Solving Unemployment 1930’s Style


I come from a family of hoarders. Well that’s what my parents always told me anyway. When we cleared my grandparents’ house in the 1980s it was a treasure trove of interesting, yet mostly useless, items. Continue reading “Solving Unemployment 1930’s Style”

The Magic Screen


I own an original 1960’s Etch a Sketch that was my mother’s as a child. There’s no particular reason I’ve kept it – you can hardly draw on it any more – other than nostalgia and sentiment. In fact I’d completely forgotten about it until last night, when my two year brought it to me and asked me to put Peppa Pig on it. I found it pretty impossible to explain such a toy in the context of our modern technology without unwittingly making it sound like an incredibly boring and pointless object. Continue reading “The Magic Screen”

Behaviour: HR’s Redemption or HR’s Ruin? #CIPD14


Well this is something I never thought I’d say, but the second day of the CIPD Annual Conference took me on an emotional roller coaster. There couldn’t be a more apt demonstration of one of the messages coming over loud and clear from the event – that our emotions affect our behaviour and we’re motivated by the way we feel.

First up, Laughology (best session title ever) provided for me the answers to the first day’s session by Nick Chater (Warwick University) on understanding behavioural science. Nick talked about the uniquely human action of following unwritten rules. Anything that’s out of the ordinary basically annoys us, hence the reason why we don’t like change. Humans like things to co-ordinate, which results in physical mirroring. While coordination and cooperation are essential to team working and culture, they can also significantly undermine innovation. Our current behaviour is built on layers and layers of past experience – we do something well and we repeat it. Over and over again. The best case scenario is proficiency. The worst is a blockage and resistance to anything new.

Stephanie Davies from Laughology taught us how to challenge those rigid ways of thinking and behaving. With simple physical exercises she demonstrated the difficulty of breaking those established patterns of behaviour that Nick talked about. It’s not that humans don’t want to try something new, it’s that they feel embarrassed to make a mistake while trying, so then revert back old behaviours. With positivity we are better equipped to deal with the problems life throws at us and, more powerfully, if we work together in the spirit of good humour, mistakes can be a source of fun, rather than fear. But if getting your CEO’s buy in to such a radical approach is an unsurmountable object, then the next session may be more up your street.

After having laughed more than I had in ages, I waited in the auditorium for the next speaker, Kevin Murray. Within minutes of his talk starting, Kevin demonstrated to us the power of storytelling. I had a lump in my throat as he explained how his daughter had nearly died in a plane crash. I was practically in tears when he told us about getting to the bottom of a problem manager who was a health and safety bully by discovering the reason for his behaviour was that he had once had to explain to a young boy’s parents why their son had been impaled on his site. Once the manager was encouraged to stop shouting and start telling his story instead, the culture was transformed.

Other #CIPD14 sessions, as well as Kevin’s’, noted how modern communication had changed the nature of leadership, meaning actions are constantly under scrutiny. One wrong move, and a company’s share price can plummet, hence why the value of intangible assets had overtaken that of the tangible. With social media, a customer can be tweeting about a problem long before the company is even aware, with possibly devastating consequences. Rita Gunther McGrath, in her keynote speech, had already highlighted the importance of getting problems on the table as soon as possible. Kevin emphasised this and demonstrated the range of communication styles that either help or hinder this approach. What it boiled down to was authenticity, courage and wanting to make a difference and fix problems.

All of Kevin’s insights are from his extensive research, undertaken to answer questions raised by his intense curiosity. He found out why his daughter’s plane nearly crashed, narrowing it down to faulty fuel parts on a production line in Japan. Then he wanted to know why, although none of the leaders he’d worked for were stupid, some failed and some succeeded. His points seemed almost obvious, but fascinated at the same time. His military stories highlighted how a lack of empowerment had led armies to their doom. Instead, a true inspirational leader has a clear vision and enables others to makes decisions within that framework. When you think about the best boss you’ve ever had, it’s never a micro manager. It’s someone who believed in you and inspired you to achieve more than you ever thought possible.

So, human behaviour has a lot to answer for. It can be our biggest downfall, but also has the potential to be our saviour. The techniques needed are actually pretty simple. We just need the courage to embrace them.

@HRpotential ‘s Top Ten Sound Bites of #CIPD14


Wow. Just wow. What an amazing and inspirational two days. Great speakers, great content and great people.

There’s so many thoughts and ideas whirring round my head, I’m going to need time to digest, to explore, and to blog!

In contrast to the heady new experience of the CIPD Annual Conference, I’m back in the “true” North (Sorry Manchester you can’t claim that one!) in my pyjamas. Thankfully my ever patient husband is here to listen, and to ground me!

So after a long discussion I’m ready to share with you my top sound bites of #CIPD14!

