About feet

I want to talk about a photo.

A photo of feet.

Not just any feet, but working feet.

Specifically feet that seem, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, to illustrate issues like the gender pay gap, workplace sex based inequality and so on.

I know you have seen the photo (or one very similar to it).

There are a couple of versions around, but they have something in common besides the headlines.

There will be several pairs of feet. The  majority look to be male feet, suited and booted.

Then there will be some female feet. Always white.  Always appearing to be a professional or office type worker.  Always, and I mean always, wearing a skirt and with bare legs (or wearing some very womanly tights).  Heels are obligatory.

I have several problems with these photographs.

First of all – why and when did gender/sex related articles became associated with feet?

There’s a suggestion contained within that the only people (women) who experience gender and sex based problems in the workplace are professional, white and looking like a particular version of femininity.

Do women of colour, women working in retail, care or domestic work not experience the same challenges at work? Do women who wear boots and don’t conform to the old style idea of how women at work should dress also not experience discrimination, harassment, a lack of equal pay, career marginalisation?

Can we please find a better image to explain the systemic, structural and serious issues of sex based inequality in the workplace?

Say no to feet.

Train life: the rules

At the weekend I came across a train etiquette guide. It was, in my opinion, far too brief.  I have therefore compiled my own guide, issued with thoughts and prayers to everyone who has to commute to work via the train.

  1. If you don’t regularly get a train during rush hour, try not to comment incredulously on the state of the railways to more regular commuters. Phrases such as ‘is it always this bad?’ and ‘I couldn’t do this every day’ will not be welcomed.
  2. Always, and I mean always, have your ticket ready to go through the station exit turnstiles. Try not to leave getting it out of your purse as you approach said turnstile when there are 45 other frustrated people behind you.
  3. Don’t speak to fellow commuters unless there is an absolute emergency. In my case, for the avoidance of doubt, this should only be if I am on fire and you are certain that I have not noticed.*
  4. When [insert useless train company of your choice] don’t sent enough carriages and you are forced to stand with your body so uncomfortably close to a total stranger that you can tell what they had for lunch, you will both pretend that this is not happening. There will be absolutely no eye contact.
  5. Take the following items on a train journey: tissues (to blow your nose – no sniffing, ever), headphones* (no, we don’t want to listen to your videos and Facetime calls) and something to read (this also helps with points 3 and 4).
  6. Do not take: smelly food, smelly dogs, smelly feet (retain shoes on feet at ALL times).
  7. If you take a large suitcase with you on your journey, please store this in the appropriate place. The appropriate place can vary from train to train, but is not ever a) on your seat when there are people standing, and b) in the middle of the bloody aisle so no one can get passed it.
  8. Don’t buy the coffee on the train. This has nothing to do with etiquette. It’s just always vile.
  9. Try not to use the toilet. See above.
  10. Wait for people to get off the train BEFORE YOU TRY AND BOARD IT.
  11. Please, oh please, don’t have loud business conversations on the train. If you need to form, norm and storm, sell several tonnes of steel, provide interview feedback or pick some low hanging fruit, do consider doing this somewhere (anywhere) else. It’s both a potential breach of the GDPR and deeply irritating.
  12. If you leave a train part way through its journey, consider taking your rubbish with you and putting it in an actual bin so that another traveller doesn’t have to sit next to your empty cans of Stella.
  13. Aftershave.  Don’t bathe in it before you leave the house for your commute.
  14. TAKE YOUR BAG OFF THE SEAT. Do not wait to be asked. Just do it. Or be aware that I will sit on it.


*A colleague gets my train regularly. Most days we then get on the same bus at the other end.  Sometimes we even sit next to each other.  We have never, ever spoken.  This is the British way.

**Headphones can also be utilised as a defence mechanism for people who break rule 3. You don’t even need to be listening to anything.

Why HR is like childbirth

I’m currently working with a group of final year HR students at Liverpool John Moores University. Our module for this term is strategic HRM.  Last night we were looking at organisationl culture.

I always find culture a fascinating subject. There is plenty of theory and research available.  There too are many models to help us think about the types of culture that exist.  It is a highly relatable subject, as we have our own experiences of it.  It is something that we instinctively understand because we have lived it.  Everyone who has had a job can tell you something about organisational culture, even if they don’t use the official terminology.

Most of us have had our own experiences of a good culture or a bad one – whatever that really means. We know about people who fit in to the prevailing culture, and people who do not.  We understand instinctively the impact that culture can have upon us at work.

