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HR & Return on Investment

Can we really measure the impact that HR has on the bottom line?

This is a question we’re asked over and over again.  How can we demonstrate to you and your stakeholders that what we do has an impact on your bottom line?

Join us as we take the plunge into the exciting world of infographics, beginning with this on customer service.  There is an intrinsic connection between the work we do and improving customer service – and that could be both internal or external customer.

Happy People = Happy Customers = Happy Profits
One mantra in our industry is that “Happy People = Happy Customers = Happy Profits!”  Don’t take our word for it either, we’ve got some heavy hitters in our industry backing this up with research.  Follow the logos for more information:

And if you have selected, developed and engaged the right staff (our bit), you’ll take better care of your customers and generate more sales as a result (your bit).

Over the next few weeks we’ll be exploring in detail each point of research that demonstrates the Return on Investment metrics that make what we all do so worth while.  We’d encourage you to share this far and wide, we find that that the “ROI” conversation is the sticking point for so many HR projects, not just for our work as consultants to you, but your work as business partners to your organisation.

For your free copy of the 9 metrics, just click the image below.


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Engage for Sustainability

Sustainability-TotemIntroducing the triple bottom line.

With increasing pressure from government targets, a growing sustainability agenda and many businesses just keen to survive, what do we need to know about sustainability and engaging our people to deliver it?

What are sustainable businesses?

Quite simply: Businesses that last and can do so without damaging others, the environment or their profits. Great businesses achieve this by focusing on the triple bottom line or three P’s – people, planet, profit.

Where does engagement come in?

The common assumption is that engagement fits in the people section. But to be successful in all three P’s businesses need engagement in all areas – so that people through every level of the organisation are driving success for the triple bottom line.

People – Successful organisations work to engage people, respect, reward and develop them to deliver high performance. But what is often missed is that every individual needs to take accountability for this. Engagement doesn’t just happen through some kind of event or initiative run by HR or senior management – it is the outcome of people offering respect, reward and development to each other.

Planet – Sustainable businesses endeavour to reduce their impact upon the natural world. They consider ways of reducing waste or even better, using waste as a resource to boost profits. Whether you believe climate change is an issue or not, it’s a no-brainer to make more profit rather than more waste. And as the consumer increasingly chooses more environmentally-friendly suppliers, we need to keep up, or lose out.

Far from just asking people to save electricity which is often the extent of a business’ sustainability campaign, this is about having your people so engaged that they are creatively finding ways to better use resources

Profit – In an age where costs are constantly rising, we have to be pretty creative to grow profits. Whether the focus is on increasing the profit margin or increasing sales to boost overall revenue, we constantly need more ideas on how to attract buyers, increase their average spend and keep them coming back. Once again it is your people who know how to do this. They see the new customers, they see the wasted products, they see the marketing material that does and does not work. Engage your people to come up with the ideas that will sustainably grow profit.

How can we engage our people?

Here are some top tips from the companies that are doing this well:

  • Find out what motivates your people – at an individual level, why do they come to work?
  • Have a senior leader explain the corporate vision and how it splits into objectives for the three P’s – linking this in to what motivates your audience.
  • Find out who the trend-setters are in each location or department. Not eco-warriers but influencers, the ones people listen to.
  • Ask each trend-setter to lead a group on a specific objective, linking your request to their motives.
  • Communicate plans to generate ideas for success – linking the goals to individual motives.
  • Set up events at each location, lead by the trend-setters, to get people involved and generate ideas.
  • Deliver the good ideas, measure the effects, celebrate success and keep going!
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Engaging Engagement

Concept of people as cogwheels representing communities & teamsEngagement and the Goldilocks principle

We send thanks through cyber space to the twitter user who posted: “Just completed the survey, is that my employee engagement activity done for the year?”

It’s such a great point to raise when for so many people, this is all they see of engagement every year.  But there are also many organisations who go too far the other way.  Do we overload our people with survey after survey, KPI after KPI?  Or not engage with them at all?

It’s easy for us to become disillusioned with the idea and at the mere sound of  ‘employee engagement’.  It’s important to find just the right blend of processes and action to best suit the business.  Not too much, but not too little.  The Goldilocks zone.

So how can we respond to that?  What choice do we have when, for example engagement surveys have become a process ignored by many?

