Aitch Are Gives You...
It can only get better...
Yes, it's that time of year again to make predictions for the world of work over the coming months.
This time around, given the year we have just been through as an HR profession, there is more at stake. For employers, for HR, for employees. It's been a helter-skelter 2020, so amidst the madness, what can 2021 possibly have in store for us HR types?
Here’s my Top 5 Trends (well, thoughts, really) for 2021. And if you finish your left-over sprouts and behave yourself, I may throw in another one for free...
At the root of my thoughts are "take charge". Don't let events wash past you. Don't be a spectator. Grab the initiative. We're not out of the woods yet, so there is still a real opportunity for HR to continue providing the leadership during the next year that we saw plenty of examples of over the past year.
So, without further ado, here's my 5 (or 6?) thoughts for 2021.
HR AT THE TOP TABLE
Make the most of the central role HR have been playing of late in helping businesses through the pandemic.
Make sure you have an opinion on, suggestions about, and even plans for, the following:
- The ongoing "value proposition" for the business, including vision, mission, values, culture, strategies, actions, capabilities, etc...
- What businesses need to do to make a transition to a more remote, dispersed workforce. More on this below.
- Re-purposing offices from places where employees turn up for most of the week to in-person collaboration spaces where employees occasionally meet up with their colleagues.
- Nurture and bring along the culture of the organisation. Covid led to rapid change in many businesses, so what impact has this had, and will it continue to have, on the way your company "gets stuff done"?
- What can you do to make sure that the values, ethics and integrity of your business continue to adapt in the face of a continually changing environment?
Many businesses continue to encounter unchartered waters, so make sure you are adept at navigation...
Build on the crisis of 2020 to make organisations more resilient, adaptable to change, and prepared to face future uncertainties.
What does this mean in practice?
- Keeping planning horizons sensible.
- Possibly having more than one plan, to cater for different scenarios.
- Keeping business continuity plans "live".
- Providing managers with the ability to champion and lead positive change.
- Being that critical partner to our leaders. Critical in terms of ensuring you question assumptions and encourage broad thinking, as well as supporting any natural inclination to act.
Embrace distributed workforces and set them up for success.
- An office-based 9 to 5 is dead. Long live flexible and virtual working! Take time to understand the changed rules of engagement. Where do employees want to work from? And when? How can you lead and inspire them?
- Equip managers with the tools to lead and motivate remote teams.
- Make sure all aspects of your HR "lifecycle" are able to cope with a virtual world. Hiring, onboarding, learning and development, comms, engagement, leadership - everything!
- Provide employees at an individual and a team level with the ability to be productive, regardless of where they are working from.
- Recognize the need for a balanced approach to work/life flexibility.
Put people front and centre...
- For every policy we change, process we create and system we implement, particularly in the current environment when many businesses are still transforming given Covid, ask yourself how will it improve the employee experience. If it has no impact at all, why do it?
- As companies become increasingly distributed, we will need to work harder to stay connected. Make sure you invest time in building and nurturing relationships. Take in interest in what people are doing, how they are feeling about things, what's going on in their lives.
- Covid shone a spotlight on occupational mental health and wellbeing. Keep that spotlight shining.
- Think about new and novel ways to bring fun back into the working day. A lot of virtual goodness came out of lockdown. What can be maintained, and what additional initiatives can be introduced?
- Empathy goes a long way. It doesn't take a lot of time to recognise someone for a job well done, or to show appreciation for the changes people have had to make, or for random, small acts of kindness. But the impact of these last a long time. Care for each other in 2021.
As the graphic on the landing page for my blog says, "it's all about the people".
EMPLOYERS EMBRACING ALLYSHIP
Actually do something about diversity and inclusion!! The events of the last 12 months have built considerable momentum in this area but HR needs to ensure that employers move from talking the talk, to delivering real change.
- Don't try and suppress conversations about what has traditionally been seen as something that should be kept out of the workplace. Create that safe space for conversations to flourish.
- Encourage employees to educate themselves, recognize that problems exist, to be OK with the fact that they may feel uncomfortable about it, and that we can all make a difference.
- Don't sit on the sidelines. Be active, call out injustices.
- Look at all aspects of HR's operations, and challenge the business to find, hire, develop and retain diverse talent.
