Thursday, 28 March 2013

Get it out there

Business owners and managers are often absorbed in working in their business, when they should be working on it. Mired deep in the machine, they sometimes don't have the perspective needed to look beyond the here and now into what is going to happen in the future.

Selling what we do is sometimes hard when business owners hear 'HR' or 'safety' and instantly assume you're going to chuck a load of overly complicated paperwork at them and start telling them they're running the show all wrong.

Nobody wants to be told they've been cocking up, creating risk or ignoring their obligations. Not many like being made aware that there are things they must do if they employ people. Many know what they should do but have found it easier to ignore it, and focus on growing their business. They have a small number of employees- so can't justify training or employing a full-time person to run HR or manage their safety requirements. They 'get by', fudging things by using templates they've found online- or worse, ones that were designed for use by an entirely different business. I recently found a design company using templates they'd found that were designed for the NHS, and that left them exposed to all kinds of shenanigans.

Alternatively, a business may use a remote company, being sent generic policies and updates now and then and never, ever speaking to or meeting a real professional who sees the bigger picture. They never meet a person who seeks to understand their particular needs and respond accordingly, giving a far better service that goes beyond ticking boxes. They don't know if the policies and documents they've been given will work for them until they're tested.  They often don't find out they've got it wrong until they're faced with a thorny issue that isn't covered by the impenetrable folder of stuff that they paid through the nose for. They don't have access to a person who can talk them through the options and advise them on the correct course of action. When it comes to the crunch and you're faced with a tricky situation, you've got a shiny file full of information, no clue of how to apply it, and nobody to talk to. That has zero value for a business that needs to thrive. They need help on tap; they need someone fast, responsive and specific to their position.

This is why we believe that outsourcing key elements of a business' administration is the practical thing to do. 

This is why Treacletiger was set up. We believe in service and value for our clients, with a great relationship based on sound advice and support. We recognise that many get the fear when faced with the areas we specialise in; that's absolutely cool. Why would they need to know about ACoP, RSI or maternity leave? That's why we're here. We tweak the nose of fear. We keep things clear.

We offer qualified, expert advice that aligns with a business' aims and vision, while ensuring they remain compliant and legal. We can help remove and reduce risk, and help clients along the road to peace of mind.

We can't promise businesses the world, but we can promise that we can make their world a whole lot better.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Moments of connection

Yesterday I had a little reminder of how important it is for effective people to be visible and communicative.

At a client's offices, I am somewhat shut away for much of the day, only seeing those who come upstairs with the intention of speaking with me, or who pop their head around the door to say 'Hi'. I've found it a little frustrating at times, but the site is a working one, with heavy plant moving around- so quite prohibitive to just wandering about to see who you bump into. I do my best, stopping by to chat to people and building the relationships bit by bit.

Yesterday, I got a little payoff. A small reminder of why being seen and being approachable matters. 

A lady approached me in the office and asked if I had a few minutes. I said sure, and asked what she needed. She seemed anxious, and reluctant to begin talking. I realised suddenly that she had a sensitive matter to broach, and was worried about listening ears. 

I offered to come and see her in her own office, at a time that suited her. We made an arrangement to meet at the end of the day, and she left, seeming happier.

When we met, the issue was a simple one, and easily resolved- but it had been bothering her for weeks. Meeting in her own space we were able to speak freely and without her worrying about being overheard. The best part? At the end of the chat she thanked me for making time, for being there and expressed her gratitude that I'd always told her I was there for the people. She'd finally decided to take me up on that offer, and see if I really would be able to help. She told me I'd passed the test. I drove home with a smile the size of Belgium.

There are many stories that tell us that the most successful military leaders were those that ate with their troops; there's a lesson here for managers, too. The small moments of connection are what people remember when they measure a leader's effectiveness.  

And leaders- you are not alone. Stop thinking and behaving as though you are.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Slow, or calculated?

I hope this one generates discussion.

This story appears on the BBC News website today, looking at the problems faced by women in Japan when faced with the choice of a career or a family. 

