HR and Diversity

After an enjoyable couple of days at the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition, I’m quite buoyed about the growing understanding amongst HR professionals to innovate their practice, and how to make their practice more human centred. There were great stories from companies who insist on their managers being of the same level and with no extra pay than the people reporting into them, stories of companies who gave their staff breakfast everyday, stories of purposeful mentoring programmes to help women achieve senior levels, and stories of how to cultivate managers to be their best authentic selves.

And as I reflect, I’m struck at just how far down the agenda diversity is. Not in terms of the conference or exhibition – there were a good range of topics to address diversity, and a good number of exhibitors who were concerned about raising awareness of various topics about diversity.

Here are the very blatant observations of what I saw.

1) Speakers were nearly all white, middle aged, and mostly men. If there were women presenting, they were also white and middle aged. As far as I’m aware, there was one Asian, middle aged, male speaker.

2) I do not recall seeing (either myself, via social media, or hearing about) any speakers who – chose to share their disability, or chose to share their sexual orientation. This shouldn’t be important to know at a conference, yet it is.

3) Far too many jokes which were not banter based at all, even though the ones making them will defend it to the hilt. Too many presumptions of acceptance, and presumptions of acceptable behaviour. Jokes that were laden with innuendo and inappropriate. It’s almost as if we excuse ourselves for making the jokes, because we work in HR.

4) I saw one comparatively young speaker.

5) The delegates (both exhibition and conference) clearly were all from a complete diversity of the population.

Diversity doesn’t matter to HR.

We’re too busy making the business case for it to the executive teams. We’re too busy navel gazing and looking for ways to make ourselves strategic. We’re too busy reading and writing blogs about diversity and how the workforce needs to be inclusive.

If HR cared about diversity, the speakers would reflect that.

The speakers were primarily white, middle aged men. Where I saw a woman talk, it was at a talk about how to encourage more women to take senior roles in organisations. Don’t believe me? Go take a look at the speakers page.

And I’m going to head the main criticism I’m sure I will hear straight off at the pass. No, it shouldn’t matter who speaks at these conferences, and no it shouldn’t matter if we know if someone is gay or not. But it does. It matters because that’s the society we live in. The profession is a reflection of me, and I should be a reflection of the profession.

Let me be clear. This isn’t a dig at the CIPD for the organisation of the speakers. It’s up to each organisation who is selected to talk, and in some cases sole practitioners will be doing the talking. This is something I’ve seen reflected in other conferences too.


Developing Internal Entrepreneurs to Innovate within your Organisation

There’s something interesting about talking about the future of business in the UK.
The majority of businesses in the UK are now SMEs (small and medium enterprises). Amongst that population, will be entrepreneurs – that is, an individual who has seen a business opportunity, made a success of it, and are positively contributing to the economy.

In a talk from Innocent Drinks, Tom Fraime shared the story of how the company started. To say it’s become the stuff of legends is a step too far, but it’s certainly a good story to share. 3 friends decided to make smoothies and sell them at a festival. At this festival they had two bins with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ written on them, with a sign saying ‘should we leave our jobs to make these smoothies?’. The ‘yes’ bin was filled, they jacked in their jobs on the Monday, and they’re now a £200 million business.

Olivier Leclerc from Alcatel-Lucent also shared their success as a business – primarily that they’re a 14 billion Euro company. For them, the challenge of business growth is about staying relevant, and innovating products that meet consumer needs.

From both, there are some useful learnings to be taken.

Firstly is how they build entrepreneurship into their recruitment. At later stages of being interviewed, you are tested on your approach to making an organisation successful. What better way to give people a sense of the culture of an organisation than to build it into the recruitment process?

I like the idea of the banana phone at Innocent. That is, you can ring the number on the bottle, and it rings on everyone’s phones in the office. It’s everyone’s responsibility to answer and talk to their drinkers. I love that as a concept. They also have a shared chill out space which spreads over two floors. They give everyone breakfast, and there’s a certain time it happens. There’s a ‘baby wall’ where pictures of all employees as a baby are posted up. I think that’s actually brilliant, because what better way to remember that the people you work for are human, than to see them at their innocent best? (see what I did there?)

