Tag Archives: resilience

The one with the best of times and the worst of times

It’s easy to start a post by quoting Charles Dickens but if you ever wanted to experience the best of times and the worst of times all in one handy situation then find two organisations that are going through integration.

I was fortunate enough to experience it first hand a few years ago and was hired almost immediately post acquisition (this was not a merger) and what you quickly come to realise is that it’s a difficult situation from every perspective. The need to satisfy the conditions of the change (whether that be financial or performance) are complicated by the myriad of definitions that exist for various parties.

Not to mention the plans that are concrete on Monday and ancient history on Thursday meaning that even those closest to being the ‘enacters’ of the change being confused and fraught trying to manage what at times feels like a bucking bronco that’s just been kicked in the knackers.

Whilst not on the scale of pre-revolutionary Paris that Dickens describes there are definitely camps involved in integration and whether that be the enacters and the recievers, those staying and those going, those from one organisation or the other – the opportunities to take two high performing organisations and bring them to their knees exist everywhere.

The role of HR (in it’s various forms) during an integration is equally challenging. In the core operations you’ve got big decisions and big change to make around policy, payroll, terms, teams and budgets and once those decisions are made you’ve got to actually deliver the changes whilst not breaking the fragile organisation. From a broader cultural perspective you’ve got an entity that is rife with uncertainty, rumour and agendas and if there were ever a breeding ground for political behaviour and self preservation this is it in spades.

Trying to support and preserve performance whilst you are systematically reviewing the organisation is a test of even the most loyal, committed, high performing individual and the need to shape decisions and enact them whilst preserving both the organisation’s and your own integrity is a test for every practioner.

The hardest part of all? You can’t talk about any of it! Publically no details can be revealed and privately there are very few people either a) who know everything and b) will not take you to a place which is about them so maintaining your individual resilience becomes a greater challenge.

So apart from me reliving the angst of integration does this post have a purpose? Yes in fact it does!

Last week HR Magazine announced their shortlist for HR Director of the Year and it’s a cross industry group of the great and good and a few of the usual suspects have yet again been shortlisted. One of the Unusual Suspects to receive a nod is HR Blogger and general Agent Provocateur Neil Morrison, Group HRD at Random House the publisher currently integrating with Penguin to form a power house global publisher.

Neil like all good integrating HRD’s is tight lipped about the plans for the new organisation and it’s partly for that reason that I believe he is deserving of recognition for what must be a hurculean effort. Another reason is that he doesn’t lead a behemoth of an HR team packed to the rafters with big hitters but rather a small team (12) of people at varying stages of developing their careers in HR who clearly run a tight (if informal) ship.

A further reason is that Neil is one of us – he’s a blogger and a tweeter and from the submission on the site you can see his impact on social media within the organisation but more widely within the HR profession I think Neil has had significant impact on the profession’s engagement with all things social.

To spell out the final reason I will quote Richard Curtis articulated with aplomb by Simon Callow in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ when at yet another wedding he encourages his friends to “go forth and conjugate” as for once he would like to go to the wedding of someone he truly loves for a change. Please relax this is not some long hidden bromance finally coming to light, but once, just once I would like someone I know (and although I’d never tell him – respect) to win one of these awards if nothing more than an excuse for a big night out.

So in short VOTE NEil MOrrison (NeMo) and if you’re on Twitter #voteNeMo


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The one with another two things they don’t teach you

A few years ago I read a book written by a former Daily Telegraph journalist who had ‘cashed in his chips’ and returned to education, undertaking the MBA at Harvard Business School. The title was a play on the eponymous (if eponymous means egotistical self aggrandising) tome “What they didn’t teach you at Harvard Business School”, in this case the negative becoming a positive.

Having read several such books in my time it does appear to me that everyone has an angle, everyone has a view, everyone has a model and there is no single one right answer to leading (whether than be teams or larger organisations).

In the course of carrying out my day job I encounter lots of different people in many different roles and in the course of my reflections and in discussions with them I have landed on two qualities that very few of the books, courses or similar capture and I have chosen to represent them in a way serious and grown up manner…

The first is resilience represented thus:


Why a weeble? Well of course weebles wobble but they don’t fall down. However much you bash them, push them or drop them they just bounce back to where to upright with their fixed smile on their faces.

It’s interesting at times watching leaders facing challenges of various size and import and noticing what nature of challenge really impacts their resilience and how they cope with it. The thought that keeps on coming back to me is that resilience is definitely not born but made and made through a variety of routes the most effective of which appears to be previous failure.

I remember a conversation in a previous life when two colleagues at risk of redundancy reacted very differently to the situation. The first was in a flat panic about what it could all mean, the second calm and collected. It seemed at the time the latter’s calm was based on firstly having been through redundancy before and secondly having an innate confidence in their ability to find another job.

You know that saying ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. That (to a point!)

