Catching the cactus

Instincts are a funny thing. Yesterday, as I went to pull the kitchen window closed, I nudged the rotund, spiny cactus that sits on the window ledge with my elbow and it toppled forwards in slow motion. Had this been a scene in an (admittedly rather dull) movie, the scene could have frozen with the cactus in mid-air whilst I thought about what to do about it. However, this was real life, the scene did not freeze and what I did instinctively was to reach out and try to catch the overbalancing cactus. This was a Bad Idea, people. My left hand currently looks like I’ve tried to pet a porcupine.

In my professional life, I come across people using their instincts quite a lot, with varying degrees of success. Nowhere in the HR world of influence is this clearer than in recruitment, where we can still observe the “gut feel” hiring manager. You know the one I mean: you can give them all the training in the world but their gut will know the right candidate when they see them. No amount of required question lists or answer scoresheets will persuade them that their gut might not know best. I’m sure many of us have come across the “”gut feel” hiring manager for whom their gut is telling them to hire people exactly like them, flying in the face of the prevailing wisdom that diverse teams are far more successful. A damaging instinct.

I’ve also come across managers whose every instinct about people management is wrong. From the controlling micro-manager to the hands-off-but-basically-absent-and-entirely-unsupportive supervisor. The people who believe in jumping straight into the disciplinary procedure at the merest hint of problematic behaviours to those who think flexible working requests are for people who aren’t interested in work or career progression…

Perhaps I’m labouring the point. We all have potentially damaging instincts,. We often follow them without thinking about it. Sometimes those instincts will mean that we’ll make a mistake: we’ll reach out to catch the cactus. I’m not sure I could even stop myself doing it again in the same situation – but I’ll certainly try. How many unchallenged instincts have you followed today? Will you also end up – metaphorically or literally, in my case – as a human pin cushion?

I know we ought to…

I’m now two weeks into life as part of the so-called “gig economy“. So far, it has been fun with lots of variation, some hard work and quite a lot of coffee drinking. I’m speaking to lots of different organisations about lots of different issues, which is a really big change from me after almost twenty years in-house. What’s really interesting though is that a lot of organisations are facing the same, or similar, issues.

For example, on four separate occasions in just the last week I have had the same conversation. Each time with small businesses and each time about social media. A variant on the same theme: “I know we ought to be doing more with social media but…..”

Sometimes it’s about not having the time. Other times it is about not knowing what to do or how to do it. Questions usually follow around which platforms to use, what content to share, who to follow and what to say. Most importantly, how to maximise their efforts for the best reward.

For some of us, social media feels like it has been part of our lives for ever. It is part of our every day and as natural as breathing. But for others it is still a confusing place; a language they just don’t understand – but they feel they should. Some people are just feeling left out and aren’t capitalising on the opportunities for connecting, learning, sharing and branding that it offers. For those of us who do use it every day this might seem strange. It is easy to say that these individuals and businesses should just get stuck in, figure it out and start getting social. But sometimes people need a little help to move beyond those vague guilty feelings of “we really ought to….” and figure out their strategy, what is (potentially) in it for them and then the practical how to.

Even people who are comfortable with the mechanics of it can need a little encouragement. One individual I spoke to this week who has broken through those first, faltering steps to become an experienced user told me this week that he initially felt like he “was bursting into the middle of a conversation between a bunch of close friends” and found it difficult to get started. Eventually he realised that people welcomed him into the discussion.

All of these conversations (and many I had while I was still in-house) are why I have set up #getsocialwithTim. As part of my (newly-independent) work, I can offer practical assistance to individuals and organisations that will help with both the strategy and the practical side of social media, designed to empower people with the confidence and the practical ability to do it for themselves in quick time.

Small businesses and independent practitioners don’t need to spend a fortune to learn to use social media. They don’t need to outsource it to someone else. They just need some straightforward, real world advice and support. Pointing in the right direction with the necessary skills. There are loads of organisations doing social well; boosting their sales and improving their customer service as a result. As an example, I often give the excellent Liverpool artisan bakery Baltic Bakehouse as an example of a company who use Twitter and Instagram to make me want to visit their venues and buy their products Every Single Day.

So if you know someone who is having the dreaded “I know we should be doing more with social media but….” crisis, then please put them in touch. We are living in the social age – it’s time to stop knowing we should do more and actually do it: I can help with that!

What next?

What next?

