What happened to the people agenda?

While listening to the various talks and hearing from respective speakers at speakers at #HRD12, I’m left with an over-riding thought that will not prove popular. In the main, HR Directors and L&D Directors are not doing enough to move the people agenda beyond boxes being ticked, meeting compliance standards and getting better engagement scores. There are some very good leaders at that level who I respect a great deal. But when you have organisations like the CIPD asking these people to come and talk about their organisations, I’m looking to get some real nuggets of insight into how you’ve positively changed the business. Often, I’m left lacking and thinking what I’m doing is more than enough, and in some cases a lot better than the presented organisation.

This raises a few questions. By what standard are we saying the people agenda is of significant calibre that they should be presented at a conference? Some of the speakers requested to attend shouldn’t be the ones speaking. Send someone else from the organisation who has the charisma, know how and ability to present to a large group of people. Your title does not mean you have the fit or ability to speak. Although I bet someone in your team does.

For all the talk of engaging employees with new fangled technologies, how many senior leaders are actively using the tools available to them to do this engaging? Again, I only know a few who do, and the respect they have is bar none. Where’s all the resistance to usage coming from? What perceptions are they battling with? What barriers are they presenting themselves that they don’t want to take part in the conversation? Allowing your staff to use tools, and having an open approach to engagement is not the end game. You need to be in the thick of it.

One of the presentations I attended was about engaging Gen Y, and I was expecting to hear about how L&D methodologies have changed in their organisations to meet the changing ways of learning and attention being grabbed. I learned a lot about great recruitment strategies, but nothing about the delivery of learning. I learned more about how companies like Skill Pill can enable mobile based learning, and it’s another way to consider delivery. This tells me L&D is not doing enough to be innovative in the way we deliver learning, but also we’re not being challenged sufficiently to really push that boat. I take this personally. I love what I do, and think I deliver learning in ways that are varied and interesting, and I don’t think I’m doing good enough.

We’re in a constantly changing world and that brings with it a lot of opportunity and risk to try new things. So who should be the Chief Creative Officer when one doesn’t exist in your organisation? Who should be the Chief Listening Officer? Who’s being the Chief Story Teller? I would suggest these roles sit with these senior leaders from HR and L&D. We have the space and authority to fulfil those roles, it just seems we’re shy of being responsible for them.

I think there should be an HR Director / L&D Director summit where they discuss the people agenda and finally come up with what they think they’re trying to achieve.

My Dad’s Gonna Beat Your Dad Up

In what I think was one of my first blog posts, I wrote about the need for L&D to be a separate entity in a business to HR, with a different reporting structure and hierarchy into the senior exec team. Oh my how times have changed. That was almost two years ago I made that assertion. I think there are some in the L&D world who would still strongly agree with this assertion too.

But this is nothing more than a measure of who provides the better perceived value. In times gone by, training was either a function of the Operations team, or provided on an ad hoc basis by experienced people in a business who knew this learning needed to be shared with others. Learning theories and development theories have been around for decades, and influenced much of how schools developed curriculums, and how we understood the types of parenting skills many of us use today. Think about simple acts such as praise and recognition of efforts in children. Although an intuitive positive act to make, there are tangible differences you can see in children who receive praise, and those who do not.

And in times gone by, what was the old personnel department, with stereotypes around being the people who listened and helped staff, this progressed to the multi-faceted discipline we see today. Long gone are the days that HR was seen as a safe, non disruptive part of the business. Now management degrees focus on the need to understand HR and its processes and how important they are in guiding the development and growth of a business.

So have I changed my thinking on this? Do I now believe that L&D should report into HR and just zip up? Well, here’s the thing. Being an L&Der means I have to know my craft. And if I’m doing a training session on Interviewing Skills, or Assessing Competence, or Understanding Diversity, as part of all that I have to know about elements of employment law, legislation on discrimination and company policies and procedures. If I’m training on leadership/management training, I have to be able to advise on techniques that are appropriate for the business and in line with our practices.

