Thursday, 18 August 2016

Learning and the business: how one can revolutionise the other

Often learning is seen as an academic activity – maybe a hangover from our school days or just some misunderstanding about what learning is.  Common descriptions used when describing learning include education, schoolingtuitionteachinginstruction.  We often see learning as a separate activity, remote or distant from the reality of work / life.   

But in fact learning is all around us every day.  Sometimes we just don’t call it that.  Learning is a part of life and business.

Learning takes place in many ways: when we are thinking, doing, experimenting or reflecting on what has occurred. Some really fundamental learning can take place as you start to question “Why is this like that?”  “What would it be like if it was different?” “How do we make this work better?”  Reflection is one of the most powerful forms of learning.  To make the most of your learning, end each day by saying to yourself: “What have I learned today?” and “What does my business need to learn to be even better?”

 For learning to be effective it needs to be both active and meaningful:

  • Active learning occurs when a person takes control of their learning experience. Since understanding information is the key aspect of learning, it is important for learners to recognize what they understand and what they do not. By doing so, they can monitor their own mastery of subjects.
  • Meaningful learning is the concept that learned knowledge (e.g. a fact) is fully understood to the extent that it relates to other knowledge. It’s making sense of things combined with taking action - such as doing something about it.
For those people who like formulas, sometimes learning is described as L=P+Q+R where L= learning, P= programming (knowledge) Q =questioning and R = reflection

Or to put it another way: What, So What, then Now What?

Many research studies from large organisations and international consultancies like McKinsey’s have shown time and again that learning on-the-job, coaching and mentoring provide the best return and most significant learning for organisations.  For example:

·        Cisco found in their employee development strategy that 70% of effective learning came from experience, 20% by exposure and only 10% by education.  This demonstrates the importance of relevance, timing and being able to relate to the learning.

·        Hewlett Packard found in their strategy for development that the use of stretch assignments and applying experience gave the most significant learning gains, supported by effective reinforcement through mentoring.

In these examples the use of effective coaching and mentoring helped to embed the learning and promote the active learner approach to business improvement.  The same principles apply whatever the size of business.

Relevance of the learning is of the upmost importance: Just-in-Time as well as  The Right Time learning create both immediate and long term gains. Immediate gains are how business problems are solved when reflecting on our learning.  The long term gains are the lessons learned, that change our business habits, thinking and beliefs to form new insights and awareness and create new directions and fundamental shifts in thinking

As you reflect, try using a simple recording system to encourage a little and often approach.

Six key questions for this are:

  1. What’s working?
  2. What’s not working?
  3. What needs to start happening?
  4. What do we need to do more of?
  5. What do we need to do less of?
  6. What do we need to stop doing?
If you’re running a small business, this is how you can create a learning environment to really benefit and grow your business.  Start with small ideas, learning in small chunks, making learning easy to do and rapid to understand, encourage everyone to reflect more and gain real insight. 

 Businesses of all sizes that learn the best survive the best - and thrive the best.

The is a guest blog by Peter Mayes, a development coach who helps organisations, teams and individuals recognise when and how to collaborate for success, through Leadership Coaching, management development and Performance Coaching for teams and individuals.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Welcome Back: helping your staff get up to speed after the summer break


Over the next few weeks, as people return to work en masse from their summer holidays, you might imagine that they’ll be feeling refreshed, renewed, invigorated, and raring to go. Some of them probably will.  But however great your workplace, most people returning from a long break are likely to be a little lethargic and unmotivated, even a little grumpy..... A recent survey on found that only 7% don't get some sort of back-to-work blues. And another survey found that nearly a quarter of holidaymakers return from their break feeling more stressed than when they left - mostly because they've overspent.

So more than likely, the end of summer holidays will have an impact on your workforce and your business as a whole before everything ramps back up again. In smaller companies, where there’s often little spare capacity and every role is a vital one, it’s even more important that every member of staff returning from holidays quickly regains their productivity.    

The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to ease people back to work and this often involves little more than common sense actions and simple processes.  Here are some practical ideas:  which ones would be a great fit for your business, and how you can implement them?

 1             Handover before the holiday

 A holiday won’t stand a chance of reinvigorating anyone if they have an underlying anxiety about facing chaos on their return. There’s little more demotivating than going on holiday in the certain knowledge that nothing will done in your absence and that you’ll come back to a large amount of urgent work and a mountain of unanswered emails.

