Understanding Individual Performance in an Organisation

Employee performance is a favourite topic of mine because it is one which is often very misunderstood and in this blog I want to give you a sense of why I think this to be the case!
Let us start with a simple scenario. Sam is a very competent saleswoman and she works for a company who we will call ‘Old School’. Sam is in charge of selling a product which has become less easy to sell in recent months. Customers seem to be buying a competitor’s product which better meets their requirements. The recently implemented Old School CMS is time consuming and clunky whilst the company have recently introduced additional reporting procedures to try and control cost. All of this has created more bureaucracy for Sam. Her figures show a decline in performance from the previous year and going into her quarterly review, Sam feels frustrated, vulnerable and unsure about what to do.
During the meeting, her manager Nick, suggests that Sam should try harder to sell Old School’s products. “Yes it is tough but you need to be more innovative in your approach and need to try even harder” he tells her as he awards a ‘Requires Performance Improvement’ grade. Sam had already being working very hard but at least she is now sure about what to do. She leaves her review meeting feeling completely demoralised and the first thing she does is to phone a recruitment agency. The question is was Sam to blame?
A traditionalist like Nick might say yes. Yet what this example hopefully shows, is that an individual’s performance is actually impacted by many different factors out with the control of the individual. In Old School we saw external changes to the market in the way of new competition as well as significant internal change imposed upon Sam. What we’ve seen is the greater system impact her total performance leaving Sam stuck as something of a bystander to events. The renowned late American industrialist Edward Deming talked about the 85/15 rule – that in certain circumstances the system was responsible for up to 85% of an individual’s actual performance. We could argue about the actual weighting of this ratio but he highlights a very important point. If Nick had understood this he could approach the problem differently and work with Sam to look at the decline of performance in a more constructive way.
The misunderstanding of the multifaceted nature of performance can be hugely detrimental to business success and individual wellbeing. I’m not saying for one minute we have an abdication of individual responsibility, but surely if we recruit the right people in the first place and they pass their probation period, they’re competent to work for the company? I’ll leave you with one last thought, imagine how nicer work would be without a blame culture…
What do you think, does this example resonate with you?


The problem with Performance Related Pay...

I read an article in today’s Guardian which referred to performance related pay in the civil service. It got me thinking - I understand George Osborne plans to introduce greater performance related pay to the Civil Service in 2016. I don’t have an issue with reform of the civil service (although I don’t pretend to know much about the civil service if I’m honest) but I do have an issue with performance related pay. On the face of it, performance related pay seems like a logical thing to do. No doubt politicians think it is a good way to ensure results and demonstrate to the public that they’re being tough yet fair. After all “reward” equals “pay” right?
The unfortunate thing is there is very little (in fact next to none) evidence to show that performance related pay actually works! There is however evidence to show it can be damaging and actually drive the wrong behaviours. For many decades respected industrialists and academics have told us that money is a poor motivator. For example Frederick Hertzberg told us in 1959 that money is important to an extent - but only to a limited extent. Karl Dunkers ‘candle problem’ published way back in 1945 showed the limitations financial incentives have in driving results to complex problems. The fact is the ‘carrot and stick’ approach which encompasses things like performance related pay and performance appraisal rarely works and when it does, does so in limited circumstances.

The most powerful human motivation comes from within and there is a lot of evidence to support this. If you’re sceptical, apply this to your own life and you will see it makes sense. For example do you bust a gut to finish that 10k because someone is going to pay you? Do you volunteer with your local sports club because you will get punished? No of course you don’t. A cursory glance at some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world is revealing. People like Branson or Zuckerberg talk about solving problems, coming up with innovative solutions, creation, having mastery of their work. In fact money is a consequence of their success rather than the driving factor.

Yet in late 2013 we’re still in a situation where politicians and many companies think the best way to motivate people is through performance related pay.


What's wrong at Grangemouth?

For a while things seemed to be going from bad to worse at Grangemouth. Depending on who you believe or what you read, there were various parties to blame. However truth is rarely black and white. Perhaps there is also another way of analysing the situation which has lessons for companies across the globe.

I look at Grangemouth and I see a classic ‘them and us’ culture. The question is where does this culture come from? Often this sort of culture is entrenched in the organisation but it comes from a set of unhealthy assumptions that will have existed for a long time.

If we look at the social science research about human motivation and productivity at work - how much is really achievable in a command and control structure? Whether you like it or not, if you insist on putting in layers of ‘management’, you are putting in place controls which stifle empowerment and extend your communication lines – they ultimately make people remote from the company.

