Over the last few months I’ve contributed to the #cipdbigconvo on flexible working and working families. It’s fair to say this discussion has had a major impact on my thinking and sense of priority, and whilst I’ll update on that separately here’s a follow up blog on the concept of flexible flexible working.
You can see the output from the #cipdbigconvo here. I contributed a blog at the outset, and an Ignite talk at the concluding event. Both were on my role as a parent at work.
In the discussion, a lot focused on the need for flexible flexible working and the need to avoid a one size fits all approach to flexible working. I have blogged before on such subjects. I’ve also spoken about my approach to work life balance..
But what is flexible flexible working?
I prefer the term working flexibly. I think it neatly captures that everyone’s circumstances are different, and that there should be an element of choice and control in how everyone works, balancing the need to deliver business to customers and the need to have a happy, productive employee who contributes to their family life also.
Indeed, it’s good to see some organisations and CEOs embracing this. Philippa Jones, CEO of Bromford Group, recently wrote this article and Nick Atkin, CEO of Halton Housing Trust, wrote this article also.
But it’s not everywhere and it’s certainly not considered normal.
And there’s the key. We need to normalise it.
I want my children to grow up in a world of work where they are expected to work flexibly, and that this is the default position.
We should all work flexibly.
For some this might be Mon-Fri 9-5 in an office and if this works for the business and for them, then let them. But work is something you do, not somewhere you go, and I've always said to my teams that I don't mind where or when work is done, as long as its done.
Organisations often stipulate that they encourage flexible working. But how many really do? Organisations should instead state that they expect people to work flexibly and to manage this in an adult-adult relationship with them.
There's plenty of research available that makes the link between working flexibly and productivity, and loads of recent articles including some in Hays Journal and theHRDirector, so I'll not replicate those here other than to say there IS a link and working flexibly improves productivity.
So why don't we just ask people how we/they can structure their work to make them more productive?
I know I'd have immediate answers to that if someone asked me. Its something I've given a LOT of thought to over the last year.
My final advice to organisations is to trust people to be adults and work responsibly. I've come across a lack of trust too many times when people are trying to work flexibly. So…
Don't say "if I let X work flexibly, it'll set a precedent and they'll all want to do it" - encourage all of them to do it. Why would you settle for just one of your staff being more productive when they all could be?
Don't say "homeworking means homeworking, you can't work anywhere else other than the office or home" - let people work in coffee shops, on trains, in shared workspaces, and from other people's homes.
Don't say "one day working remotely is enough, the rest of the time you have to be in the office" - use technology to help people interact with others in different ways.
Don't say "we have the technology to allow people to work remotely, but its really only for emergencies if they can't get to the office" - let people figure it out for themselves and encourage it to happen.
Don't say "I need you to let me know if you're going to work remotely each time you do it, or vary your normal hours, and give me a reason for doing so" - because that implies permission is needed for going outside a normal practice - make it normal practice and encourage staff to JFDI.
Don't say "permission is needed from the Chief Executive for working flexibly" when its not - why would the Chief Executive get involved in such things when managers should be managing?
Make working flexibly the norm.
Till next time…
PS in other news, I've hinted at some major thinking I've been doing, and in my next blog I'll be able to explain what this means and how I'm pulling together lots of themes from recent blogs in doing so…
Last week I announced that my wife and I were expecting another child - my fourth. If you'll forgive the personal nature of this blog post, here's my reaction to the impending arrival of the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse...
Here's the photo I used to make the announcement:
That morning I'd done an Ignite talk at #cipdACE17 and, as I often do, done it poetry-style. It was on being a working parent and its challenges, and I ended the rhyme by surprising the audience, many of whom knew me well, by telling them I was going to be a Dad for for fourth time.
My first child came as a bit of a shock. He wasn't planned, and even though I was 26 at the time he was born, I didn't feel in any way ready, and those early years remain a bit of a blur to me. When my second child was born, a daughter this time, I was 29 and still didn't feel ready to be a father.
I felt that my role was to just work hard and often enough to ensure they were provided for, and this meant I wasn't the best example of a parent I could have been when they were very young. As I mentioned in my Ignite, what kind of a parent was I if I was never there? What kind of a Dad was I really, if I showed them family time was rare?
So I changed, around the time I got divorced, and became a much better parent, spending a great deal of time with my (then) two children and ensuring I managed work-life balance so my time with them was ample.
