A quiet week

I was sitting at my desk, thinking that this week had been comparatively quiet, but then I started to list a few of the things I’ve done:

·         Advised a client on a recruitment issue, including how to develop what they want and where they might source candidates

·         Worked with a small public sector organisation to review its restructure and recommend some improvements to it

·         Drafted a staff handbook for a growing professional practice

·         Helped a new start-up understand their ‘basic’ HR responsibilities

·         Assisted a client in a hi-tech field to deal with a performance management issue

·         Acting as the adviser for a charity client in a disciplinary issue

·         Dealing with a query about the Apprenticeship levy

·         Writing the script for, and recording a CIPD Level 7 training webinar (not entirely convinced that voiceover artist is a likely career move for me)

·         Finalising the edits for my book (of which more here)

It made me realise that even in the ‘quieter’ periods,  the variety of ‘people’ issues that crop up  in organisations are what makes my work so interesting. So, if your business or organisation needs some HR help, why not get in touch?


The World’s most expensive training course?

Like many football fans, I watched events at Old Trafford yesterday – where the match was abandoned before kick-off after a “suspect device” was found in the stadium – with initial concern, followed by relief that the incident appeared to be a false alarm, and finally a degree of amusement when it was revealed that the mysterious package was in fact a dummy bomb left over from an exercise to train sniffer dogs in the ground several days previously. Several comments on social media at the end of the day expressed the view that they hoped the individual(s) responsible to be fired this morning.

But if your staff were responsible for such an incident, would you be considering dismissing them today? After all, we all like someone to blame, and there’s no doubt that the incident caused massive inconvenience to a lot of people. Indeed, local politicians seem to have jumped on the scapegoating bandwagon

But consider it this way. That error gave the emergency services the best way of testing their disaster plans in the event of a suspected bomb. They successfully evacuated 75000 people from the ground, put in place public transport plans to get them away from the area, and ensured that everything was done without panic or problem. But I’m also sure that they will be reviewing today what worked less well and making changes to resolve problems.

No matter how well planned your training, people will always behave differently when they think the event is actually happening (compare what happens during a planned fire drill and how people behave when they think there is real fire). So rather than blame, we should consider yesterday as a very high profile learning experience. The individuals concerned with leaving the dummy bomb behind will never again forget to carry out basic checks, while the emergency services will probably never have a better opportunity to safely test their procedures in a real life situation.

So blame, or thanks? Which would your company go for?


In Defence of Classroom Training

“We’re going to send you on a training course” – words that strike horror into many employees and which cause learning and development professionals to bang their heads in frustration. After all, employees hate being forced to sit in a classroom and being given stuff to do about a subject they can’t see the relevance of or practical use for. While L&D people have spent months- even years – devising alternative techniques such as MOOCs, e-learning and other interventions – to ensure that they can provide cost-effective ways to improve people’s skills and knowledge.

Over the last 18 months or so I’ve been asked to deliver a lot of classroom based training – something which I haven’t done for maybe 6 or 7 years. In part it’s because the small employers I work with are recognising that they need to invest in their staff, either to retain them or because the skills they need are lacking

And here’s the news – learners actually like “old fashioned” classroom based training. They value the time away from their daily role to concentrate on a topic; they normally have intelligent questions about the subject matter and can see how they can apply it to work situations; and they like the fact that they get to meet colleagues (or in certain instances people from other businesses) and can get to know them in a non-pressured work situation. A form of low-tech social networking if you like. And many have commented to me that they learn more this way than they would by being asked to complete an online module either in their own time or rushing to complete it during the working day.

I’m sure some L&D professionals will point out to me studies that show training courses are the worst at delivering changes in behaviour in the long term, or have the lowest “return on investment”.  To which I would say you may be right. It may be that classroom training is simply an example of the Hawthorne Effect. But properly designed, my observational evidence with a number of diverse businesses is that it is still an effective way to deliver training, and should still be an important part of the learning and development “mix”

The Right Deed for the Wrong Reason?

One of my daughter’s current favourite reads is the utterly brilliant Clarice Bean series by Lauren Child. In the third in the series, Clarice and her friends are asked by school to go and visit the old people in the home where Clarice’s mum works. Clarice’s friend Karl Wrenbury refuses, and when Clarice asks him if it’s because he doesn’t like old people, Karl responds that he does like old people a lot, but he doesn’t like being made to feel that he has to visit them.

I could sympathise with Karl when I read about the publication of a new CIPD report entitled “Volunteering to Learn – Employee Development through Community Action”. It’s a part of the entirely laudable programme the CIPD are running to encourage employers and HR professionals to tackle youth unemployment. But I really do have concerns when I read phrases in the report from companies such as ‘We are using community action as a recognised tool for personal development.’ ‘Volunteering activities are effective in boosting employee morale’ or (for me the worst) ‘Clients are asking more and more about our social contribution.’

Now there may well be some charities (including some of my current clients) who may say “we don’t care about the individual’s motivation for volunteering – they are doing good by doing it”. And it’s certainly true that by volunteering individuals can gain or develop skills they might not get elsewhere, which they can then bring into the workplace.

But the point of volunteering is that it’s voluntary. It’s not something you feel pressured or coerced to do (which was one of my many objections to last week’s craze for Ice Bucket Challenges). And if employers want to support employees who want to fundraise or volunteer, great. But I do find it suspect when employers are using the mask of “corporate social responsibility” as a tool for cutting training costs or enhancing their own business prospects.

Social entrepreneur Liam Black once wrote a powerful post entitled “The Poor Are Not The Raw Material for Your Salvation”. They aren’t the means to your promotion, a cheap way to develop staff, or a brownie point for a new client either.

The Masterchef approach to Talent Management

Originally published in December 2011

Fans of TV reality show Professional Masterchef will have seen Aussie chef Ash Mair win last night in one of the closest finals in the series. What makes this programme different from the normal reality freakshow (e.g The Apprentice) – and a good example of how to manage and develop talent in any industry – is that it takes those who are already trained in their chosen field and sets up a method of developing their talents by giving them real life situations where they are both mentored and challenged to improve their performance.
The selection process is not through interview or psychometrics – the chefs are given a basic skills test before they can progress to actual cooking (scarily, quite a few apparently qualified chefs fail this). They are not only mentored in specific culinary skills by working with Michelin starred chefs, but also learn about customer service and marketing (challenges  have included taking over a hospital canteen,  and producing menus for children where extra credit is gained for whose dish is chosen most), working with key stakeholders and opinion formers (by cooking for food critics) and benchmarking themselves against the best in the industry.
The key though is that they are always given constructive criticism and challenged to improve, while being given the support to do this. By working with the best, they are then assessed to see what they have learned and pushed to do better.  And while there is a competitive edge, both the other finalists (and indeed others knocked out earlier) will also see a tremendous boost to their careers.
At a time when management is being increasingly criticised for poor performance, and businesses need to develop their staff to give them a competitive advantage, perhaps it’s time to look at the Masterchef model as a way to do it.