Keep stepping

This is the fifth and final blog from my day at the CIPD Midlands Area Partnership.

Our final large session is from Joy Marsden and she launches straight in to her presentation – we are asked to think about where we are in the K.E.W.W. (excuse my paraphrasing, this was typed at speed in the session).

  • Knowers – those who know everything and can’t be told
  • Emoticons – those who talk a good game but never go out and do anything
  • Worriers – self explanatory really
  • Warriors – those who will do what it takes to enjoy life.

Then we moved on to Joy’s recipe for success. Her central principle revolves around the fact that often we identify changes we need to make but somehow fail to follow through and take the necessary action.

joy-marsden-622x622Through a series of amusing, honest and self-deprecating stories Joy established more detail around this principle. She identified things which hold us back, the negative internal voice, positioning (standing out for all the wrong reasons), focussing on what we can’t do rather than what we can and the trap of ego. Then we looked at what we might do to overcome them.



We were challenged to ask ourselves

  1. Are you set in your ways?
  2. Busy but doing…… what?

Whilst the session was billed as self leadership I can’t help thinking that those two challenges link back perfectly to the mornings keynote speeches  – is the HR profession set in its ways and is it busy doing what it needs to do?

Joy’s final thought?

“Expect the best, prepare for the worst and make the most of what comes your way” – sound advice for the profession.

Posted in Resilience, Work | Leave a comment

Future technologies

This is the fourth in a series of short blogs from the CIPD Midlands Area Partnership event.

After a good lunch we move back to breakout sessions and I’ve opted for a session about “Making learning as addictive as video games”

We started straight in to future trends which can be summarised….

  1. Virtual reality is here
  2. Game based learning
  3. Augmented reality
  4. Machine learning (building algorithms for personalised learning)
  5. Social learning

…….and then talked in pairs about what games we play and the roles they have in our lives. I use several games, often as a way to gain some headspace or practice at mindfulness. Across the room there was a wide variety of answers from sports games through to Pokemon Go and it was clear that many in the room are being taught about digital games by their children so I wondered whether older employees might not engage without younger colleagues to encourage them.

digital_health_apps_successWe moved on to a group exercise about designing the structure of a game. This was a useful exercise, not least because one of our group had a really interesting challenge they wanted training for – dispensing controlled medication in a hostel environment with multiple demands on attention / time. (Other groups had ideas around difficult conversations and safe driving). I enjoyed the emphasis on who the players would be, what characters we might need in the game and then the scenes / settings we might use. Working more visually is not always easy for me and yet it was fun to work in the team with our idea.

Overall I felt that this session didn’t really deliver on its title. It was clear that many attributes of playing games would be really useful in designing learning so for example a sense of play, learning by doing, potential to fail in a safe environment and of course the sense of achievement / gaining reward for completing tasks. So whilst it was interesting to think through problems and consider how you might deliver a game to train staff I didn’t get any sense of why you would choose games over other forms of delivery.


Posted in Work | Leave a comment

New organisations, new jobs

This is the third in a series of short blogs from the CIPD Midlands Area Partnership event.

Having had the big headlines from our keynote speakers it’s now time to move in to smaller breakout sessions. I’ve chosen to hear from Joanne Werth and Peter Kay who work at Tarmac. I’m keen to understand more about their “Polarity Model” approach and they are fun and warm as they start their workshop.

Some quick stats, 6,900 people, 120 quarries, 100,00 acres of land, 25 trains – the list goes on, even marine wharves. They are clear that Tarmac is in an old fashioned industry but facing 21st century issues. Peter talks about “the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed” and that when getting from A to B he often doesn’t know where or what B is! Jo takes over the helm and talks of working for the same organisation for 20 years but how that has evolved from a national org to being a small constituent part of a huge global corporation and the associated growing pains (and redundancies inherent in combining businesses). Even to the point of buying a business they had divested several years previously and then being spun out themselves. It was dizzying and underlined the importance of good HR driving a good organisational culture and pioneering new working practices.

Once we had context we moved in to the polarity model and how we often need both ends of a continuum – for example, stability AND flexibility, not one or the other. This took the form of an exercise in groups with the map below – Strategic vs “Business as usual” HR and how that works for Tarmac. There were some quick insights around the risks of stagnation and conversely over innovating. One insight I found useful was local HR giving great insights to more strategic teams, for example in terms of national sensibilities being represented / respected within the global parent company. Also that in acquisition often the parent company wants to get rid of existing local HR / L&D as indicative of an “old” way of working. It was a useful exercise to consider Organisational Development changes and their impact from quite polarised standpoints. Often organisations seek consensus and get lost in endless meetings, Tarmac are obviously keen to hear loud voices and spirited defenders of positions – a refreshing change. 