Why do we empower? So we can raise human productivity but to do so properly we have to believe that people are inherently trustworthy individuals who can manage themselves. We have to start treating people like adults and sometimes the adults need to accept they’re adults too. We need to get away from this ‘carrot and stick’ (reward and punishment) approach to work because as Dan Pink tells us, there is no greater amount of research built up over the course of decades to show it just doesn’t work.


Does HR Work? Pt Two 'The Negative Influence of Employment Law on HR'

First of all, apologies for not producing an article in August! I’m going to blame some holiday time and the Edinburgh festival (which was exceedingly good this year).  So here I am in an increasingly dark September and ready to continue with my series of blogs entitled ‘what’s wrong with HR’. In this article I’m going to talk about employment law and the negative effect, I believe, legislation has had on the role of HR departments.

Ask people about HR and the chances are that they will talk about a function that is there to hire and fire. I often found myself resisting this charge because to me HR was always about enabling people to work effectively, to boost performance and reduce cost. It was heavily based on psychology and evidence gathered over the course of a century. Indeed this was why I got it into it in the first place. But it has become clear this was my perception rather than the one held by people at large and indeed it wasn’t one which stood up next to my own experiences as an HR employee. In my defence a cursory glance at the Human Resource Management books in the library of Edinburgh Napier University is far more likely to support my original view of things. So why the disconnect between the boffins in the library and the public and practices of many HR departments who have adopted the role of hirer and firer?

Some of this has been undoubtedly brought about by various Westminster governments, particularly the Labour one. I recently chatted with a colleague from the CIPD, a person who is a little longer in the tooth than myself (but with age comes lots of experience)! He told me that when he started his career in the late 70s, employment law was pretty much “on one pamphlet of paper”. Oh how things have changed! We now live in an age where employment law is on many, many pamphlets of paper!

The ogre of employment law has grown and this hasn’t been helped by a growing blame/get rich quick litigation culture and the growing cottage industry around it which includes law firms through to HR/Employment law companies who promise to ‘keep your business safe’.

To be fair I understand within this climate why a company must address and comply with employment law and it is natural this should fall under the remit of HR. Unfortunately and with a few exceptions, HR at large has become concerned with what I will unapologetically call “ar8e covering”...I know you wouldn’t encounter such a term in the Harvard Business Review but this is my blog and I’m only bit part academic.

What is the result of this ar8e covering? Many HR departments have become convinced that their very purpose in life is to prevent litigation. The trouble is I’d argue that this has had damaging consequences for their businesses. Unless you’re a law firm your company doesn’t exist to prevent litigation - it surely exists to supply a product or service? Unfortunately the need to prevent litigation doesn’t sit well with enterprise. In practice this mind set of ar8se covering manifests itself in anti innovation tools such as draconian staff handbooks aka patronising rule books. Then there is my most hated bogey man of all, the appraisal system.

 It seems many HR departments do employment appraisals, not just because they mistakenly think it will improve performance, but because they think it important to have a paper trail “in case something goes wrong”. Indeed if you go along to any performance management presentation from a lawyer this is what you will be told to do – make sure you have a paper trail and an appraisal system. This is regardless of the fact that most appraisals are completely useless at fulfilling the paper trail role, a point a good employment lawyer recently made to me in private.

“Ahh but litigation damages company reputation and costs money” I hear many HR people and lawyers say. True it undoubtedly can but this doesn’t let HR off the hook. Rather I think it’s about keeping it in perspective. I’ll bet you the cost of defending and losing an unfair dismissal is far less damaging than nurturing an a8se covering culture. True the former will cost you some money but the second will eventually put you out of business.  Ask any entrepreneur if innovation and bureaucracy go hand in hand and listen to what they say. In fact if the best thing your HR department does is to keep the company compliant, I’d suggest you outsource this responsibility to one of the employment law companies because I’d wager you’ll find it cheaper than the cost of employing a HR manager.

Furthermore if we look at the employment law burden it’s not actually as onerous as many believe. The media like to report the horror stories such as the discrimination claims against city banks where huge pay outs are awarded. These are proportional to the company wealth, particularly ugly cases and are the exception to what really goes on. In fact the median pay award in 2012 according to law firm Morton Fraser for unfair dismissal was £4,560. The reality is tribunals don’t want to put companies out of business. Changes to employment law in July of this year should further reduce the risk to businesses.

So what should a company do? By all means have some sensible measures in place to prevent litigation; have good employment contracts and yes, have a sensible handbook with corresponding policies and procedures (but please, please resist the temptation to have a handbook written in patronising legal language). You might even want to have a good relationship with a reputable employment lawyer as a prudent measure. However don’t let them rule the roost and above all else, try to accept that you can’t mitigate against every eventuality and accept that to attempt to do so is damaging.

