The HR Juggler

Archive for the ‘Reflection’ 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 have had a sore throat lately…metaphorically at least…and temporarily lost my blogging voice over the last few months. I’m happy to report that it seems to be well and truly back, due in no small measure to some of the brilliant people I have around me.

Whilst I was on holiday, my good friend Flora started her own blog (if you haven’t read it yet, you really should, it’s excellent) and what struck me most when reading it, is how her voice jumped off the page to me. Her voice, her style – undeniably, emphatically her. It reminded me of why I had started blogging and gave me some insight into how honest, personal blogs can be so rewarding and refreshing to read. It also inspired a little spark of recognition that I still have plenty to say and a voice and style of my own to articulate it in.

The other thing that struck me in reading Flora’s first post was the great way that she described her network – vibrant, full of varied, precious friends and family, people she loves and respects, people who she helps and who help her. That reminded me of the general fabulousness of the people that I am privileged to have become friends with through ConnectingHR and Twitter, as well as those who I have met through more conventional means.

And then, a chance conversation in Twitter with one such lovely friend of mine, Anthony Allinson, led to him emailing me some really thoughtful feedback on what he likes about my blog, things that have helped and inspired him and some ideas for future topics, should I feel like returning more regularly to the blogging fray. Reading his email not only lightened my heart, but somehow also had the effect releasing lots of ideas about future posts and musings and generally cheering me up and inspiring me no end. I was, and am, touched beyond measure that he had taken the time to think about me and about my blog and what would be helpful to move both of us forward. He will be blushing furiously by now, I know, so I will simply say that I am hugely appreciative of his consistent, understated kindness.

The lesson for me is that asking for and accepting help from friends, family and colleagues is not only OK, it is more often than not absolutely essential in order to continue to grow and develop. There is undoubtedly a fortuitous element of right words, right place, right time to all of this…but the simple fact is, you have to be open to being helped, as much as you are willing to offer and give it yourself. And it feels great…I shall be practising doing it more often!

So to Tony and Flora, thank you! Beers…or rather red wine, whiskey and cocktails…are on me :).

So, last month last year, I ran a series of guest posts on the theme of 2011 Highlights and Horrors, which formed an Advent Calendar of blogs. A New Year should undoubtedly be more about looking forward, rather than harking back to what has been…and yet there have been many powerful points of learning for me in the experience of facilitating this experiment, that will influence how I move forward in 2012.

These then are my learnings and my own inspirations from your fantastic contribution of blogs:

Experimentation can result in amazing and unforseen consequences. Approaching tasks differently is immensely powerful and is something I want to do a lot more of, not only in blogging, but also in professional and personal spheres. Making suggestions without fear of failure, trying new ideas without concern for what might go wrong and giving the benefit of the doubt to the best possible outcome can undoubtedly transform everyday thinking and decision processes. That the entire advent calendar series evolved from a single tweet in (very!) late November, asking if anyone would be willing to contribute a guest post, is testament to the power of Twitter and also the wonderful creative force that collaboration can bring.

Openess leads to opportunity. With only a handful of exceptions, I did not ask anyone directly to contribute a guest post; it was truly crowd-sourced and available to anyone who wished to participate. Whilst it felt daunting in the very early days of December to have only a day or two of posts in advance, it undoubtedly led to a richer and more diverse end result. Some of the people who contributed were new connections who I came to know as a result of the experiment; others, like my sister-in-law, I have known for many years.

Collaboration. Asking people for help and inviting them to contribute is a powerful action. Allowing and enabling them to be a part of and influence the end result, undoubtedly enhanced the overall achievement. Together, we become more than the sum of our parts and I’d definitely like to do more of this type of collaboration not only on the blog, but also at work and at home, where asking for help can seem more problematic and difficult…perhaps I am simply more set in my ways in those contexts…;)

Consistency of delivery. It was a great feeling as the month progressed that people started to share links to posts before I had tweeted them. It was very important to me that the posts were similar to an advent calendar, in that they were available to consume and enjoy from early morning onwards. And, now that I have found the scheduling button on my blog, I shall be using it more frequently…which can only be a good thing for ongoing quality control :).