As some of you may have spotted on Twitter, last week I left Brook after just over three years. If you don’t know about what the organisation does, take a look as its (increasingly underfunded) work is vitally important in helping young people across the UK develop and maintain their health and wellbeing.

Throughout my career, I have been focused on delivering real-world, practical HR. It’s what I do best.  There are lots of organisations and consultants out there doing disruptive people stuff: asking the big questions and really trying to change the long term future world of work for the better. And that’s really valuable stuff and issues that I think about from time to time too. But a lot of us are doing what needs to be done right now: trying to make work better, where we are, every day.

After a generalist career mostly spent introducing HR practices from scratch in very different organisations, I joined Brook in August 2013 and led the People & OD team from the point that seventeen individual charities merged into one, national organisation. At that point, there were seventeen separate handbooks, numerous different contracts of employment and few national HR systems. I led the specification, selection and implementation of a single HR Information System, the development and running of a bespoke Leadership Development programme and the introduction of standardised systems and practices that saw an increase in the Net Promoter Score of Brook as an employer from 33 to 65 in two years. At the same time I restructured the People & OD Team to provide managers with effective support and guidance to help them manage in line with our HR strategy. In 2015 my team won the Charity Times’ HR Management Award, having been Highly Commended in 2014 (CV cut and paste over!). So now it is time for something new.

So, after being in full time employment pretty much since I left university, I’ve decided to join the gig economy and help other organisations to do good people stuff, make the most of the opportunities provided by social media and digital technology and find their own good practice (never best practice – of course!). I have founded TimScottHR (well it is my Twitter handle after all) to work with organisations to find practical and real-world solutions to their people needs and to provide pragmatic advice and support whilst retaining a focus on the “human” aspect of Human Resources.

Is this me out of in-house teams forever? I’m not sure.  It feels like the time is right to try something new and work differently.  So if you need any help with HR, social media, or just need an experienced conference or event blogger… then please do get in touch.

I’ll see you in a coffee shop near you very soon…..

You can find links to all of my other HR blogs and writing at my personal site

The Social Media PLN

The concept of the Personal Learning Network, or PLN, is gaining a lot of interest amongst the HR community at the moment. If you haven’t come across the term before, a PLN basically does what it says on the tin: it is all about creating a unique network of people and sources from which you can learn and grow as a professional.

Continuing professional development is a key responsibility in many professions, to ensure that practitioners keep up to date with new ways of thinking, developments in the field and external influences that might come to bear on their areas of work. How to improve your own practice is also vital for both personal and career development. But it is even more essential for those of us working in a fast-moving profession that is constantly evolving like HR and L&D are. The worlds of work and technology are changing around us – and we must meet this challenge head on.

Once upon a time my PLN basically consisted of reading the HR press and attending the occasional employment law update – when I had the time. Now, my PLN is based around Twitter, where you can find me as @TimScottHR. I engage across many social media platforms, but joining Twitter in particular had a transformational effect on me, my approach to HR and my career. It works incredibly well for me and has become a daily part of my routine that I’d feel lost without. Of course Personal Learning Networks take many forms, they aren’t just about social media.  But social media has opened up new ways of learning for professionals and organisations alike.

So my first piece of advice to any HR professional who wants to develop their own personal learning network is to get on Twitter! There is a warm and welcoming HR community on Twitter who are actively discussing ideas and sharing the work that they are doing via blogs, tweets and podcasts. The beauty of a Twitter-based PLN is that it renders geography and timescales irrelevant. You have access to the work and ideas of thought leaders across the profession, on the device in your pocket, whenever you need it. You can dip in and out whenever works for you. It can help bring the outside in. Not only does the HR practitioner themselves improve but so does their organisation in turn, benefiting from this enhanced knowledge and experience.

In order to develop my own learning I read blogs, listen to podcasts and share my ideas and practice too, for the benefit of others. Social media allows you both to be a resource and to use others’ resources. But it is about finding what works for you.

If you are not already a big user of social media, or aren’t too sure how to make the most of what you are doing to build a PLN, I have three pieces of advice. First of all: dive in. Just go for it and get involved in the conversation. People already doing this stuff genuinely welcome new voices bringing fresh approaches and different experience. Secondly: be you. Just be yourself on social media, like you would in a real life, face to face networking situation. Actually, the same unspoken rules largely apply: four example, don’t be tempted to go straight into “sales mode” – remember it’s a conversation! And finally, share stuff.  As well as helping you build connections, sharing stuff makes you a useful resource for someone else’s PLN and could help to promote your organisation’s work too.

