They need to #learn… Or maybe… 

There is a framing issue with thinking about organisational capability (and individual capability) that has been troubling me. And that’s the posing of organisational issues as learning needs –  rather than learning needs AND/OR required systemic changes. 

It’s an evolution of the problem of L&D just thinking about their offering in terms of a classroom or online experience. It’s the assumption that the problem associated with a lack of delivery of an action (or behaviour) is a lack of capability or knowledge. 

I don’t have stats. 

I’m just going to say confidently that more times than not – unless the skill is technical – issues are systemic or a combination of required learning and organisational adjustment.  
For example… Our leaders aren’t compassionate. Our leaders aren’t emotionally intelligent. Our leaders don’t care about their people. 

I bet if you found them in the middle of a family crisis most of them are. Because most of them are human. They just don’t feel required or expected to be that in the office. In fact they may feel the opposite. 

So better questions, before we design learning support or interventions, might be 

  • What is getting in the way? 
  • Why aren’t people feeling acting in a different way is legitimate? 
  • Why are they choosing to be different? 
  • And how could we influence that choice?

Because it could be 

  • Process signposts the wrong things 
  • Leaders role model the wrong things 
  • Incentives align to the wrong things
  • Stories abound in the organisation of what happened last time

Attempting to get someone to change their behaviour in a sustained way when the environmental pointers are pushing them away is a frustrating and sometimes impossible journey. 

Asking them what’s getting them in the way often may be a cheaper, faster, better way of getting to the heart of the issue. If you want learning to stick it’s the organisation’s responsibility to make sure it is supported by the organisational systems. 

L&D + supportive culture = sustained change. 

And finally… Would you quantify the below as a success? 

That bridge in happier times

When the Olympics were in London in 2012 I took my daughter up to see the marathon. We arrived at London Bridge station and walked across the sealed off bridge. Sealed off for better reasons. 

Whilst we were crossing it we came across a group of French athletes who had won medals. They were letting people try them on and have their photos taken with them. They were dancing on the bridge and there wasn’t one person who wasn’t smiling or enjoying the moment. I remember thinking how amazing it was to share a moment like that, but also to be able to walk down the middle of London Bridge. 

For those of us too young to really remember life in London in the 70s/80s there is a sobering list of attacks and their impact 

here https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_terrorist_incidents_in_London

  • Harrods
  • Canary Wharf
  • House of Commons
  • The Royal Parks
  • The City 
  • Hotels
  • Shopping centres
  • The Tower of London
  • All the major stations

Almost every symbolic place you can think of suffered at some point. They were closed or damaged. 

The city will recover. It is built upon smiles and scars. Friends and families may never recover. Some things will have changed forever.

I think it’s OK to be scared. I’m scared. I think it’s OK to not know what to do or where to go. I see a lot of messages saying people’s thoughts are with London. London will be fine. 

It’s each other we need to look out for and challenge to stay strong. And stay smart and vigilant. And remember that whilst action is needed, division can only result in more conflict. 

London Bridge in 2012

How I Became a Success in HR 

I’m often asked how I became successful in HR. 

I’ve never viewed myself as such – I know some great people who I consider in a different league to me – but in the spirit of the type of list you’ll find in Inc or on LinkedIn I thought I’d give you my key lessons…

These are all things that are hallmarks of my career. I assume they are the secret to my unfathomable success 

  • Sometimes just forget to have lunch and then announce to colleagues at about 4pm that you can’t believe the canteen is shut 
  • Go through periods of insisting to your team that discipline is key and then blatantly ignore some rules due to expediency. Try to explain why it’s different for you
  • Have a beard. I’m not being sexist, I’m just observing that I’m more experienced than ever and currently have a beard. It seems likely it’s causal
  • Be of combined Welsh and Indian extraction. Or as close to that as you can get. If that seems tricky for you to achieve then adopt more of a ‘growth’ mindset
  • Accept every mistake you make is a learning opportunity. Every mistake someone else makes is proof that some people never learn
  • Hire people smarter than you whenever you can. Then tell them about how the last people you had working for you were even smarter to keep them in their place 
  • Talk about big data when you know it’s not and robots when you know people mean AI just because explaining the difference has got a bit tiresome now
  • Meet lots of people for coffee 
  • Recognise that success is a complex amalgam of opportunity, luck, readiness, work, aptitude, environment and timing and the recipe to it can rarely be replicated and is unlikely to be found in a list
  • Be able to poke fun at yourself

Best of luck

What have you done for me lately? 

I just picked up on this quote here 

I spent Saturday with some of our volunteers talking about how we might evolve our local networks and communities. We’ve made real progress in our relationships with our volunteers in this area – and I know this because people keep on stopping me to tell me that we have. 

So I’m sitting on a table with people talking about potential next steps and somebody said to me ‘I don’t know why you just didn’t do this when you started. It obviously needs to change’. 

My answer was in two parts. The first got a nod. The second part got a nod and a laugh. 

i) I wouldn’t have listened long or hard enough at that point to be confident I was doing what was right, rather than what I felt to be right. My decisions wouldn’t have been informed by enough data points

ii) You would have probably told me to bog off as you wouldn’t have trusted me 

There is truth in both of those statements. 

Change takes time, restraint and trust. Before I could ask a group of people to consider change I had to show that we (the organisation, my team and I) were committed to supporting them in the now and understood what they already did and what we wouldn’t want to lose. Then I had to give them confidence that the change would be better (we are still talking…) and that it wouldn’t break what we already had. 

