Monthly Archives: November 2012

The one with ginger’s last stand

Movember…so the Austrailian tinkers who coined the term and the concept have a lot to answer for. Why anyone would grow facial hair without peer pressure and charitable intent is beyond me!

On the evening of November 1st I looked like this:

Nude of face and as normal as I ever look.

29 days later and I look like this (as one of my friends described me ‘a fat Ned Flanders’):

and as of today when ‘The Big Shave’ takes places of work it will be gone…forever.

So why am I writing this blog? Well not to share any insights or learnings there are very few except maybe that I will never grow facial hair again and when having dinner with the senior team sit at the end of the table and now and again side with the FD (who is mo-less). The honest reason is one last push for fund raising – I am number 2 in our company ranking (with only the CEO outpacing me) so if you can spare a few quid please go to http://mobro.co/robjonestring it’s all in aid of balls (and prostrate glands) but seriously for a very good cause.

I wanted to take a moment to thank those who have already forked over some cash – thank you all for making this itchy ginger ‘thing’ worth something

And with that done, Movember and my mo are both history and never to be repeated.

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The one with the bullet proof toolkit

I recently took part in a workshop involving a group of senior managers working through their feedback from an external culture survey and audit. The day started with the group’s leader reminding them of the process they had been through, what had happened since the survey itself took place and how the scores had been compiled. All good so far.

It then moved on to one of their number going through the details of the response rates, the scoring and how their benchmarking within a comparison group had taken place and finally lead up to them being rated within the comparison group.

I must confess a wry smile as the group spent at least 10 minutes focused on how better management of the process and increasing the response rate could improve their score and reflect an improvement on the position they had achieved. The manager leading this session did well to discuss the options but kept them coming back to rather than trying to game manage the process would they not be better placed to consider the result they had achieved and what that ACTUALLY meant for their organisation.

It was at this point that he revealed a piece of information that had immediate and profound significance to me but the impact didn’t appear to hit home with the group for some time. The piece of information was that the final score achieved was based on two elements: the first was the survey results and the second a third party assessment of tools and processes that impact the culture and people of the organisation.

Why should this have profound significance you may ask? (Go on then…..ask). Well it turned out that  they had received significant commendation for the audit of tools and process. The overall score had been moderated down by the results of the survey. Yes….that’s right. The tools are great but it’s in the adoption and application of the tools that the opportunity for improvement exists!

There it was – in black and white…externally validated and bench-marked…no one could look at HR, OD, Comms or similar and challenge the toolkit, this was actual data that showed the focus needed to be not on reinventing, refitting or changing the wheel but actually was just about managing and leading the organisation using the fabulous toolkit provided.

It was about 40 minutes later that someone vocalised this penny drop and an uncomfortable silence enveloped the room…followed by a display of challenge, support and a commitment to improve that wasn’t about finger pointing, fad chasing or rolling out initiatives it was just about a group of very capable managers and leaders taking ownership.

5 hours later we went to the pub 🙂

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The one where it’s masters not bust

It was the 14th March 2011 and I was sat in a hotel room in Hong Kong panicked about finding people to interview for the research project of my Masters. At that point I said that by September 2011 I was either going to get a Masters or Bust and it was from there this blog started.

Now as Mr Burns (Robbie not C. Montgomery) famously said “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley” at so it was that by November 2011 I was entering the 3rd year of my 2 year course having failed an exam (by 3%) and my dissertation (by a mind boggling 1%). Having watched my friends and peers from my course celebrating their results I felt to put it mildly….glum. I wasn’t bust but I did have another year of study ahead.

Having passed a resit exam I have spent most of November on tenterhooks awaiting my dissertation result which would basically decided whether I entered year 4 (and some form of padded room) or finally got to declare a result. It was yesterday afternoon sat in a workshop with a group of civil engineers (who let me tell you aren’t that civil when they’re not happy about their break out topics) that I got an e-mail explaining in overlong detail that I had in fact passed my dissertation (by a whisker). I now get to add a few more letters to my name and if I was one of those people who put them on my business card I now could…but I don’t, so I won’t!

To describe it as a colossal anti-climax would be understating it and in reflecting over undergraduate results (jumping around, hugging and boozing) or my CIPD results (hugging and boozing) it didn’t have the same impact but I suppose it’s another tick in the box and life continues pretty much as it was.

I remember saying at the end of my CIPD that if I ever suggested studying again that someone needed to find a gun, take me out and shoot me…and this time I mean it – if I ever suggest studying again please form an orderly queue!

