Thursday, 31 July 2014

Remember my blog 30 days ago?

A whole thirty days ago I posted a blog about the 30 day challenge.  For those of you who missed it you can find it here.

Well I've completed my challenge - I have meditated for 20 minutes every day.  I experimented with a couple of accompaniments but finally settled with an App called Insight Timer.  This allowed me to set an interval bell every 5 minutes and a final triumphant clanger at the 20 minute point.

What have I learned?
  • 30 days goes by very quickly.
  • I soon got into a routine and (almost) looked forward to each meditation.
  • Focussing on the act of breathing can be calming and peaceful.
  • Some days I was less distracted than others - some days it seemed like I had to bring my focus back to my breathing every two minutes.
  • I've been more conscious about my unconscious behaviour patterns and on some occasions I've stopped and made a change.
  • Meditation doesn't have to be a spiritual act.
  • You can meditate in most places.  In Madrid I meditated a couple of times on the roof terrace.
  • It does provide some welcome stillness.
  • You don't have to sit cross legged.

What next?

I'm going to continue with my daily meditation.  Coincidentally, I've also been researching a type of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and its application in the workplace.  ACT contains a strong element of mindfulness so I'm keen to see where it takes me.

Did anyone else out there have a crack at a 30 days challenge?  I'd love to hear from you.  Alternatively, you could always start tomorrow - you'd be done by 30 August if you did.



PS For the sake of clarity I'd like to point out that the Hotel Praktik Metropol in Madrid is splendid and does have a lovely roof terrace.  However, it does not have palm trees and a hammock - that is known as artistic licence.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Top Tips - Interviews

So you've been invited to an interview - congratulations.  You probably have mixed feelings - excitement, nerves, what to wear...As someone who has interviewed at all levels for a great variety of roles here are some of my top tips to help you get the most out of the process.

Firstly, have a look at this video. It's from a Heineken Campaign to find their next Intern.  I first saw this at the Changeboard Future Talent Conference during a presentation by Alex Lowe - Industry Head at Google.

Be Yourself
The video illustrates one of my key points very well - be yourself.  Put yourself in the shoes of the people interviewing you - if you are focussed on delivering well rehearsed answers you may not be listening properly to the questions and you will certainly not be your natural, spontaneous self.  Having a succession of candidates reeling off very similar responses can be quite tedious.  Don't be afraid to show your character, personality and energy.

Impact of the video on the Heineken employees
Incidentally - this video went viral and currently has had almost 6 million views.  It was also highly appreciated by Heineken employees and increased traffic to their internal HR website by 279%.

Being yourself does not mean that you don't need to prepare. You'll need to research the company in detail.  As you review the company information make a note of your thoughts and questions that come to you, they'll be useful when you are asked "Do you have any questions for us?".

Think about:
  • the priorities of the organisation;
  • the culture;
  • the current challenges;
  • the expectations of the role.
Another great resource is Glassdoor which has a companies and reviews section, with feedback from current and former employees, which can be quite illuminating.  It also has a section on interviews which details procedures and common questions.  One word of caution - don't get too hung up on the interview questions.  They may have been specific to a role or some canny HR sort may have changed the regular questions.  If you are too expectant of specific questions you may be thrown by new ones.

Change your Perspective
Consider the job advert from the perspective of your new boss.  
  • How can your specific experience and what you have achieved and delivered be relevant to the role?
  • From your research, do you think you will fit the culture?
  • What difference would you make?
More and more companies today are interested in attitudes and personality. When these are right for the company they can invest in your development to fill any technical gaps.

Be honest and consider what you can bring to the role and why you applied for it the first place.  

Visualise yourself in the Interview
Create a picture in your mind of you in the interview situation.  You probably won't know the room or the interview panel, so just imagine a room with a table and a person (or people) conducting the interview.  Imagine yourself feeling confident, being clear and being engaging (you can substitute these words for ones that resonate with you), turn up those positive feelings so you can hear your voice.  Now, using the same scenario, imagine the interview from the perspective of a camera on the wall, so you can see yourself and the interviewer(s).  See, hear and feel yourself being X, Y and Z (again, substitute words of your choice here).  

Repeat these loops at regular intervals.  You'll be surprised how effective it can be.  Top athletes use these techniques all the time. 

Try Not to...
It's OK to be nervous and most interviewers will make allowances.

When people are nervous they quite often say things like:
  • "I don't think that's answered your question."
  • "That wasn't a very good answer."
  • "I think you'll have forgotten me as soon as I have left the room."
These are all genuine responses I have experienced.  Try not to plant such thoughts in the minds of those conducting the interview.  If you're not sure your response has covered all the points you could ask:

"Has that covered all the points you were looking for?" or remain silent. If they want more they'll ask for it.

A final point for this post.  If you're calling the contact listed in the advert for details of the process or to check your application has been received, be nice. This person has probably been heavily involved in the recruitment process and will be fielding queries from multiple applicants.  Under no circumstances should you get shirty, raise your voice or criticise the process or the form.  The person you're speaking to could very well have a voice (albeit an informal one).  If you've made multiple enquiries about information already available, called up to criticise the process or got a bit tetchy with the named contact, your behaviour will probably reach the ears of those conducting the process.




