointed that the show’s writer didn’t hold his nerve and not reveal a living Holmes but also, despite clear visual evidence I am not convinced Moriarty is done and dusted either!

The thought that stayed with me after watching the programme and came up in a conversation over lunch with @Thinkingfox today was the notion that Moriarty was willing to take his own life to prevent Holmes from winning. The idea of success was more important to him than his own life. Fascinating…

This reminded me of a bar room conversation fairly early in my career where a senior member of the business I worked for floated the notion of ‘success at all costs’. The debate that ensued (albeit stoked with more drinks) got very heated and whilst people’s individual values were bandied about there were a few that maintained the assertion that given the right motivation (which is a debate in itself) some people will do anything to win.

I have been fortunate enough to work with teams all over the world and in understanding the dynamics there’s an exercise a former colleague of mine introduced me to (thank you Charlotte!) which is entitled simply “The Red & Blue Game”. It is based on the Prisoner’s Dilemma which is explained in some depth here so I will not go through the detail. Essentially two teams are isolated from one another and asked to make choices that depending on the other team’s choice will result in either win/win, win/lose, lose/win, lose/lose.

On the surface the game is about cooperation and collaboration but what you soon come to realise is that the backbone of the game is all about trust. At certain points during the game meetings can be convened and the discussions that go on about who will attend, who the other team will send, what that means about what is said etc, quickly illustrates the preconceptions around individual trust levels. Also, what becomes blatant is how some people choose to win despite the clear signals it sends around the ability of others to trust them. The need to win seems to completely overtake their logic and reason in driving their decision making.

It’s a fabulous game to facilitate (palace intrigue at its finest) and one of the take outs is often how fragile a notion interpersonal and intraorganisational trust is. Just out of interest every team with only one exception in the UK played win/lose, in Hong Kong it was all win/win, Shanghai (strangely) they managed to lose/lose and in India it was 50% win/win and 50% win/lose.

But to a more important question…how the hell did Sherlock fake that death??



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The one with some Morecombe & Wise(dom)

Blue Monday be gone!

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The one with the stripes

I remember being in a meeting a few years ago where a very ambitious manager attempted to influence an executive by taking them through a very well-known business model for the situation being discussed. To say this approach didn’t work was an understatement and in fact it validated some fears the particular executive had around this manager and their want to intellectualise everything and challenges they had in delivery.

The executive in question was great in that they got to end of the presentation, asked LOTS of questions and didn’t punish the manager for misreading the situation but did ask a very insightful question;

“Why didn’t you tell me what you thought rather than telling me how information fits into a model?”

He went on to explain how the use of the model was of course valid but had not been the best way to influence him and how using it to share thinking and test opinion could be beneficial but what he was interested in was her take as a manager within the organisation.

I think it’s interesting the different ways in that people use qualifications. If you return to the first ever post on this blog I talk about how one of my reasons for attempting the MSc course was to feel more confident and for me to feel more capable. Yes, it would be formal validation of that knowledge but that it would be for me. I’ve kind of shot myself in the foot by writing this blog but that intent is still true.

For some people it seems a far more open validation – we’ve all met those people who almost open with “and I did a <insert qualification> at <insert expensive business school>” and it may be just my reaction but I always feel like saying “why not just be brilliant rather than telling people how brilliantly educated you are”.

You could equally point this at the CIPD qualification. Let’s face it a large chunk of the CIPD graduate diploma is a generic management qualification and in my experience some of the subject specific information is far more about the why rather than the how. Does having your CIPD stripe make you an excellent HR person? No. Does it provide useful knowledge in order to develop yourself as a practitioner? Yes,  of course. Some of the big HR Directors I know don’t have the qualification because their career routes have been very different. I’m not saying don’t get it just that the attainment of the stripes on your arm doesn’t immediately mean you’re fit to serve.

If you’ve read any of these posts you’ll know I am a fan of both theory and models but I think the important distinction the executive in the example made was that not everyone is. I’m for a second saying don’t use them, I suppose what I am saying is it’s about knowing the audience and using the most appropriate approach.

I am fortunate in that I’ve had the time and support to get a few stripes now during my career but if I look back at the things that have developed me the most it’s not been the formal learning, it’s been the application of that learning in an environment where I felt the confidence to apply them. And still I made loads of mistakes…

And just a brief afterthought, if you intend to put your qualifications on your business make sure it’s a full house. Having seen one of my Dad’s friend’s cards I have never done it since he was BSc MSc PhD MBE – that’s a full house!!

And another thing…. a qualification doesn’t become part of your name – don’t double barrel!!


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The one with the brands

As I make my merry way around the recruiters who may be kind enough to peddle my wares to their clients, I am asked, regularly, who I would like to work for? Now, most questions I get asked have a ready (if not, at times overly long) answer, however this question leaves me scratching my head/stroking my chin/looking dopey [depending on the day] as I have very little idea how to go about answering the question.

