Susan's Musings

Just Thinking Out Loud

In Fairness to a Generation

The Most Competent, Capable and Caring Generation

 this Nation has Ever Produced

Vice-president Joe Biden gives the commencement address 

at the University of Pennsylvania’s 257th commencement 2013

 

I like the opinion expressed by Joe Biden, which I personally will extend to apply to young people across the world.  Overtime, however, I have found myself increasingly question whether we are generally fair to young people as we seem to continual critic them.

We refer to them as a “me, me, me generation” or the likes, in other words we call them selfish and spoilt. Ultimately they do need to take responsibility for themselves and their behaviour.  At the same time they are a product of their upbringing and the influences from the society that they, as we all live in. After all it is my hope and belief that for the vast majority of them – we did not just leave them to bring themselves up by themselves.

I could go on further about the social environment. Like the observation that although not yet updated in the dictionary; growing up, young people often find that whilst a number of adults standing together in a shopping mall are referred to as a  group; a similar number of young people are called a gang.  In milder terms it might just be said that they are loitering or hanging around.  Furthermore, whilst adults can buy coffee from a coffee shop and sit down for hours; young people are often made to move on as soon as they finish a meal talk less of a drink. They can only go into a number of shops in small numbers and if they stay at a hotel they are often looked at as if they are pests – even though they are paying.

I know I’m generalising and on the basis that it may be said that young people could choose to shop, eat, drink and stay in places where they will be treated with greater respect, let me not focus too much on this, but rather move on to education and the workplace.

Now when it comes to issues and concerns about the literacy and numeracy skills of some young people, even though I have some dyslexic tendencies and my spelling is far from perfect, I don’t feel able to defend them. Not even with the argument that the School system has failed them.  Yes, at times employers may be a bit too trigger happy dismissing applications because they spot minor spelling mistakes – possibly dismissing people that otherwise have a lot to offer. I believe there should be balance though so even I have dismissed applications when I have noticed masses of spelling mistakes including mistakes with 3 or 4 letter words.  I do recognise the criticality of literacy and numeracy to the business world as fundamental skills.

This isn’t what bothers me. Even though I don’t have children, as a School Board member (School Governor) I’m generally mindful of the time at which exam results come out and I know that time will be spent analysing the results to determine whether they are in line with expected results. I also know that there will be a fair amount of commentary on the news and elsewhere with people criticising the quality of qualifications – suggesting that exams are much easier than they used to be and that qualifications are not of the same standard.  At this point I constantly find myself contemplating how I would feel if I was a young person who had done everything I was told to do to meet a standard only for people to turn around and suggest that my qualifications are substandard.

We go on further to question the degrees they take in University.  I recall someone recently saying that he decided to take his degree because it was on offer in a University of choice and it sounded interesting.  If the courses are not valid to the workplace, why are we offering them?

Up until recently, even when we started levelling fees for qualifications, we told young people that the way forward, in order to secure a good job is to go to University and get a degree.  Again they did as was required of them.  They went to university in large numbers and obtained degrees.  For many the jobs have not been forthcoming.  Well the world has been in recession so maybe it’s understandable that this promise has been broken.

It’s not just this though. We’ve removed that entry level ladder, we’ve told them to come in with degrees and to come with employability skills yet we still want them to start of by making the coffee and doing the filing and we try to micromanage them. Then we get upset with them when they challenge us wanting work that is more meaningful. Remember they’ve paid good money for those degrees. I wonder how many people leave work or sacrifice whilst in work for an MBA without the expectation of better opportunities.

When they are not satisfied or are unhappy in a job and decide to move on, we again critic them for their lack of loyalty and for wanting it all.  We forget about another message that we are increasingly sending to them. i.e. if you listen to the typical talk to students by guests speakers and teachers alike, there is a strong possibility that they will be told that for them it’s no longer a job for life.  They are told that that they are likely to have 7 or 8 jobs or even different careers in their working lives. Therefore under these circumstances, why should they be faithful to your organisation – especially if they don’t believe that they are have understood or treated right?  I believe they are much more aware of what they want and what is acceptable to them.

