Childhood Truths

So does this ring any bells from childhood?

Child 1 – “You’re a big smelly poo”

Child 2 – [say this part in a sing-song ‘nah nah nah nah’ child’s voice for maximum effect] “What you say is what you are”

Child 1 – Urgh no fair!

But it occurred to me the kids are actually onto the truth here!  [Note my use of ‘the’ kids – you really have no evidence that it was my own kids having this high brow discussion during a boring, rainy half term!]

Anyway, it’s not that we want to be going round calling people big fat smelly poos – well, we could but it might not get us very far.  It’s more the fact that they hit on the nugget of truth that is ‘what you say is what you are’.

In my lead-up to resigning from the corporate world I had high self belief in starting my own business to coach and develop leaders.  Much of this belief had come from the coaching I received from my own coach, but also from the incredible support of wonderful people in my new world, many of whom I met on Twitter (kudos to those generous folks – Perry Timms, Ian Pettigrew, David D’Souza, Alex Moyle, Noel Gray).  Through challenge and support all of these people helped me to get clear on what I wanted to do so that when it came to the point of resigning I knew that it was absolutely the right thing.

And then, once I’d resigned, I of course had lots of conversations with lots of people in work that involved them saying things like “you’re leaving?”, “you’re very brave”, “I can’t believe you’re doing this”.

This was all fine for as long as my responses were true to everything I believed that had led me to that point, and in fact that they were true responses.  Where it started to take a downward turn was when I began jovially responding to the question of “so have you got lots of work lined up” with “no, it’s a bit crazy isn’t it” or “no, I’m hoping that’ll come”.  Neither of which were actually true because a) I’m good at what I do and I love being able to help people make a difference (not so crazy) and b) I’d planned my approach to build my work (no need to hope).

But these jokey responses of ‘craziness’ and ‘hope’ started to niggle at my self belief and undermine my confidence in what I was doing.

So what?  I spotted this, I switched my language, I re-focussed on what I believe and the purpose of what I’m doing.

And I started to regain my positivity and confidence.

Whatever we see and hear from people – the positive and the less positive – there’s a whole load of stuff going on beneath the surface linked to our beliefs, our values, our past experiences, our memories, our emotions.  These influence the thoughts we have.  And then these influence the stuff we see on the surface – how we behave, how we respond to situations, how we react, the words we use.  And ultimately this influences the results we get in life, the outcomes.

And this connected chain reaction works the other way too – the words we use will impact what we think, which will impact how we feel.  And which was why my words of ‘craziness’ and ‘hope’ had started to feed thoughts of ‘I can’t do this’ and feelings of depleting confidence.

And what’s more, some of these sub-surface beliefs aren’t even actually factually true!  And yet they have a massive impact on our lives.

The best part though is that this stuff can be changed and the power of it is incredible!  Our beliefs can be discovered, and built on if they’re working OK for us, or changed completely if they’re working against us.

And this is exactly why I’m doing what I’m doing – and why I love it!!

So next time you’re saying something that’s impacting how you feel – stop and ask yourself what would be a more helpful thing to say.  What would you say instead that’s true?

Because what you say really is what you are.


Psst, SMEs, look over here. There’s another way!

After a full on day in Sheffield yesterday at the CIPD HR in SMEs event, I’ve been pondering and reflecting.

There was a huge variety of content from the inspiring Keith Jackson, MD of JRI Orthopaedics (, to the HR foundations from Sue Harper, HR Advisor of Leap 29 ( and then with some brilliant practical sessions in between: lining HR activity up to the business needs from Sara and Martin from MJF Cleaning Services (, attracting, selecting and retaining talent from Ben at IMarEST ( and a brilliant L&D programme for first line managers from Anabela at Just Eat (  All rounded off with a discussion and Q&As on leadership in SMEs (

One of the things that’s stayed with me after the event, buzzing round my head, is the opportunity for SMEs to forge a new and better path for themselves.

JRI are a great example of an SME who have spotted that there’s another way to do things and they’re following their own route that’s right for them and which, it sounds like, is setting them up for some strong growth.  Embracing a coaching and empowering culture in which hierarchies are flattened and everyone really is valued and has a voice – sounds a lot like where many corporates are trying to get to at the moment, but struggling due to their size and long legacies of top-down control.

