Tag Archives: L&D

The one with a loss of appetite

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – cut the training budget, you won’t see a return on your investment for some time and its money better spent elsewhere….unless you would like to improve your business past next month and retain your people in which case you may want to think differently!

If you believe some people, the world is going to hell in a handcart. The decisions of Standard & Poors seem to have a bigger impact than those of our elected leaders and we seem to be lurching from one sub-crisis to another. The behaviour this seems to be driving is interesting, in that it seems to be bringing out the worst kind of short-term, micro managing, short-sighted demons and what impact that is having on employees everywhere can’t be measured but I would imagine insecurity is rife.

There was a tweet floating around some months ago (and don’t ask me where it started) but it went something like:

FD: What if we invest in our people and then they leave

CEO: But what if we don’t and they stay

As much as I’m sure it got a few chuckles at the time it does seem the business case against developing people (at least at an organisational level) is getting easier and easier to make with each passing day and whilst organisational appetite may have waned does that mean individual appetite has? [Rhetorical question!!]

With the amount of insecurity in the economy and with that in companies at the moment you could say the smart move was to protect an investment in development (and I am largely biased in this but bear with me….) because given the climate surely this is the time when organisations need the most commitment/loyalty/tenacity etc etc from their employees and given the financial constraints on ‘buying’ that surely this comes down to leadership?

Earlier this year I was talking to a friend who works in a large US owned business and she had just merged two teams. When I asked what activity had taken place to support the merging of the teams she looked uncomfortable and shared the fact that aside from electronic and 1 to 1 communication and two 1 hour meetings she had been unable to get further support and had been told “we don’t have time or money for team building at the moment”. That response (and hers is not the only business I’ve heard it from) leaves me asking these rhetorical questions:

  • Do you teams function better in a climate of insecurity?
  • Does lack of available investment mean your team automatically commit to each other and the organisation?
  • Do ways of working develop within a team by osmosis because they can’t spare half a day away from their desks?
  • Do the individuals within the team now magically understand their role in delivering the mission/vision/strategy?

Now as a person who works in HR it could be argued that I am blogging in praise of a gravy train. If that is what you think that is your opinion and you’re entitled to it but the next time you get the opportunity reflect on this thought: would a small amount of time/energy/money invested in your team or organisation make them more effective at weathering the storm we are all experiencing?


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The one with a battle not a war

For at least the past decade discussion has abounded about the war for talent. When I first interviewed for an HR job a friend who is a Senior HR practitioner told me to avoid using the phrase as it would sound like meaningless jargon. I followed her advice then (and got the job) but continue to see the phrase in print (online and offline) and featuring on many conference programmes.

It appears with my limited perspective that the biggest focus in the war for talent, or least in the discussions I see is the acquisition of talent (recruitment in normal language). Whilst ensuring an organisation hires great people is absolutely key in ensuring the health and effectiveness of the organisation – it is only a battle, it is NOT the war.

The other major battle is termed by some talent development (Learning & Development in my language but to my Dad I work in training) and I promise this post isn’t another one all about L&D. But it is about Talent, and what seems to now be termed talent mapping/planning (succession planning in old skool language)

In the past few weeks I have been talking to people in several different contexts about my views on talent. When the subject of succession planning rears its head, as it inevitably does, it amazes me how much focus is given firstly to the operation of the exercise (the project management elements) and secondly the administration of the process (the tools or system used). What appears to be given little attention is the actual content of said plan…

What largely seems to happen is that line managers are asked to assess their teams and fill in some form of document or chart with an indication of what roles that individual will do in a specified amount of time. Now I accept there are some organisations that do this very well but it appears most do something rudimentary.

So let’s have a look at the pitfalls associated with a basic or rudimentary process:

  • It’s largely based on the subjective opinion of the line management
  • The investment in objective measurement of either performance or potential is often limited
  • It is often married to a evolving or flawed performance management system
  • The balance between current performance and individual potential often skews to assessment being made on performance
  • It often doesn’t consider options wider than the current function an individual is working in
  • It is often subjugated to ‘business as usual’ and becomes a compliance exercise rather than attention being paid to individual and organisational potential

This list could go on and on and as previously stated isn’t a view on the best practice that exists in some organisations but my perception on what happens in some organisations that maybe haven’t seen (or been influenced to) the value of investing in their succession plan.

Views abound on many parts of this subject and an interesting view from the other side of the fence can be found in this post  from Katie McNab.

People don’t appear on a balance sheet. If they did you would have to depreciate them, give information on their expected life span and what investments are being made to ensure that life is achieved or exceeded. Whilst a machine in a factory receives planned and preventative maintenance and effort is put into the next generation of upgrades, additions, capacity extensions and ensuring that machine runs as efficiently as possible. Due to the lack of objective (and for that read financial) measures around people it appears they don’t receive the level of attention they would benefit from.

So why did I write this? Firstly because the thought has been bouncing around my head but probably more to ask that the next time you hear/use the phrase the war for talent you think about all the battles on all the fronts and how important your existing employees are to the future success of your business.

