Hopes for the Future of HR

Helen Tracey @HR Potential writes a thoughtful and forward looking blog about human resource management.  Her blog here challenges HR professionals to demand truth from colleagues, to encourage openness.

Tonight the CIPD are running an event about the future of work.  I’m guessing this is going to be a hopeful and optimistic event from which some innovative thinking is going to emerge.  I’m not able to make the event because of a rather lovely family reason.

I do have some thoughts about the future of HR – and I’m assuming that the conversation at this event will be about the role of HR in the future of work. Sometimes I hold back thoughts that I think may be perceived as being negative; I guess that  belongs to me.  But sometimes…….. I read a lot of very positive blogs and writing about HR and I think – I think, there is much that needs to change.

I’m using Helen’s blog as a prod to poke my own courage.

It’s a tough job HR.  It can be lonely, people can feel isolated, the work is hard, much of it invisible and I think what lies beneath many of the difficulties of the HR role is something about truth and the system in which HR operates.

The best of us will at times be in situations where we will implement something we don’t agree with; find ourselves being forced to do something counter to our own belief system, being pragmatic – it’s just the way it is.  Is that business savvy?  Am I naive?

I see it all around – people don’t say what they think, feel, believe. Sometimes that person has been me.   We’ll readily offer agreement, but less readily offer an alternative perspective.

  • Is it because we don’t want to be unpopular? Is it because we may be a minority and we have learned to keep it to ourselves? (women, ethnicity, sexuality)
  • Is it because even when our opinion is invited, it is often not valued – minds get made up, consultation looks to validate as opposed to being open to influence.
  • Is it because our thoughts about work are deeply rooted in old systems?

It can be hard to point out “what’s gone bad” when there are heavy investments in making things look good. Retain the status quo. Don’t admit to not knowing, fear. Hard not to give in to greed – convince yourself you deserve it, you have worked hard.

Around half of my working life has been working in organisations that have had some type of failure and I have been working with new leadership to re-energise and revitalise a culture. In every situation before the crash or the steady decline to below mediocrity  – a leadership individual/collusion has ignored, discounted, squashed, covered up front line/back office alarms.

Persig says it so much better than I ..

“Just as a biological immune system will destroy a life saving skin graft with the same vigor with which it fights pneumonia, so will a cultural immune system fight off a beneficial new kind of understanding with the same vigor it uses to destroy crime.”

I have some hopes for the future of HR, that it could be the change that we are looking for:

  • I hope that the future of HR includes a world where because you are a woman your perspective is more highly valued, sought out because you are a minority and not marginalised because of that.
  • I hope that the future of HR will be a move towards systemic thinking and working; an offloading of some of the transactional responsibilities that reinforce the cultural system.
  • I hope that the future of HR will include a rethinking of what is actually needed within organizations. What if the HR function had never existed – take it away – what needs would emerge from what is left?
  • I hope that the future of HR will be a move away from language and systems that reinforce distance – Human Capital, Analytics, EVP, and a step closer to designing workplaces that are focussed on our humanity.
  • I hope that the future of HR is that HR will be something different. I think that trying to change what we have – it isn’t enough.
  • I hope that the future of HR involves the re empowerment and value of management, and the moving away of the idealisation of leadership.  Good strong ethical management – it’s a beautiful thing, and the root, the core, the strength.

The OD Mindset

Organisational Development – Putting Theory into Practice – originally written and published on the Do OD website in 2012. Updated May 2015.
I came to OD, by “doing OD”. It’s work that I love, and believe in. I’m optimistic that amongst the sometimes murky, treacly waters of organisational life, clarity and movement can emerge. When people ask me what I do and I say Organisation Development – I can be met by blank looks!

I wonder if people struggle with understanding and defining OD because it is so often hijacked by more traditional change management methodology and consultancies with their own “right solution”. The dominance of financial modelling too in organisations creates resistance to the natural flow that is OD – perhaps OD’s simplicity is also too sophisticated. Because OD isn’t about answers, or predicting and controlling.

