Posts Tagged ‘People Management’

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

A famous statement from the Spider Man films, and one that I think sums up a lot of the human potential/performance situations we see in work.

Many of us have acquired experience, which when matched with developed skill and application of those abilities in delivering great outcomes gives us power. Situational, hierarchical or social power.

It is with that in mind that I think about the use of power. How do we yield our “power-base”? Especially in a profession all about the people and the good things we need people to do in pursuit of organisational or business goals to make successful enterprises and the thus make the “world go ’round”.

Power can be corrupting. Alpha Male syndrome can be protective and destructive yet power can be brilliant. It can push us to achieve what we didn’t even know we could achieve.

Power in this instance is the power of someone with something to offer, sharing that with someone who needs that something, in order to help them build their power-base. Increase their effectiveness. Confidence boosted. Options created. Energy generated.

So that’s why I’ve decided to give what I have to the CIPD’s “Steps Ahead Mentoring” programme.  I am matched and waiting for my collaborator to come back to me and arrange our first chat.

Young people. That group of people who happen to be born before a lot of us and who are now venturing from being educated and prepared to being productive and purposeful about their work. Work being the key society enabler in civilisation, economic prosperity and personal satisfaction.

It’s easy to think “someone else will be better at this than me” or “where will I find the time to help someone younger?” Yet here’s an example that happened to me which made a huge difference in my life and work-related success.

Rewind to 2000. I had just been successful in securing one of the biggest jobs in my entire career. Part of a huge IT-based programme of business improvement and change. I was more excited than you can imagine.

Yet tinged with excitement came huge self-doubt. I was suddenly thrust into a situation with revered academics. Big-hitting business leaders. Experts. Established society leaders and people with brains bigger than planets.

Luckily I had a wise boss. Someone I knew a little before I joined and we set about looking at what value I could add to his work; our work; the work.

He was, and I bet still is, someone who’s intellect could captivate any meeting/presentation and who’s gentle and calm delivery would have people leaning in and tuned in.

I was NONE of those in my mind. Energetic, informed and passionate was – to  me – nowhere near what was required to hold court on the controversial, far-reaching and much-needed topics we were there to deliver on.

And yet he saw something in me – potential perhaps – that he wanted to work with. He was clever enough not to clone me into him. He instead gave me measure, balance, calmness, insight, belief. Belief being the biggest one. He and I double headed presentations and speeches; workshops and meetings and generally became a double act. We complemented each other.

Gradually, as his workload changed and I was more confident, he stepped back. Sometimes he cancelled at late notice. I took it that he believed I could do it and so I got on with it. He then just handed the entire game over to me.

He believed in me. He helped me believe in myself. I felt enabled, empowered and enlightened.

So it’s this BELIEF that I am most looking forward to helping create in my mentee (duff word but has come to be the term we use).

Belief is a powerful thing. It’s the antidote to overconfidence which is where trouble begins. Belief is the key to outstanding human endeavours. It is the crucible factor in us stepping up where others have either messed up or exited swiftly.

Belief is where ideas are given life and drive. Belief is where we can be humble yet confident. Belief is where we go to when we have moments of doubt. Belief is our energy cell that props us up when the other chemicals like adrenalin and dopamine are spent.

Believe in a better future? Then build that with those who are going to live there when we’ve moved on. That’s “young people” by the way.

Cue George Benson/Whitney Houston “Greatest Love Of All”…well that’s got to be better than being a “Belieber” right?



So why on earth would a huge global hotel chain have relevance with SME conference?

Well loads when they are franchising small to medium enterprises running their own hotels using the branding and buying power of a franchiser.

So Interchange and Consort Hotels know a lot about SMEs and the way they approached their own organisation was in keeping with the agility, simplicity and action-oriented approaches Peter Cheese and Clive Hutchinson of Cougar Automation mentioned as being so key.

Asking the simple question “What is it about working here that means so much to you?” is just a great question to ask. From it came some lovely values like making people smile everyday, and thinking big but acting small to get going.

