Archive for the 'HR' Category

Chapter 1- Headache.

Tanya had a headache. She sat behind her desk in the muffled quiet of her office, and stared out at the computer screen. 1,384 emails in her inbox. 17 unread. 9 from Sally – all together, one after another, probably about recruitment again. Yes. All nine titled “Interviews”. Tanya hated interviews. All that interacting with people, trying to work out whether the person across the desk was the right person to be allowed in; the right person to be trusted. It was, she felt, just too emotionally draining. Tanya looked away from the screen, dipped her head down to meet her hand, and rubbed her forehead a little. It didn’t help her headache feel any better.

She looked back at the inbox and scanned the “subject” list. All pretty boring stuff she wasn’t in the mood to even open. A few meeting requests for Norwich and Manchester, something about the budget, some nonsense about the company Strategy Steering Group. Just as she was thinking about how indescribably dull the Steering Group Meetings were, another email came in. The subject said “Concern.” Her interest was piqued. Well, this one might not be so dull, she thought, and clicked it open. It was from Megan. “Hi Tanya. Have you got 5 minutes? I’ve received some complaints about our friend in Marcomms. I need some advice. ”

Tanya made a fake smile at the computer screen. She pushed her chair back and surveyed her desk from arms length. A big, untidy pile of  papers and folders sat on her right-hand side, nearest the wall. Most of it needed shredding, but she couldn’t be bothered to do it this week. Her eyes rested on the silver photo frame between the pile of papers and the computer screen. Ah, Craig. She smiled a more genuine smile at the image of her husband with his wide, generous face pointed to the camera as he stood, arm around her shoulders, at one of the gala dinners they had been invited to. The smile stuck to her face and faded, though, as she thought about the fact he had been on a week-long business trip to Brussels without her. She wondered for a moment what he was doing with his evenings there.

On the other side of the desk was a coaster, printed with the name of some stationery supplier or other, a green pen-pot, a small, brown ceramic dish full of paperclips and a grey desk phone. She liked her desk. She liked her office. She liked her computer. Out there, though? That was full of people who would talk to her, ask her things, expect her to respond to their little emergencies. She hated them. She hated them all.


She didn’t hate ALL of them. She didn’t hate Megan. And she didn’t really hate Sally, although Sally probably thought she did. And she didn’t hate Rona. Sally was useful and did as she was told, so she was okay to have around. Megan and Rona were managers of their own sections, People Development and Finance & Audit respectively. Of course they three were comrades, of sorts, but more importantly, they were useful people to have on her side. Tanya moved back towards her keyboard and opened a reply window to Megan’s email. Despite the headache, she would be more than happy to have a quick chat; how about now?


Fifteen minutes later, Megan knocked on Tanya’s door and stepped in. Tanya ushered her to a chair next to the small round table at the end of her office, underneath the monochrome print of London at night, and occupied the other chair herself.

“So, what’s all this about then?” Tanya asked, breezily.

Megan sighed loudly. She placed some printed emails on the desk in front of her, and then looked up at her friend. “Greg Preston has pissed off a whole load of people at an event last week. Looks like the demo team didn’t have enough demonstrators, so they roped in Greg and now we’ve got six people up in arms about what he was doing”.

“So what was the event?” asked Tanya.

“CPD day in East London for our South East staff. The Demo team were showing a few new pieces of equipment, including a new lightweight wheelchair and a portable hoist. They were stuck for demonstrators, so they got Greg involved. Shouldn’t have been a problem, he’s very familiar with the equipment.”


“But, six people have complained about his language, his behaviour and one says he touched her. ” Megan paused and shook her head sadly. “I just can’t do it any more.”

“Did you talk to him?”

“No. I wanted your advice first. I don’t want him. I don’t want to try to manage him any more.” She looked up at Tanya, her eyes wide and liquid-filled. “How do we get rid of him, Tanya?”

Tanya paused. There was no doubt that Greg Preston was a pain in the neck. He was loud, he was opinionated and he was persistent. Megan was a nice lady, but she was weak. Managing people was not one of her strengths, and the rest of her team was full of nice, diligent workers who just got on with things, so they didn’t really need managing if truth be told. This suited Megan down to the ground. But Greg didn’t fit in. Greg needed directing and managing, and Tanya knew that this terrified Megan. They’d had conversations about it before.

