Thursday, 25 February 2016

Heir to the throne

In recent days and weeks I've had cause to consider succession planning, as I prepare myself to leave one organisation and join another.  In this post I'll try to summarise some of my thoughts on the topic.

In leaving one organisation I've obviously had to prepare something of a handover.  In doing this I've been struck by how much knowledge exists solely in my head.

And that's not me being big-headed, its more an observation on knowledge management in the organisation and perhaps on the nature of strategic HR roles.

I've written down as much as I can, but very little of what I have been doing over the last 11-12 years is procedural or indeed lends itself to being written down.  So much is insight into how teams and individuals work and perform, how relationships with suppliers and partner organisations operate, and how the organisation lives and breathes.  So much is about history, what has happened and why, and the future, why certain things are planned and designed.

And you can't really write that stuff down.  Believe me, I've tried.

But should I have tried harder?

I am leaving my organisation in a relatively healthy state.  Its got its problems, but who hasn't?  And in my loooooonnnnngggg 3 month notice period I've been able to tie up many loose ends, and ensure other projects and issues are handed over nicely and in good time.  But nonetheless I think some bits of my knowledge will inevitably stay with me, in my head.

I could list the things, as headings, but don't feel any amount of writing the detail would come close to passing them over to anyone.

So is that a risk to the organisation?

Maybe.  Maybe not.

And this is where I perhaps overestimate my importance to the organisation.  They'll cope without me, and there are already new starters who have very recently joined who I have never met, and who will look blankly at someone mentioning the name of Gary Cookson.  In the coming weeks and months people will inevitably say that Gary would have known the answer to X, Y and Z, but then they'll shrug their shoulders and come up with their own answer and a better one at that, which of course is what they ought to do anyway.

In short, no matter how important you are to an organisation while you're there, no matter how much they initially miss you and no matter how big a hole you leave when you do go, life goes on and the organisation copes without you.  No doubt they do better without you in many cases too.

No-one is irreplaceable.

And yet there are risks to organisations in letting key people go.  CEOs are often cited as the major risk, but there are others.  In this article in HR Magazine, it is reported that 43% of organisations will see unexpected leadership change in a 12 month period, but only 32% have a plan in place to deal with this.

And I can understand why.  Its hard.

Look at how my favourite team Manchester United have been faring with succession planning in recent years.  They had plenty of foreknowledge that Alex Ferguson was retiring - whilst he might not have handed his notice in, he was past the usual managers retiring age and clearly had only limited time left, and yet the club went into decline when he left because their succession plan went wrong.  The person thought of as a natural successor was not ready, and the club kneejerked into making another leadership change (and seems poised to make another).

You find relatively few examples of successful succession planning, but lots of examples of failed succession planning.  But you should do it, and these articles from Forbes and Ivyexec explain why and, to a limited degree, how.

But Chief Execs don't change very often.  An organisation ought to be working with incumbent CEOs to help prepare a succession plan, and using the often-lengthy notice period to appoint and onboard a successor.  Of course it isn't always possible, but the longer the notice period the easier this becomes.

I think you can go beyond CEO succession planning if they choose to leave or retire, and as HR professionals we should be taking charge of doing more.  We ought to be looking at emergency planning for illness and other absence and how we would cope if that happened - not just for the CEO but for most or all key roles in the organisation.  This comes under the remit of Business Continuity Planning, which I have often found is dominated by IT and Health and Safety or Legal/Assurance teams but where I think HR should have a leading role too.

And in HR its not just about having a plan in place to cope with unexpected or planned staff absence or turnover.  HR succession planning should cover the partner or supplier organisations we work with - more than once I've had to deal with a supplier organisation going bust and leaving us with a gap in service, and I've learnt from that harsh lesson.  And it should also cover the systems and processes in use in case one of those suddenly doesn't work as it ought to.

But I go back to my initial thoughts on how much can you really succession plan?  What I've talked about above is more continuity planning, and that's really useful, but how much can you really do to ensure smooth transition between the person abdicating and the heir to the throne?

In my case it hasn't been easy, but its been OK - and the organisation will cope and probably thrive in my absence.  There will be things they won't be able to do because there was only me that could do them, but someone else will step up, or the organisation will just find another way to do it, much like running water flowing around an unexpected obstacle.

So I'm mulling over knowledge management and knowledge retention issues now, and also thinking about how I can get these right in my new organisation - aswell as looking at how the organisation continuity plans operate and how we might cope with any unexpected - or planned - change...

I'm gone from one place.  I'll leave a hole, but it'll be filled.  And I'm heading into a hole created by someone else in a new place.I'm not the same shape as the hole, but I've got a shovel and a few ideas...

Till next time...


PS in other news, wedding dress shopping takes place this weekend and its only six months till the wedding.  My stag do is planned and a few other dominoes are starting to fall...

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Goodbye Housing, Hello Further Education (again)

So next week I finally leave my current job and, on 29 February, take up the role of HR Director at Trafford College. It's been a long, long exit and in this blog I'm going to take the opportunity to summarise my feelings at leaving the housing sector after 12 years and starting again in the Further Education sector.

