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Friday, 29 May 2009

Stand aside

Let me paint a scenario…..

An employee comes to see me. They do that sometimes as a last resort when everyone else is busy or on holiday or hiding in the cupboards. They have an issue they want to talk through.

Their boss they feel is over controlling. Wanting to know the ins and outs of their ever action and move, not allowing them to take decisions about their work, criticizing their appearance and making their life a misery. I ask for examples and we talk a little bit about a few things that have happened. The employee says they don’t know what to do they feel so stupid and are thinking of resigning and looking elsewhere.

I ask some questions.

“Do you think you should be able to make these decisions?” They reply that they do.

“Do you think that you are being unreasonable?” They reply that they are not.

“So”, I ask them, “Who do you think is at fault here?”

We talk some more and it becomes clear they are scared. They are scared of the repercussions. They are choosing the path of least resistance. They apologise when they have done nothing wrong. They allow elements of their work to be controlled, when they believe that it is wrong. They do this to take away the pain.

The pain of the picking and shouting and criticism.

Standing up is not an option they tell me, it just makes it worse. Last time they questioned him (and it could only be a him) he made their life a misery for weeks.

We talk about motives. Why he is behaving like this. Is it because he actually believes he should have the control? Is it because things are being done badly? Is it because when he is angry he just needs to kick some one?

We talk about actions and reactions. The triggers that make people behave the way they do. We talk about blame. We talk about neutrality and the ability not to automatically apologise when being shouted at. We talk about help and support. We talk about self esteem.

At the end I have mixed emotions. My natural instinct is to administer my own kind of justice on the situation. I won’t lie. And I’m not talking a nice bit of counselling and a formal process. But sometimes perhaps people need to do these things for themselves knowing that you are there for them as support.

It’s hard sometimes to stand aside, but I truly hope they know that I am there for them.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Ciao Bella

**ring, ring**
CEO: HRD, Hi. How are you? HRD: CEO......how are you.....?
CEO: Good, good. Did you see my email.
HRD: Email? One sec. Yep got it. About the car?
CEO: Yes, chap we made redundant. Wants to hold onto the car for a couple of months. I'd really like to. If thats ok?
HRD: Sure, ok. Thats cool.
CEO: ................Really? Oh........
HRD: Sure. I'll get someone to make the arrangements.
CEO: Thats.....wonderful. Thank you.
CEO: Yes.
HRD: Can I ask you a question?
CEO: ...........yes
HRD: You sound strange, different, relaxed. Where are you?
CEO: I'm away. On holiday.
HRD: Ohhh....really?........and you phoned to ask my permission? OK well....enjoy your holiday CEO.
CEO: You too HRD, you too.
HRD: But I'm not.....

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Be careful what you wish for.....

I'm afraid I'm going to get serious on this one.....

I've been spending a lot of time recently thinking about identity.  Who I am, how I define myself, what is important to me?  At the same time I have been having a sporadic debate with Laurie Ruettimann about the connections between work and identity.  

Laurie's view as far as I understand it is that we work for money and for no other reason.  She argues that, "loving your job because it makes some kind of ’spiritual sense for you’ is not an inalienable right. It’s a luxury afforded to a privileged class of people."

I don't agree with this, I believe there is a greater psychological need that humans satisfy through purposeful endeavor and that work satisfies this need.  And more so, that this is as much a working class need as it is a middle class need.  In fact, its a base human need.

History is littered with examples of workers fighting to protect their place of employment, look at the Swan Hunter shipyard, the Rover factory and of course not forgetting the entire coal mining industry.  Now I'm not saying that some of the fight wasn't about protecting jobs and therefore pay, but it was also about identity.  Communities grew up and existed around these enterprises, workers were proud to be part of them, generations of families worked together in the same location.

Then there is the research into the impact of unemployment on psychological well being.  It should come as no surprise that unemployed people feel higher levels of anxiety, depression, dissatisfaction with their life, poor self-esteem, negativity regarding the future than in matched groups of employed people.  This isn't just about money, this is about self worth and sense of purpose.

I wonder whether the difference isn't that in the past it was easier to identify with our employers.  We were proud of the boats we built, the cars we made, the coal we dug.  We knew what we were doing, who we were doing it for and why.   We most probably also knew who our employer was.  These days, with globalization  our bosses could be anyone, anywhere.  We produce things that we don't understand and provide services that people don't really need or want. We're in a world where a banker used to be a proud honorable occupation, but these days they are scum of the earth.

And at the same time we are constantly being told that our lives need to be more enriching, we need to be in the gym, every day, socially networked up to our eyeballs, we need to be green and organic and in touch with our inner self.  In turn, HR professionals (most of whom wouldn't recognise original thought if it jumped on them from behind and pulled their eyelids down over their knees) try to create more far fetched "engagement" strategies to bridge this gap between the increasing complex desires and the increasing complex industries.

Employers' attempts to engage employees aren't part of some nefarious plan to mind wash people (well in most cases!) they are merely cack-handed attempts to try and explain the link between employee and employer in increasingly complex businesses and industries.  I remain convinced that if you asked 100 people the simple question, "Tell me about yourself?" that over 90% would tell you about their employment within 60 seconds.  And that is simply because for so many of us, work is an important part of who and what we are.  And thats ok.  

