>Whatever you do, don’t follow best practise

>Here at LBi Towers (my workplace, all opinions my own, blah, etc) we have a theory that best practise is all well and good if you want to identify a ‘standard’ way of doing something. But, if you want to do something amazing, you need to do more than just best practise.

Essentially best practise is about doing a set of actions that result in a desired result. And in most cases that desired result is pretty staid stuff. We want to increase online engagement, we want to improve retention rates, we want to increase brand perception, we want to be an employer of choice. Those are all fair, and in some cases lofty, ambitions. And for the most part, those companies will be advised to do a set of actions to help them achieve those things. And the cycle is reinforced.
So why am I, an L&Der, concerned about best practise? Well, it’s a piece of terminology that has infected both HR and L&D circles so much that I think we’ve both lost our zest and passion for the job we do. Many in the industry follow what has been outlined by ACAS or the CIPD or because they are the alleged experts that guide what we do and how we should do it. For L&D in particular, there is no direct industry body, but that’s something for me to rant about later.
What this has meant for us professionals is we are trying to get companies, in the main, disciplined in the act of following policies and procedures so they do not fall foul of employment tribunals for transgressions they should have avoided. Part of what I’m talking about is reminiscent of a post by a HR professional, delightfully called theHRD, where he blogged about the de-skilling of HR. And also a post I made a while ago on the over-reliance of policies.

Instead what’s happened is a field we now call Organisational Development came out of the bushes and said, Hey! You keep doing your policies, L&D, you keep doing your training, and we’ll get on and do the exciting company wide development stuff like employee engagement and inter-departmental blending and culture development. I’m not begrudging OD professionals what they do – in truth my passion lies more in OD than it does L&D. But what is apparent is HR and in most cases L&D are given shorter remits of work as other ‘specialists’ come in to do the stuff which is not best practise.
These specialists push those boundaries of convention and are lauded for their free thinking and challenging ways. And the truth is they should be applauded for those things. But, and here’s the crux of it, HR and L&D have an equally important responsibility to shout for the same recognition.
It’s not enough that HR manages recruitment, retention, employee relations and policies. It’s not enough that L&D creates a training programme, delivers training, and helps staff feel valued. They need to move beyond those restrictions and show companies that they are better than that. And that’s not by following the best practise of other companies, or your very good friend who is HR director at Google. It’s by identifying which business objectives you can get more involved with that show either HR or L&D can play a more strategic role in the business or organisation. That’s a basic tenet of what should be happening anyway, and I’ll wager 80% of HR professionals aren’t doing this.
In my opinion, the best way to ensure you have someone who is looking beyond best practise is by having a full time in-house resource dedicated to their role. Outsourcing is fine but does not allow the true value of the profession to be realised. I’m fortunate that I have full responsibility for L&D, have no one to steer what I do, am self-reliant enough to get on and do things and have established the credibility of L&D across the agency. It’s taken time, but I’ve done that. If you’re not able to do that, you either need to review the responsibilities of your role, rise to the occasion and make your mark known, or seek to develop yourself so that you can step up and not rely on best practise.

>Tell your bad worker how well they’re doing

>An annoyance of mine in the workplace is managers who don’t manage bad workers. By bad workers I mean the kind of person who thinks they’re doing a good job, but isn’t. They’re just bad at what they do. This may be because they don’t have the required skills, knowledge, aptitude, ability or attitude. However you look at it, they’re just bad at their job.

In a previous post I talked about sacking the manager who thinks they’re doing a good job when they’re not. This is the other side of that coin – dealing with an employee who has no idea they’re not doing a good job, but no-one is telling them. Instead, they’re being told what a good job they’re doing and thereby inflating their sense of self-importance.
I know such a person. Bob is awful at what he does. Bob’s manager though, Berk, isn’t telling him. Instead of trying to deal with Bob’s lack of ability to do a good job, Berk is allowing Bob to just get on with whatever Bob thinks is an effective way of working. This is driving me nuts as Berk is effectively burying his head in the sand staying aloof to the issue of bad work. Meanwhile, Bob is ambling along, being told ‘you’re doing a great job’, where in reality, he isn’t.
I’ve tried to give Berk some feedback about Bob and Bob’s ability to do the job, but I’ve not been listened to. So I have to put up with Bob’s incompetence and air of ‘I know what I’m doing’ when in reality, Bob should not even be here.
Those of you who know me, don’t try figure out who this might be. I know many people in the business I work for this could be true of, and as such this is a message to try and convey the sheer frustration I have at this situation.
If you want some ‘harder’ information about the impact of this bad work here you go:
– workload get spread to the team that should be dealt with by one person
– Bob talks ‘confidently’ about a given topic when they’re actually talking shit
– Bob’s perception of his own workload is mountainous and insurmountable – this means Bob rants and is negative towards others that Bob perceives as being less busy
– when team members learn about Bob’s negativity they in turn feel negative towards Bob and indirectly towards Berk for not managing him
– deadlines are missed, meetings not attended, wrong information being delivered
So, if you are Berk, please deal with Bob’s inability to do the job. If you are Bob, then God help you in your career and life in general.