Totem Lollipops

We may question the point in continuing them – but the conversations behind the survey must live on.  The action we take in response to the survey must continue.  It is these things that lead to employee engagement, not the survey itself.

The most powerful thing we can do is take action.  It’s action that makes the difference, not the processes, things we say, promises we make or strategies we sign up to.

So forget when the survey’s due for now, ignore the processes just for the moment, and choose to ask some big questions.  Ask yourself and then your team:

  • What’s important to you?
  • What can we do together to ensure you get more of that from your work?
  • What can I do to support you in achieving your best performance?

We may well get more out of these three questions than pages and pages of survey results.

The evidence of the links between highly engaged employees and high performance is increasing and gaining credibility, to the point where most large corporates are now desperate seeking to engage their employees.

As the old saying goes, if you can’t define it, you can’t measure it.  So it is critical for each business to understand what engagement looks like, then measure it.  Once we know what the engagement levels are, where there are fluctuations and what employees are asking for to raise those levels, we can take action.

And just the right amount of action…

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Gaming for Talent

Totem-Talent 400x265Can games engage, retain and train talent?

There’s a lot of noise about gamification, serious games and playlists.  What do these mean and how could these concepts be useful for us in talent, learning and assessment?

The Learning Technologies event is a great place to hear about current and future developments in the world of interactive learning and assessment.  Whilst the definitions and usefulness of gamification varied slightly according to which exhibitor or seminar speaker we spoke to, there was some general themes which we found really helpful in understanding the difference.

Gamification is about taking what we already have and making it more like a game – ie “gamifying” something.  This has its roots in the unconscious drivers that motivate a lot of our behaviour – like a need to achieve and peer comparison.

If I’m on an elearning system and I can see I’m 48% of the way through a course and my peers are at 88%, there’s a good chance I’ll feel motivated to do more of the course.  Likewise if I’m awarded ‘badges’ or points for completion and passing confirmation of learning tests, this is likely to prompt an unconscious feel-good factor of achievement.

Many Learning Management Systems or elearning providers already have all this data – so by making that data public, and displaying it like game statistics, there could be some benefits to you motivating people to complete your online learning.

But be warned, there are also some big watch-outs with this idea.  First off, people are quick to feel patronised and this is a big switch off – so be careful with badges and achievement points, that people don’t feel like they’re being treated like children.  “Woo hoo you scored 5 bonus points for ticking this really boring health and safety box” is not likely to be motivational for people.

Jelly Bean Diversity

Duolingo and Headspace are known for their easy-to-use, somewhat childlike (but nobody seems to mind) completion % markers, daily practise streaks and comparisons with other users.  Maybe this works well because users have chosen to complete the learning, so this gamification encourages them to keep going.  Whereas in a business setting, being told we need to complete online learning puts us in a different mindset.

The combination of being told we must do something, then seeing childlike points and badges that we view as patronising, could be a recipe for disaster, resulting in non-completion and low engagement.

In the wider context of the challenge: Stop your elearning – you could argue this is all a moot point.  However there does appear to be some benefit in acknowledging those unconscious drivers of need to achieve and peer comparison.  If we all stopped sending out system, process and compliance elearning courses, and engaged people in a daily learning practice to help them do their jobs, then our offering would be more like Duolingo and Headspace, and it could be worth us adding in the gamification elements.

But as it stands right now, we risk simply adding to the feeling of being patronised.

Serious Games are a different animal.  Whereas gamification is taking what you already have and ‘gamifying’ it, serious games are the creation of an adventure or experience, which has a learning outcome and useful result.

Take for example a project management game, which might look like any other X Box adventure, but challenges the user to engage principles of best practice project management.  This provides a safe environment for application of learning and practice.

You could therefore consider adding serious games into your learning journey.  Common sense, Kolb’s learning cycle and even Kolb’s critics all point to the importance of practice when it comes to embedding learning.

Totem Gummi Bears

The best option is often to just get right into the day-job and use what you’ve learned, try it out, then reflect and work out what to do better next time.  But that’s not always possible or attractive.  What if I’m learning how to deal with a certain kind of crisis that is extremely rare?  Or what if I’m learning a skill that I might consider risky to try out at work?  Even coaching skills can feel scary for managers trying it out for the first time, as it can be such a departure from what the team are used to.

