Thursday, 31 December 2015

"It's been a long year" and other reflections

Make your reflections more than chit-chat.

If you're going to reflect in a way that's meaningful, responses to the question: "how was your year (past)?" have to be more than short statements like "it's been a tough year", "it was fun", "it's been interesting" especially if you're asking yourself the question!

Overhearing a recent conversation reflecting on how 2015 had been, I heard the response... "It's been a long year" which struck me as the most silly response of them all. It may have felt like a long year, but the year in real terms had the same 365 days as the year before!

I wanted to ask 'why' and more to help them really understand what their year had been like, but instead I simply accepted that the conversation was just polite chit-chat and nothing more.

It did prove though that an open question won't always get you a full answer and therefore how important it is to ask the right question(s) and probe if you're really interested in reflecting on how a year has gone.

Questions that help us reflect in a meaningful way include:
- What did I learn this year? ("Nothing", is never true!)
- What were the highlights of the year?
- What challenged me this year?
- Why did 'x' go wrong? (Not the negative, self-blaming "why did I get 'x' wrong!")
- How did I get through my problems?
- In what ways have I grown this year?

I'm sure there are lots more questions that help us to reflect with more than a short statement but these are, in my experience, a good set to start with.

The answers to these should help you to understand your year past and propel you forward into the new one - How would you answer them and what are you manifesting for 2016?

Because that should be the greater point - not to stay rooted in what has been, but to use the responses to learn and grow. And so, in keeping with the title of this blog I've one more question... Who or what made you laugh last year?

Happy New Year to you all,

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Monday, 28 September 2015

The trouble with 'Training'

Training vs Learning and introducing Performance

Image from


I’m a huge fan of training/learning/development/performance interventions – it’s been my ‘bread and butter’ for many years and I believe that organisations who do it well will have happy, engaged, productive, capable staff who in turn provide excellent services and results. But whilst learning is something we should aim for as a constant, training should not be done constantly and just for the sake of it.

In my experience if you mention ‘training’ many people will still think of a classroom based intervention. Hence I do prefer the term ‘learning’. When we talk about training, we are lead down the road of asking ‘what training do you want/need to do’ whereas talking learning gives us the better option of ‘what do you want to learn?’– A subtle difference but an important one as one focusses on the intervention and the other the expected outcome.

When I started in this area the role, my role was ‘Training Officer’. Then came ‘training and development’ titles followed by ‘learning and development’ jobs. Recent discussions in the Learning and Development field have suggested that T&D and L&D should in fact be more concentrated on ‘Performance and Development’. It is a view I appreciate because in a work context training should be about improving performance (individual and organisational). It also means, more importantly imho, that training is not seen as outside of wider organisational objectives and agendas.
When we focus on the expected outcome – improved performance being one - we are more likely to choose the right intervention, may save time (away) and it’s often less costly too. I know that suggesting someone reads articles, looks on YouTube, spends time with a colleague or takes on a project is less obvious and may be seen as less prestigious, but it might be what’s really needed.

When offering training and/ development, as well as understanding what it is we’re trying to achieve we should also be mindful of how the ‘offer’ of development will be received.
In some cases, such as with those courses that offer time away from the day-job or those of high value, training is seen as a reward or compensation (eg “I can’t give you a payrise, but I can compensate that by putting you on this expensive course”!). In other cases, it is seen as a punishment - your sent on something whether you want or need to, at a time that's not right for you. In the worst cases, it is seen actually a benefit to the manager rather than their ‘subordinate’ - for example where a manager sends someone on a time management course rather than look at workload, a confidence course instead of offering praise and coaching or where a manager doesn’t tackle poor customer service but sends an employee on a customer service course. That's when training, especially on it’s own, is not enough...
...And that last attitude/approach is one that really grates on me!
Whatever the intervention and whatever the reason for it, one thing is for sure – the value must be measured by more than a ‘happy sheet’ or training/learning/development/performance-passionate people like me aren’t happy!

But more than that, it's not about us. What matters is the learner, the organisation and those it serves. And it's best served by people who are developed not just trained.

