I first became interested in the idea of the influence of the workplace itself on feelings about work when I read ‘A Time to Think’ by Nancy Kline, a book that has had a continued influence on my practice as a HR professional.

Kline is of course focusing on place in this context as a space that can, or cannot, influence great thinking. She says that it not just about appearance.  There are some places in which it is hard to think, some places which almost invite good thinking.  She argues that a workplace can reflect back to people; ‘you matter’.  In the book, the chapter dedicated to this particular issue concludes with a question (or perhaps a challenge); ‘what would you have to change about your work space, or even your home, for it to say back to you, ‘you matter’.

This book prompted me to make some changes in a former organisation. I worked in what can best be described as tired.  It has suffered greatly from a lack of maintenance.  At some time in the past, someone had made some terrible decisions around the practical stuff.  The carpet was grey.  The walls were grey.  The filing cabinets, of which there were many and many, were also grey.  Many workstations lacked natural light.  Meeting rooms either boiled or froze.  The furniture was old.  The basics were poor; the toilets, the food provision, the car parking.  No one really seemed to care.  How was that relevant to hitting the financial goals?

I inherited a training room. It was the place that old furniture had gone to die.  Two tables, different in colour and height.  Eight chairs, each a relic from an bygone age.  Broken blinds.  Dirty cream walls, old blue tac marks creating a greasy dot to dot for anyone so inclined.  This was not a place that said ‘you matter’.  It was the funeral of ambition.  It was not a place that leant itself to thinking, to learning, to spending time lingering or talking.

It was a place that said we don’t care much at all.  You don’t matter, and neither does your learning.

So I changed it. I persuaded our facilities team to paint the walls a calming blue. I had the furniture tossed into a skip.  I used my meagre training and development budget to order some new furniture.  Instead of the usual office stuff we went for sofas and comfy chairs.  There were cushions and a coffee machine.  New blinds and fresh water.  The day that the Ikea delivery van arrived, some eyes rolled.  It was that girl in HR again.  I was lucky enough to have a boss that believed in me and the decisions that I made, so I carried on regardless.

It didn’t involve much effort. It cost less than a £1000.  But I believe we created a space that whispered softly to our people, ‘you matter’.

So it is with this backdrop I eagerly awaited the book ‘The Elemental Workplace’ by my Twitter friend Neil Usher, who is also, in my humble opinion, one of the best bloggers out there, writing about this work stuff.  When it landed on my doormat I dove straight in and I was not disappointed.  His usual sharp sense of humour is present throughout, along with his evidently deep knowledge of his subject matter.  I love the book because it is practical.  You don’t have to be building a new office building right from the plans.  You don’t have to have a huge budget. There is always something we can do to create a better place of work for the people that move within it in the every day.

It feels to me that in the ongoing discussions about human resources and employee engagement and better work, this is a piece that we too often miss. We instead focus on leadership and management, and reward and recognition, wellbeing and corporate social responsibility and so and so on.  We survey our people to assess their percentage of engagement, if there is even such a thing.  We ask if they understand the vision, if their manager makes them feel valued, if they have a useful performance review – but do we ask them if their chair works or they can access fresh air or if they are within reasonable distance of a water machine or if they can control the temperature in their office?  Do we create a place that says ‘you matter’ for our people?  Do we even think about it when designing our people strategy and our annual operational plans?

You can buy Neil’s book here.  If you work in HR, if you are a leader in an organisation, you really should.*   If we really believe our people matter, this stuff matters too.


Neil did not pay me to write this blog post. He should however be aware that he can buy me Prosecco if his sales go up as a result.

Social Media, Personal Brand and You

I recently presented to the CIPD Student conference on social media for personal brand. Here’s a summary of what I had to say for your reading pleasure.

Personal brand is the idea that people can manage and promote their personal reputations in a similar way to organisations managing their consumer brands. There are some formal definitions on Wikipedia… but my personal favourite is this explanation. It’s what people say about you when you are not in the room.

Social media presents an opportunity to create and manage a personal brand in an effective way.

Why would you bother? I suggested that there are three reasons…. followed by an important question to answer.

You can use social media to build your personal credibility, to position yourself, and to create opportunities. It provides a way for you to say this is what I know about, this is what my area of expertise, this is what I bring to the party.  It is a way of connecting, engaging, promoting and learning.

But before you start you do need to consider: what do you want to be known for? This is the essence of a personal brand.  This is the what you want people to say about you when you are not in the room.

From there, everything else flows.