1. “Sometimes the most inspirational thing a leader can do is listen” Kevin Murray @kevinmurray (Good Relations Group)

Kevin Murray’s session was one of my favourites of the conference. His storytelling was very engaging and evoked real emotions from the audience. Thankfully Amanda Arrowsmith (@pontecarloblue) helped me snap up the last available copy of his book! In this sound bite he really brings home the importance of listening – really listening, and demonstrating that you are really listening – as a key leadership quality.

2. “Fundamentally the heart of HR is understanding human behaviour.” Peter Cheese @Cheese_Peter (CIPD Chief Executive)

Peter is the perfect example of the type of modern leader Kevin Murray describes. He communicates his values perfectly and is totally tech savvy. Understanding human behaviour was a key thread running throughout the conference and Peter summed it up here in his opening speech.

3. “Success is a moving goalpost so don’t pin your hopes on it” Stephanie Davies @laughology

Stephanie Davies warned us against confusing happiness with success. We think if we are successful we will be happy, but it’s an ever changing feat. We need to find happiness in other things.

4. “Everybody in the organisation needs to know and understand its intent and be empowered to make decisions within that framework” Kevin Murray @kevinmurray (Good Relations Group)

Kevin talked about leadership as enabling people to achieve more than they ever thought possible. A very powerful notion that leaders need to sit up and listen to.

5. “Some people create happiness when they walk in a room, and some when they walk out. Choose which one you want to be.” Stephanie Davies @laughology

You might have heard this one before but there’s no way I could exclude it from my top ten. I’m guessing it’s the most tweeted quote of the conference, no doubt because it’s so true! And Stephanie’s probably the most talked about speaker. Truly brilliant.

6. “It’s the quality of output, not the number of hours put in that people should be concentrating on.” Ian Cutler (Willis)

Ian’s case study on agility reminded us that we need to shift our focus and forget any preconceptions about flexible working.

7. “We no longer have a shared purpose. We distinguish between the people who matter and the people who don’t” Norman Pickavance @NPickavance (HM Revenues and Customs)

There were some great viewpoints in this session about the future challenges of the UK’s labour market. Here Nick warned about focussing on those identified as talent, at the expense of others.

8. “Think of your organisation as a magnet for talent, not a trap for talent.” Rita Gunther McGrath@rgmcgrath (Columbia Business School)

Rita’s keynote speech was a standout moment for me at the conference. Funny and engaging, she really brought home how businesses need to deal with the short-termism of today’s economy.

9. “Everybody knows who is a good person to have in your team – once you’ve worked with them.”  Nick Chater @NickJChater (Warwick Business School)

Nick Chater is a great speaker, he clearly has a knack of putting theory and scientific findings in a business (and human) context. In this sound bite he brings home the limitations of traditional recruitment processes.

10. “The new contract will be created around individual skills” Rita Gunther McGrath @rgmcgrath (Columbia Business School)

Once again Rita hits the nail on the head about how modern workforces are starting to operate. Employers are complaining they can’t fill vacancies, but is that because they’re following the wrong approach?

What were your highlights of #CIPD14 ?

Remember bloggers are only human 🙂 I couldn’t attend all sessions and I didn’t have a dictaphone…if you feel your quote is misrepresented please contact me

#CIPD14 Buzz Word: Collaboration


Having now attended three sessions at the CIPD Annual Conference, there’s already some key links emerging. Interesting really as this is inherent to the nature of the common thread I’m seeing. Links between people and links between businesses are creating a powerful concentration of skills that were traditionally disparate. It’s this power that is driving the most innovative companies today.

Traditional networking, consisting of circulating the room, churning out small talk and collecting business cards that are quickly discarded afterwards, is dead. Networks are building pyramid style from connections between individuals, to connections between departments to connections between companies. It’s competitive advantage squared.

Everyone needs to realise this. There’s still too many barriers that need to be smashed, and quickly. Unfortunately the senior leaders who are crying out for innovation are also the ones preventing it from happening. There’s too much focus on rigid structures and rigid job roles, and an associated mistrust of remote and flexible workers.

No longer can HR be the lone voice calling for agility. We need to use our networks. We need to collaborate.

The Future of Work


When I tell you the future of work is about individuals, the automatic reaction is likely to be “it already is”. But it’s that thinking which is a fundamental stumbling block to all the hallmarks of today’s competitive advantage.

Compare these two employees.

The first is building their own silo, bigging themselves up as they climb their own career ladder, not caring who they take down on the way up. In exchange for a job for life they’ll give you their loyalty.

The second hops from experience to experience, soaking up learning, honing their skills and acting more entrepreneurial. The organisation needs to fit round their abilities rather than the other way round.

Which is more risky? And more importantly, which would you rather employ? If you answered the first then I’m afraid your company is in trouble.

Yes, the future of work is transient, but isn’t that the nature of work itself now? Whereas in the past employees might have jealously guarded their personal development they must in essence now collaborate and share that learning. The adversarial employee won’t survive.

To some extent it’s against human nature to work in this way. But the future doesn’t stop. The future is already here. It’s time to change.