Before each person goes on their long holiday, make sure there has been a thorough handover of their work. It might help if they write a handover list with all outstanding tasks that must be completed while they’re away and key “how to’s”, so you can make sure these are delegated to other colleagues to pick up. Another idea is to arrange for other team members to manage the person’s email inbox, and forward all phone calls.

 2       A quick catch-up on return

 A fortnight’s holiday can fly by when you’re chilling out, but two weeks in a place of work can seem much longer. Projects might have been completed, goalposts may have moved, and new members of staff may even have joined the team. It’s easy for those who have been away for a little while to feel disorientated – and this will affect their focus and productivity.   

Make it an automatic part of your working style to invite anyone who’s been on a fortnight’s leave into your office for a catch-up chat on their return so you can brief them on everything they need to be aware of.

Balance this by showing a genuine interest in their break and what they got up to. This doesn’t have to be a long and drawn out affair. After all, your staff probably aren’t too keen to share their tales of how they spent their evenings dancing on tables after a few too many cocktails, or romancing a local waiter. A five-minute chat will generally suffice, and it can make all the difference to how your employees feel during their first few days back on the job.

One way of restoring enthusiasm and getting people going again is to save up a particularly interesting task, or frankly, a nice treat, for their return.

This one-to-one is a good opportunity to give some leadership. Some employees always dread coming back to work because they know (they say to themselves) that their inbox will be at bursting point with messages from a hundred and one different people, they need to catch up with all the work that they missed, and they need to do it all before 5pm the same day. Nip that in the bud with a well-planned handover beforehand and refocusing on what’s really important when the person returns.

3       Cut some slack

Managing holidays can be difficult when you’re running a business, and a flexible approach is often key.

Accept that productivity is likely to be lower during the person’s first days back, and plan accordingly. Allow additional time for catching up on emails, phone calls, and other communication – and to have a reverse handover with whoever carried out their most important tasks while they were away.

Rather than focusing on smaller issues like a few days of lowered productivity, think about the bigger picture. Your staff should feel suitably supported when they come back to work, and that’s the only way that you’re going to create a happy and productive workforce.

4       Lighten the mood  

Introducing an element of fun into proceedings at exactly the right time, to head off a post-holiday slump, can really help to keep people on track and ensure that they feel like they’re part of something bigger.
Think about what you could do to lighten the mood and raise spirits. You might want to consider:
  • After-work dinner or drinks
  • Recreational activities during lunchtime, such as running or meditation.
  • A baking competition
Gestures like this don’t have to cost you a fortune, and they could have a big impact on overall morale. Ask your staff what would work for them. Informal consultation shows that you care about your staff, and are willing to go the extra mile to ensure they’re happy and motivated.

If you want to make sure that you’re constantly making big progress when it comes to business goals and growth, heading off potential issues like this is essential.  At the Human Resource we can help you embed best practices into your company culture and day-to-day working arrangements.  We’d be happy assess how we could work together to get you firmly on the right track.
Get in touch today on 07884 475303. Or download our free E-book, "Everything you need to know about employee holidays" for the lowdown on applying fair rules consistently, safeguarding your company against legal claims and rebooting productivity after a long break.


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Pokémon Go: Productivity gone?


Go out for a walk soon and notice everyone walking quickly along as they stare intently into their mobile phones.  Are they looking for directions, or reading urgent emails?  Probably not.  Chances are they’re playing Pokémon Go.  Notice an unusual collection of cars at a local landmark containing adults gazing into their phones? Chances are it’s the site of a Pokémon gym.

What’s the draw?

Pokémon Go is a high tech treasure hunt, a reincarnation of the 1990s Nintendo trading cards for children and teenagers that’s quickly taken the adult world by storm.  It’s a virtual reality game where players roam a map using their mobile phone’s GPS location and “catch” as many Pokémon as possible along the way in the real world. The player uses the phone’s mobile camera to navigate around the real-life surroundings tracking down the virtual creatures. 
Points are earned and rankings increase as the player continues catching more and more characters. 

It can be addictive 
Hordes of players have been spotted roaming through parks and local landmarks, and even through research centres like CERN on the French-Swiss border. Players are walking for miles in pursuit of rare characters – so they’re getting a lot more exercise than usual.
The problem is that they can get so caught up in looking at the world through their screens that they don’t notice obstacles that lie just outside their phones’ field of view. Two men had to be rescued after falling off a cliff in San Diego while playing the game. Quite conceivably, distracted employees might wander in front of forklifts, tumble down staircases or ignore important safety rules in their quest for more Pokémon prey.

