Monthly Archives: April 2012

The one with some work life balance

I always struggled with the whole work life balance thing. The idea that organisations needed policy and process to protect their employees from working. This seemed out of kilter with the ideas of maximising effectiveness and extracting discretionary effort…

What I’ve grown to realise is that for some people (i.e. Me) balancing work and life is a bit of an exercise in futility in that they rarely switch off and require some serious space in order to do so. For others, they have either the circuitry or the confidence to just flick the switch and they can take not just the physical break but also the mental break required to come back feeling rested and actually deliver at 110% rather than just attend at that rate.

With this in mind I have said yes to being involved in several trips that started 10 days ago and aren’t done yet. The venues are quite diverse although the participants are largely consistent and so respective Sundays have seen me with very different perspectives on life not just figuratively but literally. It leads to a diversity on one’s ‘view of life’ which seems to be largely good for the soul if not bad for the bank account.

Last Sunday I was sat on the gorgeous Knoydart peninsula off Mallaig in Scotland

and this Sunday I started the day in Gatwick airport but fortunately ended it in somewhere warm, sunny with long drinks intended to contain umbrellas.

Are work losing anything by me being here? No, it’s part of my annual leave. Are work gaining anything for me being here? Yes, because I will get some space and time to really think broadly without worrying about the day-to-day.

It’s now 3.30am UK and in 3 hours I should be getting up to start my week but that’s not going to happen here. Instead I will spend the time reading, chatting, eating and may even stretch to some boozing but somewhat annoyingly I do have some ideas bouncing around my head for a slide pack I need to write and that may appear in some form tomorrow….

And to anyone who asks the question….yes my work mobile is at home on the dining room table. Am I feeling stressed about that? Not yet!

On that note I will close because I am due to wake up with a start wondering where I am in the next few hours but will leave you with this thought….it’s 28 degrees here, happy Monday!



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The one with the Rock Virgin

Wednesday saw me attending (and taking part in) the CIPD’s HRD conference held in London’s Olympia. I owe thanks to Johanna Ratcliffe and the team for my ‘blogger blogger’ invite and the opportunity to enjoy some really interesting sessions. Some of the blogging contingent (Sukh Pabial and Doug Shaw) took a ‘live blogging’ approach to the event but I warn you now the HRD theme will run for about a week as I ‘ruminate and cogitate’ over what I saw, heard and have thought about since.

If you remember back to September 2007 the words austerity and credit crunch were nowhere near the venacular but in a few days the wheels came off the economic wagon and what has been a very ‘interesting’ few years began. The first really big milestone was the first run on a British bank for over a century and an instituion that had been the 5th largest mortgage lender in the UK and much admired for it’s profitability became a symbol of the credit crisis that was to follow. As Bernadette Bruton, Head of HR Strategy & OD asked the session yesterday, who remembers this photo?

What I hadn’t really considered until listening to the session yesterday was the people who were actually part of Northern Rock. Not the board of directors or the people responsible for the bank’s capital strategy but the thousands of other people who were part of an employer who was much respected in the North East and how it impacted the pride they had felt in being part of that organisation.

What has followed since has been inevitable headcount reductions on a massive scale and restructuring the bank not just at a corporate level (the ‘good bank’ and the ‘bad bank’ being now seperate legal entities) but also in how you continue to operate what remains following the maelstrom that must have followed behind the headlines.

It was interesting to see Burke & Litwin’s model for OD (1992) being part of the process of providing clarity but also the realisation that despite the external factors at play (you know Lehmans, offshore vehicles, sub-prime etc) there were issues both in culture and structure (e.g. too wide a span of control and too many layers of management) that needed to be resolved if the bank were to move forward.