Relevant. Human. Worthy.

There is a still a lot to do admits the CEO and head of Learning, but this has re-centred people on what it means to people to be part of I&C Group/ Best Western.

Video vignettes were used here but they were so natural and not staged, you could smell the authenticity of them. Real people talking about what really matters.

An organisation that has a big reach with rooms in hotels across 108 countries adopting a small business mentality to everything they do. Keeping it simple by inviting the board/exec to share a slice of pizza with people as a way of grounding board meetings and bringing excitement and opportunistic engagement to something normally stuffy and corporate grey.

A name check to our HR colleague on a walk around @FloraMarriott was another human touch – Flora was key in the values work and took so much heart from the boundary pushing elements of them, she left Best Western to walk the length of the UK. Bless her.

I was pleased that this example encouraged us that simple things can make a huge difference and small actions with big thinking is something all SMEs can do.

After a quick break we reconvened to hear from Jane Middlemiss. Not of the TV presenter variety but of the logistics and warehousing types from ILG.

An organisation founded by streetwise (not bookwise) entrepreneurs. Doing really well and having an ambitious growth strategy inherited by Jane as the incoming HR Director. Well, incoming HR division/function.

What was heartening here was that Jane had been in HR roles before and whilst there were hallmarks of the archetypes we know are traditional HR practice, Jane took a totally relevant, people-centred approach which was in keeping with that which would help ILG be the place it aspired to be.

With a limited budget, ie no budget, Jane took over and instead of cautious, perfected processes, Jane took a fleet of foot, iterative approach to the HR agenda BUT there was a plan, it all lined up to the strategic direction of ILG, to the key deliverables the Exec Team were setting and to drive up peoples’ connection to the overall agenda and future direction.
All the components were there but behind a brand that meant something to warehousing, forklift drivers and clerical staff alike and a regular bulletin

And proving size isn’t important (!) the graduate scheme of 1 still proved valuable even for the 1 graduate given an MBA-busting tour of duty across the business. And that worked as did Jane’ s other talent initiatives around on boarding and career paths.

I felt a sense of comfort and inspiration from Jane’s work. I recognised the hallmarks and I applauded the bespoking to make it


We then moved onto Hillary Graves and Little Dish – more on that in blog 3; along with our own hackathon in the room plus thoughts over lunch.

A great day so far..!

Relevant, human and real

So here I am at CIPD’s HR in SMEs Conference on 13 May 2013 in London.

Dr Jill Miller, who lead on this “first in research” with SMEs around HR/people management practices and the link to performance and growth got us started.p A beautiful sunny day and a packed room.

Peter Cheese as CEO of the CIPD, gave an opening keynote which really rammed home why this research was so necessary and so overdue. 99.9% of businesses are small to medium enterprises. WHAT? that is staggering. Only .1% are those behemoth organisations we hear so much about.

So there is clearly a huge market of people (14.1 million) who work in the SME environment yet, as Peter Cheese says, the HR models and practice seems geared to larger organisations and so why on earth would SMEs grapple with this and make good on their employment law and so on?

So the relevance of the CIPD to SMEs is something he believes in fiercely. Those SMEs that are helping take up the slack from the larger organisations for employment of skilled people across the UK.

Peter highlighted a continuing of the research and a chance to pick up and drive HR and learning practice in SMEs to fuel this drive in employment and performance growth.

One of the pioneering organisations that were involved in the research Jill Miller led on was Cougar Automation. Clive Hutchinson the MD came to talk to his fellow SME leaders.

Firstly Clive started well with a slide that had some people in unconventional dress and poses. As you watching corporate video users? This said more to me about his company than a 3 minute slick film. Bring yourself to work Clive said.

Great way to start. Clive then gave a humble account of how he changed the way Cougar Automation works and feels.

For a start, he was influenced by Derek Williams of the WOW awards. Derek’s simple but effective take on how to deliver exceptional customer experience hit Clive and he brought Derek in along with his principles to shape the Cougar plan/strategy.

