The HR Juggler

Archive for the ‘Development’ Category


The CIPD’s HRD conference seems a long time ago already. However, there is much on the session I attended on Senior Female Leadership Talent that I have not yet written about and much of the content has continued to percolate around my brain long after the conference finished and initial blogs were shared. The topic matter isn’t easy, but that’s never a good reason in itself not to share the content and reflect further on it…far from it!

Catherine Sandler of Sandler Consulting was the second speaker of this session and she shared her research, experience and insight on the topic of senior female executives, which was fascinating and could easily have filled a session in its own right…if not several. I hope to do it…and her…justice, in the overview I have pulled together below.

Catherine posed the question of what motivates women and asserted that any discussion around enabling more women to perform at senior executive levels has to delve into this. Whilst motivation is of course individual, the most common themes for women are working on something that they care about, feeling valued and feeling that they can make a difference.  This is markedly different from the answers that men typically give to the same question.

Catherine described a flip-side to what women at their best can deliver, which is that relatively few women are comfortable with leadership and the concept of power. Women often want to be liked and therefore may feel that there is a trade-off that they have to make to become successful, which can set up an inner conflict and potential for guilt or insecurity.  Harmony tends to be important to women and there can be a real fear of how they are perceived by others, particularly if they believe they are seen as arrogant, bossy or selfish.

As a consequence to this, women can have a tendency to avoid conflict, which at a senior level manifests itself with how they interact with their peers, their ability to hold team members to account, and the way in which they interface with their boss. Catherine’s findings indicated that women find it hard to be assertive in these situations, which is reflected in the use of language.  Women are apparently four times more likely than men to start a boardroom contribution with an apology (e.g. “I’m sorry if this has already been covered”) or a modifier (e.g. “it may be that I have misunderstood what you are saying, but…”). I found the issue of language as it relates to women in the workplace a fascinating one and I have already found myself paying greater attention to it, both for myself and those around me.

From language, we moved onto the issue of delegation, why it is often so difficult to do effectively, yet is crucial for career progression and can be seen as real limitation if an individual is not perceived to be good at it. Men and women both expressed a fear failure in their reluctance to delegate; however after this, the reasons for not delegating became markedly different by gender. For women, the other reasons they resisted delegating tended to be a sense of perfectionism, an excessive sense of high personal standards and a wish to protect their team. For men, it was typically because they felt they could do the task much better and faster than anyone in their team below them and often also a wish to retain control.

Linked to this issue of delegation, Catherine also asserted that in her experience, women tend not to be as good at managing their own careers and that one of the key elements of doing this is for the female leader to hold their existing team to account, which in turn creates more time for an individual to focus on their own self and aspirations and how to fulfil them. Apparently this applies to surprisingly senior women and she painted a powerful picture of some of the limitations that women can inadvertently place on themselves and their progression.

Catherine shared some interesting insights in terms of work that she had done with women through coaching and impact programmes to provide support and help them to overcome some of their inherent disadvantages in the senior management teams they work in. As an exercise around leadership brand, she asked each woman to identify three qualities that set them apart as a leader. What was interesting was that words such as supportive, compassionate and kind are frequently used in the early stages of this exercise: all of which are undoubtedly true for the individuals as personality traits and personal values, but as leaders the individuals are much more than this.  Catherine described her role as help each woman to turn their leadership brand into something that inspires both them and others around them and remarked that almost always the senior women she works with are far better than they think they are.  In many ways it is a mental and psychological journey for each woman, to own a description that does them justice. This has a huge confidence building impact and Catherine was passionate about the fact that this should be done at the most junior levels of any organisation.

Another exercise that Catherine described was asking the women to bring along a situation that they find difficult and provide an opportunity to role play and practice in a safe environment. The issue of language is key and she helps women to develop assertive techniques in the words and phrases that they use and to ensure that their own objectives and the core message are well prepared and clearly defined. Follow-up sessions after a three-month period and support from peers are helpful in identifying, using and developing their assertive voice. Self-insight is very important in order to shift some of the inherent gender disadvantages to a more positive stance.

