Monthly Archives: May 2012

The one with some words from Ray

On occasion advertising copywriters come up with some really great stuff. You only have to watch the Sony Playstation advert ‘Double Life’ or the Johnny Walker advert with Robert Carlyle ‘The Man who Walked Around the World’. On a recent shopping expedition (location drop: to Bloomingdales in New York) I saw this from the sunglasses brand Ray-Ban and liked it (although not enough to actually buy a pair):

NEVER HIDE

Never pretend

Never be who you’re not

Never change for someone else

Never just go quietly

Because true inviduals

Never hide

Not a bad sentiment for a Wednesday!

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The one with the paradox of metrics

On May 16th I attended the 4th ConnectingHR Unconference. I’ve been to a few before (and you can find blog posts on my previous experiences here) and it was great firstly to take a member of my new team with me and secondly to see how the event is evolving as time passes. There were a number of posts written reflecting on the event which you can find linked from this cracking post from @flipchartrick

One of the changes from my previous outings was that the day kicked off with a number of short presentations from a variety of people, which went to the title of the day “The Power of a Socially Enabled Organisation”. Jamie Priestley‘s presentation was entitled “The Importance of Being Unreasonable” and he landed a number of points not least the challenge to look behind evidence and also how data is often over interpreted and over stretched in the attempt to make a point.

The point he made that stayed with me most related to that grand adage ‘what gets measured, gets done’. It’s an old favourite and anyone who’s been anywhere near a corporate environment will have had it trooped out on numerous occasions. The point that Jamie made which really got me to thinking went along the lines of ‘if what gets measured gets done do people only really focus on what can be measured’.

Of course he loses 5 points for using the iPod as an example of things that weren’t measured whilst they were being developed (the iPod is akin to Richard Branson in that they both work as great examples against most points) but gains at least 10 points for using e=mc2 (there’s no superscript on here!) as another example.

Given the difficultly of effectively measuring some of the ‘big stuff’ in organisations e.g. culture, engagement, discretionary effort, leadership effectiveness, etc, to an organisation that focusses solely on metrics is there a MASSIVE risk of focussing just on the outputs and not on the inputs? Or as Dr Chris Shambrook put it, the focus being only on the results and not on the performance.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that nothing should be measured but I find myself thinking that a lot of the things I really think are important (and this may reflect my role) are things that are measured more intuitively than a RAG’d spreadsheet.

Two of my colleagues recently went to visit Unipart’s head office in Cowley, Oxfordshire. Unipart are well-known for their motor spares business but have two additional business areas in supply chain solutions and consulting. They are actually working with my organisation at the moment. Rather than dozens of metrics measuring micro parts of their business they have two metrics which (if my memory is serving me correctly) are availability and returns. Their belief being that if those two measures are good then everything else underneath them is functioning correctly.

The arguments for and against metrics will continue long after this post (and likely this blog) and my fundamental belief is they have their role but that role should be put in context and tempered with other considerations of an organisation.

That said in measuring the success of attending the unconference one of my objective  is to come away with some things to think about that challenge my existing thinking. Jamie’s presentation (the pack for which you can find here) certainly ticked one box… More boxes to follow shortly!

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The one with the permission to be happy

So I’m sat in a coaching session (a few years ago) and the coach asks me, “so how many times can you remember being happy in the last few years?” I stop, scratch my head (metaphorically speaking) and think back the last few years of my life. After a few minutes I finally answer “three or four times”.

At this point I should reassure you that over those previous few years I had not been living in a war zone, abject poverty, in prison or under any kind of duress so the idea of only being happy three or four times seems unlikely. He went on to ask to describe those occasions and most of them involved big set pieces i.e. holidays, birthday parties, etc. He took a moment, scratched his chin (metaphorically speaking) and said something along the lines of “your problem Jonesy is you don’t give yourself permission to be happy”. From a coach who was very business focussed and the previous topic of organisational politics this seemed quite the departure.

He then frogmarched me out of his office, across a few London streets to a  shop that sells a rather random selection of accessories, haberdashery and dressmaking supplies. The shop front is painted purple and it has massive windows through which you can see the strange contents of the shelves. He shared with me the fact that standing and staring at this random stuff made him feel relaxed and happy. Whilst it didn’t have the same effect on me I took the point and charged myself with being more aware of the happiness in my life and more regularly ‘stopping to smell the roses’.

As I sit here on a sunny Sunday afternoon writing this for tomorrow and reflect on the last few weeks and the last few years I see that his advice and the decision I took staring at those dress accessories has definitely worked. Not only have I consciously taken the time to notice the good things in life but also have become much better at putting the bad things in context. Life is good!

