Tag Archives: leadership

UFHRD Conference 5 June 2013

This years UFHRD conference is themed on human resource development (HRD) and the challenges and opportunities in times of economic uncertainty. I’ll be life blogging the event as best I can (including a disregard for the conventions of spelling, syntax and grammer).

First up is a keynote address from Kathryn Mountford, Head of HR at the Money Advice Service on “Leadership, HRD and Organisational Change”.

To start with some background on Kathryn’s own experience across three organisations which has had the benefit for her being being able to see the results of change initiatives. Included working for Church of England especially in terms of assert management. From mid 1990s worked in transforming the Pensions Regulator and expanding its abilities in supporting development of pensions and now with Money Advice Service.

Therefore all have a strong public sector ethos but now under pressure to: deliver more for less; digital enabled and changing in customer and stakeholder expectations (and away from being producer/ provider centric to customer-centric). Much change involved bringing in private sector expertise to the public sector in, eg, asset management or business transformation.

Looking at a series of stereotypes of private sector workers in the public sector:

the maverick usually from start-up or similar environment to push through agile development, new ideas, networking and creativity. Good at engaging people in change but can be too radical for some creating tension with Boards. They tend to see HR as blocking change – the police. Also become easily bored and can get distracted by new things… need t be occupied with ‘right’ sort of work.

The aggressor: on a personal mission to transform the poor public sector and driving through massive tides of change and introducing a commercial mindset. Very good networkers and ambassador of organisation. Tell lots of ‘battle’ stories and can be keen to be seen as elite of the organisation which can create tensions. They may have come from a macho environment and can bring that with them which again can create tensions – can often include women from private sector.

The evangelist: joins the organisation as have had a bashing in the private sector and looking for some form of redemption. Can be great at moving the organisation forward with focus on the purpose of the organisation. Can be very evangelical and bringing in fresh skills and networks while reminding colleagues of what they’ve given up to join the organisation. Tend to be keen on HR as welfare provider and employee focused.

The corporate player: worked in large private institutions such as banking and insurance focused on governance and hierarchy. Very good on maintaining core activities during change but tend to have a dislike of the uncertainty and mess of change. Can also find it harder giving up their position as small fish in a big pond and becoming a bigger and accountable fish!

the consultant: used to working in uncertainty but can rely on previous approaches being applicable to public sector and also also seeking to increase their own revenues rather than  the job in hand. The best consultants seek to leave a positive legacy.

The real worlders: a great asset to the organisation coming from bigger institutions working on big ventures and now at end of their careers looking to give something back – were very valuable in the Pensions Regulator. Helped other staff in coping with the changes in the public sector and the realities of the private sector environment.

Other elements important for making the best of private sector skills in public sector organisations. There needs to be a clear organisational appetite for bringing in the private sector and this is explained to staff the benefits of a mixed workforce. The HR strategy needs to be geared to manage a mixed workforce of short-term employees, contractors and secondees and along with development of existing staff, eg, secondments to the private sector and L&D interventions.

Also important on clarifying the values of the organisation that are used to manage staff behaviours to create a longer-term stable environment. Recognition and reward balanced between existing staff rewards and needs to attract higher performers from private sector. Boards need to understand the link between salary and behaviours. Job titles are important so those from private sector do not perceive a loss of status as well as provide mentoring/ internal consulting opportunities.

Recruitment and selection becoming more aligned with private sector practices including use of head hunters and how the organisational proposition is stated. Also important to demonstrate the absence of bureaucracy in the pubic sector recruitment processes.

HR business partnering in a period of change presents opportunities and challenges of bringin in new talent but needs managing.

Bringing in private sector colleagues is common in the public sector and can provide lots of value in terms of knowledge and understanding transformational change. Modernisation is something private sector has a good deal of experience of. HR can help to facilitate the organisation to make best use of such staff and act as guardians of the values of the public sector host.


1. to what extent has HRD been part of the contribution of these private sector staff in public sector organisations?

Kathryn cited experience of some private sector colleagues pushing importance of progressive HRD provision but their remains a residual view of HR as an administrative function.

2. which is the hardest stereotype if the hardest to manage?

The Maverick can be the hardest as provide a lot of value as focused on driving change and innovation and leading teams but challenging as don’t take account of governance and related concerns in public sector.

3. Do you have bringing in academics to your organisations?

MAS currently working with academics on consultancy basis so can be precise on what the academics are being asked for. Tend to support change rather than lead change.

