>Why I took on a Dragon

>Yesterday I had one the most surreal conversations I’ve ever been involved in so far. There needs to be some context behind this post though. On Friday 1st October 2010, the Equality Act was introduced in the UK. There’s been a lot of expectation about what this new Act will mean for employment legislation. Essentially it brings together all previous employment legislation into one Act, and with it all relating terminologies and nuances. If you want to know more please visit the Acas website.

In truth what this means is in the main, HR folk, employment law specialists and anyone involved in recruitment have one point of reference in regards to equal practices across all groups that may want to enter the workforce.
On the same Friday, Dragon’s Den star Duncan Bannatyne wrote an article in the Daily Mail expressing his thoughts on the new Act and what he thinks it holds for UK businesses. You can read that here. On Monday, a lively exchange ensued between Duncan Bannatyne and someone from the HR community (Darren Newman).
Darren wrote a post for XpertHR. One of the Editor’s of this site is Michael Carty (who is quite possibly the kindest man I know). He posted a request to Duncan Bannatyne through Twitter asking him if he’d like to respond. Duncan’s response was “I would need to read it first and I can’t be bothered”. Here’s that exchange.
This is where I come bounding in. I like Michael, he’s a nice guy. I don’t like when good people get trounced on for no reason. I am also very conscious about the sensitivities that sit around Equality, Diversity and all topics that fall under this. I’ve written past posts on

Diversity and about banter. And there are a myriad of experts in the field who will defend the importance of this legislation, and rightly so.

So I called out Duncan and here’s my exchange with him. I’ve been watching the conversation unfold over the last few days and have really had to hold back in commenting on anything to do with this topic. Well that didn’t happen! In the grand scheme of things, my little exchange with Duncan means nothing and there will be far more important people discussing the ins and outs of the Equality Act than either Duncan or me.
But – BUT – here’s the thing. Employment legislation causes a lot of anguish for a lot of people in businesses because they don’t take the requisite time to understand what the Act offers. So here’s common misconceptions people hold – and I have heard first hand:
1) I’m a white heterosexual male and I’m now in the minority
2) Laws like this only allow other cultures to take advantage of our society
3) But there are people who will use laws like this to make false claims
4) Laws like this make political correctness go mad
5) If someone overhears my conversation they can claim a grievance?
6) Why can’t people just mind their own business
And there are many many more. What’s annoying about the comments above is that the people who make those comments have zero clue what they’re talking about. They’ve read something in a newspaper, taken it as gospel, and formulate an opinion based on misinformation.
What Duncan Bannatyne has served to do is only feed into the insecurities of a lot of people who think that minority groups in the UK have far too much protection already. What his article does not help is inclusion, a multi-cultural society, the Big Society, or any other high and lofty ideals we might hold for being British.
As a high profile successful businessman in the UK, Duncan Bannatyne will never admit he’s been misinformed about what the Equality Act aims to achieve. He’s been told what the Act could mean for those in society who are malicious enough to act in disgusting ways. He’s taken that and decided he’s going to speak out against the Act.
That’s fine. Free speech and all that. The sad thing is that he thinks he’s done a good thing for readers of the Daily Mail. He thinks that he’s helped people see the folly of the old Labour government and that he’s unravelled the Equality Act to be a simple piece of nothing. He thinks that he’s educating people and helping them to understand the true motivations of the Equality Act.
What he hasn’t done is help people to see how disadvantaged groups of people have had to fight hard battles to secure a positive future for themselves. He’s made reference to the ‘Made in Dagenham’ film and subsequent laws which have been introduced to help minority groups, and then says we’ve gone too far to help them. To this day, minority groups face hardships Duncan Bannatyne can only conceptually perceive. Even I am sheltered from a lot of hardships faced by people from within my own community.
My plea is this. Before you get on a high horse and defend how ‘British’ you are, or how minorty groups are now favoured above you, think about who is the recipient of your message. Before you actively stand up against a Law which is in place to ensure we have a fair open society, think about which ‘good’ you’re trying to serve. The topic of equality and diversity will never go away. It will always be there. And there will be staunch advocates as well as staunch rebellions. Ultimately though, it’s about a society where we can live and work together with open and fair practices for all. No one should have to be subject to harassment, discrimination or bullying for any reason.
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Make Your Leaver Think

I’ve been doing a lot of exit interviews lately. They’re interesting and are all fine, but I’m left thinking from more than one of them – yeah well how about I give you some feedback too.

