Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Night Hike Update

We forgot to mention. We did this amazing thing...

We completed the London Night Hike with our team mates from Bastows on Friday and raised over £5000 for Maggie's Centres.

It was tough, it was fun, we moaned, we laughed, we got photos, we drank tea, we ached a bit, and I thanked all the angels for Steve's skills as a masseur, brilliant partner and very caring person. He looked after us all.

Bastows have blogged it over on their site.

I won't rewrite it, it says it all.

Happy. Accomplished. Rewarded.


... What's next?

Being you

He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.  

~Raymond Hull

Remember being a  kid and people telling you "You must be yourself", "Happiness comes from being happy with who you are" and the like?

And do you recall when people started telling you "Oh, you can't say that sort of thing, it isn't popular" or "Oh DO try to fit in and get along with people"? Do you recall when you reacted and started caring about having the 'right' possessions, the 'in' gadgets and fashionable clothes?

How did it feel to experience such a volte face

Do you remember putting on the mask and pretending to be another person for the first time? (I'm not sure that running around the playground with your hood up, coat buttoned at the neck and your arms out of the sleeves playing Batman when you were five counts.)

It happens so gradually, yet so completely, that I will guess that you don't even remember.

God has given you one face, and you make yourself another.  

~William Shakespeare

Inspired by Alexander Kjerulf's blog post today which explores why managers are afraid to show they are happy, I find myself thinking about why we too often deny ourselves the happiness of being true to who we are: why we feel compelled to hide our true selves and wear a different face when we get to a certain point in life- whether that's an age, a position at work or in a relationship. 

I am blessed to know many people who are so completely at ease with who they are that they are excused from reading this post. However if you've ever bitten your lip and gone with something for a quiet life, or set aside your personal values to 'fit in', do please read on...

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.  
~Judy Garland

 Our business philosophy comes from our personal values of fairness, equality, respect, creativity and resourcefulness. The language we speak wasn't gleaned from the great business books of our time but from our conversations with business leaders, colleagues and employees over years. Sure, we've read a  few of those books... but they are not something we regurgitate wholesale for people we meet, because they just aren't relevant to them. With regards a good number of those books, we are with Dorothy Parker: they should not be tossed aside lightly, but thrown with great force.

We don't have a sales pitch as such, though we can tell you in less than a minute what we do. We prefer to have conversations that are aimed at finding out what an individual or business needs, and focussing on those areas. We're not fans of talking at people- conversations are far more fun for all concerned.

The most exhausting thing in life is being insincere.  
~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

That's not to say we've not had to put our own instincts to one side at times to follow a client's wishes rather than what we'd do ourselves. In that situation we are happy to deliver what is needed- but we will advise if we truly believe it's not a good way forward. We don't like scare stories, but we are frank when we outline the risks and consequences of following a particular path. If we weren't honest with those good enough to seek our expertise, and we were not true to ourselves, we'd be cheating everyone. 

And that's not how we work.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Social media will not destroy your business

"Tweets are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer."

How many times do you see this on a Twitter biog? Ever wonder why people feel the need to create the space between their values and those of their business? The times where this is really essential (security concerns and the like) are rarer than hens' teeth. So why is this such a worry for so many employees and employers?

Employers often don't understand the 'social' bit in 'social media.'

Twitter is a wonder. It's a place where strong alliances can be formed, causes fought, messages heard, conversations held and where vital information can be shared in the time it takes to cross an average road. Business was awfully slow to pick up on it, and many still eye it with suspicion. 

Me: Twitter can help you connect with key people and businesses and really reinforce your values and culture, marking you out from your competitors and creating a powerful and fun presence that your people can contribute to. It can really help them feel a part of things and build loyalty and creativity.

Common response: How much money will it make me? 

Some clearly still don't get it.

Twitter stress, or as I heard it called recently- 'Twanxiety' (yes, I glared at the person responsible.)

We have just under 400 followers on our Twitter account. Some know us personally, some don't. (Both types of people are cool. We'd like more of both please, hem hem, just saying.)

I also tweet in a personal capacity. This is where I tweet a little work stuff, a lot of other stuff. There is brainstorming, humour, sarcasm (mostly about Coldplay), politics, moaning about things (again, Coldplay) and swearing (and not just about Coldplay, whaddya know?)

