Diversity & Inclusion : how we’re making it worse

What’s it like to consider that our efforts to make ‘different’ people feel included are taking us away from what we’re trying to achieve?

Image Credit: Perry Grone : Unsplash

It’s time to pause. Just notice for a second, and see if what I suggest here has an inkling of truth to it.

We are creating more exclusion in our efforts to include.

What I see in my sphere of the world is people calling out causes that need to be fought for.

I see people defiant and definitive about the change that needs to happen to include those excluded. read more

Why people disengage

First day in the new job….
I’ve never been responsible for so much before. I wonder what the new boss will be like.
Better make a good impression or they’ll think they’ve made the wrong hiring decision. Better make a good impression or they’ll think I’m no good at my job.
Must look like I know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about. I’m meant to be in charge of all this. Must look like I know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about. I’m meant to be in charge of this department.
OK, let’s do this. OK, let’s do this.
[Step into the office, shoulders back, head up, eye contact, confidently greeting people] [Steps into the office, looking around]

Is he here yet?

[Conversations in flow – listening deeply] [Conversations in flow – speaking passionately]
Wow I’m learning loads. Wow I know more than I realised, and he seems to be really listening. This is going well!
I have so many questions. These questions are really getting me thinking. I love this!
These people really know their stuff. I feel like I know my stuff even better than I did before this conversation!
They seem so engaged with what they’re doing and keen to change things for the better. I love this job and this new boss seems great!
I’d better show that I know stuff too [adds knowledgeable stuff to conversation]. And he has insights to add. That’s so useful to have a new perspective.
A few months later…..
[Amount of knowledgeable stuff added to conversations grows….] [Amount of knowledgeable stuff added to conversations is dropping, confidence is dropping]
Hey, I’m doing great!   Look at all this stuff I know now. I’m not sure I’m as good at this as I thought I was.
I can add so much to conversations. I don’t feel I can share anything he doesn’t already know.
I have so many ideas.  I’m thriving on sharing them with everyone! I don’t know where to take this next.  I can’t get a word in edgeways anyway.
6 months later….
I get all this now. I’ll wait to be told.
I’ve got a clear plan of what we need to do and how we’re going to get there. It’s always his opinion first so no point thinking first.


Why is this person saying this again? We went over this already? If he’d only listen he’d hear what I’m really saying. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t care what I have to say.
I asked for that last week. What are they doing? What’s the point, it won’t be exactly what he wants anyway.
I have this amazing idea – I’ll go and tell the people who need to make it happen. It must be done yesterday! Instructions received.   Robotic task-completion mode engaged.
Nobody has anything to say around here. …..
I wish people would just get on and do instead of seeking permission from me! Given he knows it all I need to check this first or it’ll be wrong.
Why does nobody interact in our meetings or bring ideas?

It’s like they’ve all just disengaged.


We’re taught our whole lives – from school and through work – to show our brilliance.  Have the ideas.  Show you know things.  Demonstrate capability.  Do stuff and do it well and quickly.

All through school, university and work we’re rewarded and praised for knowing and doing.

Then we reach leadership and we keep knowing and doing.  And people disengage, switch off their brains, and do the basics or go elsewhere.

We need to just be.  To listen.  To allow space for others to grow into.  And yes to add insight.  To provide a broader context or set a vision higher than anyone might believe can be reached.  But all the while involving and listening to others.

How are you doing at being?















The Rebel Playbook : A Book Review

I’ve just finished reading my pre-release copy of the Rebel Playbook and wanted to pen a few words to share my thoughts so that you can choose if you’d like to read it when it’s released on 23rd Feb this year.  You can pre-order it now though – here or (currently at a reduced price) here.  First up, I want to say that I have no association to Debra or Glenn so this review isn’t a “helping mates out” thing.  I bought a pre-order copy, as anyone could do if they spotted the tweets promoting it.  Full disclosure though – they did send me some Haribo!  Which swiftly went to the kids 🙂  And a second book by way of apology because my copy was delayed.

So, my thoughts….

My summary view : a fantastic, practical and accessible handbook to shift attitudes to how we work with those we employ and therefore how we can make work more engaging.

The book’s based on Debra and Glenn’s Engagement Bridge model and so it’s structured around the ten elements of that model.  These elements are essentially the elements you’d see in any decent people strategy but with the nice Bridge metaphor – the foundational rocks for the bridge are Workspace, Wellbeing and Pay & Benefits.  Above that, the more “planks of wood” you lay, the stronger your bridge and the more people you can safely get across the river.

