Monthly Archives: August 2013

The one with the investment in paper

Investors in People (IiP) was launched in 1991 by Conservative Minister Michael Howard with a quote that is less memorable and more takes three reads to understand,  “Investors in People is a standard designed by business, which will be met by business, because it is in the interests of business”. Since 2010 it has been governed by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and according to data on the UKCES website 26% of the UK workforce are employed by organisations that have the standard.

My first brush with IiP was in 2002 when I joined a company that was is the throes of going for assessment for the first time. The biggest thing I noticed about the process at that time was the key resource you required was a well maintained photocopier. What I witnessed was not an assessment of the organisation, it’s leadership, management and people but more an assessment of the people processes and the organisation’s ability to execute them – more an investigation of policy and execution than of culture. At the end of the process we achieved the standard – a binary yeah or nay, and the organisation got a plaque and the Training Manager got a bottle of champagne. I remember reflecting at the time that is a lot of work to do for a plaque and the use of a logo that in my view didn’t have much value to anyone – especially our employees.

Somewhere in the mid 2000s IiP had a radical overhaul based on the feedback of those being assessed and the thinking generally in the firmament that the paper based approach and the binary system was not living up to Howard’s ‘lofty’ vision… The more robust and well articulated assessment model, a change in assessor approach and the ability to achieve core IiP or the shinier bronze, silver or gold.

Fast forward 10 years and I join another organisation which has been considering IiP assessment for some time and has worked with assessors and the governing bodies to understand where it is on the journey and lo and behold what appears in my objectives? Obtain IiP accreditation. My heart sank – firstly because I am usually the person most likely to bugger up the photocopier but secondly and most importantly I have a high developed in built streak to resent anything I need to deliver that I (somewhat arrogantly) don’t believe adds value. So I embarked on my quest to deliver the OD strategy I had set out and agreed and if I’m honest kept the need to obtain IiP at arms length – until my arm got chopped and there was no way to avoid it.

In May of this year we went through the assessment process and I was pleased to say achieved beyond the expectations I had spent many months setting. Reflecting on the process I am absolutely convinced it added value – maybe not transparently for every employee in the organisation but to their unseen benefit. The assessor spent 2 weeks with us, meeting people from top to bottom of the organisation in a combination of 1 to 1 meetings, focus groups and informal chats. He toured some our operations, came to staff recognition event and worked hard to truly understand the operation and more importantly the feel of our organisation. He gave me daily feedback and any issues that arose were discussed before being shared more widely.

Did I enjoy the process? Absolutely not – it was unnerving having someone ‘out there’ looking under the bonnet and I will happily I admit I spent the whole 2 weeks on tenterhooks about what would be found and what the outcome would be. Whilst I am pleased we achieved more than we set out to achieve on reflection I really feel I was wrong in keeping it at arms length. It was tremendously valuable in getting an external expert view on what we are doing, how we are doing it and understanding that view provided validation of our business strategy (and OD strategy) and it’s execution which I believe has been to my benefit.

At the end of it what did I get? A bucket load of insight, a well structured report (which has formed a distinct input into my future thinking), a sense of achievement and of course – a plaque! So if like me you experienced IiP in the Paper era I would recommend picking up the phone and talking to them at the very least you will be making a more informed judgement on whether it should be part of how you measure your effectiveness

P.S. No photocopier toner was injured in the process



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The one with the charabanc

I have seen the future…

Not the whole future and no I can’t tell you when Apple is going to launch the next  iPhone but recently I went to see the mock ups of something we are building in the organisation where I earn a crust. It was very exciting and I could tell you more but you know, then I’d have to…well not kill you but speak to you sternly. It’s been built in Bedfordshire and therefore involved an outing so with 2 members of my team we charabanc’d out of London and went to see the future.

Including travel, the visit itself and grabbing something to eat we were together for about 5 hours and although the *actual* visit was stimulating having that time together allowed us a relaxed discussion in a form we don’t usually get on a day to day basis. We got to know each other a little better, had a few interesting debates on our combined position with respect to certain topics, we got to air some issues that have been bubbling under for a few weeks and we even found some time to laugh (and it wasn’t AT me – even better).

Why share this? The previous week I had been doing some work with a cross functional group of managers and one of the inputs was the Katzenbach & Smith work on teams. It’s well known, well cited and has stood the test of 20+ years so I often use it. One of the things Messrs. K&S suggest is that good teams spend time together. My workshop design paid a small dividend when one of the participants uttered the classic line,

“We spend lots of time together in meetings”, quickly followed with another favourite of mine,”We don’t have time to spend time together”

Now call me a kool aid drinking OD idealist but my response to the first is that meetings are usually about task, they are about getting stuff done – lists are ticked and action plans updated and then it’s off either to the next one or back to the desk to actually do some work. My response to the second is that time spent getting to know and understand each other will make every other minute you work together more effective and rather than seeing it as time wasted instead of working, see it as an investment in making the team more effective. In this particular workshop the debate lasted just shy of 25 minutes and I was pleased to observe at least 2 pennies dropping in the room with respect to the idea of a true team rather than just a group of people who happen to be in the same payroll budget.

I read something yesterday morning about the 10 most horrifying team builds – read it, it will make you squirm and whilst I am a known exponent of the planned and structured team build I refute the notion that the only way to build a team or group of people to be more cohesive is through structured and facilitated exercises (as marvellous as some of them are). Our charabanc to Bedfordshire didn’t deliver immediate ‘just do it’ actions for the organisation but what it did do was help us as a team frame our thinking about what is coming and improve our understand of the context in which we will be operating and how we will help the organisation understand this but most importantly for me we moved an incremental step forward in our understanding of each other, how we will effectively work together and got to know each a little better as people. A fine day out!

P.S. The future’s purple!

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The one where you’re wrong


Hitler invading Russia – wrong

Boasting that the Titanic couldn’t be sunk – wrong

Building Columbia from the components provided by the cheapest bidder – wrong

The team at NASA using metric whilst contractors Lockheed Martin use imperial – wrong

AOL buying Time Warner – wrong

Launching New Coke – wrong

Apple firing Steve Jobs – wrong

Reducing the blowout prevention at Deepwater Horizon – wrong

Tesco launching ‘Fresh&Easy’ into the US – wrong


The list goes on and on and of course we are all wise after the event but…my curiousity is with each of these decisions was there at least one person in the room who disagreed? If there was, did they say anything?

None of these failiures were due just to a tactical or operational failiure – they are all (at least they appear) to be based on poor strategic decision making so who was at fault? The person who made the decision or those who failed to challenge them?

Telling truth to power is difficult but for HR people it is ESSENTIAL – whether that be in hiring, performance management, organisational design and effectiveness, renumeration, employment law, etc. We MUST tell truth to power and that involves two things 1) being credible 2) being brave

The first is all down to preparation – know the argument, the counter argument and have the data. The second is down to the split second when you reach the fork in the road. Please for the sake of your organisation and your self esteem  – take the road less travelled and tell power the truth. Otherwise you’re wrong…


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