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Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Are we all equal?

**ring-ring, ring-ring**
CEO: HRD t'is I.  You know I've been doing these media interviews all morning?
HRD: Mmhmm
CEO: They've been asking me about this equal pay bill thingy
HRD: .........uhhuh...
CEO: Tell me we don't have any equal pay issues
HRD: We don't have any equal pay issues
CEO: OK....but do we?
HRD: Not that we can't reasonably justify.....
CEO: Thank f**k for that......I haven't lied
HRD:.....apart of course from the board.......

Thursday, 23 April 2009

S**t hot career advice....

Ok so in the budget in the UK, the Government has announced another £1.7bn investment in JobCentreplus.  

For those of you outside the UK this is like a nationalised recruitment agency that is as effective as a chocolate fireguard...but if you don't go there, you don't get any state support....so actually more like state sponsored torture and apparently recently ruled out in Guantanamo as being inhumane.  

For those of you in the UK, its the Job Centre.....but plus!

And as its nearly Friday, it started me thinking, given carte blanche what career advice would you give?  Here are my top five:

1) Remain moderately incompetent.  Not too competent or you'll get promoted and ultimately fail.  Not too incompetent or you'll end up on a secondment to corporate procurement...the department where noone can here you scream.
2) Novelty ties are a really good look if you work in accounts.  If you work anywhere else and want to have any kind of sex life.....ever....they are not.  No means No.
3) If your colleague gets a promotion ahead of you.  Its ok, its done on merit...you shouldn't worry.  But to reward and congratulate them, don't forget to put chewing gum in their stapler, pour coke (cola) on their keyboard and spread vicious rumours about a penchant for dwarves, fists and marigolds.....(in combination)
4) When your boss says, "do you have any feedback for me?" they are being polite.  You are being literal.  Go for it.  They want it really.  Remember feedback is a gift.
5) Trainers are not there to make you better at your job.  Its about giving a job to a would-be television presenter who either doesn't have the balls or personality to make it.  Its like seeing a cute stray dog.....Pity them sure, but keep your distance and remember they are ultimately full of c**p.


Wednesday, 22 April 2009

A little time

There is a tube strike on my line. I won’t go into it…..ok just this once. This guy got sacked for opening the doors on the wrong side of the train. His union brothers and sisters don’t think this is fair as the company should have fitted some contraption to stop him from doing this. Therefore they are striking.

And two things strike me (geddit?),

1) Opening the doors on the correct side seem kind of fundamental to the job and imperative for safety (I don’t want to think I’m landing on sweet platform and instead come tete a tete with a piece of curved wall)
2) There’s an element of duty and responsibility missing in the argument…while we are at it lets automate the entire function of the tube….then we will have no need for….. oh c**p!

Anyway the non-noxious by-product of this is that I took a walk along the Thames on the way to work. Thirty beautiful minutes in the sun with my thoughts. An event less frequent than a leader in the Daily Mail on the valuable contribution of immigration to the British economy.

There is so much going on that sometimes it’s a struggle to process it all and little breaks prove all powerful in helping to put everything in order and take a fresh perspective. To deal with the big, the small, the rational and the emotional.

Sometimes the hardest things to get your head around become easier with time. What I don’t know is whether this is because we need the time to figure it out, or over time we just capitulate and find an easy route. Is the human brain designed to find a solution or the right solution? And in the end does it really matter?

Monday, 20 April 2009

Embrace the suck

Two things bring me to this post. First is my response to a question raised on the blog of HR Good_Witch. Second is a tribute to the person that taught me this phrase and whom I suspect has had to embrace more than her fair share. I write it here to impart a little of the wisdom that she shared with me and as a note of thanks.

I was having a day. You know the sort, where every shade of s**t has conspired to gang up and unleash its evil full in my face (try to work with the imagery...). The sort where I had the anti-Midas touch, where everything just seemed more difficult than it needed to, every phonecall filled me with dread. I was at a loss, I had serious inertia and this in turn was spreading through my team. I turned to this friend for something to cheer me up, to cling on to and she told me the following,

"The bad news is there's nothing you can do about those kinds of days. Nothing at all. Oh sure, I could wax lyrical about how you should always look on the bright side of life (hey, there's a song in that), to think positive, to focus on something that makes you happy, like unicorns or frolicking kittens. But we both know that's all c**p. For me, I have a method

Embrace The Suck. Today is going to suck. Keep that in mind, try to not take anyone's head off, and just bear up under The Suckness."

