Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Managers Past and Present

Day 31 (New Year's Eve - Thursday 31st December 2015)
31 Planes of existence are defined in Buddhist teaching

Welcome to the last day of 2015 - I hope that on reflection it has been a good year for you and yours. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a wonderful 2016 - over the course of it may you find yourself pleasantly surprised on a regular basis and achieve more than you desire. 

It gives me great pleasure today to introduce you to Benjamin Fletcher. Although Benjamin and I have never met, he responded to my request for posts in November, we now follow each other on Twitter (his handle is @benjaminclusion); I am delighted to have him here.  He is a champion for Diversity and Inclusion and blogs on these and other topics on LinkedIn. He works as an HR Business Partner at QBE Insurance based in London. I love his post, which shares his learning from various managers with whom he has worked over the years.


Some of the best lessons we learn come from observing good and great managers and leaders. Some we learn from observing what not to do and how not to treat people. Others we learn from people who we might not like or agree with, but recognise certain strengths in. 

I have been managed by some pretty different characters; some of whom I’ve felt a stronger natural affinity with than others. All, though, have given me something valuable for which I am grateful and helped me take my career a step further.

It can be easy and it is often tempting to list all the things you will never do as a manager yourself, but as a new year approaches it’s a timely opportunity for reflection and self-reflection. 

In this spirit, here I want to remember the positive examples – the comet trails – that four influential managers have left with me and share these learnings with the blogosphere. 

To save blushes I have renamed each manager after pets I have loved both as a child and an adult.

Big pictures are made complete by details. We all have attributes that we are proud about and consider our strong suits, as well as known development areas and blind spots. I’m personally quite aware that detail overload does nothing for my attention span or temperament. Scamp, conversely, is a detail whiz. If you get your kicks from being creative and helping other people see a picture not yet complete, incredibly detail focused people can be frustrating, even irritating at times. Scamp taught me to appreciate that small things usually add up to something big, like a George Suerat painting. It’s a hard thing to un-see.

The People's Monarch an artwork by Helen Marshall
consists of 5,500 individual photos submitted by BBC listeners & viewers
We’re in it together. Ambition means different things to different people. Sophie showed me that ambition is not a dirty word. Through Sophie I also learnt to appreciate what it’s like to feel the security of knowing my manager will not let me fail because my success is their success. With different strengths we won together. Demonstrating that sheer ambition and inclusive leadership work perfectly in tandem, it is a lesson I aspire to replicate.

Relationships are 50/50. So much of success at work is built upon the relationships we foster with those with whom we collaborate day-to-day. Sometimes even when we really like and respect a manager, like Marble, we forget that we’re in a relationship too… and that we’re one half of that relationship. You’ve got to move, share and ask. Managers are not mind readers.

Being human is important. More Rothko than Seurat, Bonnie showed me that managers don’t have to put up a professional fa├žade to be successful. Bonnie gives herself, others – and HR – permission to show personality and emotion. Bonnie schooled me on how being authentic helps you succeed at work.

P.S. for anyone who is curious… Scamp was a hamster who lived to the ripe old age of 5, Sophie was a white Persian butterfly catching cat, Bonnie was an energetic yet wonderfully gentle Collie-Springer Spaniel, and Marble is a very affectionate tortoiseshell cat who recently beat cancer.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Two Tales in Two Tails

Day 30 (Wednesday 30th December 2015)
30 BC - the year in which Anthony and Cleopatra died
They commenced their love affair in 41 BC
They had 3 children together. Thinking Cleopatra dead, Antony stabbed
himself with a sword but was then brought to her and died in her arms.
Cleopatra committed suicide rather than remain a prisoner of Octavian - she died of a snakebite.
Today we have an audio treat from Keith Gulliver, which is also a very personal reflection on his past few months. Keith is an HR and Talent expert, with a strong appreciation of technology, and a sporadic blogger - you can read his words on his blog "Through the Talent Twittens" (a "twitten" being a path or alley between two walls or hedges and hence a metaphor for ways of connecting Talent related topics and thoughts). Keith is a good connector, active on social media - I first met him via Twitter (his handle is @keithgulliver ); he is an avid fan of Portsmouth FC and hence also tweets as @PompeyChickenand he has Liberal political leanings resulting in his tweeting  as well under @ThisLiberalAge



Right. Hands up, I confess. I've struggled BIG TIME to get to grips with writing for this year's Advent Blog series.


