Being HR brilliant

A while back I wrote about your signature strength. When you understand about yourself that there is something core to your being which drives you and everything you do. It’s not something we give much heed to, because it’s quite the self-indulgent thing to experience. So many day to day things happening, why do I then need to take the time to find my signature strength?

I’d like us to consider this is in the work environment. Last week Laurie Ruettimann wrote about all the contradictory career advice you hear these days. And I wanted to pick up on that. Positive Psychology easily falls into the camp of – yeah, you can only do that when you have nothing else in life to worry about.

If positive psychology is about helping people to live a vibrant life, how can we enable this more at work? The simple answer is, it isn’t likely to happen.

We’re not at work to be our best self. We’re not at work to find our signature strength. We’re certainly not at work to live a vibrant life.

Sure there are some workplaces that are great to work for. Mostly that’s because the company started because of a particular skill, they hired others with those skills, they hired even more who had skills they’d need in the future, and they made money along the way. But what about the production line worker, or the telesales clerk, or the road cleaner? They’re doing the job they have to in order to just get by. Asking them to live a more vibrant life may well result in verbal abuse.

And that’s the challenge. Us lot in HR. We few in OD. We can help support that creation of meaning. There’s been plenty of talk lately in the HR blogosphere about making work better. There are some practitioners out there who are making it happen. We don’t need to hack our way through things to make them better. I think the terminology is interesting and the CIPD have done a grand job of creating a sense of vivre in the day to day thinking of HR pros (who are all active online).

At work these things matter. A person’s pay, the physical layout, being safe from harm, having dignity, and having opportunities to contribute to something more than your work. If we get that right, and we’re the ones who control much of that, people can find their own ways to live vibrant lives.

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Unconditional positive regard

In a previous post, I wrote about hope. I quite like that post, it kind of describes me.

Unconditional positive regard. I remember learning about this on my Psychology course when it comes to therapy and counselling. This is something quite challenging. Imagine it, you have to sit with the person opposite, and unconditionally regard them with positive intent. No cynicism, no interpretation, no negative bias – accepting what they say is the truth, and accepting that they want the best.

Could you do it? Imagine all the people you encounter every day, and with every one of them, you have to hold them in unconditional positive regard. I can’t do it. I’m not thinking I particularly should. But how do you judge a situation and decide with which person you should practise this thinking? How discerning and intelligent must you be to be able to do this?

You can see why it’s important for counselling and therapy purposes. The counsellor / therapist is there for you, and they are trained in helping you to be your best self. That means they can’t and shouldn’t judge you, criticise you, or react to you in a way which you feel you cannot trust them. You have to be able to speak with this person with utmost confidence that they can and will respect you for who you are.

Humans only have so much capacity for this type of behaviour. It’s really hard to maintain that kind of thinking and do it with everyone. It takes conscious energy and will to make that happen. We place expectations on pretty much every interaction we have, be it digital or physical, and that means we open ourselves to either being delighted or disappointed. If we’re delighted, it’s easy to be positive towards others. If we’re disappointed, the last thing we want to do is look for anything positive in another person.

Even therapists and counsellors have their supervision and support sessions where they blow off steam and ‘let it out’.

Consider then at work how much more challenging this is. In HR we face day to day issues that people want to come and talk to us about which directly affect them in one way or another. And, in the main, we can influence the outcome of that interaction – either the person is delighted, or they’re disappointed. How many people do you choose to hold in unconditional positive regard? Not many I’m betting.

Maybe you try hold you manager in this regard? Maybe some of your colleagues? Maybe the person you sit next to? Or a director or senior manager?

So what do we do? Suddenly think the best of everyone we come into contact with?

I want to help you. This is my default position. It means I’ll empathise with you and try to get the best solution for you. It doesn’t mean I won’t judge you, or choose to not believe you, but I’ll put that to one side while I try help to help you.

Well, why not?

Here’s what we know. We know that people who help others achieve something feel better about themselves in the long run. We know that at work, when we help our colleagues to do something, they tend to be appreciative and share the good story with others. We know that engagement at work is about the support and inclusive feeling we have. We know that when we are trusted to do our work, we produce our best work.

It’s hard. If achieving something great was easy, we’d all be doing it.

An environment of trust

My kids do this thing which we’ve all done in our time. “But I can’t tidy up, daddy, I’ve got a mosquito bite on my ear.” I love it. It makes me laugh and I have to play along with it.

Then I see adults doing the same thing. “But I can’t possibly do that piece of work, I’ve got an email to respond to.” Or, “I’ve got so much work to do, but sure I’ll walk with you to the kitchen and gossip about something on the telly.”

