The HR Juggler

Archive for the ‘HR’ Category

Shhh

Slowly, quietly, surprisingly, imperceptibly, the desire to write here again has come back to me. Tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me that when, as now, I am on a steep learning curve in my role, processing thoughts around how I can quickly upskill myself into a new area of expertise, deal with some as yet unchartered opportunities and some recent crushing disappointments, writing it down can be a huge help. I’m often reminded of a counter argument to blogging, that if the audience is truly only yourself, why not just open a word document and start a diary. That’s true and valid enough….and whilst I won’t be pushing these posts through twitter and other social channels – for now, at least –  I do still have a quiet hope that I can engage with others, learn from them, be challenged, challenge in return and develop my thinking.

What’s new? Lots for me – a very different organisation in a very different sector from previously and, in the last couple of months, a move into a centre of excellence role, heading up Talent, away from the generalist business partnering and Head of HR roles that I have done for my whole career to date. A new chapter, both exciting and daunting. Some change on the home front too – my daughters both started secondary schools (yes, plural!) the same week that I started my new role, so it has been full on, overwhelming and a real tangible shift to a new phase. Not so much running for me lately, although that is also on my list to restart and enjoy again.

I’m reading more non-fiction, business related books than I have done for a long time, discovering the joys of podcasts and navigating new ways to learn, absorb and demonstrate new skills, knowledge, expertise, leadership. I want it to work, very much and, at the same time, I also want to work out what I want in the long-term, what my aspirations are, what’s going to make me happy at work, keep me content at home and able to continue balancing and integrating the two. More juggling, just slightly different shaped balls and a different backdrop, I guess!

I had pretty much entirely forgotten how to access this site, let alone post on it – there is still plenty to go wrong on that front! But – tentatively – it’s nice to be back writing and sharing thoughts and who knows, maybe it will become a regular thing again.

So, for anyone who is still reading and still interested….thank you. What’s new with you?

Advent Art

 

This beautiful, apt illustration was created by Simon Heath, who encouraged me to write and share this story and my journey over the last few months.

We don’t talk much about the impact of redundancy in HR. It’s true that everyone’s experience is different…this is mine, shared with you this Advent.

From the other side of the table, I await my inevitable fate, knowing already what you will say. I hear your words; that you’re sorry, that you wish it were different, that it’s the hardest thing you’ve done. I blink back the tears, grit my teeth, will myself to remain strong. Observe the bonds of friendship, of respect, of mutual trust irrevocably shatter, through circumstance, through choice. And, as the conversation ends, I leave.

I leave, avoiding the concerned eyes of colleagues, knowing that the tears will come if I let down my guard, even for a moment. Grateful for a trusted colleague taking me for a coffee and a chat, hugging me as a friend and making the transition into becoming one. Travelling home, adrenaline occupies my day as I answer calls and chat with family, colleagues, friends, lawyer. I am coping, I am OK, it will be fine, it is all fine.

Next morning it doesn’t feel fine, as I wake at 4.30am, unable to sleep. There’s little adrenaline left, only sadness and an aching emptiness, irrational sense of failure and of fear. I find myself in Tesco’s at 5am, trying to buy a mop and realise that I am in shock, pathetic, ridiculous, not myself. Even just one day on, it already seems like old news to others, to everyone, except me. I get lost in streets I have walked along for a decade, I try to leave a cafe without paying…I’m disoriented, discombobulated, disjointed, disrupted.

It’s tough. So much tougher than I realised from my usual side of the table. The well-meaning friends and relatives who ask what your next role will be, before you’ve even managed to extricate yourself from the one you’ve got. Explaining, finding the words for something that still hurts, that still and perhaps always will feel unfair. Knowing that future success depends on confidence, but finding it temporarily bruised and battered. However much it shouldn’t be personal, it damn well feels it. Fighting for self-belief, for fairness, for navigating a positive, constructive way forward.

And yet, life continues. The pieces settle and l start to make sense of them again, start to see a future and the opportunities ahead. Start to plan for a summer of adventure and for an autumn of opportunity. Start to feel that time is a gift and one that I have been given to fully enjoy and make the most of. The sun shines on my summer, the kids and I make a list of things we want to do, the simple pleasures of spending time together, playing with friends, swimming and parks, seeing shows, visiting new places. Time stretches endlessly and starts to heal. I become glad that I left when I did, that new things await, that I have the power to choose. I start to believe in the future, to plan for it, to want it, to understand that the best is still to come.

The sadness still comes from time to time, often unexpected, uninvited and is allowed to take its course, in the understanding that there is a process of bereavement and change at work. It doesn’t last long and comes ever more rarely. Sometimes I’m surprised at how little time has passed since it happened and how far things have moved forward. The sense of disruption continues from time to time too, the discovery that seasonal norms are experienced differently from a place of perceived job security than they are from a less certain landscape. I mind the underlying sense of disruption far less when it affects only me, far more acutely when it impacts those I love. From working patterns, flexibility that has enabled me to be far more physically present for my children than many others who hold similar jobs, to simply having the spare energy and focus to dedicate to peripheral but important tasks that I have clearly taken for granted in the past…!