This simplicity was coupled with Clive’s discovery of the Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton book, “Now Discover Your Strengths”. Reading this book not only changed his view on himself, but also he thought that others would benefit from a “review of themselves”.

So he bought books, and put out a call that a free book was in reception, all he wanted was a download of what they found out about themselves. And the something marvellous happened.

People discovered they were under using strengths. They were doing things they struggled with and needed some help to get some traction on. People even volunteered themselves up as being in the wrong role.

Very quickly, they saw an increase in satisfaction from customers and clients. They saw their profits and successes multiply. And they saw people being more bothered about want they did.
It is literally that simple. Self discovery; action based on that and then continued focus on their strengths was a recipe for successful people management practices and not, as Clive admitted, following the traditional routine of appraisals and reviews. Clive has asked his people not to recruit to vacancies but to recruit stars. And this way they would grow through the acquisition of stars.

Clive then talked about how they recruit those stars…

Aptitude; or strengths
Attitude; and
Skills (optional and depends on circumstances)

Recognising the latter can be taught and has already paid dividends in Cougar Automation. How Clive recruits for attitude based on people aligning to what Cougar stands for not because they have a technical skill.

What I was left with in reviewing Clive’s session was that the simple matter of people discovering where they are at their best is lost in most places, but is the key element to Cougar Automation driving their business, making their customers happy and building a great place to work.


Clive also gave us a top tip. Do enter service awards. Not only for benchmarking and feeling of pride but for a stack of “free learning”

Next up…Interchange and Consort Hotels and International Logistics Group


La Pinoche

There are a number of top blogs out there around HR and the world of work and this week has seen some corkers.  @neilmorrison blogged around this here:

Neil Morrison Banner

and I mean this respectfully – he became the #ConnectingHR Seth Godin (who blogs here).

Seth Godin

Why is that you might ask?  Well, for me Neil became our Seth with this blog because he cleverly put a few words out with a HUGE resonance.  So huge that every HR blogger out there should pick up their drafting shoes and get blogging about this.  Poor performers – it’s our fault.  And it is.


Now I know HR has performed a lot of self-flagellation in its recent past.  I entered the profession officially around 2003 and it was a stark realisation I’d not expected.  I doubted I would be popular by being in HR but the disdain, the licking of wounds and the acceptance of the position took me by surprise.


We criticised ourselves over a poor service proposition; beat ourselves up for being out of touch and cried into our skinny lattes over our lack of imagination and inventiveness.


Then we said enough is enough and we started to move out of our own shadows and started talking up commerciality; the performance game and organisational effectiveness.


We included agendas around talent; business savvy and engagement and yet STILL we haven’t cracked some basic fundamentals.


Organisations continually hire the wrong people; promote people who don’t deserve it and then to cover their ineffectiveness restructure and pay people off.  It’s not their fault.  They have played an imperfect system and gained.


We have to hold ourselves to account for a lot of those imperfect systems and processes which just don’t cut it.


Our fundamental reason for being is to be the experts helping the organisations we serve get the best of their people and in doing so people get a fair deal back for that.  It starts with the best people found in the first place and we are the ones (largely) with carriage and ownership of how we do that.


Now what this is NOT is an attack on the recruitment arm of HR.  It’s still partly your fault Recruiters – as much as it is all component parts of HR.


You know what though?  Now is the time to accept that it IS our fault and do something about it.  We are not in a position to delay but equally no token, knee-jerk reactions and programmes of HR initiatives.  That’s been our playbook up ‘til now and doesn’t seem to have worked and will probably deter our businesses from believing this will be anything different.  A four-legged stool or a 2×2 and we’re done for.

But different we need.  So what do we do?


I WISH I had all the answers.  I do know though that the current system is just not good enough.


Maybe Jean Tomlin’s LOCOG / London 2012 machinery has a lot to offer us – so many people with such diverse backgrounds delivering well?  We all know there was the the Army having to come in and bail out the Group4 proposition / issues but even that seemed to work.  Is what happened throughout London 2012 a replicable model for the workforce of forever and not just for a summer?



