Saturday, 31 December 2016

These are not Hollow words

Day 32 (Sunday 1st January 2017)

32% of Fiji's GDP equates to $1.4 billion - which was the cost of the damage incurred by the
island as a result of Cyclone Winston that hit on 20th February 2016. Cyclone Winston is the
strongest recorded tropical storm in the Southern Hemisphere (with winds of 180mph).
Winston occurred just 4 months after the most powerful tropical cyclone was recorded in the
Northern Hemisphere, Hurricane Patricia, with winds of 215mph. Our climate is changing.

Happy New Year - may the next 12 months bring you joy, health, experiences that make you think and enable you to grow and memories that you can cherish. Today we have a short, impactful and wise post sent to me by Helen Amery; written while she was in hospital, accompanying her young daughter who had injured her arm. It is full of "heart" and acknowledges Life's highs and lows - hence it seems a perfect piece with which to start 2017.

Helen specialises in executive coaching and leadership development, via her own business, Wild Fig Solutions Limited. She is based in Leicester, but helps people and businesses across the UK. She writes an excellent blog - originally called People-ology but now hosted on her business Wild Fig site. After obtaining a good degree in Chemistry from Edinburgh, Helen commenced training as an accountant with PwC but then realised that she was better suited to HR. Before establishing her own consultancy, Helen worked for a number of years as a respected HR professional with Boots. She is active on social media and excellent at encouraging people to connect IRL (in real life) as well as online. Her twitter handle is @WildFigSoins.


These are not Hollow words

The heights of laughing with my daughter to the hollow of her in surgery and the words from the surgeon of 'we lost a pulse' (thankfully not forever). Extreme swelling and breaking of my heart in the space of a day.

The extreme height of excitement of a new baby for the family. The bottomless hollow when he didn't make it, complications during pregnancy. Heart swells and wrenches for months and years.*

Sculpture by artist Martin Hudáček from Slovakia
 in memorial of unborn children who have passed away.
The daily muddle of mini heights and hollows when things go ok and then less well, good and then bad. Short-lived but each as real as the next and every one of them influencing how we feel from moment to moment. 

Emotional scale devised by Abraham Hicks

We're all different, and how we experience our heights and hollows is different. But we all experience them and too many hollows for too long can take their toll.

Pay attention to yours.  Get the help you need when you need it.  Someone is always there - someone you know. Or maybe someone you've not spoken to yet.  But they're there.

If you need them, the Samaritans are always there - 116 123.

*Our friends' experience this year. 

Friday, 30 December 2016

Holding On

Day 31 (Saturday 31st December 2016)

31st ever Summer Olympics officially opened in Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, 
Brazil, on August 5th 2016. We need fireworks on New Year's Eve! 
Another 31 that might appeal to many readers of this blog is a
 31% increase in base salaries for HR Managers in the UK during 2016 - 2nd highest salary 
increase (joint with Business Development Senior Managers) and topped by 
MarCom specialists and Corporate Bankers.

It is New Year's Eve. For those of you who are celebrating today, I wish you a wonderful end to 2016 and a great start to 2017. May the New Year prove a happy, healthy, enjoyable, memorable one, in which you achieve your goals, inspire others to do the same and find contentment. In my opinion, Tamasin Sutton has written a perfect post for New Year's Eve - reflective, candid and optimistic for the future. 

Although now a recognised as a "non fluffy" and highly effective HR professional, Tamasin commenced her career in retail, working for one of the UK's leading jewellery chains. In 2003 she changed path and commenced in HR - achieving a Masters in HRM at Bournemouth and establishing the HR function for a what was then a small insurance broking business, with two sites, in the south of England.  Since then she has worked in a number of sectors, usually establishing and managing teams, including housing, technology, business to consumer transportation and then as an independent consultant. Until recently, Tamasin was working and living in London (indeed she was my near neighbour in Brixton). As you will see from her post below, her life has changed again; she will have new challenges and opportunities to experience in the year to come. On the cusp of the year I am raising a glass of gin to Tamasin to wish her all success in 2017.

