Human Up

Automation.  Robots. Artificial intelligence.  Digital and social.

The future of work is [fill in the blanks].

We can’t accurately predict the future.  But we do know that it will involve all of this technology stuff.  More and more.  Faster and faster.

A few years ago talk of cognitive assistants meant asking Siri what the weather was going to be like.  Now we are seeing them in use in our own homes.

Last night I was at an event at Liverpool John Moores University, where we were talking about work, technology and HR.  For me, several ideas coming together at once.

There is much in HR work that can be automated.  The routine stuff in particular – and so much of what we do is just that.  This is both good… and bad.  Good in that we can get rid of the non-value add work and focus on what can really make a difference to work and working lives.

But it can lead to a dehumanized experience.  Take recruitment.  When you apply for a job, get all the way to interview, but never actually engage with a person, only an ATS.  It might be time efficient, but it certainly ain’t human.  It is cold.

Can more HR work be undertaken by robots?  Probably. Definitely.

It is all too easy to reject the notion.  Our perception is constrained by what we know and do now. Arthur Danto said that the future is a mirror in which we can only see ourselves.

But even within a future with more and more automated people stuff, or even a first line HR advice robot, this is when our most human side of human resources can come to the forefront.

The World Economic Forum said that in the machine age, only the human organization will survive.

There are some things that only a human can do.  Show real empathy.  Have emotional intelligence.  Listen, completely – not with the intention to respond with a programmed response but simply to be there for someone.  To live, work and act with values that we have determined for ourselves.

It has become something of a cliché to talk about putting the human back into human resources.  But in clichés there is often truth.  Perhaps it is time to embrace it.

The future of work will be more automated. More digital. Filled with more and more tech. More work will be lost to robots and algorithms.  This is inevitable.

But the future of work can also be more human.  If we let it.

Repeating myself (about social media)

Blogging déjà vu

I am fairly sure I have written this blog post before.

I am bored of saying it.  Maybe you are bored of reading it.

But I’m posting it again all the same.

Scrolling through my Twitter timeline this morning, I came across a post about social media and employment law.  I’m not going to name and shame; it’s not about that. It’s about wanting to see something different.  Pretty please.

You have probably seen the like before.  Stuff about all of the risks.  About the potential claims just waiting to be made against you by employees and interview candidates alike.  About what should be in the policy and what you should and shouldn’t do and, meh, it was so risk averse.

Misconceptions built in.  Myth number one in the post?  Older people can’t or don’t or won’t use social media. So it might be age discrimination.  Or something.

First things first.  That isn’t true.  And peddling that particular myth is right up there with all the millennial clickbait crap. Social media isn’t just for kids you know.

It’s hard wired into the HR profession to consider risk.  It is part of the job after all.  Only sometimes we take it too far.  We write all the policies and issue all the warnings.  Unfortunately, we sometimes forget along the way to balance the potential rewards with the possible risks.

Transparency.  Internal communication opened right up. Dialogue not monologue.  Breaking down the silos. Connecting leaders to the people that work for them.  Employee advocacy.  Totally new ways of learning.  Bringing the outside in.  Collaboration.  Employer brand.

The benefits are many.  I could go on, but there’s a whole back catalogue of blog posts where I bang on about it enough.

My request of HR folks is this.

Worry less.

Some people will do dumb stuff on social media.  Most of them won’t.

Some employees will do stuff on social media that might find its way into the employment tribunal.  Some employers will do that too.  But most of them won’t.

But many of you, any of you, can have the benefits if you put the work in to making your place more social.

So next time you read some employment law social media write a policy now (we can help you with that of course) clickbait, then just close the link and read something (anything) less risk averse instead.

Pretty please.


PS – more on social media myths from my co-author and collaborator Tim Scott here.

Opening Doors

Today is my last day as an official employee at my current place, after three and a half years or so.

For the first time since I left university I don’t have a job to go to on Monday.  No boss to answer to. No meetings or objectives or to-do list.  No people stuff to be done.

After 16 years living in Yorkshire, and a few months spending a lot of time going back and forth on the M62, I am packing up and moving away.  Taking a chance.

It makes you reflective, this big life change stuff.

I’ve thought a great deal about these last three and a half years.

There are things I would have done differently if I had my time over.  Or would have taken more time over at least.

There are things that I wouldn’t have done at all.

There is stuff that I am proud of. People too.

As ever, there are things that I wanted to do that just never made it through.

These are the lessons for the next thing, whatever that may be.

But I hope that I made a difference during my time there, all the same.

I hope that I lived up to the ambition of our profession to make work or working lives a little better along the way. 

There has been a poster on my office wall for a little while now.  It says: ‘today is a great day for opening  a new door’.  I am opening it.  And I am looking forward to finding out what happens when I do. I guess you can be sure I’ll be blogging about it…..


Oh, and if anyone you know needs a HR Director in Liverpool, can you give me a shout?  Thanks!