This may sound weird but quite frankly this is the most helpful, timely piece of advice that I have ever received. (Cue the simultaneous hari kari of a multitude of professors, consultants, experts...and my parents). It wasn't an aggressive "put up and shut up" or a "take the pain". It was instead direction to flow with the acceptance that things can be grim, unfair and unjust...and that its ok.

At that point in time it was exactly what I needed to do. To be at peace with myself, to stop dwelling and worrying, to stand up and be a leader and to lead my team and the business through the difficult days that we were having.

So as you progress through your week, month, life and things get trying, I offer to you these words of wisdom....."embrace the suck". At least it will get you smiling....

Saturday, 18 April 2009


So that's a poor workaround of the Brentesque "assume makes an ass out of u and me".....and far be it for me to indulge in cliches, but sometimes situations come along that make you realise that, in the words of the great Lloyd Cole, "the reason its a cliche is because its true".

I had to tell a couple of my team they were being made redundant this week.  In typical fashion HR always comes last, when all the dirty work has been done!  Its never nice, but I think as an HR professional its also good to have to put yourself through the things that you support managers to do.  Its easy to snigger amongst yourselves about Bob the line manager getting worked up about telling his team member they are being made redundant, it another thing when you are Bob.

So I was sitting there in the morning getting my head around what I was going to say and the potential questions I might be asked when one of the team members I was going to speak to came in to the office.  He was obviously on edge and upset and my initial reaction was that he had found out what I was going to say to him.  Anyway I sat him down and asked him what was wrong and he tells me that his wife has been diagnosed with cancer and he is beside himself with concern and worry.  We talk about it, I listen, I support, we arrange some additional health cover and he leaves to go to a meeting.

I sit back and reflect.  What am I gong to do?  If I can't speak to him then I can't speak to any of the others.  If I do speak to him, what is the impact going to be on his health and well being?The HR man in me is telling me that there will always be something going on in someones life, that no time is good and to stick to the plan.  The HU man in me is telling me that nothing is more important than life itself, that this guy has taken enough and the business can go swivel.  At this point normally there would be an HR rep advising the manager, but that person is me.

After much soul searching I sat the guy down and told him that I really didn't want to tell him this today, but I hoped he'd understand.  That the business was changing and we needed to change with it and that time doesn't account for personal circumstances.  You know what?  He took it like a champion.  Said that there were more important things in life than work.  That he respected my honesty and openness and that I had his complete loyalty until he left.

And that brings me back to assumptions.  I'm not saying that what I did was right.  Maybe the other route would have brought untold benefit.  But the fear was in my head and the worst case scenario I had painted was limiting my ability to act.  When I chose to act, the nightmare subsided.  Is this luck?  Or is it a lesson, that as long as we deal with any situation honestly, openly and with dignity, the worst will never happen.  

I honestly don't know.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Coachy Coachy Coo Coo

Ok, bad title...I admit it but after the day I've had you need something to make you laugh.  Never before have I received a genuine writ for defamation of character....its a long story.

Anyway, I have had two conversations over the last couple of days about coaching interventions, one sublime and one ridiculous.  I was speaking to our main coaching provider this morning and it fills me with deep joy (in a wholesome and appropriate way).  There are more people claiming to be coaches these days than there are claiming to be straight.  In fact I am sure there is a correlation there, but lets leave that for another time.  But these guys they know their limitations, they turn work down and most importantly they have a sense of humour.  I am not a coach, lets be clear, coaching and I are like pan fried bream and liquorice.....it ain't ever going to happen.

The other conversation was with a line manager, who came to see my L&D Manager declaring that they wanted to talk about development for a member of middle management.  Rightly L&D guru asked what they were trying to develop....."well we can't quite work it out".   Unperturbed she ventured on asking what conversations they had had with aforementioned individual....."well we haven't really spoken about it".  L&D hero carries on, so asking what it was they felt we could provide or how we could help....."We were thinking they need a coach.  They could then have a conversation with them about what the issues are and work out what they need to do and then they could let us know."

Yeah, that will be your job then.....remember kiddies a coach is for life a coach is not for Christmas......

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Get your retaliation in first....

