Super Chickens – A rather different look at long term team development.

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As one of my New year’s resolutions I have decided that I am going to try to walk to work more often.  The 2 mile stroll will give me time to focus, centre and listen to all the podcasts and TED talks that I’ve not had time to listen to.  This week I came across a great talk by Margaret Heffernan about an experiment by William Muir.

Muir, an eminent Biologist conducted an experiment where he created 2 groups of chickens and watched them for 6 generations, monitoring their egg production and interactions.  One group was left to their own devices and the other group was selectively bred for maximum egg production.  At the end of the experiment the ‘control’ group production had increased over time and the ‘selectively’ bred group had only 3 survivors; the missing having been pecked to death by their comrades in the war for supremacy!

Traditionally this has been quoted by business minds as a lesson in the dangers of high achievers and how a team of highly functioning people can be more destructive than constructive.  In my opinion, I see another lesson here also; the group left to their own devices actually increased their own production over time, surpassing the ‘super’ group – maybe the correct support  could have increased production even more.

This brings me back to teamwork in general and how (as I’ve blogged about previously) that diverse teams, whatever that diversity looks/feels/sounds like are the most successful.

So, should we carefully manage talent, treat it as a destructive force, with no longevity and a quick burnout?  No, talent isn’t a cardboard cut-out, 1 size fits all, it doesn’t come with a flashing neon sign (well not always). Talent comes in a variety of forms and strengths – individual, and team talent are vital for success.  Appropriate leadership and support of all talent (whether inherently visible or yet to shine) is the way forward for all organisations.  Come on let’s not forget on our less obvious talent that is keeping us moving whilst the ‘high achievers’ are pecking each other to death.

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Thank you for reading and please do let me know your thoughts. Natalie

Talking HR … I’m interviewed for a US Podcast.

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My career has taken many a turn over the years and my latest opportunity came up after chatting with a Career and Life Coach and a Recruitment Consultant at a birthday party, a few Proseccos and a telephone call later and we were invited to record a pilot podcast for US audiences on a Business Radio Network.  The questions were posed from a layman’s point of view and I was interviewed as the HR specialist, which gave me a certain glow of pride, I don’t mind telling you.

I was expecting an easy time talking through what the HR department does in different organisations and how this influences the direction of the business, strengths, USP etc.  I was very happy however to instead be asked about my predictions for the future and the challenges that HR and employees alike face – something to get my teeth into!

I thought, dear readers, that I’d also share a morsel of the interview  with you to see if you have any thoughts you’d like to add as I’m more than sure that this is in no way a definitive list.

Q1. Is HR changing?

Yes, HR is changing and so it should.  The rate of change in industry should be met with the people support that it needs. HR needs to be as agile and adaptable as the industry it supports.  The onset of the 4th industrial revolution that the Forbes article mentions has been anticipated for a long time.  The replacement of people with AI and global networks of remote workers has been discussed in HR circles before.  Hr needs to not just respond to the current changes of the working environment but also to predict the future needs of the organisation in the industry and markets that it operates in.

I think that HRs are working smarter.  Working together with information at our fingertips, connected via social media and building our networks and knowledge by interacting with HRs at all levels across the world.  HR like specialisms such as marketing is responding quickly to an ever changing world and we’re doing it like good HR professionals should – using our people skills to connect and develop ourselves and each other.

 

Q2. What is your projected view of the immediate future of HR?

I think that HR will very much go in the same direction as industry as a whole, it has to.  I can’t see a time where people are obsolete or completely replaced by AI that can auto match candidates, generate reports, and analyse them etc – what about the human element, personality?  However, I think that the practice of HR will change.  There will be a greater emphasis on managing change and culture, especially with the growth of remote and flexible working patterns.  Also we have to see that with each generation that are building our industries there are differing expectations and requirements.  Baby boomers are less prolific yet still may hold the highest of seats at the board table.  Millennials are the future leaders (and fast climbing current middle leaders) who work in a different way.  They have grown up with internet and global connectivity and a world of work open to them that no other generation had ever seen.

Big data has been a long discussed topic.  What are we collecting?  How are we using this data?  HR are looking to build future proofs into their people strategy but as with everything it is only a projection – that’s why the key to successful future planning for all is agility.  A quick changing model in a superfast changing global market.

I think that there is a drive for creating and supporting resilient teams through a greater emphasis on wellbeing with creative people development offerings for a diverse employee base.