From the sound of things the organisation is moving forward and to the individuals who have lived through the process what follows (in the words of Ms Bruton) not a new chapter but a new story with the purchase of the ‘good bank’ by the bearded wonder Mr Branson. The new story of course involves a whole new set of HR challenges with integrating the existing Virgin Money business with the acquired organisation but what was heartening was hearing of the enthusiasm with which the process has been recieved by the individual employees and the opportunity of giving them something they can yet again be proud of.

As a taxpayer I may have a couple of other questions about return on investment but I’ll leave those for another day because it would be a shame to end of good story with some tough questions…

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The one with the no men

So the journey through ‘The West Wing’ continues. For herself it’s the first timem for me it’s the several-th time but every time I watch it I still find little on television past or present to rival it. In an episode we watched recently the President, suffering from a bout of insomnia, consults a therapist. At the end of a two-hour conversation the therapist announces ‘time’s up – we’re done’ and the President, being the most powerful man in the world and all that says,

“I hate to put it this way, but I’m me, and you’re you, and we’re done when I say we’re done.”

Interestingly, rather than yielding to the clear power in the room the therapist pushes back and says aside from his family he’s going to the one person in the world who doesn’t care that he’s talking to the President. Brave man!

It’s interesting watching people in powerful positions and how they treat the people around them and how they expect those people to behave towards them. Hang on a second – the second half of that sentence depends on perception – it could read how they are perceived to expect the people around them to behave towards them…

Have you ever talked to a leader who complained of being surrounded by ‘yes men’? The question I always want to ask (and once did ask) is “do they tell you what you want to hear because of them or because of you?”. Creating an environment where it’s safe to tell truth to power requires both a leader who encourages that behaviour but also people surrounding that leader who are willing to take that courageous step and be a ‘no man’. Of course it’s incumbent on the leader to behave consistently and not shift the goal posts and absolutely essential to the person making the challenge to do it in a manner that is appropriate and allows the leader the space and position to admit being wrong.

I have written about courage (and cowardice) before and having reread those posts this evening I still feel that the work written on ‘Courage as a skill’ is valid to someone considering making this kind of challenge but the thought I keep on coming back to is that whilst there are smart ways to go about being courageous at the end of the day it is a matter of stepping up and doing it rather than letting an opportunity to get the right outcome for the organisation sail past.

If you are that leader (because SOOO many CEOs read this blog) take a moment and ask yourself if anyone ever tells you you’re wrong. If no one ever does look at yourself first before you look at ‘them’ and if you truly believe your behaviour should be engendering more challenge from your team then maybe you need to hire more people willing to tell you that you’re being an idiot….

Having looked in the mirror recently I realise I’m fine….not so much because of my behaviour but just for the long list of people more than happy to inform me of my idiocy 😉

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The one where to do is not enough

It seems to me that in considering our activity and achievements at work we are sometimes all about the absolutes – satisfaction measured by ticks in boxes and to-do lists laid waste. For some (and at times I wish I was one of them) it’s about have we got a plan, a list, a set of actions to deliver and can we turn around at the end of it and shout “finished”. The problem that leads to is actually effectiveness of either the work or more broadly of the organisation is not measured by the attainment of task but actually with the impact that task had and the results it delivered.

I remember a conversation with a colleague in HR who had been on the receiving end of fairly blunt (and constructive) feedback from one of the HR senior management. The top line of the feedback was that the part of the organisation this individual was supporting weren’t changing, weren’t developing, weren’t becoming more effective and actually the results they were delivering were getting worse. Despite having a clear action plan which had been delivered the perception was HR hadn’t done enough to challenge the organisation, hadn’t had the difficult conversation, made the timely intervention and hadn’t provoked enough change.

To say the individual found the feedback difficult would be understating it. Over several conversations they got down ‘off the ledge’ but I’m still not convinced they realised that whilst their division was legally compliant and they had done everything they’d been asked that sometimes legal and required is not enough – we need to do more. There are of course arguments to say the line managers were accountable for their performance (and they were held to account) but if the HR profession stands any hope of moving from compliance to the oft discussed business partner we need to actually do more than tick the box.