When I got divorced I thought I'd never have children again, and to be honest that didn't bother me, until I met Katie, who had no children and wanted and deserved them. Even so, my third child, another daughter, came as a total shock to us both and I wasn't sure I was ready to be a father again at the ripe old age of 39.
If only I knew.
I had forgotten everything I knew 9 years earlier and had to start almost from scratch, but found I was much better at being a parent this time - my life was more balanced and I had a great deal of control over how I worked. I'm a decent parent, but I honestly don't have a strategy or really much of a clue what I'm doing - I just wing it most of the time and it seems to work.
And now...as I said in my Ignite...
"And me, well I feel I just about manage - I do what I can. I balance things day to day, there is no long-term plan.
It takes a lot of effort, but they're worth it all and more - only now I have to cope with the arrival of Number 4..."
This time, for the first time, I have a child whose arrival has been planned.
Yes, at age 42, I'll be a Dad again - but to be honest I've got it down to a fine art now and am not worried, plus I'm in a better position financially and physically than I've been for any of the other three.
I didn't make it easy for myself by moving jobs at the time we got pregnant, even though it was a planned thing. My wife, as per last time, has been very ill and I've needed to support her by doing everything at home when she has been unable to (and that's been almost everything for nearly two months) - consequently that's made me exceptionally tired and not able to focus as I'd have liked at work, as my attention has very much been elsewhere. Its put an enormous strain on the whole family but thankfully in the last fortnight her pregnancy-related sickness has begun to settle - its not all gone yet but its better, and I've been able to focus more on work. But moving jobs and being brand new and time off and flexibility - it really does feel like a crime. And don't remind me that I won't qualify for paternity leave.
And I figure my logistical issues - like the multiple school run and sorting childcare - are only going to get worse, but I've got a plan to try to deal with them and I know everything will be OK in the long run - the health and happiness of my family are very important to me.
And we're thrilled at the arrival of Number Four, due 9th May - it will make our family complete, and our capacity to love will grow.
And I promise when this one is born I'll get myself a hobby or something - there's no more coming after this.
We're looking forward to May and know that life will be great.
Even if its a difficult thing to manage.
Love finds a way.
Love will find a way.
Till next time...
PS in other news, please forgive the personal nature of this post - back to more professional matters next time
So this week its been the 70th Annual CIPD Conference and Exhibition, referred to this year as #cipdACE17. I was thrilled to be part of the Blogsquad again covering the event on social media on behalf of CIPD. Here's my summary of the event.
I should start by saying a big thankyou to my current employers at the Disclosure and Barring Service for allowing me to see through this commitment that I'd made some months before joining them, despite it being a busy time, for not once moaning or making me feel guilty about going, and for recognising the huge development potential #cipdACE17 had for me and the potential it had to reflect well on them through me raising their profile. Thankyou for that.
This was my 14th year running attending the event, and although some years I've just made it to the exhibition, I've come to enjoy the conference itself just as much. The conference this year was about "Embracing the new world of work" and many sessions were focused around this theme. As usual, I found it hard to select the best sessions to go to and its a shame I had to miss more than I attended because of clashes etc.
Here's the blogs I did of the various conference sessions:
I enjoyed each of these sessions and although I missed the final two sessions, including the closing keynote, because of needing to attend to a work-related matter, I found there had been sufficient to stimulate my interest across the bits I had attended. I went away with a big long list of actions to take back into the workplace and am looking forward to doing them.
The exhibition seemed larger, and that's a good thing. There was a good variety of exhibitors and a range of free to attend sessions. I was disappointed in the overall lack of quality of free gifts - in some years gone by I'd return home with bags full for my kids but this year I filled half a bag - my kids don't want mints, pens or stress balls unfortunately.
I was also disappointed - again - with the lack of engagement some exhibitors had with social media. Not all, I should add - some were excellent - but some others did nothing to try to engage with attendees on social media and some, when asked, did not even know their own Twitter handle.
Sadly I didn't get as much time in the exhibition as in previous years, and felt I didn't do it justice - next year I'll try to redress this.
However the general atmosphere in the exhibition hall and in conference sessions was excellent, something many commented upon. The only thing I thought went wrong was the Members Lounge in the CIPD stand was poorly organised and cramped, and should perhaps be separated back out next year. Otherwise, everything was great.