MJF Cleaning Services are also going from strength to strength and, with a passionate MD at the helm in Martin Ferguson, they really want to, and are succeeding in, engaging their workforce so that, in a very tough market, people choose to join and stay with them.  But some of what MJF are up to isn’t going to be sustainable as they grow.  Sending a birthday card to every employee is a very personalised and, no doubt, much appreciated gesture but it must take a fair amount of time and effort already with their 130 ish staff.

And that’s where the journey of existing bigger companies has normally kicked in – the organisation grows, efficiencies are sought, process is applied, people turn into numbers and control takes full hold – because that’s the easiest way to get the basics done.

Don’t get me wrong, there is most definitely a place for efficiencies, systems and processes to do stuff instead of people doing it, or to write stuff down once for everyone, instead of everyone writing a version.  But there’s a balance which many large organisations have lost and I wonder how SMEs can avoid following that very well-trodden path to the land of control.

Having listened to JRI, it really feels as though the answer to that is in the leaders and line managers – I differentiate these roles and yet they are really one and the same.

As an MD, and often founder, of a smaller business, it’s possible to wrap your arms round the whole thing, and relatively easy for your values and your beliefs to filter down and have an impact on everyone who works for you.

As things grow, for that to be maintained, it’s the leaders and line managers who you employ and develop that will be carrying those beliefs and values through the business.  They’ll be the ones who embody the purpose of the business.  They’ll be the ones who coach, develop and value the staff at the coal face, who in turn delight your customers.  They’ll be the ones who give those personal touches of a birthday card or a spontaneous gift in recognition of doing a great job. And they’ll be the ones who encourage a climate of equity so everyone feels entitled to ask, to offer ideas and suggestions, to give new stuff a go that could make the business even better.  They’ll be the ones who treat your staff like the adults they really are.

And of course, it’s not all roses and sunlight.  There’ll be times when your leaders and line managers need to have difficult conversations, when they need to step into being more parental with a staff member who’s abused the sick pay policy, or who’s sworn at a customer.  And there’ll be times when they need to firefight and get stuck in because there’s an urgent need to fulfil a customer’s needs.

And therein lies the opportunity of being a situational leader (  No leader can adopt one style all the time.  But equally, as a leader, you should be more aware of the style you’re choosing and for what reason.  Will you get it right all the time?  Of course not.  Should you notice it when you get it wrong and learn for next time?  Absolutely.  And will it be rewarding when you get better at it?  Most definitely!  As your team grows and develops and the business succeeds – that’s got to be a good reason!

So where’s your business just now?  What opportunities do you have to carve out a new way, a better way, of growing your business and taking your people with you?  And what’s stopping you?



Leadership and Innovation in SMEs

Leadership and Innovation in SMEs

This is my Storify from the CIPD’s ‘HR in SMEs’ event in Sheffield yesterday, 20th May.  Keith Jackson, MD of JRI Orthopaedics, spoke and inspired the audience with what they’re up in JRI to be innovative and agile.

Panel Discussion about Leadership in SMEs

Peter Taylor’s (partner from the ICT Partnership LLP) talking about the big challenges for leaders in SME organisations where the leader needs to take responsibility for many aspects of the business and who spend their time working in instead of on the business.  Plus there’s then the aspect of often being family-owned and the shares being spread among a number of family members which can make decisions more difficult than in other businesses.

Peter recommends watching Digby Jones’ Trouble Shooter 3rd episode where Warburtons recognised the need to bring in people who were better than them to bring a fresh perspective and an objective, non-family view.  But it’s usually important that these people will retain the family-feel to the culture which is what’s got the business to where it is today.

Anabela says as a business you need to think about what leadership you want for your business? How do you recruit for it or develop it if it’s not there already.  And this isn’t just about the top person – everyone has a role to play in leading.

Conor’s telling us that staff of SMEs have much greater trust in their leadership – more like 68% vs about 40% in larger organisations.  This is a fantastic story!

You can achieve great things if you create a great purpose and change the self-view of staff – Conor’s example of a company he worked with where rather than being a ‘security staff’ business they were a business who were responsible for keeping people safe, and who created partnerships with the Police to give staff a sense of responsibility and status through being able to talk to them direct about issues.

Now to the floor for questions……

What about followership – a question of whether graduates leave university with high aspirations to be leaders but who don’t know how to be a good follower – don’t have the ability to work within a team.  Peter sees this as a blend because you need the right fit for your culture, and grads are often the people who have great new ideas.  However Conor sees this as grads being good with skills and need to learn leadership.  He talks to his undergrads about humility and vulnerability (see Brene Brown on TED Talks) being a key part of leadership success – situationally adjusting to follow and lead when needed.

