Proximity Problems 

I’ve got a longer post written on the issue of what I call ‘the proximity problem’ within organisations that I’ll release next year. For now I have this. 

When my mother had late stage cancer her spine was hugely weak. She risked a broken back or ribs with any small collision. She also had poor balance due to the impact of her treatment.  Walking with her around a city or town centre, or when using public transport, I used to be hugely protective of her and furious with the people who would jostle and push just to get somewhere faster. I formed the best protective barrier I could.

I also became far more aware of the difficulties people have moving around in public spaces. I became more tolerant of missing a tube because I was held up by someone walking slowly through a tunnel. I accepted and was aware that I should never be in such a rush as to see other people as simply impediments to my progress. 

My mother passed away two years ago and I’m aware of that intolerance and lack of awareness creeping back into me. Impatience and frustration take its place. 

The lack of proximity to the the problem – through distance or time causes lack of understanding to grow and for empathy to fail. 

I’m a worse person for not appreciating the struggles of people – whether in the bustle of a crowd or an organisation – more keenly. 

So the next time you feel frustration with progress or people, just try and imagining how you would feel if they were the people that mattered most to you, rather than on the fringes of your awareness. 

And check out #hrrandomactsofkindness too

CIPD Branches, doughnuts and strategy

This morning I’ll be hanging out in the cafe at CIPD Towers and calling it work.

We are attempting to write the first draft of our business area’s strategy out in the open with the entire organisation joining in. I look after, amongst other things, making sure we are communicating well with our branches. We are better than we were before, we are not there yet.

The feedback from our branch network has been they want to be confident that the work they do lines up with the CIPD strategy, so we’ve invited the entire CIPD to come down, have a doughnut and share their thoughts.
I have no idea if it will work. I have no idea if there will be a giant crowd, a steady stream of people or tumbleweed. But there are a few benefits

  • Things created together create shared accountability
  • Doing things in the open creates trust. No rabbits out of hats (when nobody asked for a rabbit)
  • If people suggest something that won’t work then we can explain why and then they understand decisions a bit better
  • If someone suggests something that would work then that has saved me some thinking – or done some thinking I wasn’t capable with
  • It should be fun
  • It’s a good opportunity to showcase the amazing work the branches do – and my team does when I’m not getting in their way
  • It’s a good excuse to have doughnuts
  • When people, our volunteers, are giving their time up the least we owe them is making sure it is being spent on the right things

Once we’ve got the strategy draft we can share more broadly and see where we get. We speak to branches everyday about what they want to see, this is about making sure the organisation is joined up too and we are all pulling in the same direction.

And doughnuts.

Defence of the #HR Dark Arts

As Harry Potter fever is about to strike again it only seems fitting that I do an unintentionally clickbaity blog on the Dark Arts. It’s like magic. 

I was lucky enough to do a workshop last week with Rob Briner. The aim was to give some folk the will and the tools to be a bit more structured in the way that they utilise evidence in what they do. I described it as a 3 hour session on using common sense. Some more thoughts from me are here – and if you haven’t seen the Centre for Evidence Based Management’s website you can find that here

One of the the questions at the end of the session was wonderfully practical, it was ‘My organisation loves fads and quick wins, how could I ever get them to use these approaches?’ 

This is where I sometimes think we can be a bit more creative and use some smart marketing. Where we can be a little bit disingenuous in service of a bigger win. 

My suggestion is that you serve up an evidence based approach (not new or faddish) as the next big thing. Serve it up under the guise of all that is trendy and cool and of the moment. Use all of the tricks at your disposal to make sure your organisation is spending its energy on things that are most likely to make a difference. 

I suggest telling them that evidence based management is what Google is doing. I’d suggest telling them that you had just been to a conference and everyone is talking about it. I’d suggest telling them that you heard the CIPD’s next research report on Performance Management has been done with the support of the Centre for Evidence Based Management. I’d suggest you tell them that HR’s most influential thinker talks almost exclusively about this area. I’d suggest you point out it isn’t all about research –  it’s also about organisational data and your experience. Tell them it’s a doughnut, when it’s really most of their daily vitamins. Go and speak to your marketing and internal comms teams and find out what they know about influencing. Be smart and stretch what is possibly in your organisation. 

