How does this make people feel?

On the wall in my last office there was a whiteboard.

On it, our projects and priorities.

To the side, questions.  Reminders, challenges to self.

Question number one: How does this make people feel?

‘This’ could be anything.  The new policy in draft.  The project in planning.  The development programme.  The status update on our internal social network.  The letter to an employee.  The new shiny thing.

This people stuff that we do.  Recruitment, reward, learning and development, induction, performance management.  It cannot be separated from how people feel.

When we talk about engagement and motivation and meaning and performance, scratch the surface, see through the theory, and what is underneath is simply feelings.

Maya Angelou is often quoted on this subject.  She said that we forget what people do and what they say but they never forget how we make them feel.

Apply this to people stuff.  Your employees won’t remember much of their induction.  They won’t retain all that much of the PowerPoint from the training course.  They certainly won’t be likely to quote text from your employment policy or handbook.

We have built theory around simplicity…. in concept at least.

Because feelings are messy.  Changeable. Inconsistent.

Something that can’t be turned into a percentage on an engagement survey.  Cannot be represented in a project plan.   But as people practitioners, something that should be at the forefront of what we do all the same.  Even the difficult stuff, the not so nice part of the job, can be done with empathy and decency and with thought to the way people feel.

There has been an increasing call of late for work to become more human.  The starting point for me is to keep the question in mind and in sight…… how does this make people feel?

Eight Hours

The Zero Hours Contract debate rumbles on.

Are these contracts about flexibility and choice, or are they a race to the bottom? Are they about coffee shops and MacBooks, or exploitative and a symbol of a two-tier workforce?  Are they the dark side of the gig economy?

You can find arguments and opinion to support both frames of reference.

The answer is that they are probably both, depending on your personal circumstances and experiences.  For some, they equal freedom and flexibility.  For others, the best that they can get.

But Zero Hours Contracts are only part of the story.  The rest of the narrative is about low paid, low hours work – whatever the contractual status.

Now anyone who has every used a job alert service via a job board will know that their algorithms are…. interesting.  As a result of a request to receive notifications for new HR roles, I’ve recently been sent information on roles for financial accountants, software developers and chefs.  Some of which were in France.  Someone in my timeline recently commented that the criteria for receiving a notification from some job boards amounted to nothing more than ‘do you have an email address and are you alive?’

One such recent notification caught my eye….for all the wrong reasons.

It was for a leading retailer.  Paying the national minimum wage.  For eight hours each week.

Now you might think that there is nothing wrong with an eight hour per week contract.  It’s better than a Zero Hours one perhaps.  There are plenty of people who might value eight hours of paid employment.  A student looking to work whilst studying.  Someone seeking a second job to top up their income.  The only problem that I could see was exactly when the eight hours were taking place.  Because it could be anytime at all.  The shop was open 12 hours each day, seven days per week.  And the role required total flexibility – actual shifts notified on a weekly basis.  Applying for, and accepting, a position meant agreeing to working those hours whenever.

What would this mean in practice for the successful applicant?  Less than £60 per week, before deductions.  A limited ability to secure other work around that contact. An inability to plan, arrange childcare, make any advance arrangements.  Waiting on a whim.

This isn’t flexibility and choice.  This is barely a weekly food shop for most families.

There are no good reasons that I can think of that a major retailer could not, with some planning and foresight, make this a fixed set of hours or days, or at least offer reasonable parameters or some certainly.  It smacks of lazy management.  There is something just a little arrogant about it too.

I can’t think what it would be like to be employed in this way.  Wondering if there will be any overtime this week.  Wondering if this is the week that your boss will give you a shift that you just can’t get childcare for.  When exactly your hours will fall, if there is any other way to increase your income.

While we debate concepts like meaningful work, workplace democracy, employee engagement and all of that people stuff, let us also look in our own back yards.

Do the jobs, and their design, where you work, allow your employees the basic dignity of both living and working? Or does the way that the work is organised cause stress and uncertainty for the people that undertake it?   Do those jobs and their design enable both parties…. or just the organisation?

When we have a resourcing requirement, when we start drafting that job description and advert, we need to think not only about the needs of the organisation, but the needs of the individual who will be doing the work.

Contracts have many implied terms, amongst all the express ones.  Maybe it is about time that humanity become one of them.





We live in a post-truth world apparently.

I can’t help wondering if, based on the news that appears in my Twitter timeline at least, we are entering a post-human world of work.

I’m not talking about all the automation, robots, AI stuff.  This isn’t about suggesting work doesn’t need people.  But instead that many of our organisations have become places in which we have lost sight of the human element of work.

Amazon are the latest in a long line of companies being heavily criticised about working conditions in their distribution centres.  Not for the first time either.  Sports Direct had all of the headlines previously.  The accusations are familiar.  Poor treatment of agency workers. Harsh sanctions. Lack of job security. Fear. Oppressive management.

Scientific management, just with added tech for the digital age, rules still.