We work long hours and even if the lucky ones are cash rich, they are time poor.  Work has always formed part of the definition of self and this is nor a bad thing.  Turning it into a purely financial transaction makes us a commodity....human capital.  At that is the start of a slippery slope that would suit many people with troubling views on the employment relationship.

Laurie, I respect your views, you raise some interesting points and have a lively and informative blog.  But on this one you are wrong.  Dangerously wrong.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Never judge a book....

A conversation today prompted me to think about the power of names.  Now I know what you're thinking, hardly an indepth critique of the Ulrich model....but I have some sort of flu....so this is about as much as I can get my head around.

When we have children and we think about names, do we really think about how this will impact on them in the future?  Clearly there are the extremes, like this.  My favourite has to be Jenny Taylor! But there are also the more mundane down to earth prejudices that we have against certain names.  

Clearly there will be cultural differences on this one, for example the pretty girls name in French, Manon is the shout you make in soccer when your teammate has someone about to tackle them.  Never mind the teasing during the teenage years!

But for example would you really see Wayne as your Finance Director, or Chelsea as your MD? The names we have automatically prejudice our view one way or another in relation to a person.  It could be they have the name as the girl at school that pulled our hair or the boy that tried to kiss us behind the bike shed.  It could be that we perceive the name to be of a certain class or education.

And that is  before we get into all the incorrect spelling of names.  So lets knock that one right out of the ring first time.......it doesn't make you unusual, it makes your parents look illiterate.....

So what names do you dislike, what makes your teeth grate, who goes straight into the big cylindrical filing cabinet under the desk?  Would you give a shot to a Sharon a job to a Jeremey, a career to a Colin? 

Or is it just me and the Night Nurse......

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Power Pointless

On the slog in on Friday morning I sat next to a lady (who I am sure is perfectly charming).  She was tapping away on her laptop and in such circumstances I believe its beholden on the train neighbour (in this case yours truly) to inspect the content.  Purely for academic purposes you understand.

Anyway the lady was working on a Power Point presentation on some benign subject and was adding little animations and clip art characters.  And I started to think just how patronising Power Point presentation are.  I mean just because it has a lightbulb picture on it I'm not going to think its a good idea.  Because its in a thought bubble over some ridiculous cartoon character head I'm not going to remember it.  And as for those little beanie men......it's all just stuff and nonsense.  

People who create these things.....STOP! You are auto-fellating.  Sure it makes you feel good and you get a nice warm glow on completion.  But its unproductive, pleases no-one else and leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.  Worst of all its unpleasant to behold.

When I came home that evening, my seven year old daughter was knocking up a PP presentation on fire for her homework.  And that friends is about the level of this noxious little program.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Discipline me baby!

Its been an emotional week for a number of reasons - mostly good.  One of the things thats needed doing in amongst all of this is dealing with the situation I described here.  It was all going swimmingly.  And then this.....

HRD: CEO....I live to serve.....
CEO: Funny.  Where are we with that thing, that situation?
HRD: Swine flu?
CEO: No the naughty people
HRD: Interesting you should mention that.  I'm just writing the outcome of the disciplinary now, drafting the letter.
CEO: Can I see it before it goes?  You know, I have known all the parties involved for a very long time.
HRD........uhhhh......yep.......s'pose so
CEO:  Excellent.  Next five minutes?  Bye.
HRD: Crap.....

Ten minutes later after aforementioned letter has been sent.

CEO: HRD?  Ummm I mean....this.....ummm....this letter
HRD: Which letter?
CEO: Which letter!  The one you just sent me!
HRD: Ohhh.....that one....
CEO: Yessss that one.  Well, I mean.....its a bit formal...
HRD:.....it is a disciplinary warning....
CEO:I know....its just....ummm....well he really won't like it...
HRD: .....it is a disciplinary warning....
CEO:  I mean, can't we tone it down.....make it more ambiguous?
HRD: .......an ambiguous disciplinary warning?
CEO:  Well if we send this he will be seriously pissed off!
HRD:....its a.........
CEO: ....disciplinary warning....I know....you keep on saying....I just thought maybe I could reword it, soften it down, make it look like he's not at fault.....
HRD:  Thats a really good idea, I think blame should be kept out of disciplinary situations...
CEO:  Look I know you won't like it but, can't we just keep this informal, light touch, between us.....
HRD:  Ummm....I think we went past that point when we sat down in the hearing.....
CEO:  I mean tell me if you think I'm mad?
HRD: You're mad
CEO: Really?
HRD: Yep
CEO: Well OK, how about this.  I mean, if he gets this from his manager all fucking hell is going to break loose.  So I thought....how about it comes from........
HRD: Nope!
CEO: How about.......it comes from...
HRD: No!
HRD: Its not happening.
CEO: Really?
HRD: Really.  
CEO: I thought you'd say that.  Ok well, I'll take the letter home, rewrite it and send it back to you tomorrow.  OK? Ciao

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Training chivalry

I was sitting on the old packed out commuter train this week, smug with the fact that a) I had a seat b) I was on an earlier train and c) I had a copy of the new Jim Collins book (yeah I know it doesn't take much).  When I saw a lady get on in her 50s and looking around seeing there were no seats.  She clearly was not a commuter and had not bought into the madness that is our daily lives.