In short, I’d do the smart things to get some good stuff across the line and into daily usage in your organisation. Understand and deploy the Dark Arts in a good cause. 

The CIPD are doing more work over the next year on ethics. I think I’m ok on this one – I might not be. I just know that time is the most precision of organisational resources and the most precious in your career. So when you are thinking, rather than reacting, that has to be good. A little darkness in search of the light. 

I always think HR should be relentlessly pragmatic as well as aspirational. Critically assessing evidence is key to that. 

Credit for the picture as always to the exceptional Simon Heath 

#workoutloud week. #WOL

It’s Work Out Loud week and you can find a good summary of intent and good practice from Helen Blunden here

For my part I know that with my organisation’s biggest event of the year #CIPDACE16 taking place I’m unlikely to find too many opportunities to share beyond Twitter. 

So I thought I’d share, proactively,  a list of things I haven’t got around to. Some of you may find this list baffling because you are veritable productivity machines. 

Me? I always have more ideas than time and that will probably always be the way. This blog is to give other people in that space some company. 
Here’s what I haven’t done yet

  • Blog on the gig economy, democratisation of the workforce etc explaining that the terminology is unhelpful. I’ll do a little grid, it’ll be great. . . 
  • Publish a blog on Byron Burger and THAT  incident. It was written a month ago
  • Write a book (I have 4 ideas I haven’t progressed) 
  • Publish all the answers to my 50 questions about the #futureofwork. This will be done next week
  • Publish blog on Pokemon Go. Finished two months ago but didn’t want to look too opportunistic
  • Go through every deck I use and add clear referencing for anyone sent them
  • Sent one of my mentees dates for a possibly next meeting (sorry dude) 
  • Completed a full presentation on project management lessons from the production of Jaws
  • Registered as a speaker for the next #DisruptHR

It’s not a to-do list. Like much of life a mixture of failure, prioritisation and good intentions. 

One thing I can commit to though is that in my day job we’ll continue with the Ask Me Anything sessions we’ve been running for the people we support -and being honest in the responses. 

Because Working out Loud isn’t just for just before Christmas. 

Legacy & Ego

I’ve been at the CIPD for just over a year and a half and I’ve reached that point (it happens to everyone on a certain bit of the org chart)  where people start talking to me about the word ‘legacy’. What do I want to leave as my ‘legacy’?

It’s a very leadery thing to talk about legacy. It’s supposed to be very motivational and get you thinking about longer term ambitions. It does, but it also panders horribly to ego.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) I’m very aware that talking about legacy is a dangerous trap. Not because you shouldn’t try to leave sustainable improvements, but because the nature of most of what we do is transient. My guess is that most of what we would hope is our legacy is torn up within 2-3 years or taken in a direction we wouldn’t envisage. The danger is that people try to force too much change associated with their own ego into too short a period. We need to appreciate that we get to write a chapter, we don’t get to finish the book. So that chapter has to be in keeping with what happens either side of it.

Indeed, I once had a month long handover period with my successor and she was, intelligently, tearing my planned legacy up in front of my eyes. I remember wanting to justify each and every decision I had taken to get us to this point – then realising that history had no value. I was just the past. So I helped her.
I think one of the most useful legacies to leave behind is a good team with good ambitions and good values. More capable than what was there before. I also think some ‘breakthrough’ changes are good to tick off too. Creating new norms that last for a while. You just need to realise that they will move on even further when you go. Your legacy is just doing a good job whilst you were in the hotseat – then handing things on to someone else to do a good job too. Legitimise a different way of working then move on.

So if you come into a job and want to change everything –  then appreciate you are tearing up someone’s ‘legacy’. And in turn that will be your work being torn up.

But the impact you have on people? That can endure and ripple far beyond the walls of one organisation. Maybe stop thinking about legacy and start thinking about the decisions you took for the organisation being remembered with respect in years to come. One of the most undervalued things in business remains restraint. It’s not about your legacy, it’s about the organisation’s future.

I had breakfast with Neil Morrison yesterday. These are some thoughts after that, but in no way tie Neil in to my stupidity nor exclude any accidentally smart points from being his. 