There, I’ve said it!
What do you think?
- Does your organisation focus on learning or training?
- Do you look for the right intervention to meet an actual outcome?
- Is 'training' used/seen to be about reward, punishment or a lack of management?

Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing your views,

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Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Working with people is like gardening!

Today I was answering a colleague about how long I'd stay in one organisation to make a positive difference, why I'm keen on measuring (eg ROI), and why I don't like just like to 'launch and run'. It reminded me that I used to describe myself as a 'gardener'. Now, I'm no gardener but getting people through change, and a whole range of people practices, is often a bit like being one.

Here's why...
First: You have to pick the right place, time and product - don't prepare an area in the shade to place your sunflower!
Next: Prepare the soil - and yes, this might mean digging up the weeds (old ideas)
Then: Plant the seeds (be they ideas or ambassadors)
Next: Water them - in other words, even when it looks like nothing is happening you still have to keep taking action
And even when they're grown, the work continues - even roses need pruning!
Finally: Share - that doesn't mean cutting them but you could invite people to your garden or send them pictures.

In all this, let 'nature' do it's thing - other people's nature will impact things like energy and pace, but remember that you still need to take action.
If you don't do your bit, nature may give you weeds!

Positive change (eg progress, new skills, improved performance) may not bloom immediately. There may be issues along the way - gardening is hard work, but the rewards are there to see.

The same analogy works for recruitment, developing people, having challenging conversations and more.

And don't tell me that you don't do flowers - you could always plant a vegetable garden instead!

Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing your views,

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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Profiling - what colour, animal, letters are you?...


...And do you buy it?

At a recent event (#cipdnap15) I was fortunate enough to hear Nigel Risner speak, in part, on the subject of four zoo animals and the need to be a zoo-keeper-style-communicator!

Today I was giving feedback to recruitment candidates using Thomas International tools, a tool I've used over a number of years.

Tonight, this blog seemed obvious!

Categorising individuals and profiling tools get a mixed reception. A senior manager I spoke to recently didn't feel that they were helpful in telling her anything that she couldn't identify herself stating "I've think got pretty good judgement" (meaning I don't need them!)

But whatever you think of them they've been around for a while and I can't see them disappearing from HR use completely.

They provide a more 'scientific' perspective on recruitment, self awareness, development, providing feedback etc compared to our (often biased) human thinking and perceptions. And, in recruitment for example, what one person perceives as good judgement in an appointment is another person's lack of!

Whether a complex system (like Myers-Briggs) or a simple system (like a style personality questionnaire), I'm personally very taken with profiling tools. In my opinion, it's about how you use them, what you combine them with to make decisions and giving people a chance to respond to what they are indicating.

I am under no illusion that they have their limitations but as a conversation starter, I think they are really useful and I can honestly say I've never had anyone suggest that they've been wholly inaccurate when I've provided feedback (excluding my personal denial of the truth some years ago when a profile suggested that I'm talkative!)

What's your view, and what tools do you use when and why?

Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing your views,

PS - In case you're wondering profiles have previously indicated that I'm essentially an influential and extroverted monkey who sits in the hub looking dramatic in a classic fashion!

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Wednesday, 13 May 2015

100% honesty, honestly?

Is this one of your values?

Yet another discussion about values, yet another discussion about honesty, and yet again gasps when I suggest it's not a value I'm comfortable to sign up to!

Hear me when I say, it's how I associate the word and not the principle that makes me hesitant. It's not that I believe in dishonesty at work (or anywhere*) but I think that having honesty as a value can be quite challenging because there is often more than one truth, it sometimes hurts, and there's often more than one way of presenting it.

For example, as a HR professional, I may get asked for details about someone or something that I can't disclose. My likely response is that 'I'm afraid I'm not able to discuss that with you'. And that would be A truth, one honest response, and only in part. In part because, I'm probably not really afraid, but I am polite. And secondly not the only truth because the other truth would be to disclose what I know and that truth just isn't an option.