Here's something I wrote about this back in June 2020 which goes into more detail:
Now, more than ever, HR need to be able to:
- Balance an increasingly strategic people agenda with the operational and transactional requirements of the function.
- Embed themselves in the business beyond the HR stuff. What's going on in R&D? Production? Sales? Technical Support? Marketing? Finance? And so on. What are the key business challenges, plans and deliverables? What can HR do to provide effective support?
- Influence leaders. Even the best CEOs need coaching, or someone to be that sounding board.
- Be a true change agent. Build on the transformations that had to happen in response to Covid to ask questions that lead to outcomes around what worked well, what still needs to happen, what other areas need looking at, etc. Make sure you build in org design and change management capability to your future steps.
- Lead with data to ensure an evidence-based, impactful approach to your discussions at the top table.
- Network. You may not have all the answers. But the answers are out there. So make sure you are part of a thriving HR network.
- Don't forget to look after yourself, as well as your business, your leaders, your employees and their families.
This time last year, we couldn't have imagined what lay ahead in 2020. The turmoil will continue well into 2021, but I am optimistic that we are better equipped as an HR profession to guide employers through this uncertain world. It's a huge opportunity for us all - let's not let this opportunity pass us by!
That's all for now. Wishing you and your loved ones a peaceful and safe new year!it.
As we approach the end of the year, I am going to do something that I rarely do, which is put my introspection hat on, and do some...well, introspecting. Good word that, even if it's not in the dictionary.
The year got off to an inauspicious start. A 10-day sojourn in hospital with pneumonia and sepsis. 3 of those days I lost, somewhat out of it in intensive care, and sufficiently near pearly gates for my wife to get that dreaded 3-in-the-morning call to be by my bedside as it looked like I would not pull through. I had to let St Peter down however, and under the tender ministrations of the amazing team at Kingston Hospital I clawed my way back to the land of the living.
- If a consultant says that a catheter is a good idea, it generally is.
- And yes, it bloody hurt getting it in there. And out, once I no longer had need for it.
- I fell in love with Ed, who put up with a lot of shit (quite literally) from me in intensive care. I wouldn't be here typing now were it not for his first-rate care.
- Hospital food gets an unfairly bad reputation, in my view. The jelly was particularly scrum.
- I am an impatient patient. But psychologically I had to set challenging milestones to feel good about my recovery. Staggering to the en-suite loo, then walking to the end of the corridor, then going up and down a flight of stairs - just pushing out my horizons one step at a time was incredibly important to protect my mental health, in the face of my poor physical state.
- The NHS is a crown jewel more worthy than, erm, the actual crown jewels, actually. I cannot sing the praises of the staff at Kingston Hospital enough, from the cheery guy who cleaned my isolation room daily, the catering staff with their gentle piss-taking, the nursing staff (even if they did wake me up all the time to take my obs, bloods etc), the consultants, etc. And the aforementioned Ed, of course. "It takes a village", as they say.
- A near-death experience brings into sharp focus what truly matters. Capture these, although don't do anything rash. Important decisions should only be made when you have all your faculties fully restored.
PANDEMIC AND THE WORLD OF WORK
Just as I was gearing myself up to return to the office on a part-time basis as part of my recovery, we ended up shutting it down...
Not because of me, I hasten to add, but because of Covid-19. Some of you may have heard of it?
- "Never let a crisis go to waste", as Our Winston said.
- Covid accelerated trends that were already happening, albeit at a snail's pace. Trends such as the increasing prominence of mental health and wellbeing, kindness, and flexible working.
- The pandemic provided a unique opportunity to revisit and improve things that hadn't been reviewed because they worked just fine in the pre-Covid years. Yes - it is possible to transform a 3-day management development program into a virtual 3x 90-minute program, zero in on what the key learning objectives are, and strip out the fluff.
- Put the employee experience at the centre of all the changes that need to be made to ensure all parts of the HR lifecycle are fit for a remote world.
- The "work from home genie" is out of the bottle now, and won't ever fully go back in again. What does this mean? We will need to work smarter to ensure people remain engaged and connected to the business even though they won't be in the office as much.
PANDEMIC AND SOCIETY
Covid has bought out the best in people. There were countless examples of communities pulling together, concern for others, the role of kindness and appreciation, fighting to support local businesses and charities, etc.
Covid also bought out the worst in people. Stockpiling, unscrupulous employers, the politicisation of simple, easy precautionary measures like wearing face-coverings, etc.