If you want to use social media for your personal brand, here is some stuff to think about:

  • Your elevator pitch. What is it? What is your thing? How do you explain who you are and what it is that you do?
  • Your image. This is partly about your actual image – the photographs you use, how professional you look (no pub pics please). But it’s also about your Twitter bio and your LinkedIn headline and your blog strapline. Put together, what is the image you portray?
  • Create a personal policy. Not an actual written one (unless you like that sort of thing), but just a few rules for yourself. If you use lots of social media platforms, which ones are private and which ones are for public consumption? What will you share…. and what won’t you?
  • Clear up. When you have your personal policy in place, clear up the past. Delete your dodgy photos, remove that which doesn’t present the personal brand you are aiming for. Or, leave them where they are and lock down your privacy settings.
  • Pick your platforms. You can’t do every platform well, so don’t even try. Instead, decide which are the right ones for you, and do them really well. Before deciding – figure out just where on social media the people you want to influence are likely to be.
  • Play to your strengths. If you can write, blog. If you can take great photographs, go shoot. If you have a face for video…. you get my point. Show off your skills.

And finally, of course, my standard advice for getting a little bit more social. Be you.  Dive in.  Share Stuff.

A consumer brand is more than the sum of the products that they sell or the services that they provide. In the same way, you are more than the sum of your job title and list of qualifications.  So if you want a kick-ass personal brand, social media is the place to start.

Working from Work

As a result of recent inclement weather, we have a number of questions in relation to Working from Work, and would like to take the opportunity to clarify our position.

The Company recognises that employees may find it beneficial to work from a range of locations including (but not limited to) their home, with customers or clients or at co-working spaces. From time to time they may also wish to Work from Work.  We recognise that some managers are concerned about staff working from work on a regular basis.  This FAQs may assist you.

Will staff who work from work spend their time chatting in the kitchen or around the water cooler?

Most staff can be trusted to responsibly work from work. Where issues arise relating to performance or productivity, these should be raised as quickly as possible, providing specific examples.

Isn’t working from work just for people without children or caring responsibilities?

Anyone may want to work from work. Although working from work may suit some groups as a result of their personal situation, our Working from Work Policy applies to all staff.

If I allow staff to work from work, won’t I have to say yes to other people that also want to work from work?

Allowing staff to work from work does not automatically mean that you will have to allow other staff to work from work. You should use your discretion based on operational requirements.

Will productivity reduce if too many staff work from work, as a result of all the meetings?

Unnecessary, boring and overlong meetings can be a consequence of working from work. As a manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that working from work does not amount to a distraction from actual work.

Isn’t all the unnecessary commuting detrimental to staff who work from work?

Yes, it can be. However we have an excellent corporate wellbeing progamme involving free fruit that will help off-set this.

How do I know if staff who are working from work are really working if I sit in a different office?

You can’t monitor every individual in the office all the time. Set clear objectives for working from work staff and monitor them as you would anyone else who works for you.

How should I manage work from work staff?

Recognise that working from work staff are just like everyone else, only they don’t get to watch Homes Under the Hammer.

Isn’t work something that you do, rather than a place that you go?



PS – I totally stole the idea for this blog post from a spoof email that I saw yesterday but can’t attribute.  If anyone things I have plagiarised I will remove it.





Precedent. It’s not a dirty word.

Five years or so ago, I wrote about the word ‘precedent’. I suggested that it should be banned. I called it a cop out.  The poorest of HR (and manager) excuses for not trying something new, doing something different.

I have changed my position. A little at least.

Someone said it to me recently, in the context of flexible working (of course). The concern around setting a precedent is cited often by their management teams as a reason to say no.

I’d like to approach precedent differently.

Let’s see it as an awesome opportunity.

A Father wants to take discontinuous Shared Parental Leave? Let’s set a precedent by saying yes.

An employee wants to work compressed hours but we haven’t allowed that before?

Someone else wants time off work to attend the development programme of their choice?

Another wants to take a career break?

Let’s set a new, positive precedent.

If there is a risk that a precedent will be set and others might ask for the same, this might just mean that this is because they can see the benefit to them and their lives too. Demand is telling us something about what employees want and value – and in turn what they will join your organisation for, and stay there for too.

Saying yes to new ways of working may well encourage others. But change, challenge, innovation – these are things to welcome, not things to fear.

What is the real impact of ‘setting a precedent’ by saying yes? A few more requests for something or other.  A little bit of management time to assess them.  A meeting to communicate the decision.

When it comes to saying yes to something new, nowhere in the HR handbook does it say that we are then required to say yes to everyone, everything else, that we are ever asked in the future. The workplace isn’t a court of law, bound by the decisions that went before.  We just have to explain that to people.

It’s not rocket science.


Reasons to work flexibly, 1,2,3

…. and some more besides.