I’ve often heard OD described as “a planned programme to improve an organisation’s effectiveness” (oh for the love of a Gantt chart). We experience the pursuit of competencies to measure and control people’s behaviour, sheep dipping workshops, the promulgation of values.

Organisational Development work can and does utilise these tools and techniques, but doing these things does not mean you are doing organisational development.

So here’s my take on “doing OD”.


The OD Mindset

  • When you’re doing OD – your mindset is shaped by humanistic values and beliefs and the recognition that organisations are complex social systems.
  • When you’re doing OD, you’re working with and connecting the system – asking what is happening, what can we try, how will we know what is happening, how will we know when something has been impacted? You’re probably doing Action Research – whether or not you call it that.
  • When you’re doing OD, you’re drawing on a set of skills, theoretical knowledge and resources to facilitate problem solving, trust building – whatever your intervention, you are grounded.
  • When you’re doing OD, you’re part of what is happening in the system too; you’re an agent of change, an influencer, and a role model. You are connected with the real work.
  • Engaging people in a conversation that cuts across usual organisational boundaries is a core part of doing OD. This often meets resistance. The hurry up, the quick fixers, the taylorists, the accountants, they want concrete, tangible results now. They want a plan!
  • Doing OD includes demonstrating respect for these differing perspectives of varying stakeholders and an ability to hold strong, inviting people to place trust in the process – creating space for the conversations that need to happen. The behaviour mirrors the prevailing culture.
  • Everything is data. The OD mindset is rooted in understanding the connections between behaviour and results and effectiveness. People doing OD bring together multiple perspectives and deepen others’ understanding of the system within which they operate.


OD – how do you do it?

You learn with everyone else.
You are prepared to say the unsayable.
You collect data and share the analysis with the “system”.
You discover together what is revealed, and create time and space for people to make meaning.
You help people hear each other.
You role model transparency, candour, respect, curiosity and courage.
You stay with the difficult stuff.
You don’t jump into solutions; it’s about sense making, seeing at a systemic level what is happening.
You don’t collude with the system so there are times you may feel you are working counter-intuitively or experience discomfort.
You create the conditions for vulnerability and openness to emerge, and the conditions for the only consequences to be progress.
Conversation as a core process

I’m invited to facilitate a strategic planning meeting. To prepare, I start talking with the participants – I find that they don’t recognise and connect to a shared purpose, although in one respect it seems quite clear.

Perhaps this is the work – helping them develop clarity? When I start to enquire a little more, dig a little deeper, what is revealed is that there is a lack of trust amongst the team. It takes time for someone to name it. Perhaps we spend time trust building? When more of the organisational context becomes clear, the potential for more large scale disruption indicates that people are waiting to see what next. This is inhibiting their ability to enter into the planning process in any meaningful way.

The talking and exploring is the intervention. Creating space for people to identify root causes and start working beneath the surface clears the way for whatever the discussion they need to have to happen. It may be counter-interintuitive; as a facilitator it’s easy to get sucked into their task and to know that at the end of a day they have a “plan”. You potentially collude in their problem, avoiding going beneath the surface.
Over recent years, here has been a shift towards recognising how vital it is to pay attention to creating cultures that encourage integrity and facilitate adaptability. More OD functions are being established in organisations in a changing often unstable environment; for HR and L&D professionals, transitioning into OD is challenging and enriching. I am finding more of my time is spent mentoring, coaching and consulting with internal and external change agents, guiding them as they develop their thinking towards the OD mindset.

I am currently designing a new programme to develop internal OD capability – would you like to work with me and some amazing OD practitioners to build your organisations ability to grow the OD Mindset?  We’d love to come and chat to you – you can find met @OD_optimist or via the website http://www.mppartnership.co.uk

Ooo gimme a nice sandwich

This is my blog post for the feedback carnival, “feedback would happen all the time if…” conceived and curated by Helen Amery.  