I do feel sad to be leaving the housing sector in general. After 12 years in one sector, it gets into your blood in a way. I feel I've been able to make some great contributions to housing, at GGHT mainly but also working with and for organisations like CIH, HDN and the NHF.

It's not a total goodbye as I hope to carry on some of my work with the CIH in particular, working with their Education teams to help to train a new generation of housing professionals. But that's not a substantial time demand and more often than not is remote working, so my main day to day contact with housing professionals and housing organisations will certainly cease.

It has been a very long exit since it was agreed back in August I would leave my current role early in 2016.  I didn't think this would mean leaving housing per se, so that's the bit that has taken me by surprise, but that's what happens sometimes and I've got a good place to go to.

I often compare working relationships to personal relationships, and I will blog in more detail about the parallels between employee engagement and falling out of love with someone. But I don't think I have fallen out of love with the sector itself.

Housing is facing many issues which I wanted to be part of tackling, however I’m not sure how I can now.  The summer budget last year had a devastating impact, financially, across the sector – its resulted in many organisations facing severe financial difficulties and challenges, and many having to let talented staff go (often out of the sector entirely).  The new mergers code is a contentious topic but one which will increasingly become a reality facing many housing organisations, and as conglomerations of housing organisations develop and the sector thins out, there will be significant challenges faced at Board and Executive level to maintain strong and effective governance and leadership, especially with the scrutiny they now face through the In Depth Assessment process from the regulator.  And the issues raised by the Homes for Britain campaign haven’t gone away, even if the government has a different solution in mind – the country has a gap between the supply of and demand for social housing.  And I’ve only listed a handful of big issues here, there are lots more.

These are all issues that I’d been looking forward to helping to tackle, and each has its own implications for HR, leadership and employee engagement.

In my time working in housing I’ve helped to tackle lots of similar issues.  I’ve played a leading role in Stock Transfers, housing inspections, restructures, changes to terms and conditions, head office moves, and group structures – and probably more besides.  There’s always been something happening – and to be honest that’s why I’ve so enjoyed working in housing, and why I’ll miss it.  The people are so friendly, so committed and so enthusiastic – the organisations are, for the most part, welcoming, flexible, sociable and productive places to be.

I thought I’d stay in housing for just 3 years, in line with my career plan as it was all those years ago.  And here I am leaving after 12 years, having had a great time for 90% of the intervening time and, up until last year, not ever imagining working in a different sector again.

So Goodbye, Housing.  Thanks for everything.

And hello again to Further Education.

I say hello again because I worked, full time, in the FE sector from 2001-2004 and part time (one evening a week) from 2004 – 2010, so I go back a long way with the sector, but this will be my first time back full time in the sector for 12 years and my first time in the sector in a senior HR role.  But I enjoyed working in FE previously and will do again.
I’m looking forward to it.  I know I’m going to a great place, and will be working with a great and talented team.  Many of the things that attracted me to working in housing appear to be present in my new organisation in terms of its culture and people.

Now, FE has its own range of issues and challenges, some of which I’m only just beginning to learn about but which are already racing around my mind as I think about the implications for me in an HRD role.  FE is currently subject to a round of Area Reviews, and funding changes, as the government decides what role the sector needs to play in tackling the skills challenges that the UK faces, and how FE needs to be organised at a local level.  FE has challenges in attracting a high number of talented individuals to work there, and in developing a culture of strong leadership and performance.  Within the Greater Manchester area, there is obviously the impending arrival of DevoManc and all the changes that will bring.

So I’m clear that I’m leaping out of the frying pan and very much into the fire.

I can see how I can get involved in tackling these issues and I’m very much looking forward to doing so.

The next few years promise to be very interesting for FE, and for me.

I’m ready…I think.

I’ll keep you posted how I get on.

Till next time…


PS in other news, wedding planning getting serious now – menu choices made, colour schemes being chosen, wedding dress shopping taking place (minus me obviously)!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

#hrevent16 blog #10 (final one)

Is it possible to blog about ones own speech?

I'm damn well going to. 

*(Positions tongue firmly in cheek)


So I went to the standout session of the entire event. Bracing for Change, by the renowned Gary Cookson. I'd been looking forward to this for a long time. 

Gary is an interesting and engaging speaker. Physically impressive, nay statuesque, he is also both a natural orator and a warm and likeable human being - a triple threat, if you will. 

His talk, delivered with Penny Aspden, covered their recent journey in steering two organisations through the creation of a group structure from a people and HR standpoint. 

Gary's half of the talk included various cultural references as The Simpsons and Tinder, and offered a very practical look at how HR professionals can lead major change and integration activities. Drawing upon his vast experience of HR and leadership, as well as his interest in personal relationships, Gary outlined how many of the lessons one applies in building successful long term relationships with a loved one can be equally relevant to building long term successful partnerships between organisations.

Gary and Penny offered some ready to use takeaway lessons in how to do integration activities, including getting the HR role right, working with the change curve, enhancing face to face engagement through honesty and transparency, developing a leadership ask, doing cultural due diligence and building ultra flexible change and transformation plans. 

