Monthly Archives: February 2016

A Conference all about Culture 

Are you a Culturevist?

According to the engaging and smart Matthew Partovi the founder of Culturevist, you are if your care about culture so much you would leave an organisation due to a lack of fit, or put your job at risk to stand up up for culture, or attend a conference all about culture at work.

How much do you care about culture?

Last month I attended the first Culturevist conference in Clerkenwell, underneath a church, in a hall often used for exams. I knew it was going to be a good day from the moment I walked in… Why? Because the person on the sign-in desk was genuinely please to meet me, rather than overly concerned about their role/nervous/stressed/pressured to perform. I’ve not experienced that quite the same before. This warmth increased in the coffee area and in the conference room: great lighting, no raised stage, balloons, and individual desks in rows “a metaphor for how we don’t want this to be…so we’ll move them as we wish during the day” (Matt). Actually, I appreciated the space to myself for notes and thinking whilst listening.

Whilst recently facilitating a train-the-trainer course I suggested that the biscuits you buy for people communicate how (much) value you them. Will you buy the smart-price Rich Tea or extra special cookies. I analysed my biscuit choice of Fig Rolls as nurturing (they seem nostalgic to others and my Grandma always had them available).

At Culturevist we got…

Yes I paid to attend, but regardless, what does this communicate about my value as an attendee? They had me at chocolate and stationary.

The attendees were a mix of Comms, HR, and others interested in organisation culture: mainly in-house. As Culturevist make it a little harder for freelancers to attend their events…I’m not sure why. Maybe because someone previously disliked ‘the sell’ at a networking event, or maybe to reduce the competition (there were freelancers in attendance). The sponsor was subtle and I enjoyed have no selling – how bloody refreshing. Or maybe it was just covert.

The speakers came from Google, WordPress, HSBC, Just Giving, and Facebook. Each speaker and just 15mins to share their story/message, followed by plenty of time for audience Q+A.

First up was Dame Zarine Kharas CEO of Just Giving, a profit making company operating in a non-profit sector. Zarine and a Just Giving have done a lot of work around culture. Key messages included:

  • Ensure trust is at the heart of organisation.
  • Treat people like adults, because they are: like decision makers, like innovators, and they will be so.
  • There is no space for ego in good culture
  • The next step for Just Giving is to measure values

This latter part filled me with equal concern and curiosity, so my question from the flow was “how, for what reason, and what will you do with data?”. But with this being a future venture Zarine just had curiosity, and something about “measuring how well people live up to the standard” which seemed to contradict all that had previously been said.

(Zarine didn’t want to use a mic, and I really struggled to hear her, so I apologise for the lack of detail. Made me think about this article on the price of academic publications; who do we exclude by reducing the accessibility of our message?)

Alice Breeden is Head of People Operations for Google EMEA, and was next up. She shared a Google journey and shared the thinking that facilitated it. After noticing those who stood out as great managers, they asked questions like, what if every Googler had an awesome manager? Reminiscent of problems solving that starts with ‘dumbest ideas first’. Asking the wide-open what if’s often open thinking and conversation that contains the very essence of the concluding solution. What if everyone in your organisation had an awesome manager. What would that look like? Start there.

Alice shared how google did a lot of measuring of managers, to find out what makes an awesome one in Google. Then used these items/traits to develop others. The questions they asked was What if every team was successful? Then measured what made an effective team in Google, and provided people with opportunities to develop these elements.

Google have work rules:

  1. Give your work meaning
  2. Trust your people
  3. Hire only people who are better than you
  4. Don’t confuse development with managing performance
  5. Be frugal and generous
  6. Pay “unfairly”
  7. Nudge
  8. Managing the rising expectations
  9. Enjoy! and then go back to 1

I like these a lot! Although I’m told there was nothing new or exciting from this snapshot that hasn’t already been published and shared before. Which actually leaves me wondering what actually happens inside Google and if this is congruent with the published comms. How much is talking vs doing? I’m certainly going back to no.1 atm and enjoying what happens when you keep to 2-4.

