Monthly Archives: March 2012

The one with high results teams

Life is a strange set of coincidences isn’t it?

Two weeks ago I had lunch with my new team in advance of starting. It was a fun experience and I certainly benefited from being able to meet them in an informal setting (and with chicken katsu curry thrown in for good measure). Later that afternoon I met up with @dougshaw1 for a catch up on a myriad of different things and he was telling me about a talk he’d seen at TedX Portsmouth featuring a guy talking about performance.

So this week full steam ahead for the new gig and in meeting the FD (who it turns out is Welsh and we bonded over the grand slam) he invited me to join his team for a day long session they were having with an external coach whose name is Chris Shambrook. Chris works for a business who support our organisation with leadership development and coaching.

Being a nosey type, in dribs and drabs I have been reading through their website and their LinkedIn profiles and whilst going through their blog yesterday evening the penny finally dropped that the TedX guy is Dr Chris Shambrook who is running the team day for the finance team today.

I have linked to his talk below but he makes two points that have stuck with me – both are things you kind of know but actually the clarity with which he presents them really allow you to think notice them:

1. When organisations talk about performance they are usually talking about results (all about the outputs and no consideration of the inputs)

2. Why do we only give performance improvement plans for people we adjudge to be not delivering results?

You could argue that we do give performance improvement plans to people who are delivering results but we just call them something different but it is worthy of some consideration I think.

He gives some really fun illustrations of the differences of consideration of performance in sport (he works with Olympians) and performance in organisations and rather than transcribe them I’ll let you watch the video and although I can’t join for the whole day today I am looking forward to meeting Chris and seeing how his TedX talk and his perspectives manifest in an actual team who are working together.



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The one with a seat at the table

One of the first blog comments I ever made was in response to a blog posted by @TheHRD (I can’t find it now) he was in full swing about HR stepping up to the mark and getting a ‘seat at the table’. He deigned to agree with my comment (I think that was the first and last time) and my comment went something along the lines of stopping waiting to be invited and just barge your way to the table.

I have seen many tweets and several blog posts since then about HR getting access/licence to operate whether to be with respect to hierarchy, internal networks or sponsorship from on high. Every time I see something it reminds me of a conversation I had with a very experienced HR Director over 5 years ago who said “the CEO isn’t a fan of HR but we’re changing his mind”. Having observed that particular situation in the ensuing time I don’t think the CEO changed their mind. Weirdly, I met two HR Directors during my job search who uttered the same line almost word for word and whether they will be successful is yet to be seen but it always made my heart sink a little.

Let’s face it, if someone has risen to lead an organisation and is experiencing success then is there really an opportunity to REALLY change their thinking on the impact on an organisation that skilled HR professionals executing effective strategy can have? Whilst part of me can’t help but admire those who undertake these missionary HR roles I still find myself coming back to thinking about rather than fighting for a seat at the table is the magic really going to happen when an enlightened leader just invites you to sit down?

As I’ve written this I’m still not sure whether these thoughts just reflect my desire to not have to fight the tough influencing fight (and just get on with improving the organisation) or actually whether this reflects my personality and the type of work I want to do…hmmm more thinking to do but I can’t help thinking even if you manage to drag the horse to water will you ever get it to believe that drinking is the right thing to do?!


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The one with the grand slam

The Welsh rugby team won the Grand Slam last weekend. If the Six Nations Championship escaped your notice that means they beat the other five teams and in doing so also won the Triple Crown. If you’re Welsh or a fan of rugby you will understand the significance of this but otherwise you may have missed the fervour that surrounds the annual championship.

Being a Welsh rugby supporter has for most of my life been a torrid experience. I was born at a time when Wales were a dominant force in world rugby (The Gareth Edwards Years) and by the time I was aware of what was going on we had entered a phase of history that felt to me like “Most gracious plucky loser”. Moving to University in England made it worse, standing in bar after bar every year smiling graciously and congratulating a succession of winners with the occasional win pulled out of the hat (followed by a serious intake of beer!)

In the last 7 years Wales have managed to win the Grand Slam 3 times (and even got a mention in my brother’s wedding speech) and put in 2 respectable displays at successive World Cups and being a Welsh rugby fan is feeling a lot better.