Adults. Who’d have ’em eh?

There’s this concept in psychology called attribution theory. Essentially it says if something good happens to me it’s because I made it happen. I attribute my skills to making it happen. If something bad happens to me it’s because of some external reason and has nothing to do with me. I attribute my misfortune to other circumstances.

Variants of this theory also exist. My team member did a great job of succeeding in their project because of my leadership and management ability. Or, my team member did a really poor job because they lack the capability to do the job well. I believe that men are better at manual handling tasks than women because of their build. Or, I believe that men are no good at doing the ironing because the iron is designed for a woman’s hand. (This is just an illustration yo, I don’t believe this).

So when we’re faced with this shit nonsense at work, what do we traditionally say? Oh they just need to be performance managed. Or they need to be coached. Or they need counselling. Or they need to go through a disciplinary for poor capability.

Well just hold on a cotton picking minute there. This also is a variant of that attribution theory. We are attributing the poor action of an individual on some external factor. Who’s actually owning the issue?

Let me repeat that question – Who is actually owning the issue?

You want to know how to engage with your staff? It begins right here. You want a better score on your satisfaction survey, get this right. You want to be better at diversity and inclusion activities, then this is where you need to focus.

The issue is systemic, it is personal, and it belongs to all of us.

I start from a place of trust – in everyone. Even those who have done wrong, I give them the continued benefit of the doubt. Because I believe that we can all do the right thing given the right environment for it to happen. I cultivate that trust wherever I go, and whomever I talk to. (Yeah, I used the term ‘whomever’ correctly)

The issue is systemic. That is, it’s in the culture of the organisation to allow that type of behaviour to happen. It’s in the management structure, it’s in the leadership, it’s in the trust placed in staff, it’s in the poor handling of that staff member.

The issue is personal. That person needs to realise this is happening because of them. Their situation is because of them and no-one else. But very few people care to notice that. Most don’t care at all about the impact they’re having on others, they just care about themselves. Some are deluded in thinking they are aware, yet they still do the same things.

The issue belongs to all of us. Those of us in HR, those of us in management and leadership positions, those of us as team members. It’s all about how we play a part in this set of stuff. We choose to either endorse the behaviour, or we don’t. But, people will only act if the environment is the right one for it.

What can you do about it? Make sure your environment operates from a place of trust. “I trust you to do a good job, because that’s what I hired you for. If there is something stopping you from doing so, I need to know so I can remove it, or try my best to mitigate it. But I believe in you, and your ability to be the best you can. Together we’ll make it happen.”

No, those aren’t the words you need to say. But they sure as hell convey the intent you should have in your heart.

Engagement happens when…

You know what’s always good to share? Stories of actual success. Both are mine.

The first is a success story of engagement. The second is also a success story of engagement.

You see, engagement is a range of things. Engagement happens when you do the right things with your people. And it’s those right things that make the difference.

So let’s get the first thing out of the way. I was happy with my role – the basics were all in play. My salary was a fair one for my role. I was clear about the work I was responsible for. I had autonomy to do the actions I thought necessary. I had clear expectations of what I needed to do. I understood the consequences of not acting in a way which was beneficial to the organisation, the team, and to me.

This has been true of my last two jobs. I was respected by my manager from the off for having the knowledge, skills, and attitude to do the job well. From there it was a matter of letting me get on with it. A series of things helped keep me on track. Regular conversations with my manager about things happening in my workflow. The freedom to try new, creative, innovative ways of delivering learning. I was coached where my performance was going awry of expectations. My ideas and opinions were sought on things that were important. There was the flexibility to work the hours needed for the organisation, and to work from home or adjust working hours where appropriate. I was given regular feedback about my performance. I was allowed to explore how I worked best, and talk with my manager about making this happen.

I handed in my notice in my most recent role, and worked my notice period. All along that time my manager kept the same approach – and I appreciated that greatly. My team were highly supportive of my time left in the role, and helped me to figure out what I needed to do to leave the role and workload in a state which was meaningful and useful for the future person. There was no animosity, or maliciousness, just genuine support and empathy. Right up until the last day I was working on things which I was not going to see put into action, but will help the team achieve things later.

These were things which may have been backed up by some policy somewhere, but I was never told about it. My manager understood these were ways to engage me because we talked about them.

I’m about to start a new role with a new employer. I am seriously excited by this. All because the recruitment, and candidate experience has been excellent.

My interest was piqued about a role I saw advertised. From the moment I applied, within a period of ten days I had been through the recruitment process and been offered the role. To say I was impressed by this is an understatement. It was seriously impressive. They understood I needed to work my notice period and we agreed to stay in touch.