The ten elements provide the chapters for the book – but in a flexible way.  There isn’t a prescriptive “work on this, then this, then this”.  They invite readers to jump in where it feels right for them.  So you could read the whole book and then decide your priorities, but equally, if you know where your opportunities are you could go straight to those sections.  I also like that at the end there’s an acknowledgement that there can be huge overlap and interconnection between these ten elements.  So many books try to keep the boxes of a model (falsely) separate so I like the honesty about the fact these elements are operating as a whole system.

Each chapter begins with insights or knowledge-sharing about the topic, then how Rebels do these things differently – the outcomes they’re striving for and the behaviours they deploy, before sharing case studies or “plays” from a huge variety of organisations – varied both in terms of type and size of business but all consistent in being led by people who have a passion and the courage to do things differently to make work better.

In terms of the Plays, I don’t believe for a second that all these organisations have engagement perfectly nailed in every way, but the examples of what they’ve done give great ideas to get thoughts stimulated and minds broadened to possibilities.  Again Debra and Glenn are honest about this work of improving engagement being an ongoing journey.  There is no quick fix, no silver bullet.  It takes commitment for the long term and continued effort to keep practices fresh and still engaging.  And also (yay!!) they discredit the idea of best practice – read the examples, consider them in your context, and do what’s right for your organisation, your values and your uniqueness.

I found some chapters more interesting, sparky and hope-inducing than others – even though some of principles and Plays are ones I’m aware of.  The one I found least engaging was the Learning & Development one, but maybe that’s because it’s the area I know best.  The Plays in it just seemed to be things we were doing in Boots a number of years back and not especially innovative.  Or does it mean that L&D are ahead of the curve in doing things differently?  That would make a nice change to the usual narrative around L&D holding things back!

Counter to that, HR and Legal teams get the raw deal in here.  Held responsible for the dreadful employee handbooks, rules and policies which punish the many for the misdemeanours of the few.  However, that approach has grown up from the management practices of the 19th Century and the belief of the need to control the lazy workforce so I don’t think HR and Legal can be held solely accountable here.  A key message is about starting from a place of trust and believing that people are at work to do a good job – and that if you treat people that way that’s likely what you’ll get.  And if you don’t, you deal with that on an individual basis, treating it as the exception to the rule that it really is rather than writing a while new policy paragraph.  @HRGem would be proud!

Of course with one book and ten topics to cover, these are relatively topline insights into each, but definitely giving enough information and ideas of “what” you can do.  There’s a gap in terms of the “how to” but maybe that will be for future books – or at the very least for you to research more and/or seek support from relevant experts.

One thing I struggled with, and am still grappling with now, is one part of the definition of engagement where Debra and Glenn say that engaged employees “genuinely want the organisation to succeed” which means “They will often put the organisation’s needs ahead of their own.”.  I just don’t agree with this.  I believe we have enough people who attach their self-worth to how well they do in a job (which can lead to burnout and mental illness) and I don’t think a human and responsible employer should use how much people put the org before themselves as a measure of success – further increasing the pressure to be “good enough” by going the extra mile.  In fact that to me this is counter-intuitive to the arguments later in the book about wellbeing.  If we’re truly going to help people be well we need to be OK with employees putting their own, their friends and their families needs ahead of the org.  Not only that, if we believe that putting the org first is a measure of good engagement then you automatically exclude a large and diverse proportion of the workforce from being on the “engaged” list because they may just not physically be able to make that kind of commitment – whether due to caring responsibilities, for their own health or because of a disability which limits how much they can work.

Overall I think this book is fantastic, easy to read and containing loads of top tips and ideas.  I’ve already recommended it to a number of my clients to help them and their leadership teams with their own cultural shifts.

Strangely I’m going to finish on a worry I have.  Not one that I think Debra and Glenn should have covered, nor are responsible for but…..

I have a more fundamental grapple about engagement and the purpose of the org towards which people are being engaged.  If these practices are intended to improve productivity towards a positive purpose then that’s all good.  But I fear that too many orgs continue to operate with profit as the primary pursuit, and engage in work which damages the local community / the environment / people further down the supply chain.  I appreciate this isn’t the concern of this book but it is something that concerns me about the world of work; that orgs will do the engagement thing like they might do the CSR thing – make themselves look good on the surface to hide the unspeakables that are under the rug.  My hope is that nobody can be that good at hiding….

