I’m no Santa Claus…

Image result for santa claus mike ashley

I have watched with anticipation, slight dismay and disbelief  how Sports Direct got away with paying less than minimum wage.  As it transpires the non payment of employees and temporary staff during the time it took them to clock in and be searched; coupled with the non-payment for their queuing time at the end of their shift to get through security again meant that their actual hours in the building divided by their actual payment for this time resulted in an hourly rate less than that of national minimum wage.  The hearing also brought about the publication (on twitter thanks to @itvjoel https://t.co/OrbcIpjlC4 ) of the ‘6 strikes and you’re out’ policy which uncovered that employees could find themselves receiving a strike for long toilet breaks, wearing branded clothes and being off sick!  

You would be forgiven for throwing the book at the occasionally hapless, confused, deluded and sporadically self-depricating Mike Ashley were it not for the cluelessness of his demeanor – the tycoon offered the investigating panel his helicopter for the day!  In my opinion they were questioning the wrong person if they wished to uncover the extent of cost cutting, labour saving and profit maximising activities at Sports Direct.  To me Mike Ashley came across as the figurehead who had lost all sense of how his business runs.  By no means is this an excuse, he just didn’t grow at the same rate as his creation.  

Mike, in essence appears greedy and he has instilled this in those leaders he surrounds himself with.  I have no doubt that he didn’t ask about HR practices, he doesn’t even mention HR once during his questioning.  He went with a cheap but powerful couple of employment agencies with cost saving implications and without thinking it through and nurtured the Sports Direct culture accordingly.  I read of tannoy announcements made at the warehouse humiliating those workers who appeared not to be pulling their weight, a culture of bullying, and fear that working patterns would be reduced for those who were off sick.  Unite compiled a most damming report with close to the line working practices.

So here begs the question…. Where was HR?  Where were those professionals who were looking to build the company on the strength of its human capital?  Were they asleep?  The most frightening question that I asked myself was…. Were they in on this?  Outsourcing responsibility as well as duty of care.  Outsourcing blame also?   Yet capitalising on the success of the company’s growth.

I am well aware that HR in a retail environment is different.  Staff turnover in all retail is higher than in my industry, the pay is lower and so approaches need to be dissimilar.  That said, the employment of temporary staff on 366 day a year contracts so that they just miss the threshold for cover under the Employment Rights Act does seem a step too far!  I will be watching this story as more unfolds.  My fear is that these types of practice are uncovered as industry norms (as alluded to by Unite in their report) and that this is just a taster of the revelations to come.

Please do let me know your thoughts on this. Thank you as ever for taking the time to read this and please feel free to share!  Best Wishes Natalie.

Lean Down the Mountain… Grow your own Grit!

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Les Arcs, 2016 – I fall down but I get up again!

 

It has been a long time since I tried something new.  I’m not just talking about the new deli filling at the sandwich shop but really trying a completely new activity, with no experience at all, going in totally blind.  Last month I took the plunge and after a long time procrastinating, and a long drive through France to get there I went skiing.  Now for many of you this is no big deal but I am an adult who had never even seen a ski in the flesh or put my foot anywhere near a ski boot, but I really wanted to learn how to ski, I have done since I was a child.

As I strapped my feet into the unforgiving boots and manoeuvred myself over to the nursery slope my heart was in my mouth, my breathing quickened and my ears rang, the adrenaline was pumping hard.  I was certain that I was going to misjudge a curve and shoot off the side of the mountain breaking my legs and ruining the experience for everyone.  I know that I am not good when I feel that I’m not in control of myself!  Lean down the mountain?  I thought they were mad, every bone in my body was telling me not to.

My ski instructor was a burly French lady with a quick wit who saw through my smiling, singing façade.  She took control and through her strength I developed my own.  I fell a lot, and each evening I counted new bruises.  With each passing day I became braver and on the last day I joined my friends (all avid and utterly brilliant skiers) and skied down the mountain without the support of the instructor.

I know that I am still no Chemmy Alcott but I have overcome the barriers that I erected for myself.  I truly believe that this would not have been possible if I had not trusted my instructor when she told me “you will ski!”.  I trusted my guide, believed in myself and stepped out of my comfort zone. 

