Monday, 30 December 2013

What I want to see less of in 2014.

It was her…

He started it…

It wasn’t me…

Yes but, if it hadn’t been for (insert name of sibling, colleague, other silo department, your nemesis) it would have been OK…

Yes, but we didn’t ask for that…

Yes, but we didn’t set the timetable…

It’s the (government’s/our neighbour’s/our partner’s/another organisation’s/the budget holder’s) fault…

Well I would agree to this, but (HR/Finance/my boss/the handbook/the computer) says no…

Blame! So easy, so pervasive, can be so entrenched… as any of us who explained a childhood argument with a sibling to a parent who wished to brook no nonsense, will recall.

Increased marketisation, longer and more complex supply chains, more contracts, more clauses, more frequent ‘hand offs’. These are all blamed if public services decline in quality. I expect to hear more of that in 2014, but I hope not to. We can all play a part in reducing this by our attitudes, responses and how we choose to channel our energy, as we go into a new year. I am going to try my best on this. I hope you will join me.

To conclude, I had fun looking up famous quotes about blame. Here are two I particularly loved, and simple to remember if you get tempted into the blame trap:

“Stop blaming and start aiming.”

“Blame has no purpose, and it is a lousy teacher.”

And for New Year’s Eve only:

“Don't blame it on the sunshine
Don't blame it on the moonlight
Don't blame it on the good times
Blame it on the boogie”

- The Jacksons

Monday, 4 November 2013

Little things (and the need to avoid turning them into big things)

-        A bit of a rant about employee engagement.

I contend that every job, no matter how much you love it, and how great your team is, contains some ‘little things’ that drive you up the wall. If yours doesn’t, then you are very lucky, and maybe you can stop reading now and feel very satisfied, or to use current HR/management speak, feel very ‘engaged’ with your job and your employer.

I love my job, I love my profession, I am honoured to be part of a great leadership team and to manage a dedicated and very capable team. Even with massive structural change almost upon us, we are still maintaining a strong sense of local employee engagement and dedication to the vital service we deliver.

But…I still find there are frustrating and annoying little things I have to do, or that I am not allowed to do, that have the potential to upset the balance I strive to maintain. Most I am happy to say, not down to local strategy and direction, but as a result of being part of a commissioned public service. Those who work with me, will know which ‘little things’ I am thinking about. This blog is not about those; it is about the need to find ways to avoid or minimise these for everyone. And if that can be achieved, it may just be the key to maintaining an engaged and motivated workforce.

Muda is a Japanese word for waste that anyone who has read Womak and Jones’ book, Lean Thinking (1996) will know they apply to work of no value. Specifically ‘any human activity which absorbs resources but creates no value.’ To cut a long theory short, they link this to value streams, flow, pull and perfection. They say that lean systems ‘can only flourish if everyone along the value stream believes the new system being created (or ‘the system’ – my addition) treats everyone fairly and goes the extra mile to deal with human dilemmas…’ Without re reading a book I first read over 10 years ago (font size 8 or 9 closely spaced), I am not sure they particularly applied their theory to ‘employee engagement’ and I don’t think the term was coined back then anyway. But I do think their lean processes both lend themselves to engaged employees and are likely to lead in turn to improved employee engagement, by removing pointless ‘little things’ and through being treated fairly etc. The word ‘muda’ has stuck in my brain and is something I muse on when doing work of no value or at least where the ‘value’ is so far removed (if it exists) that I can’t see what it is.

Other ‘little things’ can be Maslow’s basic needs, (or hygiene factors), and this is something I have blogged about previously, when aiming to demonstrate the value to operational teams of high quality and efficient corporate services. See here I am firmly of the view that getting these factors right is the foundation block for employee engagement. Being paid correctly, having systems that are easy to use, having policies and frameworks that make it easier to do your job and don’t dis enable/restrict etc. etc. What is the point of an all singing all dancing ‘Employee Engagement Strategy’ if there are too many payroll errors, system crashes, and policies that don’t make sense? Little things…that can all too easily become big things, if organisations get them wrong. Getting them right gives a strong message that the organisation’s leaders think that work, work systems and reward processes matter so much that employees should not have to worry about them so they can get on with their jobs, in fact go the extra mile and enjoy their jobs.

