Brexit – A South Wales HR Forum Event

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Last Thursday evening, the South Wales HR Forum hosted a fascinating discussion on Brexit and how it might impact the workplace in Wales. Our guest speaker was Paul Matthews, Chief Executive of Monmouthshire County Council. I know my readers like following authentic social leaders so you can follow Paul on Twitter by clicking here.

The South Wales HR Forum is a new network of HR professionals in South Wales with the aim of being a voice for the HR community across the region and with an objective of raising the profile of the workplace people agenda in the country.

Prior to this discussion we hosted our first ever event which was in April of this year where we talked about the future of HR, however this Brexit event was the first that had been arranged following the appointment of our Board members and so it felt a lot more special. You can read more on our board by clicking here.

We felt it was important to host an event on Brexit not just because it’s obviously topical, but because members of the HR community have reported some significant concerns since the referendum in June.

I opened the proceedings by explaining that individual attendees personal politics did not matter, and that this discussion was focussing on how the UK leaving the EU could potentially impact the workplace in Wales. I explained that whilst it appears no one can really say with any confidence whether we were heading for catastrophe or about to embark upon a brave new world, we were going to discuss what has happened so far, and speculate on what the future might hold.

To start things off, Victoria Hall, SWHRF board member and Head of Employment at NewLaw Solicitors gave an employment legal update discussing Brexit, modern slavery, gender pay gap and make up of holiday pay. However, this was an update with a difference. Victoria passionately discussed the impact of #modernslavery and encouraged attendees not just to comply with the law because it was the law, but because it was the right thing to do. At this event, we were supporting Cardiff Foodbank, and NewLaw solicitors have very kindly donated food in line with the number of Social Media interactions we had on the night.

Following Victoria was Paul Matthews. Paul opened by explaining that much of the discussion around Brexit has been largely inaccurate and noise. In a fascinating 40 or so minutes, Paul discussed how Monmouthshire Council employees responded to the referendum result and that first and foremost, people simply wanted and needed to talk about it. Paul explained how children in schools had lots of questions and so Paul had a team of people visiting the schools in his county, trying to help give some answers.

Paul explained how his approach since the result hasn’t altered, that the result is what it is and that this is a challenge that will need to be responded to, with Paul having nothing but confidence in his employees to be able to do that. Paul explained his love for the county of Monmouthshire and the people within the area which gave him great confidence.

An interesting point that has stuck with me since Paul’s talk is that he believes that how we tackle Brexit will be as much about our attitude towards it as anything else. I’m sure that’ll be controversial to some, but not for me. My personal view has always been, it’s not what I voted for, but it’s happening and so i’ll remain positive despite the odds.

When discussing leadership following the Brexit referendum Paul stated that “authenticity is everything” and that people wanted to see real leaders being honest and giving support as well as guidance. People needed confidence and a level-head from those giving direction.

In terms of HR, it was Paul’s view that the HR profession will have a key role in supporting the narrative that workplaces adopt regarding Brexit and encouraged attendees to start thinking about this if they aren’t already. Paul stated that HR are resilient and flexible and will again need to demonstrate these attributes as the workplace will need HR support with what might be coming next.

Following Paul’s discussion, I asked attendees in the room to talk to each other for a few minutes and identify 1 major positive that HR can create from Brexit. A fantastic dialogue took place between participants and when we asked attendees to feed back, lots of great points were raised. The below outlines some of the points mentioned. What was crystal clear, was nothing felt insurmountable.

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We closed the session with a Q&A for both Paul and Damien Burns (Senior Solicitor at NewLaw Solicitors). A mixture of questions were raised but what fascinated me was how the final point made included how an organisations values matter now more than ever.

It was a great event, I know that I really enjoyed it and learned so much from it.

Personally, I would like to thank Paul Matthews for inspiring and informing our forum, Damien Burns and Victoria Hall of NewLaw Solicitors for answering a range of legal questions raised and the rest of my fantastic Board members for all of their hard work.

More information on the South Wales HR Forum, including dates of future events when released, can be found on our website www.southwaleshrforum.co.uk. You can also follow us on Twitter @SWalesHRForum and you can also follow our individual Board Members;-

Myself – @MarkSWHRF

Victoria Hall – @VictoriaCJHall

Mark Stevenson – @DyfedS

Martyn Bull – @MartynCBull

Paul Harris – @PaulPennaWales

My Thoughts From #cipdACE16

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Last week I attended CIPD’s Annual Conference and Exhibition (#cipdACE16) in Manchester, for 2 days of learning and sharing at the biggest event in the HR calendar.