This is compounded by the growth in unpaid internships and other unpaid work. A lot of employers tend to get young people to work for free, saying young people should be grateful. Now I’m not against young people doing some work for free to gain experience in situations where organisations can’t afford to pay. In fact I will immediately declare I’m looking for some to do some work for me at the moment, but though they may not be paid financially at this point in time, I would want to understand what they are looking for and support their development and progress to their next steps.  Critically, I would only not pay if I simply couldn’t afford to do so.  I see this as very different from the multinational organisations that have put their graduate recruitment programmes on hold or the high-income organisations that can afford to pay.  What are we telling them about our perception of their value.

A key question for me is how capable and prepared are we to on-board and engage young people in the 21st century workplace.

As the likes of Ken Robinson have been saying for a very long time, I believe that there is a need for a full reform of the education systems that was designed for a different era.  At the moment we seem to just make superficial changes and change assessment processes.  This does not in of itself align Education Systems to the 21st Century workplace.

Directly relating to the workplace – a few things that I believe we need to focus on and do more of:

¨     Young people need to be provided with better career guidance – both via career services and employer interaction with young people before they even start looking for work.

¨     Young people also need to be made aware of the different education routes beyond just degrees and apprenticeships.

¨     Organisations need to have and communicate clear purposes and value systems to perspective employees so that they know if it is the right environment for them.

¨     Organisations need to have robust on boarding processes in place.

¨     Organisations should be clear about career paths within their organisations.  This is one reason why I have always advocated for competency frameworks.  They provide roadmaps to the capabilities required at different levels and within different roles.

¨     Role Clarity and Job Enrichment – provide clarity about what a job entails and also making sure that it includes responsibility that are meaning and interesting.

¨     Organisations need to have the confidence to delegate some responsibility to the people that they employ, with the acceptance that they may possibly make mistakes; embracing a culture that enables people to admit when they have made mistakes so that they can be rectified.

¨     Have a focus on clearly defined outcomes rather than tasks or presenters. Moving away from a culture that dictates how tasks should be done and moving towards letting people know what the necessary outcomes are (with timeframes where applicably), allowing them to work on the how, with whatever support they need

¨     Providing coaching and mentoring support and other development as required.

¨     Having realistic expectations of them – not expecting more from them than we could actually deliver ourselves when we first entered a workplace.   After all most us were educated through similar education systems as them – think, how well would we do entering the workplace of today and what support would we want/need.

Ultimately, I believe we need to focus on and value who they actually are and what they have to offer a lot more, than the utopian focus on who we want them to be.

Selah

Susan

Susan Popoola runs Conning Towers Ltd, an HR organisation focused on Talent Management and HR Transformation and Engaged For Success a Social Enterprise. She is also the published author of Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective and Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain. She is also Winner Women4Africa Author of the Year 2013

Copyright 2013. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated

 

 

Uncovering Employee Value via Undercover Bosses

Once in a while I watch the television programme Undercover Boss.  Currently viewing in the UK is Undercover Boss Canada. In many ways the programme is flawed as it simply highlights a lot of what organisations should already be aware of about the way in which their organisations work or not; and the people that work for them. I’m also conscious that it singles out a few of the people that the undercover boss meets whilst undercover and lavishes them with professional and personal rewards. Whilst I’m always pleased for the people receiving these rewards I do increasingly find myself thinking about the rest of the workforce, which may work equally as hard, face equally as challenging personal circumstances and have similar hopes and dreams.  I therefore hope that after the programme the employers work on schemes that provide personal as well as professional support to their entire workforces.

Beyond this though, I enjoy watching the programme because it talks about the hearts and values of people in mainstream workforces. – it highlights the things that are important to them like their families; the challenges they have faced or are facing; their dreams and aspirations and the dedication to and efforts of so many to their jobs.

