Friday, 20 January 2017

And one for luck.... Have a Heart

The One that (nearly) got away... a final Advent Series blog

Serendipity, the word, was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754. He had been
reading a Persian fable about the Three Princes of Serendip (originally
published in 1557). The princes kept making fortuitous discoveries. and
decisions. Serendipity can occur when producing a blog series, it is also common in
scientific discovery - Alexander Fleming found the beneficial use for penicillin by chance.
Being blissfully British, when Janet Webb said she wanted to submit an Advent Blog I told her I was delighted. When nothing turned up in my inbox, I presumed that she had had second thoughts and so I did not chase her. In turn, Janet did not contact me after hitting the send button to ensure that I had received it. I felt awful when I received a polite message from her on the last day of the series, which I had clearly labelled as such, asking me for feedback on her blog, so that she could understand why it was not included in the series.

Let me state that, although I have declined some posts over the years, I have always explained to the author the reasons why. I never simply ignore a submission. I would certainly not have ignored Janet's post - it's a great read with a good message. I am posting it now, the first Saturday after the Series ,and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Janet is on a mission at work - to help every individual find their best way of being. She is a freelance organisational design specialist, having held senior HR, training and OD roles in a leading retailer, within healthcare and the public sector.  She lives in a seaside resort in West Sussex, in a town with a delightful harbour and beaches - a beautiful part of southern England. Janet is a blogger - she writes about a range of business/work/people related subjects on her blog, Damp Ink, she also has a faith blog - Praying Out Loud - the thoughts of an unfit disciple. Janet is values driven and comfortable speaking her mind. She wants to make the world a better place. She is active on social Media - I know her through Twitter (her handle is @JWebbConsulting). 


Have a Heart


A few years ago my husband, children and I packed up our gear and went off for an adventure; Four Webbs Go Mad in Dorset. Our plan was to camp at Langton Matravers and go rock climbing at Dancing Ledge, a wave cut platform on the Jurassic Coast, near the fabulously named Scratch Arse Ware.

Dancing Ledge - photo Janet Webb
The children had been learning to climb with the Sea Cadets (a youth organisation that gives young people opportunities for extraordinary experiences) and Jonathan and I had climbed together when we were first married, some “cough” years previously. This was the first time we had climbed together as a family; and what larks we had!

We were top rope climbing; a rope is fixed to the climber, passed through an anchor at the top of the cliff and then held onto by someone, the belayer, at the bottom of the cliff. Their job is to keep the rope tight so that if the climber falls they don’t fall very far. My kids belayed for each other and at one point, strapped together, they belayed for their father; what a fabulous lesson in trust. We had fun, managed danger, explored interdependence and encouraged, supported and challenged each other. It was a magical time in beautiful surroundings. Together we stepped out of our comfort zones. We literally and metaphorically climbed heights and as a result gained confidence in ourselves and each other.

Jonathan Webb being belayed by his children - photo Janet Webb

This kind of bonding, growing and learning is something that a good working life gives us; social interaction, the chance to try new things, learning from our mistakes, feeling supported and challenged.


In contrast, I am currently working with groups of people who have been out of work for a long time – over 10 years in a few cases. For some their comfort zones are miserably small and may not even include their own home space. They have stopped growing and learning because they have stopped having opportunities to do so. The lack of the stimulation that employees take for granted, leads to limiting habits and a shrinking of perspective, hope and joy. Life is a treadmill of applying for jobs that they have little hope of getting, trying to prove to the Job Centre that they are attempting to push a load up a mountain and eking out their funds to cover the basics of life; basics that usually don’t include Christmas parties, hobbies, being able to buy a round of drinks for friends, owning a pet, running a car. Always at the mercy of bus timetables, agencies who don’t quite bother enough and potential employers who don’t quite care enough, the struggle and isolation is dispiriting.

