Thinking differently

HR Consulting: What Works (And What Doesn’t)

Over the past 6 months I’ve been talking to a few friends and colleagues who have moved (or in the process of moving) from internal permanent HR positions to the exciting world of consulting.
I must admit, there is a part of me that’s pretty jealous – I’m risk adverse in nature and love the idea of being able to stick with my employer for a long period of time. It does help of course that I have a great employer, but to be fair, a lot of these friends have come from really positive work environments as well and have still wanted to spread their wings.
It used to be there was some stigma around self employed consultants in the HR space – this largely wasn’t helped by (hopefully, now outdated) sales methods of trying to convince every potential client that they needed the package with all the bells and whistles coming to 3x the amount of budget available per year for such services.
The recent change towards conscious consulting – ethical consultants who are genuinely fantastic at what they do and are eager to make life better for the people that make up organisations – has meant a rapid change in the way I, as a permanent employee in a relatively small People & Culture team, engage with consultants.
No longer do I feel the need to decline every invite for coffee, terrified of being hounded for months on end for business that I genuinely don’t have the budget to purchase. I am lucky enough to deal with a variety of consultants who I can call on with a quick question, who value the relationship, and who – when I have a piece of work – I don’t hesitate in getting in touch and completely trusting their judgement as to the best solution for the issue I have.
It’s these types of consultants in the L&D, HR, Project Management and Change Management spaces that I hope signify a shift in the way that the industry is headed. I love the trait that so many of these people share which is a genuine desire to see people, and organisations, succeed and grow. Rather than being concerned with ‘filling time’ or ‘seeming busy’ they are results oriented – which can be a change from stagnant HR teams which seem to be focused on the rules and putting blocks in the business’s way.
I’m lucky to work in a dynamic People & Culture team with great people – but many HR roles do not operate in this environment. Some people (who are incredible operators) really flourish with the freedom (and associated risk) which comes from the nature of a consultancy role. The ability of great consultants to give difficult advice, effectively manage really difficult change process and focus on their real strengths means that those of us in internal roles can bring in a pair of fresh eyes when needed and target people with the specialist skills when required.
I can’t say I’ve got a desire to become one of these fantastic people – but it is time that those of us in internal roles really embrace the conscious consultant, and in doing so, ensure that the values our organisations live by are reflected the people that we do business with.

Storytelling: People with a Passion for Making a Difference

Yesterday I attended the YMCA Victoria / AFL SportsReady joint program graduation for a group of leaders within the YMCA. The participants are concluding their YMCA Leadership Stage 2 Certificate jointly with a Diploma in Management and presented their group projects to their peers and guests from the wider organisation.
It was pretty awesome – and I’m not just saying that an impressed colleague – the projects and initiatives presented were genuinely fantastic!
The projects included a joint, best practise Post Natal Depression Program Pilot; combining established programs with an excercise component designed to reduce chances of relapse from 38% (medication only) to 8% (excercise only). Another initiative was around a YMCA Victoria app designed to engage local communities and increase and participation in health and excercise opportunities  – with huge potential to connect more with our members, communities, staff and volunteers.
What I took out of the sessions was a passion that our people have to make their community and workplace better for everyone. It’s the dream of everyone that works in People & Culture to have such engaged and passionate people – and I’m incredibly lucky to work for an organisation that is full of those people.
The challenge for us is getting better at telling our stories, the successes, ideas and passion that our people have for making a difference. Something that doesn’t always come easy to us is shouting the great things that we do from the rooftops; but it’s in that storytelling that we inspire others to make a difference. The sharing of ideas, projects, solutions and passion make it easier for us all to make changes for the better.


Team Retreats – What’s the Point?

Team Retreats I was recently asked to participate in a specialist department’s retreat – I know I know, ‘retreat’ is often a catch-all we use to either shove a tonne of information down unsuspecting employee’s throats or a flowery-feel good waste of time (and often company funds). But then I spoke to the team manager and to be honest I was inspired about the refreshing point of view and clear objectives this manager had set for her team. It made me reflect on the potential for these types of sessions when they are approached in (what I think) is the right way. The ‘Right’ Way? The ‘Right’ way is not:

  • Using the retreat for an excuse to get the team together to pump out work – actually, you can do this in the office, or in a planning day type situation
  • Using the retreat to do naff team building activities with no real objective or purpose. Yeah – team building is great, but if you’re spending 2 days of your team’s time offsite there should be real purpose to your plan

But the ‘Right’ way can be:

  • A good understanding of what issues in the team/work performance need to be addressed
  • Thought through objectives for the retreat – what is realistic to address/accomplish and what is not
  • What is the plan longer-term – addressing topics at a retreat is well and good, but if you don’t have a follow-through plan (and actually action it) you may as well not bother.