I love this event, which has now become a regular date in my diary, as it gives me an opportunity to fully immerse myself in my profession and learn from like-minded people.

This year was going to be a little different for me as it’s been a busy year, i’ve changed roles, i’ve made lots of new friends in the HR world, including some on Twitter who I was fortunate enough to meet IRL (thats ‘In Real Life’ if you’re not down with the lingo) at this years conference.

So firstly, for those I did get chance to say hello to and talk to, although in most cases very briefly, it was great to meet you and I look forward to our paths crossing again. For those I didn’t although we were in the same place at the same time, I hope i’m forgiven as this was a very busy jam-packed event.

So I attended lots of sessions and I can’t talk about all of them here, so i’ll mention the highlights.

It’s worth mentioning, before the conference kicked off, I attended the People management drinks reception the evening before. I stayed for around an hour (the socially awkward guy in me can last around that long!) but was lucky enough to make some new contacts and speak with the folk behind People Management magazine. The hospitality was excellent and I was made to feel very welcome. So thanks guys for the invite!

First up on day one of the conference, as is customary, was Peter Cheese, the Chief Executive of the CIPD, opening the event and talking about the need for HR to step-up in this time of difficulty. I saw one of my connections on Twitter call this a ‘rallying cry’ and this is exactly what it felt like. Peter inspired the room and those in attendance by explaining that the time for HR to step-up and be counted was now and our bravery and passion was never needed so much. I felt really proud and enthused by this call.

Peter shared a slide with the room (I believe it was a Haikudeck by the way, of which I am also a fan…) that disclosed CIPD’s principles for the future. This slide outlined the principles as;-

Work Matters, People Matter, Professionalism Matters

These 6 words sum up perfectly what I believe in and want from HR. This is a great step from the CIPD which I am really encouraged by. Also, there is a talented, marketing genius somewhere that came up with that, so hats off to you!

Following Peter’s opening was the keynote speaker, Margaret Heffernan, who, amongst other things, is the author of the book ‘Willful Blindness’. I enjoyed Margaret’s session and learned more around the growth mindset . Margaret made two comments that stuck with me, which were “Expertise is a starting point, not an end point” and “expertise is not fixed. Talent is not fixed”. These remarks about what talent mix and skills mix are required for a successful organisation was an interesting and enlightening take, that challenges the old myth that organisations need the most talented individuals or the biggest groups of experts available, in order to be successful.

Later on day one, I managed to sneak into a session that was fully booked, which was that of Neil Morrison and Clare Thomas of Penguin Random House talking about the candidate experience. Putting it like that does this session an injustice. This workshop, facilitated by Sukh Pabial, made up a mere 45 minutes of my day as I had to leave early to get to another session, however this 45 minutes left the biggest impression for 2 reasons. Firstly, I was encouraged to think about treating candidates like customers. Just that simple suggestion I cannot stop thinking about and have already started to put into practice.

Secondly, a person on my table who I don’t know and is a HR professional turned to the table and said “I know we work in HR and we’re supposed to love people, but I hate people”. I’ve no idea why they came to say this in order to contextualise it, and I had no time to challenge the remark but I thought it was worth including in this post. I guess i recognised when reflecting on this, that not everyone will be aligned to CIPD’s new principles.

Next on to day two where I was booked to spend the morning attending the Evidence-Based HR workshop with David D’Souza of the CIPD and Rob Briner from the Centre for Evidence Based Management. I’ve talked a lot on EBHR so I’ll restrict this post purely on what I learned from this session. Despite broken air-con feeling like the first half of the workshop was set in an igloo, this session was full of great discussion, honest debate and fantastic humour. The igloo-effect in no way detracted from the enthusiasm and interest from the delegates in the room.

In this session I learned that EBM/EBHR is not just about scientific evidence, that it has its sceptics but that it has reinforced my belief that its important for the future credibility of HR. What worries me generally is some being reserved towards EBM in the view that it might be a ‘fad’. This eludes me and is for a future blog post i’m sure. On the flip side however, I was encouraged by the openness in the room and the desire and acknowledgement that EBHR is simply a tool for better, more-informed decision-making. If its ‘faddy’ to be discerning and to want our tools to be grounded in substantial, effective evidence, then where do I sign?