The adrenalin rush, the thrill of the chase, the competition, the building skill levels - in some jobs, how can work compete?  Tom Currie, a barrista from New Zealand, quit his job to search for rare monsters. “I was desperate for a break”, he said, “and Pokémon gave me the chance to live that dream.”
Productivity dive

Are your employees adding to their Pokédex instead of carrying out their job roles?  Many employers – and employees – are already reporting their productivity has taken a serious dive. With all the excitement surrounding the release of the new game last month and the possibility of being able to catch an Eevie in the canteen or a Squirtle on a colleague’s desk, it’s easy to see how it could become a distraction and affect productivity.

Should employers ban Pokémon Go?
Plenty of workplaces such as aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing have already banned play during working hours. Boeing discovered that the app had been installed on more than 100 work phones since its release, and one person there was almost injured while playing it at work.
The company took the Pokémon craze as an opportunity to talk with their employees and remind them of Boeing’s strong focus on workplace safety.  A Boeing spokesman explained to GeekWire: “As we strive for zero injuries, we prohibit employees from walking and using mobile devices at the same time on Boeing property. This has been a safety standard since 2014. Doing so has contributed to improvements in eliminating distractions and reducing the risk for slips, trips and falls.”  Another reason for banning the app was that Boeing has rules for taking photos on company property and for downloading any third-party apps on company mobile devices.
If you’ve noticed a new preoccupation with Pokémon Go and suspect it’s already affecting business productivity, it may be time to address the situation. It doesn’t have to be a Pokémoan (no one wants to be seen as a killjoy), and you can’t take employees’ smartphones away but, if you’re worried about performance, look for ways to retune their focus.

Employers can try to stem the tide or figure out how to swim along with it.  Many have imposed an outright ban but there are also reports of companies organizing mass Pokémon Go outings during meal breaks, after work or during office parties.  An effective answer to adapting to this newest challenge may be the biggest treasure of them all.

Contact The Human Resource for advice about setting out the boundaries for your employees’ personal use of the internet during work time, the types of sites not to be accessed from the company network, personal use of mobiles and social media during working hours, and potential health and safety concerns that may be associated with hordes of employees wandering around in search of Pokémon.


Saturday, 6 August 2016

Managing your workforce through the Olympics

Whether you’re an avid fan or totally indifferent, there’s no escaping The Olympic Games at the moment.  Between now and 21st August, when the Games end, there are some key considerations for you as a business owner to ensure that - as far as possible -  it’s business as usual in your workplace.  With good planning and a thought-through approach, you can head off the fall-out when staff make efforts to watch or listen to games during working time – or worst of all, take sickies.  And head off the associated impact on business performance of lower employee engagement, absence, and loss of focus too.

Here, we tell you what you need to know.

 Be flexible wherever possible

Yes, the Games are a topical issue at the moment, and you may well have members of staff who are very keen to tune in to follow some sports.  After all, swimming and athletics are the most popular participation sports in the UK, and even if it’s not a sport they’re personally involved in, other people may want to follow the fortunes of British competitors they know in Rio.

There’s plenty businesses can do to keep their employees happy and reduce sports-related absenteeism this summer. Rio's time zone is only 4 hours behind the UK, so key events will coincide with the working day.  Consider reworking your timetables to accommodate any requested time off, allowing later start and finish times, providing viewing facilities in the office, or even giving staff time off in lieu.  These will all boost morale and greatly improve productivity on non-game days.

Operational requirements will always be at the top of your agenda, but if you’re organised, it’s very possible to offer a degree of flexibility without it having an impact on productivity and output. If you do make allowances, you’re likely to find that it will boost morale and motivation, which is always a positive thing.

Always apply your existing people policies

A recent survey shows that one in ten employees are planning on ‘pulling a sickie’ over the summer months. 

Some best practice companies have an official policy to actively encourage employees to speak to their managers and agree on flexible working that allows them to watch their favourites in action without having to call in sick or take the day off.  In practice, it means many take shorter lunch breaks to accrue time they can then spend watching the games, either in the office or at home. Employees appreciate the importance of balancing their customer-focused duties with having fun and enjoying a wonderful summer of sport together.

You don’t have to start from scratch and create a policy that handles the implications of sporting events. It’s very likely that everything you need will already be covered in your current policies and practices, including provisions around annual leave, sickness absence, and alcohol in the workplace.