This brought Catherine’s part of the session to an end and there followed a lot of interesting questions and engaged debate. I think it’s important to note that there was no suggestion that the above applies to all women and clearly generalisations have to be treated with caution. What was fascinating to me though, was that the content of the session was not merely about flexible working, equal pay and childcare, but that it moved beyond into some really thought-provoking ideas about how talent and diversity can be nurtured within organisations paying attention to some of the less obvious issues around language, motivation, delegation and core values. That can only be a good thing.

Before I attended this session, I was definitely not in favour of women only groups and leadership and impact training targeted specifically to certain genders. I’m not sure I have been completely won over, but I am certainly more open-minded now that there can be some benefits. I do have a remaining niggle though that we shouldn’t get too caught up with gender per se, but that we should ensure that the relevant development is available to all who need it, and that the prevailing culture of an organisation will make a huge difference to the ability of women to progress within it.

I’d love to know what you think!


One of the most thought-provoking sessions I attended at the CIPD’s HRD Conference was entitled Senior Female Leadership Talent: how should female talent be developed for executive roles? It is no coincidence that it has taken me a significant length of time to write about it: there was plenty of food for thought and much to reflect on, both during and after the panel discussion. I had some reservations in advance about attending this particular session – part of me is inherently uncomfortable with intense discussions about any particular group in the workforce in isolation – yet I was glad that I did, as it was informative, engaging and interesting.

The audience was predominantly female and the pragmatic, engaging tone was quickly set by Dianah Worman, the CIPD’s Public Policy Adviser for Diversity, stating that it was “deeply depressing to still being having the conversation about why we don’t have more women in exec roles” and posing a number of questions, such as whether women deselect themselves from senior roles, whether the potential threat of boardroom quotas from Europe would do more harm than good and the need to retain the senior women in leadership roles, as well as simply achieving the numbers.

The point was also made early that there are, of course, no easy answers and that much of the content within the session could be applied to diversity in general: the need for fresh thinking, valuable insights and different perspectives within organisations and for businesses to reflect the diversity of their customer groups at every level of the company.  The starting point for conversations about diversity has to be the business imperative and benefit.

Fiona Cannon, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion from Lloyds Banking Group, shared some of their recent experience, and some of the background that led them to making some interventions aimed at increasing the number of senior execs within the organisation. Fiona described how, although 64% of staff were female, this was unevenly spread throughout the business and that at the point they decided to take action, women comprised 80% of clerical roles, 45% of junior management roles and just 17% of senior management roles. It was key for them as a business to have women in key decision-making roles, which had an impact of the customer base.

Lloyds Banking Group realised that they needed to do more to understand the specific issues at play and through a feedback process including focus groups and one-to-one interviews they identified a number of common factors: firstly lack of flexible working opportunities and a “19th century model of work” (for example working 9am-5pm, between the ages of 18 and 60) and a lack of role models of successful, senior women in the organisation. Their assessment of the most senior women within the company also showed that there were very few with real P&L experience and that most had become senior by virtue of being functional experts. When they looked closely elsewhere in the organisation, this was also reflected in more junior roles and they identified this as being an issue. Another common factor was the issue of the confidence of the women themselves that they were capable of doing exec roles to the required standard and cultural issues that had resulted from the command and control style from the top management during the merger period. Fiona made a great point that even if organisations have very good diversity at all levels of management, it is crucial not to become complacent, as it can potentially change very quickly, if other events affect the culture.

Fiona described the importance of undertaking long-term interventions rather than short-term initiatives and that the first action Lloyds Banking Group took was to address the behaviours that had become prevalent during the merger by introducing a personal code of behaviour and expectations and ensuring that these are built into the leadership programme and in every layer of management, with a view to these permeating the culture. This was described as very much an ongoing work in progress.

Lloyds Banking Group also set up an impact development programme for senior women, which included executive coaching and a sponsor (male or female) at the most senior level of the business. Fiona admitted that she had been cynical as to whether this programme would work, but stated that it had had phenomenal impact within the organisation, partly because it helped to build networks for women internally, which become a source of ongoing professional support for the women involved and also because it helped them to feel valued in the organisation. She reported that all of the women who have gone through this programme are keen to support and mentor other women in the organisation and that it has had a powerful ripple effect. The programme was initially focussed on the 40 most senior women and has now been extended to the top 100.