Then there is the amount of discretion you have over your priorities, workload and the way you do your work; control according to the HSE’s 6 stress management standards. I could list all 6, but I think this one is the most relevant to the impact ‘little things’ can have, and also the way change is managed (a subject for a later blog?) Transparency and balance are critical factors affecting discretion. Is the amount of work, the nature of the work, the deadlines, and the amount of freedom over how it is done clear? Is it easy to see and to understand the reasons why, when the work you are required to do is set by somebody else, and over which you have no discretion? If you do have to do work where you have no control, how does this balance with work that you can control? If the balance is wrong (meaning wrong for you as related to your role expectations, your skills and capability), then the ‘little things’ have probably already become ‘big things’.

All of the above, I contend can go a very long way to achieving or reducing Employee Engagement, all within a transparent and enabling leadership style and organisational form where there are strong working relationships. As I have already said, much simpler and more effective than a gold plated strategy that nobody reads, never mind takes seriously and commits to.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

TLC - New meanings for a well-loved acronym

 How using Twitter has enhanced our leadership and made our communication more accessible.

Twitter. Almost all of our leadership team, our Board Chair and many of our managers use Twitter frequently. I was first persuaded by my Chief Executive 2 years ago, and could not have imagined fully the wider benefits. Advice on Twitter etiquette, its appropriate professional/private content, the accessibility of information and news articles for learning etc. is now well documented. I’ve only recently been realising and appreciating its wider value and benefit to leadership and engagement with staff.

Leadership. We tweet regularly in addition to using more traditional and internal ways of being in touch with staff (as Twitter is not for everyone and is a public platform). We are timely and responsive and this has made a huge difference during the current very sensitive change process we are experiencing. Our Chair tweets every detail that it is possible to put into a public domain, we all interact and we are highly visible as a united and transparent leadership team. We receive lots of feedback on this from our staff, our managers, TU colleagues and from similarly affected staff from other Probation Trusts. (I do not of course mean to criticise the way they are leading and communicating as every organisation is different– my focus is on how we do this.)

Communication. Our workforce is geographically dispersed, so we need to use accessible and immediate communication. They are also very busy (who isn’t?) So finding out what is going on in real time ‘bite size pieces’ is very effective. We also use Twitter to showcase widely our successful work in our community, which of course also keeps staff in other parts of the service up to date.

So what has the successful use of Twitter achieved? Another TLC acronym:

Trust and Loyalty at a time of huge Change.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Probation – a Feminised Culture?

I have finally caught up with the reading the thought provoking articles on women in leadership in the most recent People Management.

I particularly enjoyed reading the article called Why being more female isn't about hiring more women. I am struck by the concept of feminisation in the work place. I agree with Nadia Younes, Head of Diversity at Mining Company, Rio Tinto, although her industry could probably not be more different to mine.  She talks about it being a shift away from a more masculine culture to one that is more tolerant of style differences and ways of making decisions - and that benefits men as well as women.

The article also quotes a McKinsey survey done in 2009 called Women Matters 3. This looked at leadership styles and behaviours and whether they were perceived as gender neutral or favoured more by one sex compared to the other. There were three top leadership styles that were seen as most important for managing in crisis and in ‘normal’ times (are any times ‘normal’?) Of these, two, using expectations and rewards and offering inspiration were favoured by women. Also, Dinah Wallman, CIPD Divertity Lead quotes research that showed that feminised work places where feminine values were prevalent had a positive impact on innovation and governance.

This article and others have caused me to reflect on my own experiences throughout my career and during my studies and also on where I am now and my current organisation. I could write for a long time… Afterall, who does not like to talk about / muse about their own experiences? However, I think applying these thoughts of a feminised workplace to my present leadership role in a Probation Trust is hopefully more interesting for anyone reading this.