Recently Googlers have experienced development exploring unconscious bias to develop self-awareness. Different to Zarine of just giving, Alice said that Google don’t measure values; they feel them.


Next up was Emmajane Varley, Global Head of Insight, Culture & Group CEO Comms at HSBC who told us a story. A story about a lack of trust in the organisation that they set out to solve, but got stuck (a story has points of stuckness) then discovered inspiration when randomly overhearing a Behavioural Economist and a Town Planner. They were discussed the congestion problem on a well known bridge, and after some field research involving people asking drivers stuck in the jam to roll down the windows for a quick chat, they concluded that the cause of the congestions was the ripple effect of kindness and gratitude. When one driver gave way (where officially they shouldn’t have) and got a thank you, they oxytocin inducing response lead perpetuated more giving way. Resulting is long traffic cues and congestion, but no-one minded because they were high of kindness and gratitude …ok, so maybe there did mind.

Luckily Emmajane had connections and snuck a ‘Thank You’ button on the intranet. She didn’t wait for comms, governance of HR to approve it, she snuck it on there (oh enviable joy). This allowed a fair experiment. Nothing was communicated about the button’s why or how. When HSBC employees spotted this button, and clicked on it, it directed them to a Thank You wall, and they were asked who in the organisation they’d like to thank, and prompted to write said note. Just as anticipated, being grateful and appreciating others was contagious at HSBC. Emmajane shared a significant anecdote that without instructs as to how and why and when to use the Thank You button that had appeared, some people email HR to check it was ok to send a Thank You note.

To follow the speakers we had ‘Open-Mic’ where Matt invited us to take the mic for a strictly timed 60 seconds (signified by a bike horn), to share a story about how we changed/created/impacted upon culture. After all this listening I was excited and eager to talk so I raised my hand and shared a short story about WhatsApp and the team I lead.  Others followed and I appreciated that those who took the mic time for a very long question or soap box were re-asked to share a story. (Trying hard not to go off on a facilitation tangent here…for another log).

Live blogging is a fascinating learning experience for me, but i also enjoy the space and time to reflect – which slow blogging also fulfils. The more I reflect on the day, the conversations, the speakers, the more I’m thinking; the more I know and the more I don’t know. It was brill to be around none L+D people in a learning setting, as a delegate so to speak. Out of my comfort zone and somewhat feeling like when I contributed things people looked at me as if I had something growing out of head – I’ve had that before, but yesterday it took me by surprise. And then even more so by how comfortable I was with being that spotty zebra. Such juicy learning. We all have our own culture.

I’m off to figure out how to sneak a Thank You button on to our intranet…or some other simple yet impactful idea of growing appreciation.

I’ll start by appreciating you for reading my blog. Thank you.



The recent CIPD report on wellbeing is telling us that absence costs organisations £554 per person, per year, on average. That’s a huge loss especially in the non-profit sector where funding is increasing tight. A key message in the report is to increase awareness of the wellbeing gap with only 8% of companies having a dedicated wellbeing and health strategy. I’ve seen evidence of this still being disguised within ‘Absence Management’ with recommended performance management conversations, instead of people focussed conversations. What are we afraid of? Caring about people?

A call from the report is that managers can make decisions with wellbeing in mind; aim to be proactive rather than reactive. To become a regular behaviour this needs to be embedded in the beliefs of those making decisions – that’s everyone – and especially so modelled by those who make more impactful decisions. I’ve also noticed this again recently: what you say is overridden by how you act, the latter being guided by what you believe. You can say that you fully regard wellbeing as important in your decision making, and then… your decision making will speak for itself.

There are many different types of people who turn up for work. I get that some just want a job they can turn up, do, go home (however, when you’re dedicated to developing others this is a hard one. I do think there is always room for growth. It’s just not always obvious what is, or what/where the need and motivation lies).