One speaks about spiralling childcare costs of over $2000 (£1,318) a month per child at private nurseries, and the crisis of oversubscribed state nurseries, where thousands sit on waiting lists- and pay $1000 a month for the privilege anyway.

It's interesting that Japan's female employment rate is just 60%. 70% of Japanese women give up work after giving birth to their first child. The employment rate is way below that of countries such as Norway at 75%, the US at 66%, and Germany at 64%. (The UK situation is an interesting story and topic for debate in itself, with the economic downturn impacting hugely on women.)

Back in Japan, the percentage of working mothers is just 34%. This doesn't compare favourably with 76% in Sweden, 61% in the US, 55% in the UK, and 53% in Germany.

There's a whole shedload of issues around the rights and wrongs of women returning to work after having a child, depending on your viewpoint- and which century you live in, of course. But is the situation in Japan purely a product of slower cultural change, or has there been an active strategy to make it harder for women to resume their careers once a baby is in the frame?

What do you think?

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Protection vs Preparation

This morning as I waited to board a train to visit a client, I overheard the teacher in charge of a boisterous primary school party admonish a young girl of around eight years old for telling the station guard her name when he asked.

"Now he knows your name and what school you go to," he chided. "You have to be careful of giving out personal information. We don't talk to strangers, do we?"

As I listened, something occurred to me. As a child, I was warned of the dangers of talking to people I didn't know, too.

As a result, the adult me can be awkward and reluctant when faced with a room filled with strangers. As you can imagine, networking delivers mixed results. I never made the connection before today, but I can't help but feel that perhaps my unease can be attributed to the numerous warnings I received, and some pretty grim public information films on the subject- it was the Seventies after all.

So, how do I shake that fear of talking to strangers? I'll try to imagine that they saw the same films and are heeding the same warnings. That might start a shift in thinking, right?

Parents- how do you strike the balance between protecting your child and preparing them for the fact that one day, they WILL have to talk to people they don't know?

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Zombie apocalypse? Piece of cake.

Yesterday I went along to the Investors In People conference 2013, held at the beautiful St Luke's LSO in Old Street, London.

I'm quite a fan of IIP. I've seen it deliver measurable results and increase staff 'buy-in' and collaborative working when done right- and for the right reasons. Companies that go for it simply to get a shiny plaque and a marketing tool will find themselves disappointed. It has to be an ongoing, living and genuine way of working if they hope to get the best out of it.

The Conference promised some excellent speakers including Peter Cheese, Chief Exec of the CIPD; he did not disappoint, calling on HR types to stop overcomplicating things and start connecting with people. (Ahem. Some of us are way ahead of you, Pete.) 

We heard from speakers from the business world too, from David Fairhurst of McDonalds to Bev Ashby of BUPA via Louise Ash of Gatwick Airport. What do they all have in common? Yep, they're the usual big players who dominate the stage at these things. I'd have liked to hear from an SME or two who have attained IIP status without mega-resources. It's a little simpler to manage it when you have an HR team, marketing department or PR agency leading the charge. 

We were encouraged to tweet throughout the conference, so I raised this point. "Where's the voice for SMEs?" 

My little gripe didn't go unnoticed. I got a response on Twitter, it was noted on the stage, and I hope they take this on board for future events.

The day brought some truly delightful takeaways from the text message PeterCheese received from his 11-year-old daughter (left) and used to illustrate the digital gap between Baby Boomers, Generation X, Y and the Millennials (Generation Blah wasn't mentioned I'm afraid) and the rather wonderful 'paradigm shift' he presented that's now affixed to my wall.  It's a call to action for HR to spend less time in process and more with people. It's a nice reminder that we're on the right track.

There's a Storify from the day here.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Have you got cheese in your ears?

The old (and cruelly unfunny) BBC TV show 'Allo Allo' featured René, a beleagured Parisian cafe owner faced with occupying Nazis, flirty waitresses, posh British airmen hidden in wardrobes and stereotypes a-go-go. 

My abiding memory of an otherwise pretty questionable stab at comedy is how René would stuff his ears with cheese whenever his wife would head toward the piano to give the punters a song- whether they wanted one or not. The woman couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, so the fromage saved both his hearing and his temper from terminal damage.

