The HR Juggler

Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

What makes you change the way you think about something?

Some of the most difficult experiences can be the most instrumental in altering our perspective and bringing change to the way we work and think. This can be true at work or at home: where there is discomfort and difficulty and mistakes are made, there is also often the greatest amount of learning, if we are prepared to open our minds to it.

I’ve had this type of learning experience recently, which at times felt very unpleasant and was certainly far out of my comfort zone. Whilst I wouldn’t voluntarily choose to spend too much of my working (or home!) life operating this way, I have been amazed at the level of learning that has resulted from it, through personal reflection, shared discussion and feedback with trusted friends and colleagues…as well as the passage of a little time. For me, the temporary negative has turned into a much stronger positive: a reminder of the importance of commercial pragmatism within my role, of the need to occasionally step back from following a process in order to make a better business decision and that at times the best approach is to analyse the worst possible outcome and work back from there in order to effectively manage the risk. I doubt I am the only person, HR or otherwise, who benefits from a powerful and timely reminder of all of these things ;).

I’ve also been thinking differently about running lately…my half marathon is now less than 2 weeks away and up until last weekend, training was going well, I’d run a couple of 10 mile distances and I was feeling good, prepared, positive and confident. And then, last weekend, the unexpected happened – my ankle started to hurt whilst I was running and I had to stop after a mile or so and walk home. Since then I have rested and barely run at all…which for a fledgling runner with a big race on the horizon, is a little scary and uncomfortable, to say the least. I am fairly certain that the injury is minor and that I’ll be in good shape by the time October 7th comes around, but of course there are no guarantees and I will have to be sensible and take advice from an expert. I’m not good at uncertainty!

What it has reminded me of though, is that my overall aims in undertaking this challenge were for maintaining and building fitness, to learn to run and to raise money for Tommy’s charity…all of which I have done. So, barring any unforeseen crises, I will be doing the race, even if I have to walk more of it than I had hoped to. I am still hoping and aiming to run the whole thing and if I can’t do that, then I will be signing up to another half marathon next year to have another go and finish what I have started!  Another example of assessing the worst case scenario and working backwards…I’m slowly but surely, starting to learn to think differently about it. And, if you would like to sponsor me for what I am still hoping will be a run, my link is here.

So, that’s me. How about you – what have you been thinking differently about? I’d love to know.

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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 🙂

We don’t talk about old people very much. We don’t always take the time to listen to them or to understand about their lives and what they have experienced. We are sometimes slow to appreciate them as individuals, and what we can learn from them.

My Nan passed away at the beginning of this month and her funeral is on Friday. She was a very old, much-loved lady and lived a full and happy life. I am unbelievably lucky to have had her in my life so long, to have known her as an adult, for her to have seen me grow up, fall in love and get married; for her to have held my newborn babies in her arms and watch them develop into the fun, independent, loving children they have become. So for me, this post is not so much about sadness, as a celebration of the many happy memories and a recognition of what I have learned from her.

Living less than a mile from our family home, my Nan was constantly around when I was growing up and was an integral part of our family life. Whenever I visited her home as a child, she always had lemonade and biscuits in her pantry, a garden to run around in, endless patience for playing board games and jobs for me to help with, whether it was drying the dishes whilst she washed up, or, when I was older, mowing her lawn. She was essentially very humble, easy to be around, almost impossible to offend, appreciative of being surrounded by her family and being part of our lives.

As a teenager, my Nan never judged or told me what to do. When I had boyfriend trouble, she gently and wisely pointed out that “whatever is meant to be will be,” providing me with great comfort and reassurance. When I finally passed my driving test, it was to her house that I drove first. She was as delighted as I was, although as I drove away, I wondered why she was waving quite so frantically…until I realised that I was driving in the dark without my headlights on!

Family Christmases were always fun and always shared with my Nan. She played every game with great enthusiasm until she was well into her 80s and even her 90s…spin the plate, murder in the dark…she would try anything and had a tremendous sense of fun. Her ability to laugh at herself, to enjoy banter with others and to have fun was undimmed until the very end of her life. She was always interested in people and delighted in getting to know my friends, who also called her Nanny, as I did. At my brother’s wedding, she gamely danced with my brothers’ friends and let herself be twirled around the dance floor…undoubtedly dining out on the experience for many years to come! My Nan was generous and always wanted to contribute. Home-made marmalade and chutney, taking my whole extended family out for Sunday lunch, expanding the invitation as the size of our family grew; lending her car to her grandchildren before any of us could afford vehicles of our own.