- Resist the herd, think for yourself.
- Whilst it's inevitable your focus will narrow during times of crises, don't lose sight of what could be.
- Small acts of kindness don't require much investment in time, and go a hell of a long way.
- Nurture your network. I have found lots of help and support from my HR network, connections on LinkedIn and followers on Twitter. It may feel like it at times, but you're never alone.
- Be kind to yourself too. Eat well, keep fit and don't forget the power of laughter.
"TIME" MAGAZINE'S PEOPLE OF THE YEAR...
...should not have been Jo Biden and Kamala Harris, they have yet to truly make any impact on the world stage.
I would have gone with Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. What happened to them did more to bring discrimination to the fore than any politician.
Sad, but true.
- HR's job is not to keep potentially contentious views out of the workplace, it is to provide a safe environment for people to listen to, and respect, different viewpoints.
- "Allyship" must have been one of the "words of the year". But what does it mean to be an ally? It means educating yourself, recognizing there is a problem, talking about it, be prepared to be uncomfortable, don't worry if you don't have the answers, but do recognize that you can make a difference - for example, by calling out injustices rather than remaining silent.
- Think bigger picture. It's not just about race and BLM, as this will not resonate in many countries. But any country where we have employees has their own sections of society which have been marginalised over generations. Champion equality and justice wherever the light needs to shine.
STAYING WITH POLITICS... WTF, USA!
The US presidential election, and the state of US politics generally, has become farcical. How a so-called first world country can't come up with a system that provides a clear result within 24 hours of voting closing is a mystery to other functioning democracies.
- The US has lost any right to preach about democracy to other countries.
- During his time in power, and as he transitions out of office (eventually), Trump normalised traits that you should not value in leaders, or role model with our kids. No, it's not OK to casually lie so regularly at the drop of a hat. No, it's not OK to remain silent on injustices within society. No, it's not OK to ignore the advice of others, particularly if you have zero knowledge in that particular field. No, it's not OK to constantly belittle your opponents. No, it's not OK to be a misogynistic egomaniac. No, it's not OK to be in it for yourself, at the expense of the country you were elected to serve. Good riddance, Mr. "President". I am hoping history won't treat you favourably, else the world has taken a turn for the worse. Rant over :)
2020 has been a tough one. In my network alone there have been so many personal stories of loneliness, despair, illness, bereavement, divorce, unemployment, financial worries, and so on. But there have also been, quite often from the same people who have been suffering hardship, examples of discovery, re-discovery, growth, reconciliation, joy, kindness and resilience.
So, as we enter what will hopefully be a quieter period, I encourage you to take a step back, consider the past year, and ask yourself the following:
- What is something new that I learned about myself?
- What new skill(s) did I develop during the year?
- What positives could I take from living through this pandemic?
- What could I perhaps have done differently to cope with the situation even better?
- Have my priorities and perspectives on what actually matter changed?
- What will I take forward, if and when the pandemic has passed on?
Alternatively, save this exercise for a rainy day and put your feet up, turn the TV on and get your snacks out.
Wishing you and your loved ones a peaceful festive season.
Roll on 2021 - it can't be any worse than 2020.
The International HR Forum had a working session earlier this month, facilitated by Maddie Fox, with regard to creating new, or refreshing existing, policies around flexible working, of particular value as much of the world is encountering a “second wave” of Covid and many companies are still grappling with what a post-Covid world of work may actually look like.
What is certain is that the “old world” has changed for good, as the pandemic has accelerated slow-burning approaches to where and when people choose to work. If my employer’s surveys are anything to go by, 70% of employees want the flexibility to blend occasional visits to the office with the ability to work from home on a more regular basis.
Here’s a summary of what we covered off.
What are the key design considerations:
And what are the challenges?
How do companies ensure that any arrangements have a positive impact at a business and employee level?
What training is needed?
Huge thanks again to Maddie Fox for facilitating such a thoughtful, timely session.
Before I go, where is your business on this particular journey? Read this excellent article from Steve Glaveski...
It's not often you spend an hour on Zoom and are sorry that the call has to come to an end, but this was one of those rare occasions...
Let me explain.
The amazing Chikere Igbokwe joined the latest instalment of the International HR Forum's virtual Annual Do and hosted an interactive, hard-hitting and thought-provoking session on allyship in the workplace.