Wednesday, 23 July 2014

HR - The Future?

The week before last, I attended the Changeboard, Future Talent Conference at the Royal Opera House,  a fantastic venue.

The range of speakers was excellent from Alain de Botton to Sir Anthony Seldon and Lucy Adams, the former Director of BBC HR.  It made me reflect on my experience of working in HR and how we should equip ourselves to prepare for the future.  It's an exciting time to be in HR and some bold action is required to consolidate and build on our position.

I've set out some of my thoughts below, which were triggered by the conference and my experience. If you have any questions or feedback I'd love to hear from you.

Career for Life
As Ashok Vaswani from Barclays pointed out,  the concept of a 'career for life' is over.  Instead we can expect a life of careers.  This is definitely the expectation of the workforce aged 18-30.  In general, they have no expectation of building a career in one organisation.  Employers need to focus their recruitment strategy on their ability to provide an exciting and stimulating career for say, two years.  This also chimes with a related issue from my experience of large organisations and their focus on promotion.

The expectation that all people in an organisation will be focussed on achieving promotion is neither realistic or achievable. Workers in the 30 plus demographic may wish to remain with one employer but they are entitled to a stimulating and challenging career at a level of their choosing,  rather than being pushed to aspire to a level where they will neither be comfortable or inspired.

Build Policy around Positivity
This was a very good point made by Lucy Adams.  Often HR policy is built around the "worst possible outcome" scenario.   I think there is a tendency in HR to create parent-child relationships. HR can be the paternalistic/maternalistic bringer of discipline,  doom and reduced rations with a focus on the naughty people.  How would it be if we assumed that the people in our organisations, in general,  wanted to be there and had the desire to do a good job?

Your Employees are Adults
Netflix created big news by abandoning their annual leave form. They found that people did not abuse the system and that they generally took less than their leave allowance.  In my experience, this is not such a revelation. My Civil Service leave form was not checked for many years.  I did keep a record for personal planning purposes but I was trusted to manage my allocation.

Recruit Leaders with Humanity
Often it seems that leaders check-in their external experience and natural skills at reception and believe they have to act in a particular, process driven way with very little freedom.  Lucy Adams articulated the need for 'low ego' leaders who were prepared to develop their natural skills and strengths, be honest and humble to allow others to flourish. This includes the next generation of leaders. 

Be Obsessed about Knowing the People
This is about using data effectively and predictively. It's also about being interested in your people, knowing their outside interests, skills and ambitions.

Build HR with Humanity
Creating and nurturing Adult-to-Adult relationships will go a long way. I'd like to see less guidance and more trust.  This isn't about going soft but it is about valuing people and HR can really set the example.

Get the Comms Right
Lucy Adams was very honest - her 'all staff' emails at the peak of the Savile/Enwistle crisis were criticised for their stiff tone. The response from staff was immediate, they were looking for the hidden messages in each communication.  The emails had been cleared by multiple departments including legal, comms and other board members.  

The Unions at the time were using communications that were focussed on the audience and included pithy headlines and cartoons.  They made far more of an impact.

These are my initial thoughts.  What is your experience as either an HR Professional or customer?  It would be great to collect some stories.




Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Inner Game of Sketching

Ask a group of primary school kids if they're good at drawing and you'll probably get a resounding "yes". 

Ask the same question to a group of adults and the results will be quite different, what's your response?

Inner Game

One concept to explore in relation to this effect is the "inner game",  developed by Tim Gallwey.
There is always an inner game being played in your mind no matter what outer game you are playing. How you play this game usually makes the difference between success and failure.” -Tim Gallwey
Gallwey developed the theory whilst working as a tennis coach. He found that if pupils were given a set of complex instructions on their posture, the angle of the racquet and the ideal impact point that performance got worse.  If he asked them to only focus on the seam of the tennis ball their performance improved dramatically.

Gallwey described two entities at work in the inner game. Self 1 is 'the teller' and Self 2 is the unconscious, automatic 'doer'.  Self 1 provides a constant stream of feedback, with lots of negative, critical comments. This has a profound impact on the 'doing' as it distracts and undermines 'Self 2'.  Gallwey found that when the relationship between Self 1 and Self 2 improved and the interference from Self 1 was reduced, that the instinctual learning and natural ability from Self 2 could shine through.  

Cast your mind back to Andy Murray's performance at Wimbledon 2014.  The match which he lost is a perfect example of the Self 1 of the inner game taking control.  He was talking to himself and criticising his performance after each shot.

The Man with Two Brains

An alternative way of thinking about what is going on in the brain is to consider, if you will, that there are two brains at work, the 'thinking brain' and the 'observing brain'.

Thinking brain - it's the part of the brain that questions us, judges us, criticises us and puts doubt in our minds. Think about the thinking brain as the home of our limiting beliefs,  the labels we attach to ourselves and our inner voice which serves up doubt and fear on a 24/7 basis.