And that’s when it struck me. Why don’t we do that? I may be missing an ‘innovation’ in HR, but this is what I’m thinking. The exit interview should be a 2 part process. Part 1 is about the leaver giving us feedback and insight about why they’re leaving. Part 2 should be about giving the leaver feedback about their time with us, their performance, things they did well, badly, key highlights from their time with us and key lows. Think of it as a 360 exit interview.

Imagine the power behind that. Now it’s not just leavers giving the business reasons why they need to improve, but (genuinely) the business helping the leaver to go with vital information for their own career and future development.

This is one of those scary things that HR types would go – are you crazy?! Imagine the time, effort, and what’s the payback for us? And here’s why it should be done. We care about investing in an individual when they are with us. From the moment they join, we give them an onboarding programme, make training available to them, set objectives, entrust them with projects, expect amazing things.

And all that is geared up to them shouting about us to their networks so they come and work for us. So why wouldn’t we do this for when they leave? Their leaving should be equally a fulfilled experience outside of the form filling side of the process. They should have a final piece of interaction with the business that says – we still want you to have amazing things to say about us as an agency and this is something we believe will help you grow as an individual in your career.

Cynicism and negativity aside, I’d be interested in your comments on this.

Bad day? Suck it up.

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know I’m a fan of positive psychology and that I’m a fan of Martin Seligman. His work has been central in building positive psychology as a distinct discipline. I heard him give a talk about his work in positive psychology and I was very inspired by him and the work he presented. This produced two posts I wrote about: 3 Good Things and Can I Rule the World Now

So where does this field of psychology take me today? Seligman’s work has been mainly with people who suffer depression in its many forms. And one of the key insights he offered to us (his audience) was this. Sometimes you have bad days, and that’s just life. Now that’s hardly profound, but it is important not to overlook it. We can get so caught up with positive attitudes, constructive conversations, collaboration, engagement activities, and generally making life an enjoyable experience.

But sometimes it’s just shit. And there’s not a lot you can do about it. Just accept that you’re having a bad day. It will pass. You know it will. But whilst it’s happening just get on and do your thing. Don’t wallow in it. Moan to your friends if you have to. But ultimately just do what you’re here to do. You know, work. You’re still capable of doing that. You’re still capable of fulfilling your day to day job details. You’re still capable of interacting with other people.

And that’s it. That’s your bag. Most days we have are good days. And those shit days, are just shit.

>Are your grads up to scratch?

>This week, @TheHRD posted a blog entitled Back to school, back to reality. He writes good stuff anyway, and this post was no different. He talked about the “need to reframe the relationship between business and education”, and introduced a term “bonded labour” which I’ve not heard before. It’s an interesting idea centred on ‘bonding’ your new starters – graduates or experienced – to the company for 2 years.

It reminded me of an idea I had some while ago about the need to develop our graduates into effective working individuals quickly. Below is a piece of work I wrote on the topic. Excuse the formality of the writing, it was written as if I was using it to present to the business or indeed an educational institution of sorts. Also this was written July 2009, so the information provided is correct as of then.
This isn’t just an extended Induction programme, it’s a lot more than that.
And I’m a bit up against it today, so I don’t like the format, wording or ‘delivery’ of the below, but I hope you get the idea.

The Problem

The Leitch Report identified that literacy and numeracy skills across the UK are at a poor level for school leavers. Out of 30 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, the UK is 17th on low skills: 5 million adults in the UK lack functional literacy and 17 million adults in the UK have difficulty with numbers.. A recent study by the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Professional Development) suggests that employee skills are proportionately lower than needed in terms of general literacy and numeracy ability (“Reflections on the 2008 learning and development survey”). The implications of these reports suggest that the workforce will continue to experience a significant working population who are not able to do tasks such as writing reports, creating spreadsheets, analysing data, or be an active part of organisational policy/change.