Why write a post about this? Well Wales won the Grand Slam! But apart from that it struck me on Saturday as I reflected on the win (and the fact but for a close finish against England it could have been a very different outcome) that NOT supporting the Welsh rugby team and NOT watching the matches has never really been something I’ve considered. However haphazard our play, through a succession of players and managers I have religiously turned the  TV on to watch and even splashed the cash to attend when I could get tickets (the trip to South Africa is mostly a haze!)

Why the commitment to a team that has changed several times during my life time and leaders who have changed even more often? There is no central hero figure, no membership card and my life changes very little whether they win or lose. That said had Wales not secured a win against France on Saturday the metaphorical black arm bands would have been on and it would have been a quiet weekend in Tring.

I sit with friends (Welsh of course) and we all shout, pace, get nervous, excited and completely emotionally invested in something that has no real consequence what so ever. We get no bonus, no pay rise, no promotion – committing to this process takes time, effort, resources and heartache yet we still do it… Why?

Like many people I’ve read Seth Godin’s “Tribes” but being a supporter or a fan has no leader to follow but rather an emblem (in our case the three feathers) yet year after year we commit to the turmoil and upheaval that results from committing to any sporting team (a commitment that most organisations would give their left arm to have)

I don’t really have an answer to any of the questions and have really posted this as a ‘thought in progress’ to see if any can point me at relevant stuff to read or has a point of view to share. Would be great to have some input if only to move my thinking on…

Post Script (you probably only want to read this if you’re Welsh)

I was thinking about the post Gareth Edwards, pre-2005 period and trying to think of my personal 5 memorable moments and in no particular order, here they are:

Jonathon Davies’ try vs. Scotland 1988 – a ridiculous reverse pass, a chip ahead, an astounding burst of speed and over goes Jiffy. I remember being truly shocked at it but it’s still a smashing piece of rugby to watch

Robert Jones’ try vs. Australia 1987 – the first ever rugby world cup and Robert Jones (not me) scores a try under the posts to secure our third place in the contest (a position we have yet to top). An awesome moment and against the Wallabies – couldn’t happen to a nicer team.

Paul Thorburn’s kick vs. Scotland 1986 – 64.2m the longest penalty ever in an international test match and the kick that no one thought he would make. I met Thorburn some years later and a very modest man who still gave a wry smile when asked about it.

A wag in the crowd vs. New Zealand c1999 (Wembley Stadium) – a very personal one but the All Blacks were a class act (as ever) and with 8 or so minutes left on the clock were 48 points to 3 ahead. During a break in play a loud voice from the back of the stand exclaimed with some conviction, and a strong Welsh accent “come on Wales, we’re still in it” – the laughter bordered on ovation!

Scott Gibbs’ try vs. England 1999 (Wembley Stadium – and I was there!) – I was there hosting clients, mostly English but there were 2 other Taffs amongst them. We’d taken stick all the way through the game and with the clock running us out of time, Scott Gibbs jinked around the English defence to go over. Neil Jenkins obliged by converting it and Wales won the last ever match of the 5 Nations. I don’t remember much of the rest of the day….



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The one with some candidate feedback

One thing has occurred to me of late. In all the discussions on the candidate experience very few people are actually speaking to candidates. Recruiters the world over are marvelling in their new found technology and boldly driving operational performance but without really listening to a key stakeholder in their endeavours.

Is this wrong? Well, it’s certainly not right and with all the talk, effort and money that goes into recruiting it does strike me as slightly odd. You can’t buy anything from most companies without some form of survey, e-mail follow up or request for feedback but try and ‘buy’ a job from the same people and they seemingly don’t really mind what you think.

So having been through the ‘pride swallowing siege’ I thought actually I would provide some feedback and given my background has included some significant work in recruiting that could actually form insight (maybe). I realise that in presenting my data that it is entirely subjective but if this stuff happened to me I imagine it’s happening to others.

If having read this you think I’m talking nonsense then that’s great – you are amongst the enlightened who have driven a focus on the candidate experience but if even one of these points resonates with you then I hope that helps you think about what you and your organisation do in the future.


a) With one exception these are not directed specifically at internal or external recruiters but both

b) This is a long post – get comfy, hope your train is delayed or read it in stages!