After we had talked about the proper, academic theories, we turned to discussing our own experiences. We talked about organisations that we know, either through working there or because they have a brand profile.  We discussed the extent to which we believe culture impacts behaviour and behaviour impacts culture and whether any of those models are ever really 100% accurate.  Our conclusions were that they were not or could not be.  Nothing is ever as clear cut, as simple as a theory might suggest.  They are just frameworks for understanding.  The context, the reality is always more complex.

This particular group of students are all working whilst studying. One student noted how much this helps put discussions like this in context and wondered how much harder it might be for those studying full time, straight from A Levels, with much less work experience.

And then the analogy of the night. One student reflected on her experience of ante natal classes.  The narrative she experienced there was linear, neat.  It will be like this.

Our conclusion? Practicing HR is like childbirth. It’s messier in real life.

Who wants to work in a office like this?

This article landed in my Twitter timeline today.  A countdown of the UK’s coolest offices. Apparently (as I could only bring myself to read some of it), the list contains offices with rotating fairground rides, reggae rooms and living jungles (whatever they are).  I am betting that there is also a mix of zany colours, bean bags and maybe a football table or two in the mix.


I cant’ think of anywhere I would want to work less.

Cool is all too often style over substance. Personally, I’d rather work for somewhere that has inspirational leaders, a great organisational culture, decent tech for me to use.  I don’t need clouds painted on the ceiling (yes, I have seen this with my own eyes); I need somewhere that I can think.  I want to work somewhere that will help me to develop, cares about my wellbeing, allows me to be creative and contribute.

A fairground ride will not make any of these things happen.  It won’t impact productivity for the better, create employee engagement, inspire people to be their best or achieve their objectives. If you are lucky it might create a laugh or two in the workplace when it’s first launched.  It will no doubt provide for some fun Instagram shots for the social feeds.

But to me, it just feels like the modern day equivalent of putting up a sign that says ‘you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps’.

If you have money to spare in your corporate budget, I’d suggest that there will always be a better, more impactful way to spend it than installing a slide or a drum kit in the office.  (Memo, you are not Google, and neither is anyone else but Google).

As my friend Neil Usher said, cool is dead.

We don’t need more gimmicks.  We need better workplaces for all.

Reasons to work flexibly, 1,2,3

enabler 2

…. 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.


Human Up (again)

The human workplace is getting a lot of interest of late. Let’s be honest,  I haven’t invented this term.  There is a risk that we are jumping on a bandwagon here.  You know what we mean.  Someone starts talking about something at some conference.  People ooooh about it a bit in the audience and on twitter.  People start to blog about it.  Consultancies start to charge for it.  It makes it from the niche to the mainstream and then we all get bored of it and show disdain for it and think that people who are still talking about it and implementing it while we have moved onto the next shiny thing are Just. Not. Cool.

But, all the same, there is something about the concept that sticks with me. That resonates and feels like just maybe, combined with a focus on employee experience, this is the place to put our focus right now.

The Human Workplace is an imprecise term. It is capable of interpretation in more than one way.  For me, a human workplace is one that has people at the centre of their focus.  It is one that does not buy the cliché that people are your greatest asset (said by many, proved by few) but does recognise that people that work for them, are affected by them, are a user of their services, matter.  The human organisation considers how the stuff that we do makes people feel.

It is an organisation that can embrace technology and all that it brings us, whilst retaining what is inherently human. It is an organisation that doesn’t automate the heck out of everything just because it can.  Human organisations have heart.  Emotion isn’t a dirty word in the human organisation.  It is safe to be real.  It is safe to speak out.

From an HR perspective, if that is even a term that fits with the concept of a human workplace, is certainly focused more on people as people and not as resources.

Why is this stuff even important? Why does it matter?

There are plenty of reasons.

There are the traditional arguments to the people first approach. Retention, attraction, motivation, the war for talent (sorry). There is of course the never ending quest for employee engagement.

But it is more than that too.

When organisations aren’t human, when they don’t have heart, when they are not sufficiently people-focused, there are often found deeper and more troubling problems.

Sadly, there are organisations without much heart. We know that.  No matter what the careers website says, many – most – organisations are much more focused on profit and shareholders.  It’s that thing called capitalism.

We have all seen the examples on our news reports or in our Twitter timelines. Companies that are offering sweatshop-like working conditions. Others that still embrace the worst of scientific management principles.  Exploitation of workers remains an issue, today, in the UK.  There are plenty of organisations that are anything but human.