I felt anxious earlier this year when after the ConnectingHR Unconference, tweeters who followed the work account cottoned on to the personal one and started following there, too. I panicked a bit. I have a certain political allegiance, and so that account is used mainly to comment on current affairs, e.g. my latest frustrations with policy and the process. I started trawling the timeline to see if there was anything incriminating, or that would alienate people I otherwise thought very fine. 

I knew that there was nothing that painted my profession in a bad light. I knew there was nothing disparaging about any of them- they're good folk, so it wasn't like they'd received a drubbing on there. I was just worried about what they'd think having seen this other side of me.

Would they be shocked by personal tweets where I'd criticised a political position, or reinforced a point with use of more colourful language? Would they disconnect because we differed politically?

Social media (alone) cannot destroy you

I hear a lot of anxiety about social media from business owners. Most of it starts with 'What if...' Much of it ends with "... it could destroy our reputation!" Trust me, if you really believe your employees can ruin your brand with a Facebook status or a tweet, you have bigger problems that whether they're talking about work online. These are problems you cannot afford to ignore.

Any employer who expects universal agreement and conformity is in for a shock if they think they'll only see blind allegiance should they trawl employees' Facebook pages. There are the employers who forget that they hired people- with all their brilliant individuality, flaws and diversity of opinions and experiences- and who profess horror when they see something they personally don't like or agree with. 

An employee's Facebook post or tweet may not necessarily damage the company in any way. Is disciplining a staff member who posts about how hacked off they are with their manager really going to make the bigger problem go away? Or would it be better to look at what provoked them and get as much information as possible? What to do when your brand is really damaged (or has the potential to be harmed) is a big issue, and one that sometimes sadly does have to result in action against an employee. But it doesn't mean the uderlying cause- or indeed, the employee- should be dismissed.

Why do they post this stuff?

People say things on the internet that they don't feel able to say in person. This does get taken to extremes where unprovoked abuse is involved, and the debate on 'trolling' and 'cyberbullying' is raging hard once again. The rule I tend to follow is this: if you wouldn't wear it on a T-shirt, don't post it on the web. However this also works when fear or an inability to express oneself is concerned- for example that hacked-off employee could be venting frustration rather than creating a scene in the workplace, having tried several times to raise an issue with their manager and got nowhere. Don't just label it 'irresponsible'- find out why they chose the internet as their listening ear rather than you.

I'll just stop them using social media. Give me a policy.

I wouldn't try. Employers who do are on a hiding to nothing. Don't fight it- use it too. It can be a valuable and lively way to show the human side of your business; look at how construction company Bastows break the mould and how Betfair Poker keep things fun. Heck, I don't understand the first thing about poker but I follow them for sheer amusement value, and because I like what they're doing there. Both share a strong message about who they are and how they work. Their websites tell you what they do, their social media talks about how they do it. It gives you an idea of how it'd feel to work with these people. 

Both businesses have multiple people updating their social media presence, and adopt an open and communicative style that is geared towards connecting and entertaining, rather than merely transmitting a corporate message. Employees generally like this; it creates pride in the brand that you'll find they often adopt when talking about work.

The dividing line

In my own situation, I need not have worried. Smart people seem to be able to separate the two accounts and realise that professionally, I wouldn't dream of communicating in the same way as I do on the personal account. They see that I can set aside my personal opinion and refer purely to the professional position. They also see what my drivers are- how my personal values of equality, fairness, creativity and resourcefulness truly inform how I work.

They see that under my personal account (which you'd never find by Googling my name, top tip there) I am letting off steam.

A few people like me even more for being open and passionate in my views, or for voting the same way they do... the rest? Well, we agree to disagree. It's ok. We're grownups. We might just growl at one another from time to time.

But at least we are all clear on where we stand.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Sod Cancer

Tomorrow I face my biggest physical challenge in years as Steve and I walk 20 miles through London at night with nine friends. We are walking to raise money for Maggie's Centres.

Maggie's support people facing cancer and their loved ones at every stage from diagnosis through treatment, recovery, remission and, when needed, end of life and bereavement care.