>Are you behaving intelligently?

>A while back I started this topic about Intelligent Behaviours. I started to talk about two aspects of the title – what it means to be Intelligent and why I chose Behaviours. I’d like to continue that discussion piece to evolve my thoughts and the theory.

In particular I want to focus on the workplace as that has resonance for a lot of people. In my last job I had to do a lot of training on the topic of Diversity. Part of that training was centred on the consequence of acting inappropriately or insensitively towards someone and the process of disciplinary. There was no positive message in there at all. It was all about ‘Don’t do this or else’. There’s two things within this I’d like to tackle.
The first is the delivery of the message. As L&Ders we should be able to encourage a group to reflect on their actions and reach a decision about how they want to act in future. The problem with the delivery style of the training was that it was telling people what they weren’t allowed to do. If the discussion came up about what they could do, it was chance that directed it and nothing else.
However, think about the development of the discussion and training if you get a group to think about behaving intelligently towards their colleagues. In the first instance it’s about recognising what behaviours are appropriate as well as inappropriate. And not just a typical flipchart list of ‘touching’, ‘shouting’, ‘arguing’, etc. That only superficially addresses those behaviours. There needs to be a set of development activities that centre around the skills that enable understanding of those behaviours e.g. active listening, learning about cultural differences, how to ask questions, all things which are key in enabling behaviours to be understood better.
The intelligent piece then focuses on how to act on that learning. And that’s the difficult bit for a lot of people. If you know that you shouldn’t be putting undue pressure on your team, but you aren’t cognisant of your own behaviour how can you act intelligently? You need to take a long look at yourself and either seek feedback or find ways to raise your self-awareness so that you can learn what acting intelligently means for you. If it’s about being professional, in what respect do you need to do this. If it’s about explaining your thinking more, what is it that you think is or is not happening now?
The second piece I’d like to tackle is the focus the company places on this topic. A company has as much responsibility to behave intelligently as does its staff. From the company though it should be less about process and protocol and policies and more about behaving in ways that make people feel valued, and if they’re misbehaving then dealing with that appropriately.
For example, Bob comes into work drunk after every lunch break for a week. Typical action would be to discipline Bob for breaking company policy and being under the influence of alcohol. If he doesn’t improve in 2 weeks he’ll be let go. That’s fine but what a stick approach.
How about a company giving Bob time off from work, fully paid, on the condition that he immediately seeks professional help, paid for by the business, so he can overcome his problem. A timeline is given for 2 weeks to turn it around, and if there’s no satisfactory result, then he will be given a further 2 weeks off work, unpaid, but still has to get help. If there’s still no joy, then you enter into formal proceedings explaining that you’ve offered the support, you’re still committed to helping Bob, and together you will find a way to improve, unfortunately he has to go through a disciplinary. You also have an open forum with the team about how they are dealing with workload and any other stress with the absence of Bob so they are not ostracised.
A company won’t do that though because of the time and investment involved. Instead they’d rather have an unproductive worker, who isn’t dealing with his issue, getting worse, and with the fear of losing his job hanging on his head. His team and manager aren’t dealing with the situation well either and they’re feeling the stress. He leaves, and the post is vacant for 3 months resulting in increased unproductivity. Recruitment fees stack up, you finally find someone, and 3 months after they start they’re finally at an acceptable working level. 8 months down the line of Bob leaving, you’re finally productive again, after a lot of cost to the business. It could have been dealt with in 4 weeks.
I’ve created extreme situations, and this theory is far from infallible. However, it does offer an alternative perspective to how we currently approach problems and issues on a day to day basis. Intelligent Behaviours is about what it suggests. Thinking about how we behave so that we can make intelligent decisions for the benefit of everyone involved.

>You stick to your trade

>This week I’ve been made to think about the value an L&Der has to offer and what a good L&Der should be able to do. This first came from a post I read by Donald Clark where he talked about his experience of Fox’s Glacier Mints. This is rather amusing and rather cutting of his experience of an over enthusiastic trainer who was trying to train a group of people in being Creative. My second thing was from a training day I attended at my company delivered by an external trainer on the topics of Decision Making and Creative Thinking. And my third was from a company initiative I’m trying to push through.