As founder of allyship.co.uk, Chikere's mission in life is to create a community for allies to learn, connect and fully understand the discrimination faced by black and minority groups.
But, I hear you ask, what is an ally, in this context?
It is someone who uses their power and privilege to support and advocate for black and minority groups by appreciating what is going on and the challenges being faced.
So what makes for a good ally?
The following would be a good start:
Blimey. Micro-aggresions. That's a new one. What is it?
Micro-aggressions are comments, which can be made unintentionally and even with no malicious intent, that are nonetheless demeaning in nature as they relate to someone's race. An example Igbokwe gave was someone asking her why she couldn't have a "normal" name.
So what is HR's role in all of this? Surely it is to make sure there is no place for potentially contentious issues in the workplace?
Well, actually, no. It is to actively promote allyship in the workplace by, for example:
So, how do I become engaged with allyship?
Here are some great resources:
Before I go, a final challenge for you, that Chikere posed to the attendees... If you struggle with answering all or some of the following, then just how diverse is your world, and how much of an ally can you truly be?
You can (should!!) connect with Chikere on Twitter (@chikereigbokwe) or via LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/chikereigbokwe/).
The International HR Forum's third Annual Do conversation saw Sara Hope and Emily Cosgrove from The Conversation Space facilitating a conversation about "Conversational Wisdom" ®, which all made for a thoughtful - yes, you guessed it - conversation.
As the second wave is upon us, and restrictions start to tighten, the art of leading through difficult times becomes that much more difficult. Key to success in this area is embracing the power of conversation.
Leadership is all about the conversation.
- It creates meaning.
- It promotes empathy.
Why is this so important, arguably more than ever before?
- There's lots going on.
- Covid has changed the nature of work.
- There are increasingly blurred boundaries between home and work.
- Leaders don't have all the answers.
- Leaders have to support others who don't have all the answers.
- We need to provide a safe space for emotions to be expressed.
- Talk about how we are feeling, and listening to others who may be struggling.
- Build a foundation of trust as new ways of work emerge.
What makes for a good leadership conversation? "Conversational Wisdom" ® is based on:
- Being aware.
- Being skilled.
- Being human.
Based on this extensive research:
So why is something that sounds so simple, actually quite difficult to do?
- It needs courage and curiosity.
- It requires the asking of good questions.
- Because leaders feel they need to have an answer, and yet are unwilling to admit that at times they don't actually know.
- It requires time to listen effectively, and yet time is one thing a lot of leaders don't have.
- Effective listening isn't just hearing what is said, but also understanding what is not said, the body language, etc.
- As the mindset is quite often corrective or competitive, rather than curious.
This is particularly an issue in today's more remote environment:
- People can hide.
- It is more difficult to pick up on non-verbal cues when you are not in-person.
- There has been an increased pressure on time.
We split up into breakout groups to explore how we could become more "conversationally wise", and reconvened to share a range of ideas, which included:
- Being prepared.
- Being brave.
- Sharing what we notice.
- Being brave.
- Checking our assumptions.
- Exposing our own vulnerability.
- Recognizing different experiences.
- Active listening.
Other resources that were shared during the session:
The importance of touch:
The work Sherry Turkle has done on technology, empathy and ethics:
An example of a "work/life manifesto":
Which "Inside Out" character are you? And yes, I am Joy, before you ask :)
Interested to learn more? Connect with The Conversation Space (@convospace), Sara (@internalcoach) and Emily (@internalmentor) on Twitter, check them out on LinkedIn, or head on over to their website (theconversationspace.com).
And as a parting note, remember the wise words from Margaret Wheatley:
"Human conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate the conditions for change"
That's all for now, I'm off to practice on my cats, see you next time!
Covid has changed many things in a short space of time, hasn't it?
Some obvious, such as how we work, engage, communicate, collaborate, develop, and "get stuff done" in a predominantly remote environment.
And some not so obvious, such as my growing addiction to coffee, and increasingly strange attire beneath the Zoom headshot. Too much information, perhaps...
One area that has been tremendously impacted has been the world of learning and development, and for the International HR Forum's second virtual "Annual Do" session I was delighted to have Paul Matthews from People Alchemy along to discuss how the function has had to go through something of a re-boot.
Here are the key takeaways from a very thought-provoking hour.
So, what's changed?
- The way we work.