So perhaps serious games – just like scenarios, role plays and practical exercises have historically done in learning – give us an extra opportunity for practising new skills.  And the benefit of serious games online, is that like the X Box game, you can be anywhere in the world, playing a leadership or teamwork game, together.

An interesting reflection may also be how these games could be used for assessment.  Many firms are wanting their assessment and selection processes to be different, more engaging, reflecting a more 21st Century employer brand – so could we add in serious games?  It certainly seems like the potential is there, for a game purposefully designed to test leadership skills, assessors can observe behaviour and see how people really react under pressure.

So whatever way you look at gaming applied to talent assessment and development, there’s no doubt there is value in the idea.  Perhaps like all of the messages we heard at the Learning Technologies event, they key is to make sure you get the result you’re after, rather than simply run toward the latest fad or gadget.

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First Break all the Rules

break-rulesWhat is the Q12 and how can I use it?

Despite being written in 1998, which might leave you thinking it’s old and a bit dusty, the book; First, Break all the Rules is still challenging the way many companies manage and lead their people.

This was the book written by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, following their research at Gallup. This is a global research organisation that advises companies on how to improve employee engagement, and subsequently see increased performance.  If you’d like to know more about Gallup, you can follow me.

Q12 is the short-hand given to the 12 questions Gallup found most highly correlated with overall job satisfaction, loyalty and high performance.  People who agreed strongly with the 12 statements were shown to have 10-20% higher performance in a wide range of measures.

So what are the 12 questions, and how can you use them?  Below are the Gallup Q12 questions translated into employee statements.

  • I know what is expected of me at work.
  • I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  • At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  • In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  • My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  • There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  • At work, my opinions seem to count.
  • The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  • My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
  • I have a best friend at work.
  • In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  • This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Ask your team how they strongly they would agree with those statements (you could use the 1-5 scale where 1 is strongly disagree and 5 is strongly agree).  And ask yourself, how well are you enabling each of those statements?

Totem Lollipops

It’s worth noting that the questions are in priority order.  Every time we look at these questions and Gallup’s research on high performing teams, we’re asked about question 10.  “Really, people need to have a best friend?”  The fact is that yes, people who said they did have a best friend at work (along with all the other statements), showed higher performance than those who did not.  But before even considering booking in more socials and getting people to be more buddy buddy – there are nine other things to get right first.

Many organisations stumble at the first three – so start there.  How do people describe why their role exists, the critical outcomes of their work and how they are measured on quality?  Are people consistent in their understanding of what the firm is all about?  Are they clear on what’s expected of them?  Make sure people know what’s expected of them, have the tools they need to do their job and get to do what they do best every day.

Rather than becoming distracted by the amount of things to do, or the challenges with item 10 – focus on getting the basics right.  And even better, ask the team how they will work with you make everything better.  How would the team address item one?  How could you support them?

Hitting two birds with one stone, if you involve the team in responding to these statements, considering how to make things better – that itself is an engagement activity, which hits statement seven.

If you’d like to have a closer look at the book, simply click on the image…

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Engaging the Disengaged

bored-meeting-art1 400x265One third of us go into work each day disengaged.

And 75% of businesses use employee surveys as their only engagement activity.

With figures like that, the picture looks bleak.  So how do we go about Engaging the Disengaged?

But Tanith Dodge, Director of HR at Marks & Spencer had more positive things to share as well – aside from the fun facts that M&S sell a pair of pants per second and all the hosiery they sell would stretch to Hong Kong and back.

Various activities at M&S have lead to reduced absence, higher engagement, increased overall performance in stores and massive cost savings.  Making the link between engagement and performance, there was a £104 million sales difference between the top and bottom scorers on employee engagement.


You can see why the David MacLeod taskforce has been set up – we’ve been talking about the importance of this for decades, yet still the statistics are shocking.  We are not getting this right and we are paying the price in our business performance.

How focused are we on changing that position?  How are we keeping that focus alive after years of working on it?  What can we learn from case studies like M&S to find things that work for our businesses?

And as we shift the focus from always asking in HR what we can do for our people, let’s ask: What do our people want – and what will they do to get it?


  • Employee engagement delivers results – we have the proof
  • We know engagement is something we cannot achieve with surveys, so we want managers who show interest in their teams, and naturally stir up passion and action
  • The challenge for us then is what more can we be doing to facilitate higher engagement in our leaders and teams?