What they all have in common is the value attached to an L&Der. I’ve spoken previously about what an effective L&Der needs to be able to do. What I’m concerned about at the moment is the sea of people out there in the world of work who call themselves trainers, and may fool themselves into thinking they are really good at training, but really have as much success as I do at Fantasy Football.
I’m sure that Bob is highly effective at delivering training on how to use MS PowerPoint 2010 but that doesn’t mean he’s equally able to deliver training on presentation skills. I can use PowerPoint, have used it for 7 years and probably will continue to use it into the future. That doesn’t mean I should deliver training in it though.
Similarly, if a trainer is building their one-person consultancy into a successful brand – and let’s be honest they tend to be one or two people – they should stick to what they know well and do that. Don’t pretend you know enough about a topic you have a passing interest in that you can deliver training on the topic. Just because I have an enthusiasm for tennis doesn’t qualify me to be a professional tennis coach.
I’m confident enough in my ability as an L&Der to recognise when a skillset is beyond my realm and I either need training in that skillset so I can learn how to do it, do it, then once I’ve bagged enough experience deliver training in it, or I seek out a current SME who can deliver it, and work with them to co-create the content and leave them to deliver it.
So what’s my message here? If you trust a trainer to deliver training in Wiring a Plug, then make sure they do that well. If they suggest they can deliver training in Developing Leaders of Tomorrow, either laugh in their face, or politely suggest you’ll go talk to Reed Learning instead.

>You’re a xenophobe, admit it

>I was reminded today about the importance of getting names right. But not only getting names right, being able to look at a name and get an immediate sense of that person’s potential nationality, culture and often their religion.

I’ve been fortunate in the many temp jobs I did while at uni that I was exposed to a lot of people who were from a variety of backgrounds. I also worked in different NHS offices for a time which exposed me to the myriad of names and cultures that came into contact with the NHS. The biggest thing this taught me was the importance of getting names right.
I have never shied away from trying to pronounce a name that was new to me. I’ve always wanted to get it right. And I’ve always wanted to find out more about names – what they mean, where they come from, what culture they are from, and then further questions about the person and their background. It’s one of the things I love about my job. I come into contact with such a variety of people, that understanding names makes interacting with others so much easier.
A lot of names can tell you what nationality a person is, what religion they are part of and in most cases what sex that person is. Indian names for example present all this information in their name. For example, Akshay Kumar is a boy’s name (Akshay), most likely Hindu, most likely Indian (Kumar). Asma Begum is a girl’s name (Asma), most likely Muslim, most likely Bangladeshi (Begum). Anthony McDonald is a boy’s name (Anthony), most likely Christian, most likely Scottish (McDonald). I can tell these things partly because I am Indian but mainly because I have seen and met enough people to notice these things and learn about them.
And trust me, I have had countless versions of my name used and abused – Suhki, Suki, Sucki, Suk, Pabla, Pabila, Pabail, to name just a few. All wrong. I’ve learned to accept that a lot of people are just that thick. I will tell people if they’re consistently making a mistake how my name should be spelled or pronounced.
What pisses me off is when others don’t bother. And I have met far too many people who just haven’t bothered getting names right. They’ll make assumptions about how a name is said, think they’re right and confidently say a name wrong. What complete fucknuts (pardon my language but it really does anger me). And, AND, when told they are saying it wrong, and they are corrected, they still believe they are right.
This doesn’t relate to professionalism or political correctness or diversity or any other unrelated adjective. It’s about courtesy. Plain and simple. It’s horrendous that people are either that ignorant, arrogant, careless, thoughtless and/or rude that they don’t take the time to address someone correctly. Do us all a favour. Admit you’re a xenophobe. Then try and say names right.

>Banter is not wrong

>A good friend of mine, Jim, has gone through a small ordeal which has made me (re)ponder the way we think about Diversity. Jim is a smart guy, and has a quick wit. He’s been with his employer for a number of years now and is working his way through the ranks. In his current post he has a mixed team of people he works with. Now Jim’s not a malicious person in any way but what happened has now given him the name Mud.