For those of you who follow me on Twitter you may be aware the last month or so has been pretty non stop travel and adventures and a trip to Knoydart in Scotland, Barbados, home to Wales for a wedding and a trip to New York have led to many kodacolour moments and some fantastic memories to add to ‘my files’. Having a weekend of doing pretty much nothing at home has also been fabulous but there is one more planned activity that will no doubt lead to some happy memories which leads me finally to the point of all of this…

‘Herself’ celebrates a significant birthday today and as we sit down to dinner tonight I am sure I will have another mental picture to remember so Happy Birthday to Herself with lots of love from Me. To the rest of you go and find something to be happy about – even if just for a moment!

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The one with the procured idea

I’ve never worked with a serious procurement function before. There have been serious buyers in the organisations I’ve worked for but they have been focussed on buying materials or products for the business to work with rather than buying the ‘stuff’ the business used to do it. My new role therefore has an added dimension and growing to understand the procurement process is so far proving intriguing…

During a recent conversation with a senior procurement colleague he happened to grab a marker and stand in front of a white board (there were no post its – he’s not a trainer) and draw a model which he was using to illustrate the different perceptions of value inherent in the work his team do. He referred to the model as the ‘triple bottom line procurement model’ and you can find more information is this very well written wiki but essentially the model looks like this:

It was developed by John Elkington and first referred to in his 1997 book “Cannibals with Forks: the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business” and has been adopted organisations including the UN as a structure for driving sustainability.

So why is this of interest to a) me and b) you?

The easy answer to a) is I love a good model and I’m sure I’ve mentioned here previously whether they are directly relevant to the problem at hand they usually prompt a good discussion and the investigation of a problem from a different perspective.

The answer to b) is slightly more difficult to articulate.

I am not alone in having wrestled with the different models of training evaluation and have at various times dabbled with Kirkpatrick and his 4 (or 5) levels, Jack Phillip’s model of ROI, Robert Brinkerhoff’s model of success and some I’ve tried to cobble together from a mishmash of others but I’ve never really found anything that resonates with the rest of the organisation. Who really gives a stuff about happy sheets and whether they thought the trainer could do his job?!!

In my discussion with my colleague he immediately stated that the work I do/lead would be in the social sphere (“fair and beneficial business practices toward labour and the community and region in which a corporation conducts its business”) and I argued that whilst that may be the perception the work I do/lead should be about the economic sphere (“economic value created by the organization after deducting the cost of all inputs, including the cost of the capital tied up”) and that anything in the social sphere is an added benefit. An interesting debate ensued, our conversation concluded and we went about our days.

However (and there had to be a however) the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve realised that a model such as this could be a lever (or at least part of one) to increasing the perceived value of developing people. Companies need to assert their sustainability credentials, they are measured  on how responsible an investment they are and our colleagues in CSR have used this leverage to push their activities up the corporate agenda. Why can’t we do the same?

This is still a bit of a random idea at the moment but it’s been bumping around my head for about a week now so I wanted to put it out there and see if anyone had a view….just me???

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The one with the picture that’s too big

I would like to think I have a pretty broad perspective. In fact if I were to read back through my performance management documents from the past I think I would find some comments that at times my perspective is too broad and what is required is a little focus…

I must therefore admit to being quietly shocked when at the CIPD’s HRD12 conference in London last week, Sue Round, Director of L&D for British Gas, opened her presentation with a slide that is most easily summed up as geopolitical context. She cited in her context the Arab spring and the ensuing ‘end of deference’, the rise of China as a global economy and the move from West to East and quoted President Obama’s line that America was “leading from behind”. She used this to signpost the significant change that is happening globally at present.

I may have missed the segue but it felt quite a bump back down to the smaller picture to then be discussing management development, 70/20/10 learning and the 9-box model. All valid stuff and reassuring to people like me that what we are doing is in line with ‘the big boys’. However, in reflecting on the session it did strike me as odd that this context was presented and not explored – but then it’s ‘only’ L&D surely?

I am not one to diminish what we try and do in organisations (there’s enough people doing that for me) and anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that my ego is alive and well but when it comes down to it surely what we about is developing knowledge, skills and behaviours in the context of the organisational strategy? That could be as simple as improving excel skills or as complex as supporting to next generation of leaders in developing themselves but it’s unless you are defining L&D strategy for the UN it is unlikely the geopolitical drivers discussed here are going to be making any kind of appearance in your 12/13 objectives.

Without doubt there are some amongst us who will face the challenges presented by say the shift of power and labour from West to East but it will be driven by organisation level decisions to react to those changes and not from L&D in my opinion. At the end of the day L&D is there to increase the capability of the organisation to deliver its strategic goals and surely this is about returning value to the shareholder (or stakeholder) and to anyone outside L&D that is all about pounds, shilling and pence? Or maybe there’s another perspective on value….but more about that tomorrow!

