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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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. 

My first profound TV interview 

The below was my status feed a year ago on Facebook. I thought I’d share it so people can either laugh or learn. Both are very important. 

Today was my first TV interview. I think I’m supposed to pretend that it’s all in a day’s work and I’m blasé about this kind of stuff… Lots of people I know seem to do this regularly. For me it was my first time and I wanted to share the experience so that everybody else knows it is ok to get nervous and you survive and learn as you go. 

Here’s how it went:

1. 3 visits to the toilet in the hour leading up to it

2. “Better with jacket on or off? Or on? No, off… On? Off” – that lasted about five minutes 

3. There is a large amount of unusable footage where I’m caught out by hugely difficult questions like “What does HR do?” and “What is your job?”.

4. I use the word “profound” about 17 times. Everything is a profound change or has profound impact or is profoundly interesting. 

5. I imagine anyone watching in HD will be able to see my lip becoming increasingly sweaty. SD viewers will be OK. 

6. I’m pretty sure I broke every guidance on position offered to me by our PR team, but it was such a blur I can’t quite work out if I managed the whole set. 

7. At one point they asked me “What are the main employment trends currently?”. I couldn’t manage one trend. After a pause I said… “Self employment is going up which is good and….not good” 

That’s how it really went. 
#Failoutloud folks, as the very wise Marco would encourage me to do.