If you suspect that your written policies are no longer fit for purpose, or that changes need to be made to ensure that you’re compliant with relevant legislation and best practice, then take this as your cue for getting things sorted. We can carry out a review of where you currently are, and make recommendations for moving forward.

 Consider your stance on social media usage

With the Olympics underway, many workers will have one tab open for work and one open for play.

Social media usage is another consideration that you may well already have covered within your existing policies. It’s important to consider the fact that your staff may be turning to social platforms and online news sources to stay up to date with the latest races and commentary.

A web use policy should encompass what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and it should be very clearly communicated to all employees. Remember to keep things fair. It wouldn’t be a good idea, for example, to allow athletics fans to use social media during the Rio Olympics 2016, but apply a blanket ban on usage for other reasons. Remember that not everyone is interested in the Olympics!

 By the end of the month, the Rio Olympics will be fading into a distant memory for many people. In the here and now though, it’s important to ensure that you’re ready to sidestep any problems and issues. There will be other big sporting events (though maybe not a World Cup final match for England..) and they present companies with a great opportunity to improve employee satisfaction and engagement. If employees feel a company is willing to accommodate their interests, they are more likely to go the extra mile in return. 

If you’d like to take the opportunity to chat with an expert HR consultant about the implications of greater flexibility or adjusting your policies, get in touch with The Human Resource on 07884 475303 for a no-obligation chat about how we might be able to help.





Tuesday, 26 July 2016

School’s Out For Summer

It’s that time of year again. All across the country, teachers are breathing a sigh of relief as they wind down into the long summer holidays, whilst parents are facing up to the day-to-day reality of balancing childcare responsibilities with their working lives.

The bottom line here is clear. When the kids are off school, either due to organised breaks throughout the academic year, or because of other factors like teachers' strikes, it can have a big impact on businesses. As an employer, it pays to take a proactive approach. Here, we share our advice and guidance for managing associated challenges effectively.

 Harness a more flexible approach

Giving your staff more flexibility can help to ensure that a balance is struck between work and family. Consider whether you could offer your team members the opportunity to work from home, or slightly alter their hours during the summer holidays.

When most people think of flexible working, they think of arrangements like these, and it’s true that they can really help. Don’t be scared to get a little more creative though and think outside of the box. Many businesses have successfully agreed term-time only contracts for employees who are balancing their careers with caring responsibilities.

Be prepared for an influx of holiday requests  

At this time of year, many of us are tempted by the prospect of booking a last-minute getaway. We all like a bit of sun and sand, but when your staff are planning a mass exodus, the situation can turn into a major headache. Remember that giving priority to staff with children could be discriminatory.

You don't have to say yes to holiday requests!  If you feel like you’re struggling to manage them, it might be time to implement a more robust system. This can ensure that your processes are fair, open and equal, and that you’re ready for the challenges that the summer holiday period can bring.
Take the time to rethink your priorities  

Many workplaces experience a bit of a lull during the summer months. Staff are away on holiday, they’re thinking about spending time with the kids, and you might find yourself slipping into the trap of letting the time just pass you by. Instead of going down this route, take the opportunity to get your leadership team together and focus on where you’re going.

What are your priorities for the rest of the year? What challenges do you need to overcome? What opportunities exist that you aren’t tapping into? A little planning can go a long way.

If the summer season is causing employee headaches in your business, seek out professional assistance. This is often exactly what you need to get things back on the right track, and stop small issues from escalating into something more serious.  Give The Human Resource a call today on 07884 475303.  Or download our free E-book, "Everything you need to know about employee holidays" for the lowdown on applying fair rules consistently, safeguarding your company against legal claims and rebooting productivity after a long break.





Thursday, 21 July 2016

Rules- made to be broken

Users of social networking site Reddit have been revealing some of the daftest workplace rules they’ve been asked to follow.  Here are some of our favourites:
  • “We cannot drink coffee after 2pm.  They insist that drinking it in the afternoon is wasteful”
  • “I had a job once where you could only sharpen pencils with the mechanical pencil sharpener during certain times.  It was a weird rule.”
  • “When I worked at a call centre, there was no standing or getting up.  We had to sit, so 5.5 hours of sitting down between last break and getting off work.” 
  • “Can’t grow any facial hair other than a moustache”.
  • “I was asked to take off my pink shirt on anti-bullying day because it wasn’t appropriate for a manager.”
Or the rule reported in the press that the time Sports Direct employees spend undergoing “rigorous” body searches at the end of every shift is without pay, so that they clock up an extra unpaid hour a week. 