As the debate matured there was discussion about how much “newness” an organisation needs / can tolerate. It’s all very well offering staff development but how do we make space in their day job? After all the work doesn’t go away and dealing with such polarities is esssential.  

The final point was around “Grit”- which wasn’t about the aggregates that Tarmac supply but rather the work of Angela Duckworth. Tarmac has been using this in their Graduate scheme and are considering rolling it out across the business. Perhaps summed up by the quote “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon not a sprint”.

Overall it was an interesting session and really highlighted that even in huge industrial combines getting the people stuff right is key. 


Posted in Work | Leave a comment

Building workplaces for the future

This is the second in a series of short blogs from the CIPD Midlands Area Partnership event.

bgp-new-stephenson-street-entrancelargeA keynote is always a difficult gig. Plenty of expectations – particularly if you’re the Chief Executive of the CIPD, Peter Cheese. Luckily for him Tim Jones from Network Rail kicked us off with an interesting talk about the overhaul of Birmingham New Street station, the “Birmingham Gateway” project – the largest regeneration project in Europe at £750 million. To give you a people context that’s a customer base of 220,000 using a station originally designed for 40,000 so a long overdue project.

From the very start Tim was clear that it wasn’t just what you did but how you did it. He spoke eloquently about social responsibility and addressing local unemployment. He was open about the difficulty of creating and employing such a diverse workforce. Originally it was predicted to be 767 jobs created – it ended up being in excess of 18,000. Key to this was a partnership approach and speaking to agencies and contractors about how Network Rail would train their staff. This was backed up by really clear tender documents to ensure success – you’d expect that. However there was also a “Charter for Jobs and Skills” which was shared everywhere. This was fundamental in the partnership with South Birmingham College and led to a “Jobs and Skills Pledge” several years in to re-energise  this commitment.

There was a brief excursion in to the reporting elements – underlining the importance of clear deliverables but it was interesting to note that there was also a “celebration” element in the scorecard we were showed. Tim was really clear about wanting to show colleagues how well the project was going, not just the obstacles and barriers. Also it was pleasing to note that email was discouraged and conversation prioritised.

Something I hadn’t considered was the amount of social inclusion that “Birmingham Gateway were intending to deliver. Partnerships with orgs such as Joseph Rowntree Foundation were the headlines but again underscored with clear targets and KPI’s. There had been a lot of thought in to this process. For example bricklayers to be sourced locally but not the same guidance of staff to work on lifts and escalators.

The takeaway for me was Tim’s real commitment to the “hearts and minds” – he spoke of young people from tough estates having their horizons and opportunities broadened by Birmingham Gateway and it was quite obvious that he considered that to be just as important as the buildings created.

Then it was Peter’s turn. I feel sorry for him, he has to acknowledge concepts such as The Fourth Industrial Age, Gen Y, Gen Z and digital natives without getting derision and comments about HR Bingo Cards so I was pleased to hear him talk confidently about #FOBO – fear of becoming obsolete. He talked about 15 million jobs to be replaced by robots, 65% of children will end up doing jobs not invented yet and the Top 10 in demand jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004.

He approached the issues around the gig economy (for example Uber) head on and was open about the productivity standstill and the huge regional inequalities. He was clear about the need to confront trends such as wage decline and job insecurity and how HR should be helping to create better businesses. It was good to hear about requirements for increased flexibility and to really understand that we must rethink the workforce relationship and confront the machine / scientific approaches to management.

There was a lot about empowerment, meaning, purpose, recognition and trust. I do sometimes feel that HR sits too comfortably in the white collar world so I was pleased that Peter acknowledged that relatively low wage roles also need / can have such values led approaches taken. For too long these roles have been seen as drone employment and the good solid workers have been overlooked as we rush to manage the problem people.

As he finished we got in to the wellbeing agenda and the impact of line managers on the health of employees. Peter challenged us to look at whether our practices are fit for purpose and to adapt our approaches about developing people / building capability. Finally I was relieved to see a slide saying “From ‘best’ practices to ‘best fit’ practices” and acknowledging that a lot of the policy and procedures that have been created are stifling and show distrust for our colleagues. He stressed the need for a confidence to challenge our organisations to look at things differently but also challenge ourselves.