Feedback – doesn’t the thought of it it make you shudder? “Meg you did this (insert insincerity of your choice) really well, but when you did this (insert awkward critique) it impacted the time we spent on that, but you are doing valuable work.  Carry on now.” Everyone looks relieved. It’s over. I wonder when we started using feedback as a workplace methodology.  One of those metaphors perhaps to keep command and control alive?  Is it an attempt to mechanise, to simplify, to depersonalise what is  most complex and challenging and beautiful and terrifying for us all – the relational aspects of being human?

One organisation I worked in had a “feedback culture”.  People were given feedback at every opportunity; it seemed to me like an opportunity to freely criticise others without any personal responsibility.  I think it reinforced the cultural norms of avoidance, not broke it down; people felt drained at the amount of feedback.  It looked like an intrusion to me.

When work is designed in such a way that the work itself provides feedback – so I know whether I’ve done good work or not, because I will see the impact of my efforts, then feedback happens all the time. When regular space is made to be together in work as community, feedback within that system will automatically happen, because the more time people spend together, the more that trust builds, so that reflection/reflexivity becomes inherent in feeding the system.  If we’re real with one another, and we have shared aims, know the common ground, we’ll be discussing  how we are as well as what we do.  It’s natural, it happens all the time if the conditions are created for community. Peer feedback – it has the most impact as opposed to the vertical type. – a healthy, trusting, clear sighted community – it’ll mostly happen naturally between us all. Sometimes, I just want to tell you that you did that thing so well, it inspired me to try a bit harder in something I was aiming for.  Is that feedback? Or is it just me sharing how you have impacted me positively. Sometimes, I need to be guided to understand the negative impact of something I said and did on others.  is that feedback or someone sharing how I have impacted someone or something negatively? If we’re regularly in dialogue with each other, then feedback is a natural systemic occurrence. If I’ve got to give you a sandwich, it ain’t feedback.  It’s foodback.

Warning – may contain nuts

I have a close family member who has a food allergy.  It is life threatening.   This means that every meal prepared somewhere else, by someone else, involves a high degree of trust and can create a high degree of anxiety. “May contain nuts” is a joke to some,  and a warning sign to someone with an allergy and an epipen.

So why am I writing about this on my blog?  Because I think about how someone with an allergy is treated a lot, and because I think about the world of work a lot.  Perhaps learning from the one can be transferred into the other.

I never cease to be surprised as the reactions of others;  a teacher whose own child has an allergy told me a story about another child and another teacher, a teacher – who tuts every time the epipen comes out and an ambulance is called.  “What a lot of fuss”.

Advice no 1  Don’t tut when another’s need – for data, for extra care, for extra time, whatever – causes you inconvenience.

It is challenging when others decide to take responsibility “I checked the packet, you can eat it”  It is so much easier in every way when the packet is provided for the choice to be made by the person who is doing the eating and risking.  Every incident is preceded by a reassurance that the food can be eaten. A recent holiday experience where “je ne pensais pas” – peanut oil in the homemade mayonnaise.

Advice no 2 Don’t do the deciding for others about what’s best for them.  Even if you think you are being helpful.

Restaurants – we know the good ones, where they cook it themselves.  A well known pub “we take pride in our home cooking” refused to serve us.  The “chef” was so nervous he came into the restaurant and said he didn’t want a death in the restaurant (!).  He wasn’t confident to cook a steak and a jacket potato, because – actually their home cooking was not prepared by them.

We went to a celebrity chef restaurant where the young waitress came out after our meal, poked the person with the nut allergy and said “so, you’re still alive then?”. And mock wiped their brow.

Advice no 3 Don’t joke about another’s vulnerability if they aren’t joking about it. And even if they are, read the situation.

Recently, we went out.  The waitress was efficient, ie everything was on time, but there was a lack of confidence transmitted to us.  A subtle inference in the tone of voice,  an implied shrug.   Because of this we spoke to the chef – he said “I will cook it, there are no nuts in the kitchen tonight; you can be confident”.