Tamasin is on Twitter (her handle is @TamasinS). She is an avid traveller (indeed she wrote and sent me her piece whilst on a trip in the USA just before Christmas).


I've read the Advent blog series for the last few years and wanted to share, be as open and self effacing as others were. Push myself. I'm not one for being vulnerable in public and at many times in my life people have assumed they knew me, a different me from the person I really am. Someone critical, distant, perhaps even cold. Why is this relevant for my blog? Because it's been a tough year, and one where I have tried to show 'me' more than ever, sometimes successfully, other times I've missed the mark spectacularly.

This year has been filled with both personal as well as professional challenges. It's also had it's fair share of highs and at times, hollows. Deep dark hollows which have overwhelmed me and threatened to consume me whole. The gut wrenching ones where you just want to run and hide, cry, be with people you love and who love you back. Here's the problem's really hard to be that vulnerable. I am so thankful for the people around me that I can be that vulnerable with, 

and I'm sorry to those who want to be there for me and I haven't let them in. It's the old cliché - it's not you, it's me....

Everyone has their challenges and so many people I love and care about have had so many ups and down this year - I'm not any different, except I feel that 2016 has been a defining year. A year which started with a long bedside vigil with my Nana, whom I had a sometimes difficult relationship with. She passed away in a great deal of pain, something that no person should ever have to endure. My loss was tempered by the elation of a new working relationship, supporting people in my profession to develop themselves. It was, and is, one of the best things to happen in my career. It has brought me joy, firing my passion for HR and doing great people stuff. It's given me opportunities in abundance to reflect and grow in my practice, all whilst battling the inherent self doubt in my capabilities. I've battled with exhaustion, with trying to help friends understand that it's not about them, the reason I can't meet up as much as I would like. I juggled with a more demanding (than I thought) contract to help transform a HR team. I was attracted by the challenge. I forgot to put me first and learn from previous experience. I've felt isolated, hollow, guilty for putting work first, knowing it was short lived, a light at the end of the tunnel.

This has been a year of change, one which is taking me well out of my comfort zone and out of London, back to the north. I'm excited, but equally sad to leave wonderful friends and a home I love. But what opportunity. What hope. As I have driven the vast distances in the US for the past few days I have reflected long and hard about my journey this year. About the highs, the hollows, the hope. One of the most difficult things in my life happened recently and as I drifted into a deep hollow, I drew on strength I didn't even know I had. It was the love and support from people I never expected. Their hearts were open and whilst the clock chimes, the Thames continues to flow, I stand still. 

But the love and support I have from those people give me hope for next year. Take a moment, at this time of year, to show people you appreciate them, and be kind to yourself. Find your joy and happiness. Mine is to be with the ones I love, embracing my never ending wander lust and being the best person I can be. I'll be holding on to hope and hearts.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Filling hollows

Day 30 (Friday 30th December 2016)

30 and 35 times the mass of the sun were the sizes of the two 
black holes that were observed merging in June 2016 (and making a 
feeble bird-like cheap when doing so, when the gravitational waves produced, 
as they spiralled ever closer and then combined, were converted into sound waves). 
This momentous discovery demonstrates Einstein's prediction that spacetime can ripple 
and verifies astrophysicists' calculations for how black holes can fuse). 
This has been hailed by many scientists as the greatest scientific finding of 2016.
I love the lull before the New Year - a chance to reflect and plan, even when you have to be back at work during the few days between festivities. Today's post by Mark Hendy might help you to reconsider your life and whether you have the right focus and priorities. Mark is an inspirational and proud proud Welshman. He lives in south east Wales in an area that for centuries has been famous for iron and coal. Mark is a respected HR professional - he started as in HR at Tata Steel before taking on various roles in a range of companies and industries, predominantly in the UK, but with stints in North America. He cares about HR and its role in enhancing individuals and organisations, which inspired him to found and now chair the South Wales HR Forum.

