18 Jul 2012
A tree has blown down and part of its trunk juts into a country lane. The line-painters have been round and instead of organising for the tree to be removed before they do the job of painting their straight road lines, they paint around the tree trunk.
I had a similar experience recently. Adjacent to the homes of me and my neighbours is a building site which the local authority and a local housing association have the job of keeping secure. The site has been fenced off with the same iron lock for nearly a year. One day, three roofers came round in a van to fix the leaking roof of one of my neighbour's houses, which is owned by the local authority's housing arm. They wanted access to the back of his house via this site. We heard the buzzing and screeching of what sounded very much like an electric hacksaw, and then on looking out of the window the roofers were on the site. When another neighbour went down, picked up a freshly cut piece of the broken lock from the floor, and accused the roofers of cutting through the lock to gain access because they couldn't be bothered to contact the council to arrange access, they replied "Weren't us mate; it was already open".
Later that day my neighbour and I attended a pre-arranged meeting about the site with a councillor, two council employees and a housing association executive. When we complained about what had happened, all of them maintained that '"There's nothing we can do since you didn't see them do it. Anybody could have done it. We can't discipline them". We pointed given the seriousness of the allegation that the action had put residents' security at risk together with the strong circumstantial evidence that the roofers had done it, it was incumbent upon the council to investigate. Despite a vague murmur of assent from the councillor, I'm fairly sure that no questions have been asked of those roofers.
Perhaps it is low employee engagement that underpinned the roofers' (alleged) action. I'd say the answer is a bit more prosaic and old-fashioned. Poor performance management - not specifying standards of work and working practice and how to evidence it - combined with cocksure self-confidence that even if they were observed in the act, nobody would pull them up on it. And it's that which leaps to my mind before low engagement every time I see a rotten job being done, by anyone, anywhere and at any level. Let's get the basics right before we start thinking 'engagement initiatives.
04 Jul 2012
Insight is defined as
And Organisational savvy: apprehending the hard and soft factors in running a business. The impact of people, culture and leadership.
Scarily the research showed three fifths of HR practitioners agree with the need to build our understanding of business issues in their organisation but around one third were indifferent or disagreed!
I want to focus on how you become business savvy and reflect on some of what I believe are significant implications for those wishing to peruse a career in HR.
The research goes on to highlight the foundations of business savvy as:
So I am wondering what does all the above mean for the career strategy of a HR professional. How do you get to grips with understanding where profitability comes from?
Whether the organisation should be growing organically or by acquisition? The significance of market share analysis. Or perhaps more fundamentally how do we learn about ratio analysis, regression correlations and those metrics that determine KPI's. Would a HR Professional be better served by a MBA than CIPD?
It is my belief you need both. It isn't sufficient to rely on vocational expertise. You need the academic rigour in HR that a CIPD qualification gives you, but you also need an in depth grounding in business that the CIPD doesn't give. Too many HR professionals simply don't understand the basics. In addition the benefit of studying with other management disciplines will prove beneficial in significantly widening your network. I always believe we learn much more from others.
So is that sufficient? It's simply not tenable that the next generations of HR Leaders will spend the entirety of their careers in HR. Anyone with aspirations of becoming an HRD should ensure time in marketing & sales and operations as a matter of urgency. I also include line management experience as part of that induction. Far too many HR professionals have never managed anything other than the HR department! It also begs the question that an early stage in your career you will need to commit to a sector. I never got the concept of the gifted amateur, the HRD who moves across sectors bestowing best HR practice. To be truly insightful you need to understand the business. To understand a business you need to have worked within it. Indeed you will have greater employability if you have worked for at least two competitors in the same sector. In an increasingly global world, gaining that experience on more than one continent will also prove beneficial.
So there you have it. A career plan for aspiring HRDs. Quickly find a business sector that you are passionate about. Give yourself 2/3 generalist roles in your early 20s to find this sector. Ensure you work for two of the main players in the sector. Move from HR into the line, sales & marketing or operations or both. Have significant line management experience. Work overseas. Get CIPD qualified and a MBA. You will then be in the ideally placed to be a HRD.
Food for thought!
Europe is still going through turmoil, the banking crisis is still headline news and uncertainty and caution is still one of the first things on our minds when making business decisions. What's more emerging nations such as China, India and Brazil will be playing a much more important role in the global pecking order and are redefining the rules of the game.
With the financial and economic crises comes the social crises. Employees are stressed, anxious and destablised by the recession and its social consequences. Employment is fragile and the future undefined. At the same time organisations need to adjust the size of their business to the changing landscape and market demand. This means going on a diet - cost reduction - and working out to reduce the fat and leave only the muscle. To achieve this we need both effective performance management and strong leadership.