Equally, if HR needs to advise someone on development or coaching, they have to understand some skills that L&D practise regularly – coaching/feedback/mentoring. And if they are running a workshop, or presenting, they need help and development on facilitation techniques, and presentation techniques.

There are plenty of places we can look at to make a call of differences. And they will all be valid. But, for better appreciation of skills, and for a better focus on people development in all regards, there are far more opportunities than there are challenges. Which is why you should come along to the next #ConnectingHR unconference on Thursday 20 October, at the Spring in Vauxhall, London. People from the complete spectrum of HR (Hr generalists, HRDs, L&D, Coaches, Facilitators, Business leaders, and more) come along to discuss and help each other understand what needs to be better, and how we can make it happen together. If you’re on Twitter, follow the hashtag. There are daily tweets/events/blogs happening that include the hashtag and help to spread the word. If you’re interest is really peaked, check out the connectinghr.org site and sign up to be able to interact with this ever growing, ever inclusive group of people.

And about that L&D/HR divide? We’re all afraid of what we don’t know. Some of us get excited by what we don’t know. I, for one, am driven to have an ever more, ever successful collaborative approach in L&D and the business.

Let’s think differently

Last year I started some musings about needing a business set of philosophies that help guide and direct behaviour in working environments. I called it Intelligent Behaviours, and my follow up post on behaving intelligently (yes, I know, not very clever post titles). I’d like to venture some further thoughts on this thinking.

In those posts I talked about what it means to think about Intelligent Behaviours, and subsequently how it relates to topics such as Diversity, and managers thinking about absence management differently. So let’s discuss what this could mean for HR. And I include all parts of HR in this.

I should highlight that the idea behind Intelligent Behaviours is to encourage and foster a future way of thinking. This is not an attack on what’s happening now, more a desire to see things done differently. That’s not restricted to HR by any means. Every business area could do well thinking about this. And I’ll get round to discussing every business area. Today, simply, I start with HR.

So, relax for a moment, this isn’t about a new competency framework, engagement strategy, or new fangled policy on performance management. This is about saying – what does thinking intelligently about the situation you are facing tell you? And then how can you behave accordingly to that? My line of thinking is this – we have company policies for pretty much everything, and in honesty, everyone knows a policy is a big pile of nonsense. It’s only purpose is to have some fallback mechanism that says “oh you can’t act in that way because the policy says so”. In other words “you and I are both so infantile, neither of us trusts the other, and here’s the piece of paper that proves it”.

How, with any reason, and with all the will in the world, can we display employee engagement, if your first port of call is to have a policy or process in place? Think about it. Before you’ve even started something exciting, you’re already creating contingencies and thinking of mitigating circumstances. And then when you’ve launched into it, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be ‘effective’ and nothing more. Forget engaging, or even better, ‘social’, it just becomes – standard/best practice.

Why have we allowed ourselves to do this? Well, aside from the fact there’s a horrid litigious culture encouraged by daft no win no fee claim companies, and aside from the fact as a nation we are more concerned with productivity than we are innovation, HR has just become a safe place to be really. Sure, there’s exciting things happening out there like talent management programmes, OD initiatives galore, high fliers programmes and the like, but they’re just the emporer’s clothes dressed up as something new. As a profession, we’ve become too transfixed with policies and process, and don’t think enough about just letting things happen.

Hold on! I’m not advocating a free for all workplace with no guidance. I’m advocating better thinking about why we’re doing the work we’re doing. And I’m certainly not talking changing the rules when it comes to complicated arrangements like Union discussions or redundancies or mergers and acquisitions. Although, I think we can use Intelligent Behaviours to moderate those in different ways too. Let’s take some examples.

Let go of the tendency to say or default to “I know the answer to this, our policy says X.” Instead, encourage discussions on “I know how to solve your problem, and it’s easy”. My take on this is people don’t care about what the policy states, they just want to know a problem can be solved. Also, reject the urge to say “let’s check the policy on that”. You’re only encouraging a culture of deference to a piece of paper. I want confidence in you, not the process or the policy.