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The one with the fat cats

I attended a lunch recently and found myself sat next to a gentleman who started working as a Human Resources consultant in 1964. Apart from being a very engaging and charming person to sit next to at lunch I was fascinated to understand how he felt our profession had change and evolved in the 47 years since his consultancy career started [I should mention he’s now retired].

We talked about loads of things including the evolution of personality and ability profiling, the role of HR in the organisation, the role of consultants to the organisation and ended up talking at some length about executive reward. The organisation he worked for (and later lead) were at the time (and are still today) very well-known for their work in reward benchmarking and the development of reward structures for organisations.

In the course of discussing some of the assignments he lead and illustrating that whilst the players (and the playing field) have all moved on the game is still the same he shared a piece of information that in 2012 seems astounding. For the CEOs of several big name (and still very powerful) FTSE100 companies the variable elements of their reward could not be more than 100% of their base salary and that their base salary could not be more than 15 times that of a new graduate joining the business. This was from work done in the early 1970s.

So let’s put that in 2012 context….

According to the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) the average graduate salary in the UK will rise in 2012 to £26,000 (we won’t discuss how many graduates can’t even get jobs). That would put the base salary of the CEO at £390,000 and his or her variable reward at a maximum of £390,000 to make a total package of £780,000.

According to Income Data Services (IDS) from data published in 2011, the average total reward for a FTSE100 CEO was £3.8M. Which if you were to use the 15x multiple backwards would mean graduates would be earning £253,333 – nice work if you can get it!

The conversation went on to whether organisations have become that much more profitable or productive to warrant the significant increases in CEO reward (neither of us thought they had) or who were the first to start the journey to ‘mega-reward’ (according to him – the Americans) and I came away from lunch pleasantly replete but with a genuine disquiet.

Whether it’s the long forgotten pay off that Bob Ayling received when ousted from British Airways or the front of mind numbers being discussed for Barclays CEO Bob Diamond I am often loath to jump on the ‘their all fat cats’ band wagon because firstly I have limited understanding of the actual context (does Diamond’s reward contain elements from when he VERY successfully lead the Capital division?) but more importantly ‘they’ are being paid under deals and agreements negotiated with organisations that have structures and governance with respect to reward.

I don’t for a moment think leading an organisation is easy. Like any leader the success or failure of the endeavour will rest with the CEO. With the pressure of market forces should Stephen Hester really have given up his bonus? Should reward be so significantly skewed to the leader? Should reward from a bountiful year be clawed back in a fallow year?

It seems to me that rather than shouting and balling at individual cases and feeding the media witch hunts over an individual’s negotiated reward is it not incumbent to the human resources profession to reexamine the reward governance and structures and try to innovate to new structures that ACTUALLY reflect the value a leader has brought to a business?

It was a very nice lunch though….

Update April 28th 2012:

So yesterday at Barclays AGM there was significant disquiet over executive pay with a significant portion of shareholders voting against the executive pay recommendations and also against the re-election of the Chairman of the Renumeration Committee… [More detail can be found here]


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The one where I’m now in the family

Last November I wrote a post entitled ‘The one where it’s in the family’ where I expressed my frustration with what appeared, at least to me, the closed-minded thinking of some people about considering hiring people who had worked outside their industry. At the time people shared some interesting points of view and at the very least it made me feel better.

Now 6 months later I sit here learning to be part of a new ‘family’ lead by people who have done what I hoped more people would that is hired someone from outside their industry and actually made a point of welcoming the outside point of view. That’s all well and good – I am loving my job and the people I work with are being very supportive in sharing the industry specifics I will need to be effective.  However, it got me thinking about the behaviour one needs to exhibit in order to firstly deliver the role but more importantly make the risk those hiring took pay back and bring the ‘non-industry insight’ to bear.

