Tag Archives: connectinghr

The one with the paradox of metrics

On May 16th I attended the 4th ConnectingHR Unconference. I’ve been to a few before (and you can find blog posts on my previous experiences here) and it was great firstly to take a member of my new team with me and secondly to see how the event is evolving as time passes. There were a number of posts written reflecting on the event which you can find linked from this cracking post from @flipchartrick

One of the changes from my previous outings was that the day kicked off with a number of short presentations from a variety of people, which went to the title of the day “The Power of a Socially Enabled Organisation”. Jamie Priestley‘s presentation was entitled “The Importance of Being Unreasonable” and he landed a number of points not least the challenge to look behind evidence and also how data is often over interpreted and over stretched in the attempt to make a point.

The point he made that stayed with me most related to that grand adage ‘what gets measured, gets done’. It’s an old favourite and anyone who’s been anywhere near a corporate environment will have had it trooped out on numerous occasions. The point that Jamie made which really got me to thinking went along the lines of ‘if what gets measured gets done do people only really focus on what can be measured’.

Of course he loses 5 points for using the iPod as an example of things that weren’t measured whilst they were being developed (the iPod is akin to Richard Branson in that they both work as great examples against most points) but gains at least 10 points for using e=mc2 (there’s no superscript on here!) as another example.

Given the difficultly of effectively measuring some of the ‘big stuff’ in organisations e.g. culture, engagement, discretionary effort, leadership effectiveness, etc, to an organisation that focusses solely on metrics is there a MASSIVE risk of focussing just on the outputs and not on the inputs? Or as Dr Chris Shambrook put it, the focus being only on the results and not on the performance.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that nothing should be measured but I find myself thinking that a lot of the things I really think are important (and this may reflect my role) are things that are measured more intuitively than a RAG’d spreadsheet.

Two of my colleagues recently went to visit Unipart’s head office in Cowley, Oxfordshire. Unipart are well-known for their motor spares business but have two additional business areas in supply chain solutions and consulting. They are actually working with my organisation at the moment. Rather than dozens of metrics measuring micro parts of their business they have two metrics which (if my memory is serving me correctly) are availability and returns. Their belief being that if those two measures are good then everything else underneath them is functioning correctly.

The arguments for and against metrics will continue long after this post (and likely this blog) and my fundamental belief is they have their role but that role should be put in context and tempered with other considerations of an organisation.

That said in measuring the success of attending the unconference one of my objective  is to come away with some things to think about that challenge my existing thinking. Jamie’s presentation (the pack for which you can find here) certainly ticked one box… More boxes to follow shortly!


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The one where the unconference strikes back

Earlier in the year I attended the 2nd ConnectingHR Unconference. Although it was the 2nd for the community it was the first for me both within that community and also experiencing the unconference format. I wrote two posts about it at the time which you can find here and here and don’t want to rehash those but yesterday I attended the 3rd unconference and want to share some thoughts surrounding it.

The first thing to say is what a great group of people. For a group that came together largely through Twitter it’s a warm spirited, generous, enthusiastic and committed group who really do want to improve their businesses and themselves. I am genuinely pleased to be part of it and will continue to be so (I hope). It’s a credit to the people who put the passion and energy into driving it especially (for me) Gareth Jones @garelaos.

Being as this is social media (ish) what follows are 3 ‘episodes’ which have informed my reflection:

Episode 1: Monday Oct 17, Twitter

A Twitter conversation with @neilmorrison, @thinkingfox and @garelaos this week prompted me to think about what ConnectingHR’s purpose is and is there an opportunity for the passion and enthusiasm to drive significant change. Some involved in that conversation questioned ConnectingHR’s position to be able to do that with a comment along the lines of HR not being a community that needed a forum. My response at the time was that it was a group of people needing a community and truthfully that’s what it is for me. What followed was a spirited, although I believe, well intentioned exchange about the community as is.

Episode 2: Tuesday Oct 18, A London restaurant

So over a glass of something alcoholic, I then had the opportunity to continue the discussion with said same @neilmorrison, giving us both the opportunity to flesh out the discussion we had been having online but also discuss some of the potential that ConnectingHR represents (to me at least). I must point out that I had consumed a few drinks at this point so may have editorialised a little but there was definitely a conversation about how ConnectingHR could be an agent provocateur to spur the CIPD to evolve but the challenge of getting people truly engaged with it beyond the current committed bunch remained significant.