Similarly, on a personal level, when I've been asked my opinion of someone - If my honest answer is negative the chances are I may have said - I don't know them that well, or I've shared something positive about them despite my personal feelings. Otherwise, honesty can become the ingredient for gossip. Honesty - good. Gossip - not so!

And in my role as an image consultant, I'd also be cautious of being 'honest' because sometimes honesty is brutal (which is often the case when people self-judge). Imagine someone wearing something I considered really didn't suit them at an event and was asked publicly if I liked it. Would anyone think it a good idea that I said straight-up that I hated it? I certainly wouldn't. Whilst I wouldn't lie and say 'I love it, you look fabulous darling'!, I would temper the truth, eg 'I prefer your x outfit' or 'it's nice' (not the same as 'you look nice') or 'you are wearing it with a swagger and that's always a good look'.

In summary: I tell the truth, but sometimes it's tempered.

I've met people (who I'm sure you have too) who have lost their sensitivity, and more, behind the mask of honesty.

So for me I prefer to wrap my honesty in a value like integrity which I feel allows me to to make a judgement about how I apply the principle with some reasonableness, kindness and diplomacy.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about honesty - if it's one of your values, what makes it so; and if it isn't, why, and how do you deal with people's reaction to that?

* Confession: it would be dishonest of me to say to my 7yo that there's no ice-cream in the freezer when there is, but I've done just that #naughtymummy!

Thanks for reading,
Denise x

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Monday, 13 April 2015

HR is...
A picture of...

I attended an event this weekend, the theme of which was 'balance'. I often think and present in terms of imagery and stories, so immediately this theme has me thinking of old style weighing 'scales'.

I was presenting with my image coach hat on, but at work this morning it struck me that scales are the perfect visual to describe the role of HR too.

We're often the pivot/beam between employees and the organisation (recognising that they are part of the same but sometimes, sadly, not on the same page) and our roles often swing between helping to make people happy (eg employee engagement) and dealing with the unhappy (eg grievance)

Also, if you search for 'scales' online, you get a range of images from fish to weighing equipment - representing in my mind, our versatility (and possibly in the mind of others differing levels of usefulness)!

The fact that 'scales' often represents justice also sits quite well.

My other option of a visual was of a pig, as in 'piggy in the middle' but I'm sure you'll agree this didn't seem quite as professional or flattering!

What image would you use to represent HR?

Thanks for reading,
Denise x

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Thursday, 5 March 2015

Where are your hard efforts getting you?

Spinning class or Bike ride?


Whilst stopping (or even slowing down!) doesn't come naturally to me I recently found myself suggeting to a group of managers that they: Stop/slow down, reflect, and thoughtfully respond to matters rather than reacting to them.

So, what's that got to do with 'spinning class or bike ride'? I hear you say!

Well, here's the thing.
Of course, there are similarities between these activities - both are forms of excerise, both have the potential to make you sweat, both involve you taking a seat, both require a cycling motion. But, there is one big difference - only one will actually take you somewhere!

Imho....Sometimes we are so busy, doing so much doing that we actually end up going nowhere (or at least feeling like we're going nowhere) - a bit like being on an excercise bike where you're spinning but staying in the same place.
Whereas, if you're out cycling, there are a wider range of benefits - for example:
- There's a greater focus on the journey, rather than just the activity itself.
- We may see other things happening around us, and can even stop to take them in.
- We're breathing in fresh air on the way (London may be an exception I know!)

A spin class is mainly about working hard, going (nowhere) fast. A cycle ride doesn't necessarily mean going slow - but you can chose and vary the pace; and it is about going somewhere, ideally with purpose*.

This group of managers had been spinning really hard but weren't getting the improvement levels/recognition that their efforts might deserve. There can be so much good stuff going on but because there's no break to communicate until the end, all your efforts might have little reach/impact.

There is a place and a benefit for peddling furiously and building up a sweat (in business terms: when there's a crisis for example) - however, I'd just suggest that if you really want to go places, it's often not the best use of your energy.
*And there's a place for no purpose too, eg when looking for innovation!

So, think about it - right now, do you actually need to...

