Time for a move?

How to start this.. well it looks like a major move both in location and career could be underway. I have been given the opportunity to spend 3 weeks in Perth Australia and am going to take the opportunity to scope out careers in terms of salary, types of work etc over there. Should we like the place and think that this is viable we may well sell up and move over there.

The only thing is….

Well in reality there is more than one ‘only thing’ This is a massive change for the whole family and obviously there are differences in employment law and history of employee relations between the UK and Australia. The other major change is giving up the work that I have here and risking the chance of not getting employment in Perth. On the other hand this could be the best step I take for my career, international experience, better salaries and improved standards of living.

I would love to hear from anyone who has taken this step and made the move to another country, in particular form UK to Australia and how they have made this a success. Also if there are companies who would be able to provide some work experience opportunities this will help me to get an insight into the way of work in Western Australia. Love to hear from you!!

Is HR a happy profession?

Recent stats show that up to 90% of HR staff are happy in their profession despite working excessively long hours and feeling generally undervalued by the organisation that they work for. So is this the result of the current financial position that the country finds itself in, that HR bods are prepared to put up and shut up to keep employment?

Certainly there are some areas of HR where a business with problems ensures the security of the HR professional. Surely in the world of TUPE arrangements, restructures and ongoing disputes there is a place for an employee relations expert? The caveat being as long as the restructure isn’t in HR of course.

Having regular discussions with colleagues I would say that on the whole people are generally happy with their lot. There are always generalist moans but usually about how other managers and departments are failing to meet their objectives and the level to which they need our support (the irony!)

The main reason why we supposedly put up with this slight on our careers is that we secretly enjoy being interrupted. We love the cut and thrust, the gossip leading stories of the day. To be privy to the darkest secrets of the organisation and dealing with  its issues with a cold steely determinism that leads our managers to rely on our advice, support and guidance. In short we feel needed and important. As Maslow is often quoted some of the very basic needs of humans are at the bottom of the basics of HR careers, the need to be needed.

HR Happiness machine

It was interesting to see the effect of the happiness machine at google taking direct action to support the retention of its female employees. Coming from a public sector employer where up to 90% of the workplace are female they are already pretty robust in providing excellent benefits particularly for maternity rights. There is still a lot to learn from Google though about the other excellent perks they are able to offer. The main thing for me is about understanding your workforce and their needs. The only way to get to this is through regular engagement and surveying your employees. Understanding their needs (as the great Maslow interpreted) is key to a successful organisation. As the needs of individuals change it is important to move with the times. Thanks go to the article tagged below for the inspiration for this article


Ditch your formal processes and choose mediation

Having been involved in a number of mediations in the work place as part of a larger mediation scheme I have noticed that there appears to be patterns in behaviour that are followed even with different staff involved in the session

Initially the observations are straight forward. The body language employed by each party generally does not require a psychology degree to work out. Staff will move their chair further away from the other party, fold their arms, avoid eye contact etc. The use of an uninterrupted opening statement from each party gives a momentary reprieve from the tension as each party is respectively required only to listen. Here is another interesting area. Each party is required to listen but only they fully know what they have chosen to hear. Thus as the mediator you are intent on gauging the reaction and impact to every aspect of the statement on the other person, analysing which statement have the real impact.

Following this there is the impact time as each party tries to digest what has been said. Bear in mind that there are cases where the parties may well not have spoken for several weeks and the build up of the tension would be considerable. Then comes the explosions as each part fires out with what they really wanted to put forward in the opening statement and now feel brave enough to do so. The reaction of each party to this is always difficult to gauge, some will want to run from the room (and do!) others will respond with counter argument and this section is the most emotive part of the session where the real feelings of anger, resentment and turmoil come out. This is where you can really learn to mediate dangerously, picking your key moments to intervene with the crucial questions, challenging each party to listen to the needs  and expressed emotion of the other party.

This is closely followed by a period of calm. It is almost impossible to stay highly emotive for a prolonged period of time, particularly where that emotion is anger. It uses up a lot of energy being angry with someone and each party quickly realises that this is not a sustainable way of engaging with the other party.