In terms of innovation, they accept and take good ideas from anywhere, and importantly have the environment which is supportive of it. They have mantras like ‘it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission’. They believe that if you’re 70% sure of doing something you should do it. They believe that if you have that fortitude of belief, then you should act on it, and not listen to all the naysayers.

There were some great taglines from Tom:

“HR should be responsible for encouraging entrepreneurship and the stewardship of the organisation.”

“We are here to agitate people to take risks.”

Olivier shared some great insights into their approach to entrepreneurship at Alcatel-Lucent. A great line was that innovators don’t design a product to be successful, it’s nearly always accidental and unintended.

In their organisation, they realised that giving people on training on how to be entrepreneurs was the wrong approach to take. Instead they put a call out for ideas, and the ones selected are then developed into project teams with someone from Marketing and Finance to help develop the concept into something tangible. I think that’s great investment. Here’s the really interesting thing. They’re not allowed to do this on work time. Why? Because inventors very rarely develop their products in dedicated free time, it tends to happen when time allows, and when you’re facing constraints of various kinds. I’m not sure I agree with the thinking, but I can see the merits of doing this.

The other interesting thing they do is specifically link the success of the project teams to their corporate strategy. Each team is tasked with making revenue, and that revenue feeds into one distinct income stream for the organisation. This works on a number of levels. People feel they’re actually contributing to the success of the organisation as opposed to fulfilling a role. They become automatic ambassadors of the company because they’re doing something which has potential to make revenue for them. Engagement just happens because you’re asking people to commit to activities to improve the way the business works.

A key learning they had was that these ideas that were submitted had to pass through an ‘innovation board’. This board would vote and the most popular ideas got the investment and backing of the organisation. What they realised though was that this actually goes against the idea of innovation and entrepreneurship. To overcome this, individuals were then allowed to champion an idea and accept the risk of that idea on themselves.

I enjoyed both these perspectives about internal entrepreneurship (or intrapreneurs), as they give a cultural perspective on how to make it happen, and practical perspective. We’re all very aware we’re in times of turmoil and uncertainty. No organisation can afford to sit on its laurels, and what’s important for me is that the HR/L&OD functions champion and help drive the fresh thinking many organisations are capable of.

What neuroscience explains and challenges about leadership

Dr Jacqui Grey from the NeuroLeadership Institute introduced this session by asking the following sets of questions:

How many of you wake up with your brain racing?
How many have trouble generally sleeping?
How many get to Thursday and forget things?
How many take a device wherever you go?

Her leading point was that there is a correlation with cognitive overload and poor decision making. In particular she said as the working week goes on we become overloaded with too much information and we naturally become more tired until the weekend. In terms of work, and how productive we are, we should schedule important work earlier in the week, and aim for the earlier part of the day, as the same principle applies as the day goes on.

In practice, I wonder what this means for project based work, and project deadlines. We place a lot of importance on delivering things at the end of the day, or at the end of a week. Yet if the brain is reaching a natural point of saturation, are we self-perpetuating a set of practices which are detrimental to our mental and physical health?

Dr Grey went on to describe that the 21st century is causing problems and challenges of leadership, which cause challenges to neuroleadership. Some quotes from the session provide useful context:

“Majority of people trust a stranger more than their boss.” To this point she helped frame a question by asking how many people would we trust with our children, or personal security codes or passwords. One of the reasons we trust a few people is because of the longevity of time we have spent with these trusted people. At work, we actively make this more difficult for ourselves by forcing a trusted relationship to happen, which is by nature unnatural. The brain needs time to process and understand the other person, and if we force this, we are not supporting the brain’s natural ability to create the necessary links to trust and work with others.

“65% of people prefer a better boss over a raise.” A key challenge for 21st century leaders is how do you grow people under the pressure of external environment. 98% of leaders interviewed admitted to misreading a situation because of preconceived beliefs. We have so much information, and so much noise to deal with, the automatic reaction of the body is to jump to conclusions. The limbic system, in this instance, jumps in and causes the well known amygdala hijack. We can train ourselves to reach calm sooner, and methodologies such as mindfulness help with this. I also think insights about the emotion timeline as described by Dr Paul Ekman help us to understand how emotion forces the body to act in certain ways.