There are many forms of flexible working. There is flexibility in terms of place – where we work, and flexibility in terms of time – when we do the thing that we do.  There’s homeworking and coffee shop working and flexitime and term-time and compressed hours and annualised hours and job shares.

Whatever the type of flexibility we are talking about, it is increasingly clear that flexibility is desired by the many and not the few. For organisations, this isn’t about family friendly stuff, but about inclusion and talent.  Despite this, many employers (or more specifically in my experience, managers) still favour the traditional 9-5 type approach for many types of work.  Having their people where they can see them.

Here are 5 reasons why organisations should support flexible working:

  1. Employee engagement. People like flexible working and want flexible working. Providing it, providing the opportunity for more balance, better commutes, less stress – is going to help towards a more engaged workforce.
  2. Inclusion. Fathers who want to be more involved with the care of their children, individuals with disabilities who might find a rush hour commute impossible, carers, or those with significant family responsibilities. Whatever the reason for not wanting – or being able to – work traditional office hours, flexibility can help level the playing field.   See following point.
  3. Talent acquisition – offering flexibility gives you access to a greater pool of talent. It makes your employer brand competitive.   You can hire the best person for the job – not the best person for the job that can get into your office and work your normal contractual hours.
  4. Talent retention. Engaged employees are less likely to want to leave. Ditto employees who have a working pattern that works for them and their family. Engaged employees are less likely to want to leave. It’s all connected……
  5. Cost. For those organisations that can embrace entirely flexible and mobile working this can lead to the need for less office space. Fewer desks. Lower rents. And there are those employee travel costs too. How many empty desks are there in your office when people are out and about?
  6. Life Work Balance. The often long and grinding commute. Stress of the school run. The worry about who will look after the kids if…..and so on.   Flexible working can, in my own personal experience, lead to healthier, happier staff.
  7. Productivity. Not everyone works effectively in traditional office hours, or in the typical office environment. Allowing people some flexibility around when and where they work, when they are most creative or productive – this is a mind-shift change from judging people on how long they are in the office to what they achieve.

For some roles at least, to be effective all we need is a laptop and a wifi connection. The tech is already there – it’s about maximising its potential. Flexibility shouldn’t be an employee benefit, reserved for the lucky few. For those organisations and role types where it is possible, flexibility isn’t a perk – it should be a strategy.


The imposter within

Can I do this?

I can’t do this.

Any minute now, someone is going to Find. Me.  Out.

The voice of the imposter.

The nagging doubt, telling you that you can’t. That you don’t belong.  You probably shouldn’t even try. That you are going to mess this up, any minute now.  And everyone will know, that you didn’t and you probably never could.

It is the voice of all of the fears.

I recently attended a lecture on Imposter Syndrome at the University of Manchester. The speaker said that around 70% of people agree that they have suffered imposter syndrome at some point in their careers…. and the other 30% might just be lying.

I can remember the last time it happened to me. Two years ago I decided to qualify as a Personal Trainer.  I’d been on a personal journey from morbidly obese to running a half marathon.  It inspired me to learn more about maximising my own fitness, and a desire to share my learning with others.  On the course, there was no one like me.  No one just starting out, no one only a little bit fit.  No one still carrying around some excess weight and a whole load of insecurities.  The course was full of powerful women.  Literally.  Women who could boss around some big weights.  Who were lean and strong and supple.  For whom fitness and focus wasn’t something new but something everyday.

And the voice started up. What are you doing in this room? With these people? Just who do you think you are?

The first coffee break came (only they all drank water). Discussions about diet and protein and plans and just how much time did you spend working out in the gym and what is the most you have bench pressed.

Outside of my comfort zone. Inside, all of the fear.

I nearly ran. But I didn’t.  I stuck it out, tried not to listen to the voice in my head that said I didn’t belong.  That any moment now, someone would find me out.

For me, the learning from the lecture was this. Imposter syndrome is normal.  It is something we all experience a little or a lot, at some time in our lives.  But it is just a voice, the manifestation of all of our fears.  It isn’t reality.  There are some true frauds.  But it usually isn’t us.  To decide whether the voice in our head speaks reality or belief, we must look at the evidence.  Often, that evidence points away from suggesting we are an imposter, to something else entirely.

For me, after all of the doubt and the uncertainty, I passed the course after all. No imposter here. Just me, doing the best I can.


You can find the Storify of my tweets from the lecture here.


Human Up Recruitment

This is a very long blog post. I’m not even sorry.  Because there is a lot to say.  Earlier this week I published a blog post on human workplaces.  I’m trying to look at it from a practical perspective.  What can we actually do?