And in the meantime I’m going to be focusing on the ones who have a positive purpose to do good in the world and who really mean it!

When teams really thrive

I read this article tonight.

Possibly the most common situation at any level of leadership : Overloaded leaders because half their time is spent solving problems that aren’t theirs to solve. Resulting in teams who don’t believe they’re capable because every time the leader solves for them it tells the team they can’t.

And with the best of intentions : to be helpful to the person in need, to get the thing resolved quickly to help the business be successful.

But instead it helps the business be unsuccessful.

As the leader your time is spent on issues which don’t belong to you. Your time is sucked into being the parent in the childrens’ squabbles. You aren’t adding the value you should be with the role you’re employed to do. And neither you nor your team are working as effectively as you could be. Which leads to everyone feeling deflated; lacking motivation through lack of achievement; energy-sapped from feeling stuck in the weeds, underdeveloped because all the challenging stuff is whisked away instead of being trained or coached through.

And it stems from a need for control.

We all have a need for control – some have it more than others but we all have it. Your ability to control (plan, manage, organise) is likely what got you success and into a leadership position in the first place. But what got you to here isn’t what you need now. It’s not what’s going to move you or your team forward.

But this is REALLY hard to let go of. Shifting to deliver through others rather than through your own fair hands takes you a step away from the action. And if you’re not in control of the action does that mean you won’t be seen to be doing a good job – because you’ve learnt in previous roles that being in control is what’s had you do a good job and led to your promotions. And it’s all around you.  It seems to be the thing that people get paid, promoted and recognised for.  You don’t hear leaders being praised for creating an amazing team to deliver a project – you hear of leaders who delivered the project.

You’ve not tested this “deliver through others” way before and you likely don’t have many role models around you.  What if you don’t do a good job and the work fails.  What does that mean for how your performance will be seen?  What does that mean for your performance review and pay rise and bonus and ultimately your ongoing career? These are the kind of fear-based thoughts which keep people stuck in the control loop.  

Or you might have ego-fuelled thoughts because you’ve done this job for years, you know all there is to know, you can show these newbies how it’s done. Look at me showing how I know it all and can do it all!  And by showing this knowledge and expertise I get recognised by those above me because that’s what gets valued.

Either way, this is the story that plays in your head:

I keep control – I perform – I’m safe

But in the meantime, what’s actually happening:

I keep control – my team don’t learn – their confidence drops – they feel disempowered and like they add little value – they disengage and turn off their brains – the work standard and ideas generated drop – so you take more control to counter this – which feeds the ever-decreasing spiral….

So instead focus your control on controlling the development and progress of your team. Become obsessed by the satisfaction of seeing them take another step towards being empowered, confident and capable individuals. Be the leader who coaches, facilitates and mentors.  Be the leader of the team that everyone wants to work in because they know they’ll be given clarity of purpose, and space, and care for their development.

All the while holding the image of the place you’re heading to – because this way of leading is playing the long game. Anyone can take control and get short-term wins. It’s the truly successful who see how things could be and who behave consistently in a way that they know is going to get them there.

In the words of David Marquet – drop the authority to the level of information. If you never do, there’ll always be something to solve for someone somewhere and you’ll never be able to go home and eat dinner.

And if the thought of working like this doesn’t light your fire you have two choices –

  1. don’t be a leader, or
  2. be a leader who accepts mediocre as the best performance you’ll get from your team.


If your organisation is struggling to make this shift I work with CEOs, MD and Directors in 1:1 coaching and team coaching.

#CIPDOD15 Aligning Org Capability and Culture to the Org Plan

Inji Duducu, Group People Director of Benenden.

Talking about using Appreciative Inquiry to identify the org’s true values, and developing engagement and comms strategy to sustain commitment across the org.

Benenden is a healthcare provider (mutual, not-for-profit) – they’re a single product, single price healthcare provider.  80% of spending member funds is finding a fast route to diagnosis via private.  Do lots of cataracts, varicose veins,… and offer helplines at a single flat rate at £8.45 a month with no restrictions – the most under-priced product ever!  And available for corporate schemes 🙂

Their challenge?  Used to only be able to join if in public sector or civil service (started for the Post Office originally) people would sign up and they easily got to a million members.  More recently had a decline in members so now about 900k – and aging.  First answer was that anyone could join Benenden.  Concern at the time was that they’d be swamped with interest.  But of course nobody had heard of them and their product was unusual.