If you want to read more about social media and HR, or learn more about what it can do for you and your organisation then you can download the book I co-wrote with fellow HR professional Gemma Dale on the subject from Amazon here or contact me via the website for training on all things social media!

5 steps to employee advocacy

One of the big “future direction of HR” topics for me at the moment is the increasingly close relationship between HR and Marketing/Comms. Nowhere is this clearer than in the  growing area of employee advocacy.

Simply put, employee advocacy is the promotion of an organisation by its own employees: the people who work for you sharing your content across their own networks because they want to. From an employer brand perspective, this is perhaps the ultimate goal. Research (such as the Edelman Trust Barometer) shows that people trust real life reviews and the opinions of “average employees” over corporate and senior executive messages every time. If you’re lucky, your employees may already be sharing your content – but why leave it to luck? Having a strategy and formalised approach could help to maximise your efforts.

Consider this ideal scenario: your employees, sharing your messaging with their friends and family, on the social media network of their choice – without prompting (or bribing!),  talking positively about what it is like to work for you. Employee advocacy is essentially harnessing the power of word of mouth – social media style.

Of course the whole point of employee advocacy is that it needs to be organic. You can’t really force it, and if you try it may well backfire on you. But it is definitely something that you can encourage and make easier for people. So if you want to engage your employees and their social networks, here are five considerations:

1. Make it easy for employees to share your stuff. Send them updates; make it clear not only that they can share this information but that you would positively welcome it. Include sharing buttons for relevant sites – this is practical but important.

2. Don’t just tell your people that you are happy for them to share – provide guidance too! Some employees will need to expressly be told that you want them to share company messages. Of course, you want content to be shared in an effective way that appropriately represents your brand. It doesn’t need to be excessive but if you haven’t already got a policy on social media then launching one before engaging employee advocates is a good move.

3. Reward advocacy. This doesn’t necessarily mean providing excessive or monetary rewards – this might of course generate the wrong behaviours. But a thank you, especially a social media one, goes a long way and reinforces the desired behaviours.

4. Get some role models. You will need leaders to send a message that sharing on social networks is not only acceptable but actively encouraged. But as well as leaders, consider engaging some champions across the organisation. Find out who is already very social, connected or influential and get them involved and part of the team.

5. Train your people on social media. Although social media has been around for some time now, for some people it is still new or confusing. So if you really want to get people social you will need to spend some time explaining what is in it for them to get social and provide practical help on how to actually do so. You’ll also be helping them to find a potential source of professional knowledge – but that’s a whole other blog.

Employee advocacy has the potential be a huge boost to your branding efforts. But ultimately it will only happen if your organisation is a good place to work. If your employees aren’t willing to share your content or express their pride in working for you, then you might have a bigger cultural problem to consider…

If you would like some help with thinking about employee advocacy in your organisation, then please get in touch. I can help with that!

Social media myths

For many of us, social media is part of our everyday life. It is what we do and how we do it – whether for work or personal or a little bit of both.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of my stuff that I am one of these people. After all, I’m a self-confessed social media convert through and through. It is a key part of my business and of how I do people stuff generally. But whilst social media isn’t exactly new and is being used by millions of people all over the world, there are still plenty of organisations and individuals alike who don’t get it.

Of course, there are no rules that say you have to do social….. but if you run pretty much any kind of business and ignore social media you are taking a big risk. A risk that means you could be missing out on customers, feedback, engagement, or an opportunity to promote what you do.  Unfortunately, there are still too many who believe the common myths and misconceptions about social media. These myths and misconceptions mean that the potential benefits get missed.

I recently created a Slideshare featuring some of the main myths that I hear most frequently. Here is a link you can follow to it.

You know the kind of thing: Twitter is people talking about what they had for breakfast.  Social media is just for kids. I don’t have the time. I don’t have anything to say. And the most worrying myth of all: we are just not that sort of business.  Yes, someone has said that to me, in 2016.

Only when we get past these myths will we realise the benefits of social media. The opportunity for leaders to connect with the people that work for them, unhindered by geography or timezones. For internal communication and collaboration, social media – whether internal or external – providing perhaps one of the best opportunities that organisations have to change traditional ways of working and open up the flow of information and knowledge. For individuals, social media as a way to network, learn and engage with professional communities.

