Detox if you want to

My timeline tells me that there is an increasing interest in the so-called ‘digital detox’.

I don’t get it.

As well as working in HR, I am also a qualified personal trainer.  In that world, we often see reference to detoxing.  In the physical context, detoxing as it is often portrayed, is unnecessary.  A cynic might even say it is a manufactured concept designed to sell products.  And there are a lot of products.

Generally speaking, our bodies do not any need help to ‘detox’.  They are fully capable of managing the process for themselves.  It is the function of the liver.

That is not to say you can’t help it along with way with a healthy diet and drinking habits.

Detoxing in the fitness and diet space is usually about the denial of something that we perceive to be bad for us.  Giving up alcohol or a particular food stuff.  Cleansing our bodies and diets on the assumption that this will improve our health.  When it comes to the plethora of supporting products, there is little evidence, beyond the anecdotal, that they actually do.

Detoxing is always popular after Christmas.  After a period of indulgence, we try to undo the excesses of the season with a quick fix, as the ‘new year, new you’ marketing juggernaut swings into action.

When it comes to health, what we really need more than a detox is consistent good habits and balance.  Something that applies to the digital world too.

I saw an article recently advocating a detox retreat.  A holiday without access to technology.  No wifi, no devices.

But for most of us, giving up technology means turning off our lives – as well as the benefits it brings us.  Over an average couple of days, I will use technology to do my banking, shop for groceries, listen to music, catch up with the news, watch tv and chat to my friends.

There is nothing wrong with this, for me.  Just like with diet and health, it is all about common sense and where necessary, moderation.  It doesn’t need to be about turning everything off or giving something up entirely, but finding balance in all things – for the long term.

In the same way that you do not need to buy detox socks to draw impurities from your body through your feet (yes really) you don’t need to pay for a retreat or rush to extremes.

Just look at your habits.  Reflect.  For health, or for technology.  If they are not helping you, make some small changes for the better.  This is what makes those changes sustainable.  Most diets and health regimes fail, often because the change is too much, too soon, or doesn’t work with our everyday lives over the long term.  Turning off the tech for a while may help with us to reflect on our habits, but it also isn’t sustainable in our world today.

And if being constantly connected works for you, then don’t feel under pressure to change.  Do what works for you, in all things.

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.

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.

 

 

 

Dress like yourself

Thanks to the priorities of the leader of the Free World, dress codes are big news today.  According to reports there is a new dress code in force in the White House.  Men are supposed to be smart – that means ties.  Women are supposed to, well, dress like a woman.

I am guessing that means heels, dresses and the like.  I’m not sure why that’s essential for their jobs.  Maybe it’s to ensure that parts of them are easier to grab.

Dress codes have been news in the UK recently too, following a case where a female was sent home from work for refusing to wear high heels, as specified in her employer’s dress policy.

Dress codes bother me.

I get that if you are in a customer-facing role, where uniform and image are important, then you will want to issue some guidance.  But almost everyone has one.  Most companies have such a document, even for employees where it doesn’t matter a jot what they wear.

At my last company, I deleted our policy without telling anybody to see if anyone noticed.  They didn’t.  I suspect someone will, the next time an employee turns up for the 9-5 wearing someone else’s definition of non-acceptable clothing and rather than have a conversation with them adult to adult, they will want to wave a piece of paper instead.

I dislike dress codes for lots of reasons.

I dislike the very idea that you need to tell someone old enough to hold down a job and pay taxes what they can and cannot put on when they get out of bed in the morning.

Maybe I just dislike them because I am not very good at following them.  I don’t really get on very well with formal clothing.  I find suits and the like stifling.  I’m at my best self when I am pacing around, walking outside, sitting on my sofa and talking out loud.  None of these things work all that well with a pair of heels, or other “womanly” clothing.

But the thing I dislike most of all about dress codes is that they have, in most jobs, absolutely nothing at all to do with how someone performs at work.

Don’t judge people on what they wear, judge them on what they do. This is what we should care about – not the height of someones heels.

Competency interviewing. Just say no.

Competency based interviewing.  Apparently, it is still a thing.  Who knew?

I do, because this week I had a competency based interview.  I was a bit surprised to be honest.  It had been a while since I’d been through that sort of recruitment process.

It was…… interesting.

Let me add some relevant context.

The role was an interim, employee relations role.  There was a need for deep understanding of employment law.  Lots of experience with leading  people change projects.  Even more experience of working in heavily unionised environments.

They didn’t ask me all that much about that stuff.

What that did ask me was this:

‘Can you tell me about a time that you have worked collaboratively as part of a team?’

