The HR Juggler

Posts Tagged ‘Business

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?


Does it matter who your role reports to in the organisation? Just how important is it that an HR Director reports into the CEO? Lloyds Banking Group is a recent example of a company that has removed the direct report link between the Group HR Director and Chief Executive and, in their particular case, created a new Group Corporate Functions Director, which will manage HR, Legal and Audit amongst others. Clearly there are issues to be resolved within Lloyds Banking management team and banking generally, yet there are other examples too, such as Marks and Spencer.

So, does it really matter where HR reports to in an organisation? Well, no…and yes.

On the one hand, it seems incredibly outdated to look at thing in purely hierarchical terms; to derive status and importance from the reporting line of one’s function. Just because you report to the CEO does not necessarily mean that are good at your job, listened to, have any more influence or budget than anyone else in the organisation…far from it. For the most part, organisational changes are simply that; a way of reducing the sometimes huge numbers of direct reports that a CEO may have. One’s influence within a Company and ability to drive through change and excel at one’s job should in no way be determined or limited by one’s reporting line and there are lots of examples of people who do this brilliantly and apparently effortlessly, across a wide range of roles and functions.

And yet, whilst all the above is undoubtedly true, I retain a nagging element of scepticism about the value a CEO places on the role of HR, on how committed they are to truly working in partnership and involving HR in their organisational strategy, if they don’t have HR as part of their management team and as their direct report. About what kind of HR role that would be in reality, the emphasis that would be places on different aspects of the HR spectrum. I worry about the dilution of messages, of strategy, of priorities, the ability to effectively challenge and question…and I’m not convinced I would personally wish to work in that environment. 

What do you think? Have you had a different experience that proves me wrong? I’d love to know.

So, why is HR the brake and not the accelerator? How does it need to change? That is today’s blogging challenge.

First things first, is HR really the brakes of an organisation? Sometimes, yes, although that is not always a bad thing. It surely depends at least partly on the motivation for encouraging the business to slow down – is it for a positive reason, that prevents the organisation from rushing headlong into risk without first understanding the implications? Or is it just process for process’ sake and do we at times lack the urgency, the killer instinct to close the deal for the businesses we work for? Certainly being consultative is a common HR trait and skill, which we perhaps need to learn to be more  selective about utilising.

Is HR ever the accelerator? Rarely in my experience, although there may be some circumstances that this takes place and I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

So, how does HR need to change? In my view the following would make a powerful difference –

  • Looking outwards – focussing on the external market, understanding the business we work in, not limiting ourselves to “people issues” but getting stuck into the daily discussions of all aspects of the organisation…think and behave like the Chief Operating Officer and review and align your processes and priorities accordingly
  •  Being obsessed with profit – understanding the commercials of the business you work in, what the profit levers are and what affects the outcomes your organisation is aiming for, as if your professional life depended on it. Because actually, in the business that you work for on any given day, it does…temporarily at least

If you are able to achieve both of the above things, or at least start the journey of working towards them, you will end up being so close to the business that you work in, that you instinctively understand when they need you to be the brake, in order for common sense to prevail and when they want and need you to hit the gas and drive the organisation forwards. And surely the driver’s seat is where we all want to be…..?

Beep, beep, yeah 🙂


This post is the second 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  ;)  


Ouch. Is it just me that recognises some element of truth in the above question? I have had the pleasure of working with some great HR line managers over the years, but I have also at times experienced a considerable gap between what we say to line managers as HR advisors and what we do ourselves as people managers. And I am also sufficiently self-aware to recognise that whilst I excel at some aspects of people management, such as providing individuals with development, mentoring, encouragement and regular feedback;  there are plenty of other areas where I definitely “could do better”.

Rather than HR being the function that attracts and retains the worst people managers…lets face it, there are plenty of other functions in most businesses that have their share of these too…it is perhaps the gap between the people management values that we advise and espouse to others and those that we at times struggle to attain within our own chains of command that contributes to the view that HR are the shoddiest line managers of all. 

In my view, some of the reasons that HR doesn’t always reach the high standards we articulate to others are as follows –

  • “Too Nice”?