I’ve been speaking about this stuff as part of my work with Liverpool John Moores University students and their reactions have been eye-opening. I have mostly been met with a quizzical look that says “why wouldn’t you, as a business in 2016, be on social media?” They haven’t needed the persuasion required by some of the overtly sceptical HR audiences I have spoken to. I’ve also spoken at two of the recent series of three Comms Hero events for Communications professionals. The audiences there have expressed palpable frustration at the lack of engagement from HR professionals and leaders alike in getting social. They get the benefits of this stuff because they see it on a daily basis – and they believe we can achieve more if we work together on it.

It is time to bust the social media myths.

Preparing for a different future

On 1 December 2016, I participated in a CIPD Liverpool Group event at which we discussed the future of work, in particular:

Robotics, Automation, Artificial Intelligence: How will human beings interact with the new technology?

Slightly ironically, given we were talking about technology, we couldn’t live blog or tweet the event as we were in an underground room with no wifi; however, I did manage to make some notes which form the basis of this blog!

Liverpool John Moores University’s Head of HR Programmes Maureen Royce was leading the event with contributions from Sarah Dixon and me, amongst others.

Maureen started us off:

We need to work out what our roles will be in future in terms of AI and robotics. We have seen the power of robotics when it comes to brain surgery – robotic fingers have a dexterity that humans don’t. Google the word “robot”. You will find unpleasant featured white plastic things marching towards Armageddon with us. There are mixed views about robots – there is a strong fear element, which is not helped by newspaper headlines saying “the robots are here to take our jobs”.

There is increased emphasis on collaboration using technology. This gives us an opportunity to connect and work with people virtually. Sometimes all of the contact between team members is via social media or technology. How do we work with that? The CIPD is about humans and human relationships. What do we need to do when the connectivity doesn’t stop? If all the things we do are visible to Google, how are they going to use it? Human and ethical questions are part of the HR heartland.

What does leadership look like in this environment? We need to work differently and connect differently. It requires a whole different area of skills. Globalisation means we have real time connections. The demographics are changing – Facebook is gaining an older demographic. The academic work talks about being “global and inclusive” but Maureen takes issue with the word “inclusive” because not everyone can access the Internet in every country. Are we creating a division between “those who know and who can” and “those who are excluded”?

For some, “work” can be anywhere, any time. Work-life balance is a concern – maybe we are moving more towards “flow”? If you’re responsible for employee welfare at an organisation and someone says “I work best at 3am”, how do you deal with that?

At this point I stepped up to speak a bit about automation and AI.

I quoted a recent report from Deloitte & Oxford University which said that 35% of UK jobs were at risk of automation in next 20 years. Also the former McDonald’s CEO recently told America’s Fox News that a proposed increase in the minimum wage would make companies consider robot workers, saying, “It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who is inefficient, making $15 an hour bagging French fries.” And the supplier of both Apple and Samsung, Foxconn, recently reported that it replaced 60,000 jobs with robots.

IBM built a supercomputer called Deep Blue which beat grand master Garry Kasparov at Chess. They wanted another Grand Challenge and were pondering trying to develop a machine that could pass the Turing Test. They decided it wouldn’t catch public’s imagination but they decided they wanted a related challenge to bring elements of competing against humans and understanding human speech.

They decided to build a new supercomputer which would tackle the US gameshow “Jeopardy!“. Over 7,000 episodes of Jeopardy! have been aired and it has been running for over 30 years. The basic premise is that it is a quiz in which contestants get general knowledge clues in form of answers and must phrase their responses as questions. IBM set up a special game between their new supercomputer Watson and the show’s two most successful champions in January 2011.

Watson accumulated $77,147 (£47,923) versus Mr Jennings’ total of $24,000 (£14,907) and Mr Rutter’s $21,600 (£12,416)

So what did IBM do next with this technology, which could assimilate vast amounts of information, combine it and then selectively use it to generate a response? They turned to healthcare.

I showed this video which demonstrates how Watson has been developed. 

What does all this mean for HR? Well, there are implications for employees in various sectors. Hospitals using Watson in the US are replacing doctors with nurses. Watson could be used in remote areas where there are no doctors. But taking it further, even those roles that require some kind of judgement which we previously thought couldn’t be carried out by computers could be replicated. Like Human Resources….

Maureen took over again:

Computers might tell you ‘what’ but not necessarily ‘how’… We have the technology but do we have the human or the work ecosystems to manage this stuff properly? How do we reshape work to reflect this? How do we deal with assembly line jobs, first line contact centre jobs being automated?

Maureen quoted work by John Boudreau, who has been asking what the future workforce will look like. “Jobs for life” has been gone for some time. “Rapid skills obsolescence” is the new phrase – the speed of skills redevelopment is increasing.