Despite everything we know about what motivates and engages people and what does not.

Despite the impact that we must know these working conditions have on the people that operate within them.

This isn’t about criticising one particular company.  I don’t have any information beyond the headlines.

But this is about suggesting, again, that we can do better.

As I have quoted in a previous blog post, in the machine age, only the human organisation will survive.

We can merge technology, targets and good people stuff.  We can create human centred workplaces, that ask, not only how will this improve the bottom line but also how will this make people feel?

It is possible.

Or maybe we’d just prefer to have a new sandwich toaster delivered within an hour. 


How to rock your people event

I often get involved in events. Sometimes as a speaker, sometimes through my day job, and sometimes as part of my volunteer role for the CIPD.  It probably isn’t a surprise to anyone that I love a good conference or event. Last week I managed three HR events. They are a great opportunity to share information, to engage, to meet people and to learn. What happens at HR conferences often finds its way into my work in one or another. 

So, prompted by a conversation on Twitter, I thought I’d share a few things I have learned along the way about events, hoping they might be useful to others. 

  1. Like with all good people stuff, start with why. What is the point of your event? What messages do you want to send? What do you want people to know or to feel at the end? Start with the end in mind and keep it there at all times when designing your content. It will keep you on track.
  2. Recognise that some people don’t like events and conferences. It isn’t their thing. Maybe because they are disengaged with their job or company. Maybe just because they find them difficult. I’ve been at several conferences where a delegate has been having a snark fest on Twitter. For those who find events difficult, make it easy for them to play some part (see next point). But at the same time recognise that your event is for the majority – focus on them first, and a little less on those attendees that you couldn’t engage even if One Direction turned up (maybe just me that one).
  3. Think carefully about any of that team building malarkey. For every person who thinks it would be super awesome to learn how to do the Haka or play drums in a circle of truth, there is another (including me tbh) that would rather run away as fast as possible in the opposite direction. If you take people too far out of their comfort zone then they are just going to check out one way or another. 
  4. Don’t make it all about you, all about a broadcast. I’ve been to too many events which are just corporate messaging and information sharing and ‘can you read this slide from the back?’  Frankly, you could stick this sort of stuff in an email / video / blog etc. An event needs to include dialogue.
  5. Put yourself in the place of the delegate and look critically at your content. Would it interest you? Would it inspire you? Or would it send you to sleep with your eyes open? Design your event with the delegate in mind, not yourself.
  6. Stick to your timings. Don’t pack so much in that you run over. Make sure your speakers don’t run over too. I’ve been known to stand up and tell someone their time is up and ask them to stop talking. It is rude to your delegates not to stick to what you have promised. If you put an Agenda out there, make sure it happens as stated.
  7. Build in learning. If you are spending time and money getting people in a room for a work conference, make sure that there is something in it for them to take away. Help them learn something new along the way.
  8. Build in fun. In particular, see next point. Fun at work is not against company policy.
  9. Build in agenda-less time. Open space. Thinking time. You don’t need to manage every moment, and some of the best insights and thinking often come from outside the structures. 
  10. PowerPoint. Less is most definitely more. As noted above, if all your speakers are going to do is read off a slide then you might as well just send it to people via email instead.
  11. Don’t forget the hygiene stuff. The right food and venue won’t make a bad event good. But they can certainly take a good event to a great one. Have decent food, plenty of water, natural light, good temperature. Make sure the venue is easy to find and provide directions and information about public transport. Have plenty of breaks.
  12. Don’t make it just about the day. A good event should have an effective build up and should then live on. There should be stuff before and stuff after. Tell people what to expect in advance. Share outputs, share photos, send updates, write blogs, encourage reflection and action. Ask others to do the same. Start an open discussion. Be open to feedback. Take the message out wider than the delegates.
  13. Include cupcakes, always.

Of course there is one last point. One that you might have come to expect from me.  Make your event social.  For the internal events, this is an opportunity to use your enterprise social network.  Externally, get the content out there. Blog. Tweet. Instagram.  Periscope. Increase your reach.  Involve the back channel. Provide a resource for others. Share your stuff. Make that hashtag rock.

And….. Don’t forget to enjoy it!

Wellbeing and the importance of choice

I’m drafting this blog post on a Sunday evening. I’ve just spent an hour or so responding to emails that came in on Friday when I was on leave. I’ve also spent a little time getting myself organised for the day ahead tomorrow.

There is much being talked and written about on the subject of wellbeing right now. About mental health.  About stress in the workplaces.  About the scourge of emails and the impact that always on technology is having upon us. It is the subject of many a conference, many a blog post.  There is plenty too about what we should do about it.  There’s even been a suggestion in France that out of hours emailing be entirely banned.  Then there are other countries experimenting with shorter working days to assess the impact on productivity.

Here’s my take on it. When it comes to my own wellbeing, a big part of it is about having choice.