P.S. Anyone got an ideas on what I can rename the blog to? 😉

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The one with the fixed term contract

It’s all over, an estimated $2billion spent, no resident of Ohio gone without a handshake and the American public (well those of them in swing states really) have chosen to re-elect President Obama. From an election that was touted as too close to call his victory would seem emphatic (at final count I think it was 332 to 206 in the electoral college) but by Friday the news cycle had moved on to the budget crisis looming and his need to make deals with Congress.

At some point on Thursday I had a thought (which I shared via Twitter) which went something along the lines of ‘Obama has just won the last job he’ll ever do and there’s nothing else to run for. Let’s hope he goes for it now’. And I meant it, he has probably the most high profile fixed term contract on earth and come 2016 he’s a lame duck (probably a year before that but you know what I mean).

I don’t know what drives a man like Barack Obama but some of his fears since the heady days of ‘Yes we can’ must have been about re-election, the idea he would be a one term President. But that fear has gone now. He’s got the 2nd term.

I have at times in my career observed leaders in various organisations acting like 1st term Presidents spending far too much time focused on winning the 2nd term rather than leading the organisation – what do I mean? Their drive for self-preservation means they play it safe, they don’t challenge the things that need challenging and in doing so create a cycle of behaviour that actually precipitates the very outcome they are so focused on preventing – they get ousted.

With the joy of human behaviour being so varied and diverse there is of course no single driver for how we behave but my belief is that fear is one hell of a great motivator and I believe organisations that can build structures and cultures that support courage, that invite challenge and have the difficult conversation and vanquish elephants on tables and everywhere else will be more successful.

How do you go about doing that? Now that’s the $64,000 question and I think it comes down to the specifics of the organisation and the context in which they operate. I have had some random (bar located) conversations regarding what it may take but for my money it comes down to (drum roll please) leadership and realising that as a leader you are there to engender vision, support decision making and be ultimately accountable but you don’t have all the answers and it’s only in asking the right questions and allowing people to answer them honestly that your team/division/directorate/organisation will improve and succeed.

Anyway, well done Mr Obama and to Mr Romney – well played. I had the pleasure of an amusing conversation with Laurie Ruettimann on Thursday night and I think we’ve already agreed that it’ll be Hillary Clinton vs. Jeb Bush (because it seems only Republicans called Bush win general elections) in 2016 so you can save all the money, adverts, rallies etc. and just crack on!!

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The one with the influential session

So best laid plans of mice and men….and I only made it to one day of the CIPD conference in Manchester. I must confess spending most of the morning distracted by my Movember fundraising session (and a brief presentation on developing leaders) and then it was time for lunch. One of the sessions I made it to in the afternoon was about getting OD on the management team agenda and came in the form of a panel discussion between Mike Hawes, Director of Talent, B&Q; Catherine Devitt, Director of People and OD, Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Mandy Bromley, Global OE Director, Unilever

The opening question from the chairman was about defining OD and I must confess at this point I got a little disheartened as what appeared were 3 subjective definitions of OD (and a challenge about OD needing to be OE) but actually these answers illustrated how OD is defined differently in different organisations, who have different challenges and need different solutions (so I became a bit more heartened)

Of the three participants two described a new CEO as key to them getting traction for their agenda and this reinforced to me the idea that actually enlightened leaders will get the value OD (and more broadly HR) can bring and it’s not for missionaries to convince the unenlightened.

Some nuggets emerged some of which I manage to capture:

  • OD isn’t about doing it’s about supporting (or facilitating) getting it done
  • It shouldn’t just be neat/cool interventions this has to actually achieve outcomes
  • Line management is as important as leadership in an effective organisation
  • A lot of OD is about common sense
  • Asking questions, re-framing situations and helping people think differently are key
  • OD practitioners needn’t be HR people: some of the best are from the business

Mike Hawes discussed an equation they’ve used at B&Q which he believed he read in a book somewhere and thanks to the wonder that is Google I have discovered he was referring to Gleicher’s Formula which looks like this:

D x V x F > R

D = Dissatisfaction

V = Vision

F = First steps towards change

R = Resistance to change

B&Q had applied this in understanding what they need to achieve and where they needed to focus to ensure it was effective. I do like a nice model/equation so this one seemed worthy of sharing (and will no doubt appear in a slide pack soon)

The final question that made it to my notes surrounding the qualities required of a person to be effective in OD and through the discussion four main themes emerged:

  • Change – require a divine discontent about the possibility things can always be better
  • System – needing to understand the impact of intervention on the broader system not just in isolation
  • Business – the need to make things real for the business not just a ‘pie in the sky’ solution
  • Resilience – that OD is lonely (sobs into keyboard), requires the individual to challenge a lot and the individual needs to be able to cope with that

From a session that started off with all the signs of just being full of ‘this is what we did at X company’ it ended up being very interesting and I left not wanting my money back (N.B. I hadn’t paid!)