The guest posts themselves were varied, diverse and I genuinely enjoyed reading and publishing every single one of them. I am particularly proud that over a quarter of the posts were written by individuals who had never blogged before and felt inspired to share their highs and lows of 2011. To me, that made the experiment extra special and worthwhile.

In terms of the measurables, my blog had its busiest month ever in December, with 3,962 views, more than double my previous monthly record. Below are the ten most read posts of the month, as of 30th December 2011 – impressive again how many new bloggers are in this list.

Title Views
Day 12: Reflections of an HRD More stats 290
Day 13: An Emotional Rollercoaster More stats 192
Day 15: Failure, Courage and Happy Endings More stats 168
Day 21: A Christmas Carol Concert More stats 165
Day 8: Merry Christmas…A Hindu Perspective More stats 140
Day 6: Sinead Carville’s Highlights and Horrors of 2011 More stats 123
Day 10: All Change Please More stats 122
Day 19: It’s Not About The Money, Money, Money… More stats 119
2011 Highlights and Horrors: Guest Post from Kate Griffiths-Lambeth More stats 118
Day 7: Hopes and Fears More stats 104
Day 14: Breakthrough More stats 104

Hosting so many wonderful guest posts has inspired me to keep writing…not necessarily more frequently (daily posting is hard work!) but to grow this blog in terms of high-quality, thought-provoking posts. At the end of 2010, I resolved to blog more and better…I suspect that 2012 may be the year of blogging slightly less and yet better still…continuous improvement is certainly my aim ;).

I have had a huge amount of positive feedback on the Advent blogs, which I have appreciated hugely. Thanks so much for your part in making it a success!

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.

Jose Franca makes me smile :). Always ready to engage, help out, offer an opinion, have fun or simply try something new, he’s a real pleasure to know and he brightens up my Twitter stream no end. You can find him at @MrAirmiles…watch out for his ‘interesting’ photos and tales of transporting Christmas trees……. 😉

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As any frequent flyer can tell you, 2011 has been a year of ups and downs, and I don’t mean take-offs and landings. BA Airmiles were, in my opinion, downgraded to Avios, but they redeemed themselves by introducing a new membership layer – bronze, which I got upgraded to (having previously been downgraded from silver)!… but I digress!

When Alison asked me to write a guest blog about my “highlights and horrors of 2011” I thought twice about it, as blogging has been one of my 2011 “downgrade horrors!” Anyway, I gave it a go, wrote a post, last weekend my computer crashed, got it working again, the file had got corrupted and this is my 2nd attempt at re-writing it! An upgrade I hope!

My 2011 started unlike any other year. I woke up on January 1st to find myself jobless, in what was to be a very challenging year for job seekers everywhere, not to mention the doom and gloom of the world economy. A downgrade for sure!

The three months that followed were pretty uneventful. I had decided to take some time off to “rest”, but me being me, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, as my grandmother used to say. From sleeping, to gardening, DIY and even self-development, I did it all! @MrAirmiles took off on twitter, I launched a blog (short-lived but not entirely dead), ventured into “blogmenting” and focused on expanding my #connectinghr network. Some great personal highlights.

Whilst doing all those lovely things I started my job hunt and that’s when some of 2011’s “horrors” became apparent. Twice as many applicants for every job, recruiters that were more interested in making a quick buck or adding names to their database, and clients who changed their mind about roles as many times as the weather in the London! I was once put forward to an interview without my knowledge (I only found out when the client emailed me directly with the new interview time!). Not all were that bad and I met some great people who really listened to me as a person and as a professional – I’ll always remember you!

