Small Changes, Big Value

There comes a point when enlightenment can become confusion. When seeking out new ideas, thoughts and viewpoints can make one become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information that is now readily available.

I’ve written before about my personal ambition to become more continuously aware of emerging HR and to seek out alternative views and during that process it’s not always been easy.

Sure, there is always new content. The HR community, especially on Twitter write lots of new and interesting blogs and share lots of articles, and whilst it’s not possible (neither do I desire) to read everything, its easy to glance over a few new pieces per day, leaving the more detailed stuff for when time permits.I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for this, as i’m not. Its a priveliged position to be in and I’m glad that I now have these connections and am exposed to this content, but my point is that, personally, it can all become quite confusing too.

For every point of view, there is an alternative. For every person who supports appraisals/competency-based interviews/MBTI there will be someone who will give a counter-view. This is healthy but it can make you wonder what you should and shouldn’t believe, what is both good advice and what is not.

I’ve recently reflected on my own continuous professional development to remind myself of why I changed things up two years ago, on why I started reading more, networking more and why I started engaging with the HR community on the level that I now do, and it made me realise that my aim, simply, was to improve. To know more stuff, to be better at what I do, to aid my career, to be exposed to new ideas to increase my knowledge and to be able to do more valuable work.

What i’ve realised is that much of what i’ve read is about the big changes. It’s about the radical improvements, the revolutionary ‘disruption’ and the impact on future changes. This is all important stuff, but, to be better at what I do, to achieve what I set out to achieve, i’ve also realised that it’s not only important for HR pro’s to focus on the big stuff, but its equally as important to look at doing the day-to-day work better too.

Taking the time to review every word that we draft on a job advert, avoiding cliches and investing in accuracy over spin is a small change that can have a big impact.

Spending time to genuinely think of the problem that i’m trying to resolve, before jumping to a solution, can take a relatively short time and will avoid a false economy. Being more evidence-based can help us make a small change that can have a big impact.

Making slight changes to how we greet candidates for an interview, design the icebreaker of a training course, draft letters, support an employee suffering with ill-health are all examples of how we can make small changes and yet be substantially more effective in our roles.

Sometimes it’s not just about the big stuff, the everyday tasks are just as important too.

#EBHR: Evidence – To Respectfully Challenge

Discussion

My foray into evidence-based management/HR has made me realise that a stumbling block to making decisions based on evidence, is the quality and volume of evidence readily available.

Good work is being done around this and there’s recognition that instead of studies based on academic’s area’s of interest or desire, the focus needs to change to be in line with what the business and the HR community needs, which are not necessarily the same. But important to stress this isn’t an ‘academia-only’ matter.

Despite this, many studies and sources of information are already available and are sufficient for this world to grow organically over time.

But with some areas of HR practice not having scientific research-based evidence available at this stage to underpin decision-making, there will be much dependence on the three other sources (organisational evidence, experiential evidence and stakeholder evidence).

With this in mind, i’ve determined that there are 2 scenarios that I personally could support on my quest to becoming an evidence-based HR practitioner.

The first is where substantial evidence is available. I could use this evidence, appropriately weighted based on its accuracy and validity, to help underpin my decision-making. This is the ideal world for me. An obvious place to start.

The second scenario is where substantial evidence is not available. In this instance I could make measured decisions based on the information that is available, ensuring I learn from the process, help it to refine my own experience-based opinions, ensure I identify appropriate measurements for success and where possible partner with others to help form scientific evidence for the wider HR community in the future.

I’m ok with these two scenarios. I get that sometimes, what we often call a ‘stab in the dark’ is actually based on instinct, which I would guess is probably based on more than that, probably experiential evidence. So being more analytical about this, will help me too.

However there’s a third scenario which concerns me.

This scenario is where evidence exists to refute the validity or effectiveness of a particular process or task, but practitioners continue to use these tools/processes regardless. Where practitioners are provided with evidence which prove their processes are unlikely to work, but use those processes anyway.