Blog inspired by the #CIPD14 Keynote Speech by Rita Gunther McGrath

Mutual Sacrifice and the Living Wage


I can’t imagine that anyone could fundamentally disagree with the concept of ensuring the UK’s lowest paid workers have enough to live on. But for employers, when it boils down to it, it’s not about the principles, but the cost. Unfortunately those organisations which function via a reliance on a low paid workforce – those workers which need help the most – face a bigger pay bill, and therefore a stronger excuse, not to implement the Living Wage.

Part of the problem is it’s only voluntary. When I say “only” that’s not to dumb down the amazing work undertaken by the Living Wage Foundation to not just talk about the issues, but to actually do something about them. It’s really a reflection of what is happening at a National Policy level that so far the Living Wage as a choice rather than a requirement.

Welfare Reform has left those living in poverty in a vacuum. The government has recognised that work doesn’t always provide enough to live on, thereby meaning benefit reliance is the most financially viable option. Yet the reality is that benefits have already been slashed and the roll out of Universal Credit is being rushed after a long lead in and a series of basically unsuccessful and administratively complicated trials. Alongside this, National Minimum Wage rates have been slow to react, with the first above inflation rise only occurring this year and the prospect of increasing this in line with real terms delayed until 2015 at the earliest.

When you look at the individual cases it’s not so easy to reduce it down to a question of cost. Those stories of working parents going without food to provide for their children are real. These are good people who want to do what’s right – but at the moment it’s hit or miss on whether they’ll be given the chance to work their way out of poverty.

In considering the real issues I also want to warn against falling into the trap of thinking the Living Wage is just for those working in supportive and manual roles. Some of the lowest paid workers are those on the first rung of their career ladder, such as apprentices. They are our leaders of tomorrow, and their progression can easily be stalled if they don’t have decent support.

So really it’s a question of sacrifice. By choosing work over benefits, which can be the easier option, the low paid are making sacrifices. Isn’t it time employers recognised this and made a sacrifice of their own?

For more information on becoming a Living Wage employer see The Living Wage Foundation.

The “B” word


There’s too many “B” words being used in business today. Best practice. Benchmarking. Blue sky thinking. The box (and thinking outside it). Please don’t use these words in front of me. Like other profanities their meaning has been lost by overuse. They’re reduced to peppering business small talk, padding it out in an attempt to sound “with it” when really that mumbo jumbo should have been thrown out years ago.

If you must use one of the phrases then blue sky thinking is probably the least grating. It’s also the most up to date, although it’s roots in one of the other terms still render it dubious at best. That origin is “Thinking outside the box”, a saying thought to have been invented by management gurus around forty years ago. According to the legend they showed their clients a square pattern of nine dots and asked them to join all the dots with just four lines, or less. Those who felt constrained by the dots were unable to complete the puzzle, it being necessary to venture out into the unsullied space beyond the dots in order to find the solution. Thus the phrase was coined.

The original intention of these phrases, to promote lateral thinking and open mindedness, is now defunct. These days when employees hear those terms, their reaction is confusion. What is being asked of them? Looking back to the original puzzle this response is understandable. We’re asking them to think outside the box, but what’s out there? A blank piece of paper. Nothing. Whats in the blue sky? Maybe the odd cloud, the sun, but pretty much nothing.

So where is the box? The phrase is used by people who don’t know what they’re looking for, but know they haven’t found it yet, or by people berating others when they perceive them as being uncreative. They’re not helping someone overcome that boundary, they’re actually creating a boundary by telling someone it’s there. There’s nothing like constraining people’s freedom of thought and action by artificially fencing them in.

When people are told there is a boundary, they need to imagine where it is in order to be sure when they’ve crossed it. The most logical conclusion is the confines of the organisation itself. This is where performance comparison techniques such as benchmarking and best practice rush in to fill the perceived gap. Such yardsticks can be useful but not when that stick is used to beat employees with. What starts as an exercise in external validation can end up killing creativity and independent thought.

Both of these processes – benchmarking and best practice – are the safe options. Any insecurities can be easily swept under the carpet by the rubber stamp they provide. But, use of these techniques is not the Be All And End All cure for organisation ills. While we’re fretting about what everyone else is doing externally, desperately comparing ourselves and trying to plagiarise their work, we’re missing whats important. A purely external approach leaves the organisation blinkered to what’s inside the box. After all, inside the organisation is where the most important resource is found – it’s employees.

What’s best for another organisation and their unique circumstances, isn’t best when its grafted into another organisation via a drag and drop approach. Best isn’t some unattainable ideal placed just out of reach. Organisations already possess the best, if only they would unlock it’s potential. It’s not about best practice, it’s about becoming the best.

I was hoping to ban the “B” words, but I don’t think that’s possible. So instead I propose a compromise – to change the context. The word best may be used, but only as a factual description of your own organisation. Concentrate on what’s important first and forget about everybody else.