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.



HR and the gift of giving

It’s odd to think we need to be almost reminded of how to bring out the best in others. What do we make of this gift of giving?

1) Be present. Fuck the emails hitting your inbox. If the shit’s that important they’ll be in your face or on the phone. Gift people your time. It will help them feel better, and you’ll feel better for having been there for someone.

2) Know your team. No, you’re not that important. Yes, you can pass along work, or even possibly delegate work. Because it’s your gift. People accept these gifts as they’re intended, so let’s fill them with a chance of success.

3) Hear what someone hasn’t said. If you’re going to have a difficult conversation, or embark on something new, really listen to the other person’s being. It’s their gift to you. And it’s mighty powerful.

4) Be mindful of your own voice. It’s your own gift giving back to you. It’s all the knowledge, experience and cynicism built up inside that you need to heed.

5) Engage in dialogue. Because it’s going to help someone grow. Any dialogue is about growth and learning. It’s visceral and untapped. Who knows where it could lead? Don’t drive it, engage with it.

6) Lead with heart. Be bold. Be brave. Be your best self. It’s what we desperately need today, and every day. When we stop is when things become boring and bland and process driven.

7) Scold with clarity. Use information wisely. Don’t be underhand. Help enlighten others. Mistakes happen. Life isn’t straightforward. Help someone grow.

8) Build something useful. Our gift is about growth of people. If you’re not focused on that, please let the door hit you firmly in the behind on way out.

9) Create meaningful connections. We’re in a unique place. It’s all about connections. People want and need to be connected. We can do that better than any other single function in an organisation.

10) Make it happen. Dawdling is for wimps and wallflowers. Take action. Do something. Be remembered. That gift will stay with someone for years.

HR and UX

I’m writing a short series of posts about trends I think are happening in the world which will come to affect the way HR carries out its work. My first was about HR and Big Data. In this one I’m going to talk about HR and User Experience, or UX as it’s commonly referred to. HR gets involved in so much (or at least has the potential to) in the workplace today that staying in the mainframe of what we think we should be restricted to is old hat. There are ever interesting ways to create an exciting workplace, and as technology and time moves on, we will have ever more innovative and creative ways of servicing the people we work with.

When we consider UX, first we need to get a grasp of what it’s all about. Thankfully, it’s an easy enough topic to understand in a very educated sense. UX is about making a journey easy, meaningful and purposeful for the user. Well, that’s my definition, which I think captures most aspects of UX. Consider when you visit a website and want to get to a specific piece of information. Is that user journey easy? Were you able to get the information? Did you have any difficulties in getting there?

Consider the use of mobile apps. Is the purpose of the app clear from the outset? Did you achieve your task quickly and without hassle? Was the information displayed clear and useful?

Consider going to the library. Was the signage clear? Did you spend longer in the library than you had intended to? Were there helpful prompts about where you needed to look?

Getting the clear idea, yes?

UX, then, is about regular daily interactions that we face. Some of those are cumbersome and hear-wrenchingly difficult like putting in a planning application for building work on your property, and others are blindingly easy like buying a lottery ticket.

So what interactions do the people at work face that have direct relations to HR?
– Finding out what benefits they have
– Applying for a job
– Reporting in sick
– Finding out what training they can attend
– Talking about difficulties with team members
– Arranging inter-departmental workshops
– Informing about maternity/paternity leave
– Listening to concerns about working conditions
– Reporting an incidence of bullying
– and the list goes on…

We have very good processes that will ensure we deal with these various pieces effectively. Which is partly what people want. Mostly, though, people don’t want to be dealt with efficiently. They want to be dealt with like people, by people. There is a place for efficiency to meet heart, and that’s where I think the future of UX for HR rests.

Building the Workforces of Tomorrow

In the second keynote of the CIPD annual conference, the panel discussion was made up of Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD, Michael Davis, UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), Ann Pickering of O2, Toby Peyton-Jones, Siemens Plc, and Jo Swinson MP, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The discussion was focused on how the UK is taking steps to shape the workforce of tomorrow. It was a good panel, and all offered various insights into what different quarters are providing in terms of solutions. Micheal Davis went first to highlight some of the trends being observed by the commission. They found a range of results like:
– Young people are more sober, better behaved and more austere according to recent research.
– Small businesses tend to use informal recruitment practices.
– It’s hard to get into work if you haven’t got the right social connections, network or community.
– Only 1 in 4 employers offers an education leaver a job opportunity.

