Wednesday, 22 July 2015

#Orgshift summer reading list 2015

For those who weren’t lucky enough to join us at the OrgShift unconference yesterday, I thought I would share the reading list that I compiled to plough through this summer:

Reinventing Organisations, Frederic Laloux

The Nature of the Future, Marina Gorbis

Accelerate, John Kotter

The Firm, the Market and the Law, R.H. Coase

The Discourse Platform, Frederic Laloux


The Human Organising Project

For those who did attend, have I missed anything key?

#Orgshift- Why aren’t organisations shifting?

I spent yesterday in a bubble of inspiration- an Open Space event in a room full of individuals who are as passionate as I am about changing the way that we live and work.

I then came home to watch the analysis and comment on George Osbourne’s challenge to government departments to save up to 40% on their budgets by 2019-20.

As someone who has spent her whole career in the social sector, my interests particularly lie in how new models of “work” might be applied to the delivery of public services (including those delivered by private and third sector organisations).

Since the start of the economic crisis, there has been ubiquitous talk of the seismic shift that is required for public services to survive. In reality, we have seen constant institutional reorganisations, but there is a huge question mark over whether anything has really changed as a result.

The people delivering services on the ground appear to be increasingly demoralised by the ongoing uncertainty, but mostly still work in hierarchical silo- based organisations, despite constant calls for “joined-up”, collaborative working that is outcomes-focused rather than bureaucratic.

So this summer, I am going to build on the inspiration I received from the Orgshift event to:
  •    Read the book and web recommendations I received yesterday (please see my summer reading list post);
  •      Further explore how this might apply to public services in the crowd sourced book that will be developed from insights and questions of all those who attended the unconference; and
  •      Use this blog to explore the innumerable questions that I have in my mind about how new and emerging models of organisation, such as holocracy, can operate in public service.

If anyone would like to join me in exploring these questions, please contact me via twitter @clare_goggin.

Friday, 30 May 2014

35 is the magic number…The case for part time working

My twitter feed is full of discussion about the changes to flexible working that come into force next month. And from the findings of XpertHR’s survey published this week it seems that almost everyone is in favour of the change: only 1.2% are strongly opposed to the reform.

However, this sense of broad support seems to mask what is happening in reality in many organisations, particularly for requests to work less than 35 hours each week.

The perception seems to be that this is an unfair expectation on employers. After all, the role is full time. You are not asking to work differently. You are asking for a different job.

Moreover, there is a perception that if you work less than 35 hours a week, you are a different kind of employee. It is a rare person who would think of an employee who works less than 35 hours a week as being dynamic, ambitious and fast paced.

At this point, I guess I need to give a disclaimer: I am a new mum of a 1 year old and am about to return to work 4 days a week. I say this because, often when someone realises I have a young son, I get a knowing look that says, “ah! That’s why you’re going on about flexible working”.

But my point is much broader than ‘working mums,’ it is about the management assumption that something special happens when someone works 35 hours or more each week.

To illustrate my point, I will draw upon the story told by Jo Gambi in Holding On, which outlines in riveting detail her (and her husband’s) journey towards climbing the 7 summits (the tallest mountain on each of the 7 continents), including the infamous Everest.

Before reading this book, my knowledge of extreme mountain climbing was nil. My husband and I have climbed Scafell Pike, but that is all. It took two hours to climb to the summit and 5 hours to get down.  All we needed was: a map, a compass, waterproofs, some sugar, two pairs of legs to carry us and a bottle of wine afterwards.

In the context, of the workplace, this would probably be known as a  SMART objective” for my husband, the former boy Scout, and a “stretch goal” for me. Such goals respond well to concerted and continued effort and in a year, if we did nothing, but climb Scafell Pike 9-5, Monday to Friday with 28 days holiday a year, we could probably climb it 200 times a year compared to 160 (if we did a 4 day week), assuming perfect weather.

But what if we wanted more? What if we had a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” like climbing Everest? We would need a different approach.

I had always assumed that climbing a mountain, like Everest, would be a linear endeavor. You would climb from one camp to another, resting between camps, but reaching the summit incrementally. But it is far more complex than this due to the acclimatisation process, adverse weather conditions and the limits of the human body.

There is a climber’s maxim: “Climb high, sleep low.” This is considered to be best practice, as you gain altitude exposure during the day and then rest in your comfort zone.  Thus, each climber would climb up and down the mountain many times, with prolonged periods of waiting out the weather or sickness, before finally grabbing a window of opportunity for the summit.