On to the next session and the final session I want to comment on, a panel discussion on how HR can improve operational performance. I must admit, this was something of a pleasant surprise for me. A  moment of honesty; there was nothing on the agenda at this time that really interested me and so I reluctantly picked this session. I’m very pleased that I did. Whilst I cannot recall the names of the panel members I do remember that two of the three panel members worked together at a senior level in a charity. One panelist was Head of HR and one panelist was an FD. Neither seemed particularly polished public-speakers and both were imparting wisdom to the attendees in a roundabout fashion. But what was so great about these two speakers was the dynamic. The proactive, professional approach they took and supportive relationship they had formed demonstrated the importance of cohesive teamwork between these crucial business functions which is often incorrectly stereotyped as a repellant relationship of ‘People Versus Numbers’ that some feel the HR/Finance relationship is branded as.

So those were my #cipdACE16 highlights and key learning points.

Oh there’s two more, practical tools for conference goers too, both of which involve the cloakroom! If you use the cloakroom they give you a ticket. Take a photo of the ticket. Trust me, I lost 2 of 3 tickets! My second tip, the cloakroom queue is huge at the end of the day – collect your coat before and not after your last session and save yourself 30 minutes at the end of the conference!

Until next year…

I want to be an Evidence-Based HR Practitioner, but…. observations on EBHR from a HR Pro

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If you’ve read my blog before, (and if you haven’t, Welcome!), you will know that i’ve written on the subject of Evidence-Based Management and Evidence-Based HR. It’s a topic i’ve become really interested in and something that I feel is important to the HR profession.

Whilst scrolling through Twitter on the weekend, I read an article written by Professor Denise Rousseau from Carnegie Mellon University on ‘How To Become An Evidence Based HR Practitioner’ from the Human Resource Management Journal, which was retweeted from the ‘ScienceforWork’ twitter account. I posted a comment urging all HR Pro’s to read this and here’s a link. Please do take the time to digest the content. The article is 5 years old, but still hugely relevant.

The reason I am encouraging others to read this is because since becoming aware of Evidence-Based Management earlier in 2016, I recognised the significant positive effect this might have on the effectiveness and credibility of the HR Profession. Indeed I wrote a blog post asking ‘Could Evidence-Based Management Be The Answer To HR Credibility?’ which is the most popular blog post i’ve written to date according to my analytics.

So i’m in. I’m engaged with EBM and EBHR and i’m an open door, wanting to champion this cause within the HR community. I’m trying to do that with this blog post too.

I’m writing this post on the eve of the CIPD’s Annual Conference 2016 #cipdACE16 where i’m booked to attend a workshop with CIPDs David D’Souza and Professor Rob Briner of the Centre for Evidence-Based Management (recently announced as the HR Most Influential Thinker by HR magazine) on this very subject. In my opinion, the fact that this has formed an important part of this conference’s agenda, along with Professor Briner being awarded this title, further demonstrates the importance of Evidence-Based Management to our profession.

The article I refer to above gives good advice on how a HR practitioner can understand what EBHR means, why it should be adopted and how it can be practiced. I previously thought I had a good enough grasp of what an Evidence-Based approach was but reading this article has opened my eyes to so much more.

But as I read the article, I could see barriers which might prevent EBHR from becoming ‘mainstream’ in HR. As such, as an enthusiastic proponent of this area, i’m going to list my 3 main observations so those bringing this into the forefront of HR, can gain an opinion, from an HR practitioner on some of the challenges they might face, and obstacles they might need to overcome. This is just my opinion (as is everything in my blog) and as always, open to challenge.

1. Not enough people in the HR Community know what Evidence-Based HR/Evidence-Based Management Is

I became aware of EBM through Twitter. For me, Twitter is an ideal environment to learn about such topics. My #PLN engage in EBM but my experience in my network outside of Twitter, in my locality at least, have never heard of EBM let alone know how to consciously practice it. So maybe i’m wrong, although I don’t think I am, but more needs to be done to educate the HR community on what this is. This will involve HR media and professional bodies taking an active role in taking this forward. It also involves us, the HR community, promoting EBHR to each other.  On to my second point.

2. HR Practitioners need to understand the value of EBM/EBHR

In Professor Rousseau’s article, she states “Evidence is not answers”. Kind of obvious, but not so when you think about it. Several popular HR practices have stood the test of time, despite their effectiveness being questioned. To prove my point, how many of us still ask for references for new hires? So adopting EBHR would be a fairly significant step change, and one that HR practitioners might not understand the value of. EBHR is asking us to change the way we do some pretty significant tasks.

