Reflections on joining the gig economy

Tim writes…

Earlier this year, after 20 years in corporate life, I decided to take the plunge and set up by myself by launching TimScottHR. I decided to do go solo to do what I think I do best – help people and organisations with people stuff and social media. Having a good few friends who have taken this option, I wasn’t expecting it to be easy, but it felt like the time was right and I had that nagging question of “if not now, then when?”.

It is probably a total understatement to say that it has been an interesting few months!

To begin with there is plenty of stuff that needs doing which doesn’t earn you any money: setting up websites, sorting out branding, designing business cards and promotional material, finding and meeting with accountants, networking and connecting (aka drinking coffee). There is content to create and there were potential training sessions to write.

So far, self-employment has had some ups and downs. The real big positive has been the range of work that I have been lucky enough to get involved with. The last three months has seen me publishing a new book on social media with Gemma Dale, speaking about HR and technology at the HR Advisor conference in London, speaking about how HR and Internal Comms teams can work together at Comms Hero events, running Twitter chats and doing plenty of blogging. If that wasn’t enough, I’ve also worked with Leeds City Council to facilitate their leadership conference and supported a private sector outsourcing business with their employee relations caseload. Oh, and lectured on all things HR at Liverpool John Moores University!

It sounds like a dream start, and in many ways it has been, but there is another side to this gig economy stuff. There have been the sleepless nights where I’ve wondered where the next mortgage-paying piece of work is coming from. I’ve learned how hard it can be to switch off. When your office is in your home and there is always at least that one more thing that can be done that evening to develop the business…

What does 2017 have in store? I’m launching a range of Masterclasses on social media, from how to deal with the employment law implications, how to launch social media within organisations through to how to use it for your small business. I’m in talks with some local firms about future collaborations, and will be doing more more teaching at the university. There is also one more social media book to come, this time aimed at business leaders who want to lead socially. And…. hopefully enough work to keep paying the bills and keep those sleepless nights at bay.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. I have learned a lot about what I am good at (and not so good at) and been completely bowled over by the support from my network. I will never rule out going back to corporate HR life, but for now, I’m sticking with the MacBook and some artisan coffee.

A huge thanks to everyone who has supported me over the last few months – it is very much appreciated! I’m looking forward to whatever adventures 2017 brings.

With huge thanks to Simon Heath for creating both the “Time” cover and the book cover in the image at the top of the page!

Facilitation and me

Image: The Facilitation Shindig participants (Image from Julie Drybrough)
The Facilitation Shindig participants (Image from Julie Drybrough)

Tim writes…

Last week, I attended the inaugural Facilitation Shindig, run by the fabulous Julie Drybrough (in the group pic above, you can spot her at the right end of the front row).

Image: List of backgrounds I put together at the Facilitation ShindigIt was a get-together of a whole range of folks who get involved in facilitation in the workplace, in some form or another.  As we went around the room introducing ourselves, it seemed to me we fell into a number of different backgrounds. I tried to capture them just out of interest and summarised them as in the image to the left (the folk who were there may disagree with my categorisations – it was just an off the cuff thing!).

We kicked off the session with introductions and as part of our check-in, Julie posed the question: what is important to you when you facilitate? I realised that, for me, the answer is really quite simple (but, as is ever the case, quite complicated to achieve!): it is being useful to the people in the room and – as far as you can – making sure stuff happens afterwards. At the very least, you can show people that there can be a change from what was before.

When people get together in a room, there will usually be a compelling reason for them to do so (if there isn’t, you should probably start by asking what the value of you all getting together is!). Maybe there is a need to create something together, build a team or new relationships or to fix something that has gone wrong.

Image: I imagine we have all been to conferences and events that never leave the room.  By that I mean that the content is interesting, thought-provoking, even enjoyable, but follow-up action never happens and ultimately in hindsight it was just a day out of the usual routine.  Even with the best of intentions or the healthiest of budgets, nothing changed – or even if it did, that thing the people came together for isn’t sustained.  Quickly, practice reverts to what it was before.

As an example, I was talking to a friend who works in HR recently. They told me a (familiar) story about a company that had invested a whole heap of time, energy and money in a leadership development programme.  You know the kind of thing: off-site days in fancy hotels, expensive facilitators and coaches, involving every single manager in a global organisation. But the fancy hotel was nothing like the workplace (who’d have thought it?). There wasn’t enough space given for reflection or for identifying actions – the expensive facilitators delivered their off-the-shelf stuff off their shelves.  But there was no transfer back to the day job and no changes of any lasting significance were made.

So, what is important to me about facilitation is the doing after the day.  Making that event leave the room, making it meaningful, making a difference: not just on the day itself, not just for the smiles on the happy sheets but afterwards – when it really counts. The Facilitation Shindig did that for me and I hope I do it in the events I facilitate.