The last point was the one that stood out the most to me. Only 1 in 4 employers is willing to give an education leaver a job opportunity. You can see why there is such risk aversion in this economy, yet if we’re giving the workforce of tomorrow opportunities to enter work, then we’re only going to cripple the future of business.

Apprenticeships are not clear job/career choices for many young people and although has improved in UK, is comparatively poor against European counterparts. This was also a concern. There has been a rise in the number of apprenticeships on offer, and the number of young people entering work through those schemes, but we’re just not doing enough. Le Sigh.

Most important I think for business practices is about the recruitment process. The biggest challenge to young people in applying for jobs is getting feedback on why they haven’t been successful to help them improve. I experienced this as a ‘skilled porfessional’ and I’m quite wisened to the world (hush), and to hear that young people aren’t offered such valuable information is just baffling.

The piece from Ann was intersting about what’s happening at Telefonica. There are technical skills they know they will need. For those, they can plan effectively. However, emerging technology means can’t predict skills for the future. Some years back you would never have considered that you need a full time social media manager or communities manager to manage online conversations. I’ve heard the term digital natives before, and this is about the mindset people need to have. It’s a transformation of hiring for attitude in this respect.

They’ve got some interesting initiatives such as “Think Big Learning”, bringing in young people to play with technology and build their confidence. A key insight they found was that young people have skills in abundance in technology which is hidden and they don’t recognise it. This presents them with the opprtunity to get involved, discover those abilities and unleash them.

Toby from Siemens gave some great insights into cross-culturual perspectives. Apprenticeships in the UK are not as pervasive as they are in Germany. he expalined how the apprentice schemes are both very well delivered and produce great talent, but the problem is the numbers of people entering the schemes. This seems such a shame.

Probably the most interesting thing that Siemens have done is to do a mega trends study. This showed the big things to be concerned about in the future will be the energy crisis, mega cities, and changing demographics. Based on this they have decided to change what markets they continue to operate in. For example, they now have stopped being in the mobile phone market. Another thing this helped them to realise was where they were going to focus their recruitment, and thereby what their future requirements will be.

Further to the mega trends study, Siemens are taking skills shortage seriously by introducing own vocational schools tied to production plants. Through this the workforce gain access to experience work, and study the skills they need. To my mind, many of the big companies in London Town should be doing the same. By creating partnerships with local colleges and the likes, there is no reason they can’t get over the skills shortage if they’re a core part of the solution.

Jo Swinson helped raise some perspectives frm government such as:
– status of apprenticeships needs to be given more importance. University route isn’t for everyone, must consider vocational qualifications.
– new forms of communication present challenges to old ways of working. The digital evolution creates challenges for those not adapting to new technologies.
– talking about presenteeism, and need to develop thinking on flexible working and the technologies available to enable this.
– results showing engaged workforces take less sick days and are better advocates of their employers.

All in, this was a useful session offering some useful insights into what’s happening now, and where we need to be looking next.

Making the Case for Learning and Development Investment

This first session is being presented by Kadisha Lewis-Roberts from Mitchells and Butlers (restaurants and food pub owners) and Ann Rivera of Trident Housing Association.

Kadisha helps to provide a way of starting to understand ghe business by doing a ‘scan the internal environment’. This means:
– keep your finger on the organisational pulse
– meet up with newbies
– develop a sixth sense
– be a data gatherer

Following from this she says we should also scan the external environment by:
– know what’s going on
– find out what your competitors are doing
– build your social capital
– develop yourself

She goes on to describe how to be the missing link between the organisation’s goals and what L&D/OD can deliver. This is done by connecting the two priorities together. I like the next piece about getting the biggest bang, where Kadisha talks about understanding which programmes are the ones bringing actual business value, and which need to be dropped.

Interestingly, this presentation has been more about how to be a good L&Der and very little on how to make the case for investment. In my mind, these activities create the foundation on which you build the data needed to form a business case. What hasn’t been clear is how to make that business case in order to influence the board to provide investment.

Ann talks about how when measuring ROI they measure social impact not financial impact. As a social housing group, I can see how this makes sense. She talks about how they make it clear in their organisation that they are learning everyday due to the regular changes and challenges they face. That’s the key to being a learning organisation, and I agree with that.