Sarah Dixon, People and OD Analyst in the HR team at Liverpool John Moores University spoke about the use of data in HR analytics. She asked the interesting question, “If your organisation has provided you with wearable technology, who owns your data?” We have willingly given our health data but what is being used for?

Maureen picked up again to discuss algorithms. Precisely engineered instructions to complete a task mean complicated chains of commands for a machine. A machine might be able to tell you that someone is off sick for x number of days. They might not be able to tell you that person A is the main carer for an elderly relative.

Which roles  are least likely to be automated in the future? Maureen quoted Benjamin Snyder who suggests:

  • Lawyers
  • Hotel managers
  • Education (especially nursery and infant schools)
  • Construction manager
  • Social workers
  • Substance abuse/mental health workers
  • Arts occupations

Which roles are most likely?

  • Cashiers
  • Bookkeepers
  • Drivers
  • Packaging
  • Assembly
  • Accountants
  • Legal assistants.

Maureen quoted Peter Cheese who said that robots will only take our jobs if we let them. She asked “Do we want straight line algorithms deciding what we do about absence management or do we want to put a human interaction in there?”

There are huge ethical dilemmas around AI and robotics. We watched an interesting video featuring Barack Obama speaking about driverless cars. Who sets the moral rules for driverless cars? Do we have a general consensus? The same applies to medicine.

The key word here is “values”. Who are we impacting with that decision, at what point do we stop the machine and say “we’re taking over that decision now”? The technology is there. It will come through very quickly.

The World Economic Forum said that in the machine age only the human organisation will survive. We are in the fourth industrial revolution – the boundaries between humans and machines are quickly eroding. This is HR territory!

There is a lot of potential for augmented reality in Learning & Development: we can get a much greater feel for how people can do potentially dangerous jobs without putting them “in the line of fire”.

It forces us to think about what is special about being human. A machine will tell you what but not necessarily how. Human beings don’t stop thinking. How often do you go to bed at night with something on your mind and at some point you wake up and you’ve solved it? The unconscious keeps going. Machines might be able to mirror learned intelligence but how about emotional intelligence?

Channeling the forthcoming Star Wars: Rogue One film (probably unintentionally), Maureen says one of the things that distinguishes humans from machines is that we have hope!

The World Economic Forum also said we are moving from knowledge economies to human economies where the key “skills” will be creativity, empathy, morality, imagination, ethics and compassion.

“Ethics and design go hand in hand” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

HOW report – there are three different points on the spectrum of organisational characteristics:

  • Blind obedience – command and control
  • Informed acquiescence – rules-based, performance-based rewards
  • Self-governing – shared values and ethics not policies. Only humans can operate in this environment

John Boudreau asked what do we in HR become? He outlined four possibilities:

  • Organisational Perfomance Engineer
  • Culture Architect and Community Activist
  • Global Talent Scout, Convenor and Coach
  • Trend Forecaster and Technology Integrator

It was a fascinating evening with lots of very relevant issues discussed and some eye-opening examples of the potential of technology were given. The debate about the future of work will rumble on as long as there is work to do! We agreed that there is definitely scope for a multi-disciplinary group to get together and consider the major issues we had discussed throughout the evening.

The key to great employment policies

Wait: great HR policies?

Yes, there really are such things.

You are probably more used to long, boring, bureaucratic and legally-worded ones with lots of ‘for the avoidance of doubt’s and ‘up to and including’. You may have even had to sign something to say you’ve read and understood a document which makes the 90-odd pages of Apple’s terms and conditions look like a “Baby’s First Words” chewable book.

Believe it or not, it doesn’t have to be like that.

Your employment policies are more than the sum of their parts. They are more than just a document that someone signs (and rarely reads) when they start in your organisation. They are also a window into your culture. They are how you talk to the people that work for you.

I once accepted a job and the HR department I was joining sent me a huge pile of policies to read and sign in the post along with my contract of employment. They were formal, shouty and with plenty of detail about how they reserved the right to fire me for all sorts of potential transgressions. A nice “welcome to the company” and good first impression they were not.

Instead, when carefully and thoughtfully written, employment policies can be empowering.

They can be short and simple.
They can be worded in plain English.
They can allow for discretion.
They can give a good first impression.
They don’t have to cover every eventuality.
They don’t have to have all the answers.
They don’t have to be mood hoovers.
They don’t have to be formal and wordy.