Fiona also related how they had targeted the layer of junior management, which often formed the ceiling for women at Lloyds Banking Group, beyond which many did not seem to progress. They developed a long-term intervention to develop junior management roles by assessing 40 or 50 women with high potential at this level and building a programme round them, to provide support and encourage them into business roles. They focussed a lot of their efforts on identifying role models for women one level up from where they were currently work, as well as role models who are working differently..the idea that she eloquently described of footprints in the snow. Recognising that not everyone necessarily wants to do the top job in an organisation, instead tapping into and developing the aspiration to get to progress to the next level up, paving the way for them to follow literally one footprint at a time.

All of this was really only about half of the content of the session (!) and rather than try to squeeze the remainder into one very long blog post, I am going to deal with the content delivered by the second speaker, Catherine Sandler of Sandler Consulting, in a separate post.

So….more to come from me on this…but I’d love to know what you think about what I’ve shared from the session so far.


So, it’s been a little while…hello again! As an irregular blogger, I have been very fortunate to be invited to the CIPD’s HRD Conference and Exhibition today with my very own press pass and a remit to blog about any and all of the sessions that I have attended. I won’t literally be singing for my supper…your ears might not ever be the same again!…but I will be writing a series of posts about the event as a fair quid pro quo for the kind invite.

The first session I attended this morning was on mentoring in the workplace and it was predominantly based on the experience of St Mungo’s of setting up a scheme in their workplace, with Jordana Ramalho, the Head of Inclusion and Diversity as the main speaker. What I liked about it was the practical and hands-on nature of the learning that was shared – I think Jordana would be the first to admit that none of it was necessarily rocket science or revolutionary in its content, but her insight was shared with enthusiasm, authenticity and integrity, whilst engaging the audience and encouraging questions, input and challenges. All of those things go a long way in any presentation and it was great to hear genuine passion, pride and commitment to the business she worked in.

After covering the difference between coaching and mentoring and briefly discussing the different types of mentoring styles (imparting of wisdom and sharing advice “when I was a lad…”, compared to a more consultative stance based on finding solutions to problems, and a more laissez-faire stance of letting the individual drive the approach), Jordana emphasised the importance of identifying a mentoring style which suited the organisation, or specific groups within it. Within St Mungo’s, the mentoring programme that they developed for their apprentices favoured a directive or advisory approach, whilst the wider scheme they developed for other more experienced  members of staff was more based on active listening, reflection and motivational interviewing, perhaps requiring more action from the individuals themselves. From my perspective, I have a lingering doubt whether mentoring styles should be tailored to an individual rather than an organisation, as we are all different and respond accordingly, but perhaps I am splitting hairs.

There was a great point made by the speaker, which is that mentoring already takes place in all organisations, regardless of whether HR or management have set up  formal scheme. The key is to get under the skin of the organisation, find out what is happening first and what works well informally, before launching any formal scheme. I loved the reminder that mentoring is essentially so organic and will take place in any organisation where people with differing levels of experience and skills work alongside each other.

Jordana described 7 steps to setting up a mentoring scheme, as follows –

  • Establish the need, through doing mix of qualitative and quantitive evidence, understand the potential barriers and how you believe mentoring will help. St Mungo’s did this through staff surveys and focus groups.
  • Define the aim – is it professional development or something different? How does it fit with the organisational business objectives? Who will be your target group?
  • Consultation – identify an appropriate mechanism to consult with staff and test your proposal, potentially through focus groups
  • Decide on approach. I was interested to learn that St Mungos chose to run their mentoring scheme for the defined period of one year, rather than leaving it open-ended. They specifically targeted the focus groups and launched it to people who had expressed an interest in being mentored, before opening it up to everyone. It was specifically linked it to the existing apprentice programme rather than being entirely stand-alone. They gave real thought to how they were going to evaluate the program upfront and decided to it by means of testimonials and feedback
  • Secure the buy-in. St Mungos had developed lots of this through the consultation process. They formulated and delivered a one day training programme for mentors, as well as drafting guidelines on the process and the benefits of taking part in a mentoring scheme, for example sharpening up coaching skills, as well as being good for an individual’s professional development. Interestingly, there was no specific mention of training for mentees and this may be a gap in the current process.
  • Time to launch it. St Mungo’s asked mentees to complete a short application form to ascertain the level of motivation and they encouraged their high performers to be mentors and take part in the one-day training, focussed on active listening skills and the ability to give feedback
  • Match making. Identifying similar interests/objectives and matching across departments where possible
  • Monitoring and evaluation. St Mungo’s made sure they checked in regularly with the mentors and the mentees, both formally and informally, particularly at the 3 month point. Both the mentors and mentees were asked to fill out a short feedback survey on what has been learned and achieved, what they might have done differently etc.