Reflections on #cipdACE16

I’ve spent the last two days at the CIPD annual conference as part of the blogsquad.  The theme this year was ‘Shaping the Future of Work’.

Future was the word of the event.  The future of learning, of technology, of jobs and skills.  The future of work.  Of leadership. The responses and the preparations we need to make.  Making meaning of the trends and the possibilities.

My reflections from the event……

As I’ve already said in an earlier post, and indeed was echoed by some of the speakers, the future isn’t all that easy to predict.  We can try, but as Margaret Heffernan noted in the opening keynote, the lifetime of a business plan now is around two years now.  There is stuff that can be said to be known, and far too much that is unknown to make planning any further out unreliable.

Predictions we can make? There will be more technology.  Much more.  Still increased computing power.  AI.  Automation. Robots. More self employment / gig economy type stuff. Social media will continue to rise and rise.  The consumer experience, the working experience, the way we live our daily lives will continue to change.

And stay the same.

For the technology will be adopted at different paces, for both individuals and organisations alike. You know the curve.  And even with all the technology that we will have available to us, for all the changes we may see in the labour market, work is essentially, and will remain, a human endeavour.  It is people stuff.  It is also, as noted by the closing keynote speaker Gianpiero Petriglieri, it is how we define ourselves.

During the event I was asked by the folks at DPG what HR can do to help shape the future of work.

My answer? Whilst we can and should embrace the technology that is both available right now and will come along in due course, we must remember that first and foremost we are about people. A key role for HR, today and tomorrow, is helping our organisations and people navigate the future, whatever it looks like.  Learn the skills, adapt and respond.  Because we all know what happens to those that cannot.

It is important for us as HR professionals to think about and prepare for the future of work.  This is how we make ourselves and our organisations capable of surviving and thriving, today and tomorrow. But it goes without saying we need to pay attention to the now too.  Because there is much that needs to be done today in the world of work.

One of the sessions I attended during the conference was around the principles that the CIPD are developing for our profession.  During the session we talked about how work should be a force for good – but often it is not.

Our challenge in HR is the future, but it is also the now.

Better work, better working lives.  Today and tomorrow.

Change Stuff #cipdACE16

This morning I attended a session at the CIPD conference where HRD’s shared their experiences of organisational transformation.

One of those terms that sounds more fancy than it needs to.

Change is all it is.

A constant presence in all of the aspects of our lives.

Nothing stays the same.

I’m not going all VUCA on you. This isn’t about the so-called changing world that we live in or the digital world and all that future of work stuff, it is just life stuff.

When I hear people talk about change at work we often start from the premise that change is hard. Challenging.
Filled with emotion.

Well, yes.

Of course.

Emotion is always present. But which one?

My experience tells me that there is no linear path. You can’t map it on a curve, and you certainly can’t predict how people will react when they hear the whatever it is.

We all experience it differently. I have long given up trying to predict what someone will say or do when you sit down with them face to face whilst wearing your HR hat.

What I do know is this: Change is hard.


Sometimes it is other stuff too.

Necessary. Cathartic. Liberating. Exciting. Frightening.

Sometimes it is long overdue. A relief. Something to be thankful for.

An opportunity.

When it comes to organisational change there are no magic wands or silver bullets.  What is needed isn’t all that difficult.

Good and frequent communication. A human approach. Creating the vision of the future. A clear explanation of why and what and when. Ownership and responsibility. Help with the emotional stuff for those that need it. Quickly addressing the hygiene stuff. Answering the questions that are asked with transparency and speed. Honesty about what is known and not known. For HR specifically; the need to be present, visible, available.

We need too a recognition that change doesn’t always mean something negative. If we approach it as such then this is the reality we may create. There will always be emotion to play out, this is just how it is.

But remember that change, whatever it is, might just be the best thing that could have happened, for the individual or for the organisation.


All that future of work stuff #cipdace16

The future of work.  A theme of the conference today. 

Often written about (including, tbh, quite a bit by me).  We can see some of the trends that are coming in the world of work, but even those of us that read about it and write about it have to confess we don’t really know all that much.  Earlier today in the keynote we heard that the life of a business plan today is a maximum of two years. 

There are plenty of cliches too.  Sound the ‘pace of change is increasing’ klaxon if you will…… And let’s stay well away from too much VUCA chat. 

Every session I’ve attended today has focused on the future. What it will take to be successful. Technology. How we can learn differently, today and tomorrow. Skills, automation, implications for people. 

My final session of the day is a panel session, chaired by Jo Swinson, Former Minister for Employment Relations, Richard MacKinnon from the Future Work Centre, Valerie Todd from Crossrail and Laura Harrison from the CIPD as we debate the future of work, skills, automation and people.

Here are some of the thoughts from the panel…….