M&S has some great examples of things that work, but the same things won’t necessarily work for different companies.  The challenge is to find what works well for us

Further Reading

The David MacLeod taskforce continues to work on getting this message across and finding ways to convince leaders they need to do something differently.

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Building Trust

Totem-Trusting-2-400x265The Art of Building Trust

In a previous article we explored the importance of trust in the work place and the dangers that can arise if we don’t trust our colleagues.  With the support of a very popular book, we offer some insight to business partners and mangers in building trust in the workplace.

Working with professional services firms and support functions within any sort of business, we find a common challenge: How can we be better business partners?

Whether you’re building relationships with external clients, or supporting teams within a company through service provision of HR, IT, Finance support etc – we all need to be great business partners.

The Trusted Advisor book gives a great introduction as it helps us understand why we call one person a supplier – yet call on someone else in the same position or profession a friend, confidant or – you guessed it, trusted advisor.

In a nutshell we need to listen, ask questions and advise effectively.  Sounds ridiculously simple?  Well, yes it is – but we all know common sense is rarely common action.

Totem Gummi Bears

It makes sense because if I’m going to trust you, confide in you and think you can help me, I must believe that you’re in it to help me, not yourself.  In spite of the common sense this seems to tap into, this is the number one area where people fall down.  We’ve all got our to-do lists, priorities, objectives and we come to every meeting with an agenda – so how can we possibly demonstrate that we’re in it for others?

Here are some tips on how you can do it better…

Drop your Agenda

Or as one of clients puts it – “suspend your agenda.”  Put your own agenda to one side.  You might be here to win a sale or to get agreement on a project you want to go ahead with – but what do they want?  What does the other person in this conversation need from you?


And that means actually work hard to understand what they’re saying and what they mean.  This is different to “waiting to speak”!

Ask questions

Ask to clarify your understanding of something – “do you mean…?”  Ask to explore something further – “what might that look like?”

Advise effectively

In the book, the authors talk about this as – explain each option, give the pros and cons of each option, make a clear recommendation with a rationale.  If you have asked questions and listened well, this should be easy for you to do.

Be more curious

We’re often asked how we know what questions to ask – whether that’s in a coaching context, consulting situation or everyday conversation.  This book nails it by simply explaining why we need to be more curious.  Of course there’s not much in the way of practical tips on how to be more curious – as it’s simply seen as a yes or no mindset.  Are you being curious right now or assuming you already know everything you need to know?

The powerful point here is that we can choose at any moment to be more curious and ask more questions.

The Trusted Advisor is a great read and is available from all good book stores.



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High Performance Conversations

Buff-Baby-Rattle-400x265How to Super Charge What We Say

“We’ve run coaching skills workshops, but it doesn’t seem to have stuck.  We want people to be having great conversations and it just doesn’t happen.”  This is a story we hear a lot – and it’s not surprising when you think about it in a bit more depth.

Many companies have invested in coaching or feedback programmes as standalone items, and the challenge is that people might learn something, but then struggle to apply that back into their everyday context.

What do you want to achieve?

Often we want managers and in fact every member of the team to be having great conversations, driving high performance.  A mix of recognition, praise, specific behavioural advice, feedback and delegation, support and challenge, combined with great questions and listening.  How can we build that skillset?

Think of it like learning how to use coaching and feedback and delegation and inspiring vision story-telling all together for one hell of a good conversation.  The gap that we face with developing this skill and behaviour is that we tend to deliver it in chunks – learn coaching, then learn feedback skills, then learn story-telling – we need to show people how to put all that learning together.

Totem Lollipops

How can you do it?