The biggest horror (and sadness) of all were some of the interviews themselves. The so-called HR and L&D professionals, with all sorts of letters in front of their name but sadly with poor interviewing skills, no clear vision about for the role, 5 stage interviews lined up (got to 6 once!) and endless psychometrics…trying to cover up their incompetence perhaps? If after the  2nd interview (1st I’d say) you still don’t have a feel if whether or not the candidate is right for the role, you should re-assess your interviewing skills! Oh, and don’t get me started on interview feedback! The best to date: “Jose could have smiled a bit more” (I had a cold, had lost my voice, and was offered no water!). That’s was a downgrade in my books!

Not all was bad and I interviewed with some great professionals! Mostly over a coffee, very informal but challenging and thought-provoking! The kind of interview that left me wanting the job even more. There are some great and genuine HR and L&D Professionals out there. Seriously! Upgrades all around and a pleasure to have met them!

At the end of April I was offered a role (within 48hrs of the interview – I was surprised at the speed!) and on May 3rd was starting the job, only to take the 5th off to attend my 1st #CHRU! Might just as well start in style!

With that new job came a new set of challenges (lots of content for another blog revival no doubt), the birth of the #grumpyoldcommuter hashtag,  and lots of exciting work!

I started on day 100 of the newly merged organization, truly being and feeling like the  “new kid” in town! I was one of the first people hired post merger and trying to remain objective, having to ask the difficult questions, not letting myself being influenced by either side whilst attempting to drive change was not an easy task, and its not over yet! A bit like experiencing turbulence on a flight…!

My grey hair count has gone up significantly… not helped by my downgrade from OneWorld Silver later that month!

The months that followed made 2011 a year of firsts for me (highlights and upgrades all round):

  • Canoeing in the Swedish lakes and sleeping in random islands with only wildlife for company

  • Camping in Croyde with a lovely bunch of strangers, most of whom I’d never met before (and surviving the hangover to tell the tale)

  • Pepe was born (the Welsh had something to do with it…)

  • Drinking percy-pig shots (don’t ask!)

  • Surfing in Devon (with hangover!)

  • Abseiling into the Burn O’Vat in Aberdeenshire (a fair amount of swearing occurred during the descent…)

  • Experiencing the jet blast at Maho beach in St Maarten (best birthday ever with my lovely partner, even though we both got massive sunburn)

  • The offer of an expat assignment in Rio (flattered but sadly had to turn it down for personal reasons)

  • Being invited to be a panelist on CIPD’s Social Media conference (despite only being active on the SM scene for a year – totally honored, thanks to @MrAirmiles of Twitter of course…)

All in all a fairly positive year, despite all the doom and gloom being portrayed in the news, newspapers and internet. 2011 treated me well, despite the shaky start, and I’m grateful for it.

On that note, and 195 tier points short of an upgrade to OneWorld Silver (Avios really make washing machines fly…), I’d like to thank Alison for the invite to guest blog and all those that have made a difference to my life in 2011. Lots of Airmiles to you all, Season’s Greetings and an Olympic 2012 full of joy!

Is it me or are the titles of these posts becoming ever longer? Perhaps a festive challenge to add any of my own text on the tweets I send out ;).

Today’s post is written by the wonderful Tony Allinson, who always makes me smile. A valued and prolific commenter on the blogs of others, it is brilliant to have him guest-posting on the horrors and highlights of his year. You can connect with Tony on Twitter (@allinsona).

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Generally, the annual rhythm is really useful for planning and taking stock. Sometimes the imaginary start-finish line in space that happens to be 31st Dec is in the wrong place though. For this post I need to move it back by a couple of months, so my lap of the sun starts at the end of October 2010. I really am quite useless at following rules, never play me at cards.