I’ve never been more grateful for the strong HR network of friends and colleagues. Many of whom will smile and shake their heads and think that their contribution was minimal, but I’ve learnt that the contribution is measured by the true value to the person who receives it, not by what it costs to give. So, for those I spoke to in the immediate aftermath, for the wise and thoughtful advice that has remained with me, for the offers of help that I took up and those that I didn’t, for time spent together and sharing of their own experiences, for the invaluable contacts, for the timely interim opportunity, for asking how I am, for friendship and support…thank you. It means more than I can properly say and has made the world of difference.

So now, I’m building again. I have an interim role that I love doing, I have some great options for new permanent opportunities that I’m exploring and I know that things will be more than OK. So, this Advent, as the daily posts take place over at Kate GL’s blog, my story is one of honesty, of optimism, of letting the light in, of taking each day as it comes and moving forward with integrity and positivity, of thankfulness for the good things and acknowledgement of what is truly important. I wish you and your loved ones a wonderful Christmas, strength, peace, happiness, health and joy as we head into the New Year.

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Back in December, I tweeted this photo of my empty filing cabinet…

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Much the same as any other filing cabinet, you might think….and of course you’d be right! The difference is though, that this empty filing cabinet symbolised a bold move to a wholly different way of working and the start of a genuinely exciting journey for my workplace, the creation of a truly digital hub to coincide with our office move. I am belatedly making good on my promise to blog about it.

The premise was simple. A small number of functions were designated as ‘fixed desk’ workers, for example the telesales teams, who clearly benefit from being office based in a competitive, encouraging environment and enjoy doing so and they moved ‘as is’ with no issues. Other than these functions, anyone could become a homeworker if they wished to and we had around 80 individuals opting to take this choice. All other staff, became by default flexible workers, meaning that they could work from home, from the new office or another alternative location, whenever they chose to, with no requirement of management approval or agreeing working patterns. We very deliberately chose to trust people and treat them as the adults they are.

Let me tell you first what there wasn’t: there were no weighty policies, there was simply a principles document, outlining what I have described above. There was no requirement for management and HR approval or consent, for either homeworking or flexible working: there were simply some basic technical requirements to become a homeworker, for example a minimum broadband speed and health and safety assessment and a clear message that all staff were able to work flexibly. There were no designated offices for anyone at all in the new building, there were no specific desks for individuals, there were no pedestals at the desks, no vast storage capabilities available on site.

But there was investment: investment in laptops, so that staff could work flexibly in the way that we had promised them and investment in digital archiving and online tools to help people communicate more effectively and share documents as needed. There was a system put in place so that people could book desks online, up to a week in advance and plenty of meeting rooms that could be booked and informal meeting spaces, for more ad hoc conversations. There were lockers made available for personal belongings and broad ‘neighbourhoods’ created so that teams could choose to sit with others in their division if they wished to. There was a simple process to access a net payment for those individuals setting themselves up as homeworkers. There was lots of training for managers and for staff on why we were implementing these changes, what the new environment would be like, how to manage in periods of change and uncertainty, what the new parameters were. There was a huge amount of hard work, commitment, enthusiasm and willingness to change, to give something different a try, to trust, to empower.

There have been bumps along the way on this journey, of course there have. But actually, those bumps have been surprisingly few and far between. We have been in our new digital hub and operating our new way of working for over six months now, and the feedback from staff has been overwhelmingly positive. The open plan environment has energised people, the opportunity to work in a truly flexible way and to be trusted is highly prized and valued. The hard and fast metrics will become clearer over time but so far turnover is down, productivity remains good and people are far happier. For us, it is the first step, but undoubtedly a hugely significant one, which is likely to change how we perceive the working environment and our approach to flexible working for good.

Businesses talk a lot about making changes to how people work, to empowering and trusting staff. It has been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to be part of the team that has led the transformation to a completely different way of working and challenged the existing norms. Why is it that we assume people are working harder if we can see them sitting at a desk? That if they are empowered to manage their own time, they will skive off? Do we really need to resort to command and control to get the best out of people? And if we can change how people work and interact with each other, what else can we do and let go of to make work even better? Now that really is food for thought!

Questions? Comments? I’d love to know what you think :).

networking

Networks are funny things, aren’t they? So often people bemoan networking and how hard it is to forge a connection with people, whether that is on a personal or a professional level. Too often there is a cynicism of wondering what someone else may want from you, or the fear of finding yourself stuck with someone who can’t resist giving you a hard sell for their products, or simply not finding the other person of interest. Too often all those potential pitfalls are genuinely the reality.

I’ve learnt a few things about networks over the past couple of weeks. Firstly, that you should build one when you don’t think you really need it and instead spend time figuring out how to contribute to others in your circle that could benefit from any expertise, support or help you can offer, however small and insignificant it may seem to you. The chances are, it won’t feel that way to whoever is on the receiving end.