Self-managed teams where hierarchies are flattened and where you will sometimes lead and sometimes follow is a new way of working which could become more prevalent.  It will help maintain agility and encourage cultures of innovation – which we heard at the start of today is a core part of being a successful SME.

Keith Jackson makes a good point that we need to oscillate between Manager and Leader – and to be able to do ‘management’ effectively is made easier when you’ve got robust systems and processes around you.  But how do you balance the two?  Are you aware when you’re moving between the two?  Are you making conscious choices about which ‘mode’ you’re going to be in – situational leadership (Goleman).


New question about being creative with learning & development with a limited budget.

Conor advocates using social media and prezzi to curate content for others to learn from.  Use Storify to curate and share experiences like from events such as today’s.  And the Charity Learning Consortium allows access to hundreds of courses – but you have to be a charity.

Peter’s seeing more learning being in bite-sized chunks, or one person going to the ‘official’ training and cascading to others internally.


And that’s all folks!  Till next time…..




Inspiring Managers to get Passionate about People

Anabela Yourell who’s HR Manager from Just Eat is the final speaker for today.  Started in Denmark Just Eat is now in 13 countries – so you can Just Eat all over the place!  Having bought most of the other similar organisations in the UK they only have Hungry House left as a UK competitor. So really they’re not still an SME.  In 4 years they’ve gone from about 50 to 750.  1400% in employee growth!! Valentine’s night was last record breaking night at 195,153 orders – how romantic!  Wonder what’s driving that trend – economy?  In 4 years that’s grown from 15,000 as a record breaking night back then. The challenges they’ve not surprisingly faced along the way are a lot to do with the right people in the right jobs – need to just get bums on seats which means you just hire someone even if you don’t really know what you need, and you don’t really know how to select those people.  And promoting from within without developing managers meant that people weren’t actually doing the role of a manager. Anabela joined a very reactive HR team with no contracts, no passports on file – the basics just not in place.  Since then there’s been investment in HR so that they’ve grown from a team of 3 to 13. To move out of this place they had to figure out their priorities, and help the senior management see the difference that could be made through bringing a people focus.  Their first priority was to develop line managers who they clustered into groups of managers from similar areas of the business.  This was right because they needed the examples to be relevant to the delegates to help the learning.   But outside the classroom they encourage cross-business working – especially for discipline and recruitment where managers help each other out cross-function to bring an objective perspective to decisions. So they created ‘Passionate about People’ – 8 days that could be completed over a year but delegates wanted to book on quicker than that because they were getting so much from it. It was made up of : 1. A pre-course test to assess levels of passion for people to get people of similar capabilities grouped together and make their learning more effective by feeling safe and similar to those around them. 2. Employment Law, equality & diversty 3. Finding Nemo – recruiting, selecting, inducting and onboarding – are you recruiting for skill or culture?  Great to have this focus for the questions that need to ask in interview. 4. Be Frank – having difficult conversations about things like body odour, and Where are They – to focus on absence 5. Performance Mgmt – Getting Back on Track, and Performance Appraisals – Get them to the Moon – with quarterly reviews and a whole new set of objectives – things change fast!  Some elements might be continued but with a new angle or new focus and it’s all hooked into the longer term plan that’s created at the top to ensure everything’s pulling in the right direction. 6. Homework and Getting to the Bottom of It – investigations, discipline, dismissal – purposely didn’t put grievances on the course because they wanted line managers to come to HR when they got to that to avoid fire fighting if they got left too long 7. How passionate are you now? An end of learning test to spot where further development might be needed. And so what?  The differences they’ve seen…… The HR team saw that line managers were more confident, the HR team had more time because managers were less reliant on them and the teams’ confidence in the abilities of managers was growing with respect for them growing too. Recruitment and retention is working better, staff survey’s showing better results.  All in all a better place!

Attracting, Selecting and Retaining the Best Talent

I spoke to Ben Saunders (Head of HR and Learned Society at IMarEST) last week ahead of today’s event ( and he’s up first in the post-lunch slot to talk about his work.

As a member-funded group, people are at the heart of what they do.  They’re a complex organisation with representatives worldwide, which began with their first team member abroad in 2006, but they have only 50 employed staff, considering themselves as the CIPD of the marine world.  Also, like the CIPD, in 2012 they appointed David Lucy as CEO – someone with a commercial rather than marine background.