So what do we need to do from an L&D perspective?
First things first... Get clear about the vision, purpose and mission. And how do we support the broader strategies and plans of the business as a result?
Second... Don't just have one strategy. Multiple strategies are needed to plan for lockdowns, easing of restrictions, re-imposed restrictions, what happens when a vaccine emerges, etc. There are going to be multiple pathways. Base the various scenarios on org strategy, environmental analysis, and forecasts.
Third... Timescales, specifically the balance between short- and long-term. Many companies initially had a knee-jerk response at the outbreak of the pandemic which although well-intentioned at the time may provide dysfunctional in the longer-term.
Fourth... Think about delivery. Covid has unfrozen so much stuff that was frozen before. Classroom based development is out, so how do you ensure what you do going forward will work? Paul highlighted the following trends:
- A need to completely redesign content and delivery.
- There's been a "dive into digital".
- Take into account "Zoom fatigue".
This all led to a broader discussion on the approaches organisations could take:
- What does your customer want? What does success look like to them, and what changes and improvements would they expect to see?
- How can I deliver behaviour change? Plan, practice, perfect, perform.
- How do I make it effective? Particularly in a remote environment. Paul referenced Dr. Ina Weinbauer-Heidel's "12 Levers of Transfer Effectiveness".
- Create an environment that reflects that learning happens over time, as well as in the moment. Huddle, study, practice, feedback, repeat.
- How do you measure success? For example, Don Kirkpatrick's four levels of learning evaluation.
A huge thanks to Paul for leading such a stimulating session. Feel free to contact him:
- @PeopleAlchemy on Twitter
- https://www.linkedin.com/in/paulmatthews100/ on LinkedIn
See you next time!
Hands up who misses those in-person interactions?
The International HR Forum's annual two-day event is normally a heady mix of content, gossip, top-drawer presenters, bacon butties, biscuits and booze.
We had to change things around a bit this year given Covid and arrange things around a series of one-hour sessions over a 6-week period.
See how I avoided the dreaded "re-imagine", "pivot", "adjust to a new normal", etc. phrases there?
First up was the delightful David D'Souza (@dds180) from the CIPD to talk to the future of work, given what's been happening over the past few months.
The main talking points were as follows:
- The genie is out of the bottle, there's no turning back now.
- The sudden acceleration of trends that had been plodding along beforehand e.g. the use of tech to facilitate remote working, knowledge-sharing, employee wellbeing, etc.
- How do we reconfigure things to take into account many people now have a choice in where they work, how they work, and when they work?
- Inclusion... Don't forget about engaging with the 20% who are likely to struggle going forward.
- Focus on wellness as a necessity rather than as a nice-to-have, given increased feelings of isolation.
- Managing "them and us" divisions e.g. between those who have to work on a production line or in a shop v. the office-based folk who can work from home.
- Understanding the implications of all of this on leadership, talent acquisition, performance, comms, engagement, the human touch, etc.
And the main implications for us HR lot? We need a total re-think of how we look after people.
From a skills perspective, now than ever before, HR needs to have the following in their toolkit:
- Stakeholder management.
- Change management.
- An understanding of group dynamics and team performance.
- Crisis management.
- The ability to nurture culture.
- Networking as part of the broader HR community.
Sadly we ran out of time, but a huge thanks for David, what a thought-provoking way to adjust to the new normal by kicking off our re-imagined, re-pivoted Annual Do in such a way!
See you at the next session.
What do you think of when you hear the word "ripple"?
Ice-cream? A stone lobbed into the middle of a pond? Or polite applause, perhaps?
Well, think again, because what you should be thinking of is Joanna Suvarna, founder of the #BeTheRipple movement (@BeTheRipple2020), and my latest virtual cuppa companion!
After a brief discussion on the positive impact being by the sea has on mental health (Jo lives in Tenby, a stones-throw away from the lovely Carmarthen Bay) we explored how the Ripple movement got off the ground.
There seemed to have been three main drivers for Jo.
First up has been the struggles Jo has had to contend with through the years ("I could write a trilogy on these, maybe 4 books!"), where she has had to at times juggle toxic work environments with personal challenges, and still be expected to show up as if everything was OK.