Secondly, social media can be an amazing place to forge connections with people. Sure, you have to engage and be yourself, be inquisitive and share experiences, but when it works, it is so powerful. The HR and professional networks I have made through Twitter have formed into strong friendship in many cases and unstinting, consistent, solid support in countless others. ConnectingHR really did transform my professional network and continues to do so and boy, am I grateful!

The third thing I’ve learnt about networks? When you have a good one and when you need it, it’s amazing. Thank you to all of those people in mine who have been extraordinarily generous with their time, resources, contacts, offers of help and thoughts. It is hugely appreciated.

My blogging hiatus is over….as of today, I am back in the game!

 

Flora and I have written a joint post for our joint marathon endeavour!

ripple

All of our actions have an effect. Often we don’t know how strong the effect will be until the action has been taken for the first time: whether it will be a small pebble, slipping almost unnoticed into the water’s smooth surface, whether it will be a stone skimming across a lake creating a series of ripples, or whether the ripples gather momentum to form a wave, shifting the landscape around us and our sense of what impact our actions can have.

The beginning of this story is known to most of you. I published a guest blog in January last year, we held an HR for Mental Health event. For me, it has always been not so much those early actions which matter, the short-term reaction to the events that unfolded, but whether and how I can use those actions and the experience to effect tangible change in the business that I work in, even in the smallest of ways. Pressing ‘publish’ on the original blog post was never going to be enough on its own.

We’re now a year on and I’m proud that there are some concrete things that I can report, some ripples that have been created. In early January, my learning and development team and I met with Jon Bartlett to discuss how we could include aspects of mental health and wellness into our management training. Early next month, they, I and another HR colleague are hosting and attending Jon and Charlotte Walker’s (@BipolarBlogger) first Mental Health First Aid training course across two days. Next week, there is a one day mental health awareness course being facilitated for the Heads of HR across my wider organisation, to open a dialogue about the topic, to demystify it and to start to plan what steps and actions we will take elsewhere in the business, however small. I have had some positive conversations about incorporating it into our overall corporate responsibility programme and have been asked to report on what we have done to date and what more is planned.

Ripples start small but they build up, have a cumulative effect. I have learned that if you want change to happen, if you care enough and are in a position to have some influence, sometimes you have to be the one to keep pushing the change, to embody the change and to be the one that continues to bring it up and find a way to make it work. It’s taken me much longer than I might have imagined a year ago, to start to make those ripples and work towards making a wave on my home territory. The important thing though is that it is happening now.

So that’s me, a year on. How about you? And if you are where I was for ages, starting to start conversations, or even just thinking about starting them, knowing that you want to do something more and that your organisation is potentially willing, or might be given the chance….how can I help?

Once you start to make a ripple, it can go a long way… 🙂

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Last time I wrote about progress, having run 14 miles, further than I had ever run before. In my head, I know I am still making progress, even more so than previously, as my long run last Sunday reached the once unimaginable length of 17 miles and I felt OK afterwards. And yet, and yet….this marathon training is messing with my mind and sometimes it’s not the long runs, but the short ones that seem a struggle. Runs where I try and fail to match the pace of the group. Runs where I feel sluggish and slow and can’t seem to propel myself forwards fast enough. Runs where I feel like I am just getting slower, despite all of the hours and miles I am putting in. Runs that leave me feeling bruised and disheartened and inadequate.

Of course, there are a million different reasons for this. I was tired, I didn’t fuel myself up adequately, I’m running with a faster group. It doesn’t change the fact that it feels tough. I know progress isn’t always linear, that setbacks are inevitable in this journey to running a marathon. I also know that it doesn’t matter…to anyone but me…whether I fly round the course or plod at the pace of a tortoise. It’s the doing it that counts and the relentless, unforgiving preparation. But also not just this…it’s the fundraising for an amazing charity, the personal challenge and achievement of doing something I have too often dismissed as impossible, that is the real lasting jewel here, the sense in the apparently nonsensical. The thing that really matters.

So, I had a bad run today. But, no one died. No one would have cared, apart from me, were it not for the fact that it made me upset afterwards. It doesn’t matter, because I will run again another day and next time it will be different and better. Running and marathon training brings with it highs and lows…yet also great learnings in the power that the mind exerts over the body in what is and isn’t possible.

There are 52 days between now and the Brighton marathon on 6th April. I say bring it on!

If you would like to sponsor me in this crazy endeavour, the link is here https://www.justgiving.com/Alison-Chisnell/

The lovely Flora has written an update on our marathon training progress. I will also write about how we are getting on…but for now, she’s done such a brilliant and articulate job, I thought I would share her post here. If you are able to sponsor either or both of us, we’d appreciate it hugely!

The wonderful Simon Heath (@SimonHeath1) has made a brilliant and very generous offer to create a bespoke piece of artwork by means of a blind auction in aid of Mind. Please have a read, take part in the auction and support this fantastic cause.

I will definitely be making a bid and keeping my fingers crossed…he’s one VERY talented man!

Brain

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!


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