I encountered two examples of 'cheese-ears' this weekend. The first was Moira, a lady who repeatedly refuses to listen to what you've asked her for and plows on to deliver what she wants you to have. In her quest to get her own voice heard above others, she's stuffed so much camembert in her lugholes she doesn't know what's expected of her any more. This is frustrating for those of us who are relying on her to deliver, and who know that if she unclogged them a bit, she could.

The second example was Paula, who I met for the first time on Saturday in a rain-soaked and freezing Croydon. This lady has fibromyalgia, a heart condition and has lost a leg to diabetes. She's developed cheese-ears in response to being told she can't. She's heard the phrase "...your limitations" so often, she's developed an inability to hear negativity for negativity's sake. As a result she's a respected, committed and super-smart campaigner and one heck of a compelling public speaker. 

Both have adopted the same tactic, but the results couldn't be more different. Working with Paula is a delight. Moira frustrates people, and we now try to avoid relying on her.

So have you got cheese in your ears where some people or topics are concerned? Is it helping you block out the bum notes, or are you missing out on the sweet songs?

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

April offer

APRIL brings a never-to-be-repeated offer (unless we fancy doing it again, in which case it may be.)

For the entire month, we are offering a reduction of 50% on our fees for mediation services.

Why? We think it's worth offering an incentive to businesses and get them to seek support and resolution to those damaging and costly conflicts in the workplace.

So stop burying your head in the sand; give us a shout and let's get things working better for everyone.


There's so much noise around talent, HR, people skills, learning and development, coaching- is it any wonder I go home some days with a headache?  

I often feel trapped by a landslide of information; some of it's great, but most of it is just white noise put out by people who love to share- regardless of the value. I am often left wondering if I am listening to the right people, learning the right things and doing what I should in order to succeed. My head positively spins some days.

If HR practitioners are confused, how must business leaders feel? We must sound alien to them half the time. No wonder so many struggle to see any value on our skills and practices.

Isn't our greatest value in stripping away jargon and unnecessary layers of nonsense in order to present a clear direction that protects both business and people? Aren't we missing a trick in being able to soothe the furrowed brows of CEOs and MDs with plain talking and tried and tested techniques? I have to say that's why we set up Treacletiger- to connect with businesses on a better level, add some clarity and remove the fear.

I tweeted yesterday that we were seeing a plethora of material on 'Making HR Fun.' I suggested it was more pressing that we make it relevant. I got a lot of messages of agreement, one in particular from Katharine Duff, who said:

I could not possibly agree more. We have a commercial function- no, a responsibility- and we risk our credibility if we don't make that overtly clear.

If you draw a salary, you have a responsibility to make sure the business thrives. We all have a commercial role to play.

HR people: There are too many in our field demanding a seat at the table but without clearly demonstrating why they deserve it. That's not to say that they're not doing great work, just that they aren't demonstrating the value it's bringing to the business. We half-heartedly joke about how "everyone hates HR" but we should be terrified if that's the case. It means we're failing. 

It's down to us to tear down the barriers between our work and the commercial functions of the business. Don't be afraid to share your successes and show off a little when you contribute or save the day. 

Yes, it's your job- but if you were in Sales and closed a deal that saved the business from ruin you'd want to be celebrated, right?

Some days, you are a hero. Show 'em what you're made of.

Business owners, MDs, CEOs, etc., etc: we are not the enemy. We're here to save you stress and time, and sometimes even save the business from getting it all horribly wrong. We do the things you don't have time or often the specialist knowledge to cover. We're not firefighters, we're not infallible, and nor are we bottomless pits of wisdom (well, ok, maybe we are*.) We don't have an answer for everything**, no matter how many books we read, seminars we attend, articles we pore over or blogs we follow. So much of what we read or hear is just opinion. Some might be relevant, but often assessing what's happening in the business is the best way of identifying what's needed. 

We are deeply connected to your people, understand how their situations can impact on commercial profitability and success, and can suggest ways that things can be improved or shared when you're getting it right. We have a perspective that's worth tapping into. 