The value of adopting EBHR is that it demonstrates strong credibility to our practices, and means we are less likely to adopt the fads that some of us have been guilty of implementing in the past. However, being a real evidence-informed practitioner adopting EBHR practices will involve effort, and the HR community might need a stronger sell, to want to put that effort in.

Finally, for now…

3. HR Practitioners need to know how to access the best available evidence

In the article mentioned above, Professor Rousseau explains that EBHR combines four fundamental features which are as follows;-

  1. Use of the best available scientific evidence from peer-reviewed sources.
  2. Systematic gathering of organisational facts, indicators and metrics to better act on the evidence.
  3. Practitioner judgement assisted by procedures, practices and frameworks that reduce bias, improve decision quality and create more valid learning over time.
  4. Ethical considerations weighing the short and long-term impacts of decisions on stakeholders and society.

So stage 1 – where can HR practitioners access the best available scientific evidence? There’s plenty of sources of good ‘HR’ information out there that practitioners use, but is this information based on scientific evidence from peer-reviewed sources. In order to address this, i’d suggest, that content based on scientific-evidence from peer-reviewed sources, will need to be easily accessible and promoted to the HR community. The more difficult it is to access this information, the less likely, in my view, EBHR will have of becoming a widely-used practice. We also need more structured tools to facilitate the process of peer-reviewing scientific evidence and publishing the findings.

If “evidence is not answers” then neither is this blog post, but I do hope its useful. Can’t wait for the #cipdACE16 workshop on this subject matter, to learn lots more.

A Little More Conversation…

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This week I hit some important milestones in my new role.

Following months of hard work, intense, detailed discussions and a lot of listening, we finalised our divisional vision statement, mission statement, values and strategic goals.

I’ve loved this process and despite the huge amount of energy that’s been put into this, it definitely feels like ‘energy well spent’. For me personally, having been involved in large scale business transformation programmes, and having lead on much smaller scale business improvement programmes, this one has felt different for a range of reasons.

Around 12 months ago I made a conscious decision to find a role back into a manufacturing environment, having spent most of my career in the mining and metals industries before accepting a role in the healthcare sector. I missed heavy industry and I wanted to return to it.

Secondly, following some comments from the CIPD when rejecting my fellowship membership upgrade, I took on board the feedback received and realised that in order to progress my career to where I wanted it to go, I had to move away from the operational HR environments that I had spent most of my career in, an area where i was completely safely in my comfort zone, to take on more Organisational Development activities. So when this role came up 4 months ago, I had to have it.

So this week was special, defining the Vision, Mission, Values and Goals was the first vital OD task, or first major stage in an overall OD task, that was completed. I believe, strongly, in what we’ve done so far.

Secondly, this week, following a 6 week process, we finished surveying 180 employees within our division, seeking feedback on how our employees feel about their place of work. I like to think this was more than just an employee engagement survey. It was nothing cutting edge or particularly innovative, but it was important. It was a clear message to our employees that we wanted and needed everyone’s input into shaping how our place of work is going to be in the future. The true test of this activity will be when my colleagues see that their comments have been listened to, and acted upon where necessary.

So this week has been great and I feel awesome about it. I’m really proud of what me, my colleagues and my team have achieved so far. But it’s just the start.

I’m very aware from articles and blog posts I have read, largely through my #PLN (particularly from Neil Morrison’s Change Effect blog) that changing and improving the workplace isn’t about the grand gestures. I’m very aware the strategy, at this point, is just words. “Change”, is about a collection of small, effective steps; incremental stages and demonstrations of intent.

What I have learned from this process so far, is not that putting words together that sound awesome are going to transform a workplace.

What i’ve learned is that real change starts with conversation. Through listening to colleagues who want to tell you about their experiences both good and bad, and impart their words of wisdom on you. Through long-serving employees who have given their lives to the company and have been proud to do so. Through listening to the newly promoted managers about how they hope the business looks after them and supports them on a life-long journey. Through conversing with senior managers about how they are going to take on board comments fed back to them to change the service that their departments offer the business. Through chatting with people outside the business about their experiences with the company.

I’ve learned that change begins with not being afraid to kick over the rocks and that every new item of information uncovered is an opportunity to create meaningful actions that can make workplaces better. And not just better for the majority, but better for maybe even one individual who is looking for something from his employer that might be completely different to what everyone else wants.

But I’ve also learned that change can be scary for some, and that level of fear should not be underestimated.

Finally i’ve learned that this isn’t going to be easy, but can be extremely powerful because if the passion i’ve seen and experienced so far is increased by even a small margin, wonderful things could happen.