Let go of the tendency to follow best practice, or follow the old edict of “it’s what we’ve always done”. Are you so uninspired by your daily routine that the best you can resolve to do is “right, that’s a grievance, let’s pull out the ACAS guidance and ensure we don’t fuck up the process”. Really? Is that what you care about? Or do you care about resolving the situation as amicably as you can? Or better, do you care about leading a discussion where both parties ultimately leave the discussion with better appreciation of what happened, what needs to happen next, and assurances they will carry on?

Let go of the tendency to be critical and shooting down ideas because you think you are politically sensitive to the culture. In others words, you haven’t got the gumption to champion the idea proposed to you, nor the faith in that person to deliver it, and you are just looking for a get out clause “it’s a good idea, but Bob won’t like it because of this, and Bill has had an ulterior motive of that”. Let it happen. See what the result is. Give the right coaching and advice that will produce the desired result.

You can call this common sense, you can call it blue sky thinking, you can call it bollocks thinking. Personally I think we’ve just become too focused on “the way we’ve always done things” and that does not foster intelligence in our thinking, nor in our behaviour. Hungry now, need to go get some lunch.

>I’m a sharing soul

>Last night I attended an event for folks who use social media, Twitter in particular, to have a tweet-up. Those of you who follow me know of this as #ConnectingHR. It’s odd going to an event like this. You talk to these people on Twitter. You’re kind to each other, and you have an interaction of sorts. You can’t really call it a relationship because there’s no vested interest in the other party. Not really. We might help and we might offer support, but you can’t do much more virtually. But you know, in your mind, that you don’t care if these people listen to you, if you offend them, or if they like you, because they’re not real. Not really. Of course, they’re real, but you know, they’re not to you, because there’s no relationship.

And then you decide you’re going to meet up. Not just one or two of you, but all of you who talk. It’s reminiscent of the old chatroom scenarios. You remember those. Bob lives in England, Karen lives in Fiji. They talk, they think they have a spark, they agree to meet and either they find they really do have a spark, or it was all based on false perceptions. But this was nothing like that. At all.

So the first #ConnectingHR event was last year, another after that, an unconference followed, and then last night the first tweet-up of the year. Right. So I’m off to meet a group of folk who share a hashtag. WTF? Are you fucking serious? Yes. Absolutely. Erm. Why exactly? Because we’re a community. Ok. Now you’re just talking nonsense.

Am I? Twitter is where I am me. I tweet about everything under the sun. I mix personal, with professional with work with food with my children. This a) gives those following me a complete insight into who I am b) fills up timelines because I tweet so damned much. On a night like last night though, that leaves me in an interesting position. I knew there would be folk there who actually read my tweets. They respond – actively – to what I say. For whatever reason they do this, they do this. I’m grateful for that. So going into the pub, the first thought that struck me was – Fuck. This is like going on a blind date where the other person actually knows an awful lot about you already, but they have no idea who you are. And having a Twitter handle such as @LearningGrump (nee @naturalgrump) makes things even more interesting as often folks just have their names as their handles, so mine is a bit more distinctive than most.

And then we say hello. And you look round the room recognising folk. Bob! Billy! Ben! And you connect immediately. Because you already know each other. Because all you’re doing is putting faces and real people to the names. And you find they’re just as wonderful in real life as they are on Twitter. I didn’t need to meet these folk in real life to help me know I have a supportive community. It’s helped, as now I can associate better with all of them. More importantly, though, I can now build relationships with them.

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.

>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?”


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.

>The future skill set of L&D part 1

>On Friday I attended a workshop on the future skills needed in L&D. It was hosted by the Training Journal and was part 3 in a series of workshops over the year. I’ve attended 2 so far this year and will be attending the last in November. If you’re in L&D, or have a vested interest in the value of L&D I highly recommend you attend. The next workshop is on the topic of the growing gap between OD and L&D. Sign up here.