There followed some interesting questions and challenges from the audience, for example from a larger organisation where they felt that their mentoring scheme had died, as it was too targeted to newcomers and existing staff were increasingly unwilling to take on the extra responsibilities of becoming a mentor. Other organisations shared that being mentored can be seen as a weakness or can work well initially in the induction phase but tends to peter out. There were no silver bullets of answers from the panel, although there were sensible suggestions and solid advice offered, for example on reselling the benefits of the scheme, making sure individuals take responsibility, focussing not just on soft skills but on hard technical skills too and highlighting the personal and organisational benefits. Inevitably, culture plays a key role and one insight that I really valued from St Mungo’s was that in their business, one of the clear objectives in considering managers for senior positions is whether they have they undertaken mentoring and demonstrated that they can develop staff. Now, there is an incentive to take part, right there!

Other learnings that were shared were reminders not to underestimate the importance of sideways moves, the fantastic opportunity for networking that mentoring creates, the power of sharing case-studies of individuals who have benefited from a good mentoring relationship and the requirement to combine a strong mentoring scheme with other means of development. There was also some brief discussion of upward and peer mentoring, both of which I would have liked to hear more about. Interestingly, in the context of a charity who sourced mentors externally because there were insufficient people available internally, the strong advice was given to never compromise on the matching process of mentor and mentee. Whilst this advice was in response to a very specific set of circumstances, it also provided valuable food for thought in the importance of the matching process within all organisations.

And that was it for the first session! Informative, helpful, engaging, valuable reminders and pointers on an important topic that would be possible to implement in an organisation even on the most limited of budgets. I found it helpful and hope you will do too…let me know if you think that anything important has been missed!

I’m not a runner. I don’t enjoy running. I never run for pleasure, only out of sheer necessity to catch the train when I am late leaving work.

Except, somewhere in the midst of training for the moonwalk, I became attracted to the idea of maintaining and improving my new-found fitness and I started to think the previously unthinkable, that I could perhaps learn to love running. And during May, whilst I was extending my training walks to 16, 18, 20 miles and starting to understand the power of saying yes, I agreed to run a half marathon with some fantastic work colleagues in October in aid of Tommy’s.

I am struggling to convey the enormity of the challenge to me at that point – I knew that I couldn’t run even half a mile without stopping and I wasn’t willing to risk my already strained muscles by starting to train for running before I had completed the moonwalk and rested properly. So it wasn’t until the end of June that I started to do my first short runs and could put my determination and blind faith to any sort of test. It’s not easy learning to run, but I had at least developed some good stamina and was able to run for five minutes and walk for one minute over three miles during my first foray into running.

I’ve been going out for a run three times a week and I’m starting to reap the benefits – tomorrow I will be running 25 minutes without stopping, walking for a minute and then running a further 25 minutes. If I stick to my training plan (which I will!) in another week I will be running for 45 minutes, walking for 1 minute and running for a further 20 minutes. My body is in training and my mind is too…I know I can do this now and I’m starting to enjoy it. I love the fact that I am doing something that I thought I couldn’t, pushing against my own perceived limits and that I have this huge and daunting challenge to aim for.

It turns out, as ever, that the only real limitations are in my own head.

I am becoming a runner. I enjoy running and I will keep running for pleasure and necessity. If I can do it, so can you!

I do have a sponsorship page, but I know many of you have already sponsored me for the moonwalk, for which I am already hugely grateful. I’d love to hear any great fundraising ideas that you may have and will keep you posted with how I get on 🙂

How much do you invest in the leadership capability of the younger employees in your company? Those individuals who are at the very start of their careers and who will undoubtedly be the senior managers of the future?