The approach we have found really helpful is to:

1) Explore the problem and possible solutions so people come up with their own ideas on how to have better conversations

2) Introduce the component parts of great conversations and how they all fit together

3) Develop the component parts

4) Put them all together in skills practice

5) Work on behavioural habit embedding through manager support, coaching and/or action learning sets

Notice that the starting point is not to fill delegates’ minds with loads of tools, models and approaches – but ask them “what is the problem?”  We all know that the quality of our conversations with our teams and colleagues can make or break a task or project’s success.  So it’s something everyone can connect with when we ask questions like:

  • What makes a good conversation that drives high performance?
  • What does someone do and say in a really good conversation?
  • What gets in the way of us having those good conversations? – Push on this for responses beyond the standard, “I don’t have time” – as what we do with our time reflects our priorities and comfort zones, so if we never have time for high quality conversations, that can say more about us than our workload
  • What might be going on in our minds that makes us put off conversations or not be as effective as we could be when we’re having them?
  • How might we overcome those challenges? We need to acknowledge that knowing what we should do – and doing it, are two different things.  How might we start doing what we know we should do?

How do you develop the skills so that people use them?

Based on people’s responses to the questions in the problem-solving session, we’ve found the same challenges coming up time and time again.  So we can then create behavioural skills workshops that address the learners’ challenges, the most common being:

  • Keeping calm and staying focused on the outcome you want – which we develop using principles of mindfulness and emotional intelligence
  • Being more specific about what someone did and what they need to do differently – using tools that help people prepare their feedback
  • Influencing the person to understand the importance of change – referring to influencing styles and tools, as well as ways of exploring the impact of behaviour
  • Holding people to account – giving people the words to monitor without being a micro-manager
  • Pulling it all together – practising with real life examples and live feedback to put all that learning into practice, followed by action learning sets and/or coaching to monitor learning application

There is often more that needs to be covered, but the above gives a great starting point to building the mindset and skills to be effective.

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Strategy Mapping

connected 400x265Capturing your primary strategic goals using Strategy Mapping.

Here we discuss one possible method for capturing your strategic goals, enabling you to translate your key guiding principles into a coherent set of business practices that can be communicated and rolled out to the wider business.  And as always, communication is key.

Communicating your driving principles to your organisation in a clear and coherent way is critical to seeing a wider engagement and use of those principles across your organisation.  The first step in this process is for the leadership team to have clarity itself on what those key principles are.

Strategy maps provide such a tool.  A strategy map is an evolution of the balanced scorecard, it enables you to visually plot your key principles across a number of business objectives.  These objectives can range from revenue growth to market positioning and are specific to your company’s desired goals.

Crucially, the strategy map will highlight the relationships between your key principles, your overall business objectives and the business function that will be required to deliver those objectives.

Jelly Bean Diversity

By giving those business functions, or rather employees sight of these relationships, and how their work contributes and is aligned to those business objectives, you’re enabling them to work in a coordinated, collaborative and empowered way.

For a wonderfully left field but powerful demonstration of giving your organisation this vision check out Tom Wujec’s Ted Talk.

Strategy Maps

The Strategy Map encapsulates a business’ vision, mission, promise to its users, its core values, and its strategic objectives.  It states what the business strives to be and do for the business’ clients.

The premise behind a successful strategy map is that businesses should measure performance in several ways.  Specifically, they must consider success from four different perspectives:

  • Finance
  • Customer
  • Internal Business Processes
  • Learning and Growth

The strategy map incorporates and links these four perspectives into a visual framework. At the highest level, the map presents the organization’s mission, values, and vision—why it exists, what success looks like, and what its future looks like.

Totem Gummi Bears

Then it presents the strategy by defining objectives and performance measures for each of the four perspectives. The map presents the four perspectives as separate levels, the top level of the map shows the objectives and performance measures from the financial perspective, and then one level below it shows the objectives and performance measures from the customer perspective and so on.

The Benefits of Strategy Mapping

Strategy maps highlight the relationships and links by which targeted improvements can create desired outcomes.  For example, how an improved IT capability and an improved knowledge of that capability amongst employees can lead to a higher retention of customers and levels of customer satisfaction,

In summary, mapping your key principles to your overall business vision will have these key benefits:

  • It clearly explains to employees what matters most in your business
  • Each employee will understand the behaviours and success measures required of their role
  • Forms the foundation for developing success measure strategically and operationally
  • Aligns the organisation from top to bottom with the vision and principles driving that strategy
  • Provides you with a roadmap to success

This last point is particularly pertinent – strategy maps show how an organisation will convert its initiatives and resources including intangibles such as business culture and employee knowledge, into tangible outcomes.  The organisation clarifies what is most important—what will drive it toward achieving its vision.

All decisions can be viewed through the lens of strategy, and the map makes the decision-making process easier.

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