It is not, in my experience, that most organisations set out to be inhuman. Most HR teams don’t create their policies and processes with the aim in mind of forgetting the human touch, or simply not caring about how people feel about their work and experience their organisations.  Many organisations genuinely feel that they put people at the top of the agenda  – but this doesn’t stop them being no-so-human.

It happens not by design but by default or accident.

There is too much bureaucracy. Leaders lose sight of the small stuff.  The policies and the processes get bigger and more complex.

The people get lost along the way.

The way people feel gets lost too.

Let’s take that website cliché, people are our greatest asset – in much the same way that anyone can come up with a generic list of corporate values, anyone can say that their people are their greatest asset. Meaning it and proving it are two very different things.

If people really are your greatest asset, it will show up in everything that you do. It will show up in how people are recruited and inducted.  It will show up in the reward and recognition.  How people are led, the spaces in which people are expected to work in, the way the difficult stuff is dealt with (or not).

It will show up too in the performance review, the policies and procedures, the learning and development on offer. No one needs to be told whether they are valued by their company.  When it is true, they instinctively know that they are – or they are not.  It is cultural.

Not-so-human workplaces are everywhere. Perhaps you even work in one yourself.

So I’m thinking about this stuff. In the practical, not the abstract.  If we want workplaces in which we genuinely place how people feel at the top of the agenda, then there is much that HR can do in the everyday.   Blogs coming up…….

The most important right of all?

Employment rights have been much in the news of late. The Taylor Report into good work makes a number of recommendations.  I won’t cover them here as finer minds than mine have already done so.

When the law changes for any reason, people like me have to make the necessary changes to HR policies.

But as I have said many times before, when we have to revert to employment law, when we have to find a company policy on the intranet to determine what to do in any particular set of circumstances, sometimes we are half way to losing something important.

Losing our ability to see someone as the individual that they are.

The opportunity to consider the unique context.

The need for common sense, always.

Even the entire argument.

When we defer our decisions to documents, we run the risk of losing our ability to be compassionate, to apply a little tolerance, to treat people as humans and not resources.

The one right we should all have at work, is to be our imperfect human self.

And a simple, human conversation, is our most significant opportunity to change any work situation for the better.

What HR can learn from going to the cinema

This is one of those ‘lessons you can learn from’ posts. I don’t write them very often, but I had such a pleasant customer experience recently, it got me thinking.

I love going to watch a film at the cinema. But it’s something though that I rarely do, as I don’t enjoy the experience that surrounds it.  Usually, there is queuing involved.  To buy tickets, to pick up pre-paid tickets, for the toilets, for popcorn, and then to get into the actual screening.  Then there is the bit that bugs me most of all.  The adverts.  I am a stickler for punctuality.  If I go to see a film that is starting at 7.30, I’d like it to actually do so.  But the time a film is supposed to begin is usually the start of multiple adverts, suggestions to go out and buy more junk food, and trailers for films of an entirely different genre that I don’t want to see.  The actual film probably begins a good 30 minutes after that.

I’m starting to moan. I’m sorry about that.

This weekend I went to a small, local, private cinema. There was no queue.  Just a wave of your phone with the tickets on it.  There was also no queue for the sweets – and you didn’t have to take a mortgage out to buy them.  Best of all was that the film began….. on time.  There were just a couple of trailers for similar films. And… there was an intermission.  Where someone came out and sold ice-cream.  If that wasn’t enough, individual bottles of Proscecco to drink during the screening.

I didn’t love the film all that much. I might, in fact, have had a small nap during it.

But I did love the experience.

First of all, it felt personal. They clearly understand what their customers want and value, they deliver it.  In the march of progress they had held on to the special touches, like the intermission and the ice cream seller.  The staff were friendly – and didn’t appear to have targets to upsell you a larger popcorn.

There wasn’t the range of sweet stuff you get in a big screen cinema. No fancy reclining seats. And no hot food either (because there’s nothing like sitting next to the guy with the highly odorous hot dog).

In much the same way that we have seen consumers begin to value once again the small, independent and local retailers over huge out of town supermarkets, what we want as customers and as employees has changed over time.

On one hand, we want speed and immediacy. Quick responses on Twitter. Products at our doors in ever decreasing time frames.  But at the same time we want something personal.  We don’t want to feel like a cog in a machine.  Processed.

When it comes to people stuff, big isn’t necessarily better. One size only fits one.  Targets, as we know, have unintended consequences. What is valued, is highly variable for different people. For all I love technology, it is possible to lose the human touch along the way.  We don’t have to automate the heck out of everything.