The second is persistence, represented thus:

 wile e

Why Wile E. Coyote? Well if you’ve watched the cartoon Mr Coyote NEVER EVER gives up. There he is episode after episode desperately trying to get the Roadrunner. He usually ends up in some form of pain or suffering some dreadful injury (and in an organisational context we must be mindful of this!!) but he remains steadfastly commited to his objective.

A management consultant may question is his objective correct and I am sure he would be better served in beginning a form of shared reward with his main supplier ACME products but it’s not creativity, innovation or continuous improvement that defines Wile – it’s persistence.

Unlike resilience which is I think something one develops with time, persistence is definitely in the state of mind category. Apparently it was W.E. Hickson who said “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again” although W.C. Fields did develop that a little later “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it”. It appears to me at times that the numbers of ‘try’ aren’t where they could be and it’s something we would all benefit from.


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The one where I am truly humbled

I am by nature fairly difficult to impress. I don’t know why but my default reaction to most things is “that’s great but…”. I don’t know where this came from.

This afternoon I witnessed something humbling. I witnessed several thousand people running the London Marathon and although I have watched it many times  on TV and even in person once before it wasn’t until today that I was truly in awe of the achievement of the people running past me.

Just a few of the 40,000 runners

There was nothing to characterise those running – they were male & female (and if you took the costumes at face value several animals), every age, every hairstyle, every brand of headphones and some rather fascinating tattoos but in their pursuit you had no idea of their occupation, net worth, property value, car brand etc etc

The diversity of the charities was also incredible. Obviously the big hitters were out in force but some were clearly very personal whilst others were far more timely (a Japanese team out in force)

From a psychological perspective, the thing that struck me was their resilience. They were attempting this literally marathon task and with the exception of power drinks, iPods and the support of an enthusiastic crowd they weren’t stopping (I didn’t see Paula Radcliffe though). One definition of this phenomenon is:

“Resilience” the positive capacity of people to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual “bouncing back” to a previous state of normal functioning, or using the experience of exposure to adversity to produce a “steeling effect” and function better than expected (much like an inoculation gives one the capacity to cope well with future exposure to disease) (Masten 2009).

If anything I have seen typifies this then it was those I witnessed punishing themselves today.

The second thing I noted was that with the exception of the elite runners (who were done before I got there), there was no sense of win/lose, no sense of competition – everyone was there to support, help, cheer or at worst avoid crashing into, someone else. The crowd were not hoping one went faster than any other, no one cared how much these people were paid and there was definitely no chorus of “you’re not singing any more”.

The third thing that struck me was the celebration. At the end every runner who completed the course was given a medal and bag of stuff (chocolate, t-shirt etc) and the look  of pride on the faces walking past me said how they felt about wearing that medal. I think organizations are incredibley poor at celebrating success, they may do it privately, behind closed doors and then there is always a hint of embarrassment and a collective look of either a) we should have done more/better or b) this celebration is not allowed we should be working. The look on those faces should tell CEOs everywhere why celebrating success is an excellent use of time.

Finally, and this kind of links to the lack of celebration, organizations love to take any completion and immediately turn it into a case study, hold a “lessons learned” meeting or a review on “what should we do better next time” robbing anyone involved of that little moment of validation that says “i’m good at this”. Don’t get me wrong I am all for achieving goals but maybe, especially in current financial conditions, organizational leaders need to give their teams a chance to understand what they’ve done well and take a well earned pat on the back for it.

Amongst the biggest advocates of goal setting theory are Gary Latham and Edwin Locke and they make it very clear in numerous publications (a few are referenced below) that without clear feedback attempts at goal setting will be far less effective so what follows is my feedback :

To the c40,000 people who ran today I hope you achieved what you set out to, have an experience you’ll never forget and full truly proud of yourself this evening

To Virgin and all the others sponspors, well done for continuing to support this event. I hope it doesn’t become a budget cut and that you achieved what you needed from it

To all those involved in organising it including TFL staff, the Police and the volunteers who held ropes and lifted bales – well done!

And finally to my friend Mel Buckenham, despite my crass humour at the finish I feel humbled by what you’ve achieved and hope you too feel incredibly proud of what you achieved and the money you raised.

That’s great….no but!

My friend Mel with her medal

Latham, G.P., Locke, E.A. (2002) “Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation – a 35 Year Odyssey” American Psychologist, Vol. 57 No. 9

Latham, G.P., Locke, E.A. (2009), “Science and Ethics: What Should Count as Evidence Againat the Use of Goal Sharing?”, Academy of Management, August

Latham, G.P., Locke, E.A.(1990) “Work Motivation and Satisfaction: Light at the End of the Tunnel”, Psychological Science, Vol. 1 No.4

Masten, A. S. (2009). Ordinary Magic: Lessons from research on resilience in human development. Education Canada, 49(3): 28-32.

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