Richard talks about the point that the future is hard to predict. That there have always been times of uncertainty, disruption and great change. But most change happens incrementally. This is true too of the future of work. What HR needs to do is avoid following fads and fashions. It is our role to challenge assumptions.  

In change there are often winners and losers. Some that can adapt better than others, individuals and organisations alike. 

The challenge for HR is how to have a critical discussion about what this means in our own context and how this will impact our businesses. How can we understand what will truly impact our organisations and how we should react to it. These are difficult things to deal with. How do organisations become more successful in the future? Neil asks how we help people to morph into the new roles that will exist. They will need help to learn and a supportive framework in which to do it. 

It starts with leadership. We need in HR too to help our leaders with all this stuff – including the tech. 

We need also to reclaim technology – make it people led rather than led by the technology and functionality itself. 

If we do these things we can help to ensure there are more winners than losers in the future of work. 

Automation.  Fundamentally changing jobs and work.  (nothing new there then). 

And then a key question for the room – how will our profession adapt? There will be more technology certainly. Automation will happen more and more for our key processes – with caution to keep the human element. HR robot anyone? 

I’ve enjoyed all the discussions today. But I can’t predict this stuff.  None of us are Cassandra. The only certainty for us is more change. The only response we have available to us in HR is adaption. And this might just be our greatest challenge. 

The point about the speed of adoption as well as the speed of change is well made. As Peter Cheese often says (quoting William Gibson) – the future is already here.  It is just evenly distributed.


This is a live blog – please excuse any typos! 

Notes from the keynote #cipdACE16

Well, here I am again. At the CIPD Annual Conference, with the honour of being part of the social media dream team.

It’s keynote time, and we are listening to Dr Margaret Heffernan, award winning author and Ted speaker, on collaboration, innovation and creativity in the new world of work.  What makes modern organisations successful?

 Here’s a little of what she had to say…..

Successful teams aren’t those who are the smartest. Who have the highest IQ – or even one or two members with high IQ. Just having a bunch of smart people won’t lead to organisational success. Neither will having one superman. 

Research into successful teams found that they have three characteristics: people within it score high on empathy, they have contributions from everyone in the team and they had more women within them. This equals collective intelligence. 

What matters is what happens between people. Helpfulness. This is the key, in any type of organisation. Simply, how helpful people within the organisation are to each other. 

Helpfulness has power. It leads to confidence. Fundamental to it is the idea of sharing information. This is what people do when they are helping each other. It plays out by people spending time together and sharing.   

Research shows that work groups that take coffee breaks together become significantly more productive. 

It’s about spending time together. It is internal networking. Relationship building. Building too the collective intelligence of the organisation. 

But sometimes the hierarchy and bureaucracy gets in the way. Structures can impede productivity and problem solving. They block the information.  We have to get round them.  

You can measure the health of an organisation by how quickly important information flows. 

Social capital. The idea that the social network is central. That there is, within the organisation, trust, reciprocity and co-operation. Shared consciousness. This is the key to organisational success. 

People that are successful in complexity? People who listen. Who ask good questions. Can pick up all the weak signals within the organisation. Who get outside their own field of expertise. These are the people that can solve the problems. 

The problem for our organisations is unlocking people’s thinking. Getting them off their particular piece of the chessboard (the job description, the fixed title and place in the organisation chart). We spend so much time thinking about performance management and weeding out the slackers, but that is a 5% problem. Instead we need to focus on the 95%. 

What is important that people feel valued. Where they can make mistakes because that equals learning. And when people understand that they are there to learn. It’s not about HIPOS.  It is seeing talent everywhere. Talent is not fixed. Expertise is not enough.  We need people who are enthused by learning. We need to reframe and re-tackle the issue of diversity. We need to cherish the differences between people. The people that are not like you have. I have to teach you. 

When we recruit people stop digging into their expertise. Ask them who helped them get where they are today. Hire people who share what they learn. Hire their social capital. 

We need curious minds. Well stocked minds. Diverse minds. This way leads to success. 

Organisations will only grow when our people grow. 
Thoughts from me on this stuff……

Margaret quoted all the research that backed up the findings. But even putting that aside, we know this don’t we? As HR professionals? I’ve worked in organisations where people aren’t helpful. Where they put up barriers. Where the answer is no, know what is the question. Where people would rather win or score points than work collaboratively. Where people quote policies or hoard information.  Information does not flow. 

These organisations are not good places to work. And of course there are negative impacts on productivity.  This stuff is circular. If people don’t help each other, there isn’t trust. There isn’t reciprocity or sharing. There is no learning g. So how can there be innovation?  High engagement? Growth – of individuals or EBITDA? 

Social capital is the formal name for something more simple. Relationships. People. Being human. And this is what we do in this profession of ours. This is our opportunity. 
Back to that coffee break thing…. Where I work we are big fans of Fika. Google it, try it, have coffee together. 

This is a live blog. Please excuse any typos!