Long-term unemployed 15-74 year olds across Europe, July 2016
Take Aaron. He was running his own successful catering business, started from scratch, when he gave it all up to be a full time carer for his mother. When she died some years later he lost his home, his mother, his daily routine and his purpose. After a crippling few years of grief and isolation, he was facing the rest of his life with dread; no qualifications, no recent, relevant experience and serious doubts about his own value.

Betty. After her husband died she didn’t leave the house for ten years. By the time she sought help, her self esteem and confidence in her own ability was through the floor.

Crying Woman, Picasso, 1937

Charlie. He worked for the same employer from school, as a skilled worker, for 40 years. Now that modern life has done away with that industry, he is struggling to learn IT skills just to be able to apply for minimum wage jobs that he has no hope of getting.

Debbie. A difficult childhood and time in care homes has given her rocky foundations to build her adult life on. Walking into a room with strangers is a challenge.

These are not scroungers and wasters; these are people who have been dealt a poor hand and are expected to pull themselves out of the hole that they are in. Yet they don’t have the resources to do that. And those resources are not going to develop through a life of visiting the job centre, walking around town to relieve the boredom and sitting in a library, applying for jobs that they know literally hundreds of other people are also applying for.


The good news is that things can get better. Betty volunteered for two years in a charity shop and on the back of that she got a job last week. Debbie was given a work taster in a supermarket and is now working there full time, blossoming and loving it. Aaron was given some basic IT help and some interview skills practice and now feels able to take on the world.

What can make the difference is someone taking an interest; having a heart for them. Eric got an e-mail last week from an employer who had received his CV. A response - almost unheard of! He brought the e-mail to show us. It was written with thought and compassion and although it didn’t offer a job it was personal, wishing Eric a happy Christmas and New Year. Eric was chuffed to bits; someone had taken the time and had treated him like a person. Frank was phoned up by an interviewer to say that he hadn’t got the job and why. She also gave some feedback, unsolicited. Again, almost unheard of! Frank was amazed and the feedback was genuinely helpful.

Most of the time, they don’t hear anything and they get no feedback, even when they ask. Occasionally they get treated really badly. Jobs get offered then snatched away. Jobs are filled internally but the employer has gone through a pretence of recruitment to demonstrate fairness. Georgie had to save up the bus fare to get to a job interview only to discover that the employer wanted a skilled chef, whereas the agency had sent her for a kitchen porter job. When your self esteem is at rock bottom, to be treated so badly can just confirm in you that you lack value.

What’s needed is for employers, HR teams and recruitment agencies to have a change of heart:

  • to not treat low skilled workers as low skilled people
  • to not just farm out the low wage jobs to agencies
  • to care and be accountable for how applicants are treated by agencies
  • to refund precious bus fares
  • to offer and give good feedback
  • to challenge the need for recent relevant experience
  • to not reject someone because they haven’t worked for two years
  • to take care about job adverts
  • to read past the first paragraph on a CV
  • to give people a chance.

If you can give someone a work taster for two months, two weeks, two days even, you could be the turning point for someone and the route off the treadmill. Do it for Corporate Social Responsibility reasons. Do it because you just might find a gem. Do it because you have a heart. Do it.

Note: names and circumstances have been changed to protect identities. However, all these stories are real.

Monday, 16 January 2017

This is Your time

Day 48 (Tuesday 17th January 2017)

48% of workers in Brighton are happy - making it the happiest
place in the UK in which to work, according to the 
Work Satisfaction Survey
conducted by LinkedIn in early October 2016
. (Glasgow and Leeds came
2nd at 45%; third were Manchester and Sheffield at 43%; then Edinburgh
at 42%; Southampton and Birmingham were at 41%; with London,
Liverpool and Cardiff scoring 39%. People in Norwich were the least happy
with only a third saying they enjoyed their work. Workers in small
businesses were the happiest. Other important influencing factors included
a person's relationship with colleagues (rated at 55%), doing work
that has a positive impact (44%) and having a healthy work/life balance (38%).