Recently I watched an episode, which was focused on The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). It very much followed the normal format with the undercover boss in disguise working with employees from different parts of the organisations.  In this case the boss (who happened to be a female) as per the norm shadowed employees on their jobs, gaining insights from them without them knowing who she was. At the end, the key people that the undercover Boss worked directly with were called to the organisation’s Head Office to meet with her. She gave them feedback on the experience inclusive of some of the actions that she was going to take as a result of her experience with them. She then went on to offer them a series of rewards, which leave the employees speechless, in tears or what have you. Ultimately as one employee says – “Being acknowledged is quite humbling”

I won’t go on about the fact that all employees should be acknowledged on such a regular basis that it is the norm and no big deal. I will move on to the case of an employee named Carmen who really stood out for me.

Carmen worked a 10 hours night shift in a bus depot – running around fuelling buses, checking the oil and cleaning around 50 buses each night. She specifically worked nights because she spent time during the day caring for and providing support to elderly relatives inclusive of a mother with health problems.

She probably fits into the category of working poor – those people that work very hard, yet struggle to make ends meet. Some such people have significant formal education, however a significant number such as Carmen less so – she would have liked to continue her education, unfortunately her circumstances until the intervention of the undercover boss did not allow for it.

She falls into the category of people often classified as unskilled, yet as illustrated by the attempts of the undercover boss, the likes of me and probably you with all our skills and capabilities could not do her job. Of people doing her job, she stated “We’re not perfect, we’re not machines, but we’re trying our hardest”.  As such shouldn’t we show greater appreciation of people in what we typically classify as low skilled jobs.

You make ask how? I’d say at one level – in things such as pay and benefits – the difference between minimum wage and living wages i.e. a wage that covers the cost of living.  At another level the way we talk about and refer to people in such jobs – remembering their humanity and input and not referring to them in the condescending manner, which we subconsciously do on many an occasion.  Finally, in the little things we all do and how we behave. In line with this case not leaving litter or food on public transport with the recognition that someone is going to have to clean up our mess.

Selah

 

Susan Popoola runs Conning Towers Ltd, an HR organisation focused on Talent Management and HR Transformation and Engaged For Success a Social Enterprise. She is also the published author of Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective and Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain. She is also Winner Women4Africa Author of the Year 2013

Copyright 2013. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated

 

Unlocking Charity Giving

I recently read an article by Sunil Bali on an Italian sandwich shop, which faced with the threat of a Giant Supermarket opening next-door ending up sharply increasing their profit within the period of six months.  I believe they attained this contrary result because they offered something of high value to their customers; they had an engaging approach and they remained focused without panicking.

This led me to reflect once more on a telephone call I recently received on behalf of a Charity, which was looking, to raise funds for what I must say is a very good cause. The approach adopted did, however, make me feel very, very uncomfortable.

The Charity in question was offering information on cancer. I provided my details in order to obtain the mentioned information and this led to the above mentioned phone call.

I was asked if I had a few minutes to spare, to which I responded yes. (If talking to them/providing information would be of help to them – why not) I was asked for confirmation of my contact information so that the details could be sent to me.  I confirmed the information required.  I was then asked how much I know about cancer?  That’s a very vague question I responded. The lady proceeded to ask me a few other questions in relation to cancer. To each of my responses she gave me some information.  I began to feel as if I was in school being spoken to by a teacher.

She moved on to ask me whether I knew about recent breakthrough and spoke about a specific breakthrough treatment now being trialed. She went on to speak about how they need support.  She told me she wanted to tell me about 3 ways in which I could support them. She started talking about a direct debit option. Only half listening to her, I waited for her to finish so that I could inform her that I would consider how I would support them once I had, had the opportunity to review the information sent to me. She pointed out that this level of information would not be included in what was sent to me, as they could not afford it as a charity. I told her I’d look at their website.  She asked me if I would commit to making a lower payment by direct debit. I explained to her that I wasn’t saying that I couldn’t help, but I don’t make commitment over the phone/without proper information.  I thought this would be the end of it.