I’m very lucky to be surrounded by a team of Learning and Development Advisors hired for attitude, passion for Addaction and good learning and a drive for excellence in their practise. Very fortunate, or good recruitment. And I wonder about when people are too engaged. What does that mean for wellbeing? When people are driven with a sharp work ethic and commitment to high performance. It means supporting a mid-morning break for yoga class, or taking their partner to Cornwall whilst they deliver training down there, or having a lie-in and logging on at the right time for them (whether that’s 6am, 1pm or sunday afternoon) or logging off at 3pm because they’re burned for the day; playing to your own energy. Make work work for you. We recently had two new additions to the team, who fully fit the dedication described above. Yet during induction with each as we discussed expectations, and they felt the shift (I saw this physically manifest in a mixture of relief, ease and discomfort) from their previous way of working I found myself reflecting on how ‘lazy’ it sounds to someone looking in. As I’m writing this I’m wondering what you’re thinking too. A brilliant CIPD bod said to me yesterday on requesting input for a media article that he wanted examples of “‘how-tos’ from organisations who genuinely do”. Don’t just read Pink, Coplin, Covey, Kline (or whoever’s thoughts fill you with inspiration) do it.

The thing is, I’ve spent a lot of time in 1:1s talking about wellbeing, and self-care. Questions like: Looking at your calendar for this month (self-planned), would you plan that for your colleague? when you do those 3 consecutive days of delivery with overnight stays, when are you going to take your TOIL back? What will you do to debrief and relax after each day when you’re away? What time is too early for getting up in the morning…what’s another option?

It strikes me that wellbeing begins with wellbeing for yourself. Self-care, consideration and attention to mainting our own energies (ref Coveys First Things First) for the fire within to be at its brightest and for our actions to be ‘true north’; aligned and representative of our believes, about wellbeing. About my wellbeing. And about your wellbeing.

Paradoxical Practice 

On 2nd February 2016 I attended a conference on Open Dialogue in London. [This is not a live blog].

Whilst I’ve come across dialogical practice from a coaching and learning perspective I wasn’t so familiar with the use of open dialogue as an approach for mental health treatment, and yet the more I heard the more I knew they were speaking to the converted.

Should we have a exploratory, mutually conversation with patience in a mental health setting? Yes

Should we be treating people like people? Yes

Should we listen more? Yes

It’s 2016 and we’re asking these questions. It’s better than not asking them at all.

This isn’t new. The idea of demonstrating a ‘way of being’ that connects you to another is definitely not new. We know, they know, and paradoxically  whilst “It’s so simple, it’s also so hard” (Dr Russell Razzaque – @MindfulRussell).

It’s bigger than this blog and bigger than psychiatry but what stood out was that to practice this way is to undo all existing and prevailing medical-model based training. It was going to be harder for professionals to be human. To speak to a patient. During the conference a guest speaker quoted her son:

“she had all this experience and expertise in mental health but she didn’t know how to speak to me …and I didn’t want to let her down”.

Further speakers encouraged the audience to be better in their practice by learning to attend to their own thoughts, to develop self-awareness and exercise an ease of urgency to problem solve and auto-diagnose. I’ll repeat that, innovate and dynamic psychiatrists are asking fellow mental health professionals to practice meta-cognition.
Recently I offered a group learning together the option to simultaneously (okay not in the same moment but essentially in the same experience) be the subjects of the session, and switch to a meta position of the facilitator. There was little response. The reflection appeared hard and contributions rapidly defaulted back to their own current experience.

In medical care, as of 2013 it’s the legal right of anyone to choice where they go, for GP and consultant referral, and yet I’m hearing “nobody uses it because it makes no difference where you go”. What if it did? What if mental health consultants and psychiatrist believed something different about the people in front of them? (that’s a whole other blog).

To not auto-diagnose is to go against the grain of years of training, to become the person who does diagnose. Against the grain of power and structure. Then we were reminded that it’s not your knowledge of the DSM that makes it work, it’s your ability to connect to another, and notice and hear and understand their individual experience. The power and essentiality of empathy again.

It’s simple but it’s hard. But I think thats why we’re here right.