At the end, once the round of applause had died down, Gary was carried from the room aloft on the shoulders of the adoring crowd, almost all of whom cited the speech as the highlight of the entire three day conference. 

Gary retired from the conference at that point to review the offers of marriage, and invites to speak at other conferences that have begun to flow in. 

All hail. 


Joking aside, I had a blast. Really enjoyed speaking and it flew by.  I was grateful for the opportunity, and to all of those who came to listen. My only downside was that I couldn't really concentrate on this mornings sessions as well as I wanted to because of the approaching time for me to speak. 

I'm on a serious comedown now as the adrenaline wears off. I've also had to call it a day and have missed the afternoon sessions so that I can get back to do the afternoon school run in good time, I've missed my kids whilst here. 

Overall I've had a great time attending, blogging at and speaking at this conference. I'm glad to hear it's going back to two days next year, and I'm frustrated that I can't take advantage of the low cost rebooking fee available at the event because I'm about to move jobs and can't really commit my new employer to funding a conference attendance for someone who hasn't even started work for them yet. 

I hope to be able to speak at this conference again too, so now all I have to do is think of a good choice of topic!

Till next time. 


#hrevent16 blog #9 of many

And so Day Three arrives. I am now of the opinion that three days is one day too many for this conference, and this view is supported by looking around the main hall this morning. It's not busy, not as busy as Day One or Day Two and nowhere near as busy as either of the two days were in previous years. The move to three days has diluted the audience rather than increasing it. 

And today is the day I'm speaking so in a way it's disappointing as I'll have less people listening than I would have had in previous years. 

Have I mentioned that I'm speaking today? At 11:50, not long after I will publish this blog. It's about employee engagement during an integration related change. It promises to be good. 

Day Three starts with Rohan Gunatillake talking about how to Bhuddify your life, and how to marry mindfulness with a digital lifestyle. He spoke at length about how he has helped others to achieve this, to be calm, create focus and be kind to others. 

His main points were about using technology to aid mindfulness, not be a barrier to it. Focus on the phone or tablet, use an app to trigger periods of mindfulness and so on. This is useful advice and shows how mindfulness can be achieved even if on the face of it you're attached to your device. 

He also covered being an inbox addict. Dipping into your inbox or other tech distractions can stop you focusing on more important things. Be aware of the mental and physical sensations when you do this and then notice the emotion and thought process that happen before the physical movement to check your phone or inbox. Once you're aware of these impulses, it's easy to ignore them, he said. 

Another point was real listening. This is about tuning into the other persons conversation. Notice if you are starting to tune out, or waiting to have your turn at speaking. Being aware makes you able to stop it. 

His final point was called Hello Monster. This is about recognising and naming your emotions when they arrive. So that might be fear or anxiety. By naming it you're taking it outside yourself and making it objective, and that should be freeing and relieving. By saying hello to the emotion, your relationship becomes less attached, and softer. The point being these emotions aren't going away, so you may as well make friends with them. 

I thought Rohan's talk finished strongly, much stronger than it started. He left us with some very pertinent points and practical tips and was an engaging speaker. 

Next up was Kai Kight, billed as Innovator, Speaker, Violinist - surely a unique tag line. He started by giving an excellent violin performance, that frankly knocked spots off my eldest daughters attempts when having lessons although I remain very proud of what she achieved. He gave us an insight into the personal tragedy that inspired him to begin making more of himself and to begin composing his own music, and to share his own vision with the world. 

He asked us to think about the people we lead and work with. Are they writing their own music, or just playing old sounds? How can we encourage them to be more authentic and play their own music? What can we as leaders do to influence this?

He asserted that few people care if a leader is perfect, what they do care about is whether the leader makes them feel something. 

He challenged us to question what people do, to question their mindsets, their assumptions and the way they behave. Challenge people to ask why what they are doing matters. 

Unleash the music by unlocking people's potential and the innate ability to question, challenge and innovate. And prioritise the music - if you create a sense of urgency about being oneself, being authentic, and focus wholly on it, the music will come and will be better for it. He challenged us to think about what the world would be like if we all, naturally and without prompting, focused on the music, prioritised the music and the important things in our life. 

Kai's talk was an excellent and unique experience, it isn't often you get music at an HR conference!

At this point I skipped the next session in order to go and do final checks for my own session. I'll not blog now for a few hours until I'm back. 

See you on the other side. 


Wednesday, 3 February 2016

#hrevent16 blog #8 of many

Lunch provided an excellent opportunity to recharge my batteries, drink a lot of water, catch up with some excellent people and also have that massage that I have been asking for since #CIPD15.

And wow how good do my back and shoulders feel. Well played Ceridian. Well played. 

So here I am after lunch sat listening to John Vincent talk about creating a high performance culture. John started by talking about how for most of his life his mindset had been about competitiveness, fighting, challenging, and battles. 

And then he realised that fighting was not the same as winning. That challenging could be done without fighting. And he learned a martial art to help him embed this in Leon. 