These have provided a sharp look at the practices UK institutions choose to enact. In a positive move, schools have the option of allowing students to take a path on the new 14-19 diploma route which is less about passing exams and more about giving students the experiences required to be effective at work. 25% of UK companies are engaged in the Train to Gain scheme and 78% are developing occupational training schemes.

Beyond these initial findings, we then see that there is a direct impact on the skills employers are seeking from new employees. Interpersonal skills are seen by 79% of UK companies as being important, 68% view communication as next in importance. 61% of employers want a broader range of skills from new employees and 90% want increased leadership and management skills. A common argument supporting this upshot of required skills suggests that the current education system is lacking in providing ‘real work’ experiences and skills. Or thought of in a different way, those leaving the world of academics are not able to successfully transfer their skills to a working environment.

I suggest that the current education system in the UK provides ample opportunities to provide the relevant skills necessary for future careers. Support systems are constantly evolving to meet cultural, social, educational, familial needs. The UK education system has been constantly responding to the changing face of the world and allowing many more options for people to choose from to determine the direction of their career. We have seen a move from ‘O’ Levels to CSEs to GCSEs and now an extension to diplomas. Similarly we have seen at graduate levels, courses ranging from ‘traditional’ subjects such as Law, English, Philosophy, Medicine, to including new lines of thinking such as Gaming and Technology, Counselling, and Human Resource Management.

A Solution

I propose a course of action to provide graduates completing a degree with a 4 week training programme specifically designed to build and develop their skills and giving them the understanding of how to transfer these skills to the workplace. My belief is:

– Graduates will be eager to enter into some further training to support their entry to the workplace
– Prospective employers will be eager to have an influx of graduates who have the required skills that they are seeking

The programme will be titled ‘Certificate in Business Effectiveness’. The programme will be a certified programme recognised by industry that will allow employers to understand that those passing the programme have achieved a desired standard in Business Effectiveness.

The intention of this programme is to provide graduates with the confidence that they are able to enter a work environment with the skills that make a difference.

The 4 weeks would cover topics such as: Objective Setting, Project Management basics, Marketing Principles, Assertiveness skills, Presentations skills, Writing Business Cases, Conflict Management, Business Acumen, Financial Acumen.

The Support

The programme would include support after completion. This would take the form of an online space where students can access materials to help refresh learnings from the programme. There would also be practitioner support. An extra facet to the programme that we would include is to have a mentoring programme with industry practitioners who are willing to mentor those completing the programme.

The Requirements

3 ‘Practitioners’ would be required to teach the course subjects.
At the end of each week, the practitioners complete an assessment (based on the BARS system) on each student. Students must achieve level 4 at the end of the programme in order to pass the programme. At the end of the programme, students receive a certificate acknowledging their successful completion of the course in Business Effectiveness.

Those students who do not achieve Level 4 will only receive acknowledgement that the course was attended in full but the required standard was not achieved.

Regardless of level, each student will receive detailed feedback at the end of each week to enable focused development through the programme. At the end of the programme, each student will receive a complete profile based on their performance during the programme.

>Diversity is not important

>I’m loosely following an unconference happening with the hashtag #trumanchester on Twitter. This morning’s topic is on Diversity and the usual drivel is being spouted.

“Companies need a diversity policy to ensure everyone is being included.”
“If you don’t have a diverse workforce you don’t get the best results”
“Diversity isn’t just about gender and race but disability, religion, age and sexual orientation. Is your workforce representative of all the above?”

NONSENSE.

I worked for a consultancy who had to deliver to Ford Motor Company (UK) training on Diversity and Dignity at Work. It was mandatory training that all staff had to attend as the company was being regulated by government due to some high profile cases which happened in the 1990’s.

The topic itself is obvious enough for any member of staff. If you say or do something offensive or behave offensively you will get in trouble for it. For HR and legalities such as recruitment it’s vital to know what you can and not do in order to ensure you are being fair to all candidates and staff members.