And this translated well into the fringe activities but again too much clashed for me to be able to get to it all. At least 3 things happened Tuesday evening, at least 3 things Wednesday evening and at least 2 things Thursday morning - now that's good in one sense as it caters for the interest that must be there, but scheduling them all at the same time makes it difficult to attend them all. And the fringe is an important part of the Conference - its still not quite what it was in Harrogate because of the sheer size of Manchester, but its improving and can improve further.
I enjoyed speaking at the CIPD Manchester fringe event on the Thursday morning #cipdbigconvo - doing an Ignite on the subject of being a working parent - and strangely this prompted a lot of reflection from me on my current priorities, something I'll update you all on shortly.
Like many people, I got as much from the conference through networking with people and generally catching up with ex colleagues, old friends and new contacts. I'd like more space built into the programme for this - the gaps between the conference sessions were sometimes 30 minutes - and there isn't much time to get to the toilet, grab a drink, look round the exhibition AND network in just 30 minutes.
But it was great to see so many friendly faces and to talk to as many people as would listen about my current situation and how I can resolve some inherent conflict in it. Also great was the ability to input into other people's discussions and help them improve their own situations.
It was also a very tiring event as usual, made worse by the transport difficulties caused by rail and bus strikes on Day One getting there, and the closure of the M6 when going home on Day Two.
But I loved it and would do it again in a heartbeat.
I found myself thinking a 3rd day, as used to be the case years ago, would have given me and the conference the room to fit everything in.
Is it time to go back to 3 days?
Overall, a great conference and exhibition and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Till next time...
PS a time of upheaval for me in many ways - watch out for two imminent blogs updating on my personal and professional lives...
After another too short break I’m back in another session. This time it’s about Connecting HR, Finance, Operations and Business Leaders, with HR acting as an organisational facilitator to help the organisation achieve its shared goals.
This will be my final blog from today as I have some work matters to attend to this afternoon and won’t be attending the afternoon sessions. I’ll do a summary blog in a few days though with some wider observations on the whole event.
Graham Smith from Devon, Cornwall and Dorset Police started off. The two separate forces are due to merge and he had a challenge to bring together two different organisations from a people perspective. He highlighted the Daimler Chrysler merger as one that failed because of an underappreciation of the cultural and people dimensions of such transformational change.
Andy Boulting, Assistant Chief Constable, took over at this point and explained how HR act as facilitators in things like workforce planning.
I liked this figure of 8 approach as it ensured all parts of the business are included in workforce planning, and that there are strong links to organisational vision and takes account lots of different supply and demand factors. The HR practitioners have to have the right skill set and right level of trust and empowerment to be able to make this all work.
Interesting though that on this plan, analysis of supply comes before analysis of demand, and I think this is something many organisations get the other way around. They can be led by demand, and then work on matching supply to it without having first got a real handle on what supply looks like and the volumes therein.
Gill Quinton from Buckinghamshire County Council then spoke about collaboration across professional disciplines. Her role now encompasses more than just HR and that gave her a unique perspective of how HR could and needs to work with other functions to improve the organisation.
She ran through Bursins HR Maturity Model and described each level within it to outline what is required from HR teams at each level. She feels that HR needs to do a few things to drive organisational effectiveness: customer focus, business acumen and simplicity.
I agree with these three things. HR teams that I’ve had experience of have usually had one or two of these three and we have worked hard to develop the third, but it’s been a different gap in different teams in different organisations.
But, as Quinton pointed out, HR can’t develop and be excellent at these three things on its own. They need help and input from IT, Finance, and business leaders. True collaboration is required.
This was an interesting case study in how to encourage and develop collaboration and one that is also relevant to current challenges I face.
So here we are on Day Two, and as predicted I’m a little more tired than I was yesterday. The evening fringe activities last night were all excellent, and then I’ve been speaking this morning at a breakfast seminar on flexible working.
I may have used the platform to make a big announcement too, something it’s been hard to keep secret. See the Twitter feed for details.
And now I’m in session D2 on enhancing your brand and attracting the right talent.
First up is Jane Graham from Wiltshire Council. She talked about the journey they went on from a traditional to innovative approach to talent acquisition and what worked for them.