When not focussing on HR, leadership and change management (he is a strong advocate of Authentic Leadership and the value of Evidence-based HR/Evidence-based management), he can be found being a great dad to young Oscar, cheering on or ranting about Swansea FC, boxing or playing music. He is an accomplished guitar player and member of a band. He is quick witted (can be quite sharp) and a writes an interesting, HR focused blog - Hendys HR Blog, as well as being active on Twitter (his handle is @markSWHRF). I'm sure he'd love to hear from you.


Filling hollows 

I’ve always anticipated a career being some sort of progressive, transcending elevation following the traditional routes, taking the anticipated hits of responsibility, occasional discomfort and situational stress with the obvious benefits of job satisfaction, excitement and salary enhancement. That’s how the last 15 years in HR has been for me and I’m extremely grateful and dare I say it, proud of what I’ve achieved.

I reflected this year on where I was at. Career-wise it was at ‘Head of HR’ level, managing a team of HR Managers, delivering strategic work and, I felt, making a real difference. That’s the ‘Heights’ elements of this. I felt I was “almost there” career-wise for where I aspired to be, but it was coming at a price and I didn’t like it. Things just didn’t feel right, and I guess that's the ‘hollow’. 

My role at the time, along with feedback from a CIPD membership upgrade had made me realise that I had some gaps, particularly in OD where I needed to strengthen my experience. I also missed the heavy industry environments that I had spent most of my career working in, more so than I thought I would when I stepped out of that world. I was no longer convinced that I could plug those professional gaps that I needed to in my role at the time, despite working for a great organisation with fantastic people. It was a huge and extremely difficult personal decision but I needed to move on, step out of that career path that had served me well for the last 15 years and find a role that was going to help me plug those gaps. And that new role, for the first time in my career, was not going to be an “upwards move” as I often heard people say in the corporate world.

But what was more important than this, was I wanted to be home more. My previous role had me all around the country with regular overnight stays in soulless hotels, with minimal interaction with anybody. Meanwhile at home, was my wife and my son. A 2 year old, growing up so quickly, often enquiring where I was (thank goodness for FaceTime by the way). When I wasn’t away from home, I worked in the capital, often getting home 30-60 minutes before my son’s bed time. 

When people asked me how old my son was, they often followed up with “make the most of those early years, they go so quickly, the children grow up so fast.” So far that seems factually (if not literally) correct. I knew things had to change. 

And so fast forward 6 months. I’ve found the job I needed. I’ve started to plug those gaps and It’s filling that hollow. 

I no longer work in the city and I get to spend a lot more time with my family (i’m not bragging, but I’m home by 2pm on a Friday!). 

A great reason to get home by 2.00pm
I needed the change, it was made possible, and I feel infinitely better because of it, despite my initial reservations about how it might affect my career progression. Professionally and personally, sometimes you just have to listen to your heart. The heights can wait.  

Wednesday, 28 December 2016


Day 29 (Thursday 29th December 2016)

29 days - the number of days over which football was played during Euro 2016.
It was the 15th UEFA European Championship and was held in France from 10th June
to 10th July 2016. 
Portugal won the tournament for the first time, following a 1–0
victory after extra time over the host team, 
The year is rushing towards its close. Today we have our second post from "Across the Pond". The author of this warming post is Christopher Demers, who is based in Austin, Texas. 

Christopher has worked with many of the big names in Tech: Dell, Apple, Home Depot's Technology Center, all in an HR capacity. He is currently at VMWare, where he is the Senior Manager for Employee Relations. Christopher cares deeply about people and is a highly effective coach. He is driven to help individuals and the organisation thrive as a result of his HR expertise and the service and support he can provide. Christopher has been described as "the happiest man on LinkedIn" and he is active on social media. He is an excellent blogger - you can read his thoughts on ChristopherinHR

I love the fact that Christopher has played on the heart in the blog theme of this year and shifted it into a warming hearth, often the centre of a home - usually a refuge from the heights and hollows outside.