Now my instinct in this situation is to give my seat up (thank you mum and dad).  In the same way that I hold doors open, let women onto the tube first, offer my coat if its cold etc.  And in this case I followed my instinct.  The lady was very grateful and as some weird anti-Pavlovian reward, I got to stand for 45 minutes.  

More interestingly , what followed was a Mexican wave of chivalry.  Every time a lady stepped into the carriage men were fighting to offer her their seat (apart from the three young male bible students...but that's a whole other story!).  The reactions of the women were mixed.  Some accepted, some looked decidedly put out.

So I ask, in a world where we are suppose to strive for equality, does this make me chivalrous, or does it make me anti-feminist?  And should I really care or just keep on doing what I am doing?

chivalry • noun courteous behaviour, especially that of a man towards women.

feminism • noun the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of sexual equality.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Is it all balls?

A few years ago one of my team members came to me at their wits end. Whilst hugely talented, they were struggling to win over their client group to the need to apply progressive HR management tools with their teams.

Now lets be clear these guys were uber difficult, think the bastard offspring of engineering, logistics and procurement and you’re not even getting close….engagement scores were rock bottom, turnover was high and it was easier to recruit vegan Ronald McDonalds than it was to get people into that area.

Now at that time a guy called Roy Keane was managing a soccer team called Sunderland. He had taken them from the bottom of the 24 team league to the top, within a year, and with very little change in personnel or investment.

And if there is one thing that turned these guys on it was football……

So together we hit upon a plan and built an intervention based on the teachings of Roy Keane…..

1) motivation,
2) teamwork,
3) shared goals and vision,
4) understanding how our role contributes to the vision,
5) recognition,
6) feedback on performance

It worked a dream, they bought in and before we knew it, very talented HR professional was leading them forward. Engagement scores went up and people started to consider working there as a career move that didn’t spell ultimate death. Now it wasn’t all down to the work of Mr. Keane but it started to engage minds.

Then yesterday I saw this and it reminded me of the Roy Keane tale. But at the same time it started me thinking is this another HR lesson to be learnt from soccer.

“…now any player late for a meeting, training or travel will have 10 per cent of their weekly salary deducted. That increases to 20 per cent for a second offence and 40 per cent for a third”

Now that’s my kind of management and surely worth a pitch to the Board!

Monday, 4 May 2009

Hell really is other people

I've been struggling over this situation and this post for the past ten days. 

A department manager (in his late 50s...necessary info for later) comes to me, he has been touting around a proposal for a new innovation to the board and he wants to talk through how he sees it working.  Essentially he wants the CEO and I to agree to take his team (of two including him) out of their current business unit and place them in a different one, so they can work on this project.  Its not a bad idea, but it doesn't warrant the +£250k overhead and doesn't account for the need we will need to backfill into the current business.

We meet, we talk, we say no.  He struggles with this.  He can't understand why we don't do it, he says that if we can't deliver this he thinks his team report (of one) will leave.  In fact, he says she has an offer from our major competitor.  Only this solution would retain her, we need to do it.  We say that whilst we want her to stay, we can't change the organisational structure for her and could they not work on the project along with their day jobs?  Or alternatively we have this vacancy which she would be great for...in another company.  He rebuffs us.

She resigns.  He again comes back and says that the only way we can save her is by giving the green light for the project.  Again we say no.  He comes back and says that she will take one of our major clients with her.....we need to start this project for him.  We ask what he is doing to mitigate the risk with the client?  He comes back and says that she will take two clients.  We ask what he is doing to mitigate the risk with the two clients and suggest what he needs to do.  He returns and says that she thinks our actions to mitigate the risks are aggressive.  He says that he cannot believe that we are doing this....letting her go.

His team member is in her early thirties.  He the manager is having an affair with her.  Now he has lost his lover (during work at least), his honour and our respect.  He may not be far from losing his job.  

Work is work.  Life is life.  Mixing the two is both wrong and dangerous.

Friday, 1 May 2009

You give me fever

CEO: HRD? C'est moi
HRD: Wassup.....
CEO: This f***ing pig sickness thing....maladie des cochons
HRD: Mmhmmm
CEO: I mean.....do we have a strategy?  We need to give the board some reassurance.
HRD: Do we......
CEO: We do.....
HRD: OK, well....I have it on my list of things to do....along with world peace
CEO: I mean, what do we do if it spreads?
HRD: I thought we'd try not to catch it....
CEO: You're not f***ing funny.  Anyway I need you to come up with a f***ing plan and PDQ.
HRD: CEO I'm not sure you realised when you hired me, but actually I have quite a lot of experience in the niche area of Swine Fever
CEO: Really?....Fantastic!  Thats excellent...................you're joking aren't you?
HRD: Mmhmm 
CEO: Just get it f***ing done