Second up was the cathartic release she found in writing a couple of blogs. The first was for @Gary_Cookson (this talks to the importance of rising up in the face of adversity and can be read here) and the second was for @PerryTimms (which featured the Tall Poppy Syndrome where people who stand out get cut back down to size by colleagues or managers - read more here). The response she got to these blogs was "incredible" and gave her the final nudge needed as she realized there was a need for a platform or collective voice for the many people contending with difficult work environments.
Thirdly, the passing of her aunt at the young age of 58 and Jo wanting to make the working world better for her own 15-year-old white, Welsh/black Nigerian daughter's future.
So, with the help of other Ripplers and co-founders, May 2020 saw #BeTheRipple enter this world!
But why the "Ripple" tag? Jo was inspired by the view that there's no such thing as a small act of kindness, as every act of kindness creates a ripple with no logical end. She wanted the movement to be fluid and limitless.
And how have things been going since the launch? Whilst it's early days, the movement has quickly amassed over 2000 followers on Twitter, and the energy around the discussion has been positive affirmation that this was the right, and a timely, thing to do. The current climate has shone a light on the behaviour of employers, the need for kindness and wellbeing in the workplace has been propelled to the fore like never before, and #BeTheRipple has given a voice to this movement.
How does Jo amplify this voice? She has used multiple ways to spread the kindness message, including blogs, engaging with people via Twitter and her website (betheripple.co.uk), and launching "Top Tip Tuesdays" - short videos where contributors highlight how to spread kindness.
The latest and most ambitious initiative is Kindfest on 17 September, the brainchild of @ScottLeiper, which is shaping up to be a two-hour mash-up of storytelling, conversations that matter, activities, music and fun! Find out more, and book, here! There's also a couple of big surprises lined up, try as I did I could not persuade Jo to reveal more...
So where does Jo see #BeTheRipple 2 or 3 years down the line? Following a refreshingly frank "I really don't know", Jo then proceeded to outline thoughts she has had herself and in collaboration with other Ripplers around adapting the movement for different sectors, engaging with educational establishments, building up a network of ripple champions etc. so although not nailed down, she has clearly been giving thought to how to build on the early momentum. Key here is that nothing with rippling is done in isolation, it’s about people coming together and sharing ideas, collaborating and lifting organisations higher.
I think, on the quiet, Jo has global ambitions. Which makes sense. Kindness, after all, has no boundaries, right?
What of HR's role in all of this? What would "Jo's Top Tips" be?
1. Take time to actively listen.
2. Translate listening to actionable insights.
3. Promote kindness. We can't possibly know what's going on in everyone's lives behind their "professional game-face".
4. Ensure policies and processes are people-centric and designed with kindness in mind.
5. People first. Even before profit.
Before we knew it, our tea had gone cold, those sands of time had ran out, and my next call was gate-crashing the meeting! Doesn't time fly?
A huge thanks to Jo for taking part. It is so easy to be a bystander, looking on, assuming that someone else will be the catalyst for change. Which is what makes Jo's achievements in such a short space of time that much more remarkable. The world of work is at a tipping-point right now, so what better time for businesses to weave kindness into how they do things going forward?
Don't forget - #kindfest - be part of it :)
See you next time - stay well and be good!
For my latest virtual "A Cuppa With...", I was delighted to have @SharonGChiara for company. We've had a fair bit of chit-chat over Twitter and have met a couple of times on the incomparable #hrpubquiz, so it was good to sit down one-on-one and get to know each other a bit better, albeit over Zoom.
Being English, we inevitably kicked off proceedings with a discussion about the weather, given how wet it was outside. So the first fun fact was that Sharon's hair goes frizzy when it's wet. If, like me, you feel that we should see this phenomena then let me know, and I will start a petition.
The second thing I got to know about Sharon is that whilst she lives in Tooting, she has a soft spot for the North-East so we traded stories about Middlesborough, Newcastle, Sunderland etc. - mine through the lens of seeing my beloved Fulham play (but not always lose - honest!) in these cities, and Sharon through the lens of having lived there.
We then discussed her business, as she has been running Chiara Consultancy for many a year now.
Why did Sharon decide to do her own thing? She was falling out of love with her permanent job, a change-seeking person in a change-averse organisation is not a good mix, so she had been thinking for a year or so about setting up her own business where she could make a career out of what she loved doing.