I am fascinated by how we resist change, we’re mostly afraid and rarely push our boundaries.  Adam Phillips a British Psychoanalyst and Philosopher noted that ,“we think we know more about the experiences that we don’t have, than the experiences we do.  The unlived life becomes more significant and what’s not possible becomes the story of our lives”.  Its true, isn’t it?  We know all about the consequences, the possible pitfalls, and the reasons why we shouldn’t try something; why we shouldn’t make that jump; shouldn’t lean down the mountain.  It goes against all we ‘know’ to be true. 

That’s great, we’re all nervous of change but to grow and develop as people we have to make changes, take the next step.  How do we go from knowing ‘what’s not possible ‘to ‘having a go’?  What does it take?

Grit!  It’s all about having determination and pushing yourself to grow.  Writers on the subject suggest that some people naturally have more grit than others and while that is undoubtedly true, grit is also something that you can learn, cultivate and grow, by changing your mindset, trying new things, being determined and not being afraid to fail and to try again.  Some of the most successful people, such as Richard Branson, Albert Einstein and Marc Zuckerberg all failed.  The failing wasn’t their undoing, it spurred them on to try again and ultimately guaranteed their eventual success.  If you’ve got some time on your hands a worthwhile read on the success of failing comes from Jia Jiang in his book “Rejection Proof”.  Jia, upon quitting his job to become an entrepreneur and failing, set about to devote 6 months to getting rejected every single day.  He made unreasonable requests from everyone, even asking to see the CEO of a company in order to have a staring competition with her, amazingly she agreed to see him!  Jiang noticed that the more he asked for things the better he became at communicating and negotiating.  Needless to say he know commands large audiences as a TED talks speaker and has realised his dream of being a successful entrepreneur.

So, come on, let’s go, let’s lean down the mountain, take the chance, make that step outside our comfort zone, and ask the question.  We may fail, we may be rejected but we will always learn, as Jiang did, and will improve and before we know it we’ll get there!

I’m off now, once more to push my boundaries.  So, I invite you all to share, comment and send this to all of your connections to help me on my grit growing journey – Hey, if you don’t ask…

Good luck, be brave, show grit and determination, and please do post a comment and keep me posted of your progress too!  Thank you for reading.  Natalie

 

 

 

Fluffy Bunnies and Cocktails…

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If you could make one change……

It was with a large smile on my face that I read the recent article in People Management magazine ‘Fantasy Workplaces – Free cocktails every Friday’ ( People Management – Feb 2016) Among some of the suggestions for how to improve employee experience were;

  1. A cocktail trolley every Friday.
  2. A large bunny rabbit to cuddle.
  3. Nap rooms.
  4. A boxing ring to solve disputes.

Also within the madness and excitement I saw a variety of actually quite sensible suggestions;

  1. Holding meetings outside to stimulate creativity and fresh ideas.
  2. Limiting meetings to 30 minutes in length
  3. Creating a learning environment for all with art tuition, guitar lessons and a large library and exercise space.

With this in mind I thought I’d reach out to my network of PAYE friends and see what their reactions to this question would be and to be brutally honest I was expecting limited sensible suggestions with an onus on a pay rise and greater flexible working patterns, even with a ‘sack the boss’ thrown in for good measure!

My first friend to reply told me of a company she worked for who provided 10 minute chair massages, once a month for all employees and all expenses paid trips to Barbados for all those who exceeded their targets. Now, we all know that the pre-credit crunch days of hedonism in business are long gone for the majority of us mere mortals. However, I was pleasantly surprised that many more employees buy in to the improvement of their company on a much deeper level – even those who aren’t in HR! We had suggestions of wellbeing options for compulsory training hours (I’ve trialled this and we had great uptake). A meditation and calming room, with pets to cuddle was a fab suggestion beating the problem of leaving your fluffy ones at home all day alone.

This article is a bit of fun but highlights 2 very important things to me:

  1. The carrot approach to increasing productivity really gets people excited.
  2. Employees when aroused by an idea are really creative, forward thinking people who do want to improve not only their work lives but the business that they work in also.

Although we won’t be seeing widespread petting zoos in corporate offices maybe we will see an increase in how leaders see the importance of improving employee experience especially as the spread of technology makes us all contactable 24-7-365.