If you look up ‘feminisation’ on any web based dictionaries, the definition is very two dimensional and disappointing as it’s just about developing female characteristics. ‘Feminisation of the workplace’ definitions bring up equality of opportunity, fairness, redistribution or work between the genders and practical issues such as flexible working and shared childcare. I don’t think any of this is what Younes was talking about, if I understood her observations correctly, and it’s not what I think either. She acknowledges that the language is problematic, and I agree, so I have been racking my brains for alternatives. The obvious contender is the increased use of the term ‘soft skills.’ This is not great either because despite all the research now showing a clear link between the use of soft skills (meaning for example communication, empathy, emotional intelligence) and the bottom line, there is an obvious problem with the word ‘soft’ as it sounds, well…soft.

So, maybe the approach is to look at the behaviours most favoured by female leaders, using the two noted earlier and to look at the impact, as noted earlier.

I am currently the HR Director in a probation trust. About three quarters of our work force is female and this is reflected in our Trust Leadership team, where 6 out of 8 of us are women. Our Board is 50/50. So, on a basic level, equality of representation has been achieved. But what about our qualities and behaviours, that in turn drive our successes? I contend that our overall culture does have this hard to define and somewhat intangible ‘feminine’ culture, but it is by no means soft, and the behaviors that influence it are not more prevalent in my female colleagues compared to my male colleagues.

Expectations and rewards:
·      One of the first things our Chair and Chief Executive did was to make sure our business and management information reporting was top notch. Team leaders receive useful and timely information and in return they drive their team’s delivery of a quality service, data quality and performance. There is no naming and shaming, and no blaming, but there is plenty of friendly rivalry. Team of the Year is always our most hotly contended staff excellence award category and it’s a pleasure to judge internally. Even better is the fact that for the 2nd time in 4 years, one of our teams won this award nationally (against 34 other Trusts.)

·      We go for awards and nationally or internationally recognised accreditations, and when we gain them we showcase them appropriately. We have worked hard to achieve European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) Recognised for Excellence and gained 4 stars on our first attempt. We also have the Matrix standard for our Education, Training and Employment Team recognising the quality of their service. To this list, we can add ISO level accreditation for the Environment and for Occupational Health and Safety. Did we set out expecting to achieve these? Yes. Did teams work hard and collaboratively to achieve these? Yes. What are the rewards? Well, we are part of the public sector, so no financial rewards, but plenty of recognition and thanks.

Offering Inspiration:
·      Our Chief Executive is highly visible and most of our staff have been able to speak with her personally as she has visited our geographically disperse offices regularly. She also writes an internal blog and has championed the use of Twitter, so she communicates in a diversity of ways to inspire more staff and stakeholders.
·      We hold an annual staff conference every year, held twice so all staff can attend. This year, we used two well known academics in the field of Desistance as keynote speakers and provided workshops run by experts in Restorative Justice, through their own personal experiences. I found attending these to be a privilege personally, and from the feedback received, many of our professional staff were highly inspired to apply their insights to their practice.

A positive impact on innovation and governance.
·      Our Trust was one of the first to run Integrated Offender Management (IOM), which is a partnership with the Police and Local Authorities to support joint teams to reduce reoffending by prolific offenders. It is successful and a classic case where the total is so much greater than the sum of its parts. We also use this approach for high risk of harm offenders in the Bristol area.
·      Our Education, Training and Employment Team, have commercial contracts, and their Director has been commended nationally for her leadership of this innovative team.
·      Onto the more mundane matters of governance:
o   We are always in budget and continue to find further efficiencies
o   We deliver outcomes according to our contracts and more
o   We have turned around the relationship with our Trade Unions locally, and now enjoy a very constructive dialogue
o   We prefer informal HR solutions but do follow up formally when required.

So, by picking out a few key examples, I hope that I have given some substance to my theory (well, musings really) on how ‘female’ qualities can make for a positive and successful culture. I am still struggling to think of better terminology compared to ‘feminisation’ or ‘soft skills’ though. Any ideas?