I have to confess that I had not heard of Leon, and I might be in a minority here. They are heavily south east based, which explains it to some degree, and have no presence north of Birmingham. 

John learnt that he needed to pick his fights, and not get stressed by not being able to fight all the fights. If you try to do it all, you spread yourself too thin and you are constantly trying to fight and become addicted to fighting battles, some of which you will win but many of which you won't. 

John recommends choosing ONE thing to focus your energies on. He gave examples of four different types of people who will hinder your efforts to focus on one thing, and this was good advice and entertaining also. For Leon, the one thing to do well was to help people eat well. Everything else then flowed from this, and it worked. This clarity of vision helps to sell the brand to employees, who get it. 

The Leon story about creating positive change and a positive working culture was very interesting and if you have followed the event on Twitter you'll see some soundbites from the talk John did that I've done a screenshot of here:

John closed by saying his role as CEO is no longer one of commanding, but about ensuring people (his employees) are well. 
A great talk. 

My next session, and final one from the day, is on data analytics. Jennifer Burnett from Cornerstone led the session and kept saying dating analytics, which I think is an entirely separate field of research. 

In this session I developed an unfortunate tickle in my throat and kept coughing. I hate being that one person in a conference who is coughing, but in this session I was that person and it was difficult. 

Jennifer talked about how organisations can move from reactive, descriptive analytics to predictive and prescriptive analytics and recommended a few areas where organisations can focus their efforts. Sourcing talent, identifying future leaders, retaining talent, reducing non compliance, and enabling talent mobility. Both predictive and prescriptive analytics can help with these challenges. 

What was interesting is how she felt the HR team and capabilities need to change, something I've also blogged about, but which she developed further. You need someone who can understand what data drives the business and the critical success factors. Someone who can align KPIs with the data and map the strategy and design data models. And someone who is skilled at data validation and analysis. These could be one or two different people or more, but they will require different backgrounds and it's quite likely they won't be professionally qualified in HR, but may have a social science background or a mathematics / statistics background. 

This was another interesting talk on a developing area of interest for me. 

And that, dear reader, is me done for the day. I'm off now to do some practicing for my own speech tomorrow. Have I mentioned this already?


#hrevent16 blog #7 of many

After the break I'm sat in a session looking at power bases in an organisation. Strangely, I was researching this very thing this morning on the train as I'm keen to map out the social network that exists at an informal level in my new organisation. 

This session is in the Learning Theatre, at the edge of the exhibition hall and next to the kitchens, which unfortunately meant that the background noise was considerable. The bench arrangement meant that, for us bloggers, there was no way to lean back in a chair in order to perch ones tablet on ones lap, and I suspect my back will suffer afterwards. 

Lucky for me there is an exhibitor offering chair based massages, and as this is something I often cry out for at conferences I will be visiting this stand. Any other exhibitors who wish to give me a massage will benefit from a similar visit to their stand. 


This session is about the psychological contract. Jason wanted to cover how organisations focus on power and the ability to influence. He says there are multiple sources of power, and some of these come from ones social network and things that are intrinsic to you like skills and knowledge, as opposed to those that are conferred upon you by the organisation like structure, role and authority etc. 

Often organisations only focus on structurally endorsed power, and not on socially endorsed. It's this latter bit I'm interested in. Jason recommended that organisations harness this social power to drive engagement and alignment within an organisation. 

So who are these socially powerful people in an organisation?

You can ask people who they trust. Who they collaborate with. Whose expertise they recognise. Who they feel is influential. And some other questions too. Answering these identifies who the socially powerful people are and builds a different view of the organisational chart. The identified people will be both a great source of information and a great disseminator of information, and therefore are of high value to any executive team. 

This is the kind of thing I want to do in my new organisation, but I don't know whether it's the kind of thing a new senior leader can do without arousing immediate suspicion. 

What Jason says you'll find is that these people are the key opinion leaders, but making up only 3%, of the organisation. He also made the point that there is a strong correlation between high levels of EQi and social power, which I would agree with. 

I definitely need to do this and will researching the available software for this. Jason made the link at the end to changing leadership development to encourage the building of socially endorsed power, and this is also something I need to work on. 

A quick dash to my next session sees me listening to Mike Theaker from SAP Successfactors looking at the changing world of work and how HR needs to respond. 

Mike looked at each one of these four factors in turn. Firstly technology. Mike covered a lot of statistics that have been quoted elsewhere and in other sessions at this event, so this one was a given. As was globalisation. And as was shifting demographics. Strangely most of the quoted statistics were about the US, which I guess highlights the globalised world but in a UK conference it would be helpful to see UK based statistics surely? And then the fourth one on engagement wasn't particularly new either. 

I think I came to this session wanting to hear what HR needed to do and could do to exploit these forces. Instead, Mike spent 20 minutes explaining what the forces were and whilst his talk was accurate and informative, it didn't give me the ideas for action I wanted during this time. 