If you want great HR policies, then here are my top tips:

  • Keep them short and to the point
  • Think about the language you use – straightforward, plain English is just fine (and in fact is much better!)
  • Consider whether you even need one at all – many companies have far too many separate policies
  • Follow the ACAS code for discipline and grievance – you don’t need to do any more than this to be compliant.
  • Make them relevant to your organisation – think about what you need at your place, not what everyone else does. Don’t cut and paste from other organisations just because they have theirs on the internet! We can usually tell when this has happened….
  • Remember – writing a policy never solved a problem. Talking to people usually wins every time.
    The policy document is just the start – it is (usually) the job of HR to interpret, guide and advise. Putting it out there and telling people to read isn’t good enough.

And while we’re at it, don’t worry all that much about getting people to sign them. It really isn’t worth all the hard work. And if you do, once you update them you’ve got to do it all over again. Not to mention the fact that someone (and yes, we mean you, HR person) will have to monitor who hasn’t done it and chase them down.

Lastly, it goes without saying that if you would like any help with policy creation…… then just give me a shout!

Reflections on joining the gig economy

Earlier this year, after 20 years in corporate life, I decided to take the plunge and set up by myself by launching TimScottHR. I decided to do go solo to do what I think I do best – help people and organisations with people stuff and social media. Having a good few friends who have taken this option, I wasn’t expecting it to be easy, but it felt like the time was right and I had that nagging question of “if not now, then when?”.

It is probably a total understatement to say that it has been an interesting few months!

To begin with there is plenty of stuff that needs doing which doesn’t earn you any money: setting up websites, sorting out branding, designing business cards and promotional material, finding and meeting with accountants, networking and connecting (aka drinking coffee). There is content to create and there were potential training sessions to write.

So far, self-employment has had some ups and downs. The real big positive has been the range of work that I have been lucky enough to get involved with. The last three months has seen me publishing a new book on social media with Gemma Dale, speaking about HR and technology at the HR Advisor conference in London, speaking about how HR and Internal Comms teams can work together at Comms Hero events, running Twitter chats and doing plenty of blogging. If that wasn’t enough, I’ve also worked with Leeds City Council to facilitate their leadership conference and supported a private sector outsourcing business with their employee relations caseload. Oh, and lectured on all things HR at Liverpool John Moores University!

It sounds like a dream start, and in many ways it has been, but there is another side to this gig economy stuff. There have been the sleepless nights where I’ve wondered where the next mortgage-paying piece of work is coming from. I’ve learned how hard it can be to switch off. When your office is in your home and there is always at least that one more thing that can be done that evening to develop the business…

What does 2017 have in store? I’m launching a range of Masterclasses on social media, from how to deal with the employment law implications, how to launch social media within organisations through to how to use it for your small business. I’m in talks with some local firms about future collaborations, and will be doing more more teaching at the university. There is also one more social media book to come, this time aimed at business leaders who want to lead socially. And…. hopefully enough work to keep paying the bills and keep those sleepless nights at bay.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. I have learned a lot about what I am good at (and not so good at) and been completely bowled over by the support from my network. I will never rule out going back to corporate HR life, but for now, I’m sticking with the MacBook and some artisan coffee.

A huge thanks to everyone who has supported me over the last few months – it is very much appreciated! I’m looking forward to whatever adventures 2017 brings.

With huge thanks to Simon Heath for creating both the “Time” cover and the book cover in the image at the top of the page!

Facilitation and me

Image: The Facilitation Shindig participants (Image from Julie Drybrough)

The Facilitation Shindig participants (Image from Julie Drybrough)

Last week, I attended the inaugural Facilitation Shindig, run by the fabulous Julie Drybrough (in the group pic above, you can spot her at the right end of the front row).

Image: List of backgrounds I put together at the Facilitation ShindigIt was a get-together of a whole range of folks who get involved in facilitation in the workplace, in some form or another.  As we went around the room introducing ourselves, it seemed to me we fell into a number of different backgrounds. I tried to capture them just out of interest and summarised them as in the image to the left (the folk who were there may disagree with my categorisations – it was just an off the cuff thing!).

We kicked off the session with introductions and as part of our check-in, Julie posed the question: what is important to you when you facilitate? I realised that, for me, the answer is really quite simple (but, as is ever the case, quite complicated to achieve!): it is being useful to the people in the room and – as far as you can – making sure stuff happens afterwards. At the very least, you can show people that there can be a change from what was before.

