Monthly Archives: March 2013

The one with nothing to do

I was recently involved in a conversation about how you prepare people for business continuity/crisis management. One of the comments made in the conversation was that at times (in both simulation and real life situations) people try to do too much or feel the need to do something/get involved. The drivers to this could be many fold but my thoughts at the time was that when it’s ‘all hands on deck’ all deck hands feel the need to be seen to do something (or else feel useless) but probably more importantly when in the grip of the tension and anxiety of such a situation people feel better if they are doing something rather than nothing. One of my colleagues (I think it may have even been my boss) came out with a great quote they had heard which was “he also serves who stands and waits” and I have since found out it’s from John Milton.

In the context of the conversation it was very pertinent and will definitely form some part of the support we give people in preparing for these situations but I have thought about it several times since in the context of management and leadership more generally.

I remember as a younger junior manager that my default setting was doing. In order to be seen to be running the team I had to get involved in every conversation, try and solve every problem and generally make a complete and utter nuisance of myself. With the advance of my grey hair I have become increasingly comfortable not just in holding people to account but more importantly allowing people the space and autonomy to complete their work – supporting them but not becoming an interfering pain in the arse on too regular a basis.

It was another recent conversation that brought the quote front of mind and it was with another senior colleague who was discussing a situation developing in his team. I can’t remember his exact words but he said something like, “there’s always a point like this where it can one of two ways – I’m letting them get stuck into it to see which way they go but I know I’ve got plenty of time to help them course correct if they need to”. I remember thinking how powerful his statement was and how it showed both his experience and his personal confidence at being able to let people make mistakes and knowing when it was necessary (and not just comfortable) to intervene.

There was definitely a lesson for me in his observations and it has already caused me to step back on two different occasions and think about the way I handle something. It also made me think with the triumph of competence over experience in how we assess talent that there was a challenge for those of us in HR roles to understand how this confidence and comfort should manifest in those we support in leadership roles.

Since today I am running an Away Day for one of our senior teams I will contradict myself and get on with a day where it’s unlikely I will have an opportunity to do nothing, but with that said I am sure there will be at least one moment today where I need to let the conversation move on and not stick my facilitation snout into it so maybe a Milton-Moment or two for me after all!

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The one with the global athletes

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Alexandra Levit. I had not come across Alexandra before and it was a conversation with my friend Laurie Ruettimann that put us in touch. Given Alexandra is a very well regarded in the space of careers and the workplace I was curious to see where the conversation would go… it went global!

Alexandra is in the process of spending 4 months in the UK with her family for among other reasons, to experience a different culture and to expand her global competence (I think that’s the term she used). We shared a drink and exchanged stories and experiences (I shared some of my China and Hong Kong experiences amongst others).

In reflecting on the conversation afterwards a thought occurred to me and it reminded of an encounter I had a few years ago. I was on holiday in Cuba and being it’s one of the few places on Earth it’s really clear that people are Canadian and NOT American I was enjoying getting to know a few people from Canada. The first person I had chatted at length to was a female marine engineer from Newfoundland who was, to put it mildly, getting all she could from the all-inclusive bar and proceeded to power-drink for the 4 days I spent at this particular resort.

It was my third afternoon sat in the beautiful Caribbean sunshine when I was joined at a neighbouring bar stool by an older gentleman wearing a baseball cap from an exhibition in Toronto. We got to chatting and it turned out he was spending the twilight years of his career consulting in the government trade arena having worked from the Canadian Trade Department for over 35 years. In the course of the conversation he happened to mention that he had been fortunate to visit every country in Asia, at times spending weeks or months working on particular ‘missions’ or projects.

What a fascinating and modest man. We chatted for over 2 hours but the point he made that really stuck with me was that in order to understand a country you really needed to spend time there. He mentioned a few books and models that he referred to in assisting his understanding but mainly his research was arriving in advance of any particular assignment and spending a few days walking around, seeing people going about their daily lives and chatting to people in normal settings – not the enforced facade of government trade talks. He remarked how this real life understanding had on many occasions given him valuable insight that had facilitated progress in the ensuing formal sessions.

So I guess Alexandra has it sussed in that she is here, experiencing the UK first hand and meeting normal people (I AM normal!) and getting to understand the mentality of a nation in real life.

