Better Late, Than Never #ConnectingHRAfrica

Some amazing HR people are in Africa supporting Retrak – I am proud and honoured to call them my friends. Please support them if you can.

Donna Hewitson

#ConnectingHRAfrica – Day 3

Today, I cried. Like, proper sobbed. I hadn’t expected it nor had I prepared for it. I sat in the bath, shower running, and had a proper cry.

If I know that I am likely to be in such an emotional situation, I can prepare, close down, become clinical and limit the extent to which my emotions are seen.

Today, I was caught out.

We spent the day at another boy’s centre. A centre which supports boys who have been with Retrak for 3-6 months.

Where do I start? Firstly, the staff captured me. The genuine love, care and will to help the boys on a path which will, hopefully, see them reintegrated with their families was immense. Retrak staff educate, counsel, guide, provide medical facilities, facilitate fun and games along with lending a supportive ear. Never judgemental. Always there.

Our agenda for today looked a…

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#tweepathon

So I will be taking part in this with my reluctant companion Goose this weekend – please help us out with a few quid!

Murmuration

Forrest_Gump__Run_Scene__177483The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing serviceHenry Wadsworth Longfellow

This coming Sunday, 20th March, 26 volunteers will run a tag marathon in aid of Sport Relief in 15 minute stages starting at 7am and finishing at approximately 1:30pm. From Bushy Park to the south west of London to Reigate in Surrey via Rome and Romania.

I think this might be a unique event, as the whole thing has been arranged, and will be managed and promoted on the day and beforehand, via Twitter. The participants will, for the most part, not meet each other on the day and are spread over a wide geographic area. Two legs are being run by children. One leg is being conducted by bicycle. Some legs will be walked. Dogs will run too. Some of us have met…

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Never too young to learn to lead

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This weekend I was told (second hand) about the work a head coach at one of the London Universities American Football clubs is doing to improve the leadership of his team and it got me excited. These lads (and they are lads, 18-22 year old students) are getting great experiences playing as part of a team, making commitments to one another and building friendships that will last for years. But more than that they are learning about what it means to lead, both the good and bad and those skills will be invaluable as they make their way into the world of work.

This isn’t one of the big UK University American Football programmes – they haven’t won national championships or bowls and they only have one player there receiving a sports scholarship. None of their players have chosen to attend that college over another as a direct result of the American Football programme. (I know for many of you reading this the fact that there are scholarships and that coaches actively recruit students to join their teams will be a surprise but having been in Denmark with the GB U19’s team earlier this year I witnessed it first hand. Bright, talented young athletes being ‘recruited’ by some of the best programmes in the UK from around Europe is not new but it has become much more prevalent in recent years. Universities that easily attract some of the best and brightest in the country, have high benchmarks for entry are also building great teams and the sport in the UK – the recent success of the GB Student programme is testament to this.)

Anyway back to the point of this post. So this smallish programme in an inner city university wanted to build and grow and improve, they have a 30-40 man roster and a pretty solid coaching staff. They had a good committee and everything was ticking along ok – they weren’t smashing it but they got a fair few wins under their belts. However, the Head Coach wanted more. He wants a successful programme of course but he also wants the players to get the most that they can from being part of this team and to do that he needed leadership.

At the end of last season (the BUCS American Football Season is Sept – Mar roughly) he worked with this players and coaches to elect a leadership committee – not the club administrative committee but a group of players who’s role would be to act as Leaders for others on the team and help to influence the direction of the club and it’s growth. But he didn’t just stop there – he didn’t just have an election and appoint them he decided that he wanted to develop them too. Recognising that he wasn’t an expert in the area he did some research and went out and bought a book on leadership development that had a number of exercises for the reader to complete and then in the off season he shared a chapter and the exercise with the leadership committee each week and asked them to complete the activity. They did and they lapped it up. It was additional work for them all but in their weekly group meeting (Skype I think)they would talk about the skills they learned and how they would use them.

Let’s remember these are young men, young men at an inner city (not redbrick) university who like to play American Football. Not exactly the target audience for most leadership books.

I don’t know what the impact on the team is – I’m not close enough to them but I do know that the passionate head coach is thrilled with the way the players have responded and half way through the 2015/16 season the team are 5-0 with wins at home and away.

What I also know is that as well as the education these lads are receiving and the discipline and benefits of being part of a team, they are learning leadership at an age where the skills and behaviours will become second nature to them and that can only stand then in good stead for the workforce right?

The work being done at the University by the head coach and his team is a great example to other teams and organisations – let’s hope it is copied far and wide.

finding the eye in my storm – a story of resilience. 

There’s a lot of talk about Resilience at the moment, including a CIPD conference later this month focusing on it. It’s something I was musing about earlier in the summer. I announced my musing as is my way on Twitter and then promptly went back to musing and not much else. 

The reason it’s flagged up for me at the moment is I am back in a bid team and as is often the way with bids there is a steady build up to the issue of the tender documents post the PQQ where you can research options, develop business cases and gather evidence. And the the bid hits. 