It is about doing what is right for me, working when it is right for me. That is what true flexibility means.  Working how it works for me to be best effective.  I don’t do well when I am told what to do and when to do it.  That is what causes me to be stressed and unhappy at work.

There is nothing wrong with email; it is how we use it that can cause a problem. There is nothing wrong too with having a notification pinging constantly on your watch – if you like that and find it helpful for you. (I do.  I want to see ALL of the tweets).  There is something wrong with making people undertake commute to an office when they don’t need to and work in an office environment that doesn’t cause them to be well, or to be effective.  There is something wrong with requiring everyone to work a standard set of hours because that is the default in the contract of employment. There is something wrong with people using technology in ways that could cause stress without evening being aware of it.

There is no one size fits all advice. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen a recommendation to turn off your email notifications.  Have a few hours per day when you are not checking them.  There are even Apps that will manage your notifications, silencing them for a period.  If this helps you, then fill your boots.  But for every person that finds this an effective way of working there is someone else that doesn’t want to, can’t comprehend working that way. It wouldn’t work for me. I want to see what is in my in-box.  I want to respond as quickly as possible to the easy things, delete the unnecessary things.  That is the right thing for my wellbeing.

I might be one of the few people that quite like the 9-5. I like it because it fits really well around my exercise regime. I also like being in the office rather than being at home, as I need the stimulation of the team environment.  I think best, create best, out loud.  As my team would no doubt attest.

Here’s the thing. I’m not here, sitting on my sofa, working on a Sunday evening because I am an awesome employee.  I’m not doing it because I am over worked.  I am not doing it because I am trying to prove to someone else how hard I’m working. I’m doing it because I want to and it will help me have an effective day tomorrow.  And TBH, there’s nothing on the TV and I’ve already been to the gym.

What can organisations and HR professionals do around wellbeing at work? Plenty.  But for me, it starts with recognising each employee as an individual with their own needs, their own ways of working personal to them.

Help people find what that is.  Help leaders understand this very simple concept.


Flexible Futures

I found out yesterday via Twitter (where else) that it is flexible working awareness day today. A subject I am passionate about, but something that many organisations still aren’t getting their head around, and for many a missed opportunity too.

Our history in the UK around flexible working started with rights for parents of young children, then went onto encompass carers and then finally, everyone. We have taken rights (and the associated process) initially designed for parents and then extended it to others, just like we have with maternity leave. It is a right only to request, and have that request duly considered.

There is a whole framework around it that goes something like this….. (which is my way of saying I haven’t read the Regs for a while). There is a service requirement before you can even ask.  Then there’s a formal request process, including stuff you are supposed to include in your letter.  There’s a time period for responding.  The right to appeal.  A whole prescribed list of reasons for which you can be turned down.

But it is all a little too processes driven… a little, well, inflexible.

We need to move past the parental rights and part time paradigms.

Because too often when we say flexible working we really mean (or think of) is part time working. But there is so much more to it than that.  Long term contractual changes and short term arrangements.  Term time, part time, compressed hours, reduced hours, flexi-time, home working, working outside the traditional 9-5, anywhere and anywhen.

But flexible working is one thing…. agility and choice something else entirely. For me, working flexibly doesn’t mean going through a process.  It means getting up on Monday and instead of driving to the office deciding to do the one minute to my home office.  It means being effective anywhere I have a wifi connection.  It means getting the job done without necessarily being present at a desk for the hours of work set down in my Contract of Employment.

When will we know we have achieved a more flexible approach to work?

Simple. When we don’t need the process.  When we don’t need to fill in a form and write a change to terms and conditions of employment.  When we don’t need to ask permission. When we can just do it.  When it is the norm.  When the job still gets done.  When we don’t need even more legislation.  When we finally recognise how much our people value it, how it will retain and engage them.

When it is simply, the way that we work every day.

30 Second People Strategy

Earlier this week, I was watching the Twitter backchannel from a HR event. Several people tweeted all at once about whether it is possible to explain your people strategy in 30 seconds, presumably prompted by one of the speakers.


Now I have never been all that keen on having a People Strategy. For me, you have a business strategy, mission, vision…. People stuff is just part of that big picture.  Having a separate people strategy just feels a little too close to talking about ‘the business’….making us separate.  But maybe that’s just me being overly fussy.

What I do have of course, is a plan. A plan for those people things that we are going to do, that support and enable those big organisational goals. And to go alongside those, a set of guiding principles to keep us honest, keep us focused.  A thought process, perhaps.

So if I have a people strategy, this is it. In very much less than 30 seconds.

Do good people stuff, always.

Focus on making things more awesome, at your place.

Make peoples’ lives easier at work, wherever you can.

Chuck out your chintz (by which I mean make things simpler, get rid of unnecessary bureaucracy)

Never lose sight of how something will make people feel.

Help those people around you to be the best that they can be.

Provide the best possible employee experience that you can, within your context, with whatever resources you have.


What’s your 30 second people strategy?