The piece of insight the older gentleman shared with me that has also stuck with me concerned the aforementioned marine engineer. During the course of our conversation she appeared at the bar several times with an insulated commuting mug to get it refilled with Mojito. On observing this my companion remarked “in Newfoundland drinking is more a sport than a pastime” and then he took a beat and added, “and she is quite the athlete”

P.S. Alexandra asked me for some examples of great British TV she should be watching (or watch from the past) and I blanked only coming up with BlackAdder (from series 2 onwards) and Yes, Minster – any other suggestions?

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The one with two candles

So this blog turns 2 years old today…

I am minded of Ronnie Barker who used to end most episodes of ‘Open All Hours’ with the line “…it’s been a funny day” and I would agree it’s been a funny two years. From a hotel room room in Hong Kong in a state of panic about my Masters project to here in no state of panic whatsoever!

This is the 150th post (almost like I planned it) and all told it’s been read just shy of 25,000 times with over 500 comments. Thank you all.

I was thinking about how to mark the occasion and was going to post links to the posts that have been read most over the past 2 years. Then thought what a dopey idea that was as the chances are you could have already read them. Instead I’ve found 5 posts from the past two years that I enjoyed writing but for reasons either of a) poor writing b) poor titles c) poor timing or d) just being poor got a little overlooked so here goes:

1. The one with the divine discontent – my thoughts on that feeling of something never really being good enough

2. The one with Billy Connolly & Recruitment – my thoughts on the shock absorber that is the corporate recruitment process and how it impacts candidates

3. The one with 2IC – my thoughts on that all important Second in Command role

4. The one with influencing chess – a shared experience about how someone helped me improve my ability to influence people and agendas

5. The one with some perspectives – how a different point of view can make a huge difference (worth it just for the video clips!)

Thank you for your continued support

Rob

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The one with no comment

In recent weeks I’ve been watching the new Netflix series “House of Cards” starring Kevin Spacey. I say new, it’s newly produced but based on the 1990 BBC series of the same name featuring the fabulous Ian Richardson as the Conservative Chief Whip Frances Urquhart. As great an actor as Spacey is no one tops Richardson for me in this role.

Whether it be the Chief Whip as in the British version or the Congressional Whip as in the US version you see the political machinations of these individuals as they use knowledge, relationships, access to power and their individual guile to navigate the choppy waters of Westminster/Washington. Remind you of a role within organisations?

We’ll come back to that…

Last week, Josh Bersin, Principle of Bersin at Deloitte published his/their predictions for 2013. In summary the advice was:

“…Push the envelope, ignore sacred cows and implement innovative programs that create passion, alignment, and teamwork.”

He goes on to illustrate some ideas on how the HR leader could go about this:

  1. Replace the HR technology platform
  2. Implementing new systems of engagement not just systems of record
  3. Rethinking core processes e.g. annual performance appraisal
  4. Implementing 21st century leadership development
  5. Driving new levels of employee engagement

There is very little to argue with in Mr Bersin’s paper and I agree that organisations in general would be better places if more HR leaders felt comfortable (or fought their discomfort) to heed his advice but in thinking it over it also got me considering a question,

“What does the HR Director do that someone else couldn’t do?”

So the Sales Director has to deliver sales and revenue, the Marketing Director the external message, future markets and product/service development, the Finance Director ensures balance and investment, the Operations Director delivers the product or service, the IT Director provides the systems, platforms and processes for the business to operate and manages the change around them and of course the CEO brings them all together and ensures balance between day to day and longer term. What does the HR Director actually do?

If you go back to Bersin’s examples think about these as alternatives:

  1. IT Director – it’s a technology platform after all
  2. IT Director – most of them are technology platforms e.g. recruitment system
  3. Leaders in general – do they really need an annual line in the sand to manage performance?
  4. Leaders in general – do they need a team to tell them how to develop leaders?
  5. Leaders in general – it’s not for HR to drive engagement that’s a leadership accountability surely?

Give payroll to finance, let line manager’s hire their own people, hire those who have the skills and don’t need training, pay and benefits are driven by budget, systems are run from IT and as for reputational risk – what marketing doesn’t deal with legal can…

Fortunately most of this stuff wouldn’t happen without the HR function to drive it (at which point my bank manager breathes a huge sigh of relief). That said if you sit in an HR team coasting along thinking the business loves you and the business needs you then stop and ask yourself some of these questions. I know of one plc that has just gone from all singing HR/OD to bare bones personnel style function and I doubt they’ll be the last.