While fast and fancy is good, we don’t necessarily want to trade experience and feeling for it.

Less, can most definitely be more.


There’s probably also a HR lesson in the price of pic n mix…. but I’m still working on that.


It’s 4am.

An unfamiliar city. A lonely, identikit hotel room.

All around is still and dark.

Wondering if I am the only one awake.

Looking out of the window, the city sleeps, even if I don’t.

Feeling disconnected and far from home.

But of course I’m not disconnected at all. Literally.  An internet connection is all that I need.

And there they are. My friends, my tribe. My cheerleading squad.  In my timeline.  Via DM.  On that inspirational Slack channel.

The geography and the time zone don’t matter.  Everyone and everything that I need is just a tweet or a gif away.

And I’m loving social media just a little bit more today.


I’ve had a couple of YOLO conversations lately.  Both virtual and IRL.

It might be an annoying acronym, but it is a familiar script for me.

It is my default position when I apply for a fitness event. That along with my favourite coaching question ‘what is the worst thing that than can happen?

There’s a reason for this. For much of my childhood my mother was ill with a condition that remained stubbornly undiagnosed.  Years and years of doctors and consultations and hospitals and treatments – of the traditional and distinctly alternative kind.  Five long miserable years.  And then, diagnosis, treatment, recovery.

And a new mind-set.

You only come this way once. My mother said this almost every day.  Often as a precursor to opening a bottle of wine or buying some expensive shoes if I am honest.  It imprinted upon me.

Cliché it may be. But true all the same.  All we really have is this moment.  Tomorrow is another day, but it is by no means guaranteed.  Too many recent events have taught us so.

On Saturday, I am taking part in an endurance event that, in truth, I’m not fit enough for. I’ll be one of the weakest and slowest in the field.  It involves water, something that I am frightened of.  Plenty of reasons to stay at home. But that direction leads to a life that is less than it really could be.

Live, laugh, love. Take risks.  Do all of the things that you always wanted to. Don’t wait.  Carpe that diem. Just do it.

Because, you know…. YOLO.

The imposter within

Lately, I’ve found myself talking often to folk about imposter syndrome.  I’ve been feeling it too. Don’t we all, from time to time?

If you are new to the term, then it’s all about the fear of being exposed. Of being thought a fraud. Of not deserving to be where you are.  It is the ‘what I am doing here, they are going to find me out any minute now’ brain tape.  One that often plays when we need it the least.

It is debilitating. Confidence zapping.

If you follow my fitness blog, you will know that I have been studying to become a personal trainer. Never before have I felt imposter syndrome so keenly.

Imagine this. There are ten people on the course including me.  Everyone else there is in the industry.  Has a long history of fitness.  They have done the event and got the t-shirt, and in a couple of cases were actually wearing it.

There were the two female body builders. The girl who had just left the army.  The woman who was an established fell runner.  A gymnast.  A Pilates teacher.  And me.  I’m the least fit person in the room.  Even at a size 10, I’m the biggest woman there by some distance.  We start the first day with a detailed discussion about advanced weight techniques.  And the tape starts to play.  What exactly am I doing in this room, with these people?  In a minute it will be my turn in the circle to answer a question and then everyone will know that I don’t belong here. 

It didn’t get any better. Our afternoon topic? Learning how to take body fat measurements.  On each other.  The old school way, with measuring tools.  Which involved stripping down to your sports bra and taking hold of each other’s fat.  If there is one thing guaranteed to kill your confidence it is standing next to a girl who has12% body fat whilst other people practice poking at yours.

And on and on the tape played.

An urge to run. Somewhere, anywhere.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I have talked to many people who find imposter syndrome crippling.  Because it gets in the way.  Because when I told someone this story they were surprised to find that I felt this way too.

From what I have read about imposter syndrome, many of those who suffer from it don’t realise that it’s not just them.  That it is a thing, not just their confidence and secret fears.

You don’t know when imposter syndrome is going to show up. I can stand in front of a room of several hundred people and talk about HR.  I can write a book and a blog and put my thoughts out into the world for anyone to see.  But in another context, in another place, I had to ride the wave of panic.  I had to persuade myself that I was okay. That I wasn’t suddenly going to get found out or exposed or kicked out or have an epic fail.

We can talk about leaning in or showing up with presence. We can talk about faking it till we make it.

But these are not always easy things to do. Not for everyone.

I’m just for recognising about it and talking about it.  As leaders, we can share when we have felt it and let others know that it isn’t all that unusual and it isn’t just them.  By recognising imposter syndrome for what it is, we can start to control it.