Maybe Morning Star (HBR Blog here) ; Wholefoods (nice article here) and the Hackmeister @profHamel’s case studies (here) hold the key?


They do appear to create a different dynamic in the workplace and have a different method for finding people; hiring them; setting them to be of their best and continuing to thrive in this thing we call work.


Maybe we need some seismic shock to force change you might say?  Erm, hang on, we’re still mired in the longest recession situation since the Great Depression with more societal and welfare issues than we’ve ever faced before.  WE HAVE THAT SEISMIC SHOCK RIGHT WITH US NOW. But we are the frogs in the gradually boiling pan.  We are coping; there is hope.  Yes there is hope but NOW IS THE TIME TO ACT and Neil’s blog is the perfect place to start.


I say start because this needs follow on;


  • inventive thinking;
  • passion and drive;
  • a root out of all those who deny the cause and will get in the way;
  • an ascendancy of challenger spirits (see Khurshed Dhenugara’s work here); and
  • some of the cleverest, most informed and creative thinking and doing HR has ever put its name to.


Can we do this?  Yes we can. Sorry obligatory Obamaism there.  But we can.


We have enough people with the requisite skill; experience; insight; drive; zeal; fresh thinking.  But they’re not lined up together.  We are a disparate group of champions and stalwarts; modest genii and decent hard workers yet we also have some drag on our trajectory from within.  Some people drive with the handbrake on or never get out of 3rd gear and all they worry about is speed cameras.

wind tunnel


So how do we do this?


I think the @CIPD has already given us a chance/start.  The forthcoming Hackathon using Gary Hamel’s infrastructure could see us let all that frustration; ideas; and energy out towards a more collective way to cease the trickle of our own disappointment and stem the tide of our under-appreciation.


Why should we do this? Well because we are to blame for poor performers.


Yes they have responsibility to perform per the contract they take on in return for pay; but if they see a chance to make a living or are even delusional about their own levels of performance, you cannot blame them for the first “mile” of this experience – so we are responsible for putting them there.  We are responsible for not cracking why managers can be the most mediocre and ineffective members of our tribe and we are responsible for not taking ourselves to account and ridding ourselves of our own “drag” factors.


Please get on board the Hackathon – it is a chance to get our thoughts straight and now is the time for any and all thinking on how we get the right people in; connecting them to a cause worth working on; and seeing just how fabulous our working lives can be no matter how tedious and menial or complex and stressful the role may appear to be.


We need as many hackers, punks and jazz-cats on this as possible; all welcome; just have an attitude, a belief and ideas to share and that’s how we can make things happen.


We have SO MUCH to get right;


  • how we find and recruit the best people;
  • look after their well being and enable them to do brilliant things;
  • skill them beyond their own wildest dreams;
  • create ascension and transcendence in work;
  • be dignified about the things that just don’t work out;
  • find the right place; situation; connections; tools; methods and dialogue that continues to make people thrive;
  • handle the downs of life and the inevitable twilight elements with compassion and humanity;
  • work out our physical and spiritual environment that makes work utterly amazing; and
  • engage in rewards and acknowledgement that gives people’s purpose a sense of legacy and place in the cosmos.

Stop Whining


Better stop the whining, get thinking and then crack on eh?




Or is it a vital aspect of ANY forward looking movement?

I recently had an email exchange with the future of HR. That’s Chloe Green to her friends and family. She is the future CEO of the CIPD to me. (@ChloeGreen28 on Twitter)

Anyway, the exchange was about Succession Plans. And I came up with this definition for what Succession Plans are there for. I said they should “Deliver a future-proofed organisation by covering key roles/skills that are known to be essential to the business together with people’s aspirations and abilities to move into those roles. More importantly in modern times, succession plans have to increasingly build on people’s skills for roles that may not even exist at the time the plan was created. Key skills like digital competence; agility; networking; story-telling and transitioning will help people adapt to new roles and help the business cover key areas to keep their business driving forward.”