In conclusion I liked the movement towards trusting staff but from experience that needs to be tempered by the reality of workplaces. If we actually spent as much time and effort managing the good staff as we do our “problem children” then we would be a whole lot better off. My challenge – I’ve heard Peter give variations on this talk for over two years but I’m not seeing much change. What will it take to get beyond the jargon and the HR bingo card? I hope that the rest of the day answers this.

Note: I finished this post before the Q&A – can I direct you to the #CIPDMAP16 debate on Twitter.


Posted in Leadership, Work | Leave a comment

Brexit Breakfast

This is the first of a series of short blogs from the CIPD Midlands Area Partnership event. 

First up I went to the “Brexit Breakfast” from Richard Barker and Abisola Latunji from Mills Reeve. Obviously so much is unknown and we discussed many potential changes to withdraw or change legislation. The consensus was that there would not be wholesale changes but perhaps a erosion of rights or a reduction in compensation limits etc. To my mind we’ve already seen the effect of increased fees on tribunals so this is slightly concerning. 

Immigration controls are concerning people – many orgs are supporting staff to get permanent residence or citizenship. Bearing in mind recent headlines about EU staff at the LSE being told there are projects they can’t work on this is an area that orgs need to consider – commercial confidence and security are very real concerns in government but I hope it doesn’t set a precedent or mood. The recent comments at the Conservative Party conference about limits to foreign workers may prompt orgs to audit the immigration status of their staff – a potentially divisive issue. Also the fact that this is such a polarised debate that colleagues may disagree violently – we were reminded that our laws about equality will obviously still have real force but that we should give some thought to how we approach disputes. 

Beyond that, we also heard from the floor that NHS orgs are having staff face racist abuse from their customers and another worry about skills gaps appearing very quickly if staff feel marginalised and choose to leave. There were fears about withdrawal of EU funding for research and development which may threaten the existence of organisations.

With so much still unknown about what Brexit will look like I felt our presenters did a really good job of reassuring the audience and offering some thought provoking content. They have obviously thought deeply about all the possible outcomes – to that end I’m happy to share their website which has more thoughts about the subject. 

Posted in Work | Leave a comment

The MAP is not the territory

I love maps, always have. From my first tentative adventures with a compass as a child to qualifying as a Mountain Leader they have helped me make sense of the world. From life saving maps such as the work of John Snow around cholera to the current visualisations of “big data” – I’m fascinated. So when I was given the opportunity to be part of an elite “blog squad” for an event called “MAP” I obviously leapt at it.

I think I misunderstood.

Apparently MAP also stands for the Midlands Area Partnership of the CIPD, (Ok maybe I did know that really) and I’ve been invited to their Annual Event (8th October) which is all about Building Workplaces for the Future. I won’t lie, when I saw that title my heart sank a little. In my experience we haven’t even got workplaces fit for current purpose and I wondered if it would be all about the rise of the robots etc etc. However, I’m pleased to say that the programme looks really good and grounded in the here and now. Let me run you through what I’m looking forward to and why.

First up is a “Brexit Breakfast – an early bird session about the impact that Brexit (if it ever happens) might make to employment law and the very real problems that the current limbo situation is raising. I’m looking forward to a clear, no nonsense summary and I’ll aim to blog about this whilst registration is going on.

After that it’s Peter Cheese, the top man at the CIPD and he’s doing the keynote with Tim Jones from Network Rail. Being an ex-London Underground employee I’m excited that we will get an industrial perspective, not just white collar workers. Apparently some of the content will be around the recent overhaul of Birmingham New Street station and having got lost there recently I’d like to know what it took to make such a major transformation happen.

After that we are breaking in to 4 smaller workshops. I know that my partner in crime Helen Amery has baggsied “The Complexity of People Issues – Getting Under the Surface” led by Karen Meager so I’m aiming for “New Organisations, New Jobs” – led by Joanne Werth and Peter Kay from Tarmac. Again I’m keen to see where industrial / engineering orgs are with the people agenda and I’m expecting a lot from the Tarmac gang as their sector and company has been evolving at great pace with so many large infrastructure projects happening in the UK.