2 years ago, new CEO, acknowledgement that open access hasn’t worked.  Talked about partnerships, new channels, new products…. In 10 years time we’ll be unrecognisable.

Inji joined for that reason – 108 year old business, average length of service 25 years  how do you take that org through that level of change?

When started, the strategy had been put in a bullet point list & left on people’s desks – it didn’t work! (Building blocks, New IT system, New product launch underway, First acquisition strategy underway, Hospital redevelopment signed off, Digital channel being built).

All this started or happening – and no thought to the people and how they fitted into this plan!

When Inji joined her challenge was to do 12 mths change in 6 – with an org that had never really changed.

Split the change into 3 buckets – 1 bucket of ‘how we do stuff’, shared services, structure.  1 of capability, roadmap (what you’ll need for your team in next 3-5 yrs), behaviours & l’ship capability (much more needed than technical knowledge).  And 1 of culture, values, action plan.

A very friendly helpful culture.  If in 2024 we’ve become just another insurance company then we’ve failed.  Our culture is special.  Understanding what really makes us special was essential to future success.

There was low leadership visibility – e.g. the leadership team hadn’t been involved at all in the launch of new insurance at the time when Inji joined.  They’re now front & centre, quarterly update on progress from CEO, any chance to get them visible & approachable – servant leadership e.g. a summer party with leaders welcoming people, handing out drinks, etc.  Recognised & appreciated by the team.

Big focus on celebrating successes – much to celebrate.  They’ve won Most Trusted Healthcare Provider 5 years in a row!  Entirely down to the people.  Don’t take it for granted.  Really want to be that & strive for it.

These things don’t have to take a lot of money – the symbolism of directors handing out pizza and saying thank you to people face to face has a big impact.

Values has always been evident as the heart of the business.  But they didn’t feel special – Integrity, Respect, Professional Service Excellence, Respond flexibly and positively to change, Fair & supportive employer of staff.

To capture the ‘specialness’ they did workshops with volunteers to explore the future culture they want – and the values that are fixed in their heritage.  Used Appreciative Inquiry to understand the values – talked about why people joined, what their high points have been, what their most audacious dreams are for the org.  Never fail to be surprised at the power of focussing on the positive.

AI – a change methodology used to focus on the positive rather than problem solve.  And believing the system has the knowledge, insights, resources needed to create what’s needed.

AI > Discovery – Dream – Design – Destiny.

Their values are now – Care, Mutuality, Sustainability, Wellbeing.

Nobody needs to be convinced of these.  They recognise them as what Benenden stand for.  They don’t need ‘selling in’.

As part of review of Performance Mgmt they’ve created a Behavioural Framework – How we work with each other, How we honour our heritage, How we work through change, How we deliver results.  Each has a summary statement e.g. We respect, trust & value the contribution from everyone and we inspire others through great leadership.  Then 4 statements below that e.g. We communicate openly & honestly & have a positive impact on others.

When thinking about alignment, not sure you can get everything absolutely aligned, but can gradually shift one part at a time.  Inji’s experience is that it takes about a year to have people realise things have shifted.  And that at the point you are so bored hearing yourself say the same thing, is about the time that it’s really filtered out into the org.

There’s been huge change in nearly all people practices & policies in the last 18 months including making the call centre like an actual call centre – knowing when calls are coming in, flexing staff, knowing how much cover you need & have at any time… etc.  Rather than drip feed they waited and packaged it up into a picture (co-created by people, not briefed by Inji) to communicate it – people respond better to images than words.  Gave facilitators of the story some training (just an hour) so they could take others through it.  Part of that role was about listening to what these things meant to them, to ask questions, to share concerns.

Achieved a 5% uplift in survey results like understanding the business plan and where I fit in it.

In the CEOs ‘town hall meetings’ people now ask how we’re doing in certain areas rather than waiting to be told.

Learnings > Communication + Co-creation + Celebration = More capacity for change than you might ever have thought!

This post has been live-blogged from #CIPDOD15.  I’ve done my best to represent the content accurately and fairly but some errors may exist.  Most of it is the speakers’ content and I aim to show the bits that are my opinion.

Ignore Poor Performance at your Peril!

How often have you seen or heard this?