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The one where you don’t get what you want

For those of you who know me, you may well know that I do a weekly show on a hospital radio station near to my home. It’s every Sunday night and I have the privilege of doing it with a couple of friends so it’s generally a great laugh and a fabulous way to end the weekend. The show has a dedicated Facebook group which allows people listening on line to take part in and comment on the show. The tone is light hearted and a fair amount of ummmm Michael is extracted often at my expense. It’s great!

A few of our loyal listeners are more than happy to express their opinions about the music played and in turn request something more to their taste and on occasion we relent and play near enough what they ask for. In the early part of the show last night such an occasion arose and I said, on air “Well you can please some of the people, some of the time but not all of the people all of the time” (nods to Abe Lincoln) but added “but in our case often none of the people, none of the time” or words to that effect. The comment was off the cuff and we quickly moved on…but it got me to thinking….

In the course of my Masters degree and in my job the training cycle comes up. You know? The classic cycle – Establish Need, Design, Deliver, Evaluate. Yes, that one.

And if you read the books on establishing needs in training you’ll often see the phrase “training needs analysis” coupled with suggestions around collecting training needs through personal development planning process. It is often suggested this is coupled with appraisal so short falls in objective attainment are tackled through personal development plan. Robert’s your father’s brother – job done. Or is it?

The low hanging fruit (20 points at lingo bingo) of the problem with this approach is that apart from the administrative burden of such a process or the technology investment to make it easy, what you end up with is a disparate list of randomly decided “development needs” which, and let’s be honest here, have usually been talked through for 7 minutes at the end of an appraisal. Trying to then develop a coherent development programme that tackles all of them in a corporate setting with numerous conflicting priorities becomes an exercise in futility. So what ends up happening is those with most overlap get tackled and a smorgasbord of random workshops gets cobbled together…

The bigger problem (hard to reach fruit?!) of the problem with this approach is that what you are collating (because there’s little or no verification in this process) is a list of wants… Not needs!

In the few instances I have been either a participant or managed this process the gap between what people want and what potentially they could need is at best wide at worst gulf like and what seems to happen is a list filled with those classic “performance game changers” (coughs loudly) like ‘Finance for Non-Finance Managers’, ‘Time Management’, ‘Presentation Skills’ and ‘Project Management’ appears. That’s not to say those are not important topics. Indeed our finance team would attest to my need to attend at least two of them BUT are they the things that are actually going to shift organisational performance?

So where is this going? I am NOT saying that if you are part of or responsible for this type of process that you should NOT ask for or provide the things you/they want. Not saying that. What I am saying is that whatever your role in understanding the development needs of an organisation, take a step back and ask yourself a question…something along the lines of “what knowledge, skills & behaviours are going to significantly change our business performance?”, maybe ask around, talk to some people at different levels and perspectives in the organisation and then sense check it with what has come before and the challenges that lie ahead. I imagine that your answers to that question will be as informative if not more so than a drawn out information collection process. I also imagine that the answer to the question won’t be finance for non-finance managers!

And writing this has given me an idea of a track to play next week – The Rolling Stones “You can’t always get what you want” 😉


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The one where I make a complete fool of myself

In my last post I talked about Leadership and to manage your expectations right up front, in this post, and in countless more, I will again. It’s a topic that fascinates me not just from a work perspective but in life in general.

Again in my last post I shared the device I use to start a conversation about what makes great leadership – I ask people to bring a picture of someone they consider a great leader. Much to my relief, it really works but on one occasion worked to make me look very foolish and as it seems to be global culture anecdote day let me explain….

Picture the scene, it’s the summer of 2010 and employee relations are definitely high on Willie Walsh’s agenda. Being a loyal British Airways customer whore for tier points/BA miles I had opted to fly BA to India despite the strikes. This actually worked to my advantage as the flight was crammed and I got bumped from Cattle Plus to Club Class – happy days.

Sat next to me was an Indian gentleman somewhere in his 60s and from the moment he got on board he was agitated and the staff were clearly aware of this. Just before takeoff Cabin Services Director (such a grandiose title I think) came over and patiently explained that his company had cancelled his 1st class ticket and by the time it was rebooked only (only!) Club class was available and they did not have space to bump him. He was not happy. He complained about the food (strike meant reduced service), demanded a drink whilst someone else was being served and was generally not a happy camper and with no trouble showing it, hence the name I gave him in my mind “grumpy guy”. With hindsight it should have been “rude guy”

So we ate, we drank and eventually everyone settled down to try and get some sleep, me amongst them, at which point he rummaged in his bag and pulled out an iPad. To give this some context iPad was only about 10 days post release in the UK so at the time this was flash and distinctive. Why should this bother me? With only perspex (or similar) between us he seemed to have a great knack for timing his change of app/page and it’s ensuing flare of light with my almost reaching sleep with the consequence that it took me far longer to get some sleep than planned. His name was now revised to “grumpy guy with iPad”

[Stick with it there is relevance I promise]