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The one where this isn’t just any OD

For those of you who worry that it’s actually the Illuminati that are secretly running the world you can relax and take a breath. It’s actually the Welsh who are secretly running the world and if further proof were needed it arrived at HRD12 in the form of Nigel Jeremy, Head of Organisational Development for Marks & Spencers (native of Neath).

Nigel took us through what appeared a very pragmatic approach to Organisational Development and it’s credit to him that he made what must be a very complex organisation, both politically and in scale, accessible to a room full of people. He made a number of interesting points, some of which I managed to capture, but those that really landed were:

  • OD translates globally as long as you are aware of the local culture and adapt to it
  • You need to build bottom up from competencies to robust performance management through talent to recruitment and the links they form to engagement
  • To partner the organisation you need line management who are skilled (or are upskilled) in managing performance and talent
  • Getting visible objective data on performance vs potential is key in challenging the organisation away from talent planning based on personal opinion and popularity
  • Unless managers are accountable for outcomes you won’t get traction. For example at M&S anyone who manages more than 5 people gets a personalised cut of the employee survey with their results.

What came through very strongly was how astute you need to be to deliver this kind of role in a large organisation. The acknowledgement that senior stakeholders will have different points of view and you need to adapt how you manage them dependant on their pre-existing views and for those that ‘don’t get it’ they will never get it but you need to work hard to get grudging acceptance (I know that feeling well!!) in Nigel’s words “be patient and sell on success”.

He ended with his view that OD is a system of connected processes that will be different for every organisation and you need to plan your approach with the organisational context and how/who you will influence to get the necessary buy in and his final line was that OD was “a casserole not a sandwich”.

Although he opened with some interesting statistics on how many women would be wearing M&S underwear and particularly bras (I don’t recall the exact numbers) and segued into a joke about bras, which given it was the first session of the day may not have landed as well as he’d hoped, he did stop short of using an M&S style slogan…which I clearly couldn’t resist 😉

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The one with my stage debut

So previously on HRD12….

As I mentioned I was invited as a guest of the CIPD marketing team as part of the press contingent under the guise of being a ‘blogger blogger’. Several of my friends and contacts had been invited to take a more active role in the conference but my attendance was a little contingent until the week before so as far as I was concerned I was going to turn up, watch, listen and blog. Little did I know…

Over the previous 12 months I had watched several friends and contacts taking centre stage at various events within the HR community. Those I saw did very well at presenting a view of the broad people professional as someone who is not insular, short termist or reluctant to challenge the received wisdom. It was great to see them come off stage like conquering heroes feeling they had ‘nailed it’ and done what they could to develop thinking in our profession, enhanced both their personal reputations of and that of their organisations and delivered a good session.

When I was sat at home master minding my job hunt (for that read avoiding watching Jeremy Kyle) it occurred to me that I should practice what I at times preach and write myself some goals for 2012. Some of them are professional, some personal and one is fairly absurd but nestled amongst this eclectic list was to take an active role in a major conference or event during 2012. I didn’t mention it to anyone…

The Friday before HRD12 I received an e-mail from Greg Styger, one of the conference team at CIPD, inviting me to part of a break out session along with Sukh Pabial and Doug Shaw, discussing social media and learning. I of course said yes  and started to think about how I would present my views. Then, about 36 hours before the event, I received a slightly more urgent e-mail from Sara Gilmore also from the CIPD conference team asking me to be part of a panel in the main conference. The topic? Social Media and Learning.

I think what followed was a relatively successful session. The main reason for the success was undoubtedly Perry Timms, the Head of OD for The Big Lottery Fund. For those of you who don’t know Perry I am stunned as he is the most networked man on the planet. He did a great pre-game session with the 3 panelists and once the ‘curtain’ went up showed his smarts as a facilitator ensuring the session ticked along rather than acting as a rather superfluous chairmen as I had seen others doing.

The two fellow panelists were from Save the Children and the RAF and it was interesting comparing a global third sector organisation with a public sector organisation that is contracting. Rather than document the session I will point you to this post that Sukh wrote live from the session.

The two things that have stuck with me since the session? The weird sensation of being involved in a session that people are tweeting about and stepping off the platform to see feedback that has gone on through the session. The latter was the sense that whilst L&D professionals are slowly but surely becoming advocates of social learning (seemingly at the expense of e-learning which got a slating in the session) it shocks me how many are advocating something they’ve not really experienced and have a limited understanding of. It strikes me that building enthusiasm through individuals (as Save the Children brilliantly demonstrated) makes any influencing you need to do at organisational level far easier.

I said it at the time and will say it again here now – if you want to be able to advocate something in your organisation then first hand knowledge and genuine enthusiasm will make a much more powerful statement than the feedback from a conference session! You have to be in it to win it!

But at least that’s another thing from the 2012 list ticked off!

Afterword:

I managed to get asked a question on social media policies. As I did during the session I would point anyone asking the question to this post by Neil Morrison who makes the argument far better than I would!

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