When I say effective performance management, I do not mean more performance appraisals! We need a return to authenticity in communication, giving feedback and partnering with employees. More than ever we rely on employees being committed and accountable for their performance. We need employees to partner with management in meeting customer needs and global competition. Everyday open and honest performance conversations will be critical to ensuring we maximise people's contributions and create a sustainable performance advantage.
When things are good, most employees are motivated, when things turn bad, people need to know what's happening, so clear communication is vital. Like the captain of ship, leaders should be managing by walking around, reassuring and inspiring trust. We need real people with honesty, integrity and vision to inspire and engage those around them. Leaders with real influence and impact, experts at establishing, motivating and maintaining balanced and fully engaged teams Leaders who are true to themselves and lead by example to others are an essential ingredient to creating sustained high performance during these tough times and beyond. One could argue that this is the always what leadership is about….but it's more important now than it's ever been.
The new global playing field and uncertain economic climate creates challenges but also opportunities for business. New markets and new consumers have to be part of business strategies. Those organisations that are prepared for the recovery will be the first to reap the benefits.
05 Apr 2012
I was asked to facilitate one of the Strategy Group sessions on the challenges of delivering a global learning strategy. Over 30 people attended the session which centered on the results from our recent Global Edge (featured in the March edition of HR).
We discussed and debated the survey results and delegates shared their own views and experiences of delivering a global learning strategy inside their own organisations
It is clear that Global Growth is driving globalisation of L&D. But global growth is a big area and to ensure real focus in delivering a global learning strategy, the starting point is to establish exactly why YOUR organisation needs to deliver global L&D solutions. Is it and consistency of quality and standards, the need to build a global brand, improve networking and communication, or leverage talent, engage and develop employees on a global scale? All are important, but what is your key driver?
Our discussions then moved towards the need to prioritising our key challenges in delivering L&D globally. This can provide greater focus in terms of the areas we each need to think most about, and where we should be spending our time. There was general agreement that ensuring quality and consistency was one of the most difficult challenges as was sourcing providers with global capability and resources. There was a topical debate around the challenge of maintaining cost effectiveness too!
Finally, we moved to sharing of ideas and strategies for delivering learning and development on a global scale.
At Global Edge, our model for success (iLearn) draws together best practice under six key areas of activity: Innovate (creating leading edge tools and resources to increase accessibility and choice); Localise (integrating local L&D people into the design and delivery process); Engage (getting people on the ground connected with the programme); Align (aligning local learning activity to global framework and guidelines); Recruit (recruiting internal and external resource that have local credibility and capability); Network (using international network to research best practice in different markets)
Yes, we need to deliver learning solutions which are aligned globally but which can also be properly embedded and work locally. Above all, when delivering a global learning strategy we need to 'think global and act local'.
Leaders point the way, they paint a picture of the future, and at that point you decide whether or not to buy in. That decision is driven by what's in it for me. Today the marketplace is all about meeting individual needs. Leadership is about followship. Can you build a sufficiently attractive proposition that gets your people to commit to your your vision of the future? Short term is the order of the day. 18 months is the maximum you will get. In return for my talent and endeavour, you will enhance my career, improve my prospects in terms of financial remuneration, job satisfaction or job title.
So if you accept this premise, this definition of leadership as a contract, I give you something, you give me something in return, what are the implications for leadership development.
What I hear from most participants from such programmes is what you are trying to teach me is all very well, and I get it, but I don't see it in my masters and leaders in this organisation. Indeed the behaviours that get you to the top of this organisation are not what you are telling me a good leader does. The problem is that those behaviours are not innate to those at the top of our organisations. So why should I adopt your premise of leadership development?
Well the world is changing. We are no longer in a world where one size fits all organisations (by the way I am not certain we ever did, but it was more acceptable to "shoehorn" people into that approach, FIFO..fit in or f**k off). Then along came the knowledge worker with discretionary effort and infinite mobility. We have moved from a situation where supply exceeds demand, to one where recruiting those who bring value to the organisation are in short supply. You may be thinking that Michael can't be describing the labour market of today. However I am. How come in a tsunami of cvs it is still difficult to recruit and retain knowledge workers? I don't believe this equation is going to get easier in the future.
Leadership today is all about recognising that our employees will have a myriad of needs and the role of a leader is to build a proposition that gets the buy in from all those key to delivering the business proposition.
So what does this mean for leadership development? Leaders gather data on these needs. They use engagement data, they use focus groups, they use diaries and blogs, they spend as much time with employees as customers. Indeed they use exactly the same techniques in data collection. Management by walking about is important as ever, but this time you ask for feedback and listen.
Leaders lead by example. It's all about ensuring there is alignment between what I say and do. Being a simple soul, business strategies only come in 3 types, sell more, reduce costs, or a combination of the two. Selling more means focusing on customers needs. This requires leaders to be passionate about customer needs. Taking cost out the business requires leaders to set an example. Failure to live and breath either strategy will mean you simply don't have face validity. Do I really give one hundred percent for those I simply don't believe in?