Jacqui went on to talk about performance management in particular. Feedback, no matter how well delivered, is always hard to hear. When we tell people we’re due to have a conversation about performance, we’re already pushing them to a ‘threat state’. That is, we’re pushing them to a physiological set of reactions which mean the person is not ready to hear a message, no matter how minor it may be.

To change this reaction, the organisation needs to move towards a regular feedback model. I’ve expunded this for years, and am glad that there is some research to back this up. Essentially, if we have a regular set of conversations about performance, we allow the brain to adjust and make space to hear those messages and handle them differently. If we stick to the tired tradition of once a year reviews, we are not preparing either party to have a successful discussion, and almost inevitably end up with lacklustre and below par performance reviews.

The final thing to be shared was the SCARF model. Thinking about this model can help us move away from threat and toward a reward state. If we understand which of the following is important to an individual, we can focus on that to provide a way to help them engage with their work better. Importantly, these components are factors which inform action and decision making capabilities.

Status – how we rank ourselves in relation to someone else.

Certainty – can’t always give people the answers. This is about change.

Autonomy – being able to make own decisions.

Relatedness – feeling part of a group, inclusion.

Fairness – justice and pay.

This was a really useful session, and I enjoyed learning more about this topic. On hearing it, I’m of the opinion that if we understand this subject area better, we can be better performing HR/L&OD professionals. I would go so far as to argue that this topic is more important than big data as it is truly about people performance, and what we can do to improve the way we lead and the way we inspire others to act.

Early thoughts from Day One at #cipd13

While time allows, I wanted to write some early thoughts and reflections from the morning at CIPD’s annual conference in Manchester. The first for me is about the keynote by Gareth Jones and Rob Goffee. Apparently, they’ve written a book or two. In talking with Martin Couzins, he ruminated on how the focus was on the big corporates and organisations – and nothing from the SME (small and medium enterprises) population. If the UK is largely kept alive because of these SME’s, we need to be more mindful about the case study’s we expound and who they’re meant to represent.

We talk a lot about diversity and inclusion in HR. Yet at these conferences we typically hear from white middle aged men (and some women) in senior positions. Because, you know, BME executives and senior managers just don’t exist, or have anything of value to share. Am I being harsh? Not at all. It’s a fact of conferences. Whic in turn is a fact of corporates and organisations. Diversity and inclusion is a core part of HR and organisational practice? Not from what I’ve seen so far, or from what I’ve been reading on the backchannel.

Additionally, then, there’s no diversity of thinking from Rob and Gareth. They’ve just created their own version of an employee engagement methdology, written a book about it, and are talking about it. Because organisations can’t think for themselves. This pisses me off. Organisations get so myopic in their operational activity that they seem to forget they have the capability to make a difference without needing the likes of Goffee and Jones telling them how the big corporates do it.

I also take issue with the data source Rob and Gareth had access to. By his own confession, Rob Goffee said they naturally end up talking with executives in organisations. And then later he talked about the need for ‘difference, radical honesty, and authenticity‘. Yet they didn’t talk with other members of the organisations they’ve investigated. What about junior workers? Middle managers? Subject matter experts? Adminstrators? Do they not also have stories to share? This natural inclination towards the senior leaders is understandable, but goes against current thinking about open and transparent organisations.

I’m not knocking the keynote itself, it was very good. They presented a lot of useful information which will probably get the grey cells working for a lot of people in the room. What was lacking though was deeper content about creating best places to work.

The next session held a lot of promise in the title – Creating Meaningful Work through Big Data. This was delivered by Andy Campbell, HCM Strategy Director, from Oracle. Now, being Oracle I was expecting some impressive stuff about how Oracle is used to help create meaningful work. Instead what we got was quite lacklustre stuff about how big data is being used in other parts of the workforce. In truth, you could get just as much from a post I wrote before about this.

We were shown a demonstration of how they incorporate all sorts of data about a staff member into one system so a manager can see everything about someone from one place as opposed to different systems. That makes sense to me, and is not necessarily about big data as opposed to aggregation of a lot of data into one place. And there was one example of the smart use of data which I loved. In professional rugby, each player wears a GPS chip in their shirt which sends immediate data about their performance on the pitch. Using information such as the player’s performance, the team performance, previous performance, and other factors like the effect of weather on play, the time of year, all help the coached and managers make informed decisions about what to do next. That’s clever use of big data.