But enforcing things like ‘Diversity week’ or ‘diversity policies’ or ‘diversity training’ defeats the point massively. If you have members of staff who are making conscious efforts to intentionally offend someone in any manner then you have an issue and it needs to be dealt with. It’s likely they don’t need diversity training, they just need to be sacked.

Look, I get diversity. I trained on the bloody topic for 1 1/2 years and could spout all things discriminatory, positive, direct, indirect, GOQ, and any other technical term. It’s there for good reasons. It’s just used horrifically badly by a lot of folk.

The bottom line is this. If you have to use diversity as a weapon you have not grasped the concept of diversity at all.

>3 Good Things

>I’m a fan of positive psychology. It’s a wonderful field of study that has produced a lot of interesting results in helping people identify specific activities they can do to elevate their mood and help themselves maintain a positive state of mind.

The work was pioneered by a psychologist by the name of Martin Seligman. I’ve listened to him talk and he’s a wonderful person who is very warm and honest about the difficulties he has faced in his own life that have prompted his interest in this area. The work has mainly been accomplished and continues with people who suffer various modes of depression.

There are some very specific exercises that are encouraged which have generated marked improvements in general feelings of happiness. Seligman coined a term ‘authentic happiness’. I’m going to focus on one in particular method. It’s important to remember this is not a one trick pony. Nor is it the primary solution to relieving bad moods. It’s one method which is easy to do.

At the end of the day you should take the time to reflect on the day and remember 3 good things that have happened to you that day. That’s all you have to do. Write them down somewhere that you can keep a diary/log/blog. You’ll find that initially the things you write tend to be things like ‘the sun came out today’, or ‘had a good meal’. As you become more committed to it, you’ll find you write other things such as ‘helped a colleague solve a work problem’ or ‘had a good workout’ or ‘kept my anger in check today’. The important thing isn’t how deep or profound the good thing is, just that it provides a focus for thinking about good events rather than hanging on bad things.

On Twitter I’ll also start a twitter profile @3_GoodThings. Annoyingly @3GoodThings, @ThreeGoodThings and @3_Good_Things were all taken and none are being used well. If you like the idea of this, then please follow.

My intention here is to help people realise that being happy is always within our control, we just need to be conscious of how we do it.

>If you don’t like your situation, change the situation

>I’m going through stuff at the moment, both professionally and personally. It’s all a bit frustrating as essentially I don’t feel useful.

This isn’t about self-doubt, I’m doing a good job of stuff, and I know I am, I’m just not feeling useful. And that’s annoying. Keeping this to the confines of the work situation, there’s things which need to happen which I think I need other resources to enable a good job of stuff. And in fairness I’ve been a bit reluctant to be pro-active about making them happen.
Those of you following me on Twitter will know I’m running a course on ‘Making a Personal Impact’. Part of this means letting others know about being pro-active. And immediately I’m left with the thought, I’m not practising what I preach.
So here it is. I’ve known I need to do better, and I could just bitch about what I’m not happy about, but that’s not going to get me anywhere. I can change the situation though so it meets my needs. How? By taking a look at each of the things I’m currently doing which I think are effective, and evaluating how truly effective those things are.
I hate self-evaluating. It’s a pain in the arse. But that’s the thing about change, you have to start with an evaluation. Only then can you move forward. You can’t change the situation unless you have a good assessment of what you’re doing now.
And when I say change, I don’t mean make sweeping changes. Look for the things that have meaning for you. Do the things that will enable the change you’re looking for. You’re responsible for what happens in your life. Listen to those around you. Hear what’s going on. Understand it. Question it. If you can act, then act. If you can’t. it’s because you haven’t understood the real issue.
And I don’t mean change the situation in a sweeping or tangential move. You made a conscious decision to enter your situation. You thought/believed/hoped it would mean something new/interesting/challenging for you. If it’s not, you can make it into what you want it. But you have to be the one that does it. No one else will make it happen for you. And I don’t mean bulldoze through disrupting or damaging people in your path. Make it meaningful for everyone concerned.
I’ve written before about Intelligent Behaviour, and this is a another important facet of what that behaviour looks like. Act intelligently so that the behaviour you are expecting is what you are displaying.