Every business needs the HR function. You could say that…I couldn’t possibly comment

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The one where it’s only just begun

Yesterday I mentioned watching a TEDx video of a session delivered by Professor Lynda Gratton of the London Business School. If you want to watch it just flick back one post. I talked about it starting two streams of thought and here goes with the second.

In the second section of the session Professor Gratton begins to talk about how the states of existence that we can choose from and how they can inform our role in the future. She uses some great pairs to illustrate the polar options. The 3 pairs are:

  • Fragmentation vs. co-creation
  • Isolation vs. Connection
  • Exclusion vs. Engagement

And uses all of them to illustrate three shifts the second of which is towards greater collaboration which she illustrates like this:

o|o vs. o-o

Her thoughts caused me to reflect on my own experiences with social media and networking both online and in-person but also how we as HR professionals have such an important role to play in helping people and organisations in getting over their barriers to move from the left of those pairs to the right.

For me personally the last 4 years have been transformational in the way I engage with people generally but more specifically now my network has grown and keeps growing. Whilst social media has played a huge part in that the really great stuff has been when those online people have become real and have been part of a conversation whether it be just for fun or about something more grow’d up. Yes, social media was part of it but the great stuff was real!

For organisations, with respect to social media, I think we in HR can either kill experimentation stone dead with a well crafted policy and a culture of fear or we can help the organisation ‘blow the doors off it’ by empowering and supporting the education of those within the business to understand how they can use it both for their own and the business’ benefit. Lots written about that and no need to rehash it here

The real shift that will need support I believe is going to be helping individuals within organisations to collaborate both internally and externally. Helping them overcome the barriers – internally power and politics and externally the competitive edge and business confidentiality, to understand how people and organisations can and on occasion MUST work together. This is not just for the ‘right on’ reason of being more collaborative but the absolute necessity of survival.

Professor Gratton talks about recent changes in technology as the biggest shift ever seen (she admits to it being bigger than the industrial revolution her previously highest ranked shift) and my personal opinion is it’s only just begun. Coming back to the thoughts of yesterday you can either walk into blindfolded or have a carefully crafted future but whichever you do people’s capability to adapt and deal with what’s coming has to be key to the people professionals.

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The one with the removable blindfold

Through a random sequence of events this evening I will be having dinner at the House of Lords. Not because I’ve snuck in a peerage whilst no one was looking (next year maybe) but because a group of people need to have a conversation and one of them has a brother who is a Lord… (I’ve polished my shoes)

One of the guests at this dinner will be Professor Lynda Gratton and given she is an eminent individual I thought I would do a little light googling and at least understand a little about her thinking. Luckily for me, last year she participated in a TEDx conference at London Business School and the video of her session is linked below. Having watched it I have been recycling the content in my head and it’s sparked two streams of thought – the second of which comes tomorrow!

In the first section of her session she talks about the notion of considering what kind of world we can construct and goes on to offer the opportunity to stop and think about the kind of life you want to construct. She then lays out two options – the first ‘walk into your future blindfolded’ with no choices or the second to be more thoughtful and have what she terms a ‘crafted future’.

The two options reminded me of a conversation with my then boss a few years ago when she asked me what my career goal was. I ummmmm’d and arrrrrr’d for a few moments to which she replied (in her inimitable fashion) “As I thought this is all happening to you by accident”. She went on to ask me some more questions and challenged me to really think about where I wanted to go and she ended with the following metaphor, “you may want to end up in Edinburgh, you may want Glasgow, you may want Manchester – but at least stop driving around the M25 waiting for a junction to attract you – get on the M1”

If you stop and think about all the decisions you make in your day to day life – which clothes to wear, which parking space to use, what to have for lunch, what to say or not say in a meeting, how to feedback to a given individual etc etc these probably absorb some of your brain space and in some cases may absorb all of it!

Then think about bigger decisions like where and when to take a holiday, where you live, what car to buy etc etc these are probably longer considered but still only partially absorbing.

Then think about the huge decisions – relationships, family, work. How much time do you actually spend thinking about them? If you’re anything like me the answer to that one may horrify you a little bit.

Walking into your future blindfolded? Anyone?

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