Was it difficult to get going? It required advanced planning (mental, as well as financial). It required Sharon to be comfortable with the "what's the worst that can happen?" scenario. Naturally, the initial "finding customer No. 1" was hard work. as is business development generally. And the first time you don't get a regular pay-check is always a bit of a freaky moment to navigate.
Why "Chiara"? Sharon is a bit of an Italophile (yes, the word does exist, I just looked it up!) at heart and the translation of "chiara" is "clear", which drives everything Sharon does. "Clear Thinking People Solutions". Sharon creates tailored solutions for clients that creates value for them, particularly in the areas of people change, comms and engagement, and tech enablement.
What does this require to be successful? A commercial and pragmatic approach to the "people stuff" based on a deep understanding of the client's business. And it must work, as a significant chunk of Sharon's business are customers who come back and ask for more!
How did Sharon get into this space in the first instance? Like many of us, it wasn't a meticulously thought-through plan, and chance and circumstance played its part. Sharon was initially attracted to jobs she liked the sound of. I thought at first she meant things like "Ice Cream Taster", which would be my dream job, but she was thinking more of the job content rather than the job title, so she started out in the NHS working on health promotions, campaigns, education and policy work. She also did a lot of work in areas that at the time were not particularly fashionable but today would be all around wellbeing. She then transitioned out of the NHS to take up roles in learning and development, and things grew from there.
I then unearthed an "unpaid passion" that Sharon has. No, don't worry, nothing dodgy, dear reader. In addition to her day-job, Sharon also runs the HR Interim Networking Group (search for it on LinkedIn). This is a really useful resource for people who do their own thing on an interim basis, it can feel a bit lonely at times but to have c1000 others in the same boat is a great back-up and confidence-booster.
I asked Sharon how she had been coping in this most difficult of years. She has actually faced a triple whammy, not just Covid, but also the joys of IR35 and on a broader scale we have this little thing called Brexit to contend with too. That said, Sharon has not been idle, she has just come off the back of 3 contracts (or "assignments", to use the correct interim lingo), and was looking forward to a bit of down-time to tick off some of the admin tasks on her agile board that she has been putting off for a while! A website refresh, updating those CVs, doing some podcasts, etc.
What gets Sharon out of bed in the morning? Sharon is all about continuous learning, so getting to grips with different businesses, new challenges, and a variety of projects ("no two projects are ever the same"). She also mentioned "risk and danger", which gave me a feeling that there is a more cloak-and-dagger side to Sharon than she actually lets on...
I then asked Sharon what tips she would have for people in the HR profession, given the times we are living in at present. Sharon's commandments were as follows:
1. Know your business.
2. Be confident and resilient.
3. Don't naval-gaze for too long.
4. Know that what you do does make a difference.
5. Put people at the centre of all you do.
Pretty good, huh?
And then, finally, as we met on Twitter, I asked for Sharon's views on whether she loved it or loathed it. Twitter, not me. Overall, whilst she feels that it forces people to be too binary and judgmental and ignore the shades of grey that do exist, Sharon felt that she had got more from it than she thought she would, had learnt a lot, and met some great people.
As we were out of tea as well as time we drew the conversation to a close. A huge thank you to Sharon for being such a good sport. If any of you have been on the lookout for a pragmatic, thoughtful and tailored approach to people issues you may be experiencing, your search is over...
Stay dry, and be good.
G'day all, and welcome to my second virtual cuppa extravaganza thingy!
It gave me great pleasure to welcome Rob Robson (@robertsrobson) to my sumptuously appointed, Covid-Secure virtual lounge, to share a pot of lapsang sounchong, which works wonders for hangovers. Apparently.
So, Rob, a warm welcome to my virtual lounge. I hope you enjoy the tea, and the marmite sandwiches hand-made by yours truly. First things first, how are you coping with Covid? What's frustrated you, and what's inspired you during the past few months?
Generally well, I think. The first few weeks were very disorientating and I was anxious about business. However, I realised that I could get through a few months and that helped me put my mind towards re-evaluating my goals. Since then it hasn’t been plain sailing, I’ve had my fair share of anxious days, irritability and weird dreams but I’ve also had some good family time, followed some passions and enjoyed the work I’ve done. I am getting fat, though, and my liver probably isn’t too happy with me!
Yes, I don't think you are alone there. You mentioned your business - tell us a bit about 8Connect. What's behind the name, why did you create the business, and what is it all about?