My Nan was consistently keen to learn new things, to challenge herself and try different experiences. She learnt to drive when she was 60 and continued for nearly thirty years until her sight started to fail her. She loved doing crossword puzzles and writing verse and even took up the local library’s offer of internet lessons in her 80s. She never felt that anything was beyond her and was willing to give anything a try. She was physically tough and cheated serious accidents so many times: in her 80s she slipped whilst getting off a train and became trapped between the train and the platform, yet emerged unhurt with barely any bruises. Widowed whilst still in her late 60s, she learned to become strongly independent and enjoyed a very happy old age, making new friends as well as treasuring existing relationships. She lived on her own until she was almost 95, when she broke her hip and was no longer able to look after herself.

The staff at the residential home where my Nan lived for the last three and a half years of her life not only provided her with excellent care, they also loved her. Right until the end of her life, she retained the ability to be interested in people, a vulnerability that endeared her to those around her and an appreciation of everything that she had, especially her family. One of the memories I treasure most is how much my children loved their Great Nanny Mo and how they clambered on her lap to hug and kiss her, even when she had become very frail. She was extraordinary and yet, in many ways, also very ordinary, a beloved Nan who was hugely appreciative of the good things that she had been blessed with. She was my Nan and a wonderful one at that.

There may be a few tears on Friday, but above all else there will be happiness of memories recalled, bonds of love and family that endure and a celebration of a life well lived. I think she’d be pretty delighted with that.

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The last few weekends have involved a lot of bike riding…or more accurately a lot of learning to ride a bike. Over the last three weekends, my 6-year-old daughters have mastered riding their bikes without stabilizers and then upgrading from their small 14″ wheel bikes to a much bigger, heavier 20″ wheel frame. The former is certainly a life skill, the latter necessary because of how much taller they have become…yet once we arrived back home with the new bikes, I was concerned we were moving too fast and pushing them to do something they were not yet ready for or capable of doing.

It’s no exaggeration to say I could hardly bear to watch Mr C teaching them and quickly realised I was most help to the challenge by leaving him and the eager pupils to it. And of course, they managed it…a few wobbles, a few falls, plenty of determination and remarkably few tears. At the end of the first day of trying on the bigger bikes, I showed them the considerable difference in size between their previous bikes and their new ones, and already at that time they were amazed at how little the old bikes were and how strange it felt to sit on them. They had no wish to go back to the familiar old bikes…far from it, even though they hadn’t yet got the hang of riding the new ones to the same level of competence.

So, I’ve learned and been reminded of a few things myself this weekend: that people have as many different ways of teaching skills as we do of learning them and that mine are not always the most successful; that taking risks doesn’t always have to be as scary as we sometimes think it is; that determination and enthusiasm are often the most powerful qualities in learning new skills and that other people’s fear of potential negative consequences can easily be misplaced, however well-intended. Sometimes a cautious consideration of the learning strategy is aprropriate…at other times, the most effective way to get there, is just to have someone give you a huge push and trust you will get there!

Somehow I don’t think it will be too long before my kids appreciate the saying “it’s like riding a bike…” 😉

What have you learned lately? I’d love to know.

 

 

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!

How do you communicate? What do you rely on to get the best from people? The choice of words, turn of phrase and language we use can be hugely emotive and powerful, either to good or negative effect. Yet when we can’t rely on our spoken words and a shared language to articulate what we want to say, we become so much more aware of the non-verbal signals we use.

I pride myself on being pretty good at languages and loved learning both German and French at university and school respectively.  Whilst by no means perfectly fluent, I’m good at making myself understood and conversing adeptly in both these languages. My Spanish, however is limited and does not extend much beyond the realms of Dora the Explorer, so our recent holiday in northern Spain was an interesting linguistic challenge.

Two incidents really stick in my mind as memorable conversations and inspired communication. The first was when we were on the hunt for swimming hats, having been refused entry to the swimming pool without them. I successfully followed directions to the first sportswear shop (grumpy kids and bemused Mr C trailing behind me in the steady rain) where the shop assistant spoke no English. Cue me performing a mime of swimming breast stroke, patting my head three times and giving a big engaging smile and a questioning gesture. Success that the shopkeeper understood what I meant, sadly only to confirm he didn’t sell them. He directed me to a similar shop up the road where a similar ritual was performed, with an identical outcome. We were not destined to go swimming that day, but I admit to being childishly thrilled at the interaction – the limited Spanish that we had exchanged and the shared understanding we had created.

The second occurrence was in a restaurant towards the end of our stay, where we were choosing from an English menu, but ordering from the Spanish one, which didn’t seem to entirely match up. Mr C wanted pork (a “suckling pig” no less!) and hesitated on the Spanish pronunciation. On repeating his order, the waitress gave us a mischievous look and unexpectedly oinked like a pig to illustrate her point and confirm that he had indeed ordered correctly. This became a brilliantly funny joke and we built a great rapport with her (with much further oinking!) throughout the rest of our meal, speaking and understanding more Spanish than we had done before.