4. How do you retain the corporate players?

But need to be realistic and you shouldn’t plan to retain the corporate player – rather treat them as an interim manager and manage expectations along these lines.

5. not all private sector people will be successful in transferfing to the public sector and what is your experience of that?

Need to acknowledge that there will be failure. From my own experience, possibly roles for the mavericks could have been better design to focus on innovation rather than in combination with general management activities.

6. does working under government whim prove difficult.

MAS is independent but public sector and raises question of role of MAS as focused on government agenda or to be more citizen-centric. Also MAS bring in colleagues from central government.

7. what has been the reaction of public sector staff to private sector colleagues?

Often based on stereotypes of private sector workers that can only be dealt with by experience of private sector colleagues. HR’s role is to ensure their is a fairness and transparency in how staff are treated and that all staff describe themselves as working for XXX rather than “being on secondment from …”.


Moving on now to the main conference paper sessions.

I’m in the session on Innovation, Sustainability & HRD.

First paper from Chris Mabey on managing the paradoxes of staying innovative. This is based on research taking place at CERN/ ATLAS on what re strategic knowledge assets, are these being leveraged effectively and can HRD functions facilitate this? These questions are relevant to universities as sites of knowledge activists.

Three kinds of knowledge: from structured (codified/ abstract/ materialised/ formalised)  through to unstructured/ experiential and highly personalised knowledge as a single axis with narrative knowledge (stories and fables) at the mid-point. A second axis is about diffusion/ sharing of knowledge – with structured knowledge being the least problematic in terms of diffusion, eg, public knowledge. WHile widely diffused unstructured knowledge might be understood as common wisdom.

In terms of strategic management concepts, core competences might be seen as unstructured and difficult to diffuse. Patents and copyright may be more structured but still not widely diffused. Industry-wide principles might be structured and diffused. Industry wisdom is widely diffused but unstructured.

But what does this mean for HRD as all knowledge ‘types’ have benefits and challenges and attached to them. So personal/ unstructured experiential knowledge share through mentoring but often not captured by the organisation – cited Polyani stating we know more than we can say – and is fragmented. So this knowledge leaks especially with downsizing of organisations. While proprietary knowledge can be locked-in/ rigid, under exploited and perishable. Public knowledge brings challenges of being in the public arena and therefore common/ lacks differentiation and may not be validated – so downloadable competence frameworks work but provide no differentiation or specific fit. Conventional wisdom provides the challenge of how to locate and use such knowledge (boundary spanners).

ATLAS as a huge experiment involving 3,500 scientists and engineers at the large hadron collider. Scientists and engineers asked what knowledge they needed to do their jobs – requiring high structure and diffusion – while the unstructured and experiential and difficult to diffuse was also cited as important to getting the work done.

How could the tacit knowledge be understood and diffused to wider group of people given the scale of the organisation? How do we identify the core knowledge assets and leverage that including managing leakage of knowledge from the organisation where staff turnover is high (due to secondments, short-term research contracts etc.).

But …. paradoxes: (1) the more knowledge is managed the less valuable knowledge will be exchanged. For HRD need to acknowledge that the scientists/ engineers are highly motivated by the shared goals of the experiments and professional peer pressure rather than corporate compliance. Also, they are seeking long-term legacies rather than short-term benefits. So HRD might look to coaching, mentoring, apprenticeships and light-touch governance to avoid micro-management.

(2) the more democratic knowledge sharing is designed, the more intentional leadership is required –  to lead spontaneous exchanges of tacit knowledge, eg, in the importance of the cafeteria as a site of knowledge exchange. But this needs to be thought about, planned and supported. “Things work when people identify themselves with the project”, eg, place the emphasis on ethos setting but “nudge to make it happen”.

(3)  the more knowledgeable the professional the less likely they are able to lead. As there is a tension between specialists vs boundary scanners and focused on trusted sources rather than drawing in other perspectives (know what rather than how) and emphasise output rather than process and emphasise collective acknowledgement over solo success. For HRD, how can the function support boundary scanning and diffusing; developing skills in learning, diversity and emotional intelligence.

(4) the more informal knowledge sharing is, the more open to elitism it becomes: ‘the tyranny of structurelessness’.


1. what sort of people were interviewed and to what extent the nature of the people involved in the ATLAs project have influenced findings?

59 people interviewed at CERN and so tended to be successful but also interviewed some people in China. So cannot claim representativeness but did interview a wide-range of people. But ATLAS are atypical but we can still learn from them for a knowledge-based economy. We can really learn in terms of long-term horizon and the ethos formulation.