I doubt I’m alone amongst my peers in preferring the motivational and developmental part of being a manager, than the relentless driving up of standards, systematic performance management and delivering of unpleasant messages. The truth is that to be better people managers HR has to excel at both sides of the coin

  • Suspicious minds

HR people can be quite suspicious by nature – we are often looking for the catch when things seem to good to be true. This trait can at times be useful….but who wants to work for someone who is anything less than trustful of them? I have seen it many times that trust between HR colleagues can be a fragile concept and it takes time to grow and develop…perhaps we need to get over this a little and give people the benefit of the doubt rather more than we do.

  • Control freakery

HR managers with control freak tendencies? Yes, I bet you know a few too…. 😉  Combine this with line management and it can become the ugly step-sister to the mistrust mentioned above. An unwillingness to delegate, the belief that things will only be done correctly if you do it yourself, a tendency to micro-manage…incredibly corrosive to the confidence and development of the individual that works for you and definitely not a good example of great people management skills.  

  • Fight fire with fire

Oh, the fire-fighting in HR. We’re just always so busy dashing here and there and fixing everyone elses issues, we are often overwhelmed by the sheer number and scale of the tasks ahead. And when it comes to prioritising, there can be a temptation to allow the tenets and discipline of good people management to slip for our own teams. Needless to say a slippery slope and one that can turn us all into poor people managers if we don’t guard against it.

  •  Do as I say, not as I do

Excellent at giving other managers advice on dealing with issues, HR is often rather less good at following its advice for its own staff. Perhaps also a factor in this is that the internal function of “HR for HR” rarely, if ever, works as effectively as it should. It’s all a bit too uncomfortable, a bit too close to home, a lower priority than working with managers elsewhere in the business.

So if HR aren’t perceived as great people managers, what do we need to do to get better? In four words: take our own advice. Let’s face it, we know how to do this stuff, we advise managers on it all the time and we do it well…let’s take some time to honestly appraise where we’re doing well and where we could do better. And how about being really revolutionary and asking the people who work for us for their feedback? Now that could be a great starting point.

What do you think?


This post is the first 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 next five days. In the event of tie-break votes (and there is one for tomorrow’s post as it currently stands!), I will make the final choice between the two most popular myself 😉 

How many times does something have to happen in your workplace before it becomes a trend? Three?….four?…..ten?……twenty? I tweeted this question yesterday and got a fascinating array of answers, none of them definitive, but all of them insightful and interesting.

Graham Salisbury reckoned it to be three times on the basis that once was an occurrence, twice an occurrence and a copy, three makes a trend and four a tradition. Alison Ashford opted for the marketers version of 4 or 5 times, whilst David Goddin estimated 20% of the workforce and provided a technical looking link.

The original reason behind this mulling was because this year so far I have had an unprecedented number of similar happenings in my workplace, which certainly on the above basis, could reasonably qualify as a trend.  And I’d be interested to know whether other organisations are experiencing the same type of activity, or indeed other types of occurrences which could be classed as trends.

So my 2011 trend within the business is the sheer number of requests I have had (I estimate around 15 this year so far) of employees who are looking to leave the UK and work abroad and who are requesting to continue to do their roles from an entirely different geographical location. From Australia to the West Coast of America, from Bulgaria to Holland, the proposals are varied, although seem to consistently come from well-regarded employees who have compelling personal reasons why they need to or want to relocate. And this poses some interesting dilemmas for us as a business.

We are absolutely a global organisation and frequently (not always) have offices in these locations and in many cases the managers support the moves, often on the basis that they don’t want to lose the individual from the business. So far, so good. But these proposals are never simple and it s often my job to robustly challenge the  managers to critically consider them –

