What else would need to change…

I’m on a flight to Aberdeen to chat to some folk about the future of work. I’ve just read a piece by Tim Harford in the on board magazine about how we ignore less glamorous inventions in favour of exciting and more obviously revolutionary technology. Barbed wire and shopping containers. We undervalue the change those things have allowed. It’s very inconvenient to read this as I’m off to talk about technology driven change.

One of his final points is that we need to ask of any new invention ‘what else would need to change to enable this to have impact?’. There is no doubt that some of the things I’ll be talking about today not only will drive change, but need change to take place for them to be a success. All too often we think of technology as the solution to problems – without thinking about how it works for us and how best to work with it.

Sometimes what needs to change is the way we work. Sometimes what needs to change is a process. Sometimes it is thinking.

As a thought experiment imagine you thought of people as technology (I promise not to call them human capital). If you were introducing people into work for the first time them what would we need to change to enable them to be a success?

If we focused on people as the source of competitive advantage rather than waiting for technology then how would we support them?

It’s probably a false choice. It is the two together. But our greatest creation is arguably the next generation of shapers of work and technology – what are we doing to get the best out of them?

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Customer focus, leadership visits and police cars

I’m working up in London a fair bit at the moment and most days I head for sushi at the itsu on Sackville Street. The staff there are warm, welcoming, smiley, prompt, efficient and the store/restaurant always looks great. They remember me, they engage and they never do anything but enhance my day. The food is always lovely and the soup is healthy and great value. They also follow up when people mention them on Twitter…

Last week they had some people bouncing around the store giving them feedback, asking them questions, laughing and joking with them. I asked one of the staff who they were and they said ‘it is a head office visit’ and then they grinned and said ‘so I better pretend that I’m talking to you’. It was a joke because we were both aware that the observation by head office didn’t make any difference to the way I was being treated. They are nice every single day.They didn’t have to fake an experience for Head Office to see – the experience they give comes out of habit and passion.

A week before the itsu visit I had been chatting to someone who works for a large Financial Services firm. They were also due a Head Office visit – so the following things had happened.

  • Desks tidied
  • Meetings rearranged
  • Dress down Friday had been cancelled.

Essentially for the duration of the visit by ‘Head Office’ a fake environment would be created in order for that office to pass muster.

I had a similar experience when I worked in retail (yes, retail) when a Head Office visit to the store I worked in resulted in the following

  • holidays cancelled
  • extra shifts brought in to tidy the store
  • double staffing on the day of the visit to ensure no queues at the tills
  • large scale panic

The knock on effects were that in order to hit staffing budget for the rest of the week after the visit the levels of cover were cut , so you had a superb service if you happened to be there on the same day as the Head Office visit but ‘not just queues, but M&S queues’ for the rest of the week.

There are a number of tools available to better understand culture. I favour Burke Litwin for looking at causality and interrelationships and Johnson and Scholes’ Cultural Web for drawing things on napkins that can readily be communicated. I was once told that making complicated things simple is an important trick and the cultural web does that well.

Or you can just look at what people do differently when leaders are about – and understand how strong the culture really is.

  1. Whether observed or not the team at itsu are committed to doing an excellent job for their customer. Their standards don’t vary based on if they think they can be seen. There were good conversations happening that I heard about how to make things better for customers. There was trust and a desire to get things right. There was energy. Everybody wins
  2. At the FS company there is obviously a level of concern at local management level that if the senior team saw the state of the office as it normally is they would be displeased. That dressing down on a Friday wouldn’t be acceptable. That speaks to a lack of alignment and a lack of trust – also of the emergence of a subculture that isn’t brave enough to exist in the open. The leader that did the visit won’t have been able to learn about how things really operate. Nobody gains
  3. At the retailer the impacts were even worse. Having worked there for several years I can say that the usual commitment to customer was excellent. What I saw was genuine customer detriment being caused by leaders attempting to get closer to the situation. Leaders who created such fear that they disrupted work that they would actually have been proud of. If they had done an unannounced visit normally they would have been relatively pleased but found the odd mistake. If they did an unannounced visit the day after their tour, when staffing levels were down…Everybody loses

I heard a wonderful speech a couple of weeks ago about leaders being treated like police cars on a motorway. People stick slavishly to the speed limit so as not to get in trouble with you. It creates an artificial strip of motorway where the behaviour is different – and then people revert back to breaking the law.