Today I came across the strangest thing, an apologist for Thatcher AND one prepared to go under their real name.

Now I'll be the first to agree Thatcher has a whole world of stuff to apologise for, but I don't believe this was his aim.

Apparently her much heralded speach on society was actually a call to arms to take responsibility for one another and I was quite remiss.

And criticised me for dubbing her a tyrant (Lady Thatcher that is).

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Discourse is important....right?

So I try not to talk to much about my real place of work.  But this one is a blinder, please be welcomed to the sartrian world of TheHRD.  This is not for sympathy, but for laughs.....

CEO:  HRD?.....its me

Me: Hi 

CEO: I mean....what the f*** is going on?

Me: Can I have a clue? A starter for ten?

CEO: This f***ing thing you sent me.  I mean....its just f***ing wrong.  I mean....theres only a few days to go....and who is in control of this....I'm completely on edge....for f***s sake

Me: Ok......which bit is wrong?

CEO: Well for a start blankety blanks is on the list and they shouldn't be on it.  They've been taken off...I mean, do we know who we are f***ing making redundant or not?

Me:  Ah, when I had the conversation this week they were on the list.  I spoke to the Manager this morning and they didn't say anything. 

CEO:  Well they are not on the f***ing list anymore.  Why the f*** don't you know?  Who's not talking to you? Thats the f***ing problem!  I mean if that f***ing bit is wrong, what else is f***ing wrong?  If this is f***ed up I will be completely f***ed off.  I'm warning you in advance.

Me:  Sure, well I was pretty sure that there were no changes, but obviously there are.  Do you know who agreed the change?  Who authorised it?

CEO: Well I did of course!!

Me: Ya....OK....and ....ummmm......so...ummm do you know who could possibly have told me about it?

CEO: (pauses for at least a minute)...............................................................................................OK, well just make sure you are f***ing well on top of it .....OK? (slams phone down)

Monday, 13 April 2009


After a long bank holiday weekend I should be relaxed, chilled, at peace with the world.  Then I see this from the National Union of Teachers Annual Conference.

OK lets put this in context, teachers do a great job, they are unsupported by many parents, left to be the sole guardians of right and wrong for many children and often put in excess hours to try and provide a quality education for children who would otherwise suffer.  But this government has done more for education than any in recent memory and the levels of investment have significantly improved anyone who disagrees clearly wasn't in schools during the Thatcher years.....

The starting salary for a teacher is £20,627 whilst the average salary for a graduate is £24,048.  But this doesn't tell the complete story, teachers of course get a fantastic final salary pension and around 15 weeks holiday, not to mention excellent sickness, maternity and paternity benefits and above average job security.  The latter figure predominantly reflects larger corporate employers as well and so isn't entirely reflective.

But a 10% increase?  Are they serious?  Do they not look out the window at the wider economy and see what is going on out there, the people losing their jobs, many of whom are paid less than £20,627 who have little or no pension provision, statutory minimum holidays and work 40 plus hours a week.  This sort of story just makes teachers and the Unions look like greedy, narrow minded idiots with little or no sense of the wider economic environment.  It makes my blood boil.

Also interesting to see them quoting the CPI (Consumer Prices Index) as the reason for needing this increase - it currently stands at 3.2%.  I always thought the Unions' preferred measure was the RPI (Retail Prices Index) I'm sure that I have been told this time and time again over the years and in many negotiations.  What is RPI at the moment?  Oh yes.....0%

Saturday, 11 April 2009

To me, or not to me......

Having read the excellent post by HR Good_Witch about dealing with the toilet habits of an employee I started thinking about all those funny little tasks that get pushed the way of the HR team.  Regardless of where I have worked from the biggest companies downwards, there are those little gems that always seem to find there way to me and my team.  Things that can only be described as "not nice stuff" or NNS.

How many times have I been approached by a Manager for a "private chat about Bob", to be told that poor Bob has a body odor problem?  My first question, "Have you told him?".  Now the response to this is normally something along the lines of, "I thought it would be better coming from HR".  Right, lets stop and think about that......................................................So the message could come from the Line Manager who has worked day in and day out with this person, reviews their performance, buys them a beer at Christmas (and sometimes more often if they are generous) OR it could come from HR person who doesn't really know them, bumped into them once at the Christmas party (and can't remember the smell being that strong....actually can't remember much....but we all need to let our hair down at times).  I'm thinking the former kind of seems more appropriate....don't you? 