1. Bad news is better than no news

The deafening silence is dreadful and at worst an automated e-mail saying ‘you haven’t been successful’ is better than realising you haven’t progressed because a new millennium has dawned. Giving people bad news sucks (I know) but giving them no news is worse!

2. One Year to a recruiter is like Seven Years to a candidate

No I don’t think candidates are dogs! But you want candidates who are vested in your organisation and mustard keen to join. Don’t dampen that by making them wait weeks between communication/stages and making that enthusiasm wane to the point that they simply stop caring.

3. Feedback: if you give it, make it real

‘We have other candidates who more closely meet the brief’ and then the job is reposted everywhere within 48 hours. There are others and they DO happen. If you take the trouble to give a reason then make it a real one

4. Hurry Up & Wait Around

A phrase stolen from film making but remember how keen you are to get hold of the CV and the levers you pull to get the applicant….then nothing….nada. If set a tone of urgency – maintain it, or at least manage a slow down

5. Your Call is important to us

Whilst I loathe hold music at least it tells me my call is still connected and whilst it doesn’t endear me any further to the brand it certainly doesn’t put me off. Think about how you can keep assuring your candidate that their application is important to you and they are still involved in your process

6. Do what you say you’re going to do

“I’ll call you on Wednesday” not a difficult thing to do, or if Wednesday no longer fits not a difficult thing to reschedule. If you say you are going to do something JUST DO IT (The Nike Rule)

7. Money doesn’t grow on trees

To any candidate pursuing a role is likely coming out of their own pocket. Whether they are currently employed or not that money will not grow on trees and whilst you are trying to manage loads of diaries and managers please bear in mind that £40 train ticket costs, yes, £40 and if there are 4 stages which result in no job offer and at times no feedback then that does not reflect well on your organisation

8. Unicorns are fictional

Don’t try and recruit Unicorns – they don’t exist. If you’re an internal recruitment manager you need to push back more, if you’re an external consultant you need to challenge your client more.

9. Don’t confuse experience with ability

Yes we all love a good example of when someone has done something before and yes it’s a valid approach to part of your process but just because someone hasn’t done something before doesn’t mean they won’t be able to. If you rely solely on experience you may have a Unicorn problem!

10. Candidates will become customers

From my experience the candidate is NOT the customer (it’s a recruitment manager or a hiring manager) but whether you be a consultant and want to continue to recruit in this space or a company who sells its product or services just remember that at some point (and maybe already) your candidate is ALSO your customer

11. Ask them what they think and give them a route to whinge

Service improves for a variety of reasons but poor scores and negative feedback are amongst them. Try asking for some or at least giving your candidates a route to share some – with you rather than the rest of their network. I didn’t come across it but does anyone use a net promoter score for candidates? In this age of social referral surely ‘would you recommend us?’ is a powerful question to candidates.

12. Reputation is EVERYTHING

You know this – you’ve read so much stuff about EVP and employer brands but referral schemes always start with employees. What are your candidates saying to each other? How are you perceived in the market place? Your employees are already drinking the kool-aid, what about the potentials?

And finally the one that is specifically focussed at internal recruiters:

12a. Don’t vilify recruitment consultants

Like all service providers there are the good, the bad and the ugly. If you are working with the latter two categories –change. If you are lucky enough to work with people in the first category help them add value to your business, make them your partners and don’t slag them off at every given opportunity. There are some very good recruitment consultants operating out there and I have seen some that I can certainly learn some lessons from in various aspects of their process – maybe I’m not the only one.

Anyway, enough of the feedback/insight (for now). To all of the great people who I worked with during my job search, thank you very much and to the rest (and you probably don’t know who you are) I hope I’ve given you at least one piece of information to stimulate you doing something different

[I also wrote a rather tongue in cheek view of my perceptions of the candidate experience which you can find here]


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The one where Mr Smith doesn’t go to Washington

Did you hear? Greg Smith has left Goldman Sachs…

Yesterday an Op-Ed piece appeared in the New York Times written by a departing Goldman Sachs employee called Greg Smith. In his piece he chose to make some frank observations of his perception of Goldman Sachs and their culture. In response Goldman’s Chairman & CEO Lloyd Blankfein shared two observations that Mr Smith’s observations did not reflect Goldman’s values and that he was not aware of Mr Smith using the anonymous mechanism his firm has in place for employees to raise issues.