We finally know what the client is really thinking (we’ve guessed in meetings, workshops and let lets be honest beers but it’s never exactly as expected). The timescale is usually short and we crack on. All the planning and preparation is matched to questions and delivery plans. We seek to clarify what some of the obtuse language means and try to make sure we really know what they are asking. 

For me this usually means reviewing the people, mobilisation and general management sections of the bid. Developing blueprints and storyboards for the answers and then having these reviewed. And this can be where it gets tough. You see more often than not you’ve poured everything you’ve worked on for the last few months into a standard template, that doesn’t always fit, to answer a question that doesn’t quite meet everything you want to tell. So you tweak and redraft and recheck the costs and benefits and understand the risks and submit it for someone else to scrutinise. They haven’t had the focus that you’ve had on this and only this and generally have a wider oversight. Time is short and there are a number of other work streams going through the same process. The review team are rarely trained for this- just like many leaders and managers they’ve learned how to give feedback through practice and not particularly honed these skills 

All of there factors lead to one thing – the review only looks at what is missing or wrong. There isn’t time to celebrate or congratulate just to pick apart and challenge. This is the whole point. What needs to be done and what will make the bid better but boy oh boy you need to have thick skin. There’s no time to get defensive or precious over your content. It’s time to pull up your big girl pants and take it. 

It can be bruising, deflating and demotivating. It can make you question whether you know what you’re doing and whether you are the right person for the job. You do and you are. You just need to roll with the punches. It’s genuinely isn’t personal. It’s about making your submission better. It’s not that people don’t value the time and effort you’ve put in. They do – they recognise the long hours and careful thought. Honest they do. But they have a job to do. They are the critical friend (emphasis on the friend). 

Honestly I’ve been through this quite a few times (I seem to be developing a bit of a niche for myself in the whole bid area) and each time it’s the same. It’s tough but it passes. You can’t dwell because the bid clock is ticking. You have to suck it up and move on to the next stage. Redraft, edit, review and then start writing. 

This is where my resilience is tested. The blank page. It can take me days to get started. Not days doing nothing but thinking, drafting in my head, working through the solution and then eventually getting it down on paper. 

Tick took the bid clock is still ticking.

The days get longer, you find the times of day that work for you (funnily for me it’s very early morning and early evening – I am least productive during ‘normal’ office hours) and you cope with the fear. The fear that you’ll never find the words, the fear that what you are writing is complete tosh. 

And then you submit for review and hold your breath. The process is generally the same – what’s missing, what’s wrong, what doesn’t make sense or isn’t clear. Rarely what’s good. 

Bid writing is usually a solo pursuit until review (like most writing I guess) so when you submit it can be quite exposing. You can’t hide behind your drafting process rather have to stand behind you drafts!  Sometime you get great comments and insight. Others it’s wordsmithing and missing commas. It can be brutal. It can be positive. But again you have to be up to it. 

I’m lucky. I have pretty thick skin but even I find it tough. The product of my last few weeks. My late nights, sleepless thinking, ideas taking shape and filling the page. But again time isn’t on your side. It’s about scoring the points. Telling to story and getting the win. So you need to know what’s missing, what needs clarity, or what needs editing. 

So how can this process be made better?  Well for start recognise and acknowledge the feeling. It’s ok to invest in your work and want others to like it. You’re not the only one – we each cope in different ways but the rest of the team are going through the same so seek support and give support. 

Try to take a step back and objectively review your work, get yourself some trusted advisers and your own cheer leaders and never worry about asking for their help. 

Don’t be an ostrich – this is a tough one but if it’s not working you need to admit it. Either walk away for a while or get some help (remember this others going through the same, or your advisers and cheer leaders?).

Laugh – it sounds simple but it’s important to keep perspective and keep smiling. And agin. Gin helps. 

Have something to look forward to after the bid is submitted. For me it’s down time with my boys, ideally somewhere with limited internet/phone. 

This is what works for me. This is what keeps me going, helps me find the eye in my storm and come out the other side in tact. 

I have to thank a few people for being the best during this most recent storm including @FitzieP @fuchsia_blue @brazelnut @ms_organised and @nicky_t all bloody brilliant with or without Pom-poms. 

But what about the young people?

It’s been two weeks now since George Osbourne presented his new budget.  There’s been plenty written in the papers and over social media around the welfare reforms and the impact of those proposed and other aspects of the budget.  But here i am two weeks later and there are still many more questions for me than answers and I’m concerned about the impact of some proposals that on the face of it sound like good things.

So first the Living Wage – or more accurately a new tier for the minimum wage.  You see we already have a National Living Wage (it’s currently £7.85 and there is a London Living Wage that is currently £9.15).  George plans to introduce a new ‘Living Wage’ in April 2016 for all those over 25 years old of £7.20 an hour increasing to £9 an hour by 2020. So now we will have a minimum wage structure that looks like this (or there about as these are the 2014/15 rates):

Wokers 25 and over – £7.20 an hour

Workers 21-25 – £6.50 an hour

Workers 18-20 – £5.13 an hour

Workers 16-17 – £3.79 an hour

On the face of it this looks like a good thing right?  Increasing the Minimum Wage for the majority of the workforce has to be a good thing?  But what are the unintended consequences of this?  Will we see increased age discrimination where workers under 25 are favoured by employers as they are more affordable then their older counterparts?  Will we see those over 25 excluded from section or even dismissed once they hit the higher rate as companies who haven’t yet recovered from the economic downturn?  Companies terminating contracts as they can’t afford to pay the increased costs associated with the increase in wages? A shift from the youth unemployment to increased unemployment in the over 25s?

