The HR Juggler

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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!

footsteps2

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.

Potential really is everywhere and in everyone. We sometimes have such a narrow perception of what constitutes potential in a work environment and assign individuals to categories or labels such as high potential, leadership potential, management potential…the list can go on and on. Inevitably, the names within these categories can change, and the quality of conversation that accompanies this perceived change of status varies enormously, if indeed the subject is raised at all. It is not always the empowering, motivating experience that it could be.

As an experiment, I asked my six year old daughters what they understood by potential. Thinking about it carefully for a few moments, one of them tentatively replied, “having imagination…?” She then went on to explain that her teacher at school had asked the class what they would like to be famous for, and that she had responded by saying that she’d like to be known for playing badminton really well. My other daughter then chimed in to say that she’d like to be famous for being an author and writing books that other people loved to read. At their age, they see no limits to their possible achievements, only potential for making things happen, which is just as it should be. And perhaps there is a real link between imagination and potential, the ability to see beyond where we are now to where we want to be, the courage to try new things and learn new skills, to follow our hearts and always believe we have more to give and to grow.

Enabling people to explore their potential and bring their whole selves to work, including their aspirations and imaginations, can be truly transformational and create huge loyalty, as demonstrated in this recent article about why employees’ big dreams should be every company’s top priority. We sometimes need to be reminded to have the imagination to see not only our own potential, but most certainly to take the time to listen to how other people perceive theirs. Really listen, without assigning labels or categories.

Potential is everywhere, and in everyone…we just need some imagination to see it. What are your perceptions preventing you from seeing or asking today? I’d love to know.

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 🙂

 

It’s funny, isn’t it, how some of the most important and powerful lessons we have to learn, or be reminded of, more than once.

Early in my career, less than a year after I had started my first HR job, I was lucky enough to take part in a leadership ‘outward bounds’ course which took place in the far north of Scotland. It was a memorable experience for a number of reasons and at times quite extreme…from arriving at the remote location by canoe and each member of the team performing an eskimo roll in the freezing loch before entering our accommodation; to abseiling, orienteering, hiking and attempting to climb the 100 foot mast of a boat whilst sailing in less than calm waters. Whether these types of courses are the most effective way of developing leadership skills is a separate question – I shudder slightly to remember parts of it – but overall I enjoyed the experience immensely and certainly learned a lot.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was through my first (and last!) experience of rock-climbing. The learning was two-fold: firstly as an observer on the ground below, my role was to encourage and guide my colleague as she climbed the seemingly sheer rock-face, describing where she could place her hands and feet to progress to the top. Here, I tried my best, but I underestimated the level of help that my colleague (also a first-time climber) needed and the powerful impact that a knowledgeable and confident coach can have on performance. I didn’t communicate to her as frequently, succintly and clearly as required; I dithered and so did she…I lost confidence and so did she…and she didn’t make it to the top.  She held only herself responsible, but I knew that I could have made more of a difference to her performance; particularly when it came to be my turn to climb and I scaled the rock face successfully, thanks almost entirely to the expert, confident, encouraging guidance I was given from another colleague below.

I can’t describe the elation, disbelief and sheer joy I felt when I reached the top…I vividly remember hugging the HR Director and exclaiming that I had done it and him remarking with conviction that I could do anything I wanted, if I set my mind to it, believed in it and worked to make it happen. A powerful lesson learned…and one that I fully embraced and was embedded into my consciousness.

And yet, if I’m honest, I have had to learn that lesson, that I can do anything I want to, many times, not least because the inner monologue that plays in my mind often begs to differ and advances a different view, one of potential issues, of limitations, of uncertainty. One that forgets that with discipline, commitment and preparation, plus a little self-belief and imagination, pretty much anything is possible. I doubt I’m alone in that regard. Understanding when to ignore and override one’s own inner monologue is perhaps the most powerful lesson of all.

I was reminded of all of this whilst walking on Friday, training for the Moonwalk, which is now only 6 weeks away.* I have been following the training plan, feel quietly confident and am enjoying becoming fitter and healthier. And for some time now, I have been questioning not whether I can do it, but thinking and planning what my next challenge might be, once I have undertaken and completed it. That’s a good feeling and an exciting one, as I have again been reminded that I can achieve so much more than I sometimes believe. Not only that, but I have far more impact on the success of others than I often realise…and that is certainly something that I want to remember and act on, not only during the moonwalk, but also at work and at home. I want to be the person who successfully encourages the other individual to the top of the rock-face, not just be the person who manages to achieve it myself.

What about you? What leadership lessons have you learned, either once or many times?  Any rock-climbing stories?! I’d love to know :).

* If you would like to sponsor me for the Moonwalk, you can do so by clicking on this link – thank you!

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?

 

 
 
At the half-way point of this Advent calendar of blog posts, it is worth remembering that personal reflection is not everyone’s cup of tea and that we all approach things differently.
 
The extent to which you are familiar with Neil Morrison, author of today’s post, will determine how much of an introduction this post requires: if you are fortunate enough to interact with him regularly on Twitter (@NeilMorrison) and via his Change-Effect blog, then this post needs no preamble and may indeed induce some fond nostalgia for bygone blogging days.
 
For anyone who does not know Neil…….hmmm……what is the usual catch-all of a disclaimer? Oh yes, “views expressed are not my own”….that’ll do nicely!

You have been warned!!

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So 2011 eh? What a year….it ranks up there with 1994, 2002 and 1864 don’t you think? Quite incredible……….  I was going to tell you about loads of semi interesting things that have happened to me during the year, but to be honest you wouldn’t give a shit and….to be honest…….I wouldn’t blame you for that.

The turning of a year always causes us to reflect. In essence, this reflection is an attempt to put meaning on a series of meaningless events that in rank up there with paint drying, nail clippings and conference speeches on social media when it comes to levels of interest.  The fact is that most of us have done nothing remarkable, will do nothing remarkable and are by our very existence…..are……..unremarkable.

Woah…..so this is supposed to be an uplifting blog right?

Wrong. I’m not the wind beneath your wings. I’m the hunter with the shotgun ready to blow a hole in your side. Because that wind….it is hot air and nonsense and you need to come down to the ground tout de suite and with a whopping great force that will separate your head from your arse.

The thing is about life though, the wonderful thing, is that as we count our life in time, as we draw judgment on our existence based on artificial segmentations of nature we are blessed that where there is an end there is a start. Which means we get a do-over every single year. Result.

Which is exactly why you need to stop navel gazing and why you need to stop trying to explain away your frankly embarrassing inertia and general apathy and focus on doing something AMAZING. Something that will blow the whole show up and make a REAL difference. 

I can guarantee right now, that we each have at least three things that we aren’t doing that we want to do. And we aren’t doing them because we are scared, pitiful little wretches looking for existence in the mundane and the ordinary.  But we CAN be different. We WANT to be different. And for our sanity, our health and our happiness we NEED to be different.

So I’m going to ask you not to look back at 2011. We know that was a limp wrist of a year.  Look to 2012.  And don’t give me some balls about, “because” or “however” or “but” or “can’t” or “would”……the moment you use those words you are already consigning yourself to the dustbin marked mediocre.

We know the economics, we know the politics, we know the total fuck up of a world that we are living in.  You know what is going to get us through? People being amazing, not mediocre.

YOU define your realities, YOU define your existence, YOU make your future. And you do it through your actions.

2011 is history, 2012 is the future. Where you focus is your choice.  Make a good one.

Oh….and a very happy New Year to you all…….


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