Also I see that performance management will need to change.  The annual performance review is outdated and not in keeping with the idea of building an organisation for the future.  More rounded and constant feedback (360 degrees) will help to create and develop teams as a whole and I see software programmes bringing a large chunk of development planning and mapping to the fore.  People can access MOOCs (Massive open online courses) and structure their personal development better than before.  Development will continue to be an overarching action, not just the addressing of prescribed specific interventions by organisations onto employees.

For me, the cohesion of all of these forward thinking measures is held in the creating and maintaining of a healthy supportive culture within the organisation that underpins everything that you do.

 

This is merely a snapshot of the full discussion and I hope that I will be able to share more details with you as they unfurl.  As always please do comment and share your experiences, thoughts and future predictions.  I wish a Happy and Successful 2017 to you all, Natalie.

*Guest post for Ashley Kate HR*: When coaching and mentoring programmes stagnate; how to reinvigorate the learning culture.

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Full article as published on Ashley Kate HR Guest Blog – December 2016

Coaching and mentoring is not a new idea.  Companies large and small run coaching and mentoring programmes whether formally or informally and have done since the practice was first recorded in Ancient Greece.  We know that people learn best using a variety of mediums and that they work best when motivated, engaged and most importantly valued.  Academics and practitioners alike identify that coaching and mentoring help to encourage these.

You had a great idea, you launched a mentoring scheme using senior managers and you trained your line managers to act as coaches to those who report to them.  For a while it all worked well; attrition was down, working relationships were improved and great conversations were taking place regarding long term career planning.  So HR sprung into action, sent out a survey and everyone patted themselves on the back for building another successful intervention to develop people.  

Let’s take a leap a few years into the future….. The magic mentoring programme is failing, matched pairs are not seeing out the full programme and feedback is not good.  Senior manages are not mentoring anymore, middle managers are still coaching their reports but the learning and growing culture that you tried so desperately to reinforce is dwindling.  Why?

A common mistake that I have come across is the belief that training and development budgets can be slashed if ‘we just nail this mentoring and coaching lark’, so schemes are used as a cost-cutting exercise.  I have seen well thought out schemes fall flat on their face because they were thought to be the ‘magic cure all’.  The most extreme of these was in an organisation who believed that they could eliminate all other management training by using Mentoring.  This fell apart rapidly.  Senior management became overwrought with extra responsibility, head count had been reduced and now there was an expectation that they would mentor leaders of the future with no support, at a time when trust in the organisation was at an all time low. The company values were displayed loudly and proudly, but the interventions that they were putting in place were overshadowed by those that they took away.  

How do you rescue a scheme when this happens?

When any organisational incentive stops showing a benefit, it is time to reconsider.  

  • What exactly does this organisation and the people need?  
  • Where is our mentoring talent?  
  • How does mentoring and coaching fit within our existing development offering?  
  • How does this link to our company’s values and goals?
  • How do we embed this learning culture into our organisation?

It may not be your most senior leaders that make up all your leader mentors.   Your middle leaders may be better placed and more knowledgeable about the organisation to make a more positive impact, especially on those at the start of their career.  Most importantly good design and a clear vision of the purpose of the scheme is paramount.  A robust mentoring programme must be:

  1. Focused on the learning and development of the Mentee.
  2. Structured – have goals, a vision of the purpose of the relationship, follow an agreed time structure (even if that is ongoing)
  3. Built on mutual trust – learning means taking risks, sometimes failing.
  4. Considered in matching of mentoring pairs – personality fit and ease of interaction is vital.
  5. Measured on the success of the learning; not all mentoring pairs can be measured against the same markers.
  6. Another example of development that embodies the values of the organisation, not a stand-alone development activity.
  7. Championed as an intrinsic part of leader development with the necessary skills being prerequisites of the Mentors that take part.
  8. Supervised by HR to ensure that the programme remains effective and is valued by the Mentees.  Mentors must be provided with the necessary support and access to learning opportunities to help them be the most effective mentors that they can be.
  9. Made available to all those who would benefit.

To build trust and consequent engagement with the programme an organisation will need to stop, re-think, re-design, re-brand and re-start a mentoring programme.  In order for coaching and mentoring to be a widespread success across an organisation it needs to be a part of the ‘norms’, an activity that all employees can access at different points of their career.  Shouldn’t this fit within the culture of the staffroom as well as the boardroom and be equally valued in both?

Please feel free to comment and let me know of your experiences. Best wishes Natalie.