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Zero Hours Contracts - One Way Streets?

A few days ago, a colleague tweeted that I had 'introduced' zero hours contracts into our organisation. This is not quite the full picture, so I responded rapidly to clarify insofar as 140 characters allows. I have also tweeted that very minimal hours contracts can be even worse as they combine total uncertainty (about the next shift of work) with mutuality of obligation. I suspect that, like zero hours contracts, these are also widely under reported. 

This topic is now receiving lots of press coverage, and comment, so I have decided to throw my two penneth worth into the pot. So, can you have ethical zero hours contracts or does the road only go the way of the employer? 

Having planned your workforce requirements, including need for occasional additional cover or the need for additional capacity at seasonal or busy times etc., I would advise that the bulk of the workforce should be employees on contracts with a set number of hours, whether permanent or for a fixed period. If there is a clear business need for casual or temporary staff,  I think that the best starting point is to establish whether someone should be an employee or a worker. I have had reason during my career to lead a review of the contracts of 'sessional staff' and this was what we did.

ExpertHR explains the difference well:

"An employee is a person employed under a contract of employment. A worker who is not an employee is said to be engaged under a contract sui generis (of its own kind). There are two elements to a contract of employment: mutuality of obligation and control. Mutuality of obligation exists when an employer undertakes to provide a person with work and that person agrees to do that work in return for an agreed salary or wage, and on terms and conditions laid down by the employer. Control exists if the employer determines when, where and how the work is to be done (or the manner in which it is to be done). It follows that temporary workers are not employees if they are free, without penalty, to accept or reject any offer of employment made to them. Although the control element undoubtedly exists when a worker accepts an offer of casual work, the ability to reject such an offer at will, and without penalty, is what distinguishes such a worker from an employee."

Our conclusion was that we had a need for a small number of zero hours contracts in certain parts of the service for genuine sessional workers or relief coverage, but not for routine work or regularly rostered work. These workers might also be known traditionally as sessionals, casual staff, bank staff, or relief workers. In other words, it should be clear to local managers who request their work and to them, that they are truly casual. This also means no mutuality of obligation on either side, so they are free to work elsewhere and to turn down work offered (the road goes both ways). We also pay these workers benefits such as holiday and sickness pay accrued pro rata according to the hours they have worked. This exercise did lead to some contract revisions for staff who were classed as sessional, but had started to be offered routinely the same pattern of work over a period of time. (My advice, if that happens, is to offer the worker involved an employment contract with set hours for the period of time over which that regular work is expected to take place. The contract can always be reviewed regularly and flexed accordingly.)

A practice I alluded to above, (which we don't do) is very minimal hours contracts that require mutuality of obligation, but where this requirement is only advantageous to the employer. In other words, a one way street to total flexibility for employers but total uncertainty for staff. In my view these are legal, but only just. A young person I know has one of these (even my teenage children's friends sometimes ask @familyhrguru for advice or views on employment matters.) He is required to work any 16 hours a month. He has, like dockers in the bad old times, turned up for shifts to be told he is not required. He has ventured to try to turn down shifts well over an hours drive away (he has an old car) and been told he will be disciplined if he does not turn up. He has also had weeks with hardly any work, then others with several 12 hour shifts. A psychological contract and employee wellbeing are just a distant dream in such circumstances... I wonder how many other entry level jobs are similar? I wonder how many other outsourcing companies use such contracts? I don't like what I hear and I worry that it is becoming more prevalent in this economy and hitting young people and those without many academic qualifications the hardest. 

This blog has probably only touched the surface I think, of a topic on which there will be lots of strong views. To conclude, in my view, no employee should be stuck on a one way street on a zero hour or minimum hour contract, contractually unable to turn down shifts, yet able to be turned away from shifts. A small number of zero hours contracts, organised ethically, can be acceptable and useful to the business for a small number of workers who genuinely do casual shifts or occasional work and who can decline work offered.