For organisations that want to achieve those Big Hairy Audacious Goals rather than more and more of the same thing, I wonder what the workplace would be like if they followed this maxim?

On Everest, there was an incredibly strong understanding of limits amongst all of the best expedition leaders and climbers, people were constantly checking each other to make sure no one went too far.

However, in the workplace, our culture often encourages us to ignore our limits to both our bodies and our minds. We assume that more is better (10 hours is better than 8), despite our own experience of personal peaks and troughs of productivity, especially for knowledge workers.

I am sure I am not the only one who gets the best inspiration for work related problems when I am not actively thinking about work. It used to be when I blow-dried my hair each morning, now it is while I feed my son before bed.

We need to give employees more time in their comfort zones (however they define it) not less. But how do we do this in practice?

I don’t fully know the answer to this, but I’ll offer a few thoughts that I have stumbled upon during conversations with some of the leading thinkers in HR:

1.    We need to think about work not jobs- This insight came from the inimitable Perry Timms. We spent a lot of time deinfining jobs and then translating them into clear and measurable objectives. Could we not create a new model where what we need to achieve and recruit according to this rather than by duties?
2.    We need to manage people by outcomes rather than by observation- This insight came from Will Davies, HR Director at Teach First, who very kindly explained their approach to ‘agile’ working.  They have core hours of 11-3, when they expect employees to be working/ contactable. They have no restrictions on where people work, except for what is agreed by teams to facilitate team working.

We spend so much time wondering how to engage our employees, but I believe that all we need to do this is: an exciting organisational goal, clear individual outcomes and to give our employees more freedom to design their own work-life.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

How to make HR "real" but not brutal

Nearly two weeks ago, Steve Tovey (@steevXII) challenged me to write a blog about the dark side of HR. His words to me were: "we need to talk about when HR needs to be Darth Vader not Luke Skywalker: you should write a post about it".

I agreed with him, often HR discourse focuses on the developmental and engaging side of working with people. Looking through my LinkedIn feed as I write this, I see articles about making your staff happy (@RogerFrancis1) and business coaching to get the right people into your business (@Stevie_Kidd). These are very important topics that need much time and thought, but it is rare to see blog posts on how to handle the potential end of an employment contract.

Despite this, the "dark" side of HR is ever present. As HR professionals, there will be numerous times in our career (and sometimes numerous times in one day) that we will have to deliver bad news to people, or support a line manager to do so.  And the likelihood is that we, as individual HR professionals, will also be on the receiving end of bad news at some point in our careers.

So it is important that we deliver this news humanely. And this is what I want to talk about in this blog post. I will leave discussions of the nuances of employment law and process to those far more expert than me. Instead, I will concentrate on “how to be real without being brutal":

1.    Put yourself in their shoes: This is the most important point. Remember, this is worse for them than it is for you. Unless once you are finished with everyone else, you are making yourself redundant as well. Then, it possibly might be worse for you! Although it will look great on your CV.

2.    What do they know? Often as HR professionals and leaders, we are privy to much more information about the subject of the meeting (whether it is a disciplinary accusation or a restructure business case). Lay this information out, simply and clearly. Why did this situation come about? What is likely to happen next? Don’t assume they know, check.

3.    What do they feel? While it is important to be objective, we shouldn’t hide behind a process or a role. The person who sits in front of you is just that: a person with feelings. Simply acknowledging that this is hard for them and that you will do what it is in your power not to make it harder can make the world of difference to someone, especially when followed by tangible action. Counter-intuitively, I have found that acknowledging emotions at the start of any meeting makes the overall meeting less emotional. 

4.    What do they think? It is important to remember there is a gap between what you think you said and what they think they heard. As you deliver bad news to someone, they will have their own narrative in their mind about what you are saying. The same is true of what they think they say to you and what you think you have heard. Summarise back to them what you are taking away from what they have said and ask them to do the same. Make sure you are both clear.

5.    What might they do? Having been given bad news by their employer, most people would talk to friends and family, research their rights on the internet and possibly speak to a lawyer or trade union. Some will cry. Some will be angry. These are all reasonable reactions. Give them time to process and do what you can to help them retain their dignity. If you’ll be giving them a good reference, tell them this. If you wish them the best for the future, say this too.

Have I missed anything? What has worked for you? Please share your learning below!

Let’s be real, but not brutal in our HR practice. We live in a world with too much change not to.

Disclaimer: I have borrowed the phrase “real not brutal” from Gill Taylor, a speaker at this week's @NCVO HR conference. I couldn’t find her on twitter, thus didn’t reference above, but her website is: