Thursday, 26 June 2014

England at the World Cup - Did Fear Take Control?

Here's a great article from Will Thomas, a PhD Researcher at the University of Sussex.  He gives a fantastic perspective on the fearful approach of the England Team at the World Cup.  Did the team have a sense of cohesion and a common spirit or did fear override everything?  A fascinating read.


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

A Top Tip for Leaders (and the first post in an occasional series entitled "Lessons from Pop")

When working with Directors and Directors General in HR Business Partner roles I was often asked if I had any top tips.

If I had only one piece of advice it is encapsulated in the following story.  In one of my first HRBP roles I was coaching a relatively new Director who was concerned that his team were arguing with each other in the open office, using inappropriate language and generally displaying quite aggressive behaviour.

We explored when this behaviour had begun and I asked if there had been any significant events at this time.  This was a lightbulb moment.  A few weeks previously the Director had engaged in a stand up row with a fellow Director in front of the majority of the office.  He had also been under pressure from a Minister and had been grumpy and sweary in the office.

OK, this may seem very obvious but I've seen it happen many times.  As a leader,  never underestimate the amount of scrutiny you are under.  In a hierarchy, people are looking to you for behavioural guidance and cues to understand what is appropriate and acceptable.  News of a senior full-on row in an open office will spread pretty quickly and some people will begin to mirror and emulate your behaviour.

Strive to demonstrate the behaviour and actions you want to see.  

The Director in question acted quite quickly.  At the next team meeting he shared his concerns about the aggressive behaviour he had observed and referenced his own argument in the office.  He apologised, explained that he was not proud of his actions and outlined the types of behaviour he valued. He committed to demonstrating his desired behaviours and asked for feedback on an ongoing basis, he wanted to know if there was something he'd missed or wasn't getting right.

The effect was startling.  Having explicitly stated what he expected and valued his team began to demonstrate and mirror these behaviours and there was an ongoing, constructive dialogue. 

If you are in a management or leadership position what can you do?

I'll leave you with a quote from Michael Jackson.
I'm starting with the man (or woman) in the mirror
I'm asking him (or her) to change his (or her) ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the office a better place 
Take a look at yourself and then make a change
 Do like the man says - what would you like to see in your office?



Saturday, 21 June 2014

Reflections on Talent

On Thursday I attended the IBM Smarter Workforce Conference where I had been invited to sit on a Discussion Panel to consider "How to attract and retain out future talent".  My fellow panel members were Rachel Ashby (Global Head of Recruitment at EC Harris) and Karen Ward (Programme Director at the Corporate Research Forum).  The session was chaired by Clodagh O'Reilly (Talent Consulting Leader, Europe, IBM, Smarter Workforce).

We managed to cover a heck of a lot in 45 minutes and some thought provoking questions were posed by Clodagh and the audience.

Here are my initial reflections from our discussion.

Take time to engage in Horizon Scanning.  In BIS I developed and delivered Horizon Scanning Workshops for our Deputy Directors and key Professions.

The process allows organisations to consider;
  • what they are currently good at, 
  • the current and future changes in the world of work and the requirements of their customers, 
  • a consideration of what the organisation will look like in 10 (or more) years time,
  • what the organisation needs to do now to prepare for the future challenges (Skills, structure, procedures etc.).
It's a really useful starting point.  I often find that, as organisations strive to deliver more with less, that their focus is on the short and medium term requirements.  It's essential to look to the future to develop, retain and recruit talent.

Get a real understanding of the leadership view of talent within the organisation.  Sometime leaders consider that the most talented individuals are those who display the qualities and behaviours that they value most in themselves.  This will not create a balanced leadership team or talent pipeline.  The leaders need to consider whether there are skills and behaviours present in the organisation which are essential for the future but undervalued.  Horizon Scanning can really help here.

What groups or people within the organisation can you learn from.  Take some time to observe and find out what's going on.  For example, in BIS, we recruited a number of graduate interns.  Without prompting, the found each other in the organisation and came together as a group to share insights about their jobs.  They approached HR with the offer to revise and reinvigorate the Induction Pack from their experience and perspective. This type of behaviour was both encouraging and refreshing.  This group were immediately engaged and curious to find out more about the organisation and how they could contribute ideas and improve the workplace.  It's important to recognise that they were on short contracts of 6 or 12 months which did not dampen their enthusiasm or commitment.  Stories like this need to be shared to demonstrate the value of this type of behaviour.