When people get together in a room, there will usually be a compelling reason for them to do so (if there isn’t, you should probably start by asking what the value of you all getting together is!). Maybe there is a need to create something together, build a team or new relationships or to fix something that has gone wrong.

Image: I imagine we have all been to conferences and events that never leave the room.  By that I mean that the content is interesting, thought-provoking, even enjoyable, but follow-up action never happens and ultimately in hindsight it was just a day out of the usual routine.  Even with the best of intentions or the healthiest of budgets, nothing changed – or even if it did, that thing the people came together for isn’t sustained.  Quickly, practice reverts to what it was before.

As an example, I was talking to a friend who works in HR recently. They told me a (familiar) story about a company that had invested a whole heap of time, energy and money in a leadership development programme.  You know the kind of thing: off-site days in fancy hotels, expensive facilitators and coaches, involving every single manager in a global organisation. But the fancy hotel was nothing like the workplace (who’d have thought it?). There wasn’t enough space given for reflection or for identifying actions – the expensive facilitators delivered their off-the-shelf stuff off their shelves.  But there was no transfer back to the day job and no changes of any lasting significance were made.

So, what is important to me about facilitation is the doing after the day.  Making that event leave the room, making it meaningful, making a difference: not just on the day itself, not just for the smiles on the happy sheets but afterwards – when it really counts. The Facilitation Shindig did that for me and I hope I do it in the events I facilitate.

Digital – the new HR space?

Last week I attended a great event called ‘Our Digital Future’ run by the Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). The aim of the day was to bring together people working in the Digital and Creative sectors to discuss the skills and business support that are needed to enable those businesses to grow and thrive. We had some excellent keynote speakers and some fascinating table discussions, facilitated by the Liverpool Girl Geeks.

You can find my Storify (which shows you how the event was covered by the participants on Twitter) of the event here – or view the slideshow below…

In my last role, I was both Head of People and Head of IT. From the outside these two may look like strange bedfellows and, frankly, sometimes, this was true. Managing a complex employee relations issue one minute and attempting to negotiate a national network upgrade the next was always an interesting switch to make – but the disciplines have more in common than you might first think.

The digital skills gap is becoming an increasing problem and HR needs to get involved. Automation, ever-increasing social and digital technology, AI, augmented reality…. all coming to a workplace near you in ever increasing amounts. A recent Government report said that 90% of jobs require already digital skills to some degree and concludes that the digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63 billion a year in lost GDP. Whilst some organisations are already thinking about this stuff, many are not. But those that aren’t could soon find themselves left behind. Permanently. Disruption is probably one of those annoyingly overused words in the modern business world. But digital disruption is happening to all sorts of business models and will continue to happen. No organisations and no business sectors are immune from its challenges and opportunities.

Dan Rubel from Shop Direct spoke on the day. He talked about their evolution from the catalogue-driven Littlewoods organisation to now, where they see themselves being as much of a tech business as a retail business. A mindset many organistations need to adopt – and HR too. As Dan said, ‘underpinning our digital success is our people’.

It was going round and round in my head that this is our space and it is time for HR to step up – and, in some cases, to catch up. We can’t just be the people people any more. We need to be the people people who can also do tech. In the past, the tech side of a HR role probably amounted to advising what the Acceptable Email and Computer Systems Use Policy ought to say about discipline (we do love a snappy policy title in HR don’t you know). But now we need to be thinking about the impact of technology and digital on our businesses. Right now and in the future. How is it going to change our business, our sector, our marketplace? Will our employees have the skills to be able to help change the model? If not – what are we going to do about it?

For HR professionals, it starts with you, now. This is a big opportunity. Get the skills. Understand the landscape. And then help others at your workplace to do the same. Your employer and your colleagues will be indebted to you and it will have a lot greater organisational impact than the Email Policy, I promise you.

It’s hang back or get ahead time.

The Top 5 Business Risks of Social Media

I’m a social media evangelist. You’ll usually find me advocating its use to and for everyone from business leaders to small business to HR professionals. But for all its benefits, social media is not completely without risk for the organisation. We’ve all heard the horror stories – in fact when I speak about it, I often share some of my favourites. So rather than another piece in praise of the virtues of social media, here are the top five social media risks for business…. and what you can do about them.

1. Confidentiality. All employees have an implied duty of confidentiality. It exists specifically in most standard contracts of employment too. Breaches via social media might be deliberate, they might be accidental – even the White House is apparently not immune to the accidental share. Passwords can be changed quickly though. Staff can mention clients who don’t want to be talked about. In any of these situations, disciplinary action may result. Preventing breaches is all about communication and training. Something I’ll be saying often in this blog post.