Great leaders and great customer focused cultures operate on the understanding that people should be focused on doing things well, not avoiding getting in trouble. This operates at team as well as organisational level.

  • Ask yourself if your team are the same when you aren’t around (or even ask them…)
  • Ask yourself if you would be happy for a customer to observe your meetings

If the answer to either is ‘no’ then you might just be a police car.

 

 

Update: popped into Itsu today and the manager sent this across to say thanks for being so nice about his team 🙂
image

25 Leadership Quotes you’ve never heard

A few weeks ago I checked my timeline on Twitter and the entire page was just leadership soundbites.

Some had been put onto an attractive background to make them look more important, some had been attributed to Aristotle or Einstein to make them seem more important – but essentially it was a hint that there was nothing new to share – unless you count new tweets from this guy.

wpid-1395785603522.jpg

I tweeted that what I thought modern business really needed to drag it completely out of the mire of the financial crisis was #moreleadershipquotes. This is a selection of how people responded.  Take them and do good in the world. Put them above your desk, turn them into calendars – there is more honesty here than you will find in most.

  1. “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed… so let them dress themselves”
  2. “I always maintain that no one person is bigger than this organisation. Although I am about the same size”
  3. “Leaders need edge – that’s the bit they stuff with cheese in pizza these days and I get first dibs” Jack Welch
  4. “Culture isn’t part of the game, culture is THE only game. If we don’t count Scrabble or Monopoly or Hide and Seek”
  5. “You find the most successful leaders at the back. It’s easier to avoid blame if you keep away from the actual action”
  6. “Don’t swear the small stuff. Actually don’t sweat at all. No one likes a stinky leader”
  7. “You don’t need a title to be a leader… anyone from any class in society can be an omnipotent CEO with real power “
  8. “We must design workplaces that foster collaboration, places to pin up the notices banning social media”
  9. “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, automate it and I really don’t care unless it breaks”
  10. “The best leaders create more leaders. But not through cloning, because that’s illegal”
  11. “Hire for attitude, train for skills. Unless your trainers are idiots with a good attitude”
  12. “You don’t need a title to be a leader. But seriously, it better start with Senior and end in VP”
  13. “Leaders take the risks other people wouldn’t. Ask anyone at Enron”
  14. “Leadership is the art of getting other people to do work. Because that golf won’t play itself”
  15. “feedback is the breakfast of champions, making culture a total loser as it eats strategy”
  16. “you can always spot the leader in the room, if you can’t just get an org chart out”
  17. “a good leader never takes the credit (except at bonus time, they aren’t idiots)”
  18. “leaders aren’t born, they are made. Although obviously they are born”
  19. “A good leader is like a conductor- he orders people around with a stick”
  20. “managers do things right, leaders do the right things, management gurus write things”
  21. “Do not lead from the front. Lead from the back, where it’s easier I see if people are on their smartphones”
  22. “culture eats strategy for breakfast – and then market forces eat culture as a snack
  23. “not everything that can be counted counts, but check out my pivot-table anyway”
  24. “Teach a man to fish, and he might quit and become a fisherman, so don’t teach anyone how to fish. Ever”

And remember…”Leadership isn’t a metaphor; it’s forging iron of resilience in fires of complexity”

thanks to plenty of people – in particular Neil Usher, Andrew Jacobs, David Goddin, Simon Heath, Broc Edwards and the brilliant Jane Watson

5 essential HR speedreads (pt 1)

The 5 books I aim to cover in these blogs are all worth a read. To make things faster (and probably shallower for you) I’m going to give you a short summary each books and then key lessons for HR – so it’s almost like you don’t have to read them.