To be fair I have had one or two 'distractions' in recent weeks.

On the upside I've done a lot of 'reading around the subject' and my knowledge of comet trivia is coming along really nicely (alright, alright, I've done a bit of Googling and looked stuff up on Wikipedia).

As is often the case, I've looked for inspiration in music. I love going to concerts and local gigs* (e.g. at The Wedgewood Rooms or Portsmouth Pyramids), listening to the radio (Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie on BBC Radio Six Music are particular favourites) or a new album (Foals, New Order and Coldplay are all getting regular plays at present) or simply having the iPod on shuffle.

And I love sharing music too (as friends on Facebook know only too well).

This all started back in the mid-2000s when I used to include a music playlist for friends in with my Christmas cards in an attempt to summarise and reflect our year together.

Often this would be accompanied by a written item reminding everyone, in the nicest possible way of course, of all the ridiculously funny things we'd said and got up to during the previous 12 months.

I've recently found and re-read some of those pieces (along with some April Fool's Day memos, cartoons and even a radio play!). They still invoke the occasional 'Laugh Out Loud' moment, but some sadness too. That was a different era.

When and why did we stop using humour as an antidote to our day-to-day woes?     

Anyway, back to the music. This all spiralled and every quarter since 2008 I've compiled a music playlist (yes, that's over 30!). What was an annual event turned in to a more regular activity. But I enjoyed putting them together and my friends enjoyed listening to them, so why not?  

So, for this blog I thought I'd fall back on this tried and trusted approach to summarise my year, including those 'distractions'.

You can listen (and where available watch the videos) to all of these songs in the playlist here ==>

Django Django – Reflections

Grant Nicholas – Hope

The Chemical Brothers – Out Of Control

Johnny Flynn – The Detectorists [this is such a fabulous TV show by the way!]

Thom Yorke – Interference

Black Rivers – Deep Rivers Run Quiet

Dave Gahan and Soulsavers – Shine

Bombay Bicycle Club – Leaving Blues

Elbow – Lost Worker Bee

Ash – Free

New Order – Academic

Coldplay – Always In My Head

A bit self-indulgent yes, but I think the words from these songs say everything I want to say so much better than I ever could or will be able to.

Could you hear them?

I hope so, and that you enjoyed it and may be inspired to create and share your own.   

Finally, back to the brief...and so it doesn't go to waste here's some of that comet trivia I mentioned! Feel free to re-use and impress your guests over this extended festive season (or may be not, it's totally up to you).

Brightness - Most comets never become bright enough to be seen by the naked eye and pass through our Solar System unseen by anyone (except astronomers of course).

3D image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gersimenko created from Rosetta photos
Furthest and closest points - Aphelion is the point in a comet's orbit at which it is furthest from the sun. Perihelion is the point in the comet's orbit at which it is closest to the sun.

Composition - Comets have three distinct parts: a nucleus (the solid core), a coma (the dusty, fuzzy cloud around the nucleus) and tails (yes, more than one!). The coma and tails of a comet appear only when it is near the Sun.

Tails - There are two types of comet tails: dust (diffuse/curved) and gas ion (straighter/narrower).

Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (see above picture) - was discovered in 1969 by Klim Churyumov after examining a photograph taken by Svetlana Gerasimenko.

Exploration - The Rosetta spacecraft arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 6 August 2014 and its lander (Philae) touched down on the comet's surface on 12 November 2014 in Agilkia as planned but unfortunately it did not secure itself and 'bounced' to a new location in Abydos.

Artist's impression of Philae and Rosetta
Ancient History I - Agilkia is an island on the river Nile river in Egypt where the Temple of Isis, previously located on Philae island, is now located. Abydos is one of the oldest cities of ancient Egypt and one of its most important archaeological sites.

Ancient History II - The lander is named after the Philae obelisk, which bears a bilingual inscription and was used along with the Rosetta Stone to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs. The spacecraft is named after the Rosetta Stone which is inscribed with a decree in three scripts: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script and Ancient Greek.

Places To Visit - The Rosetta Stone is on public display at the British Museum, London. The obelisk is located in the village of Kingston Lacy, Dorset.