Jim enjoys banter – as we all do – with his work colleagues. What he didn’t bank on was someone in his team not appreciating his banter. Jim made a comment and used a euphemism to make it funny. His colleague took offence and decided to address it with Jim. Thankfully it’s not turned into anything serious, but it made me think about how easily behaviours can be misinterpreted.
What worries me is there is a clear uncertainty from employers and employees about what is acceptable in the workplace. Clearly direct and indirect discrimination of any kind is just unacceptable and should be dealt with. And acting in inappropriate ways is clearly unacceptable – butt slapping, shouting, intimidating, etc. But in a lot of everyday occurrences, it’s the non-obvious behaviours which need to be considered.
Think about any of the following: A female employee referring to colleagues using words like ‘honey’, ‘love’, ‘darling’. A male employee walking around the office in cycle clothing (not wrong but certainly not appropriate). An Asian employee displaying an England flag at his desk during an international sports competition. A practising religious person keeping on their desk in view of everyone a copy of their religious text. Are any of these wrong? As any case law specialist will tell you it’s all about the context.
So here’s my context. In a previous post I mentioned Intelligent Behaviours. If staff act intelligently they would see that in most instances a behaviour perceived as inappropriate was actually harmless. It’s when you don’t act intelligently that things go awry. Having an Intelligent Behaviour mindset means you’re not only looking at what was said, but the mannerisms of the person as a whole, their normal interactions, their attitude to work, their attitude to the organisation, their interpersonal skills, all these give you a picture of what that person intended. Bearing that in mind, in most instances you should see no malice intended.
I’m not dismissing those individuals who do allow their prejudices and biases to influence how they work with others. Even they should take the time to think intelligently about what they’re doing. This is about allowing a workplace to have a freedom to act and behave in a way which others are accepting of and appreciate. If your organisation is reticent to do this or thinks this is not talking about the real world, then your organisation has a behaviour problem that rides throughout all levels and you need to make some tough and necessary decisions about how you want to rectify these.
So, banter is not wrong. It’s a very British quality mind, and other cultures will have different cultural norms to be adhered to and respected. The important thing to remember is if you have an issue with what someone has said, think intelligently about the context, not just the words, and more often than not you’ll have a different appreciation to your assumption.

>What’s your third world?

I remember several years ago listening to a talk about successful leaders. He talked about how people in these positions have 3 worlds they live in which provide them with balance.

The first is your family world. This obviously looks very different for everyone, but the key things to bear in mind is the security a family environment provides for an individual. And this is true no matter how you define family. Be it married with kids, civil partnership, foster family, adopted, extended family, or however else you choose to categorise family. A secure family environment means that when you come to work you are able to focus in the main on the work at hand because you know that the family is being cared for and are secure. Difficulties at home mean less focus at work as your energy is already zapped by trying to resolve those.

The second is your world of work. This is obviously where you choose to create an income. There are many pundits who will argue that if you aren’t working in a career you are passionate about you are in the wrong job and you need to move. Now I agree with this to some extent. It’s important to reflect on the practicalities of doing something like this. My guesstimate would argue 20% of the working population are in a position where they can choose to leave a job and move on to better prospects. 50% of the population are working because they have to in order to live. The other 30% are in positions where they’re doing a good job and ambling along well enough, but don’t either have the desire or know how to move on.

As we’re talking about successful people we’ll stay on track with this. Essentially your world of work should be conducive to what you want to achieve. It’s not just about the work you do though. The company’s culture, values, size, structure, your place within it, all play a part in how successful you can be. This means you have to support and be an advocate for your work as well as being recognised for the work you do by the company.

So far so common sense, right? Right. Then, it’s the third place which is of particular interest. Your third place should be where you can be yourself. Cynicism aside of what this may mean for the undesirables of society, this is a truly fascinating thing to explore.

Your third world is where you are able to be yourself without the distraction, interruption and/or restrictions of both family and work. In your third world, you are able to express yourself and enjoy being you. For some this may be stamp collecting, for others being a fan of graphic comics and for others playing golf. The important thing is it doesn’t matter what this third world is, as long as you can be yourself. I’d describe this as geeking out. We all have something that sparks an interest which is ours. That is, you enjoy it, you cherish it, and you enjoy devoting your time to it.

For me this is a mix of multimedia technology and films. This covers a broad range of things from my mobile phone, my home cinema set up, the films I watch, the films I collect, and being immersed in all of these. I enjoy devoting my time to this and it’s something I have in common with my friends that we can get all geeky about. It’s fun, it’s enjoyable, and it’s mine.

The important thing to bear in mind is this does not undermine the other two worlds. Your third world should be a place where you know you can ‘live’ when your family world and world of work are catered for in a balanced effective way. I think the wonderful thing about thinking about success in this way is that it raises a lot of important questions that need to be answered individually, but it provides a great place from which you can aspire to.

Finding that balance is a tough set of decisions you have to balance. And there may well be a need to re-evaluate these as life happens and intervenes in the many ways it can. Through it all though, a perspective such as this allows us to focus on particular aspects of our lives and look at what that means for the other worlds.