December 20, 2012

Time Out

So, we’ve come to the end of the calendar year. If you’re like me, you’ll be tired and really looking forward to a break away from work. Christmas is a great opportunity to catch up with family and friends, but this can itself make for a busy (fraught?) few days. I started the negotiations with my parents, siblings and in-laws back in August as to who was going where, when and for how long over the seasonal period. The latest position is that my parents will be coming over on Christmas Day at either 5.30pm or 6.00pm – agreement has yet to be reached (and we think trade union negotiations are tough, I trust there’s an ACAS Christmas helpline?)

What I am certain about is that I will make the time to properly reflect upon the year just ending and consider the year to come. At the departmental Christmas meal and HR Exchange I shared with you some of our highlights, so I won’t repeat these here. I do however want to say how pleased and proud I am of the whole team. You’ve worked hard and achieved much, so thank you all.

As for next year, then I’ll be making a list of things to achieve in 2013; New Year’s Resolutions if you like. I have a few days left to finalise these, but I thought I would share with you my draft goals (in no particular order):

1. To buy a house (we’ve sold the family home quicker than envisaged, so I really need to crack on before the family becomes homeless, so no pressure then).
2. To launch and enact our new HR Strategy.
3. To attend fewer meetings than I did in 2012.
4. To send fewer emails than I did in 2012.
5. To run the Windermere Marathon quicker than I did in 2012.
6. To successfully deliver upon all my SRDS objectives (I have to say this really).
7. To complete at least two Olympic distance Triathlons (better buy a bike then).
8. To evidence that the University is a remarkable place to work.
9. To achieve a positive work/life balance (this is a standing item).
10. To challenge, to be challenged and to have fun.

A busy 2013 is on the cards then. In the meantime, I really hope you enjoy your time out and manage to relax and refresh. You may also want to prepare your own list of goals for 2013, and perhaps even share them with the team!?

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.


December 7, 2012

The 'Historian's Fallacy'

I received through the post my first Christmas card on Monday. It was from an old school friend who moved to Canada in 2002. As you would expect, catching up with him and his young family in person is a challenge, so we both rely on email, twitter and Facebook to keep updated on what the other is doing. As well as the ubiquitous updates on kids, holidays, sport, jobs etc, my friend has a strong tendency to block up the FB news feed in support of the so-called 'truth' movement. Yes, my friend will invariably assume that every global event is in fact a conspiracy, usually orchestrated by a decadent and corrupt government and the Establishment. In my mind, these lurid conspiracy theories are a nonsense and shouldn't warrant much attention.

However, I'm always up for a challenge, so I set about trying to convince my friend of the error of his ways. I started by reading David Aaronovitch's book "Voodoo Histories". Aaronovitch considers how conspiracy theories have shaped modern history and culture, why people are so ready to believe in these stories and the danger of this credulity.

Within the text, he explains how the underpinning argument offered by the conspiracy theorists is to cite the establishment's failure to act during a crisis. For example, when the terrorist attacks commenced on 9/11, why didn't the Bush Administration act? Why didn't they evacuate the Pentagon, why didn't they bring down rogue Flight 77? The fact they didn't surely demonstrates complicity?

This argument was brought to mind yesterday when a member of staff explained to me that a work issue had escalated unexpectedly, that the situation had gotten worse not better - that things weren't going too well. Interestingly though, that member of staff really wanted to assure me that this troubling situation hadn't been deliberately created, that they hadn't sought to consciously create further problems, it had just regrettably happened.

So, this is the ‘historian's fallacy’. Coined by the academic David Hackett Fischer, it simply describes the assumption that the actors in a drama simply did not know, at the time, what was coming next. The reason the Bush Administration didn't act to evacuate the Pentagon was because they didn't know then, as we now know, that it was the target for Flight 77. Likewise, the member of staff hadn't remedied the work problem because they had not known at the time that it required additional intervention.

So, we shouldn't have to apologise when we don't foresee the unusual or unexpected things, or equally we shouldn't be excused of masterminding an HR conspiracy - things really do happen outside of our control.

What we should do is reach reasonable decisions based upon the information we have available at that time. Indeed, it often feels as if we're so busy with the present that we have little time to worry about the future. As someone tweeted earlier today:

Between yesterday's mistakes and Tomorrow's hope there is a Fantastic opportunity called Today!

As for my Canadian friend, today has been far too busy for me to remember to reciprocate and post him a Christmas card. However (and thankfully), he remains more than happy to blame a Royal Mail conspiracy rather than the tardiness of his British friend.

November 12, 2012

Best Practice Blog

Whilst enjoying a drink with some of you in the University Arms on Friday evening to celebrate our first anniversary in the Arts Tower, I was clearly told that the frequency of my blogs was insufficient and that I must try harder. I was also criticised (entirely fairly) for the lack of variety in the content of my tweets. With regards to the latter, my true test will be the week commencing 17 December 2012 when I take over control of the @shefunilife twitter account. This new twitter account features a different member of the University community weekly. This blog is my attempt to remedy the former, and is my "best practice" blog.

Whilst traveling down to London early on Wednesday morning to present to a UCEA conference, I listened in to the US President's victory speech given from his election campaign headquarters in Chicago. Many commentators described the speech as possessing the spirit of JFK with the cadence normally associated with Martin Luther King. Personally I found the 21 minute speech to be persuasive, poignant and powerful. Regardless of your own political persuasion, it was undoubtedly an oratory performance we rarely witness in the UK.

