Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Why @familyhrguru?

We were talking about Twitter names yesterday, as we were ‘educating’ a couple of colleagues about joining in with the fun. Some Probation Trusts have taken quite a uniform approach to names, whereas others have supported more organic growth – like ours – within reason. This led to one of the usual debates about the capacity in which one tweets, personal or professional, or a bit of both?

I was pondering on this with my boss, Sally Lewis (@CEOLewis), as my Twitter name is hardly linked to Probation, nor to my organisation. This means it doesn’t quite fit the convention suggested in Russell Webster’s excellent series of blogs on Twitter Etiquette either http://www.russellwebster.com/how-to-be-twitterfective-in-10-easy-steps/ I may have started #fitprobationstaff, but I’m not into yoga either. However, colleagues seem to think it uniquely identifies me – a bit like a CB radio handle? (Wow, that ages me!)

So why ‘familyhrguru’? Well if I was being thorough, and bearing in mind I use the term ‘guru’ ironically, it would be ‘family, friends, friends of friends and acquaintances HR guru’! Also, and importantly, I would only have been using it for about the last 2 years, yet I have been HR qualified for over 10 years and working as a manager of people for several years before that.

So what is so different about the last 2 years? Well, not my competence as I hope I am always learning and developing. There wasn’t an overnight change from family member, friend, friend of friend, or acquaintance into highly knowledgeable HR guru! Nor did this group of people I know turn into difficult, lazy or challenging employees …….. What changed was the economic climate.

What came with this economic situation was quite a number of people I know, or people who know someone I know, with job insecurity, problematic situations regarding their terms and conditions of employment, and in a couple of cases, people losing their jobs (for very little or spurious reasons) or redundancy not quite handed correctly. They know what job I do, and so more than ever before, I get approached out of work for my opinion or advice on things. In fact it has become quite an occupational hazard, not that I mind helping others!

There have always been fantastic managers, middling managers and downright awful managers. Equally there has always been a range of great and not so great employers. What worries me greatly is that the current economic situation - austerity, public sector job cuts, and slow growth in private sector jobs – will mean that this situation becomes more common. Not so great practice may become more prevalent as short cuts are sought by poor managers and less scrupulous employers in order to remove  ‘problems’. I hope I don’t, but expect that I will continue to be needed to advise and support my friends, family, friends of friends, and acquaintances.

So to conclude, where did this Twitter name come from?

When supporting one of my cousins with some of her concerns (she is still in work by the way) she said “You’re like our family HR guru.” So there it is. I was quite flattered and the term has stuck.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Blackberries – the humble fruit, not the phone.

I love metaphors. They can provide such vivid and easily understood descriptions. When it comes to creating a market for services traditionally provided by the public sector, metaphors abound. We often hear about ‘low hanging fruit’, ‘cherry picking’, ‘easy pickings’ etc. and usually in connection with a concern that those are the only services the market will be interested in.

I love the fruit metaphor, and over recent weeks have been thinking about a  comparison of a market for public services with the humble blackberry. I say the ‘humble’ blackberry deliberately because it is something we take for granted every autumn. They are simply there and free for us to pick. This means we take their availability for granted and don’t expect to have to pay or to fight too hard to find them. Imagine if they were all fenced in and we were charged by the kilo or very unusual weather prevented an annual crop… Imagine if some of the services we have grown up with and take for granted (such as the NHS, public safety and criminal justice, social care, free education etc.) were suddenly depleted or more difficult to access…

It’s not that simple of course and blackberries vary in their quality and ease of access, as I will describe below and leave you to draw your own conclusions:
  • The beautiful (and pricey) punnet in Waitrose. I don’t know about you, but I am always shocked that these are for sale in the autumn when you could go and pick some for free. However, they are always luscious looking and this is an easy and effortless option, if you can afford it.
  • The juicy, ripe berries at shoulder height. Easy to reach and often available in abundance. Gathering these gives you a feel good feeling – the fresh air, the quality time with the family to pick them, the free food, and the gorgeous fruit crumble for pudding etc. Could this be the way things should be (or used to be)?
  • The juicy, ripe berries just out of reach behind a tangle of thorns. Who is going to pick these? They are great once you reach them, but there is extra cost such as very scratched arms, snagged clothing or possibly even taking a ladder with you. (I won’t get into the attendant risk assessment required to avoid Health and Safety issues!)
  • The very hard to reach, high up berries, the small unwanted berries, the green un-ripened berries, the over-ripened squishy berries; in other words the sub standard berries or the non conforming berries. Imagine that your remit is to pick and find a way to use every single berry – what are you going to do to reach these and to make something with them once you do? What happens if nobody does? Some are dealt with in the way nature intended (bird food) but others wither on the vine (or briar.)
  • The juicy, ripe berries near the ground. We always instructed our children not to pick these ‘in case a dog has weed on them’. So you could call these the spoiled goods, or even the risky goods. The chances of them being tainted with canine urine is probably quite remote, but would you want to take the risk? If you did, and things went wrong – what then? Who would be responsible for putting things right?
I could continue to develop this metaphor, but I’ll leave it here and hope that it has generated some interesting thoughts. This autumn, the home-made blackberry and apple crumble with West Country clotted cream is on me!

Post Script, 21 September, 2014

I've been out picking blackberries today and reflecting on this, my most read blog. The metaphor continues:

  • Many of the juiciest looking ones were very high up and I could not reach them on my own, but wondered if this would be possible with integrated partnership working? 
  • Some had not been picked and were starting to ferment and go mouldy. These won't be any good to any part of the food (provision) chain.
  • A lot of the blackberry bushes were well protected by nettles and other prickly, stinging and thorny briars. Presumably nature has put these together for a reason.
  • This brings me to the whole system. In addition to the blackberry bushes, the briars, nettles etc, there was an amazing array of insect life including dragon flies, bees, spiders etc. and the rather less attractive horseflies (I have probably been bitten - will find out tomorrow). 
These blackberries are clearly part of a very well balanced eco system, that has developed over hundreds of years. I like to think that humans taking just what they need and no more, are part of this whole system. The fruit is definitely set to outlive its technological namesake.