Obviously I would recommend that you do read them- but this should be enough for you to sound relatively familiar with them at conferences etc. If somebody asks you for more detail simply explain that you read so much in this area ‘it has all just become part of a central repository of concepts in my mind, rather than me segregating by title or author’.

That should sound impressive without being a lie, in that it’s true to say you aren’t in a position to segregate by author.

The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinov

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Drunkards-Walk-Randomness-Rules-Lives/dp/0141026472

Summary: Your brain is attempting to impose patterns of things where patterns don’t exist.That is why we hold to feelings like after 5 heads we must be ‘due’ a tail. We also assign things a status of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ way before we are logically in a position to do so – as we might be in the middle of a logically possible/probable sequence. You throw a coin and it comes down tails the first 10 times and you assume it is biased; in fact that isn’t as unlikely as you would think. People look for patterns in the stock market, but in fact the patterns stocks and shares take often look like a drunk tottering down the road, bumping off things as he goes.Hence the title. If you enjoy this then the slightly more challenging ‘The Black Swan’ by Taleb should also grace your bookshelf.

Key HR lessons:

  1. Performance tends to regress towards a mean, that’s why people sometimes think their teams respond to being told off or slack off when praised. The team’s performance is just regressing towards a mean- what the team would normally do. The manager has often had no effect – but we like to assign cause and effect to make sense of the world and make ourselves feel important. Next time you go to ‘coach’ a poor performer hold back, see if their performance uplifts without your intervention. If it does then reflect on your career and how often you have really made a difference.
  2. We completely underestimate the fact that some stuff just happens. And some stuff will always just happen. Reviewing it for meaning when it was a random event can be counterproductive. Could you have done something differently on that last project that failed? Possibly, but even with the best planning some things just don’t come off. The trick is just not to postrationalise things and draw conclusions for change in future behaviour.
  3. You (probably) regularly draw the wrong conclusions from small data sets. If you are going to start analysing data then make sure everyone is aware with it’s limitations – starting off with yourself. If you have 5 leavers from your company in a row called ‘Steve’ it probably isn’t worth your while pulling together a ‘let’s retain Steve’ taskforce. Part of there being no pattern is sometimes that things look like patterns, but aren’t.
  4. There is lots of luck/randomness involved in success. There is lots of bad luck/randomness involved in failure. So stop judging people by their status or wealth and start judging their content. Research has shown that people give more credence to people who earn more – where you can, start making sure your company gives airtime to the best ideas, not those who are at the top of the payroll.
  5. We are less good at making judgments than we think, even in our areas of expertise.As an experiment a Nobel Prize winning book was sent to 20 publishers. They all rejected it. JK Rowling’s recent work only became really successful when the name of the writer was revealed. Recognise your own blindspots – and the best way to do that is to get people you trust to question you.

The human understanding, once it has adopted an opinion, collects any instances that confirm it, and although the contrary instances may be more numerous and weighty, it either does not notice them, or rejects them in order that this opinions will remain unshaken’ Francis Bacon

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn here -> uk.linkedin.com/in/daviddsouza180/

And follow my #bookofBlogs project and other posts by signing up for email updates in the sidebar.

Dave

HR Social – Unicorns, rainbows and pixies

Emotivism – I feel a bit bored of social media without the fighting

Prescriptivism – everyone should fight, because I’m a bit bored of social media

Yes, it’s a trite summary of someone else’s position – but it’s provocative, likely to start an argument and possibly upsetting so it’s actually ok.

————–

Yesterday I read this blog http://goo.gl/IGMvG by Neil Morrison. Neil had been tweeting similar for the past few days, so I thought I would reply. Then some people agreed with Neil, so I attempted to pop their bubbles and things got a bit out of hand. Later on things got even less professional with people attacking each other directly and losing sight of the point altogether. The final comments posted were simply not something you would ever like to see. It was just abuse. I wasn’t involved in them, but as you can see they are personal, distasteful and not fun.