The financial challenges faced by local government are well documented, and so the ability to attract the best talent is something that is also difficult. Her first case study was on social workers, where demand exceeds supply at present and there are numerous problems around recruitment and retention.
They worked with an agency to understand their current employer value proposition and to get to know their target audience more. This proved helpful because it showed them the kinds of things that attracted social workers and helped them to understand why some previous campaigns had not worked. They moved away from using stock images in their campaigns and used images of actual staff, actual things happening at work and used this to refresh their offer.
The results speak for themselves. They increased the number of applications, reduced turnover, reduced agency spend and filled more vacancies. They also had softer results that improved engagement, and helped them to move into the 21st century!
This approach seems to have worked really well and is one of several organisations I’ve seen who have been on a similar journey and really embraced new technology, analytics and a thorough approach to talent acquisition and employer brand - but in my view you get out what you put in.
Put in the right amount of effort and you’ll be rewarded.
Next up was Jon Dawson from Mandarin Oriental Hotels. They had a strategy to become one of the best known employer brands within the UK hospitality sector, separate from their parent company Marriott. They had zero presence in the UK at the time, and were doing this at the same time as recruiting 250 people to actually open and run their hotel.
The photo above shows the journey they were going on, and he outlined a challenge where the various creative people who worked with them were great in generating excitement and buzz around the brand, but the technical side of having a candidate portal wasn’t ready in time to manage this demand.
This was an interesting talk of how to create an employer brand and whole new organisation from scratch, and to me highlighted how many organisations are hamstrung by their own history and how, if they started all over again, they would end up with something completely different and at the same time more appropriate for who they are and what they want to do.
As refreshing and developing our employer brand is something we are about to work on in my current organisation, this was a very relevant talk.
But now I need a coffee.
Till next time...
Ps in other news, check out my recent big announcement...blog coming soon on that
After the afternoon break and some more hurried networking I’m in the final session of the day, session C3, on creating an organisational culture to support flexible working.
The introduction centred around the fact that the technology is there to allow and support flexible working, but that the barriers are usually cultural. I’ve found this in more than one organisation, although have found technology (reluctance to use) to be a barrier in one or two also.
Speakers from Forster Communications and Nokia gave examples of how this has been addressed in their workplaces.
Up first, Gillian Daines from Forster. Forster are a small company, and flexibility of and by employees is crucial to their success. Daines cited some examples of how flexible working has helped with the organisational objectives, and gave some statistics on how flexible working impacts on employee absence, wellbeing, retention and engagement. A lot of this was setting the business case for flexible working though, which although valid and accurate, is not really what I came to this session to hear. And thankfully she recognised this and moved onto talking about the challenges they faced.
Daines took us through a step by step approach to making flexible working work which I’ve included below.
Forster, with just 25 employees, went through this process and around half of their employees now work flexibly in some way. That’s a healthy percentage as long as all employees are able to access flexible working and those who haven’t, have made a conscious choice not to. Therein lies one of the cultural barriers - many employees do want to work Monday to Friday 9 to 5 in an office with other people.
As long as it works for them AND the business.
Up next was Gareth Davies from Nokia, who opened by admitting to be a Health and Safety professional. Brave.
Gareth talked about some for the generational differences around flexible working. Whilst he is right that there are different approaches to flexible working, I don’t think these are mostly generational differences - I think they are mindset differences, and there can be some correlation to generational origin but not necessarily.
He then talked about how connected we all are now, and highlighted the sheer range of flexible working tools that are on almost every smartphone or tablet. These pose dangers to individuals unless they are properly equipped to manage and deal with them.
Another good example of this was managers benefitting from flexibility and choosing to send emails late at night or at weekends. It’s a personal choice and absolutely fine, but when their direct reports receive these emails do they feel there is pressure or expectation to respond at a time they may not suit them? Something I’ve relatively recently switched myself onto is setting emails to send the following morning, so that I don’t interrupt colleagues home lives. It allows me to work flexibly and do what I want to do when I want to do it, but without creating pressure on anyone else who reports to me.
Davies offered some cultural tips to make flexible working work. Stopping rewarding the wrong behaviours (like working long hours) was a good step they took. They made flexible working visible and something people could and should talk about, and they gave coaching to line managers on making it work, amongst many other actions.
This was a good finish to a session that looked at how to overcome some of the cultural barriers, and a good end to a good day.