Today was hugely special, as we held the first Young Leaders Conference for our division, attended by 50 staff under the age of 30, as well as some of the current (invariably older!) senior managers and directors. Inspired by our employees who attended One Young World, the intention for our internal event was to enable people to network, to learn about leadership, to share experiences and to enthuse and engage individuals who have huge amounts to offer, if we take the time to listen. It is a two-day event held at the conference facility of London Zoo with a dinner this evening, attended by Informa‘s CEO and Group HR Director, as well as our divisional directors. It’s worth noting that we ran an application process open to everyone under the ago of 30, rather than doing any form of preselection.

And honestly, today was brilliant. The energy in the room was fantastic, there was a real freshness of perspective and thirst for learning demonstrated in all the delegates, and best of all there was an ongoing buzz of conversation: people getting to know each other, forging connections and making friends. Some inspirational speakers, practical tools, open dialogue about how senior managers had built their careers and made the most of internal and external opportunities, collaboration and interactive and engaging exercises, culminating in a memorable whole team exercise involving a drumming and percussion workshop at the end of the day.

It was a great day and I’m sure tomorrow will be too. Time will tell of course, what the long-term impact of this type of event will be…but I definitely have high hopes of a very bright future indeed 🙂


So, last week Cranfield published their latest report on women in UK boardrooms and confirmed that women now make up 15.6% of the boards in FTSE 100 companies, compared to 12.5% last March and a government target of 25% of female directors by 2015. In addition, the number of all-male FTSE 100 boards dropped to 13 from 2010’s figure of 21, and, for the first time, a minority of FTSE 250 companies now have all-male boards. Perhaps interestingly, or inevitably, the report found that a high proportion of female appointments to FTSE boards have been made despite those women having no prior FTSE board experience and that 72% of new FTSE 250 female directors had no prior FTSE experience.

Coverage of this topic has ranged from praising it as a record high in business, a general consensus that more needs to be done to achieve the targets set and speculation on the reasons that we have still have so comparatively few women at this level in business, including the old chestnuts of cost of childcare, speed of return from maternity leave and availability of flexible working…all of which are valid points, but I am not wholly convinced that they represent the full picture. Further unpicking of the report also questions whether the rise is as dramatic as it seems, or whether in fact the real situation is plateauing, given that once you break the figures into Executive and Non-Executive Directors, only 5,5% of Executive Director roles are women. That matters, as the Exec Directors are internal, have far more involvement with day-to-day running of the business and generally a much stronger operational influence.

It is also worth mentioning that there is a similar proliferation of female Non-Execs in Norway, whose government introduced legislation requiring companies to have 40% of female Directors and gave them five years to comply. This should in no way detract from the achievement that they have made; but given that an individual can hold several Non-Exec Director roles concurrently for many different organisations, I am not wholly convinced that the gender balance in the boardroom is quite as equal as it might appear at first glance. 

Much as I find the attention given to these stats faintly depressing, the reality is that they also make me uneasy. It becomes so simple to make assumptions and generalisations on figures alone, targets that are devoid of context. I can’t help wondering where the value is in a pure statistic of the number of women on boards, without any sense of what types of role they are doing, what the experience of working in that environment is like, whether they believe that they are perceived as equal to their male colleagues, whether gender equality is an issue for them. Also, what about the next level down? If we are serious about increasing the number of women in board level roles, then should there not be some form of measurement of senior managers within organisations? Or indeed how people progress through the business, how much investment is given to their development, how valued they are, financially or otherwise. Some human element to the numbers, a meaningful and long-term investment and commitment to equality of opportunity.

My perspective on this cannot help but be influenced by the fact that I work in an organisation where there is an even gender split at the most senior level of the business. Diversity matters hugely, but it’s not just about making sure that there is a strong representation of women at senior levels, it is about enabling people who are from all types of background to thrive and succeed. Giving individuals the chance to shine and then appointing the best person for the job. In my view, if only certain types of individuals are able to succeed and be promoted in an organisation, it is not so much a gender issue as a cultural one…and there isn’t any amount of statistics and external measurement that will improve that culture, if the current leadership is not bought into effecting change.