The organisation faces a challenge of keeping their members engaged, and staying relevant to their needs. One of the key things they heard from members was that the organisation needed greater presence in the locations where the members were working – primarily in Singapore – which has led to a stronger office over there.

Despite the long history of the organisation, the ‘proper’ HR function was only established in 2013.  Personnel was in existence before that – but just as an administrative function with much more to do than just HR.  6 months to get a contract on joining was quite normal, and the first pregnant person was asked to write the maternity policy!  Sometimes evolution to having an HR function is accidental rather than planned.

When Ben took over as Head of HR he recognised the need to align process and procedure to the organisation.  One of the first was to look at appraisal process – which they’ve maintained as not linked to pay – there’s a theme emerging here in the organisations speaking today!

They needed to work on helping line managers realise the value of having HR involved early in conversations about new contracts being won.  A common story – and a great win if HR can be in there from the start to help plan for who’s needed, where, with what skills.

And they’ve moved to a place where they get clear on what they’re recruiting for, and therefore who they need, rather than bringing good people in – even though they couldn’t necessarily do what the org needed at that time.  They’ve now taken that a step further where, for each hire, they consider whether that post is best placed in Singapore or London.  This has become a key part of their attraction process, along with the benefits on offer.  Plus they’ve identified roles that can be good entry points to the organisation which, if everything aligns at the right time, can lead to other positions and careers.

When selecting people they often go for temp to perm options and, along with an application and interview process, there’s a meeting with a senior manger, CEO or member of board of trustees to get buy-in early for that person joining the business.

For retention, they identify opportunities for people to develop, sometimes using secondments and acting up positions.  They fund relevant training and professional membership subscriptions.  And they encourage staff to become mentors to get a different perspective.

But a core part of the institute and maintaining its credibility is their network of associate experts who can be brought in for specific projects when needed.

So the institute has gone through significant change from when it was first implemented, and a lot has been done to bring a greater focus to people and development.

Q from the audience about the appraisal process – IMarEST have introduced an appraisal that recognises what’s gone well, what are you proud of from the past year, and what are you looking for from future development.  It’s then used to identify opportunities to develop and progress career.






Aligning HR Strategies to Wider Business Goals

Next it’s Martin Ferguson, MD, and Sara McTrusty, HR Manager of MJF Cleaning Services.

Doing it right when no one else is looking – great tag line!  And a great link to leadership – sign of a great leader to be able to leave their team and they still deliver because they know where they’re heading.

MJF has about 130 staff and they’ve also just acquired a company in Yorkshire so now have a satellite office in Leeds, with main operation in Darlington.  They’ve got some big clients and work in a variety of sectors (leisure, sport) and do more than daily cleaning.  The acquisition in Leeds has opened up National Defence market to them too.

The business has gone from strength to strength through people.  After some holiday-thinking-time Martin realised that they needed to do something different.  They’d previously used an outsourced HR service before which hadn’t worked for them.  It felt too impersonal.  And given the competitive nature of the industry they knew they needed to attract and keep the best people.  They wanted people who knew what MJF were trying to achieve as a business and people who wanted to come to work every day.  A tough ask in such a tough industry.

Sara joined the team as HR for the business to take the generic processes, making them right for the business and the industry.  And keeping things simple with as little paperwork as possible.

So they looked at appraisal processes, at more rigour in the probation period, at training managers with this.  And they’ve kept the pay and reward element separate to the appraisals.  But which doesn’t exclude recognition – they do raffles and prizes to recognise great work and make it fun.  They focus on getting the basics right – so often overlooked for the new and shiny!  They also have a staff recognition scheme called STAR (special thanks and recognition) which Martin makes decision on.  They publicise – inc;udng on SoMe 🙂 – the people being recognised, but not the prizes because it’s about what people do not what they get.  Nice.  And they use SoMe to create a sense of community so their solo cleaners don’t feel they’re the only one up at 4am!

A great sense of Sara making decisions to do things that balance doing people-stuff that will meet their’s and the business needs without excessive time or expense.  And a great sense of really understanding the reality on the ground – connected to staff and customers.

People in this industry will just leave for 5p more an hour so MJF have focussed on developing and valuing existing and staff because this is better for customers, but also better for the business in saving re-recruitment costs, and having people who care about MJF.  They even send everyone a birthday card!

But all this focus and personalisation of what they do is being worked in a fairly traditional model with Darlington as the hub, Area Managers taking those messages out to the teams – I wonder whether there’ll be a time when the business needs to be less top-down to remain agile and innovative?