I made a joke at the end of that meal regarding a “low fat espresso”.    My joke.  She came back and explained to us that espresso was “very dark coffee” and ” we could have milk on the side”.  She then leaned in, smiled and revealed it was her first night and she was learning.

When our waitress confided it was her first night; I was able to see behind behaviour that made us roll our eyes a little.  She was terrified; her first customer was someone who could die if given the wrong food. She didn’t know what ingredients were in each dish.  She thought we were genuinely asking for a low fat espresso.    Our experience (the food was utterly delicious) could have been improved 100% by the restaurant manager standing with the new waitress when she came to our table and introducing her, letting us know it was her first night and that she was learning.  It would have set the scene; she could have been honest when she didn’t know, needed to ask or check and we could have been more relaxed.

Advice no 4  Don’t chuck new colleagues in the deep end.  No-one wins.

Where we feel safe to eat is where people don’t joke about the allergy, where people do not expect to make choices on behalf of another about what is safe, where information is offered up about ingredients and where respect is offered to the situation, and – that is all.

Advice no 5 Do please take time to understand and respect another’s unique needs, honour vulnerability. Give the space for others to  make their own choices – they know, we don’t need to decide for them.




HR Summit 2015, potted highlights

This year’s summit took place on 3/4 February in Birmingham and matched my previous experience of having a rich mix of high profile keynote speakers and master classes, relevant and current case studies, and – a real sense of community amongst conference delegates.  People were intent, they listened, and were engaged.

I have shared a storify here which curates some of the curation tweets.  There is some really useful sharing and learning available.

Part of the summit is the celebration of the annual HR Distinction Awards; as one of the judging panel, I was inspired by the submissions; the heart and soul, the energy and commitment of so many teams.  You can read about the winners and those commended here; the total picture was of a profession of hard working energised teams, who’s work often goes unsung. Often what’s in the public domain is all that’s seen – and shared.

Dave Ulrich talked about others’ perceptions of HR – and his thesis is that employees are not the customers of HR – HR’s customers are the customers of the business.  Ulrich asks “are we connecting what HR does to the key stakeholders of the business”. He also says culture is our identity and asks therefore “Will your culture reflect what customers are promised?”  He invites us to look from the outside in.

Nick Kemlsley (not at the summit)  wrote in his paper “A glimpse into the future”  “Those HR functions that can quickly and efficiently adapt what they offer and how they offer it…………will potentially gain more credibility” and goes on to say that successful HR functions will be more focussed on impact than process.

So the challenge for HR is there.  Look from the outside in, adapt, be an influencer, share and celebrate your contribution.  The HR Distinction Awards Ceremony was a happy energised experience; people attending the dinner were in a party mood, there was an air of anticipation as the awards were being announced.   I know what hard work it is working in HR, how much “stuff” gets flung in HR’s direction and it was so good to see a celebration of achievement.  The challenge is not to become a victim, not to burn out, but to stand up for what you believe is right and trust in yourself and it was just so good to see some celebration of achievements.

These events create an intense learning experience – (for me too; I did my first filmed interview with Dave Ulrich!).  There is a challenge too for HR professionals to both keep up with current thinking and be confident to develop their own way. CPD is vital to keep challenging our own thinking, develop and grow our own competence and – why not become a thought leader in your own organisation?

We are all talent

I struggle somewhat with the term talent and have a preference for the world potential – try substituting “growing and realising potential” for “Managing and developing talent”. By inference there is an indication with talent that some are worth more than others – I have seen the nine box grid as a crude sorting hat for those who are “in”, and those who are ”out”.

Is our thinking changing? I was curious about what I would hear/experience/feel at the summit in October, which was examining how employers are thinking differently about talent management to ensure they retain and develop the right people and skills to keep their businesses moving forward.

The stories told showed that there are organisations who are focussed on inclusion and diversity – not as a tick box, but as a way to enrich and deepen the resources in their leadership. I was encouraged to hear how much good work is taking place, and how much commitment there is to creating opportunities for people to grow. Great work is happening out there, that is respectful to individuals, and aligned to employer brand and strategy.