Lastly leaders paint a picture. They show me the promised land. They inspire. I know that by following this strategy ultimately I will be the winner. It doesn't need to be easy. Indeed stretch and challenge are positives. The spoils of war don't even have to be all about me, some of the spoils do have to benefit me, but you can appeal to the greater good. There is a feel good factor in building something that will benefit the wider community.
So is it possible to teach data collection, leading by example and painting a compelling picture. How do you overcome the skepticism of that's not what I am seeing around here, or even if do it won't do my career any good.
Well as Bob Dylan sang "the times are a changing"
Markets today are all about niches. There is money in identifying and meeting very specific customer needs. Well employees are no different. It's all about using the tools at our disposal to identify those needs, building a proposition in which I practice what I preach and ensuring the vision is sufficiently attractive that it gets the buy in of those I require to deliver my customer proposition.
Well that's the challenge for those of use in leadership development.
15 Mar 2012
Thinking back to barely 10 years ago and I have little doubt that the organizers would have struggled to attract a tenth of the delegates that were present on the two days of the conference.
When introducing myself at meetings I often tell the story of my early days in the industry; talking to potential clients about the importance of employee health and being met with blank or even perplexed looks. Fast forward a decade and it is clear that workplace health has evolved from a niche area for a zealous few to a full blown movement.
I think this gradual change has occurred for a number of reasons. First, and probably the main reason, is the research that has been done over this period of time that has shown the clear link between individual health status and work performance. Although there probably always existed an intuitive belief among many that employee health was an important component of productivity, it seems that the majority of employers didn't take much notice until there was unequivocal, scientific evidence of the fact. What has probably clinched the debate is the demonstration that if you can improve individuals' health status, by getting them to address their lifestyle and behavioural risks, you can also improve their, and hence the employer's, productivity and performance.
There are also probably a number of other reasons that have galvanized many employers to invest in workplace health initiatives. The ageing workforce, the competition for talent and the need to continually innovate are all areas that can be enhanced by having a workforce that is fit both mentally and physically. With so much of the UK's economic output being driven by the service sector this reality is here to stay and it is my belief that if you, as an employer, don't embrace the "movement" then you are likely to get left behind.
05 Jan 2012
The UK’s spiralling debt, together with the ongoing Eurozone crisis and a flat economy in the US are all going to make trading difficult for many organisations, both large and small.
Amidst the doom and gloom around there are perhaps lessons to be learned, and inspiration to be gleaned, from organisations that started operating in times of economic recession. Apparently, Hyatt, FedEx and Microsoft were all started during recession years; and although it is unlikely that any were quite as bad as what we have in store for us now, it is heartening to know that new ideas, and simply better ways of doing things, can prevail no matter what the economic outlook is like.
I think the take away message is clear. UK businesses need to take a critical look at what they are doing and how they are doing it. Nothing should be sacred and everything should be questioned. But, in order to do this we need energised, innovative and productive employees on the case. With this in mind there really is no better time than now to also take a critical look at your health benefits to make sure they deliver the best value to your employees as well as the best return to you as an employer.
Public sector expenditure is being pared back at a rapid rate. And although no politician will publicly acknowledge the fact, it is clear that front line healthcare services will be impacted in the future. I believe that employer provided health benefits have already started to be perceived as being more valuable by employees. Rather than the "nice to have" add on that they were in times of plenty, they are increasingly being seen as an integral element of the overall employment package.
From the employer's perspective a clear health and wellbeing strategy for the coming years is a must. How do you want to approach employee health? What do you want to get out of it and how are you going to achieve a healthier and more productive workforce? These are all questions that need to be asked, but they also provide a pathway to a better performing and more innovative organisation.
07 Dec 2011
Sian Harrington is right to place her bet that reform of regulation of itself won't bring about employment recovery. But I believe it would make a significant contribution in a whole variety of ways. One example is the amount of time and money spent by public authorities on compliance with regulations that add nothing to service and social outcomes: reform would enable those bodies to become more efficient at a time when they are being forced to reduce staff.
My second example concerns the reluctance of many employers to take on as apprentices high risk groups such as young people who have had not previously had the opportunity to learn the work ethic when they have a disproportionate array of rights and protections from Day One.
Those of us advocating reform are doing so because we believe that it will be in everybody's best interests at the end of the day, including employees and those who want to find work, not because we want unfettered power for employers.
21 Nov 2011
I am suffering from engagement overload. Whilst it is pleasing to hear what you have know all along that engaged employees drive business success, it is after all the bleeding obvious. The business case is powerful, Tannith Dodge's session highlighted the differences between variances in engagement scores between shops and the variances between upper and lower quartile business performance. Apparently stores with the highest engagement scores sell more!