On landing in India he was up and gone almost as soon as wheels hit tarmac and the lady sat behind me made a comment to which her neighbour (who it turned out was BA staff travelling home) remarked that he was one of India’s most famous businessmen and a ‘high up’ (her phrase not mine) at Company X. On reaching the hotel, restless and bored, I checked out Company X and wouldn’t you know it, there he was, on the website, Chairman and Chief Cheese (or similar) “Grumpy Guy with iPad”…

The following morning now feeling jet lagged and stood in front of 15 of our Indian Managers I was feeling tense and anxious a feeling I could see mirrored in their expressions too, so I did what I often do in such circumstances, I told an anecdote – to relax them, me and most importantly to make the Senior person from the UK stood in front of them seem just that bit more human and less intimidating. I told the “Grumpy Guy with iPad” story. The response was engaging but with some looks in the room I didn’t quite understand…

Moving on to the ‘picture of someone you consider a great leader’ exercise, the looks became absolutely clear to me. Of the 15 people in the room, no less than 4 of them had brought….you’ve guessed it – “Grumpy Guy with iPad”. To give this some context M.K. Gandhi (yes THAT Gandhi) only appeared once. On a scale of 1 to 10 how big an idiot do you think I felt? Yes, 12.

An aside on the choices that day – of the 15 pictures on the wall, not one of them was a non-Indian. The only country that has chosen only people of their own nationality. I couldn’t resist asking the question and the response which really made me smile was “Why would we consider anyone who wasn’t Indian?”

Anyway, this man, who I had written off as a cranky show off, is one of the most respected businessmen in India, has built a hugely successful business, is on the board of a globally renowned business school, has been honoured by more countries than you can shake a stick at (including ours) and yet I had dismissed him and given him a cheap nickname…but was I wrong?

I don’t know…

Having reflected on this encounter and told the story a few times (its better with wine, trust me) the following things keep coming back to me:

1. Despite his achievements in life, on the day in question he was rude and made life difficult for people trying to provide him with a service

2. Was it fair of me to judge the human being sat next me in the terms of the global business leader he was being considered the following day?

3. Can we really expect anyone great leader or not, to be great 24/7? (especially in Club Class). Do “we” (the little people) hang too much of our hope, expectation and destiny onto this notion that these people are really great?

4. When will I learn not to lead with my chin?

5. Argentinean red wine really does help me sleep




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The one where I first talk about leadership

Over the past few years I have had to, as part of my role, develop leaders and trust me it’s so easy…


Hang on, it’s the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my entire career

I recall running a leadership workshop last summer, tweeting the title of workshop and being asked the question by several people “can leadership be trained?”

For my part I don’t believe that leadership is something you can be trained to do – management is trainable, but not leadership. Which then begs the question ‘are leaders born or made?’ to which my answer is…both, which may appear something of a paradox but it’s not. If you notice, in the first sentence I used the word trained and I do strongly believe that leadership cannot be trained it can however, with the IMHO caveat firmly applied, be developed i.e. helping people to discover the qualities, abilities, confidence, points of view, courage, insight, self awareness, understanding etc, to become the best version of themselves…which in turn may engage people to follow them as leaders…

When faced with having to run a leadership workshop for the first time (some time in the distant murky past) I stood facing 12 people and asked the question “what do you think defines a great leader?”

Having heard the sound of tumbleweed for what felt like forever (in all likelihood I probably only lasted about 20 seconds) I forged on, asked questions to stimulate thought and at the end of a 20 minute bore fest had less than 10 words on a flipchart. To use a twitter expression #epicfail

My failure I believe was due to several factors amongst which were as an out and out extravert not letting people have any time to think about any answer but more significantly to pick a topic so vast and dare I say it over published/discussed/venerated/poorly defined and then to expect people to pick some nuggets out of thin air. Suffice to say the workshop didn’t improve much from there and I went away deflated and introspective….

*Time Passes*

So having to now deliver it again (some months later) I realised that yes I did want to have a discussion about what the participants considered great leadership. So how was I going to make it work? Easy…give them some time to prepare and some sort of framework to think within (I am in L&D after all!) and then an idea came to me that seemed so simple yet it *may* work…..to ask them all to bring a picture of someone they considered a great leader. As they get stuck on the wall, they get discussed, scrutinised, challenged and understood (and I’m in L&D I write this all on a flipchart)

What has ensued on the many occasions I have used this, in countries as diverse as the UK, US, Hong Kong, China & India, are probably some of the most interesting and enlightening discussions I have had at any point in my role and what’s amazing is the diversity of people that get chosen but more about that another time….

For now, I just share what has come to mind whilst thinking this through:

1. Learn from your mistakes – quickly, but don’t necessarily change your objective just consider different ways of doing it

2. When something isn’t working, get out and move on…

3. Poor workshops are the fault of poor design or delivery NEVER poor participants

4. Apparently it’s OK to consider Captain Kirk (as played by William Shatner) a leader in at least 2 countries!

5. Only 4 people have appeared multiple times (and if you guess I’ll tell you)

And leave you with a question, who do you consider a great leader? And why? (Answers on a postcard, tweet or in the comment box below please)


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