I’m off on Tuesday afternoon to observe how this team accomplishes their objectives – they are working to Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which I’m really enjoying so far as at tool to help identify issues and provide a discourse to address them in a safe environment. I’ll keep you posted!

Thinking differently

Your Fuel Tank: Efficiency & Replenishment

Fuel Tank Empty?

On Friday I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to hear Denni Francisco (CEO of The Energy Project) at the first Vecci Breakfast seminar of the year.

Things started well – it was a breakfast seminar, and dammit, I love breakfast. What really made me excited though was the topic of discussion: energy and our capacity to manage our energy in work and life.

Since the industrial revolution everything has been about more/bigger/faster, and with the recent explosion in connectivity aided by the internet and mobile technology we are always ‘on’.

This is a topic many of us hear talked to death but The Energy Project’s unique take on things really resonated with me. I think the way this message was delivered would be a welcome change for executives who are often bombarded with these ideas, but often without real scientific backing and subsequently a lack of actionable items that are easy to embed into your life, or your business.

Instead of recapping all of Denni’s excellent points (of which there were many), I want to ask you to ponder just this:

You have an internal fuel tank. How efficiently are you using your energy?

Energy isn’t finite, it’s replenishable. What are you doing to consciously replenish yours?


I highly recommend checking out The Energy Project if you’re interested in exploring these ideas further – I will certainly be reflecting on how I can better manage my ‘fuel tank’ and encouraging myself to be purposeful with how I spend my energy – just like I am with how I spend my money and how I spend my time.

Difficult Conversations

Difficult Conversations in the L&D Universe

Everyone’s an Expert

L&D has a slightly co-dependent relationship with HR. If we’re in-house often we’re a part of a wider P&C team – and many of our colleagues have started their careers in more HR focused roles. HR often writes the book on ‘having difficult conversations’ – but sometimes it’s really hard to have them in HR/L&D spaces due to the heavy emotional investment our stakeholders have in the solutions proposed.

Because everyone’s an expert on training/learning when we’re developing a solution we are often put in situations where we have to have what can seem like incredibly difficult conversations with our stakeholders.

Those Sticky Situations

Situations where, depending on the stakeholder, we have to have these difficult conversations include;

  • A course isn’t the solution to everything dammit! While our understanding of how adult learning works has changed considerably over the past couple of decades, many stakeholders still have a training-centric view of how we can meet their needs. This isn’t always a recipe for success – if you never deliver on what they’re expecting (even when they haven’t declared what this is) then the relationship can suffer.
  • Sometimes a stakeholder’s own learning preferences can overshadow the learning solution for the target audience. If the decision maker is, for example, an avid reader, then their expectations of how much pre-reading is reasonable may not be a match for the learning group.
  • The cost of learning solutions can also be a bone of contention: e-learning systems and modules can cost significant money, while longer term they work out cheaper they still can’t be used as the whole solution.

The most important step for getting this right? Find out what they want – what they really want – at the beginning. Often they won’t know, but it’s your expertise that will help draw out the real drivers, which I’ve found are rarely the ‘objectives’ listed in your initial discussion.

Mitigating ‘Difficult Conversations’ During the Project

When your stakeholders are coming to you with pre-conceptions about your area of expertise and passion:


  • Take every opportunity to educate
    • Invite them to relevant events
    • Demonstrate the level of your expertise
    • Learn with them
  • Recognise their area of expertise
  • Offer possible solutions rather than just stating problems
  • Don’t be afraid of saying “I don’t know” and then finding out
  • Include them on the journey


  • Explain to them just how wrong they are (however tempting)
  • Push a solution they don’t want at them
  • Give them a solution where they don’t understand how you’re meeting their needs.

Like any potentially difficult conversations in business, it becomes easier if you know what the other party is wanting and how they expect this to happen. Often in L&D we have to persuade people that their ‘how to get there’ isn’t the right/only way… but it’s easier to do that if you really understand what their expectations and needs are at the beginning.


Don’t Think Induction is Worth the Cash?