Home is where the hearth is.

The end of year is oft a time to look back with some remiss and forward with some hope. We tend to think of highs and lows - heights and hollows - yet I find I think more of hearth as the years continue to pass.

There is a mythology about home for the holidays and renewal of vows to be more conscious of family and friend but these commitments often fade. So let's think about the end of year slightly differently.

Let's think about hearth this year.

Hearth is that place of warmth and comfort, but it need not be a physical spot. We have within our own psyche those experiences and moments that represent hearth. My home life is no Norman Rockwell painting (is anyone's?)  and as often as not my family is scattered to the winds with family and friends of their own to be with during the end of year. One rule for happy healthy adult children: never guilt them into spending the holidays with you - you have several hundred other days for that.

Yet I experience hearth in many ways throughout the year:

  • The cashier who calmly worked with a customer who - wrongly - thought she'd been cheated. When I complimented the cashier she just said, "People get confused, so you have to help them." Were you that calm the last time you were chewed out in front of others?

  • The neighbor who always takes in the trash can of his next-door neighbors even though they don't ask him to. His neighbors go away for the weekend a lot and he simply doesn't want burglars to get any ideas.

  • The kid at school who sticks up for another, shy and quiet, so the bullying never begins.

  • The landlady I've had for years who does everything with a handshake. We've never had a written piece of paper - or a problem - with anything. Some people you can just take at their word.

  • The businessman who loads an old woman's (overstuffed) bag in the overhead without being asked. Just because.

The beauty in all these vignettes is they just happen as a part of life. It's what these people do when no one is watching.

As I get older the highs and the lows have smoothed out a little bit. Maybe it’s having grown children or not worrying about promotions at the office anymore or simply having gotten over myself: who knows? The point is I experience the warmth and hope of hearth throughout the year in the goodness of those around me.

The hearth is a touchstone. It gives us relief and resolve. I hope the hearth in your life is broad and strong and warm and safe as you find those moments throughout the year that remind you of what really matters.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

A Slice of Good

Day 28 (Wednesday 28th December 2016)

28 years since the English wine estate, Nyetimber, was established.

blind tasting in Paris - 9 out of 14 judges (all leading oenophiles) 
preferred a £40 bottle of English Nyetimber to a £65 French Champagne.

Gosh, those 4 days went swiftly. For those of you returning to work today, I hope you have a productive and peaceful time; and for those not going back to work - may the festivities continue... You could try today's post to get you in a celebratory mood (or at least one that makes you reflect on how we react to celebration, success and failure).

I always love welcoming new voices to the series and today I am pleased to introduce you to Johnny Parks. Johnny lives in Belfast - he has just bought a wonderful old bank with planning permission to turn it into a dwelling - which will happen in 2017 - I've seen some of the plans and it will be stunning. Transforming a traditional building and giving it a new future in some ways symbolises Johnny and his work. He is a top psychologist and specialises in helping individuals and organisations understand themselves and hence manage their way towards a desired better future, through necessary and successful change. 

Johnny was a rebellious child and has had an unconventional route to becoming the founder and Director of the highly respected business consultancy, Toward. He started his career in a lowly role at Kentucky Fried Chicken, in Bangor, whilst at the same time doing youth work. His potential was spotted by the community development and regeneration specialist Maggie Andrews, who persuaded him to apply to university - resulting in his attaining a BSc in Community Youth Work at the University of Ulster (he also has a Masters in Managing Voluntary Organisations and a degree in Child Development Psychology). After working with disenfranchised and disillusioned youth, and doing some amazing work to help heal society in Northern Ireland, Johnny turned his sights on business. He could see the need for leaders to enhance their skills and grow as individuals. He founded the consultancy, Toward, in 2006 and the business is now active in the UK, the Philippines, India, Europe, Silicon Valley and Ireland. Johnny is naturally passionate about organisational development, based on workplace psychology, and great, but challenging (in a good way), to work with.