I’m guessing, but I imagine Neil is delighted that he has acted as some kind of provocateur (not delighted about the abuse, but the debate), bringing more fire to the topic of social HR. Stirring up some action, creating a platform for more openness. In contrast, what I was seeing was how quickly things disintegrate when a lack of respect is shown. I saw nothing creditable, no quality of debate, none of the upside that Neil originally posted about. It was like telling everyone in a meeting that from this point on you just need to shout loudest to win. Neil’s view (lifted from his blog) is that –

Social HR should be:

Edgy

Argumentative

Difficult

Provoking

Upsetting

Social HR has become:

Cosy

Warm

Consensual

Boring

Predictable

Guess what – I think the first list paints a picture that is horribly exclusive and the second one a horrible caricature . If the point is ‘wouldn’t a bit more constructive challenge be useful?’ then the answer is normally ‘yes’. However, to think that anything (a business or a group) should aspire to a culture that upsets people and is ‘difficult’ is something that, historically, only people already in power desire.

Since I’ve started tweeting/blogging I have been reliant on the kindness of strangers, the warmth of a community and encouragement from people that I’ve never met to make a contribution. That is how this works, we get excited about first time bloggers because we recognise the bravery in those first steps. People contribute in the hope they have something to offer – quite often it may not be ‘new’, but it will always be a slightly different angle. People do this because there aren’t monsters lurking in the background waiting to leap on their mistakes.  People do this because most people realise that, deliberately upsetting other people is counterproductive, if you want to to get the best from others, rather than just ‘win” the debate. The job of leaders is to move people through the cycle of forming, storming, norming, performing as quickly as they can – not to keep it in storming just because you used to like it that way.

Ignore the words ‘HRSocial’  and you’ll find any group benefits from being welcoming, supportive and curious. If you give support and create openness you end up with ideas. If you shoot down ideas, simply because you want to upset people under the banner of debate, then you are killing thoughts. Steinbeck said ‘ideas are like rabbits, get two, look after them and soon you have hundreds’. We now have hundreds being socialised on Twitter and blogs, it’s harder to track down the ones you might want to keep as pets… but the choice….wow.

Do you know what else kills debate? Crude polarisation. The thought that if we create something ‘warm’ then it can’t have edge and must be boring. Or that consensus means there has been no debate. Or that upsetting people shows that you have edge. That if you aren’t upsetting people they only other option is that you are obsessed with unicorns, rainbows and pixies and would never challenge something you believe to be wrong.  Some of the finest people I’ve worked known have been able to challenge, provoke and shape  my thinking without ever having to upset me. In fact, if they had upset me it is unlikely I would have allowed my thinking to be challenged.

Neil wrote a ten point agenda for change in HR that I really liked. It contains the following parts that I think apply to ‘social’ as well as in business. After all, we are people in and out of the office…

We need to stop saying “no”. Our language, our communication to the business needs to be positive, not negative. We need to be owners of good news. Deal with problems individually, not by memo. Stop sending out dumb emails, if it isn’t positive, don’t send it.

We need to accept that you don’t get influence through control, you get influence through other people’s positive experience of you. Get influence through people wanting you involved not by telling them you have to be.

We need to listen to our employees and our managers. We need to stop seeing them as being “the problem” and start seeing them as being the people that we are here to help. They are the reason we have jobs, so stop moaning about them and start listening.

We need to be more human. We need to get out and talk, interact, spend time with people, we need to be empathetic and understanding, we need to feel. Sitting in the HR department bitching is not going to change anything.

I could sign up for that for being what we need to do on Twitter, with a few tweaks; I can’t sign up for being difficult just for the sake of it. There are other people involved when we are difficult. Those people matter. If you upset someone on social because that is what you think you should do then it is cowardly. You aren’t doing it face to face, you don’t have to deal with the consequences and unlike work they were giving their energy to the conversation for free. Bad form, bad form.

So what’s new?