I resisted the urge to reply simply: ‘all day, every day’.

It was followed by:

‘Can you give me an example of when you have prioritised your workload?’

For answer, please see above.

Here’s the thing.

I have worked collaboratively as part of a team.  I have a handy example.  I would think most people do.  But past experience doesn’t predict future performance.  With me or anyone else.  My ability to collaborate in the example shared might have been down to a whole range of related factors.  It might have been because I worked in a highly collaborative environment or a great team and the conditions were therefore predisposed to collaboration.  It might have been because I was engaged with my employer or the task in hand.  Equally, I might just be a quick thinker who can make a relevant example up off the top of their head.

There is no guarantee, even with the shiniest answer in the world that scores the most points on a grid, that I am going to be able to replicate what I did before in another organisation or under a different set of circumstances.

Competency based questions like these 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.

They certainly don’t tell you whether someone could do the job in question, any more than the trend towards questions like ‘if you were a kitchen appliance which one would you be?’ does.*

I’ll take strengths based interviewing over a competency approach any day.  Strengths based interviews allow you to get to know the person in front of you.  What gets them motivated.  What they like doing.  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.

Competency based interviews have had their time.

Let’s start recruiting like its 2017.

 

PS: I am hoping to hold a Candidate Experience Unconference later this year, to explore how we can work towards better recruitment. If you are interested in coming along, comment below.

*PPS – my answer to the above is easy…. The fridge. Because we are both usually full of chocolate and Prosecco.

The #SocialLeaders Series – Tom Riordan

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The time for social leadership is now.  To engage with customers and employees alike, to create a personal brand, to lead authentically and openly. To share and collaborate in a different way. To role model the digital skills that all organisations need now and tomorrow. We need social leaders.  But they are still few and far between.

This is the first in a series of conversations with leaders who already get this stuff.  Who are effectively using social media as part of their leadership role to engage and connect with employees, customers and service users.  We have asked a range of leaders from different industry sectors exactly why they use social media and how do they feel it benefits them in their role – as well as to share their advice to anyone who thinks they should be getting a little more social.

First up is Tom Riordan.  Tom is CEO of Leeds City Council, and an active Tweeter – he has even got himself a coveted blue tick.  He uses Twitter to share news about the Council, its work and its people.  He engages with followers and isn’t afraid to bring his whole self to Twitter, including pictures of his family, and a bio that tells you about him as a person, not just a CEO.

tom-riordan

This is what Tom had to say about leading socially….

What is your social media platform of choice and why?

Twitter is my platform of choice. I was quite an early adopter because I like its mix of brevity, openness, wide reach, content and security (i.e. unacceptable behaviour can be blocked).

How do you believe that your use of social media has benefited you in your leadership role?

It’s allowed me a direct communication route to the outside world from a big organisation and to “walk the talk” of one of our main values of openness and honesty. I’ve tried to give more of a human face to a CEO role often seen as distant and protected, and to champion Leeds, public services and local government.

How engaged do you find the rest of your organisation with social media? 

Increasingly. Social media has become much more central to people’s lives over the last five years, and in that time the organisation has engaged with it more and more.  There are some great role models within the council, such as Phil Jewitt an excellent social media user who recently won a lifetime achievement unconference award. Many of our councillors now use social media widely now, which also helps.

What, if any, downsides do you see to being a leader on social media – and what do you do to avoid them?

99 percent of people are great to engage with on social media.  You have to take care at times not to be provoked by the 1 percent who, often anonymously, just want to cause trouble.  Never tweet when you’re angry is not a bad rule of thumb.

How have you used social media to connect with customers/service users/key stakeholders?

I’ve used it to get more direct messages out to a wider audience about what the council does, especially those front-line workers who make the city tick. Twitter has allowed me to contact a wide range of innovators both in the city and across the world and led directly to inward investment, new approaches on open data and great new ideas from people within and outside Leeds. I also get a pretty good idea of what people think about the council and the city!

What advice would you give to other leaders who want to use social media?

Don’t see it as a panacea but do treat it as a vital communication and engagement mechanism. Only do what you’re comfortable with and what suits your own personal style. Make sure your priority is enhancing the city or organisation, not your personal image or standing, because you’re almost bound to trip up if you think it’s all about you.

We’d like to send a big thanks to Tom for his insight.  If you are a leader who wants to use social media for their role then check out his Twitter feed for a great example on how to do this social stuff well.  And if you want to know more about social leadership – both the why and the how – then we’ve just released our latest book on Putting Social Media to Work – a version dedicated to just that subject.

Next time on the #SocialLeaders series…. Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD shares his thoughts.