Tag Archives: accountability

The one with the police action

Recently I had a brush with the police. Not the ello, ello, ello police but the corporate equivalent – the auditors. The subject of the audit was the competence of the individuals within the organisation.

Having worked in several organisations that attempted to introduce a myriad competencies which mapped in some fashion to individual roles I am sceptical of the value of such systems to actual performance of role – they have always felt to me like another process HR introduce to justify their existence.

It was therefore with a skipped heart beat and a spring in my step that I was delighted when last year it was agreed to have set of 5 core competencies that everyone had to demonstrate some competence against with the remainder being articulated through individual role job descriptions. Felt like a fine balance of the need to demonstrate competence and a system that would actually achieve what it set out to do.

The other recommendation that was supported was that assessment of competence would align with the performance management cycle. Performance review, objective setting, competence review and personal development planning would all be managed at the same point in the year and through the same system. It almost felt elegant…

So now we reach summer of 2013 and the first contact all of this work has with any form of auditor. I talked through the strategy, how it had been executed, what levels of competence alignment we had achieved (very good) and the resultant summary of the personal development plan.

Was the auditor dazzled with our achievement? Were they overjoyed to actually see a system that had achieved what it set out to do? Did they marvel at how we actually empowering managers to assess their teams and manage their performance?

Of course not!

The questions that ensued were all about process policing, how we verified the results, how we checked that the competence levels assessed were in fact correct and challenged the core notion that managers manage people. The auditor’s questions weren’t interested in systems that empower managers, business partnership and the idea that managers are far better placed to manage performance that HR.

Was I surprised by any of this? Not at all. It’s the hallmark of the checkers checking the checkers but had I not been so resolute that I wasn’t going to concede ground, capitulate to an increase in policing and remove the freedom of our management teams to actually manage their people I could have genuinely given the shop away in this meeting.

The exchange that probably sums up this encounter was:

Auditor: What happens if you subsequently find out that someone isn’t at the competence level they were assessed at?

Me: That will manifest in poor performance which will be managed through our performance management process

Auditor: OK but what if someone doesn’t undertake the training they’ve committed to increase their necessary competence?

Me: That will manifest in poor performance which will be managed through our performance management process

Auditor: Right, right… So what if a manager isn’t assessing competence correctly how do you check that in an individual team and ensure it is addressed?

Me: That will manifest in poor performance which will be managed through our performance management process

Auditor: (With a small grin on his face as if this one will be his winner) OK, but as a manager how will I know this?

Me: You have to attend a workshop before you can be authorised to use the system

Auditor: (still smiling) and what if that training was 10 months earlier and they don’t remember what is required of me

Me: It’s all summarised in a guide entitled “Managing performance, development and competence”

Auditor: And where would I find that?

Me: (Pointing at screen the auditor has been scrutinising) it’s linked there

Auditor: Yes, well, that’s all good then.

Why share all of this? Firstly, because I am now reflecting on it with a wry smile and I believe opportunities for wry smiles shouldn’t be taken for granted but secondly and more specifically to illustrate what I believe is the thin end of the wedge that gets us so loved loathed by our colleagues.

Hold the line, fight the good fight and rail against any system or process you believe won’t achieve anything and will reduce a manager’s right to manage.


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The one with the secret society

We (not the royal we, but the people I work with) have recently been through an office move. Lots of stickers on everything, drawers packed into boxes, shelves reassigned and a general state of upheaval. Whilst the office was being transformed I decided to employ by best attempts at channeling Sherlock Holmes in the search for a secret society I often hear reference to and have never found – they call themselves ‘the business’.

I must confess I wouldn’t want to be part of ‘the business’ because they are to blame for EVERYTHING. Anything and everything that people can’t or don’t want to do seems to be the fault of ‘the business’ so I can only think what a strange and dissociated bunch they must be…

Having worked in my current organisation for a little over 15 months I have never met anyone who claims to know or be part of ‘the business’ but yet some must be because something big enough and influential enough to block every kind of initiative and proposal, to ignore such great ideas and to general overlook everyone MUST have some members. Maybe it is so secret that people can’t even admit to being part of it?

Sorry? Everyone is WHAT? Everyone in the organisation is part of ‘the business’? This can’t be true! ‘The business’ ignores everything and everyone, doesn’t it?

Oh, it isn’t a secret society that no one can join? What do you mean it’s made of teams and groups and they are made up of individuals?! This can’t be right because that would mean that every individuals contribution makes up the actions of the business. That everyone has the opportunity however small to influence the business. That it is not a static thing that no one can alter but a dynamic thing made up of the collective efforts of all who are part of it. Well this really is quite strange…

OK, odd one-sided conversations aside, I often hear ‘the business’ being blamed for a lot of things and whilst I understand at times it’s difficult to influence a big complex organisation maybe, just maybe it’s not about one attempt and then futile resignation (possibly in both senses of the word). Surely if governments can be influenced by public opinion then organisations can be influenced by stakeholders – and if you don’t think you’re a stakeholder in your organisation then think again!

The next time you are about to blame ‘the business’ for something stop yourself, take a moment and ask yourself the following question,

“What could I do about it?”