Neil makes the point that he is bored of reading the same old things, that everyone is still talking about engagement surveys etc.  Well, that’s true, but everyone has a different angle, in fact, when I started blogging I read an article about blogging for HR that inspired me to publish my first blog, it was written by Neil and contained the following

I won’t have anything new to say
Take it from me, there isn’t a single blog post that hasn’t been written before, fact. But there are a million different perspectives to be had on a subject and with the news constantly changing, you get a whole load of potential new topics presenting themselves each week. Blogs that add insight, perspective, thought and challenge are as popular as those that try to be at the cutting edge.

I haven’t read a blog that I haven’t taken something from, even if it is just one person’s view of the world – and I’m always glad they took the time to share their view. I was glad I read Neil’s, it gave me the chance to write this. He’s written some great stuff and I’m glad we have people injecting debate, but I can never be glad when someone is the architect of conflict, because normally it isn’t them getting hurt.

(slight caveat – this isn’t the start of the ‘Dave vs. Neil’ wars to keep people entertained. This is just a counterpoint, similar to the excellent one offered here wp.me/p2YgNX-fq by Simon Heath. Which attracted less debate, but also less bile. Neil actually has been nice to me personally, supportive and welcoming. I just want everyone to have the benefit of that)

If you want to know what ‘social’ constructively might be for I’ve added a feel good video…

 

Simple things – language and HR

The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips, animations and more

It isn’t that hard.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but the things we do actually aren’t rocket science. Unless you are currently a very involved Business Partner for NASA ( in which case, apologies – but it’s hardly brain surgery).

It does seem that s all too often we require the comfort blanket of credibility that is jargon. How can HR become more ‘commercial?’  – is it by asking people to ‘have a bluesky roundtable, lasered in on improving synergistic dialogue that will improve idea socialisation and then to carpark any issues to take them offline’?

Do we really believe that the leadership teams we work with hear something like that and think ‘great idea, team!’ – or are we hoping they will be so confused that it will act in a way similar to Latin in a legal document – to distance understanding to the point where most believe they are reliant on an ‘expert’ to make sense of what is going on.

If we want transparent and inclusive organisations (most people do) then don’t make language a barrier make it an ‘enabler’ – better still, just make it helpful.

So here is my brief list of words that we could probably kill without anybody thinking less of us, feel free to add more

Add value – try just helping. Everyone understands help. ‘Am I helping you?’ is a powerful question. ‘Am I adding value?’ is asking for reassurance

Engagement – if you can’t define engagement  in a way that doesn’t immediately make someone think of a survey – then try another word. Are you scared of people being passionate about working for you and believing in what you do? Does it sound too woolly? Or was that what you wanted in the first place.

Stakeholder management – you have customers, shareholders and colleagues.  Which ones does this impact? Go make them happy. When I think of stakeholders I think of this drawing by the fantastically talented Simon Heath (@Simonheath1)

Contracting – try just agreeing. You are agreeing something with a person, don’t turn them into a transaction – you both lose out.

Big data – you probably don’t know what this means. Have a look http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_data Suprised? Stop using it because it is trendy – try doing some basic analysis of your data

Performance management – when you say you are ‘performance managing’ someone do you mean ‘I’m finally accepting I might have to sack them so I’ve started some documentation’? Thought so. What were you doing before? When they are performing you weren’t managing their performance? That’s a bit embarrassing – you only appear to have a role in failure. Awkward

Employee attrition – you made a bad hire or someone found somewhere better to work. It is unlikely that someone ‘attrited’ – it just feels nicer to say it because when we use technical language it loses some of the immediacy. ‘What percentage of our people didn’t want to work here anymore last year?’ is actually a far scarier and useful question than ‘what is our annualised attrition rate YTD?’. People leave, they don’t attrite. At the point you apologise for ‘having to attrite the party early’ it will be acceptable.

Managing expectations effectively – just let them know why you are going to miss the target. They are a grown up, you are – have a chat instead of attempting to manage them

Generation X/Y/Z – imagine how you would feel if you went out for a meal and were allocated your food based on age… How annoyed would you be? Or if the cinema automatically ushered you away from the movie you wanted to watch – because you were 6 months older than their target demographic. Doesn’t feel like a great way to run a business does it? So don’t do it internally, learn about your people and be flexible in how you treat them – not because generations are different, but because people are. Kierkegaard wrote ‘if you label me you negate me’ . If even his generation understood that….