Episode 3: Thursday Oct 20, The Spring, venue of Unconference

I then had a conversation with a fellow unconference attendee yesterday @samlizars about what would happen if you walked 10 big hitting HRDs into the unconference. Would it completely stifle the free and open conversation? Would the HRDs feel frustrated about the lack of structure or directly applicable ROI to their organisations? Or actually in order to achieve its true potential does the ConnectingHR community need some big hitting practitioners to get involved and help it evolve? Another point of interest in the conversation was the perception (at least from Sam & my perspectives) about how little those big hitters ‘publically’ network and that actually getting your message to them was quite tricky.

Where this leaves me in my reflections I’m not quite sure. Likewise I’m not sure where ConnectingHR is on its journey. Whether it will remain a community of great people wanting to support and challenge one another or whether the horizon has a tipping point which could see it play a role in driving broader change is yet to see. Personally, I am frustrated that more practitioners aren’t engaging and taking the opportunity to get involved but would ‘they’ levy the charge that we just haven’t done enough to help/make them engage?

As it’s after midnight (and I’ve just had to edit all the todays into yesterdays) I think it’s time to stop reflecting and start sleeping but in closing there are a few people I would like to make specific reference to as contributing to my day at the unconference:

Natasha (@StirtheSource) for some great conversations

Gavin (@gmcglyne) for not only telling me I was talking bollocks but then using a Michael Jackson song to make his point

Dave (@Changecontinuum) for a great chat and some interesting thoughts and context

Michael (@MJCarty) for great departure from a comfort zone and fighting his corner

Sam (@samlizars) likewise for some great conversations (in addition to those referenced here)

Sarah (@sarahfmatthews) for great homemade biscuits and being one of the few people who has achieved genuinely embarrassing me (but in the nicest way)

And finally Gareth (@garelaos) who is just the guvnor (although probably cross with me for writing this!)

To the rest of the usual suspects, doffed caps and thanks for a good day.



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The one where it ends

Or so I thought….

For some reason I was in bed last night thinking of literary opening lines and some of the greats.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

“All this happened, more or less.”

“Call me Ishmael”

“Marley was dead to begin with.”

Rather than being from a novel (as the above are) my favourite comes from a play for voices and it is:

“To begin at the beginning”

If I begin at the beginning, this blog started in a hotel room in Asia, in the middle of March of this year when I was in a state of panic regarding recruiting participants for my Masters project and the first post said by September 1st it was get a Masters or bust….

Over the next few days I wrote some follow up posts to help the recruitment process and slowly but surely got engaged with the process of blogging and 34 posts later here we are. September 1st beckons and I am sat in the same hotel this all started in. I fly back tonight and I have some tinkering and tweaking to do on my project dissertation but the back is broken and I WILL hand it on time.

My original plan had been to write this blog until my dissertation was done then end with a swansong post crediting all the people who have helped and supported the process. Then sign off with a ‘thank you very much and good night’

But two things happened which have changed that plan:

  1. I have found this really enjoyable and a great way to get nonsense out of my head and structure some of my more random thought
  2. I failed one of my exams (by an infuriating 3%) so I will NOT be getting a Masters this year and neither am I bust as I get the opportunity to resit next June

Therefore, the blog will continue with the random sharing of my thoughts and occasional rants but in the meantime I still want to credit all the people who have helped and supported my project. So in alphabetical order they are:

  • Kevin Ball
  • Paul Bullock
  • Fran Burnford
  • Alison Chisnell
  • Lily Haines-Gadd
  • Rob Harrison
  • Andy Jones
  • Katie McNab
  • Leighanne Miles
  • Neil Morrison
  • Judy Payne
  • Gillian Symon
  • Charlotte Thom
  • Kirsty Walden
  • Sophie Watson

Thank you all so much for your help in various ways. If you don’t know why you are being thanked ask 🙂

A few collective mentions:

The #ConnectingHR community who have supported this blog and helped spread the word throughout the process

The company in India that turned my transcriptions around in record speed (15 hours of interviews is no mean feat!)