We can tell the imposter within that this time, we are not listening.

Be More Awesome

be awesome.png

I am partial to the word awesome. There is even a warning in my Twitter bio to this effect.  Yesterday I saw a postcard that said; be awesome or don’t bother. I’m not entirely sure about the don’t bother part, but I did get to thinking…… what is the people stuff version of this little statement?

Be awesome…. Be more HR awesome.

Some ideas from me on that……

Promise to never again use the phrase ‘it might set a precedent’.

Promise also never to introduce something because Google did.  Or some place very similar.

Review all those standard letters that you send people with the eyes of a recipient. How would they make you feel and what do they say about your department?  Change as appropriate.

Delete probation periods from your contracts of employments. You know they are kind of pointless so why bother?

Put the coffee machine on free vend for a while. What would it cost you anyway?

Apply for a job at your own company. Think about how the process made you feel. Change as appropriate.

Smile at people. (Try not to scare them).

Do a random act of kindness. Anything that takes your fancy.

Hold a Fika. Invite other teams to join you. It is, erm, awesome.

Let your team go home early.

Send a thank you card. Make thank you cards available for anyone to come and take and send.

Buy Crunchies on a Friday. Because, you know.

Go out and buy a load of plants for the office. Green it up.

Find out what websites you block on the corporate network for no good reason and go and talk to IT and see if they will change their minds.

Celebrate National Donut Week. Yes this is really a thing.  And it is next week.

Find an employment policy that states the bleeding obvious and delete it. See if anyone notices.

Have your next meeting outside, or go for a walk while you are talking.

Talk to all of the people who have joined your organisation in the last six months. Ask them what it was like and what would have made it better for them.  Amend as appropriate.

Go onto your internal social media network and share something useful or interesting that other people might learn from.

Do some wellbeing stuff. Anything. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Let your people know that you give a damn about them outside of whether or not they hit their KPI.

Little things add up to big awesome. Over to you……

What is the most awesome thing you can do today, at your place?


In other news, on Sunday I am running Leeds Half Marathon in aid of Retrak Charity – their mission is a world where no child has to live on the streets.  If you fancy it, you can sponsor me here.

Articulate your awesome

The title of this blog post was prompted by a collision of conversations. Some with friends, some at work.

And I got to thinking….. how often do we do this?

How often do we believe in our own awesomeness, how often do we shout about what makes us special and different and unique? Your very own individual contribution. With confidence and belief.

We show appreciation for our colleagues and our teams and our friends. As leaders, we know the value of building up and encouraging others. Of providing positive feedback and recognition.

But how often do we articulate our own awesome?  To ourselves and to others?  More often we spend time worrying. If we are good enough, if we belong on this course or in this job or this particular place right now.  We think about what people think about us.

Self-limiting beliefs.

Imposter syndrome.

Lack of confidence.



Constantly questioning.

Not wanting to seem arrogant or boastful.

The voice in our head that gives us doubt.


We’ve all been here, sometime or other.

But what if you just decided to park the head stuff?  Just for a moment. Right  now. And instead of focusing on the maybes and the negatives, to believe instead that you got this. Take that one moment to articulate your own awesome.  To you, to everyone else.

Just do it.


Run the race you are in


I ran the Leeds 10K yesterday.  It was my first run at this distance; usually I just stick to a much easier 5.  I wasn’t very fast, compared to many in the field.  But I was good for me.

The term ‘run the race you are in’ is often quoted.  It applies to running, to organisations, to HR, to life. It is a phrase that I often say to myself when I get frustrated, when I’m slower than I want to be.

The term has two meanings for me.  Firstly, it is about this race.  It is about now.  Not the next one or the last one but simply this run, right here, right now.  The second meaning is about context; good is different everywhere, and for everybody.

When you are running, your real competitor is only yourself.  You care about your performance, your time.  That is why runner crave the elusive Personal Best.  You might know that you can’t compete with the elite runner, but you can be good for you, in your context and with your resources.  There is no point in comparing my time to the time of the fittest, fastest runner in the race. Just like there is no point in comparing what HR I’m delivering against some of the alleged best.

Look to others for inspiration.  But at the same time, don’t worry too much about what they are doing.  They are running their race.

Good running form also means running with your head up.  Work stuff is like that too.  Look up and out. This is what gives you ideas and helps you learn.   But ultimately do what is right for you, at your place and in your race.  My friend Tim Scott is fond of saying that there is no such thing as best practice.  Striving for it is akin to trying to run someone elses race.  Good practice for the context is a much better goal.  The HR PB.