I’ve shared some personal take outs here/trends I hope will stimulate some thought.

Candidate and employee experiences rule the world – Rethink

Rethink Talent talked about the employee centric focus on recruitment; they described the evolution of workforce over the last fifteen years as developing from “materialistic” to “employee centric” in 2014 – with attention being given to family friendly policies, work life balance, more homeworking and output. Their view is that there is a gap between the old Personnel model and the current HRB/shared services and into that gap falls loss of individuality. They say, candidate and employee experience “rule the world”. Their use of technology to recruit Skype engineers virtually has enabled recruitment to fit around the employees and their requirements.

Using Apps and Neuroscience – Hay “Coach in a Pocket”

Hay shared their work on using technology to boost leadership performance. Their description of current HR and L&D trends identified – smart technology, 702010, student centric learning, a focus on ROI and blending learning. We’re seeing more and more development of apps; and Hay have developed a Group Leadership Development App which has utilised neuroscience to focus on habit change – contemplation – bring to consciousness your habit, planning to change, take action and maintain.

Neuroscience appears to be explaining what we already knew, some old knowledge, perhaps making sense for those that value the quantitative?

“Everyone is talent” BBC

Karen Moran from the BBC started with a picture of the Great British Bake Off team – who knew that a programme about cakes would prove so popular? Creating the conditions for innovation against a backdrop of a bureaucratic culture is a major challenge and Karen and her team have focussed on creating a strong employee brand, and working to have a deep understanding of engagement drivers across the BBC. Work on values has underpinned this work and they have co-created a set of guiding principles “our values will inform our decisions….”

A reminder for their leaders is “when you are living the best vision of yourself, you inspire others to live the best versions of themselves”. I heard care and heart in their leadership development mindset. Their work includes steps to building capability, sharing of a leadership promise, a leadership academy, actively promoting women into leadership business. They showed us an application of the nine box grid where all, including the lowest level of performers are offered development opportunities –“potential for more”. That word potential….

BBC’s work on talent attraction is now starting with schools; they have a strong employer brand and can identify clearly the various routes through which potential employees can work with the BBC. This is where we see the Diversity and Inclusion work in action. They are not limiting their view of “talent” to the right school, graduates or the existing network.

“Keep calm, and love data”

Karen Moran gave us a detailed case study of an integrated talent and leadership strategy, with practical implementation, grounded in an understanding of the culture and how leadership development and growth of potential is a key lever to creating an adaptive culture. This is the way to do it!

Rising stars – De Vere Hotels

Mike Williams from De Vere demonstrated how having limited financial resources engendered creativity and energy. Previous cost reduction strategy had gone too far; engagement was low and people had not been invested in. The new strategy was around “customer intimacy” – engagement and development became priorities.

Some of the key takeaways are that the work was clearly aligned to strategy and brand; successes and achievements are celebrated – and clear criteria for success have been established and shared. People are developed through provision of “talent toolbox training”, development days and development programmes. NVQ providers were assigned to each Hotel encouraging staff to learn and develop. Results Mike shared with us included significantly increased engagement through people being coached; a culture of achieving potential and internal promotions. Trust in leadership had increased and they have increased job applications by 16% illustrating the impact on attracting more employees to their brand. Customer service ratings have improved by 20% and 65% of the most successful hotels are run by their “rising stars”. Mike also shared data on significant cost savings and budgetary reductions that was directly correlated to their increase in engagement through investing time, resource and attention on development and building relationships.

Strengthening and diversifying future leaders – Diageo
“Cultural curiosity”

Diageo offered us their perspective on developing future leaders, accelerating growth, what they’ve learned and measuring the impact on their business. I don’t have comprehensive notes because much of their session was video footage of people involved in their programme telling us their story. I got absorbed!