Particularly, the participants of my project, who remain nameless for ethical reasons but if you are reading this, thank you very much and you will be sent a copy of the project once it’s marked

And finally:

To my boss, Sue Malti. She provided both the impetus and funding for me to study and although I have regretted the decision on numerous occasions and I am sure hindsight will soften the blow and if and when I finally achieve a degree it will be a source of considerable pride. Thanks!

P.S. [Kudos and celebrity to anyone who correctly identifies all the opening lines!]


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The one with the unconference part 2

During the freeform experience that was the ConnectingHR Unconference I was fortunate enough to run a session alongside the marvellous @floramarriot and despite the call for free flowing conversation and no structure we both gave into our L&D urges and put a little structure and facilitation into the session. It should be noted that we resisted the urge to use blu-tack and post-it notes…

Myself and Flora had gravitated together having respectively posed the following questions during the opening session:

“What does global mean to you?” (Me)

“What can we learn from business in other cultures?” (FM)

If you would like to read Flora’s comprehensive notes from the session check out the Unconference section on ConnectingHR but what follows is a little context on my question and some thoughts having reflected and digested the session.

I have been fortunate enough over the past 3 years to work in several different cultures and if you consider cultures in the context of Edward T. Hall’s Cultural Context I have worked in the polar opposites of China and the USA. China (a high context culture) values the collective and trusted relationships built over time whilst the US (a low context culture) values the individual and relationships are built on merit. One of the things that came through strongly in our session and certainly resonated with me was the admission of how little time we had spent truly learning about the “other” culture and whilst some great sources of information exist, whether you had the time or latitude to use them seemed to be another question. For the record, the UK is far more akin to the US and is considered also, a low context culture.

The frustration that came through from almost everyone was at the physical distance and the constraint presented by time differences and how this restricted the building of in-depth fully functioning relationships, and how key the relationship was to successfully working across cultures. As much as technology in the form of Skype and similar has advanced the ability to communicate across distance, it was agreed that there was no true replacement for spending real time sat across from someone (and I would had sharing a few drinks over dinner but that is not based on empiric data but user experimentation)

I must confess I have learnt the hard way (jet lag, 14 Chinese people and my attempt at humour remains one of the most uncomfortable hours of my life) and I would say to anyone working outside of their own cultural norm for the first time, there is no amount of preparation and reading that can beat the experience of standing there and doing it.

In the context of my Master’s degree (I feel I must mention it from time to time) what I’ve found interesting is that so much of what we use in terms of defining best practice and ‘the next big thing’ is often from “The West” with America as the dominant influence. The limitations of empiric data derived from studies carried out on groups of MBA students aside, there does appear a certain arrogance in assuming that “we” (the West) know better than the most populace country on the planet that has a culture dating back thousands of years. One of our group put this intellectual imperialism in the most straight forward way and his comment remains my favourite of the whole day…. “We need to remember we haven’t got a big d*ck and a gunboat anymore” – it never made it to the visual minutes….

I really enjoyed this session, both the challenge of pulling something together from a pair of questions, ensuring that I didn’t hog it all for “my” question and to trying to make sure everyone contributed if they wanted to. The take home for me was “we” are all struggling with this ever more significant challenge, we can learn from each other through sharing experiences and that investing the time in understanding and learning is the only way to truly achieve the value and results from your global relationships.

As an afterword, if you are interested in exploring the psychology of cultural relationships a great starting point is the work of Geert Hofstede who has published extensively on the subject.


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The one with the unconference part 1

I hate networking…

No, that’s not strictly true. Networking makes me feel uncomfortable and to be honest until recently I never understood why. On every instrument, test or diagnostic I have ever completed I come out as an extravert (and if you’ve met me this is unlikely to surprise you) but it wasn’t until I went on the qualifying course for the MBTI Stage 2 that all became clear. Most of you will be familiar with MBTI Stage 1 – self perception, compare with your reported scores, come up with a 4 letter personality type (mine is ENTP). What Stage 2 does is break each of the preferences down into 5 facets and this is where, for me, it got really interesting, as when it came to extraversion I scored as an extravert except the facet “initiating/receiving” where I scored as an introvert. The mists cleared, the fog lifted and all became clear – I don’t like initiating conversation/interaction with people I don’t know (or as @Thinkingfox has put it “Jonesy, you can close but you can’t open” – the context of the remark I’ll allow you to decide for yourself)

About a year ago I decided, for various reasons, that I needed to get over myself and start networking more proactively and it was through a blog (My hell is other people) and Twitter discussions about music that I started to network with an informal group called ConnectingHR. A year ago they held their first “Unconference” and yesterday was the second. I had watched the first from the Twitter sidelines but yesterday I moxied up, paid my dues and attended.