I’m starting with recruitment not just because it is the beginning of the employment lifecycle, but also because it is an area that is crying out for a dose of the human touch. Consider the last time you were looking for work.  How much of this did you see?

Wordy, long job descriptions.

Job descriptions masquerading as advertisements.

Unwieldy application systems.

The need to provide unnecessary information.

The need to copy information into boxes that was already on your CV.

Application forms so long they take hours and hours to complete.

Getting nothing back in return but a standardised email.

No feedback.

No contact from a person, just automation.

A lack of information about what it will be like to work there, apart from a list of generic statements and benefits on the website.

Questions that seemed to have no relevance to the job you are applying for.

 No way to ask questions during the process.

Fixed interview dates with no room for flexibility.

Interviews that don’t start on time.

The application black hole.


Human? Not so much.

Remember the saying that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression? Your recruitment process is your first impression.  More than that, it is a window into your organisational culture.  How you treat your candidates says much about how you treat your employees.  For those who are successful, the candidate experience is the first step to their whole employee experience – it is your first opportunity to create engagement.

There are many organisations who are still so arrogant as to think that people should be queuing around the block to work for them. Who don’t feel that they have to put in the effort.  Who don’t treat recruitment as the strategic work that it is.

Of all the elements of the employee lifecycle and that people stuff that we do, in many ways it is also the easiest to automate and build technology around. It is absolutely possible to leverage technology in recruitment, but at the same time provide a human, people focused experience.

There are some questions to ask yourself first of all. What is it like to apply for a job through your processes?   Apply for a job yourself with a candidate’s eyes.  Get out and talk to those who have recently started working with you , and ask them how it felt.  What was good and what was not.  Ask too, how good are your managers at recruiting?  Do they understand the changing context of recruitment?  Do they know how to interview in a human way?  If not, train them.

Start with the end in mind. What would you like your candidate experience to be. How would you like people to feel at the end of the process, whether they are successful in their application or not?  What does a great, human, candidate experience look like, at your place?

Once you have answered these questions – turn to your process. Is it human?

And just from me, here are five more simple tips to make your recruitment processes a little more human.

  1. Stop, just stop, putting ‘if you have not heard from us in XX days assume you have been unsuccessful’ on your recruitment adverts. If people have taken the time to put in an application, complete your forms and tick your boxes, you can have the common decency to send them an email rejecting them. Automate it if you have to but just do it.
  2. Many organisations have an ATS (or recruitment system if you will). Some organisations have hundreds of vacancies and applications and it would be unfeasible to suggest that they can personally contact everyone who applies. But you can review your standard emails and make them warm and friendly. They can have a tone of voice that says a meaningful thank you.
  3. Stop scheduling the interview date before you even have the applications in. Are your senior people just so busy that they can only commit to one date? This approach is unbelievably outdated. Candidates have jobs. They have commitments. They may have caring responsibilities or children or medical appointments and they just can’t do your date. If you don’t change this, risk talent deciding just not to apply at all.
  4. Remember at all times: your job description is not your recruitment advert.
  5. Train your line managers. Not just in how to ask interview questions but how to create a great candidate experience. We bet for many it’s a term that they haven’t even heard of, something that they don’t even think about.

Okay. So I lied when I said there were only going to be five things.  So here is one and it is a biggy. Stop doing competency based interviews.  Just stop.  Right now.  Because do you know what? They don’t work.

Competency based interview questions are those that ask for real life examples of when you have done something, based upon the prescribed competencies for the role. The idea behind competency based interviews is that interviewers will be able to satisfy themselves that potential employees have the experience needed to do the job.  Only there is a problem.  They fundamentally ignore the importance of context.  Past experience does not necessarily predict future performance.  The ability to succeed in any given organisation can be attributed to many factors.

There is no guarantee, even with the shiniest answer in the world that scores the most points on a grid that a candidate will be able to replicate what they did in a previous organisation or under a different set of circumstances. Context is everything. The team, the culture, the management, the resources available.  Unless these are identical, then the answer is irrelevant.

Another key problem is that people know how to answer them. They can be practiced, and it isn’t all that hard to make something up either.

Competency based questions assess people in the past, not the now or the future.  They tell you nothing about someone’s potential to do a good job other than their ability to find a good example in the moment.

If you currently use competency based questions, consider replacing them with the much more human strengths based type.  They allow you to get to know the real individual.  And that is who you are hiring.  Strengths based interviews allow you to get to know the person in front of you.  What gets them motivated?  What they like doing, and dislike too.  Assess potential.  You are also much less likely to get some sort of pre-prepared, scripted, generic reply.  They allow candidates to bring their real self, not their example one.

Can we make recruitment a little bit more human? Pretty please?