The pressure continued as my discomfort and resolve grew. They could only call me this once she said. With the breakthrough they needed immediate help. It was cheaper to process payments over the phone. There was a cooling off period ………

I pointed out that I was beginning to feel as if I was being harassed by a doorstep salesperson. She still continued not recognizing how comfortable I was or how disengaged I’d become.  Shortly afterwards the call finally ended to my relief. I had not provided any information and now although somewhat put off I’m waiting for the promised from the Charity to see if and how I will support the charity.

It’s sad because the Charity is doing critical work of high value – I recognized that from the conversation. I was totally disengaged and put off by someone trying to do what virtually amounts to bullying.

All in all it reiterates my thinking that Charities will receive support if they have a worthwhile/valuable course.  Critically, however, is to target people that identify with the cause and to ensure that all the people involved with the cause effective serve as ambassadors and communicate with people in a manner that is informative, engaging and compelling.

As with the sandwich shop – the product or service should speak for itself.

Selah

 

P.S. Of possible interest – Conning Towers Ltd.’s Strategy, Skills and Brand Ambassadors programme.

Copyright 2013. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated

Working 9-5 or 24-7

I had the privilege of watching Dolly Parton’s musical, “Nine to Five” last Saturday – incidentally the day after International Women’s Day.

Although it was at least a tad exaggerated, it was horrifying to think of the way that men or at least some men viewed women in those days. I found it so disconcerting to watch that I turned to my friend’s husband and asked him whether he actually felt comfortable watching it.  He thought it was too exaggerated for one to be really concerned about it.

I’m not sure that it was that exaggerated though. Ultimately I’m thankful that things are so much better now – at least for the majority of women.

One bemusing part was when one of the ladies said imagine when we stop working 9 to 5 and start working 24-7.  Questioned about the comment she said she doesn’t know where she got the idea from.

Thinking about it, in as much as things are so much better for some, one must ask – is the 24-7 culture a justifiable price to pay?

Personally, I think females of younger generations will and in fact already are beginning to fight against this, so what will we move on too and will it be another “compromise” or the ideal state of play?

Susan Popoola

#Selah

Copyright 2013. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated

 

When Potential Comes to Fruition

I listen to American news quite a lot. My favourite news programme is NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.  I like it partly because of what I know about the news reader, Brian Williams who covered New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina long after others had stepped back. More pertinently at the end of each broadcast they have a “Making a Difference” report, which features things that people are doing within the community to resolve problems and make a difference.

I’ve listened to many reports that have inspired me and others that have brought tears to my eyes.  The one that had an indelible impression and stands out most in my mind is one that featured a project run by Usher the singer.  He had set up a project working with young disadvantaged and disengaged young people.  A young man was interviewed. He was asked what made him turn his life around.  He responded, that Usher believed in him until he was forced to believe in himself.

As someone that used to be a youth worker in London, working with young people who came with no sense of purpose and were often transformed like caterpillars to butterflies I can completely identify with this.

Whether engaging on a community level or at an HR level within organisations, my starting point is always that each and every individual has value – of which they can add/apply to their environment.  Sometimes individuals are fully aware of what they have to offer.  The frustration may then arise if they don’t know how to express themselves properly and demonstrate what they have to offer; if they are in the wrong role or if people don’t realise what they have to offer.

Beyond this, there are so many that have capabilities and potential beyond what they are aware of. It’s great when other people recognise this and support individuals to realise their full potential.

I also believe that HR has a key responsibility in this area.  I believe that HR process and systems such as Competency Frameworks, Performance Management processes, Succession Planning programmes and Mentoring schemes are only truly worth while when they help to bring out the best in people and as such enable their employers in return to get the optimal outcomes from them.

Critically, the right systems and processes will never be effective if the individual does the have the wherewithal, the attitude and disciplinary and he/she does not have management that effectively operates the systems and support the individual.  They do say that people do not leave organisations, but rather they leave managers.