Now on to Alex & Andrea  Ellinger and Scott Fitzer on Leveraging HRD to Improve Supply Chain Management (SCM) Knowledge & Skills. Looking for HRD and SCM synergy in response to the talent shortages in SCM as SCM becomes increasingly complex through globalisation. In particular, the people aspects of SCM have been de-prioritised to technology and customer-service issues.

SCM professionals manage risk, relationships and tradeoffs requiring softer people skills to harders statistical analysis and problem-solving. In addition, senior managers tend not to appreciate the complexity of the SCM roles. This is important – up to 75% of firm revenue is spent on SCM activities (Trent 2004) – purchasing, manufacturing, moving, storing, selling, servicing products, etc……[but then is there anything left?]

But SCM tend to be dominated by a ‘push’ perspective focused on cost control and specifications rather than relationship-building and customer-centric so responsive to market demand. This places the focus on process innovation rather than process improvement (six sigma etc.).

So we can see functional specialisation of organisations acts as barrier to knowledge sharing  including the lack of understanding of SCM among other and senior managers. Including making the financial-SCM connection. Gives rise to dis-functional incentives around sales and production. But also, SCM have been weak on making the business-case for SCM investments at the C-level – see R.E Slone (2004) Leading a Supply-Chain Turnaround. HBR.

The problem is the supply-demand split in organisations as the two facets of the organisation fail to communicate to one another. Demand-Supply integration requires HRD interventions. But the field of HRD little understood in the SCM domain. HRD as focused on learning, performance and change.

Both HRD and SCM are marginalised in organisations. But SCM offers an opportunity to demonstrate the strategic importance of HRD as 75% revenues tied into SCM. So what can HRD offer SCM and SC Managers? HRD may have strategic role in facilitating solutions development around the people development and change needs in SCM and developing the competences of SCManagers to respond to the challenges they are facing.

Game changing SCM trends (Sweeney): collaboration; lean & six sigma; management of complexity’ network optimisation; globalisation; sustainability; cost and working capital. Human and behavioural of SCM neglected in comparison to physical and technical components. Key areas for HRD may be in organisational development aspects of facilitating collaboration, learning supporting for six-sigma (coaching etc). SCM is foremost about people yet the people dimension in SCM is under researched (Sweeney, 2013).

HRD classified as one of the pillars of excellence in SCM and research consistently demonstrate impacts of HRD interventions on effective SCM. Senge (2010) content SCM needs to be transformed if organisations are going to be focused on sustainability and environmental issues.


1. links SCM to food sector in UK that reinforces points made in the presentation.

Also the importance of collaboration and inter-organisational working is an opportunity for HRD that is being missed as HRD functions focus on learning within a single organisation.

2. what competences will not be outdated? Are they the ones identified in the presentations but can a curriculum be designed around this?


Just back from a break and on to the next session:

“How doe Innovations in Teaching HRD Link Theory to Practice” by Melika Shirmohammadi & Mina Beigi from Texas A&M. Presented by Mina Beigi. Started with question of whether academic teaching models innovative delivery of HRD? Questions then focused on what innovations and how delivered.

But found only 21 academic papers published on teaching HRD using database searches and snowball the references of articles found. So this is an under-researched area. From the paper found that: innovations addressed different areas but predominantly used a self-regulated pedagogy. Methods included using film excerpts and music; work-based; action learning; reflective learning; case-based; computer-based. Half the papers focused on general HRD concepts and half more specific topics but some absences such as career development. Indicates a lack of reflection on their own practices by HRD academics. While the argument that HRD should be ill-defined in terms of definition but there should be more research and publications on the teaching of HRD. But do academics want to keep their processes in some way private or do not consider their innovations worthy of publication.


But, is this a feature that, at least for UK, is made difficult by the setting of examination criteria by external bodies. So certain contextual conditions may be squeezing out innovation.


Now onto “Virtual Action Learning and HR Offshore Outsourcing” by Cheryl Brook & Vijay Pereira based on a course on current HR debates. The initial questions were on the definitions of offshore outsourcing and the context of HRM in India before looking the use of virtual action learning in a long-term research project.

Define action learning as requiring a number of essential components including questioning at the heart of the process involving a real organisational problem (not a puzzle), involving small action learning sets (up to 6 people – although this may be contested especially on top and bottom of the range of people in a set).