Naming Convention – Read carefully. The International Astronomical Union approved the current comet naming system in 1994. Comets are designated by the year of their discovery followed by a letter indicating the half-month of the discovery and a number indicating the order of discovery. Prefixes are also added to indicate the nature of the comet:
P/ (periodic);
C/ (non-periodic);
X/ (no reliable orbit);
D/ (periodic but disappeared); and
A/ (originally identified as a comet but is actually a minor planet).
For example: Comet Hale–Bopp's designation is C/1995 O1. Halley's Comet, the first periodic comet identified, has the designation 1P/1682 Q1.

And relax. You can breath again now.

Comet Hale–Bopp - may have been the most widely observed comet of the 20th century (I certainly remember, it was very impressive). It will next return to our Solar System around the year 4385 (I probably won't be around to see it).

Halley's Comet - is visible from Earth approximately every 75 years. It last appeared in 1986 and is predicted to appear again in the Summer of 2061 (some of you may be lucky enough to see it twice).

May your festive period (and beyond) be musical and full of comet trivia!

* During the Summer months there have been regular, free gigs in Southsea on Sunday afternoons, using the bandstand on the seafront. How cool is that? If the weather is hot the crowd that turns up can be pretty big. Assuming they'll continue, give them a go if you're ever visiting. It can be a great way to while away a Sunday afternoon.

Comet C/1995 O1 Hale–Bopp

Monday, 28 December 2015


Day 29 (Tuesday 29th December 2015)

29 - the number of letters in the Turkish alphabet
I love the calm days between Christmas Day and the start of the New Year. They are always a good time to contemplate the world and this post by Anthony Allinson should make you do just that. Given the awful flooding over Christmas in the North of England, Scotland and Wales (with more storms on the way) combined with other meteorological problems elsewhere in the globe, Anthony's post is highly topical.

To use Anthony's own words when describing himself, he is "not a HR wonk". He is an Operations Manager with a great track record of establishing PMOs, global services and support organisations. He is currently leading the Managed Services function at Mosaic Island, a digital transformation company based in Bristol and London. I met Anthony via Twitter (his handle is @allinsona). Despite his desire to distance himself from HR (!) Anthony is passionate about the working environment and ensuring that he knows what matters and motivates people (so that he can ensure that one fuels the other, thereby ensuring that customers and colleagues have a great experience). Antony writes a well-followed blog, Joining the Dots  he also has a passion for the people of India and the issues that they face, having become involved with the Sylvia Wright Trust that looks after the sick and disabled in Tamil Nadu - the state hit with severe flooding over the past month.


Like most people who read this blog I suspect, I voted in the May 2015 election. I value my vote, even though I know it often counts for little on its own.  They add up. That’s the point. I am a little swayed by the argument that people died so we could have the vote I suppose, but note a lot more pragmatically that suffrage came to most men only a little before it more famously came to women. In 1800 around 3% of the adult population had the vote.  It is all quite recent really, a norm, a right we’ve had universally for quite a short time.  I value it as a hard won right, gained over many centuries.

Where I live in rural Hampshire they don’t so much weigh the vote as look at from a distance.  The pile of blue Conservative votes dwarfs the other piles. It is no contest. 

Ballot papers being counted in Hampshire UK
I am a natural Conservative voter, perhaps that makes me less like the majority of people who read and contribute to this blog, I don’t know. I don’t like much of what they do, what they stand for, where they come from and how they behave, but still, I tend to vote for them.

In 2015 I voted for the Greens.  Why?

Out of all the issues that did the rounds this year, the environment matters most of all when set in the context of what differentiates the parties and the need to do something quite radical about it, and to do it now and to keep doing it for a very very long time.

Many other issues do matter and must be dealt with too, it is not “all about” the environment, but it might get to the point where it is.   

I care about our health service and that tricky balance between social safety net and our each being responsible.  If there is a kitchen table debate that happens most often in our house it is around what constitutes an effective education system and what “they” should do to fix it, interspersed with hypocritical rants about why “they” keep meddling with it. I think that having everything on a sound financial footing is necessary for sustained control and stability.  I am less convinced that GDP growth is as all important as we often unthinkingly seem to assume it is.  I do not have a clear view as to what to do about the chaos (I first wrote, “unrest”, and felt that an insulting understatement) in North Africa and the Middle East and the impact it is having on the people there and increasingly on us.  

You can read into all that what you like.  It probably adds up to reluctant Tory. I generally don’t like being pigeon holed but I think I fit the bill.  