Please do let me know how your organisation improves employee experience. Are there wellbeing zones and quiet rooms out there? I look forward to hearing some fun suggestions also. Namaste!

Thank you for reading – Natalie

 

Be the genius that you were born to be: 10 secrets that will transform you into a superhuman!

Albert-Einstein

I have a problem, I’m intrinsically drawn to certain posts on LinkedIn.  You all know the ones…. “6 things every Entrepreneur should do”; “5 Habits of great leaders”: “20 things you should never do or say” so when I came across this book I was hooked instantly. Harshajyoti Das advocates that ‘everyone is born to be a genius’ and this resonates with me greatly.  In know that I am surrounded by untapped genius in some of my closest friends and family, I believe this so fervently that I even I have this famous Einstein quote on my office wall.

“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will go through it life believing that it is stupid”.

The fact that the author is self-published and that he is living and breathing this intrigued me even more.  This is the aspect that I feel articles like this always miss – who is actually doing this?  Does it really work?

The Rules

  1. You can’t make everyone happy

The author suggests that as a social animal we spend too much of our time here on earth trying to fit in and conform to social norms.  He says that we should stop living our lives to try to please others.  A good example he gives is that of a young person whose parents so desperately want him to be a doctor that he goes to medical school and tries to live out his parents’ plan for him.  The outcome is that as he doesn’t really want to be a doctor he doesn’t put 100% into his career and ends up trying to find a compromise later down the line.  So after all this energy and effort neither he nor his parents are happy.  Harshajjyoti suggests that the son should have chosen and followed his own career path from day 1, then he would have been happier and more successful.  This is something that we all know deep down that if we are focused on our own goals and not merely following someone else’s path we do better.  I concur Mr Das!

  1. Most people will hate you and that’s OK

Here the author examines how most people’s rise to success is usually dogged by the jealousy of others and he states that the most successful people have a limited social circle of trusted friends for this very reason.  There are of course many who will admire and wish to emulate your success but the loudest voices will come from the haters.  Das says, live with it, this is a fact of life and “don’t let the b*** get you down!”

  1. Don’t be selfish in front of God

At first glance this title appeared a little out of context from reading Das’ book so far.  He means that successful people didn’t ask God, beg from the universe or get to where they are by just demanding what they wanted from a higher power.  He suggests that such power, if you believe it exists, should be used to ask for help for others.  Pray to God or ask the universe for world peace, to help your elderly neighbour to stay healthy this winter, where we are powerless to help.  Das states that we as masters of our own destiny must generate achievement ourselves, our faith may support us, give us emotional strength in tough times but the responsibility lies with us and conversely failure also cannot be laid at the door of a higher power.

 

  1. Silence is your most powerful weapon

Conflict is a tough one isn’t it?  We all know we should remain calm and emotionally detach ourselves during a difficult conversation, but in reality this is hard.  Das suggests that remaining silent when someone is angry and speaking to you in an aggressive manner is the only way to diffuse the situation.  He understands that it is human nature to try to defend ourselves and this in turn prolongs the pain for all parties.  Das says that silence is very powerful, it can help us to make a point.  When surrounded by gossiping (a real gripe for Das) he says silence is vital.  He also reports that silence is key when working to generate your greatest ideas and also when meditating (Das also suggests that we should all meditate daily).

  1. Tell people what they want to hear. Do what you want to do.

Now if I’m honest I wish this chapter had been omitted from the book.  Here Das falls flat on his face and appears to me as the self-centred fool I was hoping that he wouldn’t turn out to be.  In this rule he gives an example to illustrate this idea.  He was invited to his friend’s wedding, on the same day he had the opportunity to go to a meeting for his IT business that could net him a large deal.  Instead of telling his friend the truth about the deal, or trying to compromise by attending the wedding in the evening to support his friend he said he would try to attend (tell people what they want to hear) but all the time he knew that he would not (do what you want to do).  Where is the compromise, where is the building of trust, where is the honesty?  Poor show Das!

  1. Lie, only if it helps someone else

This is a great one!  Das examines how, and we all know this, that lies compound and snowball until a really large lie catches us out and we are not even sure what the truth is anymore.  Das says that successful people should only ever lie to save someone else and he really means save!  Lying is just fear if telling the truth after all and to become your inner genius you should not be afraid.