So I sit the Manager down look deep into their eyes and using a combination of NLP, reverse psychology and Jedi mind tricks ("these aren't the droids you are looking for"), prompt them to tell Bob, be honest, understanding, explain that you are aware of their body odor and they might want to think about doing something to sort it our, stronger deodorant, a more frequent change of clothes.  That Bob will actually probably be really grateful because they would rather know and be able to do something about.  And you know what, 100% strike record the Manager comes back and says "you were right".

NNS comes in many shapes and sizes.  Recruitment always brings out some of the classics.  My team is young and in their twenties with many of them having only worked for the one company, unlike the wily HRD (!).  A little while ago Dan, a senior manager, was in the department and I overheard, "so if you would just go back to these candidates and tell them its a no, I'll give Sue the great news she's got the job".  My NNS radar went into overdrive.  "Hey Dan" I say coming out of my office, "Great to hear you've finished the recruitment.  I was thinking, why don't I have a chat with Sue and tell her about the promotion, the offer and the development opportunities that we the HR team will be putting in place for her.  That would give you more time to talk to the people that haven't been successful and explain your decision?" (now this is one of the peculiarities of the english language - I have to end that sentence with a question mark - but trust me it wasn't asked as a question)

Cue much spluttering and  uttering of random words.  Dan it should be said is also the manager that once fed back that a candidate was "very pretty, but very stupid".  Although to give him his dues he was using this as a reason to reject her and I know many managers that would have seen that as a core competence.  Anyway, he came into my office and we both agreed after a while that it was better if he spoke to the unsuccessful candidates and explained his decision and as a trade off I would let him speak to the successful candidate Sue.  Genius at work.....

And there are numerous examples of NNS that come to us on a daily basis, from bogeys on the wall of the toilets, to changes in reporting lines, to redundancies (here its often "I don't want you involved in the planning, but you can tell the people they are going" - yeah right!).  In most cases it just takes a few mind tricks and some assertiveness and before you know it Manager is gaily skipping off to do their duty.  But on the other hand there are some categories of NNS, like the example given by HR Good_Witch, I wouldn't let a Line Manager near - I mean can you imagine someone with so little skill, dealing with a subject like that........?

Thursday, 9 April 2009


I've been think a lot lately about collective leadership (....I don't get out that much....) and how you create senior teams to take on collective leadership for their businesses.

And this in turn started me thinking about the traits that I believe are important in leadership (lets forget all the gurus for now because we know they all pretty much say the same thing and once you've read one you've read them all), the elements that really differentiate.  One keeps on coming back into my mind.  Listening.

To really listen to people is exhausting and takes a huge amount of practice.  I know that often I think I know what someone is saying long before they have reached the end.  Maybe I did, maybe I didn't but I will never be sure as I wasn't listening, I was thinking.  How many times have you been speaking on the phone and typing an email at the same time?  Or talking with a colleague whilst thinking about the paper that you need to do, the time left before you need to go for the train or simply what to have for dinner?

It struck me that when we really listen, really engage we can pick up messages that were perhaps not intended, but are maybe truer than the words being used.  There is a great book called The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway in which one of the main characters is talking about his training in some far fetched martial art.  But the point being he talks about the power of smell in assessing a situation.  Now I'm not suggesting we sniff people.....or indeed lick them as Henry Berry seems to endorse!  But there is an art to really being present and in tune with the person that we are talking with or listening to.

So how can we instill this in a leadership team where so much value is placed on output and having a view?  I'm not entirely sure at the moment (I do have some life despite my previous comment) but if I find out I'll be sure to share and if you know then please enlighten.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009


Can you imagine making 9,000 people redundant?  Taking a small town and relieving each and everyone of them from employment?  Can you imagine the impact on morale, well being, mental health?  The scar that will never disappear?

Can you imagine being one of the leaders that made the decisions that impacted on those 9,000 people and their families?  Can you imagine the lack of control, the lack of governance that led to this?  The people that allowed the bonuses and the pensions to be paid to the leaders.......

Can you remember all the column inches given by Personnel Today and People Management to the wonderful HR practices at RBS, the awards, the centre spreads?  