There is debate over what percentage of change programmes fail. Whatever that percentage is my bitter experience tells me that without investing in understanding the now and the pains of transition any attempts to change will, more often than not, struggle. 

The challenge isn’t setting the vision, that’s the easy bit. It’s getting people to want to build a sturdy bridge to it and helping them understand you will get your hands dirty with too. If it is your vision then that’s the least you need to commit if you want it to be other people’s vision too. 

London wakes

I was on one of the first tubes this morning. On the way to catch an early train from King’s Cross. It’s strange to pass through a station this large when it is devoid of people. It’s beautiful and unnerving all at once. I missed the bustle. For all our complaints about hating the commute, for those of us who travel in London regularly, there is a safety and familiarity in the crush. 

An acceptance and understanding of a shared rules in our own community. Where we know to queue for the Jubilee line, but no other ones. And where we know which signs to ignore in our most familiar stations to shave 30 seconds off a transfer. Millions of people who have never met coordinating their movements together. It’s both unnatural and a beautiful thing. 

By the time most of you wake life will be carrying on as normal for some and be changed forever for others. London, as a city, will be changed yet resolute. There are signs everywhere of a city impacted by sad events over many years – CCTV, the station warnings about suspicious activity and the posters. We keep going, we keep travelling and we keep hoping. I don’t know if it is defiance or habit, but maybe maintaining habit in the face of threat is an act of defiance in itself. 

I’m due at the House of Commons for a reception next week and my colleagues visit for work more often than I do. It’s a special place. Symbolic and vibrant.  I don’t know how that experience will change in the aftermath of yesterday’s tragic events. It will be sad that it might. My thoughts are with the victims, the families and friends impacted and the emergency services that responded or lost a colleague. 

My thoughts are also with the communities that, by undesired and unwarranted association with the incident, will be impacted in the way they are treated. For our own benefit and for London’s we need to maintain our habits, but also our reaction. The last year has been tough and undoubtedly divisive. Now is a time to focus on the sanctity of human life and what we have in common. The events of yesterday need to represent a need to unite and heal, not an opportunity to further create schisms. Hate and distrust creates and fuels hate and distrust. The common enemy we need to unite against is simply anyone who would seek to divide us. 

If you are reading this on your way to work then try and build a bridge today. Try and speak to someone that you wouldn’t normally. Try and build a human bond with someone that wasn’t there before. Our relationships are what make life worth living. Show your defiance wherever you are by bringing your communities a little closer in response to a tragic and divisive act. 

London will keep waking up each day and we will keep living and working together. 

A nearly empty King’s Cross

Outcomes drive and Kenny Dalglish 

I remember hearing a story about Kenny Dalglish. It may or may not be true. It may or may not be about Kenny Dalglish. It goes a bit like this. 

At the very successful Liverpool side of the 1980’s a new player joins the squad. He notices that Kenny Dalglish isn’t in training and asks a coach where he is. The answer he gets is that Dalglish is playing golf.

The new recruit is outraged that Dalglish isn’t training with the rest of them and demands to know if he is allowed to skip training to play golf too.

The reply he gets is elegant and simple ‘You can go play golf when you can play golf in the week and then play football as well as Kenny does every Saturday’. 

I’m hearing less about Results Only Work Environments recently, perhaps as it was just one of those phases that we go through where people focus on exciting words. I am, however, hearing more people focus on outcomes being critical. If you focus on quality of decision making, work in line with core principles and then drive good outcomes you will find flexibility enough for everyone to succeed. 

My first HR Manager sat me down after 2 years working together and said she had confession. She had been waiting two years for me to miss a deadline or for a project to go out of control. I asked why that was concerned and she said it was so she could coach me on the fact I’d miss deadlines without more discipline in writing things down. It was my first HR job and I hadn’t realised the way I worked wasn’t the norm. 

She said it took some time for her to understand that I had a slightly abnormal memory and (whilst I have plenty of weaknesses) my mistakes wouldn’t come from forgetting what needed to be done or underestimating complexity. As with many people my strengths and weaknesses, for all these years, probably are quite similar now to then. She needed to support me on those areas – and not assume that my challenges and risks were the same as the rest of the team. 
If your requirement of people is that they all work in the same way then you mitigate their weaknesses, but also blunt their strengths. There is nuance in there – only an idiot or a genius would start a large project without a clear comms plan, stakeholder map and consultation methodology  – but there is scope for us to embrace difference without breaking organisations.

But remember the test is that this only works if your team can deliver at their best on a Saturday. One day we’ll get to a point where flexible working means creating the conditions where people work best, not just where they get a day at home each week. But that’s for another day. For now just take a step back and think about how much of you work and your team’s is really designed in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. 

Treat me like I’m me

Short one. 

There is a lovely line that Aaron Sorkin has recycled a few time in his scripts. You can find a brilliant video of his recycled lines here

The line is “Don’t talk to me like I’m other people”

It’s normally uttered by a character angered that they are being treated as though there is no history between them. As though there is no trust. As though there is no real understanding. 

Too often I’ve seen and heard superficial observations of motivation in the workplace that don’t really get to the heart of that individual’s values. We treat them like motivations are consistent across groups of people. 

Tim is upset. The conversation is then about why someone in Tim’s position would be upset. 

It should be about what we know about Tim. 

Don’t talk about Tim like he is other people.