  • It may be you need to talk to some other people and get them onboard with your idea
  • It may be you need to contribute to a meeting or forum where bigger more influential people will be listening
  • It may be you need to try something different and build consensus and influence on a positive result
  • It may be that you need to be brave and pluck up the courage to challenge someone in authority

Someone once said to me that if I didn’t vote in an election I gave up all right to complain about the activities of whomever won. Before you blame the business ask yourself if you voted…


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The one where we’re fiddling while Rome learns

So you’ve all heard the one where the Finance Director asks the CEO, “what if we invest in our people and they all leave?” to which the CEO retorts, “what if we don’t and they stay?” I don’t know who started it but it beautifully sums up the paradox faced by every organisation in considering how and when to invest in their people.

A few weeks ago I attended an event entitled “Democratising Learning” hosted by an emerging business in the learning simulation space Ososim attended by a load of Heads of L&D and OD from a variety of organisations.

The speakers (well at least the first two) were preeminent, London Business School professor Lynda Gratton and former Schools Minster Lord Knight of Weymouth. You can find Professor Gratton’s slides here which are worth a read to see the work she’s done on emerging global trends and the perceived people priorities businesses face. You can find Lord Knight’s slides here and he makes some interesting points about the role of technology in learning and how technology has really driven fundamental changes in less developed parts of the world.

The speakers in the afternoon were myself and Perry Timms and as we didn’t use slides I can say you missed a great show!!

One of the discussions held in break out was what the learning organisation of tomorrow looked like and the summary of the responses looks something like this: (thanks to Leon at Ososim for the summary)

  • Accessible to all
  • Tech savvy
  • Bottom up
  • Collaborative
  • Learning as part of working
  • Covert not overt
  • Sharing across boundaries
  • More than internal
  • Empowering…personal choice
  • Informal and flexible
  • Open, innovative and dynamic
  • Team based…peer to peer
  • Fast, forgiving and fun
  • Focussed on skills, behaviours and application
  • Engaging, inspiring and brave

The next discussion topic was what barriers existed to creating this new learning organisation and the classics appeared feared/lack of courage, resource, funding, buy in, support, resistance, etc, etc and we all moved on and had a biscuit.

The day was really enjoyable and I met some great new people (and reconnected with some I hadn’t seen for a while) but I came away from the day with a lingering notion that we were missing the whole point.

Learning is being democratised whether a bunch of suits sit in a room and decide it or not. People are learning informally and across boundaries. Teams are finding their own learning. Peer groups are using whatever tools available to them to share and challenge each other and let’s face it people are voting with their feet if their work isn’t giving them an opportunity to learn.

A great example from the organisation I work in just last week – we’ve employed 20 new apprentices and before we could get them together to ensure to help them start supporting each other and sharing they’ve already formed a private group on a social network and are communicating with each other. Way ahead of us!

As much as technology is disrupting organisations (and the rest of the world) I can’t help thinking that what we were discussing was not the democratisation of learning but actually the democratisation of learning investment – two very different subjects. I can’t help reflecting that those in our organisations who really want to learn and drive their own careers won’t wait for ‘the machine’ to catch up with them they’ll just get on and find ways to do it whilst the rest of us are writing slide packs to reassure the FD that investing in our people is the right thing to do.



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The one with the grocery shopping

At some point in the last few months I heard a great quote. I have no idea where I heard it but if anyone has any suggestions then I’d appreciate it… The quote comes from a veteran of American Football management Bill Parcells. He managed several teams and has an impressive record including 2 Superbowl wins.

The quote goes:

“They want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries. Okay?” and according to Wikipedia refers to conflict Parcells experienced with the team’s owners and the impact it had on player selection.

On hearing the quote my mind immediately went to recruitment and how much of ‘a say’ HR should have in those being recruited by the organisation. The challenge I think arises in the overlap between the accountability placed on the HR team to deliver recruits and the accountability of the line manager to actually manage the employee to deliver once they’ve been recruited.

There’s a post all of it’s own probably on where the accountability/responsibility of a recruiting function ends and whether HR is try to enforce control or support the line manager in hiring the right person for their role. I’ve worked with managers who had an instinctive gift for spotting talent and likewise I’ve worked with managers who were overly focused on getting a pair hands to think through if they were the right pair of hands. As I said probably a whole post in itself…

However, on reflecting on the quote a little longer my thoughts switched to autonomy and how empowering managers and leaders in organisations actually are?

The balance between operational trust and task control is a fine line at times and I know from personal experience when the pressure’s on I can slide at varying rates towards control. I know there are people I’ve worked with who appreciate the clarity when the stakes are high but also colleagues who could have gladly punched me in the nose (god bless the disciplinary procedure) in order to get me to but out.

Where does supporting your team meet being a control megalomaniac? Where does the need to manage your own anxiety and need to feel in control neuter your team to the point they are merely carrying out instructions? Most importantly, how effective can you be at doing your own role if you spend all your time doing your team’s jobs for them?