When identifying a sub group of people who are to be placed on a high potential programme - be honest.  Don't ask them to keep their membership secret - your workforce aren't daft. People will work out what is happening and it will impact on how they feel about their worth in the organisation.  They could feel ignored, undervalued and disenchanted.  This leads on to one of my bug bears that I have experienced in organisations. 

As Yazz once said "The only way is up".  In an organsational context I fundamentally disagree.  Within a hierarchy there is often an assumption that people must continue to strive to progress to the next level.  This is unrealistic - the number of roles at senior levels are fewer as the pyramid reaches its peak.  People need to have honest, adult to adult conversations about their expectations of their career and not struggle on to progress without taking time to reflect on their personal aspirations, talents and strengths.  People also need to share stories about the value of a stimulating and varied career at a particular level in the hierarchy.  The idea that someone could request 'a broad and challenging career at Level X in the hierarchy' with gusto and commitment needs to be embedded and appreciated.  This can be achieved through demonstrating value through the provision of opportunities to gather new skills and experience different environments (e.g. through managed secondments).

From Descriptive to Predictive Analytics - HR need to be bolder to consider how they use and extend their information and data.  HR generally has a great deal of descriptive information which can be used effectively to understand the current position and consider future requirements based upon models of turnover and demographics.  Imagine a world where data from across the organsation (surveys, finance and customer feedback) could be combined and analysed to make accurate predictions about the workforce and discover the key drivers of performance and behaviours.  Read this article for more information.

It truly is an exciting time to be working in HR and Business Psychology. I'll blog further on these themes in due course.



PS The photo shows Clive Woodward giving the keynote address from the event.  If I find a photo of me on the panel I'll add it to the blog.


Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Can you hear yourself think?

I was watching a lecture by Tal Ben-Shahar, his lectures at Harvard on Positive Psychology were the most popular in its history.

Try this exercise, which I have adapted from his lecture.
  • Think about your favourite film and imagine watching your favourite scene - give it a score out of 10 (with 10 being the maximum)
  • Think about your favourite song - hear it in your head - given it a score out of 10.
  • Think about your favourite meal - imagine you're eating it right now - taste the amazing flavours - give it a score out of 10.
Now - imagine watching your favourite film, whilst trying to eat your favourite meal balanced on your lap, with your favourite song playing at full volume, all at the same time.  What total score would you give this?  I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be the sum of the individual scores and you'd be likely to feel overloaded and stressed.

This is an a analogy for our busy lives.  Ben-Shahar quoted a study from the University of London.  People who left their email open whilst working on a piece of work requiring concentration lost about 10 IQ points.  To put this in perspective, an average subject who has not slept for 36 hours will also lose about 10 IQ points.

Something to Try

If you have an important piece of work which requires concentration and creativity, try this.
Turn off your email, put your phone on silent, hide your blackberry and close down social media.  Nothing will happen if you spend a couple of hours away from them.
Then concentrate on that task only.  It may help to use a system like the Pomodoro Technique. This is where you focus completely for 25 minutes then have a 5 minute break.  Every four pomodoros you can have a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.  There's a link at the end for more information.

This should give you that focus time and allow you to crack on without interruptions.


As with most things the key to succeed in this is practice.  Practice disconnecting from your blackberry, mobile, social media at work. Then try extending the practice to the time you spend with your friends and family. See what happens to your concentration and see if your friends notice. 

It's very unlikely that you'll precipitate the end of the world with a brief disconnection from your email or social media and you might even learn to enjoy it and find that you are more productive, creative and happy.

Do let me know how you get on.




Here's a link to the lecture - it's called Happiness 101 by Tal Ben-Shahar

Here's a link to more information on the Pomodoro Technique

Study identifying reduction in IQ from University in London - I have not yet found the source of this study quoted by Tal Ben-Shahar in his lecture.
Blog Layout Designed by pipdig