Today's is the final post in this year's Advent Blog series. It has been a privilege being the host and curating some truly wonderful pieces. As in former years, I will produce a summary, once the dust has settled. Before then, I would like to thank all the contributors. We had a number of new voices this year, as well as some "old favourites" and we covered subjects on a gamut of topics, literally from birth to death. A traditional Advent Calendar has 24 windows, but we have doubled that and given people something to enjoy or to ponder through the dark days at the start of January. I find it heart-warming seeing the strength of the community that the Series inspires - encouraging new and shy bloggers, consoling those who had more hollows than heights, celebrating with those who have scaled new heights, and accepting the range of topics and interpretations of the theme. The Series is as much about the readers as it is about the writers. Huge Thanks to you All.

On the day when Gene Cernan, the last man to have walked on the moon back in 1972, has died (he has left a lasting impression on history, quite literally, as his footprints can still be seen), we have a post that urges us all too to make our mark and potentially to influence and change the future. 

We are closing the series on a high with a "call to arms" by Jacqueline Davies, a well known and highly respected HR Director. She cares passionately about the HR profession and the impact it can have on workers and the workplace. In June last year Jacqueline was installed as Master of the recently founded Guild of Human Resource Professionals. (She is the first openly lesbian Master of any City Guild.) Jacqueline has experienced discrimination as well as support and inclusion during her career and she has no qualms about fighting for a fairer world; she was on the Board of the NUS, a Trustee of Stonewall for nine years, and its Chair from 2012 to 2014.

Jacqueline has an impressive career - she has been a Managing Director at Barclays - where she lead the talent and resourcing agendas for the global retail Banking division. She has held significant roles, primarily within the Talent space, for most of the UK's leading retail banks, including Lloyds Banking Group, HSBC and RBS as well as a time in insurance. She is a business writer - her first book, The Truth About Talent, was published in 2010. She is active on social media - you can connect with her on Twitter, her handle is @JacquelineLD.

Most importantly she is a devoted mother and loving wife.


This is Your time

This week I have returned to work after two months sick leave. I've never had so much time off before but as the Dr also reminded me I've never really been ill before. In the scheme of things, a hospital stay with double pneumonia and then the draining, astonishing fatigue that follows is relatively modest but it's left me with a new sensitivity on things that matter. Time to take stock on a tumultuous year where the personal became political again and where our human differences were once again in the spotlight.

So as world leaders gather in Davos to focus on Inequality and as Washington prepares for the Trump Inauguration, I think in 2017 it will be important to return to the things that matter to take the inspiration from Jo Cox, that we have #moreincommon and the outgoing US First Lady Michelle Obama who said in her final speech:

“Our glorious diversity… is not a threat to who we are. It is who we are.”

Michelle Obama giving her final White House speech
Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

In June 2016 I elected by my peers to lead the new Guild of HR Professionals (@GuildHRprofs).

Today's author - the current
Master of the Guild of Human Resources Professionals
Photo credit: Gerard Sharp
At my inaugural dinner I spoke about returning to and being proud of our professional essence - being specialists in humanity. And, that our companies needed our leadership to bring humanity back to work. I've had a growing sense that our profession's now routine emphasis on MI, process and service improvements has distracted us from getting to grips with how we connect people and purpose. It seems to me that all ‘highs and hollows’ in corporates and public services in ultimately pivot on this. From Hillsborough to Saville, from banking failure to vehicle emissions scandals. Every inquiry tells a story of people losing their way – no clear set of values, no incentives to drive activity for the wider or future world and no ways of responding to those with concerns or those impacted. The question I have asked myself is as HR leaders what role do we play?

Little Girl by Sarah Goodreau
We have learned that we need leaders who can learn from this and step up. I believe as a profession we have much to contribute here but we must now go beyond 'serving, advising and partnering'. We must be the standard bearers for the best of what it means to be human. To hold ourselves and others to account and to be provocative when we see integrity or conduct threatened. In this sense our role as leaders is to act in the future interest of our organisations. We need to anticipate the impact of decisions made today on tomorrow’s cultural health, workforce capability and company reputation. This means leading in a sustainable way and it requires us to tune in diligently to the social and political dramas playing out around us.