Everyone has to learn when they start with a new organisation or in a new role. There are policies and procedures, learning new systems, navigating new co-workers, managers and employees. There are the unwritten norms (yeah, the policy says you have to do a written request, but actually you need to speak nicely to the Admin Manager…) and don’t even get me started on the huge amount of compliance boxes that need to be ticked!

I’ve worked with organisations that have fantastic, well thought through programs, and ones that didn’t have ANYTHING (one guess as to which ones I’d refer colleagues to work for…). Its just not that hard. New hires are enthusiastic, they’re excited and they’re drinking the Kool Aid. Take advantage of it!

So with the huge amount that new hires need to learn when joining your organisation, and the knowledge that a poorly planned on-boarding/induction program dramatically increases the chances of your new hire moving on within the first 6 months, how much are you investing in your induction program?

Considering how costly it is to make a new hire, and the amount of time it takes for that new hire to get up to speed in a job, you lose considerable cash when replacing staff. So why is it that once the contract is signed and the employee turns up to their first day in the office so many organisations feel like their job is done? Sure they might get the hapless hire (let’s call him Harry) doing his new job in a muddling capacity… but how engaged is Harry going to be? How productive can we ever hope him to be? And if he’s not that well trained then are we even going to want him around in 12 months (and let’s face it, that’s if he stays).

For the vast majority of organisations, their people are their #1 expense. If you are already spending a high percentage of your turnover on your people, there are a couple of things that are important to remember;

  • Well trained people = productive people
  • Well trained people = loyal people
  • Productive + loyal people = higher outputs

A good induction program and ongoing learning and development for your people don’t need to cost the earth, what you do need is commitment from the top.

And the best time to start developing your people? Right at the get-go. Set them up to succeed. They will thank you for it (and so will your balance sheet).


To Ensure Your Facilitator Isn’t *@#^ Try Thinking About This

bad-speakerWe’ve all done it.

Attended a training session, a workshop or a conference and the person running the show is *@#^. You try to be nice and think that maybe they’re using a style that doesn’t sit well with you, or there’s some point to all this that you’re not yet seeing, but as time goes on you realise they they’re just a bit lame.

A facilitator who is too ‘ME ME ME!’, too reticent to take the reigns or is trying to be too quirky… these are all traits that have blown otherwise well-planned sessions out of the water, leaving the organisers (and participants) crying into their bamboo coffee cups at the conference. “Why didn’t we just go with Sarah, she’s so reliable” they moan, regretting the decision to employ the zany Jarred, who promised an exciting and engaging session – later realising that the dodgy Marvin the Martian tie should have given him away.

So how do you walk the line between engaging and nail-biting?

If you’re considering using a new facilitator – reference check them as you would any new hire. Make sure you ask probing questions of the referees; “In retrospect, was there anything about X’s style that may have made participants uncomfortable/unengaged?”. Think about what you’re employing them to do – a motivating talk to senior managers requires a very different person than a facilitated session for a specialist team discussing poor engagement survey responses. Talk to people who have used the facilitator for a purpose similar to yours.

My best piece of advice? When you’re at conferences and networking events take the cards of people who you find engaging, you never know when knowing a person with a particular passion for a topic of choice will come in handy.




Ethics in the Workplace & Unintended Consequences

Recently I read a really powerful article by HRTC founder Vanessa Wiltshire about difficulties she has had in her career, particularly in regard to ethical practices in the workplace and the huge emotional toll that can take on staff.

We can all generally agree that;
Ethical behaviour = good
Making profit = good
Ethical behaviour + making profit = better.

But when one has to be sacrificed in times of trouble (of which there are a lot, in the private, public and NFP sector) it is so often the ethical behaviour that goes. It doesn’t happen like a switch, usually a series of decisions are made that cumulatively end up with people doing things in the workplace where their personal moral and ethical judgement is compromised.

And so often, the result of this is the creation of workplaces where borderline practices become commonplace, bullying becomes the norm, and the bottom line is championed above all else.

Don’t get me wrong, the bottom line (or if you’re progressive, the triple bottom line) is crucial. But the culture that you instil in the workplace through the unintended consequences of series of decisions can be mammoth.

For an organisation to engage its people, learn and build for the future, a great culture is a requirement. As a business leader said to me the other day, some businesses have an excellent money-making model, but if the people aren’t happy and the culture is a bit *^#$ then future growth and success are finite. Because the good people will leave. And its those people who are your greatest asset, no matter your business.