Until the end, where Mike gave us his four main points. And here they are:

Simplifying and modernising our technology is about "being more retail" as Capita mentioned earlier today in giving our workforce the technology to make choices and manage their employment experience in a way we already do for customer. Actionable insight is about embedding analytics into every process and understanding how we can improve and predict performance. Process efficiency is about devolving basic transactional activities to the line using the technology that's available. And finally engagement is about personalising the approach and having an individual approach to engagement and talent management. 

At this point even though I'm due in another session, I feel the need to speak, and also eat, as I'm a bit fatigued by workshop sessions right now. Back soon. 


#hrevent16 blog #6 of many

Rather frustratingly I'd typed out most of this but upon clicking Save, the app crashed and I lost it all. So I'm having to recreate this from memory. 

Day two of the event. It appears many people had a blast staying over last night, but for me after a long day all I wanted to do was get home to my kids, have a dance, a story, and then shower and I was in bed by 10pm. Worlds apart. 

So here we are listening to Dame Stephanie Shirley, whose story had such humble beginnings but which was both inspirational and interesting. Hard to believe that the things she experienced, the barriers she faced, were only 50 years ago. Our age is more enlightened, but how will we and our ways be viewed in another 50 years time?

She talked a lot about equality, citing the lessons she learnt and the ways in which she structured her company so that jobs were fitted around people and not the other way around. How many companies still struggle with this concept? Listening to the barriers she ran into as the first female IT entrepeneur in the UK was both frustrating and inspiring. 

She raised some interesting points about legislation potentially hampering equality in the workplace. Here she was talking specifically about the National Minimum Wage and its potential to create barriers for disabled people obtaining entry level jobs. This was a perspective I'd not encountered before and it certainly made me think what the purpose and impact of employment legislation may be. 

She also talked about the rise of robots doing HR work, and gave some examples. She questioned whether, if this continues, "human" resources needs to expand to include how robots are managed as part of the workforce. This made me laugh initially, then it sank in and I think she's right. Robot Resources?

Much of my other reflections on her talk are now lost unfortunately. 

Next up was Hollie Delaney from Zappos. The Zappos story is one I had read about before but hearing about it in person was really good. 

Hollie explained how the Zappos culture came about, and how it influences all aspects of the company. Recruitment at Zappos is heavily weighted by cultural fit, and the induction period focuses on cultural integration and fit, rather than technical ability. 

She explained the concept of holocracy, designed to eliminate bureaucracy, rules and hierarchy, and gave examples of how it works. I can see that it does for Zappos and it would in many organisations too, but I wonder how many organisations are too entrenched in their own histories and origins to fully embrace this style of working, no matter how innovative or successful? 

Hollie's enthusiasm was infectious, and her style seems perfectly suited to the culture at Zappos so it's easy to imagine how happy a workplace this is. I do wonder though if the cultural fit assessment prevents the development and evolution of the culture by preventing the entry of new and different ideas and ways of working, that most organisations get from an influx of different people from time to time. Perhaps their way is the better way, but sometimes organisations need people to act and behave in different ways in order to evolve. 

Maybe. It's something I'd be interested to discuss and research further anyway. 

A quick jaunt downstairs and now I'm listening to Eric Tyree from Capita talk about the increasing use of analytics and big data in the workplace. Now, this is something I have blogged about on more than one occasion so it's of interest to me. 

Eric challenged organisations to "be more retail". He cited examples from Amazon, Tesco (etc) who personalise and customise the shopper experience to an individual level. His assertion is that the information is out there for employers to use, so we need to overcome our fears about using it and start to customise the employee experience to an individual level. 

Increasingly, he says, employees will be expecting this and if you as an employer can't, you risk them taking their labour elsewhere. In particular he recommended that we do this in employee benefits, but this advice came with a warning not to listen to employee surveys on benefits as people will often say yes to benefits without thinking through whether they really want or need them. 

So segment your employees. Look at their career stage, income band, gender, age, marital status, dependent or not etc. And then put the benefits in front of them based on this analysis and let them choose whether to take them. 

This is a challenge because in my current role I've been looking at benefits, but not really considered segmenting employees to look at what they might need. It's been an organisation wide choice but not personalised, and maybe it could be. I wonder though how easy this would be for smaller organisations? All his examples were organisations employing 1000+ staff, and I can see how it works very well in that size of company. 

He went on to talk about using big data in talent management, eg using data to analyse attrition rates and segment accordingly to manage talent and reduce turnover and absenteeism. 

Thankfully he also talked about correlations in data, which is something I think is critical to data use. So he asked us to link things like employee relations data to recruitment data and so on. I think this is where organisations can make HUGE leaps forward in understanding their workforce and in making changes to how they engage with their staff. 

A big piece of advice about correlation from Eric though was that if you present any correlated data, you must be able to explain WHY and HOW there is a correlation, otherwise it's worthless. 

And now it's coffee time. Loooooonnnnngggg overdue. 


Tuesday, 2 February 2016

#hrevent16 blog #5 of many

So lunch was difficult for two reasons. One was controlling my huge appetite but the bigger problem, one that arises every year at this event, was finding somewhere to put your plate down whilst you ate. When it's a buffet you can cope with holding your plate but not so easily when it's hot food and full meals. So everyone struggled holding plates, bags, drinks and juggling all of these without anywhere to put any of them down. 