 

Copyright 2012. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source.

Beyond the Man in The Mirror

 

 

 

There’s a lot to be said about looking in the mirror and seeing yourself for who you are – warts and all and working to improve upon yourself or even just accepting yourself as you are.

This week I was, however, reminded that there is also a time to look beyond the mirror. To listen and accept the positive things that other people have to say of you, to accept the good that they see in you and what you do– even if in your mind it represents a magnified view of you.

It reminds me of the words of a young man who was mentored by Usher who said of Usher, “ he believed in me until I was forced to believe in myself”

I believe that as you begin to believe and take steps towards becoming that “magnified” image, even if it’s sometimes scary, there is a strong possibility that you just might become that great person that others see.

And everyone wants to be the best that they can be – don’t they?

#Selah

Copyright 2012. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source.


Social Capital in The Workplace

On the soft side of things, talent management within the workplace is important because diverse, mutually respectful, happy teams with shared values perform best. ref: Carol Long, Three Triangles Performance Ltd. This is beneficial for organisations at an individual level, but there is also an economic imperative for effective talent management. I recently read that Brazil now claims to be the fifth largest economy in the world. France is also a threat to Britain’s position. This means that Britain is now moving backwards and is potential ‘just’ the seventh largest economy in the world. Even if Britain has still managed to maintain its position at the moment, where will Britain be positioned in 10 years time if we do not become more strategic in our actions and approach to the management and utilisation of talent?

I believe that we are still in a privileged position where people look up to us and want to work with us or do business with us. There is therefore a need for businesses to create and implement strategies that ensure the effective and efficient development and engagement of the local and global talent offered by all within communities.

At a basic level there is a need for a clear, strategic understanding of where British industry plans to go within the next 5, 10 and even 20 years. Individual businesses both large and small need to have an understanding of where they fit within that plan and what their subsequent strategy to deliver and achieve results is. When we talk about strategy, more often than not, we tend to focus on the operational and financial elements of the business but we tend to play little attention to the people side of things until there is a more immediate need.

I think the shape of the economy and global talent market that is developing means that this must now change and we must start thinking about people management – or to be more specific skills – from a more strategic perspective.

I always advocate for a skills or competency framework approach which highlights both the immediate and future resource requirements of an organisation from a skills basis.

It means that industry can broadcast skills requirements such that the education system is best positioned to prepare individuals with the flexibility to meet actual and potential needs and professions that currently don’t exist but which may exist in the not too distant future. It also enables government to have a more strategic, pragmatic view on immigration so that it is aligned to the country’s needs rather than simply pandering to those who are simply and plainly against immigration with a big full stop. It also enables better planning for jobs that may be best outsourced, with the enablement of processes to prepare and redeploy individuals who will otherwise be rendered redundant by such structural changes.

I believe a skills/competency framework also better enables open engagement with the wider community. Where it is clear to people what the competency requirements to work at different levels within an organisation are, it is more difficult for them to claim that they did not get a job because they were discriminated against for one reason or the other. It also better enables people from within the different British communities to mentor and support people from within their own communities to enable them to develop the skills required to obtain jobs at different levels. In fact, I was impressed to go into a McDonald’s store recently and pick up a little booklet with the basic framework of the different roles within the organisation and requirements to work at each level.

As we are now what is popularly described as a ‘global village’, I believe Britain, with its vast diversity has an advantage as it should be able to use that diversity to effectively interact with and understand different cultures around the world. I believe that British organisations should be mindful of this and look to use this to their advantage.

This, however, will only work if workers also do their part. I believe there are currently too many organisations, especially in retail, where the workforce is highly multicultural but highly segregated. I specifically remember doing some work in one such organisation. I went to their canteen at lunchtime and found that a large proportion of employees sat together with people from the same background as themselves, often speaking in their own language. As highlighted with a recent case involving McDonald’s, you can’t legislate against this, but I don’t believe it is very constructive and would venture to say that it is a poor reflection of multiculturalism where the gains are minimal.