After lunch there is another round of the same 4 workshops and as I’ve already seen a lot from Laura Overton and her colleagues at Towards Maturity on “Developing Talent – Preparing for the Future of Learning” I’m going to swerve that and aim for “Future Technologies: Making Learning as Addictive as Video Games” – led by Karyn Murray and Nitin Thakrar of E-Learning Studios. Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of using terminology such as “addiction” to describe learning, perhaps biased by doing so much work in Emotional and Mental Health. Having said that I’m fascinated by how technology can make learning fun, portable and impactful so I’m going to give it a whirl and report back.

Finally we have “Keep Stepping! Essential ways to lead yourself and others through challenge and change” with Joy Marsden. Joy has a system which focuses on motivation and resilience through change – things I spend much of my working life dealing with, (particularly when organisations haven’t looked after their people), so I think that will be a perfect way to end the day.

treasure-map-ocal-diff-colours-hiThis sort of event is new territory for me. I’m looking forward to exploring and experiencing it. If you’re attending then please seek me out and say hi. If you can’t make it and / or want to follow along via social media the twitter hashtag is #CIPDMAP16. Do check out @CIPD_MAP and my blog partner Helen Amery on Saturday the 8th October. We will do our best to map the day and provide you with a way of navigating the experience and allow you to reflect on it all.

Posted in Coaching, Leadership, Work | Leave a comment

Loyal Antagonism

I was listening to a podcast last week. The screenwriter of the Imitation Game was being interviewed about the creative process and the many challenges he had faced whilst preparing this project. He was talking about the importance of a “loyal antagonist” as integral to his success – a person who would be honest with him and challenge him to improve his work.

The most obvious example of this that I have encountered is union representation – many times the unions are seen to have antithetical aims to management and are viewed as an irritant. However in my experience many representatives are actually committed  to the purpose of the organisation, they just express it differently, often because that is the only way their voice might be heard.

As I read around the idea I was reminded of the phrase “Speaking truth to power” attributed to Bayard Rustin, the prominent civil rights activist in 1950s America though thought to have origins in Quaker philosophy of the late 1700s. That then also made me think of the role of a jester, able to speak and mock the monarch, to expose cant and hypocrisy amongst the court. All of these examples say much about the power often residing in elites and there being a limited number of people allowed to challenge orthodoxy.

I’m lucky to have a number of friends who I can count on for advice and encouragement. Like me, many of them work as coaches and I wondered if that is the best example of a loyal antagonist. A relationship where there is no hierarchy or position of assumed power.

My final thought is around leadership.


What might happen if we encouraged individuals and teams to speak out, positively assuming that they start from a position of loyalty ? What if managers learned to accept the challenge respectfully, demonstrating that loyalty goes both ways and allowing antagonism to be seen as beneficial to the organisation?

I still don’t have an answer and I’d be grateful for inputs / challenges to my thinking – in the best spirit of loyal antagonism……


Posted in Coaching, Leadership, Work | Leave a comment

Informed choice

It’s good that the conversation with my current psychiatrist is actually a proper dialogue. We talk about what matters – to both of us. I’ve made it clear that I’d like the normality of knowing a little more about his role and life experience, about how that informs his practice. He on the other hand wants to know what has worked for me that he might be able to share with others. He’s genuinely interested in me and how I calibrate myself. Unlike some previous examples……

……and he makes time for me.

He openly encourages a broader discussion. Last time we met, we sat and looked up a medication together. Him with his textbook and me using his computer to find the guidance on the Mind website (check out treatment / drug advice here if you need some factsheets) – he even asked me to bookmark the page for his future reference. We discussed how the particular medication might interact with my current regime and also the potential drawbacks. He let me go away to think about it and make my own decision with the caveat that I needed to take some action and if it wasn’t this then we would need to consider what else it might be.

Well, I’ve thought and thought. Turned it over in my mind and also experienced an increasing number of “breakthrough” symptoms on my existing medication regime. Which means it’s time for a change, well an addition. If this doesn’t work out then my next option is probably the rest of my life on a different, more invasive medication. The psychiatrist wanted to give me a chance and exhaust all my options rather than taking what might be an easier route for him.

img_1822I’m conflicted about it. I don’t want more medication, more adjustments, the time taken to work out the titration and side effects. It feels like another small defeat. An abdication of responsibility for my mood is not a good thing but perhaps it is a temporary measure – that’s what I’m telling myself right now. So whilst it feels like another little chipping away of my agency I also know that I can discuss it and get good advice from him. The kind of advice which will allow me to make my own decisions.