After lunch I watched the first Ignite session of the event. Chaired by Perry Timms, this one showcased the talents of Ian Pettigrew and Simon Flynn. I'd not seen an Ignite event before although I'd heard of them, and as I've been invited to participate in one in a few months time I figured this was good research. 

Ian, in his first Ignite session, showed a mastery of the technique and presentation format, and succeeded in illuminating the audience on how to unlock potential. I thought he did exceptionally well (as did Simon) and I'm now looking forward to and brimming with ideas for my own upcoming Ignite session. 

The follow on session on leadership in the NHS suffered very much from post lunch syndrome despite the best efforts of the presenter to encourage interaction. His presentation was very visual and I can't recall any slides that just contained words, so he too was a confident presenter. However I feel he took too long to really get into describing what he had done at that part of the NHS. 

What he had done was create two linked leadership programmes, one focused on risk management for developing team leaders, and another focusing on collaboration on live projects for first line managers. Both programmes are heavily experiential and the initial conclusion was that they are proving successful in this part of the NHS. 

After this I hopped next door and went into the Roffey Park session led by Michael Jenkins, which started with this startling statistic:

Basically the UK needs to raise its game, productivity wise. Michael prepared to share with us what Roffey Park advise we do about it. He focused on a model for developing strong leadership through employee engagement, and homed in on the compassion element of this model. 

Roffey Park understand why leaders find being compassionate difficult, and have produced a test/model that measures compassion in leaders and which helps them to become more compassionate. In summary, leaders are helped to be alive to others suffering, be non judgemental, be tolerant to personal distress, be empathetic, and to take appropriate action. 

As a session this ended up being more theoretical than I originally envisaged, and I was hoping for something offering more practical advice and lessons from experience, however the model to measure compassion is an interesting one and one I imagine could form a good component of leadership development and executive coaching. 

The lack of an afternoon break enables the organisers to fit more sessions into what are already long days, but I think a fifteen minute break would have been helpful to many. 

My final session of Day One was by Kath Austin, People and Marketing Director at Pizza Hut, who talked about marrying HR and Marketing to rebuild the PH brand. She shared an interesting journey from a brand that was going nowhere, or going to the wrong places, because it wasn't listening to its customers and its staff. 

What worked was handing over ownership of the rebrand to the local stores. Critical to this was HR's ability to assess the capability and readiness for the change. Managers of local stores needed complete retraining and this change in skills, knowledge and attitude / mindset can take upwards of a year!

The process of rebranding, retraining staff and refurbishing the store comprises six steps on the PH leadership journey. It was a complicated slide to try to describe and I couldn't get a good, readable picture either, but it was also a comprehensive approach to rethinking and retooling the business. 

The question of whether HR and Marketing could work together was solved by putting them together in the same function, and allowing them to grow together organically. This is something any organisation with brand issues or talent attraction issues may wish to consider. 

I enjoyed this session and have ended the day on a high. Roll on tomorrow. 

One thing I would say to the organisers is that, even now spread across three days, these are LONG days. An 8:45 start is early but not too bad, but the post 6pm finish as well makes it almost impossible for those with families to attend all of the conference. As it is, I'm sneaking off at 4:45 to catch my train and still feel as if I'm missing out. 

Let's see. 


#hrevent16 blog #4 of many

In any HR conference there is always an Employment Law update and this event is no different. Always useful but how engaging depends on the speaker, and I've seen some very good and some very bad. 

Up today is Richard Thomas from Capital Law. He had a very fast paced style and didn't dwell too long on any particular case. Possibly too fast. 

He started by giving a summary of recent and future developments on the issue of Holiday Pay, and advised us to watch case law development closely as this area continues to evolve. 

He also covered the issue of working time, which for mobile workers can be deemed to start at the point they leave their home. On sick pay, he clarified that workers can carry forward sick pay entitlements to a new holiday year, but only for 18 months. 

An interesting case on subject access requests was highlighted, with a clear lesson for HR sections to manage internal emails in disciplinary cases because these could be covered by a subject access request. 

Of interest to those promoting social media use in organisations, like myself, is that courts are increasingly taking the view that Facebook, where privacy settings can be applied, can be employees own views and difficult for employers to act against, whereas Twitter is more open and people need to be careful...

I have to confess that at this point, Richard was going way too fast for me to blog and I have ended up five or six slides or cases behind him. He was clearly very knowledgeable and a good presenter too, but he had packed FAR too much into his session and it was all very interesting so we were just getting our heads around one case and its implications when he moved onto the next. 

Too fast. He was excellent otherwise. But he lost most of the audience by going too fast. 

I stayed in the room to listen to the next session with Louise Reed from Alere, but there was some problem and the session was cancelled with a minute to go and we were all advised to find an alternative session. 