In fact the best way to protect your business is to adopt an altogether different mind set – that people are Innocent until proven guilty and that most people are trustworthy who want to do well. Build your company and HR practices on this basis. Be very questioning of your existing employment policies in terms of what they really do for your business and why they are in place. Treat people like adults, support them and engender a culture of responsibility and true empowerment as your principles. Can your HR department support with this? If not, question why they are there.

Am I an idealist? Unashamedly so. But I recently read that the famous proponents of the sort of trusting culture I mentioned, WL Gore & Associates, have never made a loss in their 50 year plus history. So there must be something in it.

In the meantime, I’m going to be happy to continue to tell people why my version of HR is much more than hiring and firing.

As ever happy to hear your thoughts!


Does HR Work? Pt One "Recruitment"

This year, The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) have been trumpeting the organisations 100 year anniversary. 100 years is quite a landmark and it prompted me to reflect on the HR profession and my experience of it.
Therefore in this brand new series of blogs I’m going to explore some of the main areas of the profession and cast a critical eye over them.
First up is Recruitment...
I read a statistic recently which reckoned that companies underestimate recruitment costs by up to 95%! This is because they fail to see the associated costs of recruitment such as management time. This is quite staggering but it didn’t massively surprise me. Recruitment is certainly an expensive pursuit but it’s also important for other reasons which were best explained by a colleague of mine and experienced Financial Director, Jon Brigain.

Jon used to work for a leading soft drinks company with a reputation foged in adrenaline sports and I recently asked him how they maintained their culture in such a vibrant and fast moving company. His answer was simple and to the point - “Recruitment”. Jon said their policy was to only recruit people who bought into their values and would thrive in their culture. One of the key ways they achieved this was through a transparent recruitment process – essentially it was important that the candidate knew exactly what he or she was getting themselves into. I found this fascinating but there is a science behind this too which is to do with motivation. Human Behavioural Psychology tells us the most powerful type of motivation is intrinsic as opposed to extrinsic motivation. That means you ideally want people who want to work for you more so than because they have to i.e. it’s a job and they want to be paid (which is extrinsic motivation).
Recruitment is also an opportunity to get things off on the right foot with your new employee and also leave those who aren’t successful with a favourable impression. In HR circles we refer to this as the candidate journey i.e. the process from attraction to hire (or rejection) which I often liken to treating the candidate like a customer. This is an area where many companies fall short. Remember the old marketing adage about people being more likely to share a bad experience? We live in a connected world where thanks to social media every Tom, Dick or Harry can easily tell the world about their bad experiences. If you treat your candidates badly don’t be surprised if it hurts your business reputation.  It is therefore very important to think about how you get your candidates in the first place...
So I now come onto the relationship between HR and the Recruitment industry. Many laymen and women think HR and Recruiters are the same (I commonly hear recruiters being described as HR) but this is a mistake because they’re quite different. Recruitment is about placing people in companies and is really quite a lucrative business because it’s essentially sales. Now I want to make it clear that I’m not here to trash the whole recruitment industry because I realise there are good recruiters out there and I recognise there is a need for good recruiters too.

Professional recruiters can be particularly important in markets which require very specific hard to get skills or experiences, such as in senior level appointments or specialist roles. However I do have an issue with the practices of many high street recruitment companies.  If you haven’t had one yourself, speak with a friend or a colleague and I guarantee you it won’t take long to find someone who has had a bad experience with a recruitment agency. I also have an issue with the way many HR professionals are so blasé about their use of agencies.
So if we think about intrinsic motivation and transparency, as I had mentioned earlier, what do recruitment agencies do to help you achieve this? A typical recruitment agency advert on any given day on any jobs board, will read something like this: ‘We have a need for a marketing assistant in a leading company within an exciting industry’...such an advert contains no real information whatsoever about the company or the sector (this is to prevent the candidate going straight to the client company and thus the recruiter loses their fee). By what definition is this providing transparent information to the candidate? What bothers me is the HR communities collectively limp response. Yes I get that sifting CV’s is time consuming and agencies do this, but you know what – get over it! If your HR department’s response to a vacancy is to quickly pass it over to an agency, I’d be asking them some hard questions.
However I did say that sometimes you do need to use recruitment agencies so there might be some good answers to those hard questions. But there is a right way and a wrong way of using a recruitment agency. To do it the right way, it should be about partnering with a company which really understands your values and whose candidate experience will match your own expectations. There is a lot to be said for outsourcing things your less good at but it might be that a Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) company is a better bet than a high street agency if you’re recruitment requirements are regular and more standard. Your HR people should really know the difference between the two...
Inside companies themselves, recruitment systems, procedures and processes are often sub-standard. Poor use of recruitment agencies invariably starts because of poor internal practice. I have witnessed processes which are inept to the point that they result in increased cost and a poor candidate experience.  Remember we're talking about a fundamental company task here! A typical hallmark of such a process is that it is 'reactive' and in such senarios application of technology is often hap hazard at best.