So far the list is only five items long but here goes:

1. Be comfortable looking stupid

There are loads of things you don’t know that you will need to know. Asking means admitting you don’t know and that’s OK. Don’t let the fear of looking stupid or being the one person who doesn’t know stop you asking. The most powerful impact could be in asking a question about something that everyone takes for granted but a fresh pair of eyes that can see differently – it could be a game changer.

2. Share but don’t drone…

Count to yourself how many times you start a sentence with “When I worked for X” or “When I worked in Y”. Using your previous experience and providing some validation to an observation is essential but be aware of the risk of switching people off or worse have them actively whingeing about all the ‘company X’ stories

3. Don’t let specifics drown your perceptions

Yes each industry or sector has a lot of specifics and part of being able to deliver a role will be understanding those specifics but largely speaking people are people and don’t let the specifics drown out or cloud your perceptions – they are probably right.

4. Some people will defend with specifics

If people around you feel threatened either by your role or a new person in the environment they may use the specifics to try and defend a position or even to challenge your validity. That’s OK. Let them defend, understand their defence, don’t swing at the pitch but use this to build your understanding of the organisation and the individual

5. Take the time

Not knowing stuff is OK (according to my therapist!!) and whilst we all want to feel confident and part of things it’s OK to take time to understand the organisation, it’s culture, it’s people and it’s secret language. Don’t beat yourself up or let your lack of instant understand damage your confidence – take the time.

So 3 weeks done and my security pass hasn’t been revoked yet. If anyone has anything ideas of things to add to this post I would be grateful because sitting and writing it has been as much about me focussing on what I need to do as sharing any insight I may have and with that I will leave you to a new week and kick off week 4 and learn several new three letter acronyms!


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The one to fail

How many times have you stood and heard a leader utter the immortal words “ask for forgiveness, not for permission”. They are great words, very empowering but the tricky thing about them is if they are spoken but not enacted they are very empty words. Now of course none of you work in organisations with blame cultures, corridors littered with the bodies of shot messengers and those who dared to take accountability for a mistake. Easy words to utter but requiring of commitment and purpose.

I’ve been re-watching “The West Wing” recently (and it may creep up with regularity given we are on season 2 of 7) but there’s a great episode in the first season called “Let Barlet be Barlet” in which the President’s job approval rating drops by 9 points. When the senior staff discuss the drop they come to realisation that the decrease is not because they’ve done something wrong but actually because they’ve done nothing. The fear of getting something wrong has driven inactivity that lead to a perception of less effective leadership.

Given this is TV of course resolution is swift and through a cracking interchange between the President and his Chief of Staff a new plan is hatched. When briefing the senior staff Leo McGarry (Chief of Staff) says this:

“Our ground game isn’t working; we’re gonna put the ball in the air. If we’re gonna walk into walls, I want us running into them full-speed.”

When I was a youth I played in the local youth symphony orchestra. For some reason a particular rehearsal sticks in my mind. We were rehearsing Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Capriccio Espagnol’. If you happen to know the piece of music there is a passage where the string and woodwind sections are parading their wares melodically speaking and as if from nowhere the brass section (of which I was a member) arrive with some force.

Given it was a Friday night and our focus was elsewhere when the conductor called for the orchestra to “take it from 20” we misheard and arrived in force having (as a section) gone instead from 21. A cacophony ensued and when he stopped the orchestra we wholly expected to be bollocked for not paying attention. We were therefore surprised when it was the string and woodwind sections that received said bollocking for “despite being in right, playing with the passion and commitment of people in the wrong. They (he pointed at the brass section) made me believe they were right. They were wrong with commitment”

All this by way of saying whilst safety may seem like the best option sometimes doing nothing or attempting something half heartedly may lead to an outcome that isn’t satisfying either for you or those around you. If you are in a position where you do hold people to account think about the impact of chewing them out and realise that if you want decisive empowered people working with you, how you deal with failure needs to be as important as how you celebrate success.

Have a good day all, I’m off to fail… style!

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