They’re just no good at their job, I keep having to pick up the slack?  I haven’t got time to do my own work because they’re incapable of doing their’s.  If only they could sort it out we’d all be better off.  I don’t even know why they’re still here – they don’t contribute anything.

Back in April and May it was #FeedbackCarnival time where the culmination of many brains showed just how challenging giving honest feedback can be and some ideas for how we can start to change that.  Ian Pettigrew built on this with a great model for where helpful feedback sits – the top right of this 3-by-2 – where what you’re saying to the person is true, and it’s said with a positive intent to help the individual, as well as and the team or organisation around them.

Trouble is, that’s not generally what’s happening.  What I see is people pointing the finger at ‘those people over there’ – They’re the problem. If it wasn’t for them we’d all be ok.

head-in-hand -kg

This feels to us like the best (easiest) option because it avoids us having to look at ourselves as a potential contributor to the problem – and therefore a potential solution.  Looking at ourselves can be uncomfortable.  And, if we don’t feel safe and supported to do that, we’ll just avoid it.

But not only are we pointing to those people over there and saying they’re the problem,  we’re even giving them financial rewards (or positive feedback) that they’re doing the job we need them to do.  You can read about it in here, a piece shared by a fellow colleague who also cares about great leadership, Kay Buckby.  My reaction to it was (a very eloquent) “Bonkers!”.

So when people aren’t performing in their jobs.

We point the finger of blame at them for all the ills of the world.

And we reward them for it, to make sure we draw an even thicker veil over the whole unsightly problem.

If doing the same things and expecting different results is a sign of madness then I’m not quite sure how to articulate this as anything other than Bonkers!!

Not surprisingly, underlying all of this, a seam of frustration bubbles away within the team, within the manager – and most importantly – within the customers on the receiving end of the poor service.  The customers just won’t stick around.  They’ll vote with their feet.  The manager and team might eventually take evasive action from this person (if the person doesn’t leave first) but, to begin with, their stress responses will be triggered.

This stress response narrows their perspective on the situation and drops their cognitive abilities, reducing the possible solutions they can see for solving it.  It reduces their feelings of emotional generosity towards ‘that person’.  It causes them to look for evidence to back up their belief that they’re useless.  And, given that our thoughts and feelings show up in how we behave, their stress and frustration will leak out through their body language, their words and their actions.

One paradoxical result of this is that, despite their poor performance, the manager doesn’t feel they can do without this person – better the devil you know, what if we get someone else and they’re worse, how would we cope with a vacancy if we can’t find a replacement?

All of these are fear-driven responses (and stress is triggered again).

So, what’s the alternative?…….

…….A world of high emotional intelligence*.

I believe in a world where people are treated and behave like adults.  Adults who can make informed choices and who can take responsibility for their own situation.

I also believe we all want to do a great job, but sometimes things get in the way of that which means our performance can dip.  And if those things have been in the way for a long time it can be hard for us to remember what it was like to come to work and feel good about it.  This means that, as adults, we still need support, guidance and feedback from others to keep us on-track.  And we still appreciate a reward (verbal acknowledgement is often enough) for when things are going well.

In this world when a leader has someone in their team who’s under-performing, the first thing they do is ask what’s going on, then they listen and they ask questions. Partly to inform themselves of the situation, and also to let the person vent about what’s going on. They aren’t afraid of this venting. They know that emotions are the things that motivate us to make changes in life, and when they’re swirling inside us they can’t take us in any productive direction. The simple act of verbalising what’s going on straightens these emotions out and gives us a clearer sense of which way to go.

From this listening and asking, the result is often that the individual will spot a way forward for themselves. If not, the leader will have learnt enough about the situation to offer advice, guidance or training that will actually be helpful and relevant. Or they may be able to offer relevant feedback based on what they’re seeing of this person and in the wider team context.

All of these things help the person become unstuck and their performance improves.

And even if it doesn’t improve, the leader can look themselves in the mirror with the belief that they did what they could to help, and that perhaps this just isn’t the right job, or right business for them. Which means a parting of company on good terms, with dignity and respect – and without the need to pay out bonuses to hide a problem!  All of which maintains great relationships with the rest of the team, and their trust in you – which means they’ll also feel safe to share what’s going on for them.  Creating a virtuous circle!

And I know what you’re thinking.

When could I ever get the time to have these conversations?

Well, they don’t actually take that long. If we’re given the space to think and speak with someone who really cares and who really listens, our brain can be pretty effective at getting to the crux of what’s going on.