Observing brain - it observes what is happening, that's it.

So now I've outlined the concept I can get back to the topic of sketching.

Cartooning for Communicators

Last week I attended a fantastic course called 'cartooning for communicators', run by experts in the field, Martin Shovel and Martha Leyton. It is designed for those who want to develop ways to get to the essence of a message, use visual metaphors and create memorable images for complex issues.  You can read more about the course here.

This was a challenge for me.  I hadn't picked up a pencil with the serious intention of drawing for at least 30 years.  What I learned from the course was:
  • how a concept or mood can be conveyed with some very simple pencil strokes,
  • a drawing doesn't have to be perfect (whatever perfect means),
  • practice is important,
  • there is great freedom to experiment and find a style,
  • collaboration enriches the outcome,
  • the brain is brilliant at recognising patterns and making sense of images,
  • visual metaphors are powerful.
There is something quite extraordinary about taking a piece of paper,  a pencil and having a go. It's like freewheeling down a hill on your bike with the wind in your face, pure liberation. 

In terms of the inner game it is all about having a go, ignoring the thinking brain or Self 1 (I can't draw, what I have just produced is rubbish, I'm no artist etc..) and having fun.  Imagine yourself back at school confident in your ability to capture any image.

To prove it - here are some completely random sketches from me.  I'm not looking for any feedback - in the nicest possible way, I don't care what you think!

These were all done using the sketchbook express app and my finger.

Go on - get your crayons out and put your judgement back in your pencil case.

Cheers Ross

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

An Everyday Story of Procrastination

Here's a tale.  Once upon a time, our cooker hood extractor went pop and ceased to work. I can't be exact as to how long ago this was as neither of us can remember, our best guess is two years ago.  How time flies when you become accustomed to ignoring an issue, goal or problem.

It was on my list to call someone but somehow I never got round to it.  We got used to cooking without it and using a secondary extractor fan at the side of the kitchen.

We assumed it was something highly technical that required expertise and would, most likely, cost money.  Therefore we did nothing.

Recently - as if driven by an unseen force, I asked our concierge for advice. He happily came to have a look.  He checked the hood with a fancy gadget and advised that the unit was not receiving any electrical current, he gave me the number of an electrician.  About a week later (after two years it didn't feel that urgent) I called the electrician.  He advised me of his call out charge and recommended that before we book him I check for a plug behind the kitchen panel.

I left it another week for good measure, then last week, armed with a screwdriver, I removed the panel above the cooker hood.  Sure enough, there was a plug in a socket. We replaced the fuse and guess what?  The cooker hood whirred into life and worked beautifully.

What have I learned - My Top Tips
1. When pursuing a goal, or tackling an issue, be curious.  Don't assume that it will be too complex, specialised or expensive. Try making a list of the assumptions you have made, how you could challenge them?
2. Be aware of your psychological response and think of ways you could be more flexible?
3. Where could you go for support and advice?  Firstly, there is a wealth of information on the internet.  Secondly,  people are often happy to advise or provide practical tips on how to approach your issue.  This advice could make all the difference.  Focus on someone who may have the specialist knowledge or advice.
4. You may well find you have some internal dialogue going on.  For example:
  • "you're no good at DIY"
  • "It's electrical - it's bound to be complex and expensive"
  • "we'll end up needing a whole new kitchen (do you ever catastrophise?)"
If you can realise that this dialogue has been created by your mind and take some action anyway you might be surprised what you learn.
Try this.

Think about a minor issue in your life.  Something you've been putting off.  A niggle. Look at the list of top tips above.  What action could you take to become unstuck?  Try experimenting.

Go on - how could you fix your cooker hood?


PS By the way - the name of the Electrical Contractor who gave me the top tip was Central Appliances, 30 Baker Street, 01273 687637

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

What could you achieve by 31 July if you start tomorrow?

I've talked about the 30 day challenge in the past but it's worth repeating, because the outcomes can be powerful and rewarding. 

Watch this video (3 mins 30 seconds) - Matt Cutts - talks with compulsion about trying something new for 30 days.  He describes the difference that small changes can make.  This is something I talk about often with clients - if we make small diversions from our regular path within days we'll be well away from our usual routine.  I love this idea from Matt, the concept is simple and achievable.  And in 30 days you're well on the way to installing a new habit.

What are you going to try and how will we know?  

My first 30 day challenge (in 2011) was to take and share a photo every day with the aim of stimulating my creativity.  I loved the process and it worked. To this day I still look for opportunities to take interesting, funny and creative photos. 

If you start tomorrow your 30 days will be up on 31 July.  What small change will you commit to?  I'd love it if you shared it here so we can support each other ;-).

My new 30 day challenge is to meditate for 20 minutes every day, starting tomorrow.  I'm exploring the range of guided meditations available and will select one ready to start tomorrow.

Get your thinking caps on...


PS Here's my favourite photo from my photo-a-day 30 day challenge

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