Somehow, in both these examples, the communication, the interaction was enhanced by a willingness to take a risk and look a little foolish, by humour and humility, by eye-contact, by smiling and establishing a genuine human connection. And for me, they have a power and a charm that not only makes me smile and feel good at the memory, but reinforces that sometimes it is the unexpected and unspoken methods of communication that are the most effective and engaging of all.

How have you communicated differently? Have you had any memorable conversations lately? I’d love to know.

This month so far I have either undertaken, or committed to, two activities that I have never previously done. Saying yes and trying new things has been liberating and empowering and I intend to do more of both as the year progresses.

So what are they? First up, I have been dabbling in creative writing, specifically writing children’s stories. I have loved the process of creating characters, plots, storylines and trying my hand at illustrations…it has been wonderful escapism! My first story is mostly finished, bar a little editing, and I intend to write at least one more in the near future. There is no commercial intent here, merely the sheer joy of creating something for its own sake. Once completely finished, I will be printing it off in book format for my daughters to keep.

I’ve learnt a lot from doing this too: the discipline required to finish the story, the importance of plot (I really ought to have been clearer in my head about this before I started writing it!) and the real pleasure of rediscovering something that I had not attempted since I was at school.

If you are interested, or even just mildly curious, then you can check out the Princess and The Dragon in full here.

The second activity is a commitment that I have made to undertake the Moonwalk 2012 in Edinburgh as part of a team from my organisation. I will be joining an amazing group of women in walking 26 miles throughout the night, all of us wearing our bras, to raise money and awareness for breast cancer charities. I am not a particularly sporty person and have never done anything like this before…but it is a cause that is close to my heart, as both of my grandmothers had breast cancer in their middle age and survived it, at a time when many did not. For this I am truly grateful and I will walk for them, for my Mum, for me and for my daughters.

I am both excited and nervous at the thought of undertaking a marathon, albeit power-walking one rather than actually running it! I would obviously love it if you would consider sponsoring me and you can find my team’s fundraising page here.

I wrote my final post of 2011 acutely aware that I wanted to do at least one amazing thing in 2012…just over half way through January and I now feel certain that I will achieve at least two 🙂

Go on…do something amazing…it feels great!

Writing a post myself for my own blog, now there’s something I haven’t done for a while… 😉

I had anticipated writing this post far earlier in December, although even now, as I emerge from the cosy family cocoon that is Christmas, but not yet in the full, bright lights of the New Year, I am far from clear about what I want to say. That the Highlights and Horrors themed Advent calendar blogs captured your imaginations and produced the wonderful guest posts that it did, is truly a highlight in its own right. And whilst it has undoubtedly raised the bar rather uncomfortably high, it feels rather like cheating to get all of you to tell me yours, without sharing mine.

It would be easy to write purely about work. This year, as no other I have experienced professionally, has been a rollercoaster and has stretched me at times beyond my perceived limits and abilities.  I wrote about my year here and it continued much in the same chaotic vein. The personal and professional learnings have been huge and yet, it has been only in the last months of 2011 that I have even started to understand the impact that I have on my team, the positive and negative shadows that are cast by the leader, both by what is done and what is overlooked and omitted. How blinkered we can be at times in the eye of the storm and how easy it is to place limits on our achievements and potential by self-doubt, preconceptions and lack of confidence.

It would also be straightforward to write about home, about my children and how they have developed and grown throughout 2011, what I have learnt by watching, teaching, nurturing them. Both work and home are only part of the story…or should be. Where I have struggled most this year, is in remembering, finding and listening to the rather neglected part of me that is separate from my work and home identities…and that is simply, me. I don’t believe I am alone in this quandary; it may be more common amongst women than men, but whilst one is so busy just keeping everything going; delivering at work, caring for young children and keeping pace with life itself, it is easy to fall into the trap of defining oneself purely by one’s work and one’s children.

T.S.Eliot wrote that “it is the journey and not the arrival that matters”. As I have started to take small steps to reclaim the ‘me’ part of my identity this year, that gives me reason for hope, optimism and reassurance. Sometimes, just acknowledging the issue is the first big step to starting to solve it. So, I took a couple of international trips this year, which I would previously have declined, I joined a book club with friends and on pretty much every front I’m a work in progress. But that’s OK, I think…at the end of the day, whether we choose to admit it or not, that’s what we all are.

Next year? I’d like to be able to consolidate more, to become better and more skilled at being a leader, at balancing work and home, at continuing to find, safeguard and grow the bit that is really ’me’ outside of the roles of work and home…perhaps to move beyond conscious competence (and at times conscious incompetence!) into something altogether more compelling and brilliant. And I’d like to work out at least one amazing thing that I’d love to achieve, just for me.

So, that’s me. I wish you a last few happy days of 2011 and a wonderful, healthy and prosperous New Year.

