November 2011

One of the topics that emerged at the October 2011 ConnectingHR Unconference was the tendency for employees to be seen as consisting only of their recent history. As one un-participant put it: “You’re not even your CV; you’re your last job description”. At the time, I was reminded of the opening lines of an old Prefab Sprout song:

You surely are a truly gifted kid
But you’re only as good as
The last great thing you did …”

Typically for its writer (Paddy McAloon), the song is open to interpretation: it could be addressing religion, family relationships or simply – if that’s the word – the human condition. Were they aware of an obscure album track from 1985, however, I suspect many people would currently be tempted to supply a more literal reading.

Given their current peak (which may yet be surmounted), unemployment among 18-24 year olds is a pressing topic, with press coverage talking of a lost generation. Current figures are certainly cause for concern, and not just for those affected, although the tone of the reportage – which occupies an emotion range between fearful and alarmist – is less nuanced that the detailed figures. There’s an element of ‘truthiness’ at play – a word and concept I’ve recently come across having been passed a copy of Justin Webb’s Notes on Us and Them by my ASK colleague, Chris Rogers (who’s blogged recently on another thought inspired by the book). For those not up to speed with contemporary American satire, here’s Webb’s description:

Truthiness was a mock-word introduced by [American comedian Stephen] Colbert when the Bush administration was in its pomp to describe a truth that was not based on facts but was felt in the gut.”


I know it’s not how we usually think of it, but a football pitch is – at least for those in the football industry (and let’s be adult and admit it’s an industry, not a game) – a workplace. Football might be something that rouses fervent passions, but the people manoeuvring the round thing from one end to the other and back are paid really rather handsomely for their skills. It’s fair to say that even cynics acknowledge as much. Here for example, is Charlie Brooker, commenting on the last World Cup:

A huge number of my fellow citizens tune in and witness a glorious contest of ecstatic highs and heartbreaking lows. I see 22 millionaires ruining a lawn.”

(And yes, I know we quoted this when we talked about football in the context of succession planning, but as quotes that put things in their place go …)

The fact that Wembley Stadium, Stamford Bridge, the Emirates Stadium and Old Trafford are indeed workplaces makes one aspect of the recent hoo-ha about Sepp Blatter’s comments on racism in football all the more extraordinary. While it was heartening to see not only players, but managers and football industry authorities in this country speaking out in shock and dismay at the suggestion that on-field racist abuse should be settled by a handshake, I only heard one commentator pointing out that racist behaviour on the pitch – or, indeed, on the terraces – is illegal.


The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
Franklin D Roosevelt

There you go. Nothing like a well-worn cliché to kick off, and with the apparently imminent (again) collapse of the global financial market and the consequent disintegration of democracies around the world, that is probably as relevant and true today as it was 80 years ago. Except of course, the Armageddon scenario won’t happen because throughout time the brave have overcome the one thing that would precipitate such meltdown; the paralysis of fear and the temptation to sit on the touchline and watch the whole sorry saga dissolve before their frozen, staring eyes. (Caveat: if it does happen, by then you’ll have hopefully forgotten that you read it here first and have more important things to worry about.)

Robert Terry’s recent blog All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”, or “Kirkpatrick must go! put forward an interesting ‘conspiracy theory’ slant to the whole training evaluation debate, and it got me thinking that the root cause of the lethargy that contributes to the huge sums that are wasted on training events might just be because it’s all a bit scary. Even in such austere market conditions, why are so many of our corporate leaders apparently content to sit back and watch the money flow out through their Learning & Development budgets? Why do they seem satisfied when they have a team who return from their development experience having made some new friends, are a bit more motivated and, at best, have transcended as individuals into better human beings, albeit not actually able to contribute anything of demonstrable additional value to the business?


I have just finished reading Justin Webb’s new book, Notes on Them and Us: From the Mayflower to Obama the British, the Americans and the essential relationship: A Plan for the Amicable Separation of America and Britain, in which he explores the relationship that we have as Brits with our American cousins, drawing on his experience of 8 years in Washington as a BBC reporter. “Why?”, I hear you ask? Well, as a politics graduate who studied US politics and a massive fan of Alistair Cooke’s ‘Letter from America’ (something I have in common with Justin), I was just interested. (I also had an Amazon voucher for my birthday.)

It’s a great and easy read that I would recommend, with lots of wise insights that I recognise from holidays and working in the US. But there was a completely unexpected by-product of reading it – triggered by a particular point he made that illuminated my work in helping organisations shift their cultures and more particularly in confronting the unwritten paradigms at the heart of such cultures.

And then I had a really scary thought – how does this affect the models and approaches that we use in our consultancy work?


I’m normally more an Independent man (all puns intended), but – as professors reminded me during my own days in academia – reading around the list rather than down it can sometimes pay dividends. And if you’re going to be informed, why not be informed about more than the one thing? Glancing unaccustomedly through the pages of The Pink ‘Un, I was refreshed to find an article – Question of relevance must be addressed – in their Soapbox column that posed a long overdue question or three:

What are business schools for? What do they do? How can they best serve the needs of business and society?”

All good questions, I thought, although it seemed perhaps a little unfair to single out business schools. (We can’t all be managers, and it wouldn’t help if we could.) When it comes to purpose, relationship to both society and the economy, and to upholding their end of some very nebulous psychological contracts, most of higher education could do with clearing its throat and piping up in words of one syllable. The Guardian’s Q&A best bits: Marketing higher education during times of change (first published this April) was an interesting Googlefind, but not an inspiring one in this context.


As it’s always been part of our intention with this blog to publish a range of voices – and we we’re the kind of organisation that likes to make an effort to live by our values – we recently invited the staff here to submit blogs of their own. The rules were simple – be interesting, no politics or religion, and at least try not to swear – but then so was the judge (pauses to blush). And a panel of independent advisors was also on hand to provide opinions on anonymised entries in the interests of fairness.

We have declared a winner – Sally Cristini for her piece, A Well Embroidered Life – but today we’ve published all the entries so you can judge for yourself the diversity of personality and outlook that typifies us. Enjoy your reading – the links to the pieces are all given below:

And please remember – whether you’re staff, an Associate, a client, or just someone who’s stumbled upon this blog and thought “Actually, I’ve got something to say about …” – that contributions and comments are always entirely welcome.

Many colleagues here have also pleaded conscientious personalities and full in-trays, so there are more contributions from here to join these over the coming weeks. Why not join us and have your own say?

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Well EmbroideredA recent text message from a dear friend put me in a reflective state of mind.

24 years ago I bought my friend a poetry book called ‘I will build you a house’.  The book was given as an expression of friendship and support from one angst ridden teenage girl to another.  The book describes itself as a poetry house full of love and joy, sadness and laughter shared through the magic of words. Sounds girly I know but we were girls then, so girly was just fine.

My friend and I are now both 43 and the headlines from our parallel adult lives are two marriages, one divorce, three children, cancer (from which she is fully recovered) and the death of a parent. The subtext however has been rich with experiences and shared moments, some triumphs and some disasters.

At 43 we would struggle to get away with calling ourselves girls now but when we are together – which is less often than it should be – the 24 years that have slipped by, fade away and we are girls again.


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