In summary, they have:

• Accelerated the progress of people moving into leadership roles through targeted investment in key interventions
• Built a diverse range of current and future global leaders – varied in gender, origin and experiences
• Created one mind-set to building future leaders – senior leaders will be active sponsors and fully engaged in early career development
• Facilitated Global connectivity – more collaboration between markets of early co-ordination and talent movement

They are rotating leaders into unfamiliar territories and providing stretching assignments to challenge thinking at an early stage of their career development. Cultural curiosity is one of their criteria for people to enter the talent pool – in my experience the most effective leaders are curious about themselves, about others, about how things work. Diageo are building a future, knowing they have to be adaptable and flexible in a fast changing world. I was inspired hearing the stories of young people; often coaching and development comes late in a career when it is more likely that we have internalised a particular view of ourselves and the world that will be deeply ingrained. Create good habits and insights early on; and those will provide a strong foundation for constructive approaches to leadership as the leader matures.

You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change. Potential. (Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book).”

There is no “right” way as each organisation is made up of a unique context, unique relationships and challenges. Creating the setting for potential to be realised is an organisational imperative. I think there are some guiding principles to be drawn from these case studies that cut across sector, organisation size and design.

• Technology creates the opportunity to collect and use data in ways that weren’t previously available to us
• Technology also allows us to connect and share knowledge at an accelerated pace
• Leadership Development and Talent Development needs to be designed with the cultural context in mind
• Internal sponsorship and involvement (there were many examples of this that I haven’t shared) is an essential component
• Diversity and inclusion is at the heart of any decent talent programme, and it includes different experiences, ages, gender, origin, educational differences. True diversity recognises potential everywhere.

“We are all talent”.

Management, the new leadership by Meg Peppin

In July, David Goddin invited guest bloggers to write something in response to the statement “there is no such thing as management”. It was a great series which you can read on David’s blog; this was mine.

People Performance Potential

Welcome to the 4th week in this series and the 7th guest blog post in response to the statement that “There is no such thing as Management”.

Today’s post comes from Meg Peppin (@OD_Optimist). Sharing her own experiences,  I like the sense of balanced management versus unbalanced leadership her piece conveys. I hope you enjoy reading it!

Management, the new leadership

Amongst the writing about leadership we often read about authenticity and humility; I don’t believe that these are the preserve of those highest in the hierarchy, with the most seniority. Leadership can and does come from all levels within the organisation, although when I have worked with senior people who can inspire great things in others – they are both authentic and brave enough to be humble.

Somewhere there has been some contamination of leadership ideals; egos have been fuelled by huge financial gains, and the more money people…

View original post 424 more words

#CIPD14 – reflect, connect, eggs, bloggers and the art of conversation

I am delighted to be at the conference this year both as a participant tweeting from the various sessions, and working with my colleague Doug Shaw where together, we are hosting some fringe sessions. Attendance to all sessions is free and open to anyone attending the exhibition or conference.  You can discover more and reserve your place here.

To explain a little more, our Reflect and connect sessions run briefly for 30 minutes and are a really relaxed and informal way to come and meet fellow practitioners.  We have both experienced the awkwardness that can sometimes be felt as a lone attendee so wanted to create a space for people to come and say hello.    We are also running an evening session exploring the Art of Conversation (there may be a glass of wine involved) and a breakfast session session building on an experiment we ran last year that we have called “HR Unscrambled”.   Please do join – we’d love to see you and develop some good conversation.

I’ll also be participating on a panel discussing paths to membership, and  – doing some open space facilitation with Andy Lancaster – and I’ll be tweeting too. A busy couple of days.

It feels that there is a good energy flowing into the conference this year and so much opportunity to participate, connect and learn.  There is a  fabulous “blog squad” of bloggers who regularly write about people and organisational issues – the squad will be attending a sessions and tweeting and blogging throughout the two days, so anyone who can’t make the conference can still participate. You can do this through following the hashtag #CIPD14 and watching out for blogs published by the blog squad both during and after the conference.

So, maximum opportunity for participation, whether in person or through the social media channels which the CIPD facilitate – another reminder – #CIPD14.