Megan handed Tanya the sheaf of emails for her to read.

After a few minutes of reading, Tanya said “Yes. I think we can paint a picture with this little lot. Especially as three of the others also mention this “touching” incident. I’ll get the right person to investigate. You just leave that to me. ”

Megan smiled. “So do I just leave this all to you, now?”

“Well. No, not completely. You’ll need to phone him and suspend him from work. This is potentially very serious stuff, you see, Megan. We can’t have him touching anyone else, for goodness’ sake! No. You phone him in the morning and tell him to stay at home while we investigate the complaints.” Crikey, thought Tanya, I’m certainly not speaking to the guy. He’s your problem, Megan – you phone him!

“Okay. I’ll call him.” Megan said. “But what shall I say?”

Megan breathed heavily, swallowing any sign that Megan was beginning to irritate her now. “Just tell him there have been a number of complaints received from people on the CPD event last week, and he’s suspended on full pay while we investigate. You don’t have to answer any of his questions – just tell him you’ll write to him and the letter will give him all the details.”

Megan nodded. That sounded manageable if she didn’t have to look at him at the same time. “Okay. I’ll call him at 8.15 in the morning. He shouldn’t have left home yet.”


Megan got to her feet, and stepped towards the office door. “I really appreciate this, Tanya. Its so handy having the Head of HR just down the corridor. ”

Tanya forced a smile. “No problem.” she said, and got up to show Megan out. “Let me know when the deed is done, and I’ll send you the letter.” she said.

As the door closed, Tanya sighed. Greg Preston: another bloody headache, she thought to herself.




Penelope Pitstop

Wacky-penelope-pitstopLet me introduce Penny. Penny is in a strategic, leadership position in a large organisation. She has a six-figure salary, 2 children and a husband in advertising earning similar to her. She is a study in anti-engagement. She’s truly fascinating, but for the wrong reasons! Her staff have no time for her, she has neither their respect nor their confidence. She’s defensive, takes things personally and blames her staff when things go wrong.

Having made the effort to ask somone about their holiday, yawning all the way through the answer and then telling them all about her trip to Australia over Christmas.

Explaining that she’d brought in a cake so that “people who didn’t get a drink bought for them because they weren’t at the Christmas meal can have a slice of cake instead.”

“I’ve brought these sweets that our nanny got for my kids for you lot because they’re not good enough quality for my children”

She doesn’t think its her job to make sure the people she manages are doing theirs – and she’s even said so in a meeting with her own staff!

How long will Penny survive? We’ll see…


Talking it through

Today I met with two completely seperate individuals who wanted to be able to talk through things that were concerning them. Alice is thinking about retiring, and Bill wants to start getting some control back from an ongoing health condition that is robbing him of his sleep and happiness. Although the topics were poles apart, they had a lot in common. Both had something intensely personal to consider, both wanted to share it confidentially with me as an objective but not entirely external facilitator. Both want change but are concerned about the route to take, the lurking dangers and the ‘right’ way to communicate the plan. I really do enjoy my job, and I think I do make a difference to people. A sensible, objective ear but someone who doesn’t judge, isn’t shocked and helps you to organise your thoughts in a practical way so solutions are created, not just speculated upon. We all need someone safe to talk to, don’t we?

Question of Leadership

So, here’s a question for you.

How does a person who comes in to a senior strategic role in a large organisation, where the management and leadership of 40 people is an integral part of his remit have (a) no organisational skills (b) no people skills and (c) no self-awareness?

The second part of my question then has to be:

Why have we let this man run unchecked for 7 years, whilst we haemorrage good people like a gaping wound and see the rapid and sustained decline in customer service?

It was never going to be successful. People work for other people, not organisations. They work for people who get the best from them, show them the way, enhance their lives; who stand back and let their team take the credit, but who step forward to defend them from danger; who understand that life throws things at you when you least expect them, but helps you to roll with the punches so that you keep giving back your best.

And our strategic manager has none of this.

I really like this quote from General Colin Powell of the USA army (later Secretary of State):

Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.