At an event hosted by Reconverse in November the recruitment website presented some data from a survey they had conducted. The survey asked amongst other things, which employer would you most like to work for. The survey received over 2000 respondents, who had no problem answering the question and the top 10 are listed below:

1. Virgin

2. Apple

3. Google

4. NHS

5. BBC

6. John Lewis

7. Barclays

8. PWC

9. BP

10. Coca-Cola

[Source: via @Reconverse, original recording can be found here]

I don’t know a lot about recruitment websites but I would imagine given’s roots in High Street employment agencies the demographics of the sample would be interesting to understand but that was the Top 10 of their brand index as they termed it.

I must admit when I first heard the list there were some that were no surprise i.e. Apple & Google. These companies have managed to create a sense in the market that working for them would be more like a spiritual experience than a job and good luck to them. John Lewis being included was a dead cert both for their partnership model but also because of favourable TV coverage this year about working there.

Some, however, took me a little more by surprise…. Yes, the NHS (in fact if you listen to the transcript of the session someone loudly exclaims “why?” after they are announced) and I must confess I was a little bemused at their inclusion but the NHS brings an interesting point as like Virgin that’s a catch-all for numerous different organisations – the NHS does not have one amorphous culture, leadership style, operating model etc likewise I’m sure that working at Virgin Cosmetics in Chichester is very different to working for Virgin Atlantic all of which lead me to a thought:

Do people want to work for the companies (or brands) they admire as consumers?

Coca-Cola, Virgin, Apple, Google, John Lewis and possibly the BBC are all well-respected consumer brands that I would imagine score very highly in their consumer brand relationships so are people answering the question based on their affection for their iPhone, the dreams of Virgin Upper or the simplicity of the Google search page?

Part of the reason I think I struggle with answering the question is that what I do/have done in organisations is often very little to do with consumer perception. The information that would make me able to answer the question is very often NOT in the public domain. Which brand wants to admit it has a deficiency in its leadership? Which brand wants to talk about a need to refocus its culture? Which brand wants to admit it has an inadequate succession plan?

The companies that interest me (and let’s face it are interested in me) are those that are at transformational stages of their life, have identified change agendas and the will (for that read resources) to want to do something about that in the people arena. Whether I love my iPhone has got very little to do with any of that but saying that I have been fortunate enough to experience Virgin Upper Class and any job that involves that on a regular basis – I’m in!

So, another question unanswered but if you have any views you’d like to share I’d be really interested to hear them as this was just my gut reaction to hearing the list and I may be very very wrong (but would be loath to admit it!)


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The one with a lack of achievement

There’s a line from the song ‘Sit Down’ by James which is “if I hadn’t seen such riches I could live with being poor”. When the song was first released I never really paid much attention to the line (I was usually in a club far too full of alcohol at the time) but over time it has come to have more and more resonance.

When I was 18 years old the idea of owning a car, any car was something to dream of and a definite goal but by the time I was 35 I wanted an Aston Martin. And not some second hand DB7 but a relatively new DB9 (we can all dream). The cars that seemed like dreams when I was 18 would now be discarded as ‘less than’ and the fact that I own a really nice car which in itself is far more than what I need isn’t the point – I always seem to want the next thing. Whether this is keeping up with the Joneses (or another surname in my case) or the want to have some kind of badge of achievement I’m not sure but it’s there in my head in several respects not just with cars.

I read someone’s Twitter bio earlier and it went something like “I’ve failed lots of times along the way which is why I’ve been successful”. Which from my perspective seemed a bold statement – not that I know anything about that particular person’s achievements but it seemed alien to me to consider one’s self a success to the point where I began to envy the individual concerned that they felt that sense of achievement. The idea that someone felt comfortable enough to self validate themselves as being successful was something that really has me curious.

In the spate of end of year conversations and those looking forward to a new year it does seem that some people (including some i’ve talked to) don’t consider what they achieved last year to be up to scratch or worthy of the investment of their 365 days which begged the question what were they comparing it to? Was there some cosmic score chart that allowed you to sit, reflect and say “yes I did well that year” and if there is can someone please send me a copy?

Success is a delightfully subjective word and in saying that of course I realise it has very different meanings to different people. I suppose where all this is coming to is have I (and we) got to a point where enough is never enough? Will I (and we) always want the next car, the bigger house, the better job? Are we destined to always look back at last year and think that we could have done more with it?

The film “Jerry Maguire” has a character in it called Dicky Fox – apparently the first great Sports Agent who appears at intervals during the film and has some natty motivational quotes but in ending the film he says this “Hey, I don’t have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I failed as much as I have succeeded. But I love my wife. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success.”

But what was his kind of success??!


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