Significant culture change –this appears to be interchangeable with ‘transformation programme’ which in turn seems to involve ‘significant structural change’ which in turn seems to require HR professionals who are ‘experienced in consultation’ which in turn seems to involve people ‘familiar with large scale redundancy programmes and TUPE’.  They aren’t interchangeable terms, I appreciate the interdependency, but changing a culture does not primarily involve needing to be able to sack people with minimal risk

So, that is my list of shame, please feel free to add more in the comments or on Twitter.

Dave

HR as a wartime consigliere


In the last Blog I wrote about Star Wars – and in my first I wrote about Jaws. The plan is to keep struggling through films (and other things) until I end up scraping the bottom of the media barrel, so feel free to stop reading when I start producing articles with titles like

  • lessons for OD from Kevin Costner’s epic ‘Waterworld’
  • how could Bill and Ted improve their team dynamics?
  • What was Garfield’s learning journey between Garfield 1 and Garfield 2?
  • Alien vs Predator – when is conflict beneficial?
  • Herbie – is it ever right to go bananas? 
Until then I’ll work through some more recognisable territory, so I’m moving on to The Godfather. 
 
Fascinating factoids
  • The Godfather was written by Mario Puzo, who also wrote the screenplay to Superman – but you wouldn’t know it from the contrasting tone
  • Francis Ford Coppola managed to find parts in the film for his {deep breath} sister, mother, father, two sons and his daughter. The musical play in The Godfather Part II was written by his grandfather
Get on with it…it isn’t a movie blog…

In both the book and the film there is an interesting and key role in the Mafia family – described as consigliori in the book, but as consigliere in the film series. No matter the name, the role is pivotal in the organisation, providing challenge and counsel to the Head of the Family. They are  a trusted advisor who is able to debate decisions and challenge behaviour in a way that isn’t expected in the rest of the organisation. They are closer to the thoughts, plans and motivations of the Head of the Family than anyone else.
 
You’ll notice on the org chart below that it sits off to the side of the organisation – a direct report  – but operating at a different level to an Underboss (let’s call the ‘underboss’ a ‘Head of Department’). You’ll also notice that, in a business where decisions are genuinely life and death, the org chart doesn’t look that dissimilar to most companies
Hey, look at my Mafia Org Chart!

And that relates to HR how…

There are a couple of interesting things about the role

i) I think it is a role that HR/OD  should be looking to fill. Helping to run the commercial business – whilst providing support,counsel and challenging thinking at the very top. If we aren’t at the top table we are letting it be lonely at the top

ii) I think the requirements for key roles, including that of HR, change depending on the environment

But yesterday you were all about consistency?

In yesterday’s blog I suggested that HR needed to be brave and consistently principled when making and acting on difficult decisions. I genuinely believe that, but the fact is sometimes there is a different skill set required to deliver in difficult times. People have different strengths that suit different environments and challenges. 

In the first film the consiglieri of the Corleone family, their most trusted advisor, Tom Hagen, is demoted temporarily when a war breaks out between New York’s crime families. The reason given is this

“things are going to get rough, and I need a wartime consiglieri.” Michael Corleone

So the key reflections are…

are we consiglieri? Are we running our department – or playing a key role in the running the business? Do we have that level of trust and credibility with the most senior people in the organisation?

are we peacetime or wartime consiglieri? Are we at our best when the chips are down – or when we have time and space to think? Neither is necessarily better, but understanding which one you lean towards can help you do two things: i) reflect on where you need to strengthen your skills  ii) be aware of how much or little help you may be able to offer in different situations

do you notice changing requirements? if the dynamic of your business changes have you stopped and thought whether the team you needed yesterday is still the team you need for today? And tomorrow?

All done?

Well, very quickly,for those of you searching for work/life balance -, the Mafia had a good guiding rule on that too