  1. Have a cup of green tea with Richard Branson

This resonates with many of you I imagine.  Can we catch the entrepreneurial spirit form reading Richard Branson’s autobiography?  Will watching the apprentice make us more likely to build a successful Alan Sugar-esque empire?  We would be fools if we thought that this would happen however Das recommends reading successful business people’s autobiographies as we can collect ideas, patterns of working. In my opinion reading books like this inspires us to take the step, these books often show the rags to riches aspect of these people’s lives which we can relate to and fuels our desire to make our own mark.

  1. Make new plans everyday

Let’s make goals, plans, come up with ideas.  I believe that Das really does this.  He writes a list of things he would like o make and achieve.  Some of them can be ridiculous; a toaster that toasts your initials into the bread, making a perfumes room spray.  The idea is that you come up with 10 new ideas every day and keep your mind active.  Das admits that neither you nor he will accomplish all of these goals however your brain will be kept active and you will be looking around you for how to improve your world, which will grow your creative mind.  I for one love a goal, some I set are short-term wins and some require a longer journey but goals are important in life.

  1. You are the chosen one

Yes, you are!  So am I! None of the genius steps will work if you don’t believe in yourself in the first instance.  Das tells his own story of rags to riches and how anything is possible if you have the drive and determination to succeed.

  1. Let people underestimate you

Every bone in my body shudders at this statement.  Das says that the more you show your abilities, the more that people will expect from you and the more you will be troubled by them.  He gives examples of football fans expecting their team to win all home games and readers who expect their favourite authors to write books that always outsell their previous titles.  The major hole here for me is that this is not sustainable, how can we be expected to remove other’s perceptions of our successes and failures.  The true message here I believe should be to judge yourself by your own criteria and, to borrow a previous train of thought (numbers 1 and 4) ‘you can’t make everyone happy’ and ‘silence is a powerful weapon’.

In conclusion, this is a great read.  The author is flawed, human and not a management consultant trotting out the exact same ideas that he peddles on his ‘success roadshow’.  His writing style is easy to read and his story is great.  This is his personal journey and it works for him.  I would be really interested to read the other titles he has published and look forward to implementing some of these ideas into my life.

Das’ book can be purchased here: Be the genius you were born to be – 10 secrets that will transform you into a superhuman

All published articles are my own personal thoughts and I welcome any comments, suggestions and your opinions.  Thank you for reading. Natalie

Is there an ‘i’ in Team?

 

I in team pic

There are many successful teams that we can recall at an instant.  The A Team, Chelsea FC last season, the Leadership team at Apple, the well documented Google teams and their Google culture… the list goes on.  It is also without exerting too much energy that I can recall a less successful team which led me to thinking about team dynamics and impetus.

The ‘Connexus’ team from BBC’s ‘The Apprentice’ this year lost the first 5 out of 6 tasks set by Lord Sugar.  Why does a team with a varied skill base and loads of energy go on to fail so miserably time after time?

The Apprentice candidates are striving for a short term win for each task and compete as a team, however the longer term goal for each of them is to become Lord Sugar’s business partner and so in the fight to come out on top overall the cohesion of the team suffers.  They are working towards a common short term goal but have opposing long term goals, so in essence what remains is many lone operators fighting for the ‘i’ in their team.

Team dynamics and success is widely discussed and personality and ‘role’ theories are often used to ensure that balanced teams are created.  Belbin believes a successful team should incorporate 9 ‘roles’.  These are:

  • Resource Investigator
  • Team worker
  • Co-ordinator
  • Plant
  • Monitor/Evaluator
  • Specialist
  • Shaper
  • Implementer
  • Completer/Finisher

Each team member is motivated to ensure that the team is effective and goal driven and having these personality types ensures that all stages of a project have an oriented person to guide the other team members.  However with so many varying personality types surely conflict is never far away and trust must be hard to build.  We should be mindful that the ‘i’ may be easily lost as the group works towards their common goal, or that the long term motivations of the individual team members may overshadow the team goal.  Engagement theory highlights to us that we are more comfortable working with like-minded people, yet we produce better results in diverse groups, we develop our skills more and develop our EQ.  How can we address this and remain balanced as individuals and as a group?  A challenge that I’m sure Lord Sugar himself would not relish.