The difference between upper and lower quartile stores in their engagement scores is £104 million in sales.
My social media drinks session told me that not all my fellow delegates at the conference shared my view on this one, and yes there might be other factors at play, but any data that persuades the CEO to focus on the people dynamics of the business is a good thing in my book.
However does this renewed CEO interest in what we do, put us under added pressure to find the levers that drive engagement. Whilst listening to two excellent sessions on engagement initiatives in Essex County Council and Coca Cola Enterprises ( Supply Chain Management) I was struck that with average engagement figures ranging between 50-60% which mirrors the Gallup one third,one third, one third model. Most organisations have one third of their employees actively engaged, one third actively disengaged and one third not disengaged, but not actively engaged. So at any one at least one third of your workforce don't give a flying.
Assuming you are in the actively engaged category, and you do give a flying, what's the quickest lever you can pull. The MacLeod report highlighted that employees want an organisation with a clear vision and know their their part in that vision. They demand managers who are actively interested in them, listen to them and develop them in their careers. Finally the want organisations that have integrity and play their part in the wellbeing of the community they serve. Towers Perrin study of 200,000 employees, in 18 countries over 10 years put it more simply. Employees want opportunity and wellbeing (an organisation that cares about them), pride in the company and or brand, trust and involvement.
It is my view that personal development lever is quick and easy to pull, and will increase job satisfaction, enhance productivity and improve the customer experience. Additional by-products include reduced attrition, and reduce absence.
Since I know I am not particularly an innovative thinker, I am certain I am not the only one who has had this idea. Why hasn't HR embraced it, or perhaps more accurately why haven't we successfully sold the concept to the line.
Here's the rub. There is an inherent conflict between employee aspirations and management objectives and capability. Employees find it difficult to trust their bosses. We are stuck in a parent child relationship. It takes a special type of manager who can be trusted with the secret I am thinking of leaving my present role. Typically employees are reluctant to enter into such conversations since I might disadvantage myself in future pay and career conversations. Ironically employees are more likely to share their secrets with external recruiters which given their propensity to be driven by commission payments, impartial advice it is not. Moreover it is not in the manager's interest to move the high performers out. They get rewarded for delivery, helping your key players to move elsewhere in the business is counter intuitive. Assuming that I am altruistic, do I really know opportunities exist elsewhere in the organisation. So there we have it a catch I 22.
So what can we do about?
We need to sell the benefits of engaged employees to the line. Yes I mean that. We need passionate advocacy. We need hard data, making the business case . We need to name and shame low engagement and reward and celebrate high engagement. Praise engaging managers will in itself drive up engagement.
We need to train managers to have career conversations after all we train them to hire and fire perhaps we should address the bit in the middle. In my experience managers do not get training into how to listen. Just taking the time out to listen, showing genuine interest, exploring career possibilities will significantly drive engagement. As a big Malcolm Gladwell fan, to become an expert in anything you need 10,000 hours of practice. So let's not kid ourselves this is a one off training that will overnight turn our line managers to expert career coaches, however I am minded of the Hawthorne experiment. During the second world war psychologists were exploring the optimum level of illumination in munition factories. They were surprised to discover that the pilot group who experienced no change in illumination also experienced increased productivity. Just the additional TLC drove up product.
Perhaps that's the key driver of engagement. Show them you care. That can't be that difficult can it?
I'm sure many of us have witnessed groups of senior people who should be focused on pragmatic implementation of long-term strategy and product or service quality getting themselves into a twist over unnecessary process and protocols.
I was also quite amused by the article since in my view, the HR profession as a whole is one of the worst perpetrators of unnecessary complexity. And I don't mean - referring to an example in the article - because an HR officer might spend time chasing managers for completed appraisal forms. In fact, from the lamentable degree of voluntarism around conducting performance reviews that I've encountered in many organisations, I think HR staff might need to do more and not less of that particular activity.
What I mean is the general cant and obfuscation that surrounds the world of HR generally. I often train or speak to groups of HR practitioners who, led astray by HR guru writings and presentations or direct mail from consultants, have tortured themselves over the question how they can be more 'strategic'. Their exposure to all of this leaves them perplexed about what all this 'adding value to the business' means. What they really want to get to the bottom of is, the day to day practical things they might do to make themselves an indispensable pillar of the business rather than a necessary evil clearing up the mess made by managers who find managing people difficult.
I find that the mist soon lifts for them - with visible relief - when it's pointed out that whatever the business, whatever the climate, what managers want from HR invariably boils down to six things:
The only complexity involved is the need to work out how best to do these things within your particular environment for the foreseeable future. All the rest is just noise.
Helen Giles is director of human resources and consultancy, Broadway Homelessness & Support
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