The next stage I feel is also dangerous for the mediator, a period of avoidance. Very often parties will effectively (and jointly) move away from the subject of their joint tension and conflict towards an area of work that they are both familiar and comfortable with talking about. I do not feel this is necessarily an issue to move to this type of dialogue as it opens up communication between parties and shows them that they are able to converse and interact in an acceptable way despite the conflict that exists between them and this is useful in bringing parties towards an agreement. The danger in this section is that the parties perceive this as the resolution to the conflict when in fact they are far and away from resolving the issue. The key for the mediator here is to know when to redirect the conversation back to the conflict in question. This could be done with a simple yet effective question such as ‘Do we feel that the issues are now resolved’ or perhaps ‘how useful do you feel the conversation is in helping you resolve the conflict?’ thus returning the parties back to the issue in question.

In some sessions I have been involved with I have found that the return to the conflict question at this point is much more structure and manageable, because the parties have re-established rapport and trust when discussing other points that they may have been in agreement about. They are much more conducive to problem solving and moving towards a final agreement at this point.

Having been a mediator for approximately 6 years I still feel that this is the most effective way to resolve work place conflict. When people come to me now to say do you think this issue could be resolved via mediation I instinctively say yes, any issue can be resolved using this process. The question really should be about whether we ever need formal processes to resolve conflict and could all issues not be directed through this route first.

Thanks for reading, I would be really interested in your views on mediation or any of the other articles on this page.

Mediating your way out of misery

One of the skills that I am required to draw on quite regularly is a course that I undertook about 6 years ago. Using mediation or conflict resolution as an alternative to following formal procedures is a difficult sell initially but the rewards can be huge. So what is mediation in the work place and how can it be practically implemented in large organisations.

In my organisation we use co mediation, that is working with a mediating partner to resolve issues between two individuals. The discussion initially with the line manager is something along the lines of:

Manager: I have an issue between two colleagues, I have tried resolving this myself but it did not seem to work

HR: Have you considered offering mediation

Manager: Erm, no, but I haven’t got a full day to spare two staff, its not very practical

I would then go on to talk to them about the formal processes, such as bullying and harassment, the various stages of the formal process, interviewing the staff, interviewing witnesses, preparing a statement of case, presenting this to a panel. Eventually this will be brought to a conclusion that is likely to be unsatisfactory to one of the employees and may even have lead to long term sickness absence. I would talk about the hours spent carrying out all this activity, the expense of the staff involved and then ask the question, are you sure that you can’t spare them for one day?

Co mediated days consist of 3 separate meetings. In the morning we would plan two hour long sessions, one hour each dedicated to each of the parties. This gives the individual  the opportunity to explain what has happened from their perspective. They are asked to consider what they expect to get out of the mediation session and to think about what they would like to say to the other party, how they might express this to them and to some degree preparing them for the meeting that will take place in the afternoon.

In the afternoon we will set aside at least 4 hours for the joint mediation meeting. This is the opportunity for the individuals to discuss the issues that have brought them to the table in a safe and facilitated way. I use the word facilitated because the discussion should be owned, directed and concluded by the individuals themselves. The discussion is only guided by the mediators to ensure that the issues that have previously been raised are brought out into the open and discussed with a view to gaining an amicable solution. It cannot be underestimated how powerful an outcome that is owned by the individual and not the organisation can be.

Arriving at a final agreement is also owned by the individuals. I would also normally ask not only do they make the agreement but also consider how they might agree to deal with issues in the future and what steps they would take. Much of conflict resolution is also about re-establishing the communication channels and ensuring that they remain open in the future.

Setting up an internal mediation scheme can be a challenge however the benefits to this can be significant in establishing long term lasting solutions which enable staff to work together and build the business.

How Karl Marx taught me a lesson part 2

In an earlier blog I talked about how my friends history exam got me thinking what I can learn from his actions. Details of his exam response are in the first posting.