I think this is something that needs wider debate. I have already heard cynical comments (such as the ‘evidence-brigade’ when describing proponents of EBP) when masking or downplaying the legitimate concerns being raised when challenging this third type of scenario.

To be better, we must challenge one another’s thinking when this occurs. We must respectfully challenge these views and encourage replacement processes/practices that have foundations based on good evidence, where its available.

  • When mechanics diagnose cars and identify a recurring fault due to a poorly designed part, they would stop using that part.
  • If a chef realises it’s meal doesn’t taste nice because they are using an inappropriate ingredient, they would replace or remove that ingredient.
  • If an architect identifies that the structural integrity of a building is at risk because of a design flaw, they would alter that design.

So why would we accept processes in HR that are no longer fit for purpose, according to available evidence?

We shouldn’t.

Hendy’s HR Mixtape

It’s 2017, you are a HR professional at whatever stage in your HR career. Lots of awesome work is being produced, shared, analysed and developed. Collaboration amongst other things is high up on the agenda, and an overarching theme of discernment through the active promotion of evidence-based practice is helping create sustainable work.

Technology has developed immeasurably and affordable systems means the optimal use of data is in site. However, despite advancements in modern technology you are sat in your 1997 Ford Fiesta, parked up at a beach, looking at the sea, taking some personal CPD time and you open a package from me. 

Inside the package is a cassette. You remember cassettes, small plastic things that you can rewind with a pencil and have a glorious, comforting hissing noise that digital recording has discarded, taking the viewpoint that removing imperfection is progress (that’s not always the case by the way).

Luckily your 1997 Ford Fiesta has a tape deck. You push the eject button and out comes something probably akin to Oasis ‘Be Here Now’, Stereophonics ‘Word Gets Around’ or maybe even ‘Steam’ by East 17. Written on the cassette is ‘Hendy’s HR Mixtape’. Also out of the package is a small note;-


Here are the songs, along with my advice;-

1) The Beatles – We Can Work It Out

Working in HR can be tough. When conflicting agendas result in you having to make a decision that cannot satisfy both employer or employee, it can be difficult. When you are potentially in a difficult employee relations consultation issue with your Trade Union partners, or you are agonising over a really difficult decision, it’s easy to see light fade, and take the pressure on your shoulders. But remember this. ‘We’ can work it out. Your colleagues, your line manager, operational managers, union partners, fundamentally want to reach amicable conclusions. Nothing is ever, really insurmountable. 

2) Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger

The key to being a good HR professional is not taking things personally, dusting oneself off, and constantly moving forward. A failed reorganisation, a dodgy disciplinary decision, a grievance raised against you simply for doing your job. Try not to worry about these. Don’t get angry about them. Absolutely learn from them, but focus on turning that energy into self-improvement and move on. You’ll be better for it. Plus anger just sucks energy that would be better used elsewhere.

3) Black Rebel Motorcycle club – Ain’t No Easy Way

Okay so there probably is always an easy way of doing things, but by taking the shiny ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach without spending time looking for the best solutions, you are probably creating rework by implementing unsustainable pieces of work. Don’t always take the easy way. Spend time, effort and energy into implementing good practice into your work, not necessarily ‘best’ practice. Sometimes the real successes come from the work that you’ve slogged your guts out to achieve, which makes that success even sweeter.

4) Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

You can build this bridge. You can support managers and employees to help get through some real issues. You are the skilled person that others are counting on to help get through troubled periods. You are valued for doing this. Just think about that skill you have. You make a difference.

5) The Beatles – Money (That’s What I Want)

A real basic rule and will always be a critical piece of advice. Are you ready? I’ll quote it verbatim from how my first HR Manager said it to me. It’s really complicated (not really). Here goes…. “Don’t piss about with people’s money”. It’s their livelihood. Its Maslow. It’s common sense. Always be cautious when making a decision that affects remuneration.