But there’s something wrong and succession plans don’t work. I’ve attended a few seminars recently with MPs; HRDs and Business Leaders. They all say people issues are as taxing and dis-enabling to growth as finance issues. Some of it is skills shortages, some of it is just not finding the right people in the first place. My view is that a succession plan means these are risks that you can mitigate against having. But they don’t work. They’re not Punk enough. OK not all the issues with people are down to succession plans, but if the people plans (which included succession elements) were effective those people I heard wouldn’t be able to give that as a big issue.

So what’s wrong with succession plans you ask? Why pick on them? Why do we need to get all PunkHR about them?

One reason is from my experience (and I was once guilty of this also) HR seems a little too keen to get a hold of succession planning when the reality of it is, good leadership is about the creation of more people who can give their best and lead. That’s a succession plan.

It isn’t HR’s fault though that there’s a keenness to grab hold of succession planning and own it. Here’s why I think HR have pushed, grabbed and owned succession planning and then maybe how we can let it go again and put it back where it belongs – with managers working with, and supported by, HR.

Here’s my reasoning why HR has too much keenness about succession plans.

(A) The business doesn’t think about it enough.

Sweating their human assets is often the sign of a managed, high-achieving organisation. Something Fons Trompenaars calls a “guided missile”. One that may well implode when people get fed up of being a commodity. Some managers and businesses move from recruitment to recruitment replacing people and covering skills gaps when in reality, if they took a developmental approach; a longer term vision and anticipated churn, they’d create overlap; stretch for people and generally make sure key skills are in abundance and roles can be covered.

Why doesn’t the business think about it enough? Maybe because no-one reports on “have you created overlap?” no they report on “Have you hit that deadline and / or dealt with 200 calls”. It’s not that valued or measured. Until people leave that is.

(B) Managers don’t do it well enough.

Even if a business knows how valuable future-proofing is, some managers are so poorly equipped or so inadequately adept that it never takes shape. How on earth can any manager talk themselves out of something as exciting, energising and important as skilling people up to do more; be more versatile and simultaneously be stimulated by learning something new? I know they’re busy bless them, and I know some people have been promoted to lead when that wasn’t really their niche, but it’s time managers realised that a fundamental element of their role is to build people’s capability and create more capacity in the event of people no longer being there.

Now more than ever what’s in peoples’ heads is often the most valuable asset a company has no control over. That’s not just knowledge in there either…it’s acquired skills, cultural architecture, relationship facets and general deployable know-how. Yet managers are happy to leave it all in their peoples’ heads and not share that across the teams.

(C) People hoard and protect.

Many of us view our knowledge, skills or niche qualities as something to protect and therefore preserve our employment status. We start from a point of “if I share what I know too much, others will usurp me or make me irrelevant”. It’s not entirely the case but clearly some role-based paranoia can cause people to not want to develop others. We reward people for the performance they put in (of sorts) and this, IMHO, causes people to want to protect what they know to give them a competitive performance edge.

(D) Short-termism rules.

We must have all seen those people who fly in, create loads of initiatives, get some going and then off the back of that “success” move on elsewhere. I call these people Triumph Trolls. They play on a couple of quickish triumphs but are really troll-like in that they leave a nasty trail of destruction behind. They’re then gone before this is all brought to account. These are the sorts of people who surround themselves with diligent, effective, driven people who deliver but then when they leave they drop them like a hot stone and leave them to pick up the rubbish left behind. With managers like this is it any wonder they don’t have succession plans? To a Triumph Troll, succession and legacy is the last thing on their mind. Quick wins are all that counts to a Triumph Troll.

(E) Transience is seen as a desirable trait.