They do it all for free. Amazing, right?

We lost someone very precious to us to cancer this year, and saw someone we love lose his father last year. I've had my own narrow squeak, and two amazing ladies we know battled the illness and came through... so when we thought of doing something to raise funds this year, a cancer care charity seemed fitting.

We aimed to raise £3135 and have broken through that in style. We've now raised over £4000 as a team, and are delighted and so grateful for all the support we've received. If you're one of our donors- thank you, and we hope to do you proud.

If you've not supported us yet- please do. It would make every step that little lighter knowing we have you cheering us on and supporting Maggie's.

I am scared- 20 miles feels like forever tonight. I am anxious- what if I can't finish? I so don't want to let anyone down- or myself!

We are determined; our loved ones faced cancer with bravery, humour, putting others' fears before their own and fighting to the last.

Tomorrow, we are proud to walk in honour of them, and as we set off, we hope to feel their hands on our shoulders, guiding us along... And giving us a shove to keep us going when needed.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Kids today...

Teenagers. No, this isn't going to be a moan along the lines of "...they don't know they're born"or "they get far too much these days." This is a piece I've been inspired to write by my own teenagers, their friends and what I see happening around me. (They created the image for this blog, in fact. Not too shabby as energy and fun goes, is it?)

I wrote about the issues faced by young people last year in the wake of the riots. I stand by much of what I said, but any edit would reflect upon the highs created by the recent Olympic and Paralympic Games, and whether we really did manage to 'Inspire A Generation', or just the kids with enthusiastic parents and access to the better facilities and support networks?

Young people face a choice when leaving school (for those that make it that far.) If they get the results needed, do they take the plunge and continue study to University level (and enter the world of increasing tuition fees), or do they enter the job market- which is tougher now than many of us can recall? For those whose academic results rule out University, competition for apprenticeships and training programmes is fierce, and again, the employment market is a vicious beast at present.

I sent a tweet last night asking what piece of advice the Twitter community would give to young people-one thing you'd recommend they carry with them as they set out.

Safesite's Marketing Manager Ruth Taylor said "Enjoy work, apply yourself now & learn as much as you can, you'll reap the rewards later. Oh and hindsight is a wonderful thing!" 
Zoe Mounsey is a sharp HR mind and employee engagement afficionado as well as a mum, and she advises "Be curious. With the wealth of information at people's fingertips, we should never feel that there is nothing left to learn or to understand, so should always be asking questions."

A lovely tweet from 'glam legal eagle', the enigmatic and wise LotusFlower: "Cultivate a good life/work balance now for better stress-management in the workplace."

The old saying goes 'It takes a village to raise a child.' So instead of rolling your eyes at 'unruly' young people or condemning them as 'lazy', 'disrespectful' or 'demotivated', why not discover what motivates and energises them? Instead of demanding to know why struggling parents can't manage their teenagers, why not offer a listening ear or a kind word of encouragement to them and their child? The pressures on parents are unlike any at any time in modern history- many work long hours our of necessity, not desire. Personally, I live with the weekly regret that I feel I've never quite spent enough time with my own 18 and 14 year old and the resolve to do better next week. Some have never learned the skills needed to handle their children beyond baby or childhood, and more still view their teenager as something from another planet. It doesn't mean they're failing; they just need to know they're not alone.

Our teachers do amazing work on the whole, but often there's not enough of a link between home and school to ensure consistency and stability and often no link at all to the wider community. We cannot and should not condemn 'the system'- and by default our teachers- for failing anybody while we stand by and leave the hard work of raising the next generation to those whose 'job' it is.

We all have a part to play, and a duty to ourselves to fulfil it as best we can. Young people need us, and more importantly, we need them. We need to look out for them, whether it's our 'job' to or not.

Think about the teenagers you know. Now think past what you see and hear and consider them as people. 

You don't just have your parents, or a teacher to go to for advice and support, so why should they?

Who's to say that even if you're not a teacher or the parent of a young person that you can't be the empathiser, motivator or cheerleader they need?

The last word goes to mentor, coach and business and schools speaker David McQueen, who recommends that young people "find one person you can talk to about anything." 

Maybe you're that one person. Why not go and find out?