Probably the best piece from Ann is where she revealed that they don’t limit training to their staff. It is open to all people living in their houses. They get training on:
– skills based workshops
– increasing employability
– digital inclusion
– confidence and assertiveness
– strategy and scrutiny panel

This is excellent. The customers fund the housing and therefore are given a full range of support, not just housing and support in the traditional sense.

From the session in all, I’ve been impressed by the L&D approaches and solutions both organisations have taken. What’s been sorely lacking is how to take this great information and transform it into business speak so that you can create a business case for more investment.

HR and Big Data

In recent times, I’ve been starting to wonder what is it that makes HR good at what they do. There’s a lot that we’re expected to do which many of us take the time and effort to understand and become skilled at. I’m addressing all of what HR involves here – the generalist activities, learning and development, organisational development, recruitment, employee relations, and whatever else I’ve missed. Many working in one or across those disciplines will have a fair understanding of the broad HR remit. It’s a fascinating world, a complicated world, and a much needed world.

But what things are we missing? What trends or technologies or developments are we dismissing because we’ve not taken the time to understand what they offer us? I’m going to write a short series on some current trends happening in the workplace which HR just aren’t considering. There are three things in particular I want to throw out there as being big trends which we’re just not giving enough thought to: big data, user experience (aka UX), and analytics. Each of these are elements of organisations which are becoming increasingly important and increasingly complex. Also, each of these areas overlaps very closely, so I’m going to try my best to not create too much confusion.

Big data then. Well where do we start with this? First let’s be sure we know what it is. As my good friend Wikipedia states:

…big data is a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools. The challenges include capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, analysis, and visualization.

and it continues:

Big data is difficult to work with using relational databases and desktop statistics and visualization packages, requiring instead “massively parallel software running on tens, hundreds, or even thousands of servers”. What is considered “big data” varies depending on the capabilities of the organization managing the set.

Right. That’s a useful start. So big data is so big that it’s ambitious to think any one company/organisation will be able to make full use of all the data available to them. The everyday tools and software many of us are used to (Excel, SAP and the likes) are useless in the context of big data because they’re just not designed to manage that level of information.

How much data are we thinking we’re talking about? Well this report from McKinsey helps. They took big data from five domains: “healthcare in the United States, the public sector in Europe, retail in the United States, and manufacturing and personal-location data globally”. That’s how big we’re talking. Let’s put that into perspective. This is all driven because of the proliferation of digital services entering our lives from years ago to the present day and moving into tomorrow. Because of the level of interaction we have with every service we ever come across, and the way we access that either from our smartphones or our PCs or information boards or telephone services, we’re giving data about our behaviour and that data is just stupidly important. Although companies are responsible for helping us to interact more digitally, it’s our everyday usage which creates the data being talked about. The McKinsey report highlights seven key insights, and you should go read that. I’ll highlight this one point from the article:

Access to data is critical—companies will increasingly need to integrate information from multiple data sources, often from third parties, and the incentives have to be in place to enable this.

So how is big data being used? This recent article in the Guardian helps give a sense of where it is being used – fraud detection, healthcare and medicine, humanitarian efforts and privacy. Ok, now we’re getting a sense of how organisations need to understand big data to help them with their efforts, and how businesses can create solutions that meet these needs.

So, where does HR fit into all of this? Well, I’m not entirely sure. What we know is that big data is pervasive and it will only continue to penetrate more aspects of our lives. What we also know is that currently there is a skill shortage in this developing arena. HR at some point will need to learn how to become number crunchers on some level in order that the service they provide the organisation meets the new ways of managing and being smart with data. Not the regular data we think is important such as recruitment churn, number of delegates on learning events, ROI of the HRIS, or sickness figures, but bigger more important data. Things like:
– Who’s searching for the company online and how do we target them with information?
– What information is readily available so that we have a responsive L&D agenda as opposed to a calendar based approach?
– Which teams have consistently been better producers of work/generators of income over the last five year period?
– What percentage of leavers are talking about us in the social space, and how can we be part of that conversation?
– What is the brand perception of us in the marketplace, and how do we improve that?
– Are our employees involved in projects that produce community and societal benefits as part of their scope?

Some of these questions we can answer to some extent now. Some extent isn’t going to be good enough in the future.

I don’t have an answer to the challenge I’ve laid out here. Big data is here and it’s going everywhere fast. Now you know, what are you going to do about it?