With this lens I reflect on June 2016, the historical month; when the UK elected to leave the EU, the Orlando shootings where 49 LGBT people were killed and 53 injured, and the murder of Jo Cox. In 2016 social fault-lines seemed to be everywhere cutting across countries communities and families.

How do people make decisions and respond to issues
given the information available to them?
Image via @PoliticsPunked

I wasn't prepared for the personal impact these events would have. I received calls and mail from HR professionals across the world. I heard stories of fear walking to the tube, of sisters spat at, of dreams evaporated and of others who had become unmoored from previous certainties. These stories showed that uncertainty followed 'otherness', a different colour skin, a different accent, a different gender or sexual identity and we were suddenly more aware of this. I heard senior, experienced folk from these groups express personal anxiety for the first time in years. Across wider social groups I also heard unguarded comments surface some well meant but with divisive undertones suggesting that fear and ignorance was back. It took me back.

I'm old enough to remember a time before 'Diversity & Inclusion' became a key part of our professional repertoire. When outside of work, on early Pride marches we ran down the street to hide from the bottles thrown at us, or where a trip to A&E was sadly too regularly the end of a night out for friends who ‘looked different’.

Changes in the workplace have in many ways helped drive wider social attitudes. I still remember when it was legal to discriminate on difference; when it was commonplace to be overlooked, side lined or threatened at work. I was once made redundant because I had a female partner. I know of many others bullied or sacked because they were different. Even now I have friends who are only just relaxing into being themselves despite holding C-suite positions. Typically this discrimination reached into every part of an organisation's culture or a company's way of treating its customers. Many saw the tide of change as 'political correctness', fortunately many more saw that this made sense to close a talent gap and others just knew it was the right thing to do.

Research has now shown that organisations who got a hold of this agenda first are thriving; knowing, valuing and blending differences makes for stronger teams, innovation and organisations reflecting the constituencies they serve. And yet at the turning of a new year, I am reminded of Martin Luther King's warning that for evil to succeed all it takes is for 'good people to do nothing'.

It is with this in mind that I believe our profession has a crucial role to play - it's not political or politically correct to speak truth to power. We are what we do and at our best we notice potential, we nurture wellbeing and we have powerful conversations that move people and whole organisations forward. I appreciate that we are not always at our best and, to some, I will sound naive. But at the opening of 2017, I don't believe we have much more time to lose, humanity needs us to put humanity at the heart of HR. Let's step up and lead.

You Guys - William Ayot

This is your time
For frosty mornings in towns you will never know,
For resentful receptionists and chirpy secretaries,
For flipcharts and outcomes, for plans and reports,
For too much coffee and too many words.
This is your time.

This is your time
For dressing in the dark and cars to the airport.
For planes and trains and railway stations;
For loneliness, for grief, for embracing doubt,
For keeping hard secrets in the face of love.
This is your time.

This is your time.
For being what your people need you to be,
For managing fear while showing calm,
For being their mother, for being their father,
For holding the line, or the hope, or the dream.
This is your time.

This is your time
For sudden sunlight breaking through the overcast,
For sweet green spaces in concrete canyons;
For the care of strangers, for anonymous gifts,
For learning to receive little acts of kindness.
This is your time.

This is your time.
For standing to be counted, for being yourself,
For becoming the sum and total of your life,
For finding courage, for finding your voice,
For leading, because you are needed now.
This is your time.

John Griffith-Jones Chairman of FCA making the after dinner address
& reply on behalf of Guests at the inauguration dinner for the new
Master of the Human Resources Professionals Guild (today's writer)
You can see Jacqueline sitting serenely beside him,
having just made her own speech. Photo: Kate GL

Humanity is a good thing