6) The Who – The Seeker

Constantly seek out new practice, new ideas, new concepts but always look for supporting evidence. Keep on top of emerging HR thinking and spend time understanding how it can affect you, your business, your employees, your clients. HR is changing at a rapid pace. Don’t get left behind.

And lastly;-

7) Bloc Party – So Here We Are

Stop and reflect. Look at where you’ve come from, evaluate where you want to get to, don’t take your successes for granted and don’t forget to learn. Always learn. It’s fine to pause life and take stock. So much goes on that we can easily get sucked in and get dragged along. You are no use to anyone if you lose your path. Stand still for a moment.

The tape comes to an end.

What would be on your HR mixtape?

The HR Dilemma


HR has always wrestled with an identity dilemma. 

Time has been spent focusing on who we are, what we do and, rather tediously, where we sit within the overall structure of the business environment.

We are, arguably, the only function, or profession if you’d rather, that continually does this by the way. Sure there will always be some sub-departments in other areas of business arguing about where they feel they should report and how they should be perceived, but on a grand scale, worldwide, I don’t see many other functions debating the subject as much as us. 

And we in-fight too. Should learning and development be part of HR (yawn) and is payroll a finance function (so what) and ‘i’m not HR, i’m OD’ and what about health and safety and….. 

They don’t feel like the right questions to me.

I get the irony, after all i’m blogging about the subject and fuelling the debate now too.

We’ve wrestled with this issue because we’ve evolved and maybe more than many of our counterparts. We have grown and we have matured. We have modified our focus, refined our purpose, relinquished ill-fitting counter-productive tasks that should not have been ‘owned’ by us in the first place and yet are entirely aware that our work is far from done and that further work is necessary. 

However, I fear business is growing tired of this discussion. As the old saying goes “actions speak louder than words”.

We must forget this tired debate and move to demonstrating our strategic contribution by making a strategic contribution where we aren’t already. 

We are, undoubtedly, an intrinsic organisational function and we have a significant value that we can add to business, but we aren’t entitled to expect business leaders to perceive us as this way without demonstrating our worth. 

If we are to be architects of organisational development, the experts of people at work and the champions of better work and working lives, then we need to just do it, and then do it more, and then do it better. 

And share our ideas about how we are doing it.

And support each other to do it.

And promote within our businesses what we are doing.

It is only then that the perception of HR as a function will start to change, or continue to change where the process has already started (which it has done, in many businesses, all over the world).

HR for me, has always been about supporting and contributing, and that means different things to different HR practitioners in different organisations. One size doesn’t fit all, and in the real world, in some businesses and industries, we might never change our perception. 

But it starts with us individually looking in the mirror, evaluating our contribution, and getting good work done. Good, value-add, vital work. 

The recognition should follow.

Evidence-Based Management – We’re doing it now, but let’s do it better!

SYS_Keyvizual_03

Why are people talking about evidence-based management like it’s something we aren’t already doing? Well there’s a reason for that.

To slightly paraphrase the intro to american television series Numb3rs “We all use evidence every day”.

Really we do. We use data and statistics with KPI’s, we use information from those that work within our organisations or have some sort of relationship with the organisation such as customers. We also use our own experiences, our own formulated views based on what we have seen work or fail in the past. All of this, to a degree, can be considered evidence.

But are we using the best available evidence?

Some HR practitioners I’ve spoken with about evidence-based HR have this look on their face as if I’m stating the bleeding obvious when I explain how I believe HR practitioners should operate using a more evidence-based approach. They have this look because they feel an evidence-based approach is how they have always operated, and that it is common sense to “keep” operating this way in any case.

There is truth in some of that, of course, but the understanding, the perception that this is what they are doing and have always done, also needs to be challenged.

It needs to be challenged because it’s recognised that people like to make decisions based on their own thoughts and experiences even though the scientific research shows that this type of process for decision-making is generally ‘fraught with biases’ to use a phrase I’ve read during my own research and learning on evidence-based management.