As luck would have it, I had wanted to view Gem Reucroft and Tim Scott's session on social media at work but had found myself needing to make a hard choice. Thankfully this development made my choice for me and as it was in the hall next door I was able to get in before it got too full, although I had to sit at the front which I never like. 

I liked Gem and Tim's style and approach and, having spent time with both of them, I can vouch that their enthusiasm is genuine and their knowledge of employee engagement wide ranging. They use social media as a lever to manage employee engagement and use it well. 

What does surprise me though is how many people at a conference like this aren't active on social media. How many HR professionals think they can get by nowadays without being active, professionally, on social media. And yet here were people joining Twitter mid session, and of course the room was full of delegates wanting more advice. My advice is just go out there and do it. 

You could do a lot worse than following the examples set by Gem and Tim, and others. 

In this session, Gem and Tim were extolling the virtues of internal social networks. In my current role I use Yammer extensively, and the organisation uses it very well to promote achievements, highlight and develop collaboration between employees, and to get people actively involved in what the organisation does and disseminate news. 

It works really well, and yet I think I agree with Gem and Tim that more could be done. 

Another good point was about the use of social media like Twitter to engage customers and staff, and to create some visibility for leaders, and Tim made an excellent point about using media like Storify to bring Twitter to non Twitter users, something I've only done once or twice but recognise I could do more of. 

Listening to Tim and Gem's stories about people fearing change made me reflect on some of the debates I had in my organisation 7-8 years ago about staff use of social media, but I acknowledge there are still organisations who have yet to have that debate. The role of HR is to help individuals and organisations get used to social media, overcome their fears and get comfortable with usage. 

HR should be role models, say Gem and Tim. It's not about writing the policy on it - you do need one, but keep it brief - but spearhead the approach and live the values. 

An excellent talk. But now it's lunchtime. 


#hrevent16 blog #3 of many

One thing I have always found confusing at this conference is the myriad of rooms and little corridors and stairwells you have to traverse in order to find your chosen room, and the lack of a booking system for each talk meaning that some are really popular and you can't get in, but others are almost empty. Plus, the numbering system for rooms used by the ICC is different to the numbering system used by the event organisers, so this can often be time consuming trying to find where you need to be. Thankfully this year Hall 5 appears to be Hall 5. 

The next talk I am in is by the founder of Potentialife, Angus Ridgway, and if I am brutally honest he suffered by having to follow both Howard Webb and Marshall Goldsmith, both of whom were world class speakers. His talk was about putting leadership behaviours in place right through the organisation. 

He highlighted the difference between average performers and the best performers, and based his advice on scientific research. Take a look at the photo below which showcases these different behaviours. 

Angus suggests that successful people spend more time on the right side of the page. He then asked us what the impact would be if we had an organisation full of such leaders? Most attendees of this session, when asked, said that it's a mission critical success factor. 

Ridgway had a look of Bear Grylls about him, but he wasn't as engaging a speaker as I think Bear is. Perhaps it was just post keynote slot syndrome, or perhaps my dehydration and hunger were getting the better of me, but I was willing this session to end. 

It had the feel of a lecture rather than a speech, and there is a subtle but important difference. It was a bit too sciencey for me. 

Ridgway concluded by leaving us with three questions. How many leaders does our organisation need to be successful? How important is it to have an organisation full of leaders? And how do I overcome the obstacles? He asserted that leadership is a key enabler of success. 

And then it's coffee time.

I spent much of the lengthy break stuffing my face with Danish pastries, and imbibing as much coffee as I could. I have no willpower. 

I also spent some time catching up with Gemma Reucroft, Ian Pettigrew and Perry Timms (resplendent in white lab coat) and discussing our experiences of the event so far. 

After the break I'm in a talk about transformational change by Viridor. As my own talk on Thursday is on transformational change (have I mentioned that I'm speaking at this event?) then this offers a good opportunity to compare and contrast different approaches.  

Perhaps unfortunately, Viridors talk started with 8 whole minutes of detailed description about the company itself, including a nice video, but this was not what we were here to listen to no matter how interesting. It left them with around 20 minutes of actual advertised content. 

I wonder whether the organisers of HREvent vet or quality check the presentations before they unleash them? Something I've wondered about today is whether the move to three days instead of two has diluted the quality of the content and this may be an indicator here. Of course my own speech is the exception. Of course...

Viridor faced a number of challenges and their response was twofold. 

1. They put colleagues first in everything, and established new talent pipelines and training programmes. 
2. They made the sector more attractive to high calibre candidates, and increased the awareness of different career opportunities. 

In the first of these, they did a big investment in Health and Safety, and employee wellbeing. Talking to existing employees was key to this in terms of establishing what employees valued and wanted. Another key point was improving the quality of line managers to be able to manage staff and teams.  These will be similar to some challenges I feel will face me in my new role, so seeing how it is done at Viridor is useful. 

In the second of these, they realised that they had a problem with perception of their industry. Attracting candidates was difficult but retaining talent once employed was easy. So they needed to tell their employees stories and publish these so that all potential talent knew what the available careers were and why they should consider them. They also made a conscious choice to benchmark themselves outside their sector, and to deliberately recruit senior staff from outside the sector. 