There is another running quote that I like that is as equally applicable to work in general and people stuff too.  Slow is better than did not finish, which is better than did not start.

Run the race you are in.


Everyone needs someone to help them get to the finish line. Thank you to Mark, for getting me to mine.


Image by Graham Smith @AATImage



HR Experience Required. 

I’m doing some work on Customer Experience.  I’m starting from the beginning.  Researching and reading. Scribbling notes and ideas as I go.  A notebook full, so far.

One of my Google searches took me to some research.  About what it is that people say about those organisations that get their customer experience oh so right, again and again.

Here’s a selection:

They are easy to do business with.

They are helpful when I have a problem.

The attitude of their people.

They personalise it.

They do what they promise.

They are quick.

The technical knowledge of their people.

They are consistent.

They are reliable.

The way they treat me.

The way they make me feel.

A straight forward list. Simplistic even.  No surprises here.

And then I thought to myself…   that sounds like a list describing what a great HR experience would feel like too, to those employees and managers on the receiving end of it.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Feedback would happen all the time if…

This is my blog post for the feedback carnival, conceived and curated by Helen Amery.  It is my attempt to answer the question:

Feedback would happen all the time if…

…..we treated it like a gift to the other person, and placed their benefit entirely at its heart.

I need to give him some feedback.

So often when we think about giving feedback, we do so in the context of dealing with an issue or solving a problem.   How often have we said or heard a variant on that phrase?  But what we really mean is that the person is doing something that we don’t like, and we want them to make a change.

Sometimes, we only think to give feedback about the bad stuff and not the good.

Sometimes when we give feedback, we are asking someone else to make a change because it benefits us.

Sometimes, when we give feedback it is more about what we want, than what the other person needs to hear.

Often, feedback takes place only within formal structures, because we are told to do so.  A form and a desk, the barrier between us.

Can I give you some feedback?

Another phrase that can have many meanings.  Sometimes, a genuine intention to help.  Sometimes, just opinion and judgement in disguise.

But instead, what if we gave feedback with a mindset of total care and compassion?  Actively searched out the good stuff to provide feedback on and for?  What if we made it a gift to be treasured, and not a nicely wrapped but empty parcel?

I remember a time when I gave what I hope was sensitive and constructive feedback.  My desire, simply to be helpful, met with shock and surprise.  Not about the observation that formed the basis of the feedback, but that I did it at all.  It was the first time, so they told me, that anyone had bothered to do so.

Maybe feedback would take place all the time, if only we could reframe its core purpose.

Whilst this post was sat in draft, the always fabulous Julie Drybrough published one, also on the theme ‘feedback as a gift’.  You can read her post here

Thinking everywhere

When I went to Street Wisdom late last year, it began with a question.  ‘Where do you get your best ideas?’

The answers varied.  The shower was a popular place.  But one thing that all the answers had in common, was not one of them involved being sat at a desk or in an office.  None of them took place within the constraints of the 9-5.

I asked the question of others recently. The answers ran along a similar theme.  The shower made another appearance.  Someone said in the car.  Another said whilst outside, running.  Places and spaces where we are not deliberately thinking or doing or planning, but thinking all the same, unconsciously, unintentionally.

I like my office.  It is light, and there is a tree outside the window.  Birds come and go all day long and I find myself watching them when I’m on the phone.  Inside I have plants, photographs, posters and postcards.  It is a place I have deliberately filled with colour, images and sound. Because we know that place matters.  But it isn’t where I have my best ideas, or where I am at my most creative. It is not a place of flow.  Few offices ever can be; there is simply too much going on.

Creativity, for me, happens some place else.  This week, I took a few days off.  A trip to Dorsett for long walks and afternoon teas.  I came back with some home-made jam, two extra pounds around my waist, and a whole host of new ideas.  Because stepping away from the desk and stepping away from the email and the IM and the phone ringing and the LinkedIn connection requests and the sales calls and all of the other stuff, gets the brain working in a whole new way.

I took my running gear with me in a futile attempt to balance out the cake consumption.  Whilst jogging along by the sea, thinking about nothing much at all, I had an idea for our leadership development programme.  Then whilst browsing Twitter over another afternoon cake stop, I read something that sparked a thought that led to another thought and suddenly I’m planning a whole new project in the notes section on my phone.  And then in the car on the way home, I drafted three blog posts.

Here’s the thing.