It’s probably helpful here that I explain that an EB approach focuses on considering evidence from all or some of the following four sources;-

  • Scientific evidence: this is classified as findings from published scientific research
  • Organizational evidence: data, facts and figures gathered from the organization
  • Experiential evidence: the professional experience and judgement of practitioners
  • Stakeholder evidence: the values and concerns of people who may be affected by the decision.

So when people say “we’ve always used evidence” they typically mean they’ve used some evidence, probably experiential evidence and organizational evidence, usually to support an idea they want to see succeed, than to use the best available evidence.

So here’s an example.

How many of us who claim to be evidence-based practitioners still consider such information as the following during an assessment process for recruitment;-

  1. candidates experience in a previous job role,
  2. candidates non-work related interests or;
  3. the length of time candidates have spent in education

Lots of us, me too. Our professional experience and judgement (experiential evidence) has influenced us to believe that we’ve selected good candidates through considering some of these areas as criterion for identifying the best candidate. We’ve probably honed our framing, technique and approach to ensure our questions around these areas are relevant.

For me personally, I can also recall many more ideal candidates that I’ve appointed when considering at least one of these factors, than the number of those who might not have been appropriate recruits. I believe (rightly or wrongly) that I have been more successful considering one of these factors than not considering one of these factors.

But here’s the thing.

Scientific evidence, such as this article (the source of which is considered ‘published scientific research’ in EBP) refutes the level of usefulness of considering these areas, despite these factors being popular amongst HR professionals when assessing a job applicant.

I want to revisit this statement I made in an earlier paragraph;- I believe (rightly or wrongly) that I have been more successful considering this information than not considering this information.

A basic question I should pose myself to challenge this statement;- If I always ask questions to consider at least one of these factors and I never assess candidates without considering at least one of these factors, then how do I know, how have I convinced myself, that these are valid areas to consider?

Another point to challenge myself;- where these elements (experience in a previous job role, interests and length of time in academia) have been the deciding factors between two candidates, have I ever evaluated whether the candidate who wasn’t selected, might have been the right choice, if I had considered more useful selection criteria?

My point is, the tried and trusted evidence that I’m usually confident is backing up my thoughts, is based on experiential evidence only, something that hasn’t been critically evaluated and probably wasn’t the best available evidence.

There are lots of unknowns and as has been explained to me ‘evidence isn’t answers‘ but by fully analysing our practices, some of which we take for granted in HR and might assume are successful, we are not necessarily always making the best decisions.

Of course, our own experience is important, but being an evidence-based practitioner has to be about applying ‘weight’ to the evidence, acknowledging that other evidence is likely to be available that will help us make better decisions, and that, crucially, decisions we’ve made and continue to make that we think are ‘good’ could, possibly or probably, be better.

Decisions we’ve made, when fully critically analysed, might even have been poor decisions if we are really honest with ourselves.

We have to challenge ourselves to be better, in order to make better decisions.

So yes we all use evidence every day – but to make the best possible decisions, to truly add sustained value and credibility to the work we do we must seek out the best available evidence, and embed it into our daily routine.

For more information on evidence-based management, I suggest you visit the website of the Centre for Evidence-Based Management and the Science For Work website. I also suggest you follow Professor Rob Briner on Twitter.

Intuitive Leadership – When Restraint Is What’s Needed

Lots and lots and lots gets written about Leadership. It’s a great subject, so of course it’s popular. I’ve written about it too.

When so much get’s written about a subject, every aspect ends up being scrutinised, second-guessed and over-analysed. Its easy to start wondering what is real, what is effective and what you ‘should’ believe. Leadership development programmes can easily become more about the shine than the talent.

At work, in conversations with other HR pros, in the media even, you see strong leaders. Leaders who just “get it”.

But who are we, really, to define what good leadership is, what style should work, and what approach isn’t right? We know the answer to those questions, but it’s worth the periodic consideration. Its worth the food for thought.

We’ve heard successful examples of positive leadership as well as the horror stories of draconian fear-based management, and i’m sure we all know what style we prefer to have, to work with, and to work for, but i’m pondering more and more at the moment on intuitive, organic leadership. 

