My job – come and get it

For the last (almost two years) I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to head up the CIPD’s relationship with our branch network and with our Council. Our branch network is one of the world’s biggest communities of HR and people development practitioners. It’s a remarkable thing. It runs over 1000 events each year and supports everything from policy development to mentoring. It’s our biggest face to face channel and like anything else we do is constantly evolving to improve its support for the profession. People give their time for free and they deserve our support and recognition.

My job is up for grabs.

I have a wonderful team (please note: if you are in this team and reading this blog I’d like you to get back to work and don’t get cocky) and we have ambitious plans to further improve support for the community we serve. We have built up some real momentum over the past couple of years and Council (which represents each branch and is part of our governance structure) is supportive and ready for change. There is a great job here for someone to take on and make my time here a grubby footnote in history, which I’d love to see.

In this role you’d also be supporting the London branches (we have 7) which represent well over 20000 of our membership. Again, we’ve made progress together, but your job would be to come in and be much better than me.

There are challenges – we have over 50 branches and supporting that geographical distribution is tricky and we have over 900 volunteers and that’s complex in terms of relationships and expectations. I’m busy and I make lots of compromises and lots of decisions I make will be received differently by very different groups. We need to make it a truly modern network, supported by technology but with people at its heart.

If you are interested you can find the official overview on this link. It’s been an honour to work with such an inspiring group of people. It would be good to find someone who would like to support and inspire them in turn. If I can help with any insight then please get in touch, otherwise please share (or apply).

PS.

Why did I take the job? Because it’s a massive part of the train set. It’s the biggest face to face channel for my own profession and everything we make better there makes it better for the profession. That was too attractive not to spend some time influencing. And I got to influence some other things at the CIPD too. We don’t need another me, the job could be done in a host of ways. We just need someone better than me – because our volunteers and the profession deserve constant improvement from their professional body.

PPS when moving on from a role I always think of my favourite Dilbert.

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L&D, specialism and accessibility

I love the L&D profession. I know great people doing great work in enabling organisations and people to flourish. I also lament, at times, the profession’s ability to progress its own thinking and activity and a reliance on outmoded methodologies or thinking.

I say ‘lament’ because I don’t think in the time I’ve been involved in the sector I’ve met anyone that I didn’t want to do a good job, but there are things that set apart some of the best folk I’ve come across

Openness to challenge – they are willing to be proved wrong and change their approach and thinking when they get new information. They learn

Critical thinking – it is linked to the above but they poke and prod at ideas and information from different angles. They seek out new information to challenge their thinking and they use logic, rather than just emotion. Importantly they balance their own experiences and external research/evidence.

Breadth of ambition – they want people and organisations to do well. They understand what the organisation they support needs to do to succeed at a level beyond what happens in traditional chalk and talk

A feel for people – they normally can relate to people and get them to open up. They want to help and they find ways to do so – either at an individual or organisational level

They make the complex simple – they don’t use technical or new funky terms to create an aura of credibility. They want to be accessible and relatable to create credibility through results. There’s a depth of knowledge, but it surfaces in accessible forms.

They aren’t all on Twitter/social media – I love Twitter, I learn from people on there the whole time, there is a really good community there. But I know people delivering great results who either hate it or have only a passing interest in it. To anyone saying that you can’t do a good job in this line of work unless you are active on social media I simply say ‘bunkum’

Bravery – they are brave enough to explore, to challenge and to be wrong. Often they aren’t wrong. I’m all for this narrative about failure being occasionally acceptable, but it is still supposed to lead to success (last time I checked)

They love lists – if you have reached this far you might just be brilliant.

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?

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.