One person in my twitter stream questioned the credibility of this letter saying that it was just the groans of a leaving employee and in his blog response Fred Destin suggests that Mr Smith stop demonizing the banks and start thinking about how you can take power away from them.

Having read the original op-ed piece relatively early this morning I was impressed that a) someone had written it and b) that the New York Times had published it. Regardless of that fact that Mr Smith had ‘supped from the Goldman cup’ for 12 years it is my belief you have right up to your death-bed to make a conversion and having seen the light at least he is choosing to attempt to make a personal change. I have no problem with the fact that banks (and commercial entities in general) are in business to make money. No problem at all. What I took away from the piece was the way in which they set out to make money and the respect or lack thereof which they deal with their clients. At no point did I think it was a manifesto for non-profit but maybe a call for a mitigation in success at all costs.

As for Goldman’s response I found that quite amusing. The fact that it does not reflect Goldman’s values was surely the point of the whole thing – the fact that behaviour observed in the firm does not reflect the values hung over the door was in my mind was Mr Smith was getting at. The fact that he didn’t use the anonymous mechanism – well there’s a shocker… surely if he did it would be anonymous and secondly, having made his decision maybe he felt the NY Times would create more impact than his 1 of 30,000 employees complaint. Maybe need to revise that system?

As for the credibility of the letter there I disagree with the person questioning the credibility. Mr Smith is an individual who has a point of view that he has chosen to express. If you don’t wish to give it credence that’s fine but he’s sharing his perceptions from 12 years of employment and as my Occ Pysch professor regularly said ‘reality is defined in the mind of the actor’ – his reality, his views, he got published.

I found Mr Destin’s response very interesting. He clearly has FAR greater insight into an industry I’ve never worked in but surely some of the points he raised in his “oh please” response were the elephants on the table. Should we just accept how bankers are incentivised? Should we just accept how investment banks operate? Maybe, what Mr Smith was trying to achieve was to fuel the fire of changing how banks operate and how you can take power away from them.

In the fall out from the financial crisis there has been lots of talk about changing banking but seemingly little action. With the huge bailouts and mergers now part of the day-to-day reality it does seem that reforming the banking sector and evolving the regulation it is subject to has taken a back burner. If you read my post yesterday you’ll know I’ve been watching ‘Battlestar Gallactica’ recently and a line that appears with regularity in the show is “All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again”. I can’t help thinking that without significant intervention and change we’ll just forget our way out of this and set course for another crisis.

In other big news yesterday Darth Vader decided to leave the Empire. The Emperor has yet to comment although he has requested verification on whether Darth had used the anonymous employee complaints process before exiting…

[Thanks to @Thinkingfox for links to both the Fred Destin blog and the Darth Vader piece]

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The one with 2IC

My best friend and I have very different tastes in film and television. Yes, there’s an overlap but often things are described as “not really being a Jonesy film” and he’s usually spot on. He’s been suggesting for some time now that I would really love the reimagined “Battlestar Gallactica” and I had fought the good fight until recently Herself produced a boxed set of season 1 and before I could strap down my viper I was off into space.

For those of you who remember the 80s series it was relatively cheesy with humour akin to Roger Moore as Bond and about as unpredictable as an episode of the A-Team. I was therefore quite surprised when the reimagined version started to tackle some very interesting issues (and it’s the only sci-fi show I’ve ever encountered with a labour relations episode!)

The top man is Commander William Adama and his XO (Executive Officer) is Colonel Saul Tigh and it’s the relationship between Adama and Tigh that has got me thinking about the least famous role of them all – the second in command.