Copyright 2012. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source.

When Staff are Willing, but Unable!

I believe one of the greatest things about working with Charitable organisations is the opportunity to work with people who are typically very passionate about the vision and objectives of the organisation that they work with i.e the cause.

There is, however, a challenge that comes with this when you find yourself working with that person that is ever so passionate, but far from competent for the role that they are in.  It’s even worse when that person is a volunteer – giving up their time to help for free just because they care.

How do you deal with such a situation – most especially when all everyone else may see is the lovely person that is so hardworking and caring?

Whilst I believe that people working with an organisation should be allowed some flexibility in what they do and how they do it, I believe it is also essential to have at least basic competency and role frameworks which outlines the competencies, skills and expectations required of staff in alignment with the organisation’s overall objectives.

Whilst you may not want to hurt or loose the person that is passionate about the cause if the individual is ineffective, it ultimately does neither the individual concerned or the cause (that they believe in) any good.

Having clearly defined roles and competency frameworks better enable staff to be clearer on what is expected of them and to contribute accordingly to the organisation’s vision and objectives, which are increasingly becoming more business and impact focused due to funding requirements.  They also provide key tools to help to manage staff that are ineffective in their role – enabling management to create an understanding of what must change; to define the training and development requirements or to ultimately move the person on from the organisation or to a more suitable role.

 

Susan Popoola is the Managing Director of Conning Towers Ltd, an HR firm focused on Talent Management and HR Transformation for the Third Sector.  She is also the published author of Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective and Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain.

Copyright 2012. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source.

Managing Staff Through The Tough Times

Managing Staff Through The Tough Times

While there are businesses that may be thriving, the recent recession and its aftermath mean that it’s been a tough few years for a lot of businesses.  If we are to be honest things are likely to remain tough for the next few years as we contend with Government cuts, problems with Europe and what have you. The natural instinct under these circumstances is therefore to knuckle down and focus – expecting those that work for us to do the same thing – grateful that unlike so many others they have work.

The tendency is to put structures and processes in place to ensure that we things work both effectively and efficiently – this is something I highly recommend. I also advice on the need to become more stringent about absences and what staff do within work time – this is something else that most businesses will probably be doing now. Additionally most businesses will also be becoming more focused on targets and expect staff to have the same focus.  All of this is perfectly understandable and logical – after all unless a business is run on volunteers and unpaid interns, the people working with you are being paid to get a job done in what is now a very competitive market.

I do believe, that it is, however, important to remember that just as businesses are going through a tough time, so are a lot of people that work with us.  What with the increased costs of living and the possible unemployment of a partner; close family members and/or friends,  this can all very easily serve to put pressure on those fortunate enough to have a job.  This type of pressure on staff may also be enhanced if you have already had to implement reduced hours or a pay freeze for a few years.

So yes, do expect the best from your people, but also please be a bit sensitive too.  Where possible take the time to understand their circumstances. Allow for a little flexibility within your structures and processes if it will help them without being detrimental to the business.

Fundamentally communicate with them on the position of the business, the plans that you have for the business i.e. the strategy and the logic behind it. Be open to their input and ideas – they may actually be the source of input that makes all the difference to your business.

In balancing the requirements of your business with the needs of your staff, I believe you will attain their crucial support and their vey best through the on going tough times that we are all faced with.

Copyright 2011. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated

Tackling HR's Image Problem

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Does HR have an image problem? This is something of a frequently asked question (FAQ) as regards HR, which suggests that it is a concern that refuses to go away.

In a guest blog post today, Susan Popoola describes how she became aware of HR’s apparent image problem, and prescribes what she thinks the profession can do to tackle this problem.

Ref: XpertHR

About The Author

Susan Popoola

Susan is a Human Resources Capital Optimisation Specialist specialising in areas inclusive of Talent Management with additional interest in a number of other areas inclusive of Education, Community and Social Justice.

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