Think about the destination (vision/aims), the pitstops you may need to make (have a plan), stop at red lights and reflect, look at how far you've come, and ideally enjoy the ride with others. You might even want to get off the road, get on your mobile, and tell everyone what you're doing as you go. (PS - Pictures and/ stories help!)

For the record, despite admitting earlier that slowing down/stopping doesn't come naturally to me, I do practice what I preach when I can and can tell you there really are real benefits to doing it...
  • So the questions is:
What approach do you and your organisation take/need to take?
Do you want/need to work up a sweat at a Spinning class or do you want/need to go on a paced, purpose-full Bike ride?

Thanks for reading, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Denise x

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Sunday, 1 February 2015

Hope in the workplace

Is hope enough?

The word 'hope' has been following me this week.

Last night I watched the brilliant (but often painful to watch) Shawshank Redemption*, which amongst so many great messages covers 'hope' with central character Andy Dufrense saying...

On winning her 19th slam title yesterday, Serena Williams said in an inspiring speech** "I walked on court with a ball and a racket and hope" to describe the start of her journey.

These quotes reminded me that earlier this week, I'd had a conversation with a jobseeker who said they 'hoped they'd find work soon'.

Also this week, Langley House Trust said farewell to their departing Chair Anthony Howlett-Bolton. At the celebration, we were reminded of some of his key phrases/teachings. One, not mentioned, that stays with me is his perspective on 'hope' as whenever Anthony attached hope to an expected outcome - he rephrased his statement. Not because he is a man without hope but rather because he recognised that hope alone doesn't get the job done, which was at odds with the manner of the jobseeker I mentioned.

How often, however, do we (you, I!) talk about hope as if it will get us a result? We need to be careful of using hope as a driver especially in our communications, eg giving instructions, with others. I know in my HR career, I've often talked to managers who've said 'we hoped the situation would improve' for example. What, that's it - you just 'hoped'?!

So whilst positive, what place (if any) does hope have in the workplace?

Taking the Shawshank and Serena examples actually helps us answer this. Because, whilst Hope is an inspiring message, in reality it wasn't hope alone that ensured Andy's escape or secured Serena's win. Yes hope was a strong ideal, a factor, but it wasn't lazy!

  • Andy's hope was backed by knowing his truth, using his skills, and a patient, well executed plan. 
  • Serena's hope was backed by talent, self-belief, practice, and hard work.
  • Both show(ed) absolute determination and dedication, took their knocks and got up again defying the odds, and ensured they had company on their journey in order to achieve the goal(s).

In other words, Hope needs backing!

Sure, inspire people with hope in business but don't forget to communicate all that goes with it if you want it to get you results.

* Based on a book by Stephen King
** See Serena's speech here: (2.05 minutes)

Thanks for reading, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Denise x

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Friday, 16 January 2015

Oscar does not represent.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on the Oscar Nominations 2015.

Movies, at their best, have the ability to raise the issue of diversity in a positive way and challenge our thinking - think To Kill a Mockingbird, Crash and Brokebank Mountain as examples. So, whilst it pains me to write this blog, I feel compelled to do so.

Currently film has been a trigger for diversity (specifically race) conversations in the wrong way with negativity about a black Annie, a black Bond and black stormtroopers; and there've also discussions about whether able bodied actors should play disabled characters. And the biggie...

The internet has been full of comment about the 'All white' Oscars acting and directorial nominations with Jessica Chastain making an impassioned speech about the matter of #OscarsSoWhite quoting:

And that's the 'good'. Social media gives us a voice (not always kindly eg in the case of Annie and Bond) that when used well, can ensure collective views are heard. And its also good (great actually) that people are frustrated by the lack of (visible) diversity on the list.

The 'bad' about the situation is the list itself. And it's not just about no black actors, it's also that there are no women on the Directors list (no nods for Angelina Jolie or Ava) for example.
I'm sure Ava DuVernay, would not want to be recognised simply because she is a black woman, she would want be recognised if the belief is that she did a great job making a movie. And given that the film 'Selma' is nominated for 'Best Film', we have our observation about that.