If you don’t know what an unconference is, Google it. But the fag packet answer is like a conference but with content driven by the attendees, not structured “push” but more owner operated “pull”. So at 9.30am we started and (through some great facilitation from @dougshaw1) we finished with a grid of topics for discussion. I don’t intend to try and summarise any of them here (I will post a follow up which will summarise one of the topics I was part of….but that’s for another time). If you are interested in the content search the #chru hashtag on Twitter and there are several great blogs already out there. If you can’t do that – sign up to Twitter STAT….

I was asked by several people on several different occasions what I thought of it….and my response on every occasion was the same “interesting”. Which can be, and was, taken in different ways. The caveat I added was that I needed time to reflect and digest.

I have reflected and digested and will offer another caveat – what follows is positive if at times constructive BUT completely subjective – this is from MY point of view and isn’t intended as commentary on how it was for others.

An aside before proceeding. Being an extravert is a double edged sword. You are by type more comfortable to take part in a “live fire” environment, to process in the moment, to be able to respond and challenge. The double edged sword is with the energy of all those people and all that discussion how far do you go? I, by nature, cope with feeling uncomfortable by extroverting, I talk, ask questions, discuss etc and have noticed on several occasions recently that it is assumed by others as hogging, grand standing, over two-pennething. In contrast it appears that introverts cope with the same situation by watching, listening and digesting and the response is very different, no one appears to feel threatened by their response and in fact usually are very supportive in making them feel comfortable to contribute. All that by way of saying if at any point I trampled your point, hogged or appeared to grandstand it was largely (with a few exceptions) me coping with my own discomfort…

So, 24 hours later what has “interesting” become?

  • What a fabulous group of people, whose intention is to learn, help, support, contribute, challenge and share
  • As much as at times I adore chaos, the lack of structure in the unconference format was uncomfortable and left me wanting
  • That said I think the unconference format has real legs and have come away excited about how it could be further applied in a corporate environment
  • Visual minutes are awesome (check out creativeconnection.co.uk, Tim and his team do something incredible by turning the dialogue and emerging themes into artwork)
  • Facilitation is good. With the aforementioned struggle between the extraverts and the introverts, having someone to ensure contribution from all and that the conversation doesn’t spiral off into freeform oblivion is good.
  • There are lots of questions and with so many interested parties; the answers can be elusive especially without structure
  • I would have liked a little (not a lot) bit of input, to hear what others are doing, not big scary case studies and by the numbers presentations, but someone saying “we do this and it works/doesn’t work”
  • Live tweeting during an event is great especially if it’s viewable from “the floor” although it did take me a while to get used to people whopping their phones out and tapping away
  • There was a lot of “stuff” out there yesterday and I felt like a missed loads.
  • It is incredible what a group of people with common intent can achieve without permission, accreditation, incentive or financing
  • However much you caveat it, an elephant in the room is still an elephant in the room
  • Unconferencing is tiring but rewarding

If you work with people (and not just those with an HR job title or as I put it yesterday, in the HR cost centre) you should check out connectinghr.org or on Twitter check out the hashtags #chru & #connectinghr, whether you have a similar fear of networking to me or are a seasoned pro, it’s a really good group and will only get better.

I don’t feel this needs wrapping up as the points all stand on their own but there would be too many to thank for yesterday (both organisers and participants) but if one person should be singled out it’s Gareth Jones (@garelaos) (www.garethjones.me) who’s networking activity keeps Starbucks going, has for me been the driving force to me engaging and remaining engaged with ConnectingHR and took the incessant piss taking yesterday with good grace and very few rebuttals!


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