And remember, in having these conversations – maybe weekly – we get into good habits of processing what’s going on for us, and they mean the team’s performance will never get to the place of you compensating for the stuff they let drop, which automatically gives you back a load of time.

And if you really believe that your team are the key to your collective success then you’ll prioritise these conversations over anything else.

*You can find out more about the difference emotional intelligence makes to a business here.

Photo credit – http://redsarmy.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/kg-head-in-hand.jpg

This is me…………… www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

Executive Coaching and Leadership Development

WFS Tree

What if there was no money?

“I’d like a Ferrari and a mansion without having to pay anything for them” was my son’s proclamation tonight which led on to his question of “why do we have money?”.


So I talked about how things evolved from bartering with goods, to coins and then the economy as we know it today (or at least in my simplistic understanding of it).

But he kept asking, yeah, but why do we need to pay for things.  Why can’t we just make the things we enjoy making, and then people can just choose what they want to have.  So people who like building houses will build the houses, people who like building cars will build the cars, people who like making food will make that and take it to the shops and cafes (which don’t take any money).

It did start me thinking about what this world would be like.  Would there be jobs that absolutely nobody wanted to do?  Or would it help everyone gravitate to the jobs they love because there would be no social expectations of the ‘right’ career move, or the job you ‘should’ do, or equally the job you ‘shouldn’t’ do.  Would engagement levels be off the scale?

What job would you do if there was no money in the world?

And his final observation – “the only thing is mummy, I don’t know if you could still do your job in that world because what you do is good and everything but people don’t really need it.”

Now there’s a challenging observation.

Would your job exist in a world where there was no money?

I believe in people being the key to success and that success is unlocked by great bosses. And being a boss is a tough job.  

If you believe in this stuff too, get in touch for a chat and let’s see what we could do together – 07718 316 616 or helen.amery@wildfigsolutions.co.uk or take a look at my website to find out more.

Executive Coaching and Development for SME leaders –

creating success for you, for your team, for your business.

#CIPD14 – a year ago today…

….I wrote my first ever blog post after #CIPD13 and after encouragement (in Duttons Bar – a good place!) from David D’Souza to give it a go.

Now, a year on, I’m incredibly proud to have lots of amazing, forward-thinking tweeps as friends, colleagues, mentors and challengers and I was fortunate to go to CIPD14 as part of the blog squad.


So last year I came away with positive thoughts about how the profession was starting to move in the right direction but that, for a profession that’s meant to be about inclusion and diversity, the speaker sessions were pretty exclusive and corporate.

This year it was fantastic to see more variety of speakers with more small businesses and not for profits represented. There was more free, quality, fringe activity. And the social media activity outstripped 2013 so those as far away as New Zealand could still connect with what was going on.

Since the end of last Thursday, the thing I’m now pondering is this culture stuff.

I care about cultures that are inclusive, where staff and bosses talk like two adults who are equally worthy of their place on this planet, where collaboration is encouraged, where ideas are actively sought – not just welcomed if they happen to appear, where there’s a clear purpose beyond profit that gives people a reason to be there beyond their wages, where people deliver what’s needed in their job because they see the part they play in the overall success. The kind of stuff that Julie Drybrough talks about here and the sort of Giver culture that Adam Grant talked about.

I truly believe that this place is better for individuals, for bosses and for business. Not just because it sounds like a great place to be, but because it will create a business that’s more able to adapt and change for the benefit of its customers – and that will benefit the business.

Millers Oils put it beautifully by saying they created a strategy about how they wanted the place to ‘feel’ in the future – not about the growth they planned to achieve. They knew the growth would follow. And it has.

But then, amongst all that, there’s a challenge. As Gemma Reucroft wrote about how work, for so many people, is just about getting the money they need and trying to survive until the next month. It’s just about getting by in the hope that they’re treated well enough and that they don’t need to worry about the relatively low level of employment rights they have.

But there’s another world too. A world that Tim Scott and I chatted about. A world where things are just ticking over nicely thank you. There’s no burning platform of market conditions requiring a change in approach. The boss might be of the traditional, hierarchical command & control school but they might also be fair and paternalistic, with a team who know where they stand even if that place they stand in is ‘do as I say, and don’t speak unless spoken to’.

Of course I exaggerate a bit for effect but these are just 3 cultures on a continuum of the workplaces we have today.