The Truth is a Story

So, I mentioned earlier how the truth isn’t binary, even though we think that if you haven’t told the truth, then you’ve lied – and although we sort of accept that, we also know that it isn’t as cut-and-dried as that in reality.

For most people, if you witness an event, the facts of the event itself do not crystalise into your memory like data onto a computer disk. They seep into your memory via lots and lots of comparisons with other things you’ve experienced or have knowledge about (which we’ll discuss another day), but also they’re inextricably linked to your emotional responses to witnessing the event and the opinions you have of various occurrances or actions within that event. You absorb the event into your memory somehow (science doesn’t really explain how, and I’m not even going to speculate), but the point is, we don’t ourselves always know what “the truth” of that event was until we start to explain it to a third party. And when we explain, either by writing or talking or signing – we have to think about the event in a special way to be able to tell the story.

If we want our third party to really understand what it was that we saw, we have to do a lot of describing. We have to choose our words carefully to do it justice (more so than ever if we’re using English because there’s such a choice of vocabulary at our disposal), we have to set the scene properly so that when the loud noise (for example) broke the silence, our audience knows exactly how silent the silence before the event was, and how shattering the noise was. And we also need to tell you how the whatever-it-was felt to us, our theories, our speculation, our disbelief, our superlatives or indifference – all of that.

In thinking about how to describe something, and then perhaps getting some feedback on that description from others, the stoy of the truth is moulded and altered. Sometimes we know this is happening, and sometimes we don’t, but when we do, we probably think its because we’re getting better at explaining it, rather than that the story is changing. And in the subsequent re-tellings, we learn from our experiences of telling the story, so it gets modified and altered to make the story more accessible to the next person we tell. Eventually, the story we tell of the truth we saw with our own eyes, is still the truth; after all, we haven’t lied – but is it still the same as before?

Sometimes, particularly when I’m interviewing people about things they know they saw, we have to help them unpick the story that they tell and break it down to the bare factual bones of what they know versus what they assumed, thought, filled in the gaps for, inferred and imperceptibly made truth, that wasn’t. I’m not saying all that other stuff isn’t relevant, I’m just saying that the truth is more complicated than you first think. What’s revealing, is that the interviewee suddenly realises what they thought they knew as fact, might not be as perfect as they themselves believed…. and that is a bit frightening. It makes us feel vulnerable and uncertain and defensive – and that’s understandable. We like to think we know what we saw, but have we just remembered how to tell its story instead?


The Truth – an introduction

The truth is… I spend a lot of time interviewing people about specific events that have happened in the past, and also, events that are going to happen in the future (i.e. people starting new jobs). Over my fairly modest 16 years of doing this, I’ve developed a rich catalogue of observations covering many topics. But one of the most fascinating ones is this idea of “telling the truth”.

The truth, when you say it like that always sounds like a singular, perfect account – and the difference between truth and lie is binary, like flipping a switch : up = truth, down = lie. And yet even a small child knows this is not correct. There are always shades and grades of truth – how else then can we explain that several people witnessing the same event could describe it so differently and yet each be certain of their authority on a matter they witnessed with their own eyes?

I could talk at length, but I won’t right now – you’d only get bored, so I’m going to split my various thoughts into several posts over the next week or so. But the first topics to look at are how storytelling changes the truth and also how our own personal experiences and memories change how we tell the truth about something.

Speak again soon xx

The law of unintended consequences

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Newton’s law doesn’t quite work when we’re talking about human interactions, but it is true to say that every action has a consequence. Some consequences are positive and intended, such as when you make an effort to support a project and it is successful. Some consequences are negative and intended, such as when you choose to support one project and piss off the bloke you don’t like with the other project you now don’t have time to support. But sometimes, your good intentions cause other things to happen, and often they do that without you noticing them.

Like the guy who spoke up to his manager when he was threatened with violence by a client. The manager thought he was being efficient and supportive and helpful by laying out to the guy how he needed to gather facts and get witnesses to come forward with evidence before he could do anything about it.

But the guy only heard the absence of “that’s awful, mate – we believe you, let’s make sure we handle this properly.” And the very next day, he started looking for another job. And once you’ve made that decision to look, you’ve already got one foot out the door….