Johnny is an amazing man on so many levels: a devoted husband to Cathy and a father (with a fabulous relationship with his sons); a keen sportsman (both playing and watching); a loving Christian; and an excellent musician. He composes, sings and plays a mean guitar (and occasional harmonica). Johnny is naturally creative and a congenial connector - he is well-known in both the artistic and business communities in Belfast, and beyond. You can connect with him on Twitter (his handle is @johnny_parks). 


A Slice of Good

November 2013. Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Tension.

Bloody, damned tension.

Why, oh why, can’t it just be joy and a bit of fiddly-dee? Nope, here we go again…tension.

90 seconds to go. Buttocks clenched, breathing ceased, eyes on stalks. Gripping the hands of my 2 eldest boys. Wrestling for a defeat as if preordained.

Only seconds before, gleefully, I had said to the boys, “Gather your stuff…we’re invading the pitch!” “Isn’t that against the law Dad?” came the response. “Yes, but it’ll be worth it lads! A night in jail to see Ireland make history against the All Blacks! It’ll be worth it!”

Then, they did what they always do. They bloody well beat us. Again. In the dying seconds.

If ever there was a FFS required, this was the time. FFS! They beat us again.

We went home on the train, with hundreds of other supporters. Hardly a cheep…just a humdrum murmuring, possibly the influence of the liquid sedative.

I’m not exaggerating by saying that it took me and my boys months to recover. I know that’s being a bit dramatic, but we are a rugby family and we’re immensely respectful and proud of the gladiators who choose to battle for a small and relatively insignificant slice of glory. They’re not arresting Fascism, but it still means something. We. Were. Gutted.

As a proud rugby nation, that embarrassing and persistent little monkey had lived on our backs for too long. But, fortunately, if you pressed fast-forward for 3 years you’d see that it was firmly & finally chucked into the mincer.

6th November 2016 and we were gathered around the TV at my in-laws. The match was being played in Soldier’s Field, Chicago, otherwise we’d have been at the Aviva, Dublin in person. It’s really hard to explain the emotion we were feeling before the match. There was a deep, fragile and extremely private hope. Although, it felt like you couldn’t whisper anything remotely hopeful for fear that you alone would jinx the whole affair. We were shtum. We knew we had a good team but we knew that they had an awesome team. And, what was worse, we knew that they knew that they had an awesome team. FFS! Why couldn't they just be a little bit crap?

Anyway, you may or may not know but on that glorious and unforgettable day, we, the Irish nation, beat the All Blacks (the best sporting team in history, ever) for the first time. *Sigh* 106 years of defeat and shame put to bed. It was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. When the whistle went, we leapt up, embraced each other, spilt drinks, yelled, high-fived, danced and, I’m delighted to say, cried. I think someone even started singing ‘One’.

For days we talked about it, watched every interview & read every article. I’ve never listened to as many podcasts in my life! Podcasts! My and my boys grinned. Even when they had to get up with the birds the following Monday for school, they grinned. It was remarkable!

For some, sport is an annoying pop-up. For our family, it’s part of our identity. We follow certain teams, people & events. We love the drama of it all but we worship those who relentlessly pursue excellence and glory. It's primal, evolutionary and deeply sophisticated. It's the combination of art, intelligence, team and sacrifice that is so compelling for us. We’re hooked.

When Robbie Henshaw (Ireland’s no. 12) scored that try in the dying minutes, we knew we’d won. And, for some weird reason, it meant something. It was just so bloody beautiful…just for a few minutes. Minutes I'll never forget.

Yes, this year has been all kinds of weird but there’s been some good stuff too and I just wanted to share a slice of the good we’ve had with you.

40-29 to Ireland. Thank the Lord.

Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton converts their first try [©INPHO/Dan Sheridan]