  • where does the role need to be based in the long-term?
  • is there actually a vacancy where Joe wants to relocate?
  • will we need to back-fill Joe in the UK to help him fulfill his dream?
  • do we have any HR set-up to actually pay and support Joe in this location?
  • as a business do we strategically want people to be in this location?
  • would we be even considering this if it wasn’t Joe asking for it?
This last question is often the killer question and the most important. Because if the superstar employee asks us to relocate his job to his desired global location, what do we do when the slightly-above-average employee asks the same thing? And if the very average employee asks? It soon becomes quite hard to maintain any degree of consistency or fairness, particularly if it has become completely divorced from business need.
So, in response to this trend, I have to admit that I spend quite a lot of time saying no. Not because I don’t value employees or trust them to work in different locations, but because I recognise that we have to have some degree of consistency with how we treat staff and the precedents we set. We are undoubtedly very good at being flexible…but there is a danger that we become so flexible that we actually forget to critically examine the business need for granting any of these moves. You may not agree with me on this; you may feel in this day and age employees should be able to work wherever in the world they want to provided they get their jobs done…the fact is that we, like many organisations, are simply not at that point yet.
As for the reasons behind this trend, and the sister trend of requesting sabbaticals, I suspect that it has much to do with the global economic environment, the attraction of relocating to another country and retaining a role within an organisation that you already know, whilst maintaining your length of service. I totally understand why people are asking for this and reducing their own personal risk of potentially facing a period of unemployment. These are most certainly interesting times.
I’d love to know what trends you’re experiencing in your workplace, what you’ve been noticing and how you’re dealing with it.

Do you know what you are meant to be doing in your role and how you should be doing it? I don’t. Increasingly frequently, I have been faced with situations that are not only completely new to me, but also to all of the other very senior people I work with. These are most certainly interesting times!

To give you some context: over the last two months I have liquidated a business in the Far East, dealt with a number of whistle-blowing claims in various global territories, drafted employment contracts for a joint venture in China and investigated alleged data theft. And honestly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t dealt with any of those things individually before, let alone concurrently.

What I have learnt…and am learning!…is this –

  • You don’t have to know everything, or to have done it before, you just need to find someone who does know the information that you need to guide you through the logical steps. This person may not be internal, in fact in most of the above scenarios it has been a specialist employment lawyer, often based in the country involved
  • Dealing with new challenges is interesting and intellectually stimulating. Whilst my role is currently much harder and more unpredictable than I had imagined, I am coping and thriving amid the temporary chaos
  • Doing new things is great for professional confidence
  • Panicking never helped anyone 😉
  • Asking for help is fine…it is also often really sensible.
  • Sabrina Baker wrote a great blog recently about needing the mountain for personal growth, which really resonated with the tough challenges that are taking place in my workplace at the moment
  • Understand and play to your strengths, but watch out for your weaknesses. One of my strengths is the ability to operate fluidly and laterally in a complex, fast-paced environment. The time I really need to watch out for is when it all calms down and I will need to switch to implementing robust processes and procedures.
  • Building relationships internally and externally is absolutely key
  • Make complex things simple, not ever more complicated than they need to be
  • Enjoy feeling temporarily indispensable to the business…but never forget that you aren’t!

Do you know what you’re doing? What challenges are you dealing with at the moment? I’d love to know!

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I like feedback and if it is well delivered, it can be a very effective tool for making us more aware of our own behaviour and the impact we have on others.  Usually in my role, I coach others about the best way to approach delivering feedback; however, recently I have been reflecting on some of the most useful pieces of feedback that I have received in my career to date.  The commonality with all of these is the impact that they have had on how I act or the way I perceive things…more often than not on how I perceive my professional self.

Coincidentally these are also in chronological order – some of the early ones may seem blindingly obvious, but had to be learned, nonetheless 😉

1 – Just because you don’t articulate how you feel, does not mean that other people don’t know about it!

I learnt this lesson early on from one of my first bosses who gave me some good feedback on the fact that, like an open book, I am eminently ‘read-able’ in my body language and reaction to events. Sometimes this can be positive, but more often than not it is valuable to adopt a level of circumspection and I have (mostly!) learned to be more careful and considered.  The accompanying lesson to that one, is that just because colleagues don’t always choose react to non-verbal signals, it doesn’t mean that they have gone unnoticed.

2 – The areas that you think you need to develop, are not always the ones your boss would choose

Same boss, a couple of years later was talking to me about development and what I felt I needed to gain in order to progress. I opted for developing more ‘gravitas’ – partly because I thought it sounded sensible and suitable for a more senior role, but also because I believed it to be somehing I could do with developing more of. She gently pointed out that, in her opinion, I already had that in spades and had I thought about something totally different. She was right about it too – sometimes you’re not always the person who can see what you most need to improve, so asking and listening is vital.