And who’s to say which is right or wrong for a particular business, for the market they’re in at that moment in time, for their ambitions for the future? Well, ok, the breaching employment rights bit is clearly wrong!

But the other message I heard at the conference loud and clear, and which I believe to be true, is that the culture of a business comes from the top.

So, if that is true. If we can’t shift anything really, properly unless the person up top buys into it, is the role of anyone involved in making work and working lives better to just do that? Make it a bit better. No matter what starting point you have. Just start, take a bold step tomorrow, and then another, and another.

Yes – definitely talk to the people at the top about what you’re learning about the changing economic and work environments.

Yes – definitely keep that conversation going, sharing case studies and success stories.

But really it’s going to be down to them if anything is going to fundamentally change. If anything is going to shift and stick in any direction.

So your job, my job, our job is to take the culture in front of us and make it the best we possibly can – to make the working lives within there the best they can possibly be.

For a full roundup of all the #CIPD14 content take a look here. Thanks to Ian Pettigrew for that!

I believe in people being the key to success in a business and that success is unlocked by great bosses. I’m an Executive Coach for SME leaders to help create success for you, for your team, for your business.

Get in touch for a chat if you believe in this stuff too and you want your business to be even better – helen.amery@wildfigsolutions.co.uk
or take a look at my website to find out more http://www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

#CIPD14 – Managing Strategic Change While Developing a Passionate HR Team

Graham Salisbury from ActionAid UK talking to us about this – what went well and what was a challenge.

Context of the org in the past – 200 staff with 60% turnover(!), inadequate HR governance, poor payroll controls, scrutiny from Border Agency over work permits, lack of leadership in HR (team of 5) and no time to do anything except transactional basics. They were hidden away at the back of the office and the team didn’t welcome visits unless appointments had been made! One of their big challenges has been lack of clarity over the focus of the charity and the direction they want to take.

Not been an easy journey, lots of mistakes were made, they stumbled – but they got up and carried on anyway. It’s important to Graham that others can also learn from their learnings and to bring the reality that we’re all human, we all make mistakes and it’s better to share that than try and gloss over it. Hooray to that!!

The organisation acknowledged a need for change. Julie started by bringing in an interim change manager to create a clean sweep. This person brought in systems and processes but what Graham found was that the impact of the way this change was done meant that he had to re-build a lot of relationships within and with HR, and repair some of the damage to heal the emotional bruises.

One of the changes they made was an updated pay scaling approach – and which they tried to do quickly and simply. The change wasn’t right, employees were incredibly unhappy with it but rather than defend what they’d done, Graham and the team said sorry that they’d got it wrong and instead worked with the union and some of the wider team to create something better.

Pay and reward is now one of the best results on their staff survey!

What would stop you from involving more people from your organisation in creating your HR practices and processes where you work?

One of Graham’s first jobs was to stabilise the HR team, making some fixed term team members permanent. He also worked to share stories with managers to demonstrate the capability of the HR team. He’s keen to show that HR in third sector are passionate, engaged people who achieve great things and we should be shouting about this stuff more outside the organisation. And often we just need to look at what we have, not always going outside to find something new and shiny.

ActionAid launched an apprenticeship programme to change the dynamic from an org that was heavy with white females with MAs. They’ve now recruited 3 apprentices from the local community who are gaining great experience – the HR apprentice had the chance to meet Boris Johnson the week.

Graham’s encouraging the ActionAid team to use Ulrich’s latest book to develop their ability to be strategic, their ability to change, etc. Even if you just get 10% better than that’s great – doesn’t have to be perfect. And look to your own networks to find new ways to connect and collaborate. It’s easy to forget what’s right in front of us.

So how do you give your HR team a boost – just for them, with the rest of the org, outside where you work?

I believe in people being the key to success in a business and that success is unlocked by great bosses. I’m an Executive Coach for SME leaders to help create success for you, for your team, for your business.

Get in touch for a chat if you believe in this stuff too and you want your business to be even better – helen.amery@wildfigsolutions.co.uk
or take a look at my website to find out more http://www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

Coaching at Work

Final session for me at the L&D Show with David Clutterbuck. Which coaching techniques help improve business performance.