In the two months leading up to my first day I’ve had regular conversations with my new manager. This has been awesome. I have a sense of the organisation I’m about to join from these conversations. I have an idea about the culture of the place and how receptive they are to the role I’m going to do. Some of the ideas they have in place to engage staff have been shared with me, and I’ve been allowed to offer my tuppence about what I can do to support them. I’ve connected with some of the new team members ahead of joining which gives me a sense of the attitude they have to social media. Information about upcoming work has been shared with me and helps me to get a sense of what the expectations are of me.

I feel welcomed and motivated to do well in the role, before I’ve even stepped in the front door, or met the team.

So there you have it. Two success stories about how to put engagement into practice. Both offer a different sense of how to make it happen. Both offer some insight into what worked to engage me. Because at the end of the day, I’m just like you. Someone who wants to work, do it well, and feel positive about the contribution I can make.

Developing Internal Talent

Just been part of a very intersting set of discussions about developing internal talent in organisations. Our two presenters were Nick Pascazio from BBC Technology, and Andy Lancaster from Hanover Housing Association.

Nick started by sharing how they had to develop their technology engneering talent against the backdrop of being the provider for broadcasting the Olympics in 2012. Some further information around this is that they had to move from 3 software courses to 25 across a range of technologies and working methodologies.

They have what they call the BBC Academy, and through that created an interesting set of internal knowledge sharing sessions such as holding events where people come and have an open house talking about topics of interest. This was open to staff and to external people. I’m a fan of this type of intervention and think it’s only a good thing to do. You get natural engagement, good PR, and potentially a recruitment activity.

They created an internal accredited course which would provide the equivalent of gaining a MSc by joining the company. This is interesting as it’s attractive to people who may be interested in advancing their careers, but don’t have the finances to do so and need someone to help sponsor this activity. They also partnered with other organisations and created a buddy programme where they shared top talent with their partners to work on select projects. That’s a great example of collaboration and how it can truly work.

Unsurprisingly, they use a nine box model of mapping talent, which recognises specialism, performance, and leadership talent. This kills me inside. It says “we only recognise certain people in our organisation have talent”. It says we don’t want to invest in all our staff, just the people we like. It says we don’t have the time or resources to be a learning organisation, that’s exclusive to people on this programme. Le sigh.

Also unsurpisingly, they have a strong governance structure. However, this means that it acts as a barrier to market. Nick shared a story that iPlayer was ready for launch but was held up by two years because of governance structures and processes before they could get it to market. This also kills me inside. I understand the purpose of governance, and yet where there is clear innovation happening, the organisation is more concerned in red tape than it is making things happen.

Andy shared a story about how Hanover needed to invest in a £750,000 software project, but the supplier couldn’t offer any trainers to train staff. I loved the start of this presentation where he likened what they went through as an accidental innovation – akin to post-it notes, velcro and teflon. He said they stumbled on an answer which paid dividends in unexpected ways.

Andy shared some interesting thoughts which I think are worth repeating. He said that research shows us that 99.2% of business in the UK have no more than 50 staff. He said that although we’re going through rough and turbulent times, this is probably the most exciting time to be in HR (L&D/OD) as this is when we can be our most innovative and creative. And he shared how many organisations are raising the entry mark of a degree to 2:1 in the UK, because they think this will attract a better calibre of applicant. This all prompts a lot of thought for me which I’ll have to re-visit in a later blog post.

They opened the opportunity to be trainers to all staff across the organisation. He shared that with complex projects like this, involving people to be part of the solution is a great form of engagement and inclusive practice. They essentially asked for volunteers to become trainers for the period of time needed for the project to be delivered. To support them, they would go through seven weeks of intensive training. It was an open application, and they had a lot of applicants from which they selected the people by asking them to do a ten minute training session and interviews. It would be a formal secondment, and they would go back to their original roles once the project was complete. What is key here was having a clear re-integration plan for the person to help them understand how to use their new talents and skills in their original roles.

It worked out well for them. So well in fact that they won an award from Training Journal because of it. How’s that for ROI and ROE? What worked for me in Andy’s presentation (apart from an energetic and very engaging presentation style) was he shared a clear business problem, how they solved it, and what happened along the way. It was a great story that I enjoyed listening to. He shared some thoughts on six keys to talent development:
1) Be confident to trust those ‘within’ before those ‘without’ i.e. look internally for talent before thinking about externally, and explore options
2) Don’t set the selection bar unrealistically high
3) Invest value and reward in the opportunity
4) Ensure mistakes are a welcome part of the learning process
5) Reassure and define what is a ‘bridge too far’
6) Plan the communication, support, reward and have fun!