Ketchup Bottles & Inequality 

At the end of last week I had the pleasure of attending the CIPD Wales conference. 450 HR professionals getting together to learn and talk about the future. I also had two fried breakfasts in a hotel. 

On the first day I came down for breakfast and, following a reasonably late night, was badly in need of some really bad food. I loaded several fuller than full English breakfasts onto my plate and sat down. I then needed ketchup and went up to where they had a selection of bottles. I sleepily picked up a bottle then returned to my seat to find it was nearly empty. You may wonder why I couldn’t tell – and the answer is that we are good at telling relative weights but not absolute. We have the ability to compare two bottles and work out which one lighter – but picking up and object and accurately guessing weight or capacity is tough. It’s the same with price, something called coherent arbitrariness. William Poundstone’s book is a really interesting read on value and the associated discipline of psychophysics (although I guess if you called it neuropsychophysics it would be more popular these days…).

On the second day I came down and filled my plate with almost as much nutritional badness. I went to the bottles and I lifted them up until the sixth bottle I found of the ten available felt demonstrably heavier. I then watched other diners go and pick up the emptier bottles and then get visibly irritated when they found the bottles to be empty or just shrug it off.

It strikes me that my experience on day 1 left the others diners at a disadvantage on day 2. Not only was I aware of a problem that they weren’t, but I was able to cherry pick possibly the only good option. Leaving all other diners to choose from poorer options. 

1. Within those poorer options there would have been a slightly more full bottle that someone else will have picked up and seen as a triumph if they compared the other bottles -but of course they wouldn’t have checked the other options
2. If they didn’t know the other bottles were empty then they will may well have reasonably assumed that every other person didn’t have a problem getting ketchup. If sauce isn’t a problem for me then it shouldn’t be for you. 

3. They might have tried one bottle, got lucky on their second pick and assumed it just takes minimal effort to get a better result 

This is how inequality works

1. Some people have had less good options before and are able to take steps to rectify it

2. Some people get lucky and assume everyone else had the same opportunity or that it is the norm 

3. Some people only ever, through no fault of their own, know an empty bottle

Interestingly there were no full bottles. Apparently I arrived a generation too late for that. 
(PS, this probably needs work but I think there is something there) 

#OD – Nothing but pragmatic 

It was the CIPD OD Conference yesterday so I got to hang about with some OD types and talk. If you don’t know what OD is then I’m going to let you Google that all by yourself and then once you come up out of the rabbit hole with a big grin in two years we can chat. 

There were a few thoughts I had on the day….

Organisational Development vs L&D was one of the discussions –  as though it was a West Side Story ‘Jets and Sharks’ situation in some organisations. An interesting discussion was where L&D became ‘strategic L&D’ and then OD. My view is they are all needed – and that continuum, if it is one, shouldn’t be viewed as a hierarchy. If your OD and L&D teams can’t find a way to work productively then I’d suggest (brutally but honestly) that they aren’t yet equipped to start talking to anyone else about improvement. Physician – heal thyself… There is an interdependency between OD and learning that means you are fighting yourself if you aren’t able to find common purpose. 

About that common  purpose… One delegate basically suggested that people come to work for money so this ‘shared purpose’ stuff is basically HR and leadership nonsense. Firstly – I respect them saying it out loud and there is some truth in that. Secondly – my belief is that just because people have to come to work for the money doesn’t mean we can’t provide them with more. It doesn’t mean they can’t be helped to find purpose, friendship and satisfaction in work. We still have control there. 

Finally… Pragmatism. OD and L&D are, for me, relentlessly pragmatic disciplines. If you aren’t making a difference then your thinking is worth absolutely nothing. You are the input, you are the catalyst for the output. There are no points available for the ideas that didn’t happen. There is no shareholder, customer or organisational benefit to you navel gazing. Quality thinking only effectively manifests when it becomes action. Or in the words of Mee-Yan Cheung Judge ‘the best theory is that which works in practice’. 

My commitment to this can make me seem an impatient OD practitioner – less reflective and more impulsive than others. That’s probably true – I bring impatience for performance with me. But I figure I’ve always been paid to make a difference and that involves decisions and action. So create thinking environments by all means – but then translate those thoughts into action. 

That’s what OD is… It’s development, not thinking about development. Go do stuff.