Just over two years ago I left my role as VP HR at Tata Technologies and I was, frankly, not ready to jump into another “relationship”. I’d been a consultant before and always toyed with setting myself up. I was referred to my first client, to help with the people strategy at a large retailer and decided to go for it. My focus is on helping businesses and their people adapt and thrive in our changing and challenging world. I draw upon my various experiences in HR, change, OD, sport psychology and operational leadership and the thing that connects all of these is Apter’s Reversal Theory, which is a framework that describes the dynamic relationship between 8 motivational states, emotions and behaviour.
That sounds interesting - tell us a bit more about Apter's work, and indeed the work you do, and its possible value to an organization?
Apter’s Reversal Theory is a very broad, holistic framework that focuses on the role of motivation in personality and human experience. Motivations in Apter’s theory aren’t drives as such, or even needs, but states of mind based on operating values that become lenses through which we experience the world. As they change so do our emotions, which is why I also describe it as ‘emotivation’.
No theory is without its limitations, but I find it to be very powerful and its value comes from a few key attributes. First, its ability to open up solutions to many different people ‘problems’, for example around performance, wellbeing, relationships, leadership, even culture. Second, it focuses on what’s changeable and dynamic, which makes it practical and relevant in the world we live in. Third, it’s an integrator. By that I mean it helps to join the dots between different issues - and levels i.e. individual and organisational - and enables a systemic, coherent perspective on them. The academic world is fundamentally competitive, so the ‘people’ landscape is cluttered with overlapping or competing concepts. Reversal Theory helps me tidy it up in my mind!
I'm all for a tidy mind. Just changing gears slightly, what lies behind your passion for sports?
I was a national junior champion in swimming, but fell out of love with it by the time I went to University. I guess that process kindled my interest in psychology, and I went on to do a masters in sport psychology and become Chartered. In my mid-30s I got back into swimming, and I compete in masters competitions which is very interesting after training as a sport psychologist! I’m also developing a development programme for sports coaches, with a guy called Rob Griffiths (who is a Tri Coach) that came onto the Apter accreditation programme that I run.
So given this backdrop, what do you feel are the key lessons from the world of sport that the business world can learn from?
I think both domains have many lessons that transfer. The lessons from sport are less from the performance arena and more from the training and preparation, because that’s where most of the ‘performance’ happens. In business there isn’t the equivalent of the Olympics. Sure, you’ll have a big presentation or deal, but not the major moments that there are in sport. It’s more about performing every day. I think the single biggest example is the obsession that elite sports people have about building the platform, or getting the process right in order to perform (which will in turn lead to results, or not). In business there’s a tendency to focus on results, which in the sports arena is disastrous. It’s not healthy for businesses either.
We are at a tipping point in the world of work, and much has been made of a "new normal" emerging from the ashes of Covid. What changes do you see happening?
I think that’s still hard to predict. I think that many of the ideas that have been slowly gaining traction over the last decade, such as the importance of psychological flexibility, agility and change capability, have come into sharper focus. Wellbeing is clearly important to people right now, and what I’d like to see is more people engaging with the idea that the two are inextricably linked. Things like flexibility may or may not become the norm.. ..but we do know that we’re in a period of relative volatility that didn’t begin with the pandemic and won’t end when it ends.
Given your prior spells as a senior HR practitioner, what do you see as the key challenges facing the profession as we emerge from Covid.
I think right now there are so many ‘operational’ issues that HR are having to deal with, bringing people back from furlough, unfortunately lots of redundancies, wellbeing challenges, getting the return to work / or not right (so many issues with people being at home but not properly set up).. ..that at some point they are going to have to lift their own heads and encourage their peers to do the same, to think about people strategy and long-term challenges.
We "met" on Twitter. How do you find it as a platform?
It’s a bit of a love / hate thing. I’ve had long periods (as a user of 13 years) not being on it, sometimes I only really use it for business, but sometimes I really get sucked into the toxic side, the politics and the negativity. At the same time, even though I value Linkedin as a platform, I find twitter much better as a platform for striking up relationships.
How do you like to spend any spare time that you may have?
Swimming, mostly, or water polo, or training in the gym for swimming! I enjoy being with my family, and our rescue dog of 6 months.
Well, as the sands of time finish their trickle through this rather attractive hourglass, it's time to bring this virtual cuppa to a close. It's been great to have you along, and to hear a bit about what you get up to. All the best.