The HR Juggler

Archive for the ‘Values’ Category

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

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

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

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

The Oxford English Dictionary defines compatible as follows –

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

I’d love to hear what you think. 


Day 4 of my blogging experiment and I finally get to write on the topic that I thought I’d be tackling on Sunday evening: which members of Take That were better looking in 2004 and 2011? Yes, really!

Well, we’ve got some funny ways as a society haven’t we? Once someone becomes a celebrity we consider ourselves entitled to judge them on their physical appearance and how good-looking we perceive them to be. I’m well aware though, that if I were a man, writing this post about a female group such as Girls Aloud, I would be braced for some justifiable outrage at such blatant objectification of women. This paradox was covered superbly by @SpeccyWoo here.

But is it only celebrities who are considered  fair game in this way or are we increasingly judging everyone on their physical appearance? A recent article in the Telegraph posed the question of whether being ugly makes you poor and builds a compelling argument that we are seeing ever more beautiful people in public life, in our work environment and on television and that good looks translate into significantly higher earnings and material success. Fascinating and disturbing in equal measure.

Who determines what good looks are and what makes someone appear ugly? My favourite definition by far is one that Roald Dahl gives in his excellent children’s book The Twits

If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week , every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly you can hardly bear to look at it.

A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and  a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.

An idealistic description? Undoubtedly. Unrealistic? Probably. But I still love it.

Back to Take That, a good-looking boy-band and an even more handsome man-band, the photos below will enable you to reach your own decision on who you feel is better looking when they started their career as a group and how they are in 2011 respectively, should you feel inclined to do so.

Incidentally, when watching a documentary on the band last November, my overriding sense was that whilst good looks, money and fame could enable an individual to attain all manner of material possessions,  they cannot ever buy happiness, contentment, self-confidence, security or peace of mind. So, whilst we’re on the topic of never forgetting (and a video to keep all you TT fans happy), ponder this –


Never forget

  • that real beauty comes from within
  • that money can’t buy you happiness
  • to be grateful for what you’ve got and learn to live with it

I’d love to have your views on any or all of the above…. 🙂


This post is the fourth of my blogging experiment, where all of the post topics have been generated by others and there has been voting taking place on which topic I should blog on each day. If you haven’t voted for a topic yet, please do – I will be tackling the topic with the most votes every day for the remainder of this week. In the event of tie-break votes, I will make the final choice between the two most popular myself  ;)  

Ah…holidays. The opportunity to have a week or two off from work, to stay at home or to travel somewhere for a break. The potential to achieve a completely relaxed state of mind, to refresh one’s batteries and take time to pause and breathe.

I love the fact that my children have six week holidays from school. I remember well as a child myself the seemingly endless stretch of time, lazy sunny (and rainy!) days, fun at home or on holiday with my family. My Mum is a firm believer that adults should not be required to provide entertainment for children, rather that children be allowed the time and space to create their own games and enjoyable past-times. Simplicity seems to rule in our house too during the holidays…the kids are happy going blackberry picking, reading, drawing, inventing their own games and scenarios.

We have just returned from two weeks camping in Germany. Before we went, I wondered whether I might have fallen out of love with camping a little, but found to my relief and pleasure that I still enjoy it as much as I ever have. Fresh air, simplicity, the freedom and independence for children within a safe environment, a break from the blaring demands of our muti-media lives. On the ferry on the outward journey, I read a quote to the effect that “the greatest expression of love is time.” It really struck a chord with me and sums up what holidays are really about for me, the chance to spend time with the people I love.

I wonder sometimes whether our wish to be entertained and to fill our days with structured activities, either at home or at work, can sometimes entirely distract us from the things that really matter, the reasons why we chose to do what we do in the first place, what we want to achieve and what our true strengths are. Common sense and experience tells me that maintaining the current relaxed frame of mind I am enjoying, will be next to impossible once I return to work…but…but!…I am going to try. And my challenge to myself is to bring some simplicity and fresh thinking to what I do there too.

How were your holidays? What are you reflecting about? I’d love to know!

Vanity…that’s something that we all have a bit of really, isn’t it? Although it has to be said that we don’t like talking about it much. Would I carry on blogging if no-one ever read it, gave me feedback or commented? Probably not. Whilst I don’t blog for others per se and I genuinely gain a lot from it, it would also be disingenuous to claim that I write entirely for myself…if that were the case then why would I publish anything? Surely a private log would be just as effective in terms of articulating my thoughts.