Monday, 6 April 2009

What's in a name?

So imagine the day that Starburst were launched.  When you went into the shop what did you get? An Opal Fruit.  

And when that Snickers bar found its way into your mouth.  What did it taste of?  Anything like a Marathon?

When the Post Office became Consignia did your letters get there faster?  Did your insurance get better when Norwich Union became Aviva?

If you were ever in a band in your youth can you remember spending more time on choosing the band name than learning the instruments?

When your Personnel Officer became an HR Advisor and your HR Advisor became a Business Partner........did you feel the quake?

Think about it........

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Generation Y

So there we were in 2008 and one of my team was telling me about Generation Y and how we needed to tailor our employee proposition to account for this demographic.  I think at the time my response was something along the lines of, "they can go f**k themselves, we'll be in recession, there will be no jobs, those that there are will be taken my Eastern Europeans who have a significantly better work ethic and they won't be winging about what we can do for them!"

OK I accept it was an emotional outburst but there is a truth there.  We fed this generation on over indulgence, said the world was their lobster and allowed them to think that they were beyond reproach.  And then the pointless HR community tried to turn it into a phenomenon.  It was something to feed the mouths of the consultants.

And those of us who remember "loads-a-money" will understand that this is the same thing.  The plasterer stereotype of the 80's/90's are the graduates of the noughties gen y.   Its boom and bust and natural.  But where are the articles and research on GY now?  Funnily enough, nowhere to be seen.  That particular gravy train has come to an end.

Recruitment consultants

OK, so I know that this is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I have to spend a few minutes talking about one of my favourite subjects, the ineptitude of Recruitment Consultants.

Now I know there are some good ones out there, predominantly working undercover in Outer Mongolia, but for the main part these guys have the same value to society as wasps or methane.  Not content with actually charging for doing fairly much next to nothing and trying to apply contractual terms that even Fred Goodwin would feel embarrassed about, they actually do it very very badly.

A couple of my favourite incidents from the past,

-  The consultant who sent me a CV of someone who still worked for my company
-  The consultant who sent me a CV of someone that I had only months earlier sacked ("but they are really interested in coming back to work there")
-  The consultant who spoke to a candidate saying they were recruiting on my behalf, then spoke to me and said that a candidate had just approached them - without realising that we knew eachother

This is on top of the misrepresentation, the poor briefing, the manipulation of salary details and general lack of understanding of business.

Their Mums and Dads must be so proud.............

Consultation closed

We finished consultation this week, phew. 

Welcome to appeal central.......

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Saying No positively.....

So, one of the reasons I came into HR was to say "no"...right? No! wrong! So why is it that I seem to spend half my time telling managers that they can't do things?

What has happened to personal responsibility and collective leadership?  I forgot.....we're in a recession and so there are hard calls to be made, unpopular decisions.  Isn't it easier to project the negative onto someone else and who better that the HR team, because we never really trusted them did we....too many women.

"I really wanted to, but HR said I couldn't promote you just because you always say yes to me" or how about "HR have told me that you can't have the 25% pay rise that I promised you.....something about recession".

Here are my ten favourite ways of saying No.

1) No
3) NO!
4) Interesting...but no
5) Whilst on one hand you make a good point, on the other hand....no
6) I'm tempted to say yes.....but no
7) Let me reflect on that for a while.....no
8) What do you think I am going to say? Wrong....no
9) Normally I would say no and I'm pleased to tell you that everything is normal
10) Rearrange these letters to get your answer....O N

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Restructuring, downsizing, sacking...

The headlines are full of the number of job losses going on both in the City but also across the country, in every industry.  Our thoughts rightly should go out to those losing employment with the inevitable impact on their families, friends, communities.

But also, stop and spare a thought for the poor HR person involved.  Often perceived by the employee to be the hatchet man (how many times have I heard of managers saying "HR have told me....."), loathed my the line manager for making them deliver a message they would rather have nothing to do with (funny how they always want to own the promotions and the salary increased) and battered and bludgeoned by the Unions as being the voice of Management.

My team have been doing this for the last month, dealing with emotional, angry and confused employees.  Managing emotional, angry and confused Managers.  And in more than one case then going home to a partner who is also being made redundant in their own workplace.

Sure its the job we do and we need to "take the crunchy with the smooth sometimes"  But spare a quiet thought......