So, once the headlines have receded, we are left with just numbers, which may be getting better, or may be staying mostly the same. I would absolutely like to see more women on boards, companies reflecting more accurately the diversity of customers they serve and a truly level playing field for all individuals to develop and progress. But let’s not fool ourselves into believing that the numbers show this yet or that the issue lies merely in having senior bums on seats. We have a long way to go and some organisations and sectors need to do a lot of figuring out how to get there…and in some cases, whether they even want to.

I would love to hear from you…what do you think?


Flora Marriott was one of the first people I met from the #connectingHR community and her laid back, positive energy and affirming, engaging actions make her such a pleasure to interact with both online and offline. Flora is also a not-so-secret HR and Learning and Development technical geek and is always happy and willing to share her knowledge, collaborate and help others. She is a star…if you don’t know her already, I wholeheartedly recommend that you find and follow her at @FloraMarriott.


It’s April 2011.  I’m in the frenetic city of Manila.   I’m standing in front of 50 employees.  It’s 5pm and their finish time.  Me and two others have been training this group in the web design principles that we are using in the UK.  I’m wrapping up.  

“That’s all for today folks, you’ve been great. Tomorrow we’ll look at selecting appropriate images for the UK culture….”  

 Blah blah blah.  

All of a sudden, the group of Philippine employees start yelling at me.  

“More, more, more!!!”   

Cue grins all round from the training team.  The employees are really yelling at Sam, not me, and I’m bursting with pride. He’s standing next to me (ok, I’ve changed his name).  I met him in May 2010 when he had a bit of a jack the lad reputation and was a data processor.  Here he is now, having delivered the bulk of the training sessions.  The employees love him.  He’s been up to 1am in the morning for four nights now, finishing off the training materials.  In front of the employees he is so articulate, passionate, confident, knowledgable.   This super group of charming Philippine people clamouring for more training, well, it’s a small incident, but it’s memorable for me as a symbol of the wonderful people that I’ve met and played a part in developing. 

My year kind of starts two years ago.  On January 19th 2010 the CEO of the company I worked for brought together a multidisciplinary team of 6, shut us together in a room and asked us to come up with a detailed plan for changing our company’s UK production to a completely new product.  Websites.  And from a standing start, we began in July 2010, and now, as I type, over 40,000 of these products have been produced. Although we were a subsidiary of a much larger company, this project turned us into a start-up in all but name.  We had to recruit and train hundreds of people, start things like wikis and employer employees to play an active part in the learning process, and we all had to learn very rapidly about the digital marketing world, and get a global production system up and running.  And with any start-up or very rapid change, you see people grow and do things they’d never imagined they’d do.  I can think of many people whose careers are now hugely the better for having been a part of this journey.  For example, graduates who’ve learnt new skills and who’ve now gone off to work at Amazon, Microsoft, and so on.  Altogether, it was enormous fun, very challenging, draining at times, and demanded a great deal of energy.  A proper roller coaster.  But a privilege to be a part of.   

I’ve left that company now – most of the support functions have been disbanded as part of a wider restructure in the parent company.  I’ll be looking for a new desk in the new year.  But I have so many positive emotions about my last year – above all, the amazing people I’ve met, and having been lucky enough to work for a fabulous manager who gave me an environment in which I could do my stuff and perform.  I’ve come away with some friends for life, more skills than I went in with, and the knowledge that the work I did was useful.  What more can a person ask for?!

My low? Oddly enough, it is right before that journey to the Philippines.  I was working crazy hard, stupid hours, living away from home during the week, juggling a lot of projects, and we’d had a few months of operational problems.  (Imagine, an HR team of 3 of which I was one, that is simultaneously having to manage lots of downsizing AND a bring in a whole new workforce.  A ratio of 3 HR folks, to at one point, about 700 employees).  A good friend phoned, the night before I was due to fly out, and I said I couldn’t meet up as I was too busy.  My friend was unimpressed at hearing my stressy voice, and told me how I’d got work right out of perspective in my life.  When I left the company, he said, there would come a time when no one would remember what I had done there.  Later on, I realised he was right.  But keeping life in balance all of the time is hard.  There always are times when we devote a disproportionate amount of energy to one aspect at the expense of another.  I think the important thing is to rectify it and not be lopsided all of the time.  