The benefits were improved safety records, improved attraction and retention rates, better productivity and improved customer growth. So this appears to be an approach that has worked wonders for Viridor. Can I adopt a similar approach in my new role to tackle similar challenges?  Let's see. 


#hrevent16 blog #2 of many

Second speaker up was Marshall Goldsmith. 

At this point my head is spinning. I should have taken an earlier train as it got in at 8:30 and I more or less sprinted to get to the ICC by 8:40. I then spent a good 25 minutes queuing at and arguing with the delegate registration staff to get myself a badge before they and I realised that my badge was waiting for me in the Speakers Lounge, but that that badge had my name and company spelt wrong so a new badge was eventually procured. So I missed the welcoming speech and also missed out on getting a coffee. 

And I need coffee every morning. 

So I'm listening to Marshall Goldsmith give his talk and my mouth is dry, I need to go to the toilet and I am still in a bit of a whirl. It's a small wonder I managed to blog Howard Webbs speech at all. 

So Marshall Goldsmith is talking about a range of things, primarily to do with employee engagement and how we can build better resilience. He talked at length about triggers, the emotional kind mainly, and how we can avoid wasting energy in responding to triggers that send us down dead ends. His advice was to control ones reaction to the triggers to avoid wasting energy - life is always going to be crazy, so accept it and deal with it. 

He then talked about a structured coaching process that should help us all to coach ourselves and others. Before he did that he talked about lessons from Alan Mullally attempting to change leadership behaviours to turn around corporate performance. Mullally had zero tolerance for poor leadership behaviours, and helped the company to turn around by living the values and behaviours, not by talking. This achieved cultural change through employee engagement by showing leaders who were engaged and truthful and transparently living the values and behaving correctly and in line with how they ought to.  

Goldsmith openly admitted that coaching oneself is difficult and he pays a woman called Katie to ring him every day and ask him a series of coaching questions, because he, as the worlds leading executive coach, finds it too hard to do it to himself. 

His Daily Question process covers - how many times yesterday did you try to prove something right that wasn't worth it? How many angry or destructive comments did you make about other people? How many times did you (do exercise / do or say something nice / etc etc). Basically it's questions about how you live your life, and it's up to you how you answer them but going through the process is hard and takes practice. 

His approach to employee engagement includes the concept of active questions. Active questions focus on what YOU can do to make a positive difference to yourself and the world, not the other way around. They all should begin "did I do my best..?"

- to be happy
- to find meaning
- to be fully engaged
- to build positive relationships
- to set clear goals
- to move towards the goals

And then ask yourself what you would do differently to get a higher score the following day?

These are powerful coaching questions and I can immediately see application for myself as I move towards starting a new job and making new relationships at the end of this month. Studies show that the vast majority of people report some improvement, on most of the items, with almost no one reporting any negative change and only a minority reporting no change. The studies show that these questions WORK and deliver individual employee engagement.

Now multiply that by thousands, millions. It's a good thing to try. I know I will. 


#hrevent16 blog #1 of many

Here I am at #hrevent16, the fourth year I have attended this and my first as a speaker. I'm excited about this. I'm going to blog from the event too and share some of the key points from the sessions I have attended. 

The first keynote speech was by Howard Webb, ex Premier League and World Cup final referee. I'd never heard Howard speak except in soundbites before, and he proved to be a brilliant speaker. He focused on the areas he feels are critical to achieving success and high performance. 

His first point was about preparation. Howard advised us invest in your personal skills and knowledge bank account so that it is topped up ready for use whenever you need it. He gave examples of how he uses downtime in between his public performances to top up his skills. 

His second point was teamwork and Howard gave some excellent examples about how his support crew, linesmen, needed to be at top performance as well and how he worked with them to ensure they would provide the best possible support to him, and how his success was as a result of their performances rather than his own. 

His third point was about dealing with pressure. A referee is clearly a very visible component of a match but seeks to be anonymously successful by making no mistakes. A strange concept. He talked about dealing with media scrutiny and about performing under the pressure of millions of people watching, and ensuring he trained for such things. 

His fourth point was decision making. A leader needs to make decisions, and have courage to do so knowing they are expected to do so, have trust in their team and take the time to do so (even if that time is only seconds). His advice was to trust ones gut instinct, as he feels you only get to the top in leadership by trusting your gut instinct. Howard showed some excellent video footage to back up this point, and advised us to watch and learn from, react to, other people's reactions, in order to seek evidence that your gut reaction is right or wrong. 

His fifth point was about reflection and learning. It's easy to attach yourself to a decision emotionally, but very important to sit back and reflect and evaluate on the entire performance. Don't just focus on what went wrong and learn from that, but focus on what went right and learn from that too. 

His sixth point was on communication, and using the full range of communication signals particularly non verbal signals. Eye contact and body language are exceptionally important for a leader particularly when, as with a referee, there are often significant language barriers preventing good verbal communication.

Howard's speech was funny, entertaining and full of interesting and relevant lessons for any leader who has to act under pressure.