The second lesson I gained from this was the sheer simplicity and audacity of what he had done. He had basically told the examiner something factual, easy to understand and to the point. Is this not what your boss is generally looking for? Some professional organisations will ask as part of their assessment for a management report and will give a suggested word count of say 7000 words. Can you imagine your bosses face if you presented an assignment like this to him or her and how quickly you would be asked to go away and summarise to one page of A4?

There is something about keeping your responses simple and easy to understand that allows a number of freedoms in the workplace. Firstly it gives you more time, a commodity that is always in short supply. By keeping your responses to a minimum you reduce the amount of time you spend on other peoples work and increase the amount of time you can dedicate to your own activities. It may seem selfish to do this, but hold on a second, what about the person who just asked you that question? Rather than try and find out the answer themselves they have thought it better to interrupt you and steal some of you time while they discuss a case they have been working on in great detail. Of course you should be polite (after all you may want to encroach on their time tomorrow) but keeping your response to the point will give you more time.

This can also be about modifying other people behaviour. If they can see that you are managing your work well and give them the minimum responses but the answers they need they may also start working in a similar way, increased productivity is then on the distant horizon.

Then there is the way in which the message was delivered, in summary – this is how it is, followed by yes, this is how it is.

Karl Marx was a Marxist, indeed he was…

Very often in business you can find that matters get over complicated, indeed whole industries spring up around the need to generate complexity. Nobody really benefits but it takes a straight talking person to cut through that complexity and state very simply that this is how it could b done better, quicker faster, easier. The latter of these is generally the most popular. Any way to make your life easier is worth the effort, and actually it should be less effort to implement. Think about some of the processes you se in your work place. I recently simplified a system regarding developing job descriptions. The team were creating the job description, recording the request and saving the documents in 3 separate systems, sending it to a panel to check, sending it to another panel to verify and eventually sending it out to advert. Clearly this was about he breaking down of an industry, which took some time to tackle and although not all the objectives were achieved my main objective of only using one system was. Outcome being that a 50% improvement rate in meeting targets for delivery has been achieved.

So next time you are looking at a system failing or maybe just feel a bit stuck in a rut with work, perhaps if you remember my colleague and his exam paper answer it might spur you on to simplify, or at least make you smile.

How Karl Marx taught me a workplace lesson part 1

In answering his history final at university, a colleague of mine was presented with the question as follows:

Explain the influence of Karl Marx and your understanding of his theories.

My colleague, who had clearly made no preparation for this paper considered the question and committed to his answer with his full and unadulterated knowledge, he wrote thus:

Karl Marx…was a Marxist….indeed he was.

and left the room.

I think there are two important lessons here which can definitely be adapted to the work place. The first shows the self admitted naivety of my colleague at that time, and the second perhaps the sheer genius of simplicity.

And so to the first point. What did he fail to do – well clearly he was massively underprepared for the task ahead which of course cannot be underestimated. Even someone who was not a historian would have been able to put forward a more expansive response than the eight words mustered up for the question above. In fact the question was longer than the answer. To gain the advantage when preparing for a meeting or even a simple task in the work place you should first make sure you are aware of as many, if not all of the facts in question. That way you are prepared not only for the questions you have thought of but also for at least some of the ones that have not occurred to you. Secondly you have the option in the work place to potentially reschedule. Most colleagues would be prepared to give you a least some time to get to grips with a project particularly if it is complicated. Also use your diary to good effect. Don’t just schedule in the meetings that you have planned but book in the time to prepare for them and do not let other tasks creep into their place. You will ultimately feel better prepared for your tasks, and perhaps reduce the amount of stress that you put yourself under. Did you ever stop to think about how much workplace stress is self inflicted by poor planning on your part (if you are someone who has not prepared or procrastinate as I am prone to do then this is almost a given that you have not!). The lesson I learned here is, give yourself a break and prepare well, hopefully it will help you lead a life less stressful.

The second lesson I learned will appear in the next blog posting – thanks for viewing.