Social media has a plethora of opportunities for individuals to feed their vanity…klout scores, follower numbers, blog subscribers, page views…all of which we make our personal decisions about, in terms of which, if any of them, are important to us. 

I have been pondering the vanity question for a while and whether it matters that there is undoubtedly an element of this to most social media interaction. For me, provided I am aware of this aspect of it and honest with myself about it, then that’s fine. At the end of the day, humans respond to recognition and praise, feedback and interaction and always have done, regardless of what form it takes.

So for now, with some caution and self-awareness and in small doses, I am embracing my social vanity…how about you?



Choices. We all make them every day, many inconsequential but others with real potential ramifications, for us and for others.

This weekend, I was reminded of a quote that really resonates with me

“It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”

Particularly at the current time, the news is full of dramatic stories: the questionable ethical behaviour revealed by the recent phone hacking debacle at News International, the terrible events in Norway and their dignified, inspiring response to it, the untimely death of Amy Winehouse

People are complex, organisations even more so. But every choice that we can have can have consequences…personally and professionally.

For me, that’s food for thought for the week ahead.

And the quote? Harry Potter: The Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling – some of the most insightful comments are made in children’s books, in my humble opinion 🙂

Like countless others in the UK and elsewhere, I have been following reports of the closure of News of the World, the allegations of phone hacking and the apparent corporate cover-up of News International.  I am genuinely shocked by the tactics of intimidation, the extent of collusion between politicians and media and the perceived inability or lack of will of anyone in power to change the status quo. I have clearly been highly naive about how things truly operate..

This type of topic is way out of my blogging comfort zone and others are far more qualified, knowledgeable and insightful than me on it (check out Flip Chart Fairy Tales and the Pub Philosopher to name a few). But there are many aspects of the events which make me truly angry: not least the fact that the Editor at the time of some of the worst alleged hacking incidents, remains in her very senior post within News International (at the time of writing!) whilst 200 current staff are losing their jobs.

This afternoon I heard David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ on the radio and it really struck a chord with me about the power and courage of ordinary individuals to make a stand. The News International saga has a few of these, without whom the full extent of what has been going on would never have been widely publicised: Tom Watson and Chris Bryant both Labour MPs and Nick Davies, a reporter for the Guardian newspaper in particular.

The song inspires me to think about how we as people, as business leaders and as HR professionals can make a difference, to challenge the status quo, to make sure we bring our values to work. To ensure that we prevent anything like this happening in our organisations and on our watch.

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will
Drive them away
We can beat them
Just for one day
We can be Heroes
Just for one day


My children are coming to the end of their first year in Reception and have learnt a huge amount since they started school…their reading, writing and general knowledge have come on in leaps and bounds. More than anything though, I see them starting to manage relationships with other children, learning how to navigate friendships, deal with conflict and resolve disagreements.

One of my daughters has been periodically troubled with the relationship with her “best friend” and things came to a bit of a head last week, when the friend would not let her play all day. Not unusual at this age (particularly with girls!) all fixable and resolvable.  But after talking it through with my 5-year-old, I was struck that many of these skills she is learning now, are precisely the ones that adults also need in the workplace, or any other environment where you can’t always choose who shares your space.

Here’s what we covered…with some of my follow-up thoughts

  • Actions speak louder than words

Listen to people’s actions as well as their words: if someone says they are your best friend, expect them to behave like it. As an adult, if someone’s behaviour doesn’t correlate to their espoused values then there is a trust issue and you will inevitably question their authenticity. Remember the flip-side too that others will judge you in the same way and always be consistent and deliver on what you say

  • Sometimes people don’t change

Sometimes we can change our behaviour; at other times it is so ingrained that we can’t. Change has to come from the individual and unless they want to change and are committed to doing so, things will stay the same. Find a way to get on with each-other and have a reasonable working relationship, but assume that they won’t change the things that annoy you. It’s not your job to make them change

  • Have lots of friends, not just one

Placing all of your eggs in one basket is never a good idea, either as a 5-year-old in the playground or as an adult who has a close working relationship with only one colleague. Try and branch out, ‘play’ with other people and be open to ideas, opportunities and challenges from all sorts of different people. Be inclusive of all friends or colleagues, so that you can share the learning and develop further