It is time to let go of the idea that sitting at a desk, sitting in an office, sitting round a table, equals doing good work.  If you want innovation, ideas, creativity, then we need to create the space.  Get people out of the office.  Break the routine. Work somewhere new, even just for a little while. I have held 121s in coffee shops. Made folks I am coaching walk around the local streets.  Held meetings in all sorts of different locations just to shake things up a bit.

I know that it is a luxury only available to some, when work does not have to be tied to a physical location. But if you are one of these folks, then why not do something less traditional instead?  Another quote I love, from A Year Without Pants, says it all: ‘Every tradition we hold dear was once a new idea that someone proposed, tested and found valuable, often inspired by a previous tradition that had been outgrown.’

Working in an office is a tradition.  Commuting is a tradition.  So is the Monday to Friday 9-5 routine. Some places have already outgrown them, others will one day follow.  But these are big things to change.  For some roles and some organisations maybe a step too far, for now.  But one thing we can tackle is where we meet and where we think. There is not a lot at all, except maybe our own prejudices and those traditions held dear, stopping us from recognising that good work and good thinking can happen everywhere, and encouraging people to do what they need to do and be where they need to be to allow it to take place.

So when you see me putting on my walking shoes at lunchtime, I’m not off for a jolly.  I’m not off to the pub.  I’m off to do some thinking.  So look out when I get back, just in case I have had an idea or five.


The curse of the early adopter

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you and then you win’.  Gandhi.

I love this quote.  I have it on the wall above my desk.  It reminds me that sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in, even if you are the lone voice.  And during my career in HR, this is a place I have often found myself.  Many years ago, I fought so hard for a disabled employee that I felt the company were discriminating against that I nearly lost my own job, and my relationship with a senior manager never recovered.  I left soon after.  Being a lone voice, being an early adopter, can be a lonely, difficult place.

I am guessing you are familiar with Roger’s Innovation Adoption Curve.  The rate at which new innovations and ideas spread throughout cultures.

Innovators and early adopters.  These are the folk, or organisations, who get to new stuff fast.  They are right at the beginning of the adoption curve. First to the new thinking, the new piece of tech.  Quick to try something out, spot some potential, shout about this new stuff and adopt it into their everyday.  There is other terminology we can use for these people.  Disrupters.  Boat rockers.  Game changers.

But there’s the thing.  Boat rockers are not always popular.

However you phrase it, however sound your argument for something new or different, especially within organisations, for some people it is always going to sound more like this:

  • What you did in the past wasn’t very good
  • What you are doing now isn’t either
  • Abandon everything and do this instead
  • It’s all crap here, isn’t it?

For some there are other reactions, and many different underlying reasons.  Fear of change. A lack of understanding and a lack of desire to understand better.  Protecting vested interests.  Sometimes, those on the receiving end of the early adopter are just not ready or prepared for the message, the change required.  Sometimes, it is arrogance – think of the HMV response to digital, downloadable music. And the early adopter can be the one that takes the blame, or gets laughed out the door.

There is a an often quoted phase, attributed to a variety of different folks, that goes something like this:   If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always got. The problem is that it isn’t really true.  Not in many cases, not any more.  Because for many organisations, doing what you have always done is the road to obsolescence.

Social media is a great example. I could wax lyrical about the benefits of social media.  I already have done so in plenty of blog posts and presentations.  But although we are heading towards the laggard stage, for some it is still something they don’t want to know about.  Aren’t ready to adopt or learn about, let alone recognise its importance to any organisation.  It is also something that people bitterly complain about or joke about. I’m still hearing ‘isn’t twitter just about telling people what you had for breakfast?’.

First they ridicule you……

There are those organisations out there who, when faced with a game changer and a challenger, rather than ask why people feel that they need to change the game at all, just try and close it down, hard if they have too.  Just look what is happening to our HR friends in New Zealand who have challenged their professional body.

Then they fight you…..

So to every early adopter, game changer, challenger or innovator.  To everyone trying to do new stuff or improve old stuff, hold your nerve.

Because when all of the ignoring and the ridiculing and the fighting is done, just maybe you will win.

And if you are the person who rolls their eyes when someone at your place comes up with an off the wall idea, make sure they are not an early adopter. And that the one doing the ignoring, the ridiculing, the fighting, isn’t you.

For a better life, click here.

Back in December, I had been joking with Doug Shaw about clickbait.  It was that time of year that there are plenty of articles circulating about the perils of the festive season.  So just for fun, I wrote one myself, and gave it a clickbait sort of title.  It was a list.  With numbers and everything.  It turned out to be one of my most viewed posts of the year. And I had written some seriously good rants about employee engagement.  Harrumph.