You may also want to look at recruiting yourself. I do appreciate the internet and social media has become something of a double edged sword - giving easy access to candidates yet at the same time making it easy for the wrong candidates to apply.

However clever application of technology can be incredibly effective. We have had so many advances in technology that commercially available candidate management systems really do allow you to streamline processes and rather than see the Internet as a source of angst see it as an opportunity! For instance the capacity now exists to advertise multiple adverts at the touch of a button. Couple these technological solutions with candidate focused process mapping (when looking at processes you can't forget the candidate is the customer!) and tools such as psychometric profiling and we have a whole suite of methods available to help HR reduce the 'risk of recruitment', be cost effective, improve candidate experience and get that all important candidate fit. It’s also a place to be inventive with the interview itself – Jon told me he used to take people on a night out and to the climbing wall! Why not?!

I’ve been critical here and I also realise there are plenty examples of good recruitment practices but my feeling is that HR to date is way behind the curve on where it should be with this most fundamental of people tasks. So in this respect at least I’m going to have to say the profession isn’t cutting it. What do you think?


Personal Responsbility and Empowerment

I’m going to talk about the impact which companies and society have on individual attitudes around ‘responsibility’. The reason being that challenging attitudes is a fundamental part of empowering your staff and reaping the benefits associated with this.  
As I’ve touched on in previous posts, our organisational structures were set up, on the whole, to be very hierarchical. This is because they were heavily influenced by industrial era thinking. A typical organisational structure will therefore have tiers of senior management, middle management and junior management (team leaders, supervisors etc). The layers exist to control those below them. As our understanding of human psychology has improved so has our drive to offer more interesting work and to talk about ‘empowerment’. Of course the irony is we do this against many industrial era norms which remain contrary to this enlightened thinking.
A desire to have compliant staff was something so valued by industry, that author Ken Robison argues in his excellent presentation on TED Talks, that it has shaped the education system (whilst he refers to the United States the parallels with the United Kingdom are there). So we have a situation where by we encourage people to comply and this extends into the world of work. People are indoctrinated to obey and to have the belief that manager/teacher i.e. people in positions of authority know best. In certain circumstances this might be true and necessary, but I put it to you that it also encourages behavioural traits which are less helpful in our world today.
I also can’t help but look at the negative impact of modern society in the UK. We have a culture which is increasingly about blame and about people looking for others to do things for them. People expect things are disposable, people expect things from the government and people expect others to be responsible if things are not to their liking. This ‘blame culture’, which I would argue has been fuelled by both sides of the political spectrum (and the media), has in my mind, created a scenario where by people are reluctant to take responsibility. Society instils in people a sense of reliance which is contrary to the values of empowerment. In an ideal world it would be more about 'if you don’t like something then do something about it'! Unfortunately it seems that many would sooner blame someone else. This creates difficulties when we ask people to take responsibility which empowerment inherently does.
So when we talk about empowerment in the work place and when we talk about it authentically, we mean we are giving people more decision making concerning their work and their development. Progressive behavioural psychologists such as Maslow told us that is what human beings wanted and would be the best way to unleash the silver bullet of intrinsic motivation. I don’t dispute this high ideal and think it’s what we need to strive for to have both a more successful economy and society. However I also realise it’s not easy.
Unfortunately the negative indoctrination I referred to has created a situation whereby many people are reluctant to grasp true empowerment. The old norms valued compliance with sharp divides between ‘manager’ and ‘staff’ and it is difficult to break these down. For example a typical reaction by a member of staff when recalling their experience with training or development at work is to blame their manager when something has gone wrong. Blame is easy, but looking closer to home isn’t.
What does this mean for those of us who want to move to a more progressive way of working? It certainly creates unique challenges. For one it may mean changing the structure of your organisation...but I’ll leave that discussion for another time. More relevant to this post is challenging deeply held beliefs. A CEO I know told me it is far easier to continue managing by command and control because this is what people are used to (though he recognised it was far less effective in the long run). Therefore in making change happen, we first of all have to be patient. If we are asking people to consider their own development, when for years they’ve been told what to do, we can’t expect genuine empowerment to happen instantly. We must also remember that time honoured truth which is people don’t like change. For most, it’s easier to live with devil they know. In fact some people will never get on board with empowerment and may consequently have to leave your organisation. However most people will and as the wise psychologists told us, will grasp empowerment but it takes time and of course a willingness to accept a new paradigm around responsibility.
As ever I’m interested to hear your thoughts?


Do we expect too much from our managers?