Hope to see you either in my time line @OD_optimist, or in person  – tweet me and let’s meet.

About knowing, and jamming.

I’ve been thinking about the complexity of simplicity recently, and how difficult we can make work through our attempts to “know”.  For example, where the relational aspect of work (engagement/motivation – what you will) is surveyed, becomes a project plan so that we know progress.  Or perhaps, the finance and HR collaboration to create a set of metrics so that we know how much the people initiatives are contributing to the financial/target/ – what you will, success of an organisation.

In June, I spent two days with a group of people jamming all things facilitation.   All seven of us brought something that was of interest to us, stuff we were learning/thinking about/experimenting with to share an experience.  No agenda, no list, no time pressures, simply being together and allowing our discussions to cluster around areas of interest, discomfort, exploration, energy.  A beautiful mash up of not knowingness. And yet….

Simple questions brought out complex discussions.  “What do we need from each other”….. brought out into the open the different realities we had created internally and we began to understand differences/ similarities.    Asking a “simple” question, and giving space, paying attention to what others are saying, and not saying, giving respect enabled a deeper level of connection to each that creates trust. When we trust each other – possibilities are so much greater.  It’s complex. We couldn’t know what would arise in that conversation, and I’m not sure we can directly correlate it to anything other than our amazing potential.

One of our jammers, Kev Wyke invited us to play with an idea he was experimenting with.  An idea for an activity – could be a short game, or a longer change/innovation (add what you will) workshop.  It was deceptively simple, yet hooked us into a long exploration, where there were ideas connecting to ideas, insights shared, bonds strengthening through conversation.  The idea itself belongs to Kev, so contact him here to find out more.  We played with the idea (remember, no time scales, no rules here) and found a depth of complexity in his “simple” idea.  I wonder If we had restricted ourselves in terms of our time – oh what a glorious learning experience we could have missed.

Margaret Wheatley says  “it is fascinating to notice how many interpretations the different members of a group can give to the same event____________ I am sure no two people see the world exactly the same”.

It seems to me that we spend a lot of time trying to factor complexity out of our lives,  by the systems and processes that we develop at work so that we design a concrete reality.    Yet – if we accept that we live in self created realities, making our own meaning and interpretation of what we experience around us, then our aim to simplify, make easy, will be self defeating won’t it?

Perhaps this is why appraisals are a struggle – the longest appraisal document I heard of was 24 pages long.  The shortest five questions.   No, a blank page (possibly an apocryphal story!).   A need for absolute certainty, vs a need for trusting the process?

Maybe too this knowing makes it so hard for leaders to involve and inspire their teams; there is an underestimation of the need for people to make meaning.  It’s simple – allow people to make meaning, but – we need to know how long it will take. Depending on my reality – who knows?

We put stuff out for people to agree with, to endorse, as opposed for creating space for people to explore, make meaning of and find the common ground.

A question for us all to consider when working with others:

How much time do you allow for people to make their own meaning; and how much time to you factor in to explore this and create shared meanings?



I like hacking – a different kind of appraisal

I thought I’d share a recent hack that has been effective, simple and useful, and – it’s about appraisals.

It’s interesting  how appraisals make people groan; in my experience it can be an opportunity to spend time reflecting, focusing, consolidating learning and building on achievements.  It can be GREAT.   It can also be a horror story where cowards take an opportunity to utilise a process to undermine,  or scaredy cats to say nothing, offer nothing, appear to think nothing,  or  perhaps  – it becomes bureaucratic nightmare with no perceived value.

I think I was lucky in my past; I usually looked forward to my appraisal; my chance to have my say, talk about me and my achievements, and sometimes to hear some insights that shifted something.  In my years managing I saw one to ones, team reflections, appraisals as a core part of my work as a manager; I’m still slightly gobsmacked at the amount of people who do not have one to one time with their teams/their managers. I have so many questions:

  • What are they (managers) doing I wonder to myself if they are not constantly talking with their teams?
  • How do they know how the work is getting done, what the problems are, what the successes are?
  • How do people get their own needs articulated, let alone get met if there is not regular reflection and sharing?