As HR practitioners, we also understand the power of the written word. Language is particularly important to a University. As many of you know, we have after a number of years of vigilance, managed to remove colloquial terms such as "non-academic". Neither you nor I should be described by what we are not, but what we are, hence the new professional services nomenclature. However, there is one ubiquitous term used within HR and beyond that I still struggle with - "best practice".

There are two problems here. First, it assumes that a 'practice' developed by someone else should be applied to you, your team or organisation. That 'practice' may well be the best thing for the author's own organisation, but let's not assume that it's necessarily right for us. Teams, departments and organisations are as different as the people within them. Perhaps 'best fit' is more useful? However, the second problem with the term 'best practice' is that it simply implies complacency - it's already the 'best', there is nothing better, we can't ever improve further.

After all, in his victory speech Obama didn't espouse to be a best practice president, but rather "the best is yet to come". Surely a sound notion and one I trust will be the case, certainly at least with regards to the frequency and content of my blogs and tweets.


July 26, 2012

"Dinner & Digging"

Last Friday evening I was fortunate enough to attend the Annual Graduation Dinner. The ACS team had done a fantastic job of turning Firth Hall into an opulent venue and an even better job in preparing a five course meal, each served with a different wine (the latter of which I couldn't enjoy as the designate driver). Nevertheless, it was not the decadence of the venue, food and wine that interests, but rather the eclectic mix of people in attendance. The University was celebrating the 15 Honorary Graduates of 2012. They included an 80s pop star, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, and a number of eminent lawyers, engineers and scientists. And let's not forget the Vice-Admiral Second Sea Lord - The Chief Personnel Officer for the Navy (now there's an interesting HR job). So, here together in one room were a collection of the most able and talented people living and working in our community - all speaking warmly about the University, and its contribution towards their own personal development, career progression and significant societal accomplishments - an example of great talent management in practice. The following Monday morning was the antithesis to the grandeur of Friday night's Graduation Dinner. Swapping my dinner jacket and bow tie for scruffy jeans and t-shirt, I joined a few UEB colleagues and all the new sabbatical student union officers for a volunteering morning at Bents Green Special School. Interestingly, that sense of belonging to the institution and the talent and energy displayed was equally evident throughout this event - working with and learning from the union officers and the school volunteers was most rewarding.
I was also delighted to have been complemented by a discerning FPVC on my expert handling of the wheelbarrow (as not a grain of sand was dropped during the dozens of wheelbarrow journeys). By the afternoon, the talents of the volunteering group had resulted in a new outdoor classroom. The real fruits of our labour were of course the relationships formed within and between the UEB, the student union officers and the school volunteers. Although very different in size and scope from Friday evening, it was an activity and outcome as important to the University as the Graduation Dinner, and with almost as much talent on display.

May 16, 2012

"Strategy, Surveys and Squats"

As advertised, I will now be posting a regular (and hopefully a frequent) blog on HR Connect.

I'll be using this spot to share with you what I've been up to, what's occupying my mind and any other general observations about work, rest and play. I intend to keep the blogs short and informal - pithy if you like.

So, last week saw the HR Executive Team come together for an away day at Halifax Hall. Our aim was to discuss further the University's HR Strategy. With your help, we had already settled on the overarching goal of "Attracting, Growing and Engaging Talent". We made great progress describing what we mean within each of the three themes, what role should HR play and what do our leaders need to do to manage talent? A notable challenge throughout the day was to ensure we could articulate the measurements or outputs of success from each activity or theme. I think we got there and we'll be talking more to you about this over the next month. We were also obliged to plan our staffing and resources for the next academic year. I'm currently devolving greater responsibility for HR budgets and staffing to each Assistant Director, enabling us to act quickly and effectively to changes in workload, priorities, vacancies, and to support greater integration and collaboration between our teams.

The Staff Survey has also occupied plenty of time recently. The well oiled team of Babs, Steph, Gill and others have done a great job of delivering and communicating the survey to our 5,600 + staff. Through my constant updating on % response rates I realise that I have become a crashing bore recently - but it seems to be working as we head towards the majority of staff having completed the survey. I'm delighted too that the highest departmental % response rate is HR! The hard part is yet to come as we consider communications and action planning once the results have been analysed. The Staff Survey is therefore set to remain an ongoing priority for us.

This week we'll see the pilot launch of Juice - our new approach to staff health and wellbeing. Some of you have already had a taster of things to come - whether it's being attached to an iAM for three months or enjoying (!) full body air squats in Weston Park (speaking of which, was it just me that suffered a sense of personal loss after handing in the iAM?). Juice is not however about making our staff fit, nor necessarily about increasing general physical activity levels, or reducing sickness absence rates - it's a holistic approach that recognises wellbeing as a personal matter specific to the individual - some people will want to stay active, others may want support in dealing with stress and anxiety. Others will simply want easy access to information on a diverse range of physical, mental and social wellbeing issues. There are many sound business reasons for investing in staff health and wellbeing, but primarily if we want to attract, grow and engage our talent we do need to be taking a genuine and pro-active interest in each individual's health, happiness and wellbeing. Juice is a great framework to help us to do this.

HR is one of the pilot department so do get involved. I've never done bouldering or tai chi before so I will certainly be taking the opportunity to try out these activities - why don't you try something new as well and then let us know what you think. I'm sure Martin and Claire would be happy to help if you have any questions or concerns.

Please also feel free to reply to or comment on this blog.