Is there an ‘i’ in TEAM?  Yes there is, without the ‘i’s there would be no team.   The challenge is not to forget the individuals in striving for the end goal.  The individuals make up the whole, which if built and managed well can be greater than the sum of its parts.

These are merely my musings and thoughts on people.  Thank you for reading and please feel free to comment. Merry Christmas!  Natalie

Diversity in the Staffroom….

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Diversity is a well discussed issue amongst HR professionals, a hot topic and something we love to shout about when we get it right.  We understand and embrace that that a culturally diverse team is more creative than a homogenous team (Collett 1999)  and we all acknowledge that diversity encompasses not just differences in race and gender but also disability, educational background, sexual orientation and demographics.  I could also go on to discuss diversity relating to values and opportunity.  In short, surely we could conclude that with so many factors ‘diversifying’ us that we are none of us the same?

We are very used to examining the business case for diversity in private and public enterprise but does this differ in education?  The supplier-client relationship still exists, the customers are the children who are in turn the leaders, entrepreneurs and parents of the future. Surely the message we send to the leaders of tomorrow is as important as that which industry sends to the customers of today.  How can we change attitudes if our education system doesn’t lead the way?

Research carried out by MIT suggests that teams operating in a homogenous environment may lead those employees to assume that their surroundings are more predictable and controllable than they really are.  This surely can equate to children’s learning experience where a homogenous environment lulls them into a false sense of security. We want our children to become resilient, problem solving individuals with drive who learn by their successes and failures, rounded individuals that strive to understand the world and their role within it and we want them to start this journey at school.

The STAR experiment in Tennessee found that the achievement of ALL students in a class was raised if the teaching body represented the diversity of the student body, not just the attainment levels of children in the minority groups.  We also understand that acceptance is fostered more easily during childhood and as the global workplace gets progressively closer, thanks to information technology, we need to equip our children accordingly for today as well as tomorrow.

OK so we know that a truly diverse teaching body benefits our children and their learning and also the learning of all staff and leaders alike.  Exposure to a more diverse face of teaching helps challenge preconceptions, promotes empathy and encourages curiosity.  So should we ask; is our teaching body not already a diverse group of individuals?

The diverse nature of the staffroom is usually dependant on the surrounding area and generally reflects the surrounding community, however this is less reflective in the independent sector in the UK, as far as race is concerned anyway.  Of great interest however, is that the diversity of pupils in the independent school classroom is actually increasing!  According to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) 29% of its pupils are from a minority background – far higher than the 14% of BAME (Black and minority ethnic) citizens in British society as a whole.

The range of staffroom diversity in the independent sector is increasing slowly but major disparity can still be seen in senior leadership positions.  School workforce data continues to show an under-representation of women and individuals from black and minority ethnic backgrounds in school leadership positions. The latest available figures show that just 2.4% of head teachers are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and only 36% of secondary school heads are currently women.

The government are taking steps in order to address this in the public sector.  Schools are invited to bid for grants of up to £30,000 from the government’s Leadership, Equality and Diversity Fund to support local, school-led initiatives that will help boost the diversity of their senior leadership teams. Anecdotally, however, there are only a handful of black or ethnic minority head teachers in the independent sector.

Could it be also that the nature of an independent school system is a barrier to a diverse teaching body?  Then we must also look to promote the changing face of the independent school and build employer brand to attract a diverse array of talent and to develop and nurture that talent in the longer term.  Schools must design far reaching recruitment campaigns and could look to improve CSR strategies and state-independent collaboration to dissolve stigma and perceived class barriers.

There is a huge responsibility for school teachers and leaders to act as role models to empower all of their pupils to aim high and to challenge themselves, a set of values that the independent sector professes to instil in their pupils.  How better to illustrate this than by showing an increasingly diverse group of children an equally diverse set of leaders to aspire to.

I look forward to hearing any of your thoughts or experiences encouraging diversity.  Thanks. Natalie

Hello World!

Hi there and thanks for dropping by!

Here I go taking those first intrepid steps to become a blogger!  I am not promising that my musings will be groundbreaking or pushing the boundaries of post modernist thinking, however I thought it may be cathartic to write down those thoughts in my head.  Any nice comments or helpful suggestions are most welcome from anyone who may happen upon my page.  With thanks and love.

Natalie