How can virtual action learning (VAL) be facilitated? How might VAL assist the case organisation to address a  real organisational problem? How might VAL contribute to improving and maintaining virtual team relationships and communication skills? The case organisations works almost exclusively in virtual teams in global offshore outsourcing.

The state of HRM in India: Vijay has completed extensive research into HRM in India. India started with concept of HRD and this underpins understanding of HRM. The label of HRM was only introduced as a result of liberalisation of India in 1990s and adoption of terminology from USA. So training and development is at the core of any HRM department.

Human Resource Outsourcing (HRO) niche area of outsourcing such as needs analysis, recruitment etc. and is a large and well established industry in India. So the research context is a complex industry. The case organisation chosen due to existing access and is a micro multi-national company with approx 200 employees and more then 100 clients working in recruitment and talent management.

VAL has a limited research base and is defined by a range of enabling, interactive and collaborative communication technologies – interested in the word “enabling” in the context of ICT. So issues of interest included ensuring the technologies work but also in the building up of relationships and developing high performing virtual teams. Such research requires: organisational readiness and commitment; having a real problem; access, connectivity and time zones; higher levels of listening and developing an atmosphere of inquiry in cross-cultural sets.

The case organisations is interested in dealing with attrition rates; business growth; leadership development and developing high performance work practices. So these are really important issues for the company with a high penalty for failure.

The research team have attained a small research grant and are addressing a key research gap in terms of the industry and VAL.

Question: what was the process of developing the real organisational problems?

So these emerged from previous research and they are now in the process of formulating the action learning set. So starting with a single set of senior managers possibly including the MD co facilitate by the two researchers. Initially the researchers will travel to India but the head office of the organisation is in the UK. A series of virtual set meetings will be set up using tele conferencing.

That is it for the day. Tomorrow is a full day for the conference and more blogging notes to come. 

Discovering failures

An interesing (and short) post here on the importance of learning from failure and the behaviour of leaders –

The other practice that I thought was really insightful was to regularly have breakfast with regular employees and ask them the question “What’s the most idiotic thing we did in the last 60 days?” Imagine if you had all that self-correcting, in-the-moment insight going right to the top in your companies—it sure might stop a lot of mistakes while they are still little.

Such practices are completely in the spirit of discovery driven planning – recognize the reality versus your assumptions about it, fess up and make changes while there is still time.

…mind you, it could also lead to a very long breakfast/ brunch!

Action Learning 2.0

A nice quote from one of the many publications coming out of Ashridge Business School on the link between organisational learning and enterprise 2.0:

Used well, action learning creates a culture of maximum support, maximum challeng, individual responsibility for change, and collective responsibility for learning … It is an approach that is congruent with what has started to happen around web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, social networks and leaderless organisations and is one of the most effective and least expensive ways to develop people and organisations …

So, Enterprise 2.0 only really starts to make sense (from a managemen/ business perspective) as an enabling infratructure for management and organisational innovation.

Project Leadership

I came across an interesting post here on leadership from an attitudinal perspective:

As an instructor at UCSC-Extension I’m constantly hearing the moans, whines and whimpers of the PMs that have yet to comprehend this truth. There is valuable time and energy being wasted on working issues in areas outside of their circle of control or influence. All for not. Take a moment and brainstorm some of the challenges that stand in your team’s way. Assess what IS and IS NOT within your sphere of control. Then get to work on these things first. Then turn your attention to the other list.

Sometimes opportunities come disguised as problems. It took some optimistic thinking for that first person to see the edible inside of an artichoke despite its thorny exterior. Likewise you may find elements within your control by changing your perspective on issues that on the surface seem impossible. Recognition is one topic that falls into this category. Many PMs think they are handcuffed by financial restrictions to incentivize team members, but fail to see that’s not what research says people really want. The top motivators include being “in on things”, written recognition from manager and help on personal problems. Change your thinking and then seek to find new ideas. It’s natural!

I like the focus on attitudes to problems/issues/ opportunities. It aso reminds me of Dee Hocks comments the projects leaders role. In his view, the efective project leader should be spending her time managing peers, stakeholders and generally “up” the organisational hierarchy. If you recruit properly, then your team should mnage itself. So a project leader should be concerned with communication, persuasion, networking and shouldn’t need to focus on managing the team, motivation, performance management yada yada… mmmm perhaps a bit idealised unless you work in a great organisation or are just plain lucky (I think I’ve been in that situation maybe twice in my career).