But the 'ugly' in my opinion is how the race of Cheryl Boone Isaacs as President of AMPAS seems to be being used to dismiss the issues raised. Her position does not change the historical or 'institutional' issues, or the fact that the movie industry is not reflective of the society it seeks to entertain.

I will always argue that diversity is not solely about the differences of race, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation etc. For example, you could be looking at three white females but there'd still be much diversity in terms of age, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, not to mention a host of different behavioural styles.

Diversity is about different people being not just represented but respected, treated fairly and their differences embraced. Is this how you see it?

However, there is no getting away from the fact that it's soul destroying to look at the Oscar nominations and have to recognise that 'the system' as it stands is biased towards middle-aged white males and that it has not moved on to reflect wider demographics.

Could the  'charges' be levelled at your organisation?

Thanks for reading, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Denise x

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Monday, 5 January 2015

New Years Resolutions and Retention

Ask, Listen, Learn and Act!

If you want to decide where to focus your HR, communication, and engagement attention and energy in the first 90 days of the new year then ask your staff  "What's your new years' resolution?".

We know that many people start thinking about their careers (amongst other things) in a new year, but I'm not suggesting anyone will respond to the the question by boldly stating that they're looking for a new job (though someone might!).

However, there's still something in it and that might help us keep people committed to an organisation and or re-energise/re-engage them.

- Individual resolutions:

If, for example, someone asked me for my resolutions one of them I'd willingly confess to is wanting to blog more. If my employer then helped me achieve that it might be the difference between looking to move on or not. My employer might choose to let me write a blog for the organisation, they might give me projects that would give me subject matter, they might send me on a writing course and more importantly it would mean that they were listening and developing me in a way that was meaningful to me and not just beneficial to them.

An organisation might ask "What's in it for me?" and that would be totally valid. Given the 'blog' example, one practical benefit might be me being better able to write in-house materials (eg a staff newsletter) but more importantly, I'd be more likely to feel heard, engaged with, and supported, by the organisation which can never be a bad thing, even if all it does is highlight a disconnect between my ambitions and options.

- Shared resolutions:

As well as the 'personal' aspects of understanding someone's resolutions, understanding what a commonly held resolution across the organisation (or perhaps a team's) might be, could direct an organisation to look at it's activities, policies and/ benefits.

If the majority of your workforce wanted to get fit and you don't yet have a wellbeing offer - perhaps you could consider this. If the majority wanted to go on a dream holiday - perhaps introducing a policy on sabbaticals might be of value. If the majority want to learn new skills - perhaps a more holistic approach to training, learning and development might be worth considering. If the majority want to 'give more' - a volunteer scheme with a local charity or sponsored activity/event could be considered. On so on!

And don't just ask the question - genuinely listen to the responses, think creatively about the solutions and help your staff monitor the progress. It doesn't have to be formal (in fact I'd suggest against it!).

If you introduce something that might help a group of people achieve their resolutions, don't forget to communicate it widely. And if it's part of the plan for the coming year, communicate that too. People won't necessarily hang on if they're determined to leave, but it's those people who just 'peek' at the new jobs sections in the new year who may decide not to.

In writing this blog I had this flashback:
Some years ago, in a hotel I worked in, an informal conversation with a room attendant lead us to understand she had designs on learning floristry. She was supported by the Head Housekeeper, encouraged to speak to the hotels floral suppliers, sponsored by the hotel, and began to help out with hotel displays. The result: She was promoted later that same year (I believe in part because she was able to bring her external passion and skills into work). Who knows if she'd have left the hotel and become a florist anyway, but had she we'd have lost a good, engaged employee because we'd missed a trick!

Of course, (a) some people make a point of not setting resolutions (does this tell you something?!) and (b) none of this is going to make a difference if bigger issues aren't assessed but... you might just learn some things that help you to retain some people.

So, HR colleagues - who's up for asking the question: "What's your new years resolution?" (and feel free to share yours here too!)

Thanks for reading!
Denise x

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