I listened to the election debate, joined in a little and concluded that what each party would actually do varies by relatively little, diluting the power of all our votes, further reducing their effect.  People will take issue with that.  I accept they are not all the same.  That would be a jaded view, a counsel of despair which is something I generally rebel against.   I also accept that the current debate about what to do about the chaos I referred to above is massively important, very much a now issue and another that will require effective policy over decades and perhaps even centuries.  

It was when I looked at considerations about the environment that those differences on most other matters suddenly looked small, cyclical and a little irrelevant in a long term and truly global context.  All a bit troublesome in the now, but frankly neither here nor there when set is alongside what we are doing to the world and the need to act promptly, practically and in a highly co ordinated way, making some very tough decisions. Those decisions will test democracy.  I worry that the period of democracy we are enjoying and value so much might turn out to be a bit transient too. 

If any of you read one of my other blogs in recent weeks you’d know I have been to India.  

Chennai, India - photo by Anthony taken on 16th November 2015
I have been there 30-40 times before, but always cocooned by business class cabins, air conditioned cars and swish hotels, so I can then work in palaces glass and steel.  This time I was in a small city, and met real people who live in one and two roomed huts on a few dollars per day. It was not an emotional or moving experience.  It was thought provoking though.  We were there, not to make them richer, or more like us, but to fill gaps where that poverty becomes a real problem.  In this case for the deaf and disabled.  See for that story.

The energy consumption per head is a fraction of ours in the West.  It is rising and broadly we can’t and shouldn’t stop that.  I saw a lot of cars, tuk-tuks, lorries, buses and motorbikes, but relative to the population, still not many at all.  The houses I went into typically had one light bulb, perhaps a fan, in one case a fridge albeit one shared by several families, a village fridge, a bit like a village pump.  I also came across the village mobile phone. 

Typical village scene in Tamil Nadu
There is a whole piece in those observations and what we think of as needs. The consumption gap is wide and will close. I expect Africa to make the same progress while the population there grows too.  Growth in China has slowed but actually still continues, “slow" being a relative term.

I wrote this just as the Paris climate change conference opened a few weeks ago. The agreement seems, by general consensus with a few dissenters, to be a good foundation which needs more work and continued intent.  It was a tough agreement to reach, the product of failure in Copenhagen and long negotiation before Paris.  Following through will be a lot tougher still and take a long time.

Many reading this will know about change and how it is much better when one does it to one's self rather than having it done to you, being in control to the extent that one can be.  The current normal, one that assumes the world can contain 10 billion people who can consume energy in a way that will tend towards the way we do in the West now is not credible. 

Photograph taken on 16 November 2015 in Otley, Yorkshire, UK

There will be change.

The new normal will be very different to the current normal. We can do it deliberately, under some level of control, or not.  There is scope for disorder and chaos if we allow it to just happen. 

That is not something I will explore here,  it will take too long, but it is something we should ideally avoid and at least contain.  I suggest we start now.   

We could always have a cull I suppose.  That’s the other way.  Humans tend to do that every so often.  Especially when resources become scarce. We call it war.  I am not a fan of that.  A little coal dust will be the least of our problems. 

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Comet Tails and Dust Trails

Day 28 (Monday 28th December 2015)
28 domino tiles make up a standard set. The earliest mention of dominoes
is from the Song dynasty in China. Dominoes were first played in Europe in the 18th century,
it is presumed that the game was brought to Italy by returning Christian missionaries.
The word "domino' is derived from a spotted hood traditionally worn during the Venetian carnival.

For many of us around the world, today is a Bank Holiday to compensate for Boxing day falling on a Saturday. Even if you have not a day off work, I hope that you are enjoying a peaceful period before the start of the New Year and find some calm in which to read today's wonderful blog.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce a new voice to the Advent Series, Siobhan Sheridan, the HR Director of the leading UK charity NSPCC (founded in 1884 and originally called the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children). Siobhan commenced her career in a customer-facing role in retail banking and soon found herself responsible for training others. She transferred into HR via Learning & Development. She has an impressive track record, moving from Financial Services into the Public sector, where she was HR Director for Defra and the Department for Work and Pensions, before becoming a recognised leader within the Not For Profit arena. She has a strong moral core and a great sense of humour. Siobhan is active on social media. You can follow her on Twitter, her handle is @SiobhanHRSheri.