Teardrops on the office floor

I worked in an organisation where our appraisal and reward schemes placed an equal importance between the how and the what, and where attention, effort and energy were placed on educating managers and staff about the whole cycle of performance management.  (It started with an audit of objectives where I was appalled to find a list of 30 job tasks clipped to appraisals as “objectives” and other lazy objectives such as “Employee X should live the company values”.  Save me)

Surprise surprise

My least favourite boss ever, someone I didn’t respect, didn’t appear to respect me, demonstrated that he did pay respect to the appraisal process, and reinforced for me the value of a well prepared discussion. After a thoughtful description of how he viewed my contribution he asked me to think at the end of our discussion whether I was “present” in that organisation, or trying to recreate my past.  An ah ha moment.  I remember the impact of that more than I remember being pissed off at the rating he gave me.  (I can shrug at that, although what a divisive way of working we have created there, and obviously I do still remember it!). I still find value at the insight and am grateful that he thought so hard about me and that his question enabled me to move into the present.  A grudgingly increased respect.

Labour of love

In a past life, I spent hours on calibration, when done well – a useful and insightful way to develop capability to differentiate; but always a chore -right?

If we’re managing performance effectively, we know on a day-to-day what our teams/selves are doing well, what we can do better etc.  The annual reflection then doesn’t need to be about the day-to-day; but can be an incredibly valuable way to integrate the year’s work, learning, and create space to think.  It could be a labour of love, rather than the hard labour it appears to have  become.


I like hacking

So here’s the hack.

I am working with a Leadership Team designing an appraisal process.  They wanted an appraisal that would be congruent with their leadership style of transparency and collaboration.   They aren’t keen on red tape, conforming, whilst being committed to upholding principles of good governance.

  • We kicked around ideas, decided that doing something shared, rather than the usual behind closed doors would be interesting, and perhaps challenging.
  • Each person would reflect about themselves, and about each other as their preparation.
  • They would meet as a group to share reflections; time for each person, time for the collective challenges.
  • The write up would be as a narrative – no forms.
  • We would avoid objectives, but focus on direction, we would focus on strengths, aspirations and the future, rather than weaknesses, disappointments and the past.

Each person was invited to think about the following questions about their own contribution:

When you reflect back over your time with the organisation and in particular the last two years, what achievements are you most proud of?
• What strengths and qualities do you bring into your role with your organisation?
• What stretches and challenges you?
• What do you need from the your team/your boss to enable you to fulfill your potential?
How would you like to see your time with the organisation described when looking back at some future point?

Each person was also invited to prepare for each other; informing their thinking through asking these questions:

What do you consider to be this person’s key achievements?
• What strengths do they bring into their role with the organisation?
• What have you noticed that stretches/challenges them?
• What can you offer to help them achieve their potential?
• How would you describe their overall contribution to the organisation?

Our original thinking was that I would design the process with them, and they would facilitate the discussion themselves. In the event, busy people, they decided they would benefit from my presence.  I took the lead in loosely structuring the time,  steering them through the process, asking clarifying questions, helping them stay with any areas of potential discomfort, and – wrote up the notes.  I believe speed is of the essence in capturing the key discussion points.

No forms, no ratings, no nervous mumblings or anxious preparations, just open, mature conversations, energy directed to achievements, recognising learning, forming deeper connections.

Thinking about and discussing strengths and potential created an open environment that meant that there was no awkward feedback moments; what needed to be discussed, got discussed; it was an honest and frank reflection.

The group process also allowed us to focus on organizational futures and accelerated agreement on some actions that may have been put on a list somehow.

They loved it.

I’m sure our hack needs hacking itself – how do we integrate it with everyone else; are there other elements we can explore; through not having ratings what is the impact for remuneration?

However, I think we can get so hung up on making things neat and tidy, that we can corner ourselves into a box having spent a lot of energy developing a perfect process.

Gwaaan, have a hack.