As an aside, accountants make me smile, I don’t know how they cope! A planning cycle based on the relative mass of the earth and the sun is a hilariously arbitrary way to determine how far ahead I can meaningfully plan budgets, projects, recruitment and often, in a typically Anglo-Saxon way, be expected to commit to a return. I was once asked in January what the names of the people I was going to recruit in December would be. I wish I was kidding 🙂

Anyway, for the lap of the sun that ran from Oct 2010 to Oct 2011, I am already in the pits wearing a hideous corporate cap, have endured the banal press conference (aka the appraisal process), sticky and uncomfortable having poured champagne down the neck of my overalls (in arrogant anticipation of an ill deserved bonus).

I could go on at some length about why I have had such a positive year at work but I will spare you, save for the green lights, the checkered flag and the point of it all.

The green lights started to go on in October 2010 when an excellent agent and consultant I have known for a few years called me. He was just doing his job, but I was doing something I truly hated so his call was very welcome. Hate isn’t a word I use a lot, but I was practically allergic to what I was doing. It was a role where the answer was always the same, always incomplete and always done to, not with people. At the end of my lap I am doing something I really enjoy, with people I like, in a business that is growing. We face challenges, but of the sort we can rationally address. Lucky me. Really, lucky me.

My new role, and I still think of it as new after 10 months, is a full on mix of Technology, HR, Finance, Sales, Marketing, Procurement, Product Management and Customer Service which involves working with people all over the world. It is tough at times, but I get to get things done, and the people I work with want them to get done. I am mostly not doing anything to anyone anymore.

As the lap ended and a new one began, I was just starting a new project in an area I know little about (customer service). I had gathered people from across the organisation who do similar things but who had in some cases never heard of each other, let alone met, to start working out how we might do it better. I was quite worried about the call. As usual, I assumed I would get found out. The reality is that the rational, forward looking people I work with know that the greatest risk is ending up with a case of corporate measles, with locations, systems, processes, knowledge and people scattered all over the world. A little bit of work now and we can spare ourselves from a lot of stress downstream. A case of constructive laziness via a word I really do like, anticipation but best of all, new friends.

So what’s the point?

There are two. First, obviously someone bet me that I couldn’t write a post that included accounting, motor racing, dieting and astronomy (not really, it just came out this way). The second more serious point is that in the long run, you make your own luck. Of all the ways to get lucky, in addition to practice, building and maintaining trust and respect with people is immensely powerful. Gaining a very few awesome friends on the way is the amazing and priceless result.

The phone call I got last October came through a combination of a couple of these relationships, and that vital few supported me through what was a very difficult period in my professional life without being asked. They each also told me the things I didn’t want to hear which is what real friends do.

On the downside I have developed a mid Atlantic accent, I actually said, “from the get go” in a meeting yesterday without a hint of irony, and have spent so much time in hotels that I am still some way from my long unattained weight target. See tinyurl.com/d7nwhqq , there are no prizes for spotting when I worked in Livingston. While that particular finish line is still a few weeks away, I don’t fancy my chances, but at least I win my bet.

Finally, thanks to Alison for her thought provoking blog and for having me as her guest. Thanks also to Flora Marriott for the joyful tweet that this is based on. Happy Christmas, and I wish everyone well on the next lap, whenever it starts for you.

One of the things I have enjoyed most about running this advent calendar of guest blogs is the opportunity to read posts from individuals who rarely write for public consumption. The lovely Sarah Durbridge falls exactly into this category and it is a real delight to me that she has contributed to this series…I am hoping she develops a taste for blogging in the future, but she may need some convincing!

There are so many brilliant qualities to list about Sarah: she is fun, funny, down-to-earth, warm and engaging. She is a real pleasure to know both online and offline and you can connect with her on Twitter @mrsdurbs.

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Despite being in the midst of a re-organisation, I never dreamt when walking into a video conference hosted by “the boss” and her leadership team in June 2010, that the moments that followed would have such a dramatic effect. With hindsight, perhaps I should have seen the redundancy coming……

Now don’t fret, this isn’t a “feel sorry for me because I was laid off” post but I feel it necessary to mention because it sets the context for the remainder of 2010 and for some of my high, and low(er) points in 2011.