A few days ago, I saw Andrew Jacobs share this, gentle poke at the clickbait genre.

This stuff is everywhere.  I use a few Apps for collating articles I’m interested in.  They are typically a mixture of stuff about work, HR, social media, and due a desire to get a little fitter, running and fitness too.  Subjects that are right up there with leadership traits articles for promising the easy answer.  This one exercise is going to tone your butt, give you that essential thigh gap, blitz your stubborn belly fat.  All you need to eat is this one new superfood!  The key to lifelong fitness is at your fingertips, just click the link.  The only article you will ever need to read.

Only they all are.

Whether it’s the key to health, the definitive way to ensure that you keep your new year’s resolution, the five skills of highly effective leaders, what is it we are really searching for?

A quick fix?  A neat and tidy solution?  Someone with all the answers? A magic wand perhaps? Or perhaps just something easy to read over breakfast.

Why do we believe that LinkedIn Pulse has the answers we are seeking rather than our own selves, our own experiences and knowledge?  We seem to prefer to look externally for easy answers, rather than internally.*  Maybe that is just the easier option.

When coaching, we work on the basis that the individual being coached has the answers.  Our role as coaches is to help them find it, to make them resourceful.  One of my favourite books, A Time to Think, says simply; the brain that has the problem also has the solution.

One of the most scary things however, are the shares and likes and views that such posts clock up.  Sometimes into the many thousands.  So it is easy to see why people write them. But quantity does not equal quality of thinking.

Books, blogs, articles.  They can all help us think differently, learn something new.  All provide a challenge, or just a small new idea. I will confess, I’ve read all of the tips in the ’10 ways that you can improve your running’ links.  But they disappoint.  Promise much but don’t deliver. There is no wisdom there, after all.  And a week or so on from the click, I can’t remember anything from the piece.

I have learned much from those things that I have read.  Including that the meaning of life isn’t in a list.  Even a 42 point one.

So I’m giving up anything that looks remotely like clickbait. I read fast. But even so, each article is 30 or so seconds of my life that I’ll never get back.  Time to do something less pointless instead.



HT to Bev Holden for previous blog comments on this post that got me thinking about that.

30 Days

A quick browse through the magazine stand in the supermarket demonstrates that ‘new year new you’ is a popular headline in this first week of January.  Just like last year.  But magazines and newspapers know what sells copies.  They know that for many of us, this is a time for reflection, a time for change.  After the excesses of the festive season, we are ready to detox away the mince pie muffin top, restore our poor maltreated liver with a dry January.  We are going to get fit, get a new job, or even, if the trend towards the solicitor’s door remains as most years, get a divorce.  We are going to start stuff and stop stuff and change all sorts of stuff.

There is something about the new year that makes us feel that we can be that person that we have always wanted to be.  A new, shiny, improved version of ourselves.

But here’s the thing.  By the middle of February we are frequently found standing amidst the ruins of our own promises.  And we already know it will be so.  Check LinkedIn Pulse if you will.  It is already full of 5, 10, 15 tips on how to stick to your resolutions.

I think the reason that many resolutions don’t last longer than the leftover Christmas chocolate is simple.  We aim too high and for too long.

Before the holidays, I downloaded a 30-day Abs Challenge app.  Not too big and not too scary.  Just 30-days where you had to do a little something every day.  Why?  Because it builds a habit.  And from the App designer’s perspective, if I build a habit then I might just upgrade to the paid for version.  Actually, I did it for three days and forgot all about it.  Which tells me that I didn’t want to build this habit enough or I would have found the time, not let it slip from my mind.  Right there is another reason that many resolutions fail; we pick things we are not truly committed too.  They just sound good at the time, like the Abs challenge did to me.  You will only change stuff if you really want to, and really believe that you can.

Promising that you are going to run a marathon when you can’t currently run for a bus is only going to end in disappointment.

So this year I’m picking small stuff.  And I’m doing it the App way.  I’m giving myself a 30-day challenge.  Realistic.  Doable.  Not at all scary.

Form a habit and the behaviour becomes automatic.  No one has to remind you to clean your teeth in the morning when you get up.  The doing is firmly implanted in our neural pathways.  And if I can do it for 30-days, then just maybe I’ll still be doing it in December.  And the only person I am accountable to, is myself.

So whatever it is you want to change, start, stop, continue.  Work stuff or personal stuff.

Could you start with just 30-days?