My thoughts on the ConnectingHR Unconference

I admit it…..I was the one that was jealous – the person who @RobJones_Tring was referring to at the beginning of the day. I’d followed previous tweet-ups and unconferences via my twitter stream.  I watched interesting conversations unfold, could feel the energy in the room and the connections being made.  The day after I would sense a different “vibe” on twitter amongst the attendees.

Without doubt, the fact that many of us connect on an almost daily basis via Twitter influenced the flow and energy of the event.  For example:

1.  There was no need to network (which I hate).  Some conversations started with “What do you do?” but many also began with a question relating to a tweet someone has recently made.    We moved from a virtual relationship to a real one seamlessly.

2.  There was no “positioning” or game playing between attendees.  There’s no point…..we were all in the room as we like each other’s company on Twitter and the unconference was an opportunity to turn our 140 character debates into something more.

3.  We would used our knowledge of each other to propel debates forward or to seek clarification on certain points.  It felt safe to do this, and this was based on trust and respect developed prior to the event itself.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you had to be active on Twitter to enjoy the event.  I just think the fact that relationships developed on Twitter prior the event help generate the incredible energy that we all felt.

And what did I get out of the event?   My main learning is that whilst technically HR theory & practice is the same wherever you work, it is the sector or industry that influences how HR is operationalised.  For example:

1. On performance management:  I sat back and listened. During the discussion the idea of doing away with a formal performance management system was mooted.  One drawback?  It’s linked to reward.   And that’s where we’re different in the NHS: we don’t link performance management to reward.   And that’s perhaps why, for years, we didn’t really push our organisations to undertake annual appraisals.  This has changed recently and whilst the quantity is up our new challenge is quality.

2.  On flexible working:  this discussion explored trust, the nature of management – employee relations and about looking at work outputs as opposed to time served.  In the NHS, the majority of our workforce have to cover a 24 hour service.  Even if they get all their work done in their 8 hour shift, they have to remain “on-duty” in the event of any emergencies that will require their clinical support.  For the NHS, flexible working is more about finding a way to offer these staff an off-duty (the rota) that supports a work-life balance.

3.  On theory vs practice:  It was heart-warming to hear so many HR practitioners talk about their evidence based approach.  One participant talked about how he enjoys reading the links from People Management articles, and how it enables him to more fully understand the topic being discussed.  I often get down-hearted as I meet NHS HR practitioners who don’t understand how theory underpins their practice.  When I coach NHS  HR teams I spend time exploring this concept and what they can do to increase their theoretical knowledge and how this relates to their practice.

Having said all that, from the discussions held today I firmly believe that there are concepts that I learnt about today that could cross over to the “dark-side” (ie the public sector).

And what would I like to see next time?

1.  Biscuits (and I’m happy to bring my own!)

2. A way to capture all the references that participants made.  Lots of people talked about journal articles or books that they had read.  I now want to read them….but I can’t remember the exact details or even who made the reference.

At the end of the day I feel inspired and I enjoyed the experience.  I’m sorry I didn’t stay until the very end (and once again I think I missed out!).    My thanks goes to Jon and Gareth for organising such a great event and to everybody else who helped facilitate the day.  Here’s to the next one!


Making Work Experience A Positive Experience

My Dad recently reminded me of when I did two week’s work experience in an HR Department.  It was a dreadful experience and after two weeks I had resolutely decided “I am NEVER going to have an office job”.  The problem was that my two weeks with an International IT company were not planned.  I was left for hours doing nothing, and so I learnt little.*   I now find it quite ironic that I work in HR.  It is not as a result of the experience I had as a teenager.

Considerable time has passed since, and there is a wealth of literature about how to make Work Experience a meaningful experience and the business reasons for doing so.  It is particularly important in the NHS, with its ageing workforce, that we capture the idealism of the younger generations so that they will actively want to work within healthcare once they leave education. 

However, I still see poor practice:   for example, I recently saw a 15 year old, sitting on a chair in the corner of the office (as there are no spare desks), sending out mail shots.  He had been stuffing envelopes for two whole days.  He obviously wasn’t happy, but he didn’t complain.   Although confident amongst their peers, most 15 year olds can be intimidated by the adults that surround them.  How many Work Experience students will speak up and demand a better “experience” during their two weeks with your organisation? 

We owe it to the younger generations to provide them with a structured programme, where there are defined learning outcomes.  Work Experience is just as much for the student as it is for the organisation.   This approach can’t be created overnight; it will require investment of time and energy (and possibly cost implications too).   As local employers, we need to get it right, otherwise it will affect our recruitment in years to come.

Work Experience isn’t an excuse for “slave labour” for two weeks.   Work Experience is about giving school leavers a positive “experience” of your organisation. 

*Being the kind of person I am, I didn’t waste my time:  I got to meet Martin Coogan who at the time worked at the company:  For those who aren’t into Manchester Indie Music of the late 80s / early 90s –  Martin (who is also the brother of Steve Coogan, comedian) was the Lead Singer of The Mock Turtles of “Can You Dig It?” fame.  At the time I was more into music than being in an office, and I managed to land a day “hanging-out” with The Mock Turtles in their recording studios in Stockport.  Cool hey?

What Kind of Learner are You?

I was recently discussing “sheep-dip” training with a friend. I believe it is a necessary form of training, but it also has it’s pitfalls. My friend told me his theory on participants who attend “sheep-dip” training. He said participants fall into one of three categories:

1) Learner: this participant is there to genuinely learn as much as they can from the session. This type of learner is attentive during the session, gets actively involved in group work and brings high levels of energy into the room.

2) Prisoner: this participant is there because they have been “told” to attend. They don’t want to be there and don’t see why they need to be there. They don’t want to contribute and they will lower the energy levels in the room.

3) Vacationer: the person who’s attending because it’s an excuse for a “day off ” from their normal job. They will get involved, but are not really interested in learning anything – more about having fun and avoiding the work they left behind on their desk.

Understanding which category your learners fall into is crucial when you’re delivering “sheep-dip” training. Sometimes the whole room appears to be full of “prisoners”: the session will appear to drag, and contributions from participants will be minimal.

Other times you might find your session full of “learners” who are actively engaged in the subject matter; spontaneous and stimulating debates will emerge generating high impact learning around the subject matter.

Next time you’re delivering “sheep-dip” training, ask participants

“What kind of learner are you? Prisoner, vacationer or learner?”

This is a quick and easy way to ease the tension in the room – particularly if it is full of prisoners. Not only will this help you – but it will help the participants recognise themselves. And the end result? You’ll have more learners in the room than when you started.