Yes folks, the regular mover is seen as a success architect. They assimilate rapidly, they generate momentum quickly so why would they stick around? Simple, they should hang on a bit as legacy should be part of their package. Sure use of Interims has increased as has fixed-term contracts, but there’s no excuse to leave something not just improved, but sustainable, behind you. Unfortunately, quick-burst fixers are in demand. Largely to fix the messes of either a disillusioned predecessor or another journey-man fixer who left their own mess behind. We almost need the recruitment/selection version of Watchdog who expose these situational bounty hunters. Too regular a mover, worrying propensity to press “eject” before they are ejected; too infrequent a mover, not as skilled or experienced enough perhaps. And since when did loyalty disappear? OK the commoditisation of people is bound to erode some of the loyalty (and the CIPD’s thought provoking “Where has all the TRUST gone?” gives answers to some of this) but is it really a case of zero loyalty now? Surely there’s a balance to this from both employers with packages and approaches that invoke loyalty yet don’t create a gentile country club; mixed with employees who care enough about their craft to be loyal to the place that pays them and keeps them safe in return for use of that craft? Loyalty is probably a blog of its own so I might do something on Punk loyalty.

Anyway, succession plans may be construed as some desperate attempt to create some locked-in loyalty and I’ve seen myself how a talent programme can create that – and build up people to leave, so it’s imperfect in that respect too.

So what are my answers or suggestions you are thinking?

I have some, but this is a bigger issue than this blog and seeps into David McLeod and Nita Clarke’s task force on engagement; the Gen X, Y, Millennials thing; economic crises borne out of irresponsible financing and the rise of new commercial/knowledge powers like India and Brazil. Yes, this issue of loyalty, succession and performance is a geo-socio one. I might invite @FlipchartRick to get on this…

My thoughts though are this:

(1) HR shouldn’t be too quick to own succession plans. To resist this, HR should get under the skin of the Employee Survey findings or Union dialogue – and answer this question “What keeps the best people here, doing their best?” and keep asking the question. Things change so rapidly, you cannot ask this yearly. Quarterly maybe? Be a Punk and pick up the street vibe not the glossy chart sounds.

(2) HR should become the confidante for people looking to leave. Don’t conduct exit interviews, it’s too late by then. Hold a truly confidential counsel with people with the movement itch. Find out what’s tempting and calling to them and act on this before they leave. Let the rebels rebel with you.

(3) HR should be belligerent in ensuring managers take seriously, are capable in, and execute on, succession plans. Introduce some new reward which incentivises the creation of future-proofed people and functions. Not pogoing at a Punk gig is not an option.

(4) HR should be the organisational wide arbitrator for transience across the business. To avoid resource hoarding and again, incentivise people, to give up their best for something better/stimulating but in the same organisation. Share stages and guest musicians to ensure freshness and creativity.

(5) Once succession plans are owned and executed on by the business, HR should stretch them through brokered partnerships with other organisations. This way talent can temporarily exit to learn and improve. I call this bungy development – daring, brave but on elastic so it never severs the organisational ties. It’s a secondment if you will but that sounds too dull to be PunkHR.

(6) HR should get into more effective and impactful measurement of the value created by succession plans. And not just hiring costs. All the culture, knowledge, relationships, innovative thinking, discretionary effort, buzz, that stuff. That refers back to my press blog about the value agenda. Be a real disruptive Punk about what you measure and how you measure it.

(7) HR should adopt the role of “dignified loss adjusters”. Succession Plans will reveal people who have failed to keep up, have gotten stuck, didn’t belong in the first place and need to move on. Not dead wood, but not healthy new shoots either. HR should help these people find a new place to be their best, and create space for healthy new shoots to come on through. Again, we spend so much time in capability, sick absence reviews when in reality it’s probably because the pieces just don’t fit anymore for them or their organisation. When someone wants to be MOR, fund them a safe space for easy listening to let the new Punk rebels to come through.

So that to me is Succession Planning. Not owned and delivered by HR per se. More strategically invoked and supported by HR.

Punk rock didn’t have a succession plan but the spirit lives on and the vibe just keeps on rolling. If we – particularly in HR – don’t get this right the workplace could be, well, Pretty Vacant eh?