So I did….I took some time out this summer.  And that provided me with my second high point (Alison, am I allowed 2 high points?!!).  It was exactly a year on from my husband having a heart attack, and he was able to hike up a mountain pass, and achieve things he’d never dreamt possible a year ago.  I wrote about it here.   So now, when I go to work, I give it my all and I do try to be remarkable (a la Neil Morrison’s wise words), but now I never forget how it is people – dear family and cherished friends and the wonderful people I meet through my work – people, who truly enrich my life.

Today’s blog post is rather a treat, not least because the lovely Emma (@onatrainagain) is an experienced, talented writer who is currently taking time out from her own very fabulous blog. It has been my pleasure to meet Emma in person during 2011 and she is huge fun to interact with, both online and via Twitter.  I have certainly benefited from at least one of her breakthroughs this year!

Thanks very much to Alison for asking me to write a guest blog for her themed advent calendar this year. I have been known to have my own blog but due to work and study commitments, this is currently gathering dust while I focus my attention elsewhere. I’m sure normal service will resume again next summer, but until then, I shall make the most of being given the opportunity to pen guest blogs whenever I am privileged enough to be asked.

I try very much not to get fixated on the end of one year and the start of another. After years of having resolutions and failing most of them, I have quickly learnt that a fear of failure leads me to avoid them in the first place. This is an obstacle in some ways but in others it actually provides me with the focus that I need in order to work out what I want to achieve and how I will do it. Because it’s not a New Year whim, I find that I am more likely to be successful. I avoid making changes on 1 January because I don’t ‘get’ the concept of it but I can easily see why it might be a good driver for others. All it does for me is bring back the cringe worthy moments as a child singing Auld Lang Syne with my drunk relatives (yes, that really was as bad as it sounds).

Because I am studying at the moment, during the past 18 months I have very much focused on my own personal development. This has been quite difficult at times because I felt like I’d lost my mo-jo. The only issue for me was that getting my mo-jo back wasn’t as simple as when Dr Evil stole Austin Powers’ and it being later retrieved from a test tube.

During the course of the year I have had two major breakthroughs and although they may seem quite trivial to some, they are actually massive achievements for little old me.

First up is my overwhelming fear of networking. For years I have avoided any networking like the plague. This is for a number of reasons but top of my list was that I thought people wouldn’t like me, plain and simple. My line manager has spent a lot of time trying to convince me that when you turn up at networking events, people will rarely turn their back on you and/or deliberately not talk to you. It’s irrational when I think back to earlier this year when I was brave enough to grace the Connecting HR unconference with my presence. I still remember how I felt now. The nerves didn’t hit me until I was on the train there, at which point I felt so unwell that I thought of just getting the next train home. However, the attendees couldn’t have made me feel more welcome and although it hasn’t completely cured my daftness, I won’t be quite so reluctant next time to attend such an event.

Secondly, I have addressed a deep-seated internal habit of trying to be perfect – constantly. When I say that out loud, I wonder how on earth I didn’t send myself into an early grave just trying to keep it up. After a mini melt-down in the spring, I took some time to reflect and realised that by expecting perfect, I would never achieve it. I don’t think perfect exists and before now I have not been able to work that one out. Okay, I am a bit slow but at least I finally got there. For now, I am trying to be more content with being ‘good’ or ‘very good’. Sad but true, though I’m sure I’m not alone.

So, whilst these things may not be huge, or you may take them for granted, I have made two very big changes in my life. For that I am grateful as now I feel like I’ve taken some large steps towards meeting some of my personal goals.

On a final note, I would like to wish you all a wonderful time over the festive period. I have lots of university work to get through and won’t be partying, so please raise a glass for me and keep your fingers crossed that in May I pass this year and FINALLY I will be fully CIPD qualified. That’ll be another goal to cross off my very long list :).

The title of this blog post comes from Neil Morrison, an HR professional with a gift for provoking debate and discussion and blogger extraordinaire. If you need further proof of either of these points, you should really check out his change-effect blog.