 

I’m delighted that Rob has taken the time to write a blog for this Advent Calendar series of guest posts. I’m a big fan of his own Masters or Bust blog, which continues to go from strength to strength. And my Twitter timeline would certainly be far less entertaining without his perception, insight, humour and wit…you can follow him too @RobJones_Tring.

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So 2011 has been quite a year, lots has happened and there’s been LOTS of change. When I initially saw Alison’s invite to contribute guest blogs I thought ‘that’ll generate some interesting contribution’ but didn’t immediately think of contributing. Over the past few days I’ve been reflecting on the year and actually decided ‘what the hell’ so here goes…

The lowlights of 2011 (yes there are plural) have both involved that well known Robbie Burns quote “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley” as I had a defined plan for both my career and my academic work and both it’s fair to say have not gone anywhere the way I had intended them to.

The lowlights have not been the plans themselves going astray but rather the moments of realisation that it’s not working and a new plan is required. I can remember one of them quite clearly, sat in the back of a black cab in London and feeling quite overwhelmed with the new reality and what it meant for me.

Needless to say a stint ‘in the bunker’ (home, phone off, twitter off, stomping and thinking) and new plans were formulated and are so far *crosses fingers* on course!

The highlights of 2011 have been numerous and myriad but on a personal level it’s been the completion of what you could describe as a rather tricky piece of recruitment for a position that has only had interim occupants until this year. On a professional level there is one stand out moment that really made feel that what sometimes feels like pushing molasses up a sandy hill is worthwhile. I’ll elaborate…

Two years ago I started doing some work in China for the business I used to work for. In the process of completing a leadership development workshop I encountered an individual who for the purposes of this we’ll call Tom (all the Chinese team members have anglicised names too!) Tom had been with the business for about a year, was clearly intelligent and capable and was delivering good results in the role he was in at that time.

What struck me about him, aside from his clear potential, was how frustrated he was with perceived lack of recognition, his lack of quantum career progression and how defensive he was in receiving any kind of feedback or challenge. I had the opportunity to spend some 1 to 1 time with Tom, talked with his line manager, the local Head of HR and his line director. Over the intervening time I was able to work with Tom, either in groups or 1 to 1 and we had some great conversations.

The highlight moment was stood on a fire escape in August of this year (we both indulge in a rather toxic habit). Tom is now in a divisional management role and it was a gap of about 6 months that provided the distance for me to see how Tom had really grown comfortable in himself and his new role. I was absolutely chuffed for him and expressed that. His response was to share some of the challenges he had faced and how much was still to come and then he turned to me and said “the thing that started it was standing here about 2 years and what you said whilst we smoked”. I wanted to hug him!

There is no doubt that what he achieved was mostly down to his own personal effort with the support of his management, but to stand back and think I had a role in helping this great individual take a big step forward in his career was a kodak moment….

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Got any comments or questions for Rob? I know he’d love to hear them ;).

A terrible pun of a title, which I couldn’t resist. This week I attended the Human Resources Summit in Lisbon. I was filled with some trepidation before the event, particularly because of the dynamics of the set-up: suppliers pay to attend, which funds the flights and hotel accommodation of the delegates, who therefore attend for free. Not only that, but there were a series of half hour one-to-one meetings between practitioners and suppliers that were  tightly scheduled and mandatory. I approached the event with an open mind, but I really wasn’t sure it would be for me.

To my surprise, I really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. I met some fantastic people and have come back with my head full of ideas, thoughts and plans.

What I enjoyed most was the networking, both with other senior HR people (there were around 50 in all from a wide variety of organisations) and with suppliers, who were (almost!) without fail engaging, interesting, thought-provoking and likeable. I didn’t manage to speak to everyone over the two days, but had stimulating and useful discussions with those that I did.

The key-note speaker on the first night was rather underwhelming, however the quality of conversation with other participants mostly compensated for this. I selected two strategy sessions in advance of the conference, which were both excellent. It was an extremely well organised summit, a beautiful and fortuitously sunny location and a genuinely engaging and enjoyable event.

And the dreaded one-to-one meetings with suppliers? Mostly fine. I rarely felt as if I was being sold to, was often very interested to hear what types of services they offered and got to know them as people in a reasonably relaxed environment. Whilst it wouldn’t be everyone’s choice to do that type of event, the suppliers were evenly split between those that were regulars at such summits and those who were trying it for the first time. The regulars felt that it was a good investment and that building relationships in this way with senior HR people was effective and bore commercial fruit over time.  Many of the ‘newbie’ suppliers were as anxious as the delegates about the ‘speed dating’ concept of selecting who to talk to in advance and were keen to interact and get to know others on an individual basis.

All in all, it was a good opportunity and one that I enjoyed. I even got to meet a couple of Twitter buddies for the first time, which was a highlight.  Something to think about further, for sure :).


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