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The one where I run the ginger gauntlet

You know those lists that regularly get published in magazines “50 things to do before you’re 40”? I am rubbish when it comes to those lists – I have never ridden a motorcycle, I’ve never been arrested, I’ve never parachuted out of a plane, I’ve never walked the machu pichcu trail and significantly for this post I have never grown a mustache… (You can see where this is going!)

It’s November… but for me for the first time it’s Movember. I am taking the plunge and going to attempt to grow the ‘tache. One of the exec at work threw the gauntlet down and I couldn’t help but pick it up but given I am speaking at a conference next week, we have a major event at work on the 19th and I don’t want to have to avoid mirrors anymore than normal I am not excited at the prospect. Like every man at times I have avoided a razor for a few days on the trot and here’s the bit that concerns me most – after 4/5 days a redish/ginger hue can be spotted and I immediately throw myself at the nearest razor.

The picture below was taken at 1930 last night (November 1st) and I had shaved that morning (apologies for the dopey look but I’d been in an 8 hour meeting all day) so here goes nothing (apart from spending 30 days looking like a numpty) but given it’s all for a good cause I am taking the plunge. You can find my mo-space here http://mobro.co/robjonestring and if you are so inclined I would really appreciate it but if you are already committed to another grower then sit back, enjoy me daily looking more ridiculous and let’s see what happens with the ginger… watch this space

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The one with the blind spot

The CIPD re-launched its beleaguered flag ship title “People Management” yesterday and whilst I am bemused to be considered a power tweeter (when most of what I tweet is about people annoying me on the tube) there was an article that caught my attention about bias and how at an unconscious level it manifests for an individual.

You can find a link to the article here but the big messages are:

  • 40% of respondents favour one gender (overwhelmingly women)
  • 37% of respondents biased against men
  • 51% of respondents would be biased against overweight women [nothing mentioned about overweight men much to my relief, although I’m sure it exists]
  • 7% of respondents biased in support of people with a disability but nearly a quarter biased against those with disabilities
  • Nearly three quarters of respondents reported no bias for age (which does leave the quarter who may do…)

So if you’re an overweight woman or a man with a disability – expect unconscious bias at every turn maybe?

I think the subject of bias is a fascinating one and only yesterday evening I was having a beer with some colleagues and one lady who was being grilled about her love life happened to say “I’d never date a Scottish man”, when asked why she said, “I dated a Scottish guy once and it didn’t go well”. Are all Scottish men not great at dating? But seriously, I think this anecdotally illustrates that for many bias is formed through individual experience extrapolated to form a stereotype. And for the record not all Welsh people can sing… (but we can all hold our drink – that bit is true)

As a man working in HR I have definitely experienced anecdotal bias, something as simple as a senior manager working into a department and exclaiming “Morning Ladies” to which myself or my one other male colleague would inevitably mutter “and us”. This extended to the choice of social event, Christmas party and we were definitely excluded from the wedding conversations when two female colleagues were getting married. This bias we were delighted with! Given the disadvantages women have experienced in dealing with boy’s clubs for so long it always felt petty to comment and given I’m fairly comfortable in my own skin then it didn’t really matter.

As a recruiter I’ve always been fascinated with the point where bias meets reputation – are all people who went to Oxbridge brilliant? (No) Does a London Business School MBA endow the holder with strategic genius? (No) Does the fact that an individual has worked for a particular organisation automatically make them brilliant at the things that their organisation excels at? (No).

Don’t get me wrong – some people who went to Oxbridge are brilliant, some LBS MBAs are strategic geniuses and (for example) Unilever has produced some amazing brand marketers – but it isn’t automatic.

What the People Management article has made me do is stop and think about the bias that maybe influences my decision making, reflect on whether there are patterns in my decisions about people and considering my team are recruiting and I will be involved in interviews challenge myself to surface an unconscious biases so at least I can ‘manage them out’ rather than let them influence my thinking.

There’s a great collection of thinking on bias on Wikipedia which forms some very interesting reading but I would leave you with one question: can you think about an experience that has driven you to be biased?

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