Comet tails and dust trails... 

'Will you write me a post?' 

'Comet tails and dust trails is the theme' she said... I was struck by the beautiful melody of the title, my instant slightly magical desire to grab the tail and take a ride across the night sky and perhaps more importantly, by the fact that I know nothing about either comets or their tails.

Somewhere in the far recesses of my memory I recalled that comets often appeared in ancient stories as 'harbingers of doom' or as 'portents of great events.'  Inspired by recent conversations about traditional stories with Geoff Mead and Sue Hollingsworth, I set off in search of where this view of such a beautiful phenomenon might have started in storytelling terms. 

Fairly soon after I began to forage, I was intrigued to stumble across not just any story, but what is claimed to be the world's oldest work of literature: The Epic of Gilgamesh. I won't trouble you here with the telling of the whole tale itself. It is, as you would expect, quite long.

Gilgamesh and the Star of Anu that falls on him
In summary this famous poem, which apparently dates back to 2100 BC, tells the story of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and Enkidu, a man created by the gods to stop Gilgamesh from oppressing the people of Uruk. My interest was piqued not only by the poem itself, which I had never heard of, but also by the story around it. 

First discovered in 1853 it caused a bit of a stir due to containing a number of similarities to The Bible, including a Garden, a Man being created from the soil and of a Great Flood. Dating of the oldest fragments originally concluded that it was older than the assumed dating of Genesis at that time. This lead to a great deal of debate about who borrowed what from who and when.

In 1998 a new discovery revealed the first four lines of the poem. At that stage almost 20 percent of the epic was still missing and a further 25 percent of it was so fragmentary that it could be only partially understood. Translations of the poem though were remarkably consistent and had remained so for about 150 years. 

Just this year however, researchers discovered a new tablet which added 20 previously unknown lines. Not a great deal of additional content when one considers the overall length of the poem but they appear to have a relatively significant effect on the story overall.

Tablet discovered in Sulaymaniah Museum in 2015 resulting in a correction in the
order of chapters and completion of some blanks in the Epic of Gilgamesh
The new section added more detailed descriptions of the 'Forest for the Gods' which completely changed the interpretation of what the Forest was like. They reveal the inner thoughts of the protagonists and describe their guilt at some of their actions, previously unknown emotions. They redefine one of the characters as less of a monster and more of a King and finally reveal that two of the key characters had in fact been childhood friends. The story is now different from that which existed before. 

Gilgamesh and his childhood friend Endiku, by modern artist Neil Dalrymple
Stories are everywhere in our lives. We use them to help us to make sense of many things; of ourselves, others, our work, the world and much, much more. We use them at their best to share wisdom, connect communities, inspire teams and to delight our children. Humans have been doing so for many thousands of years. As Ursula Le Guin said 'There have been great societies that did not use the wheel but their have been no societies that did not tell stories' 

And yet they are of course, stories... 

Becoming aware of a new story can change our perspective of an older one. Our brains have the amazing capacity to create complete stories from incomplete fragments without us even knowing that we've done so. Two people having the same experience can create entirely different stories about it. Before long we can start to feel that the stories we have created are in some way 'right.' Stories have the ability to keep us stuck in an old groove, not realising that we are in some way imprisoned by our own fertile imagination. 

And yet, the addition of a few words, the consideration of a motivation we hadn't realised existed, the discovery of a fact we don't know about or the opening of our minds to a different kind of ending, can quickly change everything. And suddenly what we thought we knew isn't quite so clear anymore.

So whilst the stories that we hold dear, about ourselves, our organisations  and the world, deserve to be held dear and honoured. Its helpful perhaps to also be able to be open to holding them lightly, seeing them change or reinterpreting them in order to allow ourselves and others around us to grow and move forward.

Stories are a truly wonderful creative force in the world, offering  a delightful opportunity to look at the world, our organisations and ourselves in new ways.  As Geoff Mead writes in his book 'Coming Home to Story' 

'The magic of storytelling is an essential and timely contribution to the re-enchantment of our disenchanted world'

Christmas Story Telling, A Winter's Tale, 1862
by Sir John Everett Millais
I hope that your Christmas creates the kinds of stories that you will want to tell for many years to come and that you all have a thoroughly magical and enchanted season of goodwill. 

I'm off to grab a hold of the tail of that comet and see where it might take me...