This was a good session which covered a lot about how a considered and practical appraoch to solving business problems can gain a lot of activity and support from the organisation you may have previously dismissed.

Has L&D stalled?

Today’s the start of the HRD conference and exhibition by the CIPD. I’ve so far sat through two conference sessions, one by Stephan Thoma from Google about Nurturing Creativity and Learning in the Workplace, and the second by Peter Cheese of CIPD, and Peter Bedford from Anglo American about Devleoping Leaders who are fit for the future.

They’ve been interesting in their own rights, and it’s encouraging to hear a few things.

Google get their basics right in treating staff, and having a culture that supports innovation and creativity.

Anglo American are very focused on safety at all levels which ensures they support staff and treat them well.

Google are famous for allowing staff to have 20% of their time to work on personal projects, they aren’t concerned about market share, for them it’s about their products.

Anglo American are a truly global mulit-national who have to work hard at ensuring their leaders go through a robust training programme which provides them with the skills they need to be good leaders.

It’s interesting, right?

Are you doing some variation of the above? Are you as an L&Der / OD professional pushing these same boundaried? Is your leadership programme effective and focsued on developing them?

Here’s what I’m left with so far. Innovation in L&D has stalled. There are some intriguing innovations out there with the likes of MOOCs, but really, L&D has lost its steam. There’s nothing new. There’s nothing different. We’re not being disruptive. We’re not creating a competitive advantage to the organisations we’re part of.

At least that’s the message I’m hearing. What I’m hearing is we’re doing business as usual, doing a good job of it and being very safe in that delivery.

There are a lot of people in the social space who advocate challenging and innovating their practice, but who’s actually doing it? Where are the internal practitioners who are blazing a new trail for their organisations? Where are the external practitioners who are shaking up the world of learning and development to provide something new and exciting?

Part of me says, you know what, I shouldn’t be complaining. As a profession we’re doing a good job. Some practitioners will be trying to be the trailblazers. Some won’t know what that looks like and unsure how to start. Some are on the path of doing it, but staying safe. And all of that is ok, because we all have secure jobs and income. And it’s mildly encouraging because it means we’re not missing any tricks. We’re not behind the curve. We’re not doing any worse than the likes of Google.

And if we believe that’s ok, then we’ve already lost the end game.

What have you ‘signed off’ lately?

Son: Dad, I’d like to re-decorate my room. I don’t need your help to do it, but I might need to ask your advice about what I need to do.

Dad: Ok, son. How are you going to go about re-decorating?

Son: Well, I’m going to make a plan, give myself a budget of how much to spend, and that should work.

Dad: Sounds good to me. Don’t forget we are going on a family holiday in 4 weeks, and it doesn’t sound like you’ve factored in your commitments at the karate club. I know you said you don’t need my help, but I’m here to support you when you’re ready.

Something of an idyllic conversation, and not one I’m likely to have with any of my children for at least the next 15 years. In his manifesto, Henry Stewart talks about trusting your people. One of the key things in that is ‘pre-approving’ work. One of the other things he talks about is ‘give freedom with clear guidelines’.

When I think about that, I think about moving out of people’s way. I trust people inherently. It’s probably my biggest flaw – it’s also probably my proudest flaw. I let people know what I’m asking of them, set out some expectations and then move out of the way. I don’t interfere, I don’t meddle, and I don’t criticise. I will check in, I will ask for updates and I will be mindful about the persons ability to do the job. I will coach, guide, advise and mentor as appropriate.

But there are a lot of people in the work place who doggedly believe this is a fools errand way to operate. If you don’t control what your team are doing, then how can you expect them to achieve? A belief exists that without asserting your authority, the level of control you have over your team will be diminished. When work is complete, and passed to them for approval, it cannot pass on to the next phase of the project until it is signed off.

I’m not talking about business critical work, that stuff has to follow some element of checking and formal review, else you’re putting the business at risk. I’m talking about things like the following:
– coming into work 15 mins late because you worked an hour later the day before
– sending an email to someone outside of your team/department
– not following a process/protocol because you’ve found a more efficient way to get it done
– changing the design/format of a piece of work to better reflect the content
– having an informal chat with an external supplier about potential work

These things are things which people are very capable of making decisions about on their own. When leaders/managers delude themselves into thinking they are enacting control to have a better team, is when they also don’t realise that the team are not working at their best, and not willing to increase their discretionary effort at work.

Signing off has its place, just don’t wield it like it’s a God-given right.