2. Bullying and harassment. Inappropriate comments, so-called ‘banter’, unwanted or inappropriate messages have been part of the workplace since, well, forever. But the difference when it takes place in the social world is its 24/7 possibility. Social media never sleeps. Often, the cases that find their way into the Employment Tribunal system involve bulling and harassment. Policies and training should make it very clear that social media activity ‘in the course of employment’ doesn’t just mean during the 9-5. In cyberspace, everything is transparent. Everything is relevant. Even on Facebook.

3. Inappropriate material. Or, as we like to say in many an HR policy, “bringing the company into disrepute”. Employees identifiable as working for their employer, posting dubious opinions, being discriminatory or even sharing pornographic images (and yes, I have dealt with this….). You can’t stop employees doing inappropriate things. If you could, HR would probably have much less to do. But you can have a clear, robust policy, and act accordingly.

4. Contacts. In the old days, sales people used to have contacts lists. Remember the desk bound Rolodex? The challenge back then was to stop anyone leaving business getting near the photocopier or the fax machine. Today, it is not quite as easy. You can incorporate terms into a contract about ownership of a social media account and its connections or go down the restrictive covenant route. I even know of someone who was required to delete their LinkedIn contacts one by one. I’d suggest this is largely futile. You can’t un-know someone – in real life or the social world. Better to make sure that that contact information is somewhere else like a CRM database than try to prevent the unpreventable.

5. Time wasting. It isn’t difficult to waste time on social media – we’ve all gone off down rabbit holes from time to time (cat videos anyone?). But that issue is much bigger than social media. Employees can waste time in all sorts of ways from the extended lunch break to simply wandering around the office. Monitoring social media usage is permissible – just make it clear that you are going to do it. But this isn’t really about social media. It’s about employee engagement. It’s no more or less a management problem than people taking too many cigarette breaks (something anyone who has their HR stripes has dealt with on numerous occasions). So if find your employees are using social media to excess, maybe don’t start by running a usage report and reaching for the “block” button, but by asking yourself why…

When it comes to addressing these risks, there are plenty of things you can do. Have, and communicate, an effective social media policy. Train your employees on using social media professionally and appropriately. Tell them what you consider acceptable, and what you do not. Make sure your company’s culture is the best it can be. The risks I’ve outlined above are very real – but they can be managed. That way, we can ensure that we reap the rewards of social media’s virtues too.

Of course, you could also attend one of my masterclasses on social media and employment law too. Self-promotion over. Kind of…!

The last gig?

I’ve got a job.

I appreciate that might come as a bit of a surprise to those of you who know that comparatively recently I set up as an HR consultant. So I thought I’d blog about it.

As with most important decisions, there are “push” reasons and “pull” reasons for the change of direction. I’ve written before about the ups and down of joining the gig economy. As a permanent member of an organisation, I often looked enviously at the coffee shop-inhabiting, MacBook-tapping gigster, fervently wishing I didn’t have to deal with endless internal emails, office politics, the daily commute and all that jazz.

The grass is always greener, right? Sure, I knew getting a business off the ground would be tough and there would be lean times and I’d probably have to work quite differently… but there was artisan coffee to be drunk, exciting project work to be done and lots of flexibility.

And yes, there certainly was more artisan coffee in my life, which has undeniably been A Good Thing. There was also lots of flexibility. And there have been exciting projects to work on too – I’ve met some great people doing fabulous stuff in a wide variety of organisations. You’re sensing a “but” coming, aren’t you?

But… I missed being part of a team. I missed seeing things through to a conclusion. I missed feeing connected to something larger and having the opportunity to see people develop over the longer term. I missed getting to know people and the daily banter and – yes – I even missed the politics a little bit. Oh and the (almost) certainty of a monthly pay cheque. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that was something I really missed on a few occasions. Plus worrying about tax, NICs, insurance, keeping on top of receipts….

I’m one of the lucky ones: I know that. Many people don’t have a choice about how their work comes to them and I’m very fortunate to have found a fantastic role with a great employer. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the perfect alchemy that is required to get a job in the current market. I may write more about that at some point. But for me, now, I’m in induction mode: seeking to understand and be understood by my new employer and team as well as get to grips with a new sector.

I’m hoping there will still be good coffee, exciting projects and flexibility. I’m just not gigging any more: I’ve taken up residency.