Someone in authority in all these workplaces must have thought the rule was a good enough idea to enforce it -  but why? 

In some cases, perhaps the underlying intention of the rule was to improve productivity.  In others, like no pink shirts on anti-bullying day, to demonstrate a specific type of workplace. 
It just shows how, if we rely on rules and policies to manage our workforce, we’ll never improve work and working lives.  If rules were the answer, anti-discrimination law would have put an end to sexism in the workplace decades ago.  Which we know it hasn’t. 

You can’t change behaviour by writing more rules.
Instead, what matters is focussing on how things get done and how people behave in the absence of any other guidance: on the working culture.  It’s as much about how things get done as what gets done.  We have to start with purpose, values and the principles that call out what behaviour we expect and the basis for people to make the right decisions. 

When we have everyday conversations with line managers, when we interview, when we train and develop, when we review salaries, when we appraise, when we manage performance, when we design jobs and reporting lines, at all these touch points we need to be conscious of the behaviours we’re seeking to develop and reinforce them at every opportunity. 
Another touch point to communicate your values as an employer is your Employee Handbook.  Not one full of back-covering rules and complex impersonal legalese.  As a focal point to openly communicate what is important to the workplace and why, and how things should get done.  To make sure everyone is clear what you expect and reward regarding customer service, working hours, absence, behaviour, communicating - and why.

At The Human Resource we work with you to identify the values and the good behaviour you expect and to set the boundaries. We then create an employee handbook tailored to your business, communicating clearly to everyone. We support you in leading a productive, engaged workforce that’s committed to what your business is trying to achieve - with a business that people are proud to work for, where their talents can develop and thrive, and where they're motivated to go that extra mile.







Thursday, 7 July 2016

Dealing with change in your business

Change can bring opportunity.  But it can also bring uncertainty.  No matter what form change takes –  growing larger as an organisation, introducing new products or services, restructuring jobs, a merger or acquisition – it means leaving the known for the unknown.  And facing the unknown can be hard.  But it’s possible to develop skills for managing change.  Here are the useful strategies for staying confident and in control if you’re facing difficult change right now, and to prepare you for the stresses of future change too.

Reactions to change
Everyone in an organisation experiences the anxiety that comes from the uncertainty of change.  And probably some of the excitement too, about the opportunities change offers.  Your job as manager is to help the team through the rough spots as things change and keep them motivated and working towards the changes that need to be made.  In order to do that well, you’ll need to acknowledge how the change is affecting you.

Stress and anxiety are infectious so you’ll need to work out your own way of internalising any of your own negative emotions -  spreading them to your team simply won’t help the climate at work. So:

o   try to maintain routines at work and home

o   avoid spending time with consistently negative people

o   remember that work isn’t your entire life

o   develop a relaxation method

o   maintain friendships outside work

o   get plenty of sleep

o   eat well, take care of yourself and exercise.
You’re there to offer leadership and hope, to remind your people of the ultimate goals of the change and the bigger picture, and to point out opportunities that they may not see.
Make an effort to give extra encouragement.  Thank people promptly for work well done.    Let people know you understand they’re under extra pressure and that you notice and appreciate their efforts. Nobody can get too much appreciation, and people are especially needy during times of change.

Communicating during change in the company
As a manager you can have a big effect on how well and how easily your people adapt to change and embrace it.  Open and honest communication is essential to all successful change. 
  • It’s always better for employees to hear the news about change from you rather than through the grapevine.  Hold regular meetings to talk about company events, even if there is no specific information to convey.  Face-to-face dialogue is more effective than voicemail or email messages.
  • Don’t wait to deliver important information.  Share what you know about forthcoming changes as early as possible.  When you have only partial information, share what you do know and admit that you don’t have all the answers.  We tend to withhold information until we have the complete picture – yet the people around us may start to fill in the gaps from their own worried imaginations when we don’t keep them informed.  You don’t need to know everything before you share the news you do have.
  • Allow and encourage employees to openly express their frustrations and disappointments.  Until people talk about the change and how they feel, they can’t move on.
  • Encourage employees to come to you with their questions and concerns.  And express a sincere interest in how the employee is feeling and coping.
  • Don’t make promises you aren’t sure you can keep.  For example, avoid promising that no one will lose their job unless you know for certain that this is true.  One broken promise – even a small one – can seriously damage trust and credibility.
If your company is growing, there's more advice here about how to take your people along with you.