Not easy to put financial numbers against benefits but it’s seen that colleagues who experience more coaching and mentoring –
– feel more engaged
– will stay with their employer longer (a third more people stay)
– understand how what they do fits with the strategy and the difference they can make
– knowledge is transferred and retained better within teams
– organisational reputation because there are open conversations about whats going on

So direct cause and effect is difficult
Also hard to say the duration of benefits
Although certainly the highest performing senior teams are coached and have a coaching mindset

And there’s no one best coaching approach to make a business difference. As with counselling, it’s the competence of the coach that makes the difference, not the approach they use. And in fact, the more approaches they employ the better the coach they’re likely to be.

There’s an evolution of coaching capability –


Then Systemic Eclectics, which feels akin to Nancy Kline’s very calm approach. They look at the whole, guiding the client through the conversation with very subtle interventions. These mature coaches constantly develop themselves through experimentation, personal reflection and supervision.

David’s asked the room to discuss together that these stages of competence mean. And it appears he’s challenged the thinking in the room about their potential development needs around coaching. Delegates recognising that they’re at the lower levels of competence. I’m delighted that this session has already prompted that discomfort for someone to develop!

However this is a worry for me about the number of people experiencing ‘coaching’ at work and not gaining the most from it that they could possibly gain because it’s been over simplified as a one dimensional ‘process’ to be followed.

A solution to this is internal supervision to maintain internal standards but managers could still be getting themselves into situations they can’t help the coachee resolve. A little knowledge can be a bad thing! How do you get that balance?

Now looking at goals in coaching and the development from
1. SMART – signing up to specific goals too early can be damaging because when things change they can’t let go of the goal, focused on short term
2. Solutions of which goals become part
3. Focussing on philosophy, free of goals
4. Transcendence of goals – trusting that goals will emerge and change with time and to help see the context and bigger picture, focused on longer term

I’m not sure these need to be mutually exclusive. Start in a transcendence space but if necessary bring that to a level of specificity to raise levels of self commitment to what they plan to do.

SMART goals don’t motivate – no, you need to have a big ‘reason why’ for what you’re doing to get stuff done. And you need to have the self belief that you can do it.

What does this mean for performance plans? What’s the connection to the purpose of your org?

Audience discussion on goals….agreement that SMART goals can be dangerous. Replace with purpose or vision. SMART goals can cause crazy behaviour because people are trying to hit targets / numbers for the goal.

Team coaching now increasing because being seen that effective coaching cultures are created by developing that approach together, collaboratively, as a team.

Line managers developed in isolation is like sending them back into work to dance with their team when only the manager knows the steps.

Coaching’s a mindset, not just a skill. You need to learn the skill and then develop the mindset.

Team Coaching isn’t just team building or team facilitation. They help teams develop the characteristics of a coaching team culture –


And team maturity can impact on how you introduce team coaching. How long has team been in existence, what skill level are we starting at, what are the different extraversion/introversion preferences in the group.

Team coaching needs to
– create new norms, new neural pathways, new habits so that a change to a coaching culture is embedded and sustained
– create shared purpose and strong alignment on how those goals are achieved
– create new approaches to team meetings with strong future and purpose focus to the agenda, keep it short bursts of sessions with frequent breaks, slow people down – e.g. what do you want to say about this topic, what do you want to hear, what do you want to achieve – write these answers for 5 mins before anyone speaks. Then each person answers in turn. Makes conversation focused, shorted and respectful of all contributions.

Get people thinking about how their team operates –


Group discussion has lead to appreciation that some simple interventions can help save time – coaching culture should create time not drain it.

The ultimate would be to have everyone engaged in coaching themselves and others around them – not a leader-only responsibility.

I’m now reflecting on how we start to shift organisations to move to this new world. How do we help orgs see that if they step off the ‘doing’ wheel into a ‘thinking’ environment so that they can change their own performance and the performance of those around them. There’s something in it for them because it shifts them to leading instead of managing (a la Covey or Steve Radcliffe’s FED) and helps them get people around them doing their jobs better and more autonomously.

Listening – without agenda, to understand
Questions – personal, resonant, incisive, reverberating, innocent, explicit
Purpose – use your wisdom to help your coachee grow their’s

With so much talk over the last two days about coaching and bringing it into the role of a line manager, I wonder how the profession will evolve over the coming years.

It feels as though there needs to be greater understanding of the different depths coaching can reach so that, even if you’re just having an ‘in the moment’ coaching-style conversation as a manger you appreciate your limitations. And that you equally value what the most competent coaching approach can bring and how you can access that for yourself, and develop yourself to bring that to your team.