We all have our interests and perhaps unsurprisingly (if you're reading my blog) one of mine is the topic of leadership and management. Whether it’s Julius Caesar or the guy who manages three people in the paper shop, the psychology of leadership and management fascinates me. It’s worth underlining that the two wouldn’t necessarily employ the same techniques! Anyway, I have found myself revisiting some of my old assumptions about management on the back of two pieces of work I have recently undertaken. The first is ongoing work in Aberdeen with an organisation called Scarf and the second was completed back in April together with Michelle Heron from Enhance People.

Michelle is hugely experienced in using psychometric profiling tools - something I’m also now qualified in.  DISC Personality profiling is based on the rationale that we all have preferred behavioural styles which translate into inherent strengths and weaknesses. My work with Scarf meanwhile is about helping to develop the organisation, its systems and its people. The work I completed alongside Michelle could be best described as 'People Development' whilst the work with Scarf could be described as 'Organisational Development'. Both have informed my thinking on line managers.

Like many other HR professionals, I’ve long held the view that the role of ‘manager’ is crucial to ensure staff development, motivation and performance. However the afore mentioned work has had me questioning this. I’d therefore started to reflect on my own experiences and in particular the managers I’ve had during my working life. Now it goes without saying that I was a model employee...ok my admin has always been questionable, I have a habit of running late but otherwise I was a model employee! Thankfully I’ve had no complete psychopaths to contend with and with hindsight I can appreciate all my managers had their strengths and limitations.

It was also true that I wasn’t always so forgiving and was on occassion, very frustrated by my managers seeming inability to perform to the standard I expected. Therefore my conclusion on these experiences, had until recently, been “good managers are the hens teeth”. I’d therefore built assumptions around the importance of rigorous recruitment and training as the ways to ensure management performance.

Perhaps one of the things which has made challenging my assumptions easier was I’ve been a manager myself and I have to concede there were things I was good at and things I was less good at. This also related well to the knowledge psychometric profiling gave me – that people have inherent strengths and weaknesses. Therefore if our starting point is people can’t be good at everything, is the problem in fact, that we simply place too much expectation on our managers?

I remember carrying out management training within a medium sized organisation a couple of years ago. It had quite a familiar hierarchical, organisational structure with departments and with good intentions around empowering people. The course we delivered was designed to give managers training on performance management, principles of management, coaching, mentoring and a whole host of other management skills. All of this was training on the ‘people’ elements of their duties. Managers would be expected to use these new skills next to their other management responsibilities which included delivering department outputs, keeping track of cost, planning etc – all fairly familiar outputs for a manager in any number of organisations. There was enthusiasm during our training days but afterward the feedback was that the training hadn’t had the shift in practice we had hoped for.  When I look back at this, I now think we were setting managers up to fail. I’m not too sure it was simply a case that the managers were “not getting it”.

I now believe we have to look deeper to understand the route of the problem which is our whole notion of the role of manager goes hand in hand with organisational structures which were designed to organise work in a bygone era. The industrial organisational model and accompanying hierarchy was designed around a relatively steady economy and slower paced, less globalised world. It was militaristic/feudal in concept and hierarchical. Our understanding of people and behavioural psychology was also far more limited during this time. However this has changed but it seems we’re still fundamentally sticking by industrial era organisational thinking. We still have the role of manager but we’ve now bolted on additional responsibilities to the job. This is because we have seen things like employee engagement emerge as issues but we want to solve them using old solutions. So whereas once the manager would have been there to control – to oversee the process and ensure targets were met - we now want them to empower, engage and coach our people as well as do the former.  Oh and they have to do this against the backdrop of a faster moving and more connected world. Is this realistic?

I don’t think it is. We know that intrinsic motivation has to come from within. A huge part of achieving this is by giving someone genuinely interesting, meaningful work and giving them autonomy. Not only is this desirable for motivation but it is also, I would argue, a practical necessity for many roles in our super connected, fast moving and uncertain world. This means changing the way we structure our organisations. Does this mean people don’t need to be managed? I certainly think they need leadership but perhaps they need less management. What I am saying is I don’t think we need the do it all, super star manager and we should stop kidding ourselves on that such a person exists

Until we start seriously challenging the way we work we will remain in a sort of limbo - a world where we are applying early 20th century solutions to 21st century problems. In the meantime the poor individual line manager remains trying his or her hardest to be all things to all people - the archetypical ‘Jack of all Trades’ and Master of None.

As ever, I’m interested in your thoughts...