And what sort of work will be offered to those under 25 – most work at minimum wage level is low skill.  So will we see an increase in underemployment with those with A levels, higher education, degrees working as pickers and packers and cleaners?

In the real world £6.50 a week is £13,520 per annum based on a 40 hour a week contract.  This assumes that people are in full time work not part time or flexible hours. Ok we’ve had an increase in the personal allowance so much of this is tax free but after tax and NI lets say you could take home £1k per month.  If you are lucky you are living with parents and they are either letting you stay there rent free or only charging you a nominal amount – or you could be renting a room in a shared house.  Let’s be optimistic and say that you are spending £400 a month on rent and bill.  That’s before you’ve eaten, or travelled to work, bought shoes or clothes, paid insurance – heaven forbid you want to save for something or even contribute to a pension.  And what about having children or if you’re unwell?  Not so ill you can’t work but ill enough that you have to fork out up £8.20 per prescription.

Look it’s always been tough – I remember my first job I paid 50% of my take home pay on rent.  But I was in central London, walked to work, tube travel was affordable and had a final salary company pension (thank you Civil Service).

But wait we have a double whammy for those under 21 (well a triple whammy but I’m not going to talk about housing benefit here) – if you are seeking employment and receiving benefits you have to undertake work experience.  Yep that’s right in order to get your benefits if you are under 21 years old you need to undertake work experience.  I’m assuming this is unpaid, I’m assuming there isn’t a government organisation somewhere set up and ready to offer meaningful work experience to the thousands of young people who this will impact?

So employers need to provide this.  Employers who want to make a difference and support young people above and beyond the way they are already supporting them will need to put in place work experience programmes to facilitate this government scheme.  Honestly – who is in a position to do this?  Other than the pickers and packers, the shelf stackers which employers will be able to offer work experience above and beyond the scheme we already have in place to 18-21 year olds NEETS?

Where’s the support for this initiative?  Where is the government programme to help this happen?  How can we ensure that it isn’t just about free labour where they would be receiving the minimum wage?

Don’t think I am against this – I think that work experience can be invaluable but not forced through in this way.  Young people blackmailed to undertake low skilled work to access welfare.  Yes lets get young people to work but lets given them support and skills and opportunity  – where’s the carrot here?  All I see is stick.

It’s early days, the headlines lack substance and we are awaiting details.  But I’m concerned, it’s already really hard for young people to get work and opportunity and I’m unsure that either of these proposals are the answer.  That all we are doing is shifting the unemployment bubble from the younger end of young people to the middle.

We’ll wait and see – wait for guidance on implementation and hope that the government listen to employers when they work this through.

Promises & Decisions – a little shout out for help

popular new year resolutions - colorful sticky notes on a cork board

I made a decision this morning.  It’s nothing mind blowing or life changing but a decision that needed to be made and that now having made it I feel lighter, energised and positive.

But, well I am playing it through in my head and I’m wondering if it’s one of the Sunday night/Monday Morning decisions – you know the ones:  This week i am going to be more organised; This week I am going to get through my to do list; This week I am going to eat healthily; This week i am going to get to the gym 4 times; This week, this week this week……

So what is it for me that stops me sticking to my promises to myself?  If I make a promise to someone else I do everything I can to meet their expectations, deliver my side of any promise and not let them down.  So why is it ok to let the promises I make myself slip.

Am I less valuable than that other person?  Is my time worth less, my opinion less important or more disposable?  Is it ok because I can promise it to myself again next week, month, year?

I know how I feel when I complete a project or task for someone. The completer finisher in me gets a high from a job well done and I can have pride (no matter how small or large) in knowing that I did that. I made this or that happen or be better, I helped this person or that achieve what they wanted or needed to .  Yay go me, pat myself on the back and on to the next thing.

Shouldn’t I also be able to do that to myself?

I was reading some old diaries at the weekend, promises I made to myself over the years.  8, 5 and 2 years ago – things I said would change and things I would do and achieve.  And some of it I have.  I can look back with some satisfaction of a job well done and look forward with the knowledge that there’s so much more.  Then there’s the rest – the things I haven’t quite achieved or are still waiting to be done.  Not things that impact others in any great way but things that I know would have an impact on me.  I must know this I made a promise to myself to do them (well several promises if I’m honest).

So I’m looking for insight and advice –

  • what helps you make those promises to yourself stick?
  • What and who encourages you to reach your goals?
  • How do you decide what’s important and how do you treat yourself with the same (respect and) importance as others?

I’d really like to hear your thoughts and get your input.  Thanks