3 – The colleague that you find difficult to work with, probably has some issues with you too

Peer-to-peer feedback is often tricky and my first real experience of it was when I worked with a business partner, who I felt always expected me to drop everything for him straight away and would hover over my desk expectantly when he wanted something from me, which made me feel like my personal space was being invaded. I found him to be a most unpleasant colleague and I took the time (when I wasn’t feeling too irritated!) to sit down with him and offer him some feedback along the lines of “I know you’re probably not aware of this, but when you do abc, it makes me feel xyz.” I had planned what I wanted to say very carefully and made sure I was neutral, clear and professional. The big learning for me in here though, was that when I had finished talking, he offered me some feedback in return and explained that he perceived me as being far too quick to dismiss an idea and say ‘no’ to it, without really exploring it or listening to his point of view. And actually, in fairness, he was probably right! At times, our conversation felt like a nightmare of diplomatic marriage guidance, as we tried to understand the other’s viewpoint, but the experience of giving feedback to eachother was highly valuable in improving our working relationship.

4 – HR people often neglect to practise what we preach

OK, so this may just be me ;). During a recent appraisal, my (non-HR) boss challenged me as to why all of my stated development goals were essentially ‘on-the-job’ training and learning by doing, rather than proper planned training courses or development. I recognised that since I have worked part-time I have often skimped on formal training, because I felt that I just didn’t have the time for it. He also challenged me about my external HR network (which was pretty sparse at the time)..and this prompted me to be a bit more proactive about it and led me to Twitter, ConnectingHR and the Unconference. And, believe me, that has represented a transformation of my HR network! Sometimes we can be so busy coaching managers about their development and that of their team, that we can end up losing sight of the need to challenge our boundaries and further our own development.

5 –  Perceptive comments from people who barely know you

Occasionally, someone can hit the nail on the head without realising it and say something that really resonates with you. For me, this happened at the Unconference in one of the breakout sessions, ‘The Politics of HR’, when the discussion moved onto blogging. I made the comment that I would have no idea as to how to go about starting a blog, and  the leader of the discussion laughed (kindly!) and said “that’s just really feeble – you work in a publishing company for goodness sake!” For me, that was a real light-bulb moment of taking ownership of my own development and capabilities and just giving things a go. I started my blog the very next day and haven’t looked back. I often think of that comment when I am facing challenges and it never fails to make me smile and toughen my resolve :).

And of course the feedback goes on, less often in a formal context now that I am more senior, but to be found nonetheless, if you are on the look-out for it.  Occasionally (as happened very recently) I am mortified by the realisation that I still fall into some of the same traps I thought I had conquered years ago, but the lovely thing about feedback is that it always an opportunity to learn and to put things right again. And of course, we are all human – thank goodness :)!

I’d love to know what feedback you have received over the years that has really resonated with you and influenced how you operate at work and home.

A couple of days ago I was asked to provide comment on the gender divide in HR. My immediate reaction was that I really don’t have very strong feelings on the subject at all.

Sure, I recognise that HR is a profession dominated by women (up to 70% apparently) and that there seem to be more men at a senior level than a junior level…but it doesn’t keep me awake at night. I don’t personally believe that the CIPD need to go on a major recruitment drive to get more men into the profession, evaluate how easy it is for women to progress within it or analyse why more women are attracted to it than men. To me, I don’t feel it matters hugely; it is what it is.

This undoubtedly reflects my personal experience of working in HR; certainly I have consistently had fewer male colleagues than female HR colleagues. But I have also found in the companies that I have worked for that there is a fairly even split at the senior HR Director or Head of HR level and that gender is not an issue, either in perception or reality. Throughout my career (and specifically when I had an HR boss rather than a CEO-boss) I have almost always had high-flying, high-achieving, immensely senior female HR bosses, who have been great role models.

As to why more women than men work in HR, I can only venture that it is perhaps to do with a perception of HR being soft and empathetic (traditionally seen as female qualities), rather data-driven and analytical (traditionally seen as ‘hard’, male strengths). Of course, HR is and should be both, though I sometimes suspect we don’t embrace that as much as we could or should. And I know I for one, initially chose HR as a career “because I wanted to help people…..” 😉 It does of course happen sometimes that I’m able to do that, but not usually in the way I originally envisaged.

What I would really like to know though is this: am I just lucky in my experience? Are gender issues within HR a real, live-and-kicking debate and a source of frustration for you in your organisation? Does it differ by sector? Am I missing something in all of this?