Here’s a few things from the day that I thought were important.
Next Generation HR

This was an interesting presentation from Lee Sears (co-founder and director of Bridge) and Sue Stokely (founder of Coach in a Box). If you get a chance to listen to Lee talk on the circuit, I’d highly recommend it, he has an excellent presentation style and delivers a message very well. If you were following my tweets on Friday you may recognise the following learnings I picked up:
  1. The ability of HR needs to rest in identifying business issues not transactional issues
  2. L&OD is no longer about the individual necessarily. It’s about identifying the key movers and players in your business and investing in them.
  3. High quality dialogue should be used as a key change tool over and above ‘models’
  4. High quality HR and L&OD = business savvy + organisational savvy + context savvy
  5. L&OD are the best trojan horses for organisational change
  6. L&OD has become seduced by its own sophistication
  7. L&OD must have fundamental skills in diagnosing business issues and creating interventions that suit these.
  8. The best L&D people are business people first
  9. Greater self awareness does not equal ROI or business change/success
  10. Tomorrow’s leaders need to look at tomorrow’s problems/challenges
  11. Companies need to throw away competency frameworks as they are too restrictive and are only relevant to how your business used to operate, not how it needs to operate in the future.
  12. Sue reinforced the position that learning takes places in the following way – 70% informal, 20% network, 10% formal
The T-Shaped L&D person

Paul Fairhurst (principal consultant in the Institute of Employment Studies consultant team) then came and presented a talk about L&Ders needing to be ‘T-shaped’ people. In essence any good L&Der needs to have a broad understanding of what is happening in the business and a deep knowledge of L&D skills to work to business needs. Key to this is the ability to have consulting skills.
The IES have carried out some global CEO research and uncovered the following emerging themes:
  1. People are finding new ways to learn
  2. Continuous, informal, social learning will grow
  3. New technologies provide opportunities
  4. Informal learning to be recognised (accredited)
  5. Manager and individual responsibilities
  6. Boundaries between L&D and OD will blur
  7. There will be a shift in L&D professionals skill set
Learning for the next decade

Martyn Sloman is a research academic who specialises in learning and development and author of forthcoming e-book on ‘L&D 2020: A Guide for the Next Decade’. He presented a talk about his work with the New Zealand government and an organisation based in Singapore.
His research showed there are some key things an effective L&D person needs to understand and be able to do. First is a list of activities he recommends if you want to make a significant contribution to the organisation:
  • determine the skills needed to deliver value
  • investigate how they are best acquired/developed
  • ask ‘who are the key stakeholders in shaping the learning process’
  • seek to develop a learning culture
  • design, deliver and monitor interventions that promote learning
And you should be able to ask business leaders the following questions (and arguable be able to answer them yourself):
  • what is the nature of the business – how do you compete?
  • are there particular groups of the workforce who are critical to business value? Is there a cluster of workers? What knowledge and skills do they need?
  • how are these key skill required? Is it through: external recruitment, recruitment from within or training?
  • if they are trainable (or learnable) skills how are they trained/learned?
  • to what extent do you compete on knowledge and skills? How does learning and training add strategic business value?
  • looking to the future, what do you see changing on the business skills front?
A snapshot of the market

Francis Marshall gave the last presentation of the day. Francis is managing director of Cegos UK. Cegos have produced their annual international survey on L&d across 2000 employees in France, Germany, Spain and the UK. Unfortunately Francis had the witching hour and half of the delegates had left the workshop at this point (which I might add is very rude – you’re not that busy, don’t kid yourself). As such he raced through his presentation which was a shame as the findings he was presenting were very relevant to the discussion topic. Unfortunately it also means I have less notes and almost zero memory of the key takeaways from his presentation. This is unfair to Francis as it was interesting, just didn’t give the time he was deserved.
I’ve many thoughts about the day’s event and will do Part 2 later in the week. In the meantime if you have thoughts about the above please do let me know.