When we think about big data and HR, what we need to think about is how can we, in HR/L&OD, take big data and inform people practice? I just don’t think it’s happening, and I’m dubious about if it’s possible. Capturing social sentiment, turnover rates, and recruitment stats are all useful data points. What we’re not doing is finding a way to bring that together in a meaningful way which helps us to make actual informed decisions. Oracle should hold the promise for it, from what I saw and heard, they’ve not got it right yet either.

I’m hopeful that we can use big data to inform people practice, we just need to get past the hype and rudimentary systems we think are helping us make it happen, and wait for a bright spark to truly make things happen because of big data.

Conferences, vendors, and connections

“What travel has taught me – more than anything else in my life – is that it’s ok to connect with someone for a just a few seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks. Connections don’t have to be long term to be authentic, memorable and meaningful.”

This is a great piece of reflection from Diane, and it hits a note with me. I’m going to be part of the blogging contingent at this year’s CIPD Annual Conference. I’m really looking forward to it, and glad to be able to share content with people who can’t be there. There’s been something which has been playing on my mind though, about the whole inclusive aspect of the conference with relation to the vendors/exhibitors. It’s no secret that vendors help to fund the event and help make it a success in different ways. Some exhibitors have videos, some have actors, some have sweets, and some have competitions, and some will even be speaking in the shorter sessions on the exhibition floor. Some of the more clued up vendors will also be on the backchannel, promoting themselves with the very typical “come visit us on Stand 433 to talk about your HR needs!”, or “can’t wait to get started with today and meet loads of people!” type tweets. It’s all about attracting people to the stand to have a conversation.

It’s an attraction strategy yet there’s something quite important missing. There’s very little dialogue. It seems to mostly be about the broadcast.

The good folk at CIPD have been quite conscious about the usefulness of having bloggers present in order to promote what is happening there. In most cases tweets and other content is flying about all over the shop. This year, Doug Shaw will be curating various content in order for people to follow a narrative of some sort. I’ve seen Doug do this when he curates things like the Carnival of HR, and he does a good job of that, so doing this will be really cool for the conference.

What I’ve reflected on, though, is that vendors are quite reluctant or reticent to actively be involved in the backchannel discussions. It’s bizarre because people buy people. I have never, and probably never will, bought something from someone by being cold called or not had some kind of connection which I can trust. It’s no different at conferences. Vendors need to find a better way to connect with potential buyers, and one of the easy options available is being actively involved with the backchannel. Social media now means people are willing to talk and share their experience of a conference with ease. Here’s the typical transactional conversation which takes places:

ME: “Hoping to find a better solution to performance management system at the conference today.”

VENDOR: “We have a great solution for the problem, come talk to us at stand 433.” or “We’ve produced a white paper on this very topic, why not come along and talk to us about it?”

Ugh. How awful and ininviting. Why not try something more genuine and inquiry based?

ME: “Hoping to find a better solution to performance management system at the conference today.”

VENDOR: “What is it you’re looking for when you say ‘better’?” or “That sounds like an interesting problem, what does ‘better’ look like?”

An inquiry based approach means I can build a connection with you because you’re asking questions – not selling. Connections, like Di tells us, can happen quickly, or they happen over a period of time. Either way, if I’ve made a connection with you, I’m likely to remember you, and I’m likely to follow up with you directly.

Let’s take this a bit further. If you’re a savvy vendor, and the connection has been fruitful enough for the potential buyer to come visit your stand, you could quite quickly do a LinkedIn search on them, google their company if you don’t know them, and be ready to have a focused and open conversation with them about what they need. (You would totally need to disclose you did this though otherwise that’s not playing nice.)

At the same time, though, I wonder where if there is a responsibility on the part of the bloggers to be more inclusive too. It’s something I’ve been very guilty of, when I’ve not spent time on the exhibition floor to actually get to know the vendors present. More fool me, hey?

So, this year I’m changing my thinking. I’m going to make my way round to see various vendors, with the specific purpose in mind of helping share their message and purpose. They’re there to connect with potential buyers, and I could help with this. Some will know why exist as a business, what their message is, what they are at the conference for, and know their products well. I want to hear about that, and potentially help others connect with them. I’m not doing this to sell my reach, or make money from it. I’m going to do this because if the vendors help to make conferences happen, let’s show them some love too.