Poor Paris and the Cop who said good riddance to Thatcher

The recent press coverage of Paris Brown and a Sergeant from the Metropolitan police who spoke ill of the late Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, have highlighted in rather stark terms the negative effect social media can have for individuals and their employers. In the case of Miss Brown, I’m sure many will be aware, that this particular case saw a young woman in a prominent position make some very frank admissions on twitter. I think it’s fair to say she wasn’t representing her employer when she gave her opinion on certain issues. The police officer on the other hand gave a blunt opinion about Margaret Thatcher. Whilst it seems some across the UK may have been sympathetic to his opinion, his employer was not pleased and he jumped before he was pushed (so to speak).
What does all of this mean? Certainly it’s another opportunity for us HR types to remind everyone about the adverse consequences social media posts can have on the work place. The Paris Brown case in particular shows that what you publish on the internet doesn’t go away. I understand there are currently proposals from the European Commission which would give individuals the "right to be forgotten". In simple terms; the right to have personal data deleted; in particular from the web! I’m sure the late Mrs Thatcher would have an opinion on this latest idea from Europe, but that aside, the pragmatist in me fails to see how this would be technically workable. Then there is the bigger question of freedom of information on the internet and so far the UK government have been lukewarm on the proposal. I could be jumping the gun but I don’t think we will see this come to fruition.
So in the absence of being able to delete this information what are we to do? Are we to judge that Paris Brown is forever tarnished by her actions? I think back to my time as a 17 year old and I’m only glad many of my goings on and thoughts were not public! I’m sure many of us will reflect that we would have been in the same position.
At the very least both cases reinforces the increasing power of social media in our society. Certainly on a practical level, it is a reminder once again about the importance of having a good social media policy in your business. Whether we like it or not, it seems a significant number of people are not guarded when it comes to social media. For some of us this might be hard to believe and we might even be unsympathetic in the face of seemingly stupid actions. However neither Paris Brown nor the police officer are stupid people so it highlights how blasé some people have become.
The Paris Brown case also highlights the generational angle to social media and it goes back to my earlier blog when I said young people who have grown up with social media have unsurprisingly become very accustomed to using it. The problem however is people treat it like having a conversation on the phone or down the pub. Facebook and Twitter in particular seem to be viewed as people's personal space. Linkedin meanwhile remains a good deal more po faced
Ok so we need a good work place policy to alert people to the dangers of social media to pre empt difficult situations for the individual and the business. But I don’t think this is the whole story. Perhaps it’s also about changing our attitudes on certain things. People make mistakes and mistakes are also a part of business and innovation so perhaps we need to be willing to put things into context. Yes Paris Brown made an error but let’s not forget she was industrious enough to get the role in the first place and I’m sure she is currently having the sort of experience that will make her wise beyond her years.
Perhaps it’s the idealist in me, but I also think as businesses, we should be embracing the willingness of people to use social media as a communication tool. Yes individuals need to be careful about what they post and as employers we need to recognise that there is the potential for it to damage our business. We also need to be prepared to educate people but I’d argue strongly that trying to ban it – ala the European Commission – isn’t the answer. Let us remember Social Media also has the potential to do wonderful things for our business. It can open new marketing channels, provide us with fantastic information and allow us to talk with people across the globe. So perhaps for employers it’s about tapping into the enthusiasm that many of us now have for social media. Instead of bringing in the expensive consultant to tell you how to use social media, how about asking your staff?
What do you think?


Resilience, another management buzzword?