It’s a challenge I admit – and in the spirit of openness, one I fail at as often as I succeed but as with many of these things the wonders of self awareness can of course help. Also giving your team permission or actually outright challenge to push you back when you are being a control freak and unempowering them to the point of inertia.

I remember running a workshop a few years ago and one of the topics covered was delegation. I had written a slide entitled something like “The Four Challenges of Delegation” (grandiose I admit) and asked the participants what they needed to do with each of the following: Responsibility,  Authority, Control and Accountability. Much debate ensued.

Where we landed (as planned) was to give responsibility, to give authority, to retain control and share accountability (the individual was accountable to you whilst you remained accountable to the wider ‘them’). One of the participants asked quite earnestly “how can you retain control whilst giving any responsibility?” and they won the $64,000 question award…


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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 to fail

How many times have you stood and heard a leader utter the immortal words “ask for forgiveness, not for permission”. They are great words, very empowering but the tricky thing about them is if they are spoken but not enacted they are very empty words. Now of course none of you work in organisations with blame cultures, corridors littered with the bodies of shot messengers and those who dared to take accountability for a mistake. Easy words to utter but requiring of commitment and purpose.

I’ve been re-watching “The West Wing” recently (and it may creep up with regularity given we are on season 2 of 7) but there’s a great episode in the first season called “Let Barlet be Barlet” in which the President’s job approval rating drops by 9 points. When the senior staff discuss the drop they come to realisation that the decrease is not because they’ve done something wrong but actually because they’ve done nothing. The fear of getting something wrong has driven inactivity that lead to a perception of less effective leadership.

Given this is TV of course resolution is swift and through a cracking interchange between the President and his Chief of Staff a new plan is hatched. When briefing the senior staff Leo McGarry (Chief of Staff) says this:

“Our ground game isn’t working; we’re gonna put the ball in the air. If we’re gonna walk into walls, I want us running into them full-speed.”

When I was a youth I played in the local youth symphony orchestra. For some reason a particular rehearsal sticks in my mind. We were rehearsing Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Capriccio Espagnol’. If you happen to know the piece of music there is a passage where the string and woodwind sections are parading their wares melodically speaking and as if from nowhere the brass section (of which I was a member) arrive with some force.

Given it was a Friday night and our focus was elsewhere when the conductor called for the orchestra to “take it from 20” we misheard and arrived in force having (as a section) gone instead from 21. A cacophony ensued and when he stopped the orchestra we wholly expected to be bollocked for not paying attention. We were therefore surprised when it was the string and woodwind sections that received said bollocking for “despite being in right, playing with the passion and commitment of people in the wrong. They (he pointed at the brass section) made me believe they were right. They were wrong with commitment”

All this by way of saying whilst safety may seem like the best option sometimes doing nothing or attempting something half heartedly may lead to an outcome that isn’t satisfying either for you or those around you. If you are in a position where you do hold people to account think about the impact of chewing them out and realise that if you want decisive empowered people working with you, how you deal with failure needs to be as important as how you celebrate success.

Have a good day all, I’m off to fail…..in style!

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The one with my rose tinted view

I always had this notion that the recruitment function was something akin to the A&R function of a record label.

The ‘A&R man’ was the one who spent their lives going to gigs, trying to find the next big thing and nurturing them their early rise to a point where they can justify signing them (or beat another label to the punch). The Artists & Repertoire function was historically responsible for scouting and development of new artists for the label and their success was measured by the success of the acts they signed.

You could argue in the Cowell era of manufactured pop (which could be likened to a brief assessment centre resulting from an open application) that the days of that traditional A&R function are numbered but Mr Cowell et al are making lots of money, big sales numbers and attendance figures are being posted by bands that have grown the old fashioned way and been scouted. Either way the people who get all the way aren’t chosen by a team of people sat in a darkened room listening to 30 seconds of music and then deciding…at least I hope not!

The other aspect of A&R that matches my notion of recruitment is that A&R are measured by the success of the artists they sign – hence my conversation last week about measuring the quality of hires brought into an organisation. Whether my job title involved Resourcing or Learning I’ve always seen it as part of my role to ensure that not only did they get signed but also they got the best chance to succeed once they were in the building.

It seems from some conversations last week my notion of recruiting maybe somewhat outdated as it seems a portion of recruiters see their responsibility and accountability as stopping when they ‘sign on the line which is dotted’ and whether that’s a sign of times and the volume of work a recruiter is saddled with or the role has evolved past my notion I’m not sure.

The other distinction that came out in conversations last week was the number of people who see recruiting as a function distinct from Human Resources and maybe here again I may be behind the times. It prompted me to tweet at one point “When did recruitment emancipate itself from HR?” as when working as a recruiter I saw myself as an HR professional who specialised in recruitment. To listen to some of the conversations last week this isn’t a view that many recruiters seem to share.

There’s no big finish to this post but since attending TruLondon last week, posting the blog on Quality of hire and spending the weekend reflecting on both these thoughts have been bouncing around my head so I thought I’d share them and see if anyone has a reaction one way or the other…

P.S. I am wholly prepared to concede that my notion of the A&R function maybe related to my rose tinted memories of listening to unknown bands in smoky pubs

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