Effective July 2010, I was placed in a six-month transition role. During that time I got angry, upset, buried my head in the sand and pretended “it” wasn’t happening, convinced myself that after 17 years they wouldn’t let me go; that something would come up, felt like walking out (more than once), dreamt of ways to ensure my final project failed (that would teach them!), dreamt of leaving a legacy behind, worked harder than ever before, slacked a bit…. and attended an unconference :).

I am referring to the first ConnectingHR unconference, and yes I realise I am still in 2010. I will get to 2011 shortly but humour me for a moment if you will because that event reminded me there was a network of supportive, fun (I know!!), successful HR types alive and kicking outside of my organization, and thus it became somewhat of a turning point for me. I took charge of things. I put my positive head on and decided that the pay-off (thank-you very much) wasn’t the only advantage to the situation.

Cue 2011. It didn’t start great, to be honest. Sure, I enjoyed having some time off initially but not having a place to be, or a purpose (work wise), made me feel a little lost so I decided to get my CV out there in early Feb. The first person I sent it to told me that I was unlikely to get a job in HR as I hadn’t really been doing HR work….. in fact, I had been part of a global OD/development team for 10 years but my CV was awful and did not tell the story I wanted it to. Thank goodness I got that feedback early on!

Horrors including numerous meetings and phone calls with recruiters, interviews for jobs I didn’t really want, and three CV iterations preceded a couple of highlights 1) a lovely lunch and chat with @dougshaw1 and 2) a phone call with @garyfranklin. Doug and Gary provided some sound advice and it led to me applying for the role I am in today. The highlights continued….in preparation for my interviews I received support from @Deadbeatmum, @onatrainagain and @naturalgrump and since being in the role the lovely @robjones_tring has also supported me – you were all fab, thank you!

My new role has meant a change in sector, a sizeable drop in salary (hence the post title….yes, finally there is the link!), allows me to have good work/home life balance, and to do the work I really want to do. My first project involved developing new organisation values and behaviours. The truly consultative nature of this work has led to buy in and engagement from most, if not all, and I am so proud to have been part of it. Other significant highlights include the implementation of a performance management process, which is linked to reward, and the introduction of eLearning.  Not wanting this to read like a CV, I will stop there – you get the idea… I am loving my job and I really feel like I am adding value.

I fear I have rambled on too long already but if I haven’t lost you then I have two more (non HR related) things to share.

For the first time ever I recently overheard my hubby speaking favourably about the work I do. He has never really cared to understand it, and has been known to refer to it (in jest, I hasten to add) as nothing more than “corporate bull” but since his promotion to a leadership role in January (a family highlight), and hearing me speak so passionately about recent projects, he has taken more notice and seems to “get it” and, I think he finally believes it is worthwhile – a personal yay!

Lastly, my teenage daughter came to work at my organization earlier this year on a two-week work experience placement. The morning of her first day was a particularly trying one – usual teenage behavior (so they tell me). Anyway, it made me begin to wonder if her coming to my work place was the right thing. I needn’t have worried. The day she finished her placement, I got this from the lady she was working with You have one beautiful, clever, charming young daughter…I hope when I have children and they reach 15 they are as lovely as she is” – this feedback meant a lot and now I find myself much more able to give her the benefit of the doubt, ignore the moods (most of the time), and remind myself that the girl we raised is still in there somewhere!

So, those were some of my highlights and horrors. As we approach the end of the year I vow to be more organised, get a cleaner, and find something productive to do on my days off (I work part-time only) in 2012. I also must get fit so I can make it through the Moonwalk (walking 26 miles for Breakthrough Breast Cancer) in May. I’m looking forward to all of that and whatever else comes my way! 🙂

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How could I possibly post a blog with this title and not attach the video link below? Bet you’ll be singing it all day now!


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