Management buzzwords are like political scandals, they come along all too regularly and they always make you suspicious! Recently I’ve heard the term ‘employee resilience’ being used a lot, I’ve heard it in HR circles, networking events and in the media. I get a little sceptical about the latest management buzz words and I fear resilience has fallen into this camp. So is it a lot of rubbish then? Well, not entirely and in this blog I’m going to use my experience and expertise to talk about employee resilience and how it can be achieved.
What do we mean by resilience? I quite like this quote from the Oxford dictionary (it’s basic but sums things up succinctly) ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness’:
But why are we talking about it, it’s not exactly a new term is it? Part of me fears that some employers are using the phrase cynically i.e. because employees are faced with increased workloads, less money, less security and poor leadership some bright spark has thought “the answer is we need to make our staff more resilient”!  It then conjures up a rather bizarre image in my mind of someone being hypnotized to make them more resilient. Cynicism aside, resilience is incredibly important. We live in a rapidly changing world, very few things are now certain (apart from tax and death I believe) and setbacks and change are inevitable. I understand too there is a business case and a moral one for having a work force which can continue to add value against this backdrop. On the plus side human beings are incredibly resilient creatures, it’s the reason we’ve been able to spread across the globe and beyond. So what we need to do is to tap into some of the key factors which enable human beings to be resilient. The ones I have listed below are generic which I see as being core features for building resilience
Exercise & Diet - Human Beings were designed to be on their feet and our bodies are used to physical work. It helps us deal with stress and helps to avoid the physical symptoms of stress. Employers can encourage their staff to be active and there are both government initiatives and private companies to help with this. A contact of mine, Jamie Henderson from Fruits in the City provides fruit to businesses. Seems like a small thing? Don’t underestimate the importance of healthy body/healthy mind!
Empowerment & Failure - I think this is a huge one. As someone who has started my own business I have suffered many setbacks.  Failing is important and normal...as much as I’d rather it wasn’t! Accepting this makes it easier to fail but the important thing is I can do something about it when I do. For the avoidance of doubt I’m not advocating failure all of the time which is clearly not a good situation but then no one sets out to fail all of the time so it’s a mute point. If they do they’re clearly in the wrong job or market which is a different conversation. Anyway, I digress...
All too often the freedom to act in a company is limited and people become stuck in a situation which they can’t possibly control and this is itself stressful. People who are empowered are more likely to be intrinsically motivated. We know this on the back of research conducted decades ago by industrialists and academics far brighter than you or I. Intrinsically motivated people who are doing work they are motivated to do are far more likely to bounce back from setbacks and cope in a tougher environment.
Emotional Support – Remember that no man (or woman) is an island. As someone who is self employed I understand the need for a support network. Unfortunately many people don’t have support. Managers play an important role here. Are they approachable, tolerant and willing to listen? If they’re not, it is hardly conducive to creating a resilient environment.
Another practical solution for employers is an Employee Assistance Programme which often provides the services of a trained counsellor. All too often I’ve seen these fall by the way side and become an unused expense.  This is a shame because an independent, trained therapist can do a world of good. In the USA having a therapist seems to be second nature but one of the big tragedies in this country is that we associate therapy with negative connotations and social stigma. If you are using an Employee Assistance Programme it needs to be advertised properly, supported by management and measured (so as to evaluate the service).
Giving the Skills – Yes there are coping strategies to help people become more resilient and these can be taught. For example recognising the signs of stress, ‘bouncing back’ from setback, regulating emotions etc. It can be part of the solution but not the whole one.
Matching Strengths – I think this is important. If you have employed people who have an aptitude for their role and want to do it, they’re more likely to be resilient during the down times. Therefore think about recruitment, think about using tools such as the DISC or Strength Finder assessment. If you are able to match the right people to do the job in the first place (and I don’t mean by just looking at qualifications and experience), they’re more likely to be resilient. Although I will add that even the best people will have their resilience sorely tested if they’re poorly managed, not empowered and unsupported.

Personal Responsibility - I have issue when employee wellbeing or resilience is seen as soley the employers responsibility. The whole thing starts to become paternalistic and for me I find this counter productive and certainly not what empowerment should be about. In fact it really turns me off. Quite simply I believe that if you treat people like children they will act like them. I fear that we live in something of a victim/h&s obsessed society and the key thing about resilience, as with any wellbeing, is that people have to WANT to help themselves. You can take a horse to water and all that...which is why I come back to what i said earlier which is 'enabling'. Employers can enable people to be resilient but equally people i.e. the individuals can enable themselves to be resilient.
I hope these are useful and as ever I’m interested to hear your thoughts?


What is Development?

I recently had a conversation with some organisational development professionals (which included a good friend of mine, Amanda Brown from Cloud 10 Coaching) around the subject of ‘development’. We weren’t even in the pub but we talked at length about “what is development”?
The good news is I didn’t need to have had a couple of beers. Development and in particular, the development of people and organisations is something which is close to my heart.
The bad news is there were no simple answers to the question we tried to answer! We all agreed that development is multi faceted, is something which can be risky (for the individual) and is a life-long commitment. We felt that development was about finding peoples intrinsic likes and desires and then supporting them to develop in those areas. Development we determined is a difficult process and one which takes a level of risk on the part of the individual. Certainly in my own life, the things I have found most difficult are the things which have developed me the most. Put another way, this process is often referred to as ‘being out of your comfort zone’. I have often observed that people who don’t take themselves out of their comfort zone are less likely to develop.
In the same conversation we also spoke about education and the importance of finding out what children are good at.  As a group we broadly agreed that it was important to discover what people could do well – after all, every human being is good at something. We were quite critical of the education sector, which we felt is often preoccupied with the achievement of grades. Of course, education and state education in particular has to walk a tight rope which is about marrying broader development with perceived economic supply and demand and the needs of voters and the media.
I think this debate was in part illustrated by the recent media spot light on the Work Programme which manifested itself in the news around geologist graduate, Cait Reilly. Without getting into the rights and wrongs of welfare or the Work Programme, from my angle, I felt this hinted at a wider debate around ‘development’ and ‘skills’. There seemed to be a discussion in the media around should people do want they want to do or should they find a job where the market has demand? It’s an interesting discussion and one where I’d suggest the answer is somewhere in the middle i.e. aim to find something where there is demand but also something you like or are suited to. I certainly advocate this during my career coaching sessions. 
At one extreme, I do believe that people who do a job purely because it offers economic security will never be the best at it and the chances are their lives, won’t be as fulfilled as someone who does something because they are passionate about it. However we all need to make a living too so it’s important to find something which is in demand. If you look at successful entrepreneurs, I can’t think of a single one who set out to do what they did because of money alone but clearly finding market demand is an important part of their success.
So how does all of this affect a company who wants to develop their staff to be more productive employees? I always remember when I did a CIPD course on 'the training cycle', I heard a great phrase which summed up company development perfectly... “can’t cook/won’t cook”.  This means that you can’t develop or train someone who isn’t interested.  Development has to be intrinsic but employers can definitely facilitate that process.  In my mind, this process has to start at recruitment where by employers spend time to find the right people who want to work for them because they really want to. Time spent at this stage is time well spent. If someone is intrinsically interested in doing something they will learn how to do it well.
I will be continuing with my skills and development theme so stay posted for the next instalment...
Happy to hear your thoughts!