I’m pondering more on those who haven’t been developed within an inch of their lives. Those who haven’t been changed beyond all recognition of who they once were. Those who haven’t read a book to know how to conduct themselves.

I’m pondering more on those leaders, who are effective leaders because they intuitively act in a senseful, respectful way, that is authentic and human.

I’m pondering more on those who might have been subjected to a management development programme, learned the best elements but stood back and thought “I’m not using that bit, because that’s not me”.

Instead of holding up examples from books, from popular culture, and from the world of ‘Ted Talk Celebrity’, i’m becoming more drawn to identifying and observing leaders who have something at their core that they should try never to lose, to try to harness but not at the expense of its effectiveness.

In this profession, it’s normal for it to be our responsibility to help build leadership development. But it’s also vital to remember that sometimes its our responsibility to see what’s right in front of us, and leave it alone.

#HRHour

HR Hour Logo

I’m getting lots of questions around what ‘The HR Hour’ is, including when it will be kicking off and what I hope to achieve with it, so here goes.

In 2015 when I started using Twitter for both professional and personal use, I stumbled across a fantastic community of HR, L&D and OD Professionals all of whom to this day I regularly converse with on a daily basis and many of whom I am pleased to say have become friends. I didn’t really use the term ‘network’ but I quickly discovered that this group of people referred to one another as members of their own #PLN which stands for ‘Personal Learning Network’. 18 months on from when I became a Social HR professional, I recognise how very fortunate I am to have discovered this group, and to keep discovering HR professionals and extending my PLN further, because these HR pros, without a shadow of a doubt, have given me the opportunity grow as an HR professional.

Twitter has now become my place of learning. Yes, that’s right, Twitter! Before becoming a Social HR Professional, if anyone had said that Twitter was one of the best places to learn I wouldn’t have taken them seriously, and now here i’m saying it, because it’s so true. Through using Twitter and connecting with other HR Professionals, i’ve discovered the HR blogging community, where interesting articles are posted every day on a range of HR and related topics. I’ve also discovered great HR pro’s with a range of different specialisms, and i’m yet to connect with anyone who won’t offer support or help with a query if you have a question either about a topic generally or about that professionals expertise. It’s also a great place to discover emerging HR trends and information, usually right at the point of breaking.

One of the things i’ve enjoyed most is some of the live Twitter Chats, in particular the awesome work of @LnDConnect. Every Friday at 8am GMT, a moderator on the LnDConnect Twitter account launches a question, and HR professionals (mainly L&D and OD) get involved in a fantastic discussion. People dip in and out depending on if they have the time and if they have the inclination, and the really great thing about it is, there’s no pressure to get involved or participate, with some users watching the discussion through following the hashtag #LDinsight, whilst others respond and get involved with the various different discussions that branch off from the initial question. It really is a great idea, run by a great group of people, with smart, often humorous and regularly thought-provoking discussion.

So why have I launched #HRHour – because i’ve been inspired to do so by @LnDConnect. As an HR Professional, i’d personally like to take part in the same type of discussion as #ldinsight but on HR topics unrelated to L&D, so we are giving this a go. If we get traction and great discussion then we’ll persevere, if we don’t then we tried, but what’s the harm in trying? I’m also hoping to continue with my quest to make HR a more Social-Media friendly profession that embraces sites such as Twitter and I hope some participants get the same privilege i’ve had and build great PLN’s of their own.

As for topics I hope to cover, it’s the full gambit of HR, including employment law, reward, talent management, employee relations, engagement, culture, data and everything in between.

So this is going to take place on Thursday evenings at 8pm GMT (chosen to try to capture worldwide participation) and for now I will be facilitating the discussion, but if it sticks and other HR professionals want to take over the account and share the duties – then by all means please get in touch with me and volunteer.

I’ve got 293 followers on the @HR_Hour account as this blog is being published – when we get to 300, we’ll launch. So please spread the word and I hope to see lots of you get involved in the discussion.