I’ve been trying to think of the different types of second in command role and also some examples of them. I’ve been trying to do this since Saturday and in most cases failing so any suggestions gratefully received but so far, here’s the list:

The Runner Up/The Rival

This one seems to be particularly relevant in political circumstances i.e. Gordon Brown to Tony Blair. In this case it appears the second in command is less a support or a successor but more a force that has be neutralised and controlled

The Power behind the Throne

Here position is not relevant – these people usually have the ear of the leader and the power within the organisation to actually get stuff done. They are never famous but actually incredibly powerful in their anonymity unless their surname is Mandelson.

The Heir Apparent

Whilst this can be assumed for people in the ‘runner up’ box it isn’t always a given but in some cases the Number 2 is there as Number 1 in waiting. To learn the ropes, step up and gradually get to the point where the number 1 can just wander off into the sunset. Or if you’re Bill Gates make a humorous video clip and set up a massive charitable foundation

The Consigliari

To Vito Corleone, his Consigliari was Tom Hagen, the lawyer. A trusted counsellor (in both senses of the word) who took a different view and was there to constructively challenge the Don. I think the defining characteristics are the trust between the leader and their Consigliari and the perceived wisdom of the advisor – they have another perspective to add

The Yin and The Yang

As individuals we all have strengths and weaknesses. One of the major differences I’ve noticed in people I’ve worked with is those who find strategic thinking more straight forward and those who find the execution and operation of things more straight forward. I can’t think of an example but it strikes me that some leaders must balance themselves and their strengths in selecting a number 2 giving that balance to running the organisation (anyone got an example that works here?)

The Loyal Servant

Which is where it all started as Tigh is explicitly loyal to Adama and articulates his desire to only be a number 2 and not have command. That said he is a deeply flawed individual who has some very defined weaknesses that Adama seems to accept and goes as far as protecting Tigh despite his weaknesses. Whether that’s because his weaknesses help Adama as a leader, the loyalty gives Adama the security to lead or like those married couples that sometimes you look at and think ‘they shouldn’t work but they REALLY do’.

This definitely needs some more thought but the two things I keep on coming back to are firstly does anyone ever set out to be a number 2 (and do they develop themselves with that in mind?) and secondly are leaders conscious of the qualities of their number 2 and how it impacts on their success (or failure)?

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The one with the pride swallowing siege

For the people who read this blog regularly (you’re all mad) you may have noticed my usual rhythm has somewhat faltered over the past 10 days and no posts have appeared. There has been good reason for this in that I have been busy landing a new position and will (all things being equal) take up a new role later this month. Being still a little fearful of tempting fate I am stopping short of broadcasting this new role and will, I assure you, update my LinkedIn profile once I have my backside in the chair.

I have been tremendously lucky in my job search to receive  advice, referrals, recommendations, guidance, feedback, food, drink and all manner of support from a great number of people and to name them all would make this feel like the Oscar acceptance speech for best documentary – a long list of names that mean very little to most and only something to the person saying them. That said it would be remiss of me not to doff my cap to a few people:

  • My long-suffering best friend – the most obnoxious British subject of them all
  • A fast-moving blonde from Yorkshire
  • Another of the wider Jones clan – always ready with a supportive word and the offer of lunch
  • My parents – who’ve been pretty much ignored whilst this process has been ongoing
  • Two women named Penfold – for restoring my faith in recruiters of all shapes and sizes
  • The Waltons (who will likely never read this) for knowing when to leave well alone and knowing when to provide caiparinha
  • The Jedi Master for restoring my faith in me, and for beers
  • Jac, Jose, Roger, Peter & Sharon for the gigs
  • Last and MOST importantly, Herself for just being herself

The list is by no means exhaustive and like all good acceptance speeches I know I’ve forgotten someone but the band are playing me off. To all of you who’ve read, commented, retweeted or provided material for this blog thank you so much – it has been a major part of maintaining my shred of sanity over the past months and although it may get a little patchy it will continue.

At a point in the film Jerry Maguire, our titular hero (played by Mr Cruise) is trying to influence his one client Rod Tidwell (played with gusto by Cuba Gooding Jr.) to change his attitude in pursuit of a new contract. In the course of the debate, Maguire in trying to convey how tough the negotiations are uses the following description, “It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about”. I feel kind of the same in describing the job search process but then part of me thinks, without sharing any insight – what would we learn? Maybe another day….for the moment I’ll just say thank you and get on with planning the next step


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