Compatibility or capability…which do organisations really value most highly? And, as HR, how effective are we in challenging the reasons behind certain individuals being promoted and others being overlooked? Do we ourselves become quite institutionalised in the organisations we work in, the decisions we validate, the values that we share and the behaviours we  encourage? At what price the continuation of the status quo?

Last week a close friend was talking to me about his career and his reasons for looking for roles outside his current organisation. This is a huge deal for him as he has worked for his current employer for 15 years and is immensely loyal and hard-working, as well as talented and capable. His recent projects have involved his team saving his company over a million pounds, so you would imagine that he would feel valued and optimistic about his future there. However, in reality, the most senior manager in his team was thanked, celebrated and recognised, but none of the employees actually involved in the work of the project received a single word of thanks. My friend’s perception was that the popular people get promoted, whilst those that are not in the ‘in-crowd’ are forgotten, overlooked and systematically neglected. Compatibility to the organisation rather than capability.

But does any organisation really want capability at the expense of compatibility and can that ever truly work? At least some of that question must boil down to what we understand by compatibility.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines compatible as follows –

  • (of two things) able to exist or occur together without problems or conflict
  • (of two people) able to have a harmonious relationship

In my view, organisations and senior management teams don’t have to be harmonious or devoid of conflict and issues to be effective. In order to successfully bring change to an organisation and for it to continuously improve its effectiveness and commercial success, employees must robustly challenge themselves and others at the most senior level; an activity and mindset that HR professionals must absolutely be part of, in order to be valuable to the organisation they work in and their own profession. Otherwise, what is the point of us?

There has to be a balance here though and capability at the expense of any degree of organisational compatibility can fail spectacularly.  If  individuals are so at odds with the culture of an organisation, which is not ready or willing to ever change, then those individuals will find it near impossible to succeed.

In truth, it is probably too simplistic to view promotion on a simple either/or basis and that the correct balance of compatibility and capability depends upon where an organisation is and what it is aiming to achieve. However, all organisations and all HR professionals would do well to guard against promoting candidates who are high on compatibility and low on capability, as this will surely be a far greater risk than the reverse.

I’ve enjoyed blogging on this topic…plenty of food for thought and lots more questions than answers. I’d love to know your views.



On Friday evening I watched a short documentary on Sir Jimmy Saville. I learnt much about him from watching it and a couple of things have really stuck with me and made me think. Firstly, that during his lifetime, he raised an amazing £45m for charity. Secondly, that during the height of his fame he worked for five years as an unpaid hospital porter in Leeds Hospital and gave  his time voluntarily and regularly to help others. Towards the end of his life, he reflected that his philosophy was one of having fun, “to live every day as if it were Christmas Day and every night as if it were New Year’s Eve.” A complex and multi-faceted man undoubtedly, but an irrefutably generous one, with his time as well as his money.

It made me stop and reflect, not only about personal aspirations, but also on the wider topic of corporate social responsibility. The shift of society’s expectations and companies’ efforts towards corporate social responsibility is a positive one; yet it is so much more powerful when it involves not only companies donating money, but enables individuals to engage with good causes. When companies can strike the balance right to provide opportunities for their staff to donate their time, expertise and skills for charity and fully support them in doing so, it is a powerful developmental and retention tool, which can be hugely motivating.

Our corporate social responsibility actions have had a powerful and at times life-changing effect on some of our staff this year: from the exec team who raised money by climbing Kilimanjaro, the two volunteer programmes we have run to Costa Rica and Thailand, the team who trekked across the Himalayas to raise funds for Japan and the delegation we sent to the One Young World conference. That the volunteer programmes have been open to all staff to apply and that the individuals who were selected by the staff board have ranged from one of the receptionists to senior managers, has been a powerful force for strengthened working relationships, staff engagement and culture change. Giving money is sometimes the easy part; providing a forum for individuals to demonstrate how truly extraordinary they are and how prepared they are to live generously and contribute is by far the most powerful and humbling.

So, here’s to living generously as individuals…and working with our companies to provide opportunities to bring some of that fantastic positive and life-affirming energy to work.

I’d love to hear what you think. 


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