Monthly Archives: October 2012

The one where I get a few things off my chest

Engagement needs the basics doing well as well as the new/cool/faddy/fashionable

Engagement is not a quick ‘reach around’ to make people feel happy at work

A line manager is the most able person to engage with an individual

Engagement requires being constructive not just positive

Engagement requires commitment not just process

If your engagement problem is all about ‘top management’ then you haven’t done enough with the rest of the organisation

If your engagement problem is all about your HR team then you must be avoiding mirrors

and most of all

Engagement is not easy, anyone who says it is (in 140 characters or more) has never tried to do it and is just talking about it

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The one with the hospital pass

So it’s conference season again (actually when isn’t it conference season?) but in the coming weeks I’m off to ‘do a turn’ at the CIPD conference in Manchester (very excited to be asked). I was thinking about some form of presentation (I must finish that) a few weeks ago when I got distracted by the BBC News app and read that Kate Swann is stepping down as CEO of W.H.Smith next year. The share price dropped by 7% after the announcement  which I’m sure was a great bolt of confidence for her successor Steve Clarke.

In reading the press coverage that followed it was this comment from retail consultant Matt Piner (reported here on the BBC) that really got me thinking: “The worry is that Swann’s departure signals that the retailer’s strategy of cutting costs is beginning to run out of steam, making it a good time for her to exit on a high,”

Last year at the CIPD conference the opening keynote was Sir Terry Leahy and having watched his presentation I wrote about the fact that no one took the opportunity to ask about how Tesco’s performance was reflecting on his legacy. Since writing about it Tesco have continued to have a less successful time of it than under Leahy issuing profit warnings, losing senior managers and having to really fight for their market share in a way they haven’t for some time. From an uninformed perspective (i.e. mine) it would appear that Leahy has consigned himself to the ranks of Level 4 leaders in that his successor, Philip Clarke is not continuing his success (although hasn’t failed yet!)

So that’s the context but I imagine some of you are asking what the hell a hospital pass is? It’s a term I know from rugby (but is used in several other sports) which describes a player passing the ball to avoid being tackled but in offloading it they put their fellow player in a position to be crunched (or as Wikipedia puts it ‘unavoidable heavy contact’) by a member of the opposition [Please see video below for further clarity]

Are Swann and Leahy both guilty of throwing a hospital pass? Are we seeing a trend of CEO’s cutting as much as they can out of business and then getting out when the going is good? Whilst I understand that human nature (and incentive) says do what you can until the going stops being good but given how good the going gets (i.e. how large executive remuneration is) and the obligations of a company director to act in the interests of the share holders can this really be a successful strategic outcome?

Obviously we don’t know what the closed door conversations are in these two cases but I keep on coming back to the fact that HR need to get in the game, evolve exec reward (specifically LTIP) or we will continue to see these situations arise as the personal incentive is near term enough to not truly focus on anything past 3 years of the individual’s tenure

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The one where honesty is the best policy

Sometimes we (for that read me) are prone to over complicating something that could be very simple. I’ve realised on reflecting that at times one of themes of my over complication is that I am loath to confront an issue or challenge a senior leader and rather than fronting up to it I try and think my way out of it.

One such situation arose recently. The context is not important but due to some very genuine real life issues a leader had to postpone some events internally. Some time has elapsed since the original postponement and it’s only now that we’ve got around to catching up. In pulling these sessions together I have been internally arguing with myself (I always win in the end) as to the best and most appropriate way to handle this whilst not putting the audience on the receiving end of a trumped up load of nonsense.

Having finally landed on a fairly bland and generic comment we ‘went for it’ yesterday morning and one of the leaders in our organisation knocked my socks off. He stood in front of about 100 people and without hint of preparation or discomfort honestly and openly explained what had happened and why postponing the sessions had been the right thing to do. Looking around the group there wasn’t one person in the room who looked like they wanted to argue with him and his action demonstrated to me that I could have made this all far more simple.

For all the obsession with authenticity in leaders to see this guy stand there and without hint of ego honestly explain and ask for consideration and compassion from a group of people was amazing and probably even more amazing for a few simple reasons:

  1. No one had suggested he did it
  2. It was the truth
  3. He REALLY meant it

As I sit here writing this I realise the irony is that if I had suggested it then the result would have been just slightly less compelling but sometimes life is ironic – like the irony of me being one of the few people who understood what it took to stand there and say that. I suppose sometimes you just have to stop being a control freak and allow good people to be good.

Anyway it made me realise that in all the noise and nonsense that I deal with regularly there are times when doing what I do is actually a privilege

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