If none of this sounds like your experience of HR, you may have a problem. But don't assume it's them.

'People are your greatest asset', goes the cliché- if any business ever states that, their leaders and HR practitioners need to show why that is, and what they do to ensure it's the truth.

*What? I'm doing the hero thing. I earned it today.

** unless you count our smart-alec remarks.

Monday, 11 March 2013

The Facebook cheat sheet

Further to our earlier post, here's some more info on Facebook use for businesses- some handy advice here for how to drive engagement and interaction...

How social is your social media?

For our 100th post to this blog, we'd like to address a bugbear... and hopefully offer some good tips on how to avoid pitfalls.

Many companies are plunging into social media armed only with a determined grin and a handful of half-composed and half-baked messages they think should be seen. They lack understanding of who they want to connect with, what image they want to project and are merely panicking because they've been told they simply MUST tweet, blog etcetera, ad infinitum.

Stop it.

Below are ten quick pieces of advice that we like to share with any business that looks at us with a glazed expression (or one of panic) when we bring up the subject of 'social media'...

1. CHOOSE which tools are best for the job. Is Twitter right for you or do you need to share a little more, meaning a blog might be better? Are your existing and prospective clients on Facebook? If not, where are they? Is that holding page effort you've got LinkedIn enough or does it need updating with all the fantastic stuff you're up to?

2. IDENTIFY your audience for each. Who is it that you want to connect with?

3. BE CLEAR on your message and approach. Will you chat about work and business or will you let yourself drift into commenting on the news, music you like, the football scores? Respond to comments that are nothing to do with what you do, but help you build a picture of how you do it, and how it might be to work with you.

4. COMMIT to it if you're going to do it. If you're signed up, keep it fresh. It's shocking how many businesses' social sites were last updated sometime around Christmas 2009. It looks like you signed up, lost interest and can't be bothered. Update regularly, but make sure someone does it consciously and not via some automated process. Auto-tweeting gets up most peoples' noses; it looks lazy and half-hearted.

5. BE RESPONSIVE to all interactions. There's nothing worse than seeing a business or an individual keeping a low profile if they're being challenged, criticised- or praised. Recognise that someone took the time to connect and respect that. Thank them for their comments and act appropriately. Don't get into personal spats. They get messy and ultimately, nobody wins any respect. It's customer service in a different guise.

6. SO WHAT if you gather a few connections who aren't going to make you money or buy from you? It's SOCIAL MEDIA, not the supermarket. Think about who they know, who their connections are and realise one thing: they'll soon share it if they think you're being difficult or rude. Remember- news travels damned fast on Twitter.

7. OPEN YOUR EYES to news from your workplace that you can share. Post photos of your work, your people or your premises- images get 39% more interaction on Facebook than text alone. 

8. BE AN EXPERT. Stay aware of news stories relevant to your business and post links with comments. Give people a flavour of your expertise, knowledge and position. Show off a little. Be generous with content- don't be afraid to give a little something away for free. This will demonstrate that you're knowledgable, skilled and sociable.

9. DON'T WORRY about the odd spelling mistake, 'LOL' or dodgy punctuation. Unless you want to project an image of quality, competence and professionalism, that is. In that case*, check your content for accuracy. 

*That's always.

10. BUILD A CREDIBLE PRESENCE. Yes, this takes time and you won't get thousands of followers, likes or friends overnight. Make the move to connect with others and they'll often reciprocate. Ignore anyone who offers to get you followers for money- these are too often worthless and make you look desperate.

There are thouands of 'social media experts' out there who will promise you the moon and stars (as well as Twitter followers on a Lady Gaga scale) but we find following the above is a good start- and free.

See? Generosity in content. We hope you found it valuable.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Why awards matter

Thanks to the work we do with them, so far Bastows have three reasons to celebrate in 2013. 

They are dangerously close to being recognised as Family Business of the Year- twice.

They also have a wealth of material to share on social media, a reason to connect with clients and the media to show them what they've achieved, and a great way to engage their people, boosting energy and productivity.

If you want your business to gain awards and accreditations and ensure you get noticed, you should be talking to us.