Posted in Mental Health, Resilience | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment


The first round of the table always leaves me watchful for the little niggles between colleagues, the hierarchy being established, power being displayed and measured. It’s the kind of place where everyone quickly states how long they have been there, which evolution of the organisation they joined at – and that’s before the demarcation between functions and operations.

The morning session went pretty well. A good level of interest for the programme and some obviously motivated delegates. This afternoon it’s the second cohort to go through the introduction. We go round the table and the numbers start coming in – my heart sinks a little – 16 years, 19 years, 25 years and then the winner.

Worked here for 39 years.

He’s survived through various acquisitions, mergers, reorganisations and “multiple management training programmes”.

And we are introducing a batch of training designed to ensure consistency across all management grades. Not the leadership stuff but the policy and procedure. This guy has been here longer than most of the procedures let alone his colleagues! I wonder what he will say when answering the question “What do you want to get out of this course?”

I can’t remember his exact words but to paraphrase “I really want to learn how other colleagues solve problems and I’d like to share some of my knowledge or experience if it might be useful”. Which sets the tone for the rest of the session. It encourages older and younger colleagues to swap examples, to share insights and ask each other for help.

The cohorts are not fixed, this collection of people will not necessarily all be in the same session for next months module. Different dynamics will emerge and play out but I hope that everyone will remember this moment. How rare to meet someone of such experience who is so utterly without agenda, who has no need for ego or position to define him in this room.

I can’t wait to work with him again.



Posted in Leadership, Work | Leave a comment

Ticking over

The email from the client had all the usual pleasantries about summer and “how are you?” – I answered “ticking over”. I don’t really like the British defaults such as “not bad” or “mustn’t grumble” so I did give my answer some thought and I found it accurate.

The client is also someone I know socially and we have shared an occasional beer and a couple of working lunches. I certainly know them sufficiently to be honest and open about my mental health. Their response was to state that my “ticking over” sounded like their “well enough” which hints at more but is a perfectly acceptable response in order to be pleasant. Our emails pinged back and forth and it forced me to think carefully about my turn of phrase.

Even allowing for the fact that emails lack tone and nuance I think we all tend to give stock responses, particularly in a business conversation. However I know this client better than many so I don’t need to give an evasive / simplistic answer. So what did I mean? Ticking over isn’t a common phrase for me but it was how I had judged my mood when asked. To me it spoke of a measured calm, rhythmic and steady progress but there was no way that my client would know that. I thought of other phrases I use (and knowingly deploy to give a socially acceptable answer).

  • There is “trundling along” which is closer to the “well enough” my client used.
  • I use “I’m on transmit” as an apology if I feel I’m going too fast / am dominating conversation.
  • In conversation I might say “I’m slow today” as a way to explain a sluggishness of thought but also a low mood or depressive phase.
  • Another one is “fizzy” to describe an elated mood state, less powerful than “on transmit” but also full of (generally positive) agitated feelings. Sometimes a good state for planning / brainstorming.

I could go on but you get the idea. I’m very open about my mental health, it’s a facet of my business after all. I help some people be more open about their mental health, I help others learn the listening skills of Mental Health First Aid. I deliver an exercise about building a mood scale, sharing it with colleagues or loved ones so that you can understand each other easily yet even I give standardised responses. I try not to give evasive or dismissive answers or even avoid the question all together but it’s hard to find something which is a brief nugget to go alongside comments about the weather.

Building a shared language is difficult when working as a freelancer. You don’t share an office or go to the same meetings so that an understanding can be built. Often it is brief calls or email exchanges, particularly with long standing, trusted clients. Many of my client contacts aren’t on social media so also lose that measure of how I’m showing up in the world.

I’m glad we had the email conversation about what I meant. It gave me pause for thought, in both what I say and what the other person thought I might mean (wrongly in this case). I speak a certain code which makes sense to me and to those who know me well. At times I use it to avoid a longer response or as a shorthand but these days I never actually lie about my health. However I realise that I’ve probably sanitised my answers more times than I would have liked.

Later that day I had a client call booked with two contacts in another organisation and when I was asked how I was I replied “a little tired but my mood is balanced and steady”. And yes I know that is also incredibly clunky but the clients know me well enough and deserve an honest answer. Anyway, perhaps I’ll think of a better way to say these things the next time I’m “fizzy”.

Posted in Mental Health, Resilience, Work | Leave a comment