2013 - New Year but same old staff appraisal??

Happy New year to my blog followers! A couple of months ago I listened to a speaker called Andy Lippok, a hugely experienced HR professional, talk about ‘systems thinking’ during a CIPD event held in Edinburgh. During this very fascinating talk, Andy talked about practices we do in business which don’t work...but we persist with them none the less. One of the subjects he covered was the good old staff appraisal. I listened to this and I thought “he’s right”!! Ok I can’t claim to be quite as long in the tooth - sorry experienced - as Andy, but in my experience to date, I have yet to see an appraisal/performance management type system actually work.
In fact there are two appraisal systems I have been involved in which cost considerable amounts of money and time, yet I didn’t see any evidence that they improved the organisation. In fact with one of them at least, I think it actively hurt the organisation. Yet we persisted with them none the less. We revised them, we called them fancy names, used fancy technology and expensive consultants, but at the end of the day, they just didn’t do what they said they would i.e. improve performance, empowerment and by definition staff engagement and motivation. I’m not the only one with this experience though. I’ve spoken to many other people in various jobs in various companies and their feelings range from indifference through to complete disdain.
All of this has bothered me, but I’ve never been sure of the solution. It’s almost like we’ve all become so used to the employee appraisal that there doesn’t seem to be another way. On the advice of Andy, I recently purchased a book called Abolishing Performance Appraisals by Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins. I haven’t finished it yet but it’s a revelation. It also coincides with other reading I’ve been doing around leadership in a Volatile Uncertain Complex Ambiguous world (VUCA) which I’ll come onto.
I think most appraisal systems are well intentioned. Well most. Or at least they start out well intentioned but they often become about control. Increasingly I notice that many are there just in case something goes wrong. That is something going wrong from a legal point of view and this irks me. I guess it’s a faith thing but my starting point is most people want to do well in life and to do well at their job. I therefore have issue when companies run their organisations on the basis that a minority of people may or may not do something bad. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s necessary from a legal point of view. An appraisal system doesn’t mean you will always win a tribunal – often far from it. And if someone isn’t performing you do something about it at that time and I mean at that time. Appraisal systems don’t substitute good management although I sometimes think that is what many HR Directors must think.
However whether well intentioned or not, my belief is that appraisals fundamentally fail and I think this is because they are a hangover from yester year. Once upon a time ago we had formal hierarchies and people went cap in hand to their boss for their pay. As I’ve touched on in my previous blog posts, this just doesn’t happen anymore or if it does it’s in the minority. It’s far less likely to happen in the future too. We’ve already seen a growth in so called portfolio working i.e. where by people have more than one job. This has perhaps been as a consequence of the recession but it might well be here to stay. The lessons from VUCA seem to be around working in partnership with your employees is going to be much more important. As the world gets ever more competitive and customers demand ever higher levels of service, we need motivated people who can meet those requirements. We need people who are able to change and younger generations in particular will be looking for empowerment and a chance to do fulfilling work. I’ll clarify this. Talented younger people will. The ones you want and so do your competitors.
All of this is not to say that management or in particular leadership is not important. It remains as important as ever. In fact I think appraisal type systems can have their place but the devil is in the detail. Although in saying that, by all accounts some businesses don’t have them at all and do just fine. I expect however that whether it’s a system or no system at all, it won’t mean there is no management of staff.  It just means that it needs to happen all of the time in a common sense, every day way. Meanwhile, if any appraisal system is imposed by HR or senior management, involves grading people and is about assessing people over a given time period, (I mean come on, how often do tasks change within those time frames!), I just don’t think they’ll work. I’d be seriously interested to hear from people who think otherwise?