  • Remember what you have control over

Other people can only influence you as much as you let them. Don’t ever do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or that you know you shouldn’t. If you don’t want to do it, say no, explain why and if they still insist then walk away and find someone else to play with

  • Resolve your differences

Agree to disagree, find a way to rub along together and still be friends even if it’s no longer “best friends’. 7 years is a long time to be in a class with someone with whom you have irrevocably fallen out…people can remain colleagues for even longer! Much as I wanted to step in and ‘protect’ my daughter, I also realised that she had to deal with her friend herself and that they, between them, had to find a way to resolve the situation. Whilst mediation can help some workplace disputes, the individuals still need to be wiling to sit down and engage with each other and find a way to continue working together…better to learn these skills early

  • The ripple effect

A relationship turned sour never only affects the two people involved…there is always a ripple effect out to other friends, colleagues, families… The Mum of said friend is equally keen to make sure our daughters play nicely and we have had a couple of fairly lengthy chats with each other, trying to do all we can to ensure that they are both happy and contented. It’s hard work! But undoubtedly more simple in this situation than colleagues who refuse to work together and have a negative effect on those around them who stubbornly refuse to accept that their behaviour has a wider sphere of influence.

In my daughter’s case, peace has been restored…for now at least ;). For me, I’m going to be thinking about the relationships I have at work and elsewhere and making sure I practice what I preach!

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I have recently had the pleasure of reading my children almost all of the Roald Dahl stories, the only exceptions being The Witches (we did try but far too scary as they are only 5!) and the more autobiograpical books such as Boy and Going Solo.  I loved reading them, the children loved listening to them and we have been jointly enthralled by the wonderful and brilliant story telling of an exceptionally gifted man.
Some of the books such as Fantastic Mr Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach I remember reading and devouring as a child; others such as Matilda, the BFG and Danny, Champion of the World I have discovered for the first time as an adult.  I have no doubt I will read all of them to my children many more times and that when they are old enough they will continue to read and enjoy them on their own.
Much of the charm and brilliance of Roald Dahl’s writing is in his vivid portrayal of characters, their actions and values. More than anything else, his characters are defined by whether or not they are kind. The author explains –
I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage or bravery or generosity or anything else. If you’re kind, that’s it.
We don’t talk about kindness in leadership much. We certainly don’t talk about it in a business context. And yet, it is one of the most powerful and deep-rooted human values that there is, a true differentiator of people and a mark of authenticity. I wrote in a previous blog post about bringing your values to work and treating others as you would wish to be treated.
Of course we often need to make commercial decisions and the role of HR is not, nor should it be, to be everyone’s friend. But that doesn’t mean we should forget or be afraid to talk about some of our core personal values either.
I’d love to hear your views.

Resilience…can you learn it? That was a question posed to me this week and it got me thinking. Whilst I have no doubt that individuals can develop the quality of  resilience, I am not at all sure that they can be taught, beyond potentially providing some tools and techniques to facilitate an individual’s self-awareness.

The word resilience originates from the mid 17th century and derives from the Latin ‘leaping back.’ Referring to a substance or object’s ability to spring back into shape after bending, stretching or being compressed, and also the quality of an individual to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions, it is now frequently used in a business context, in particular as a trait that we admire and expect in our leaders. It is interesting though to note that resilience in this context does not suggest that someone has a super-human ability to rise above the stresses that others feel, more that they can take the pressure on board, accommodate it as part of themselves and remain true to their values and personality and not be ground down by the difficult external factors.

In my experience, most of the resilient individuals I have worked with have a high level of self-awareness and are conscious of their ability to work within the pressure and stress of the environment, without fully absorbing it or becoming crushed by it. They are able to deal with change, be flexible and pragmatic and maintain an optimistic and self-confident, driven outlook. But at times even the most resilient of people suffer setbacks and can lose confidence temporarily. In my view it is at this point, the recognition of things having gone wrong, the humanity and humility that goes alongside this, to learn from their mistakes and, in time, the ability to reinvent themselves and eventually ‘leap back’ to their true self that makes this quality of resilience so valuable and sets those that have it apart from their peers.

So, can you teach it, does one learn it from experience or is resilience an innate ability? I’d love to know what you think.

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