This is it?

In the last few weeks I’ve met two very different young people who find themselves in exactly the same situation.

D is 22, living at home and can’t get a job. Because he’s in Ireland he also doesn’t really get any benefits (thankfully his parents are supportive). When D was about 11 years old he decided he wanted to be a policeman (or Guard to be precise). Every choice he made after that was working towards that goal. His education choices, volunteering, behaviour the lot. He went to university and studied forensics and spent a year studying in Germany. All the while keeping up his volunteering for orgs such as the Red Cross. But right now he’s applying to work in the mushroom factory or in the dairy. He applied for the Guard along with thousands of others and got through 5 aptitude tests each time making the cut but then he came 573 when the cut was 500 – no one will even have read his application form. No one will know that he had a plan, chose a path. Instead he’s being told he’s overqualified, doesn’t have the right experience. It’s likely he’ll have to leave Ireland to pursue his dream – he’ll risk the wrath of his Dad and consider the PSNI or look to move to Canada or Australia. It’s not what he wants but with only a small number of roles after a period of recruitment freeze he’s got little choice. He’s 22.

A is 24, she’s got a 2.1 in Phsychology from Sheffield. She bright, enthusiastic, personable. When she finished Uni she couldn’t get a job in her chosen field so she went to work in retail, she ended up there for two years. Eventually she got a role as an admin officer in a psychotherapy service. Between accepting the job, leaving her retail role the service had a budget cut and withdrew the offer (& made a few others redundant).

She signed on, and has just finished an 8 week work experience placement with the job centre in their offices up stairs. She’s living at home, taking very opportunity she can (I met her through a job centre organised mentoring scheme). But she can’t get a break – or a start. She wants to have a career, wants a role where she can give back but she can’t even get off the starting blocks.

Both of them were told they had to go to university to be successful – had to get those qualifications. Both of them have done what on the face of it was the right thing. But what now? Is this it?

I’m helping where I can – cv advice, sourcing some potential work experience, discussing options – trying to help them see choices. But it’s tough.

So what more can we do? As employers, managers, businesses how can we help these young people? These people who (lets face it) will pay our pension one day – what more can we do?

At a recent CIPD London event it was said that 21% of 18-24 year olds are NEETS (not in employment, education or training) yet we still as a country are aiming for 50% of young people to go to university.

I don’t have the answer but I do know that I want to so more. This can’t be it for them – there has to be more.

Yes I’m leaving an hour before you

…..just like I was here an hour and a half before you this morning.

Is what I say inside my head each time he looks at his watch when I leave at a reasonable or sensible time.

I don’t say anything remotely like that – I say night, or see you tomorrow or sometimes I say I’m off to a governors meeting or to meet a friend as if I have to justify it.

I don’t need to justify my time to this man (or any really). I haven’t missed any deadlines, haven’t missed a meeting or inconvenienced anyone; I’ll be back online later answering emails and any queries and maybe even do an hour or so more work.

What I have done is made a choice. A choice to be at my desk by 7.30 and try to leave the office before 6. Why? Because I get loads done in that sweet hour and a half before the office fills up and I’m still home I’m time to walk the dog, have supper with himself and even, sometimes go out and do stuff.

So I’m sorry that my average 9-10 hour day doesn’t match your day. But I’m not going to feel guilty for refusing to play at presenteeism to suit you.

So stop with the checking your watch when I leave, I don’t when you arrive.  Judge me on my output not on my hours at my desk.

How you doin’?

If you’re anything like me you can’t help but say the phrase ‘how you doin’ in a dodgy American Italian accent like an extra from the Sopranos or like Joe Tribiani from Friends.

It’s a hello, how are you all in one; used to show you care, to show your interested and to well show you’re Interested (nudge nudge wink wink).

Three simple words – not perfect, not grammatically correct but enough to be thoughtful and to start a conversation.

It really does show the power of a simple question. And from this we can find all sorts out.

In the workplace when we want to see how someone is doing often this gets framed in an hour and a half twice a year formal conversation. There are forms prepared and shared in advance and notes made and taken. Sometime insight from colleagues is requested and sometimes results are tabled and measured. (Let’s not even start to talk about what happens to those forms post or between meetings…..)

At the heart of the oft dreaded appraisal is one main aim – checking in on how you’re doing.

In my place of work we’re trying to make this easier – to make the process of assessment and review more fluid, more a part of the ongoing coaching relationship between an employee and both their and other managers within the organisation.

I haven’t managed to get it down to just the one question but I have got it down to five. The process is simple, each manager is encouraged to ask their direct reports (and the reports of their reports – skip level) the same five questions (known as the 5Q) at regular intervals. An employee should get asked at least once per quarter by their direct line manager but could be asked many more times than that by other manages in the business. The questions are simple and are aimed to start conversation and lead to more details discussion if necessary.

1- How are you doing?
2- What’s going well?
3- What can I, we, the company do more of or better?
4- What more can you do or what can you do differently?
5- What’s next for you?

The questions aren’t mean to be the be all and end all but to start and encourage conversations. Managers will be encouraged (& be able to) react to any issues raised, making small local changes immediately or feeding back in more significant changes or ideas.  We will ensure feedback is followed up, so employees know why changes are made and are recognised when their good ideas are turned into action.  Where possible employees will be part of any project teams formed to put ideas into practice.

Alongside the conversations we observe, coach and give immediate feedback on performance and service standards.  By taking the Performance out of the 5Q conversations we are aiming to remove the opportunity for managers to save performance issues for that big conversation -I was once asked to comment on a conversation I had had 5 months earlier in a performance review as the only example offered of where I could improve something….

It’s in it’s very early stages, feedback so far has been positive – particularly for the skip level conversations. It will take time to take root I’m sure and there are some sceptics. But both front line and senior staff are taking part, we’ve already seen some good ideas come forward and some interesting career conversations happening as a result of ‘what’s next for you?’

I know there a way to go but I’m excited by the start. Excited by the potential.

So rather than smart objectives and behavioural competences we’ve taken a couple of steps back – and what I really want to know is How you doin?

Amanda Arrowsmith is an HR professional with over 16 years expert generalist experience in a variety of fields.  In the last few year she has specialised in OD in senior interim roles both in the UK and globally.  She’s active on twitter (@pontecarloblue) but be prepared for tweets about football (both premier league and the American kind – GO Irish) and Shoes.  You can find out more about her and get in touch via LinkedIn