I would love to hear your views!

When my daughters were born, it transformed my view of working parents into a new-found, complete awe and admiration. How did they manage to turn up at work on time looking presentable and professional, do their roles capably and well, whilst still looking after their little ones outside of work hours? What was their secret and more importantly, where could I learn?! On returning to work after my maternity leave, I also remember berating my husband on several occasions that he did not and could not “understand the luxury of a full-time role”….by which I meant a job where he could leave at a time of his own choosing, not dictated by the demands of dropping off, picking up and putting to bed. Even if it was getting home at 8pm and later, which it often was, and dictated by client demands and overwhelming workload.  Poor Mr C… 🙂

I’ve worked part-time for three years now and learnt a lot along the way, some through my own experience and some things through friends and colleagues who have been happy to share. For anyone in the early days of trying to figure out how to make it work for them, or perhaps just trying to get an insight into how all those superwomen (and supermen) do it, then I hope this helps shed some light.

There are a few caveats to this post; firstly that I am lucky enough to be able to work part-time in a challenging role and that my Company is very supportive of flexible workers. Secondly, I choose to work part-time. And thirdly, I am female (obviously!) and have young children, which I am sure puts a spin of sorts onto it. 

My tips for making flexible working work for you are as follows –

1 – Set boundaries

You’ll need to make your own rules for how you deal with work on the days and times that you are not there, and being consistent about it will help you and others understand how the arrangement will work more quickly. You may choose to set an out-of-office on your email and phone and not look at work related stuff at all. I have to admit that I don’t do this – I tend to read emails even when I am not meant to be working, but I don’t respond unless they are truly urgent. At the end of the day, make the ‘rules’ that suit you, your family and your work and stick to them. You will almost certainly want to review and reassess these along the way….and that’s a good thing.

2 – Accept that there may be limitations

I have found a huge number of advantages in working flexibly, but inevitably there are also likely to be limitations. For example, part-time and flexible working is not usually conducive to managing large numbers of people. I managed a team of 7 whilst working a 3 day week for a short period of time…suffice to say it didn’t make any of us very happy and things had to change!  

You may find you are not in the same pole position you once were for promotions or for doing international travel…not because these options are unavailable to you, but because they would tip the juggling act of work and home out of kilter. And moving to a different external role whilst retaining the flexible arrangements you have in place would be difficult. So sometimes you may feel you are in conflict with your own personal ambition, and to be honest, there is every chance that this may be so temporarily. A friend of mine who felt this very deeply, was reassured by the advice of an older colleague who likened it to a dimmer switch – the ambition is still there and can be allowed to shine more at a later date of your choosing.

3 – Be here, now

Time is almost always of the essence when you work part-time and personally I never experienced the need for self-discipline and intense productivity so keenly when I worked full-time. It’s really important though to be in the moment; don’t spend your time at work thinking and worrying about the issues going on at home and vice versa. Be where you are and focus on that.

 As far as possible, live your working and home life without the burden of self-inflicted guilt. Chances are the childcare arrangements you have put in place will be the best you can possibly arrange and afford, so it is more likely to be you suffering and adjusting than them.  Kids are hugely adaptable, thank goodness!

4 – If you don’t ask, you won’t get

Many companies are prepared to be very flexible with employees and if you don’t ask for the arrangement that will really suit you, you’ll never know whether or not it is possible. I have just changed from a 3-day week to a 4-day week, but working the fourth day as two half days on a Monday and Friday, term-time only. Its early days but it really seems to work for me as I can take my children to and from school and they don’t really notice my increased hours. The trade-off of course, is that I am also flexible and will go in on those days if ever required to.

5 – Don’t apologise!

People rarely remember individual part-time or flexible arrangements; it goes with the territory.  I don’t take it personally when people forget and arrange meetings when I am not working, but I do try to avoid apologising for it or offering to compensate for my absence by dialling in from home.  The more you are able to embrace and accept your own part-time and flexible arrangements, the easier it will be for others to do so too. It took me rather a long time to realise that the person who had most issue with my part-time hours was myself!!

Do you work flexibly or know someone who does? Have you got tips you would like to share or any comments on the above? I’d love to hear from you!

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