The key to great HR policies

Wait: great HR policies?

Yes, there really are such things.

You are probably more used to long, boring, bureaucratic and legally-worded ones with lots of ‘for the avoidance of doubt’s and ‘up to and including’. You may have even had to sign something to say you’ve read and understood a document which makes the 90-odd pages of Apple’s terms and conditions look like a “Baby’s First Words” chewable book.

Believe it or not, it doesn’t have to be like that.

Your employment policies are more than the sum of their parts. They are more than just a document that someone signs (and rarely reads) when they start in your organisation. They are also a window into your culture. They are how you talk to the people that work for you.

I once accepted a job and the HR department I was joining sent me a huge pile of policies to read and sign in the post along with my contract of employment. They were formal, shouty and with plenty of detail about how they reserved the right to fire me for all sorts of potential transgressions. A nice “welcome to the company” and good first impression they were not.

Instead, when carefully and thoughtfully written, employment policies can be empowering.

They can be short and simple.
They can be worded in plain English.
They can allow for discretion.
They can give a good first impression.
They don’t have to cover every eventuality.
They don’t have to have all the answers.
They don’t have to be mood hoovers.
They don’t have to be formal and wordy.

If you want great HR policies, then here are my top tips:

  • Keep them short and to the point
  • Think about the language you use – straightforward, plain English is just fine (and in fact is much better!)
  • Consider whether you even need one at all – many companies have far too many separate policies
  • Follow the ACAS code for discipline and grievance – you don’t need to do any more than this to be compliant.
  • Make them relevant to your organisation – think about what you need at your place, not what everyone else does. Don’t cut and paste from other organisations just because they have theirs on the internet! We can usually tell when this has happened….
  • Remember – writing a policy never solved a problem. Talking to people usually wins every time.
    The policy document is just the start – it is (usually) the job of HR to interpret, guide and advise. Putting it out there and telling people to read isn’t good enough.

And while we’re at it, don’t worry all that much about getting people to sign them. It really isn’t worth all the hard work. And if you do, once you update them you’ve got to do it all over again. Not to mention the fact that someone (and yes, we mean you, HR person) will have to monitor who hasn’t done it and chase them down.

Lastly, it goes without saying that if you would like any help with policy creation…… then just give me a shout!

Preparing for a different future

On 1 December 2016, Tim participated in a CIPD Liverpool Group event at which we discussed the future of work, in particular:

Robotics, Automation, Artificial Intelligence: How will human beings interact with the new technology?

Slightly ironically, given we were talking about technology, we couldn’t live blog or tweet the event as we were in an underground room with no wifi; however, I did manage to make some notes which form the basis of this blog!

Liverpool John Moores University’s Head of HR Programmes Maureen Royce was leading the event with contributions from Sarah Dixon and me, amongst others.

Maureen started us off:

We need to work out what our roles will be in future in terms of AI and robotics. We have seen the power of robotics when it comes to brain surgery – robotic fingers have a dexterity that humans don’t. Google the word “robot”. You will find unpleasant featured white plastic things marching towards Armageddon with us. There are mixed views about robots – there is a strong fear element, which is not helped by newspaper headlines saying “the robots are here to take our jobs”.

There is increased emphasis on collaboration using technology. This gives us an opportunity to connect and work with people virtually. Sometimes all of the contact between team members is via social media or technology. How do we work with that? The CIPD is about humans and human relationships. What do we need to do when the connectivity doesn’t stop? If all the things we do are visible to Google, how are they going to use it? Human and ethical questions are part of the HR heartland.

What does leadership look like in this environment? We need to work differently and connect differently. It requires a whole different area of skills. Globalisation means we have real time connections. The demographics are changing – Facebook is gaining an older demographic. The academic work talks about being “global and inclusive” but Maureen takes issue with the word “inclusive” because not everyone can access the Internet in every country. Are we creating a division between “those who know and who can” and “those who are excluded”?

For some, “work” can be anywhere, any time. Work-life balance is a concern – maybe we are moving more towards “flow”? If you’re responsible for employee welfare at an organisation and someone says “I work best at 3am”, how do you deal with that?

At this point Tim stepped up to speak a bit about automation and AI.

He quoted a recent report from Deloitte & Oxford University which said that 35% of UK jobs were at risk of automation in next 20 years. Also the former McDonald’s CEO recently told America’s Fox News that a proposed increase in the minimum wage would make companies consider robot workers, saying, “It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who is inefficient, making $15 an hour bagging French fries.” And the supplier of both Apple and Samsung, Foxconn, recently reported that it replaced 60,000 jobs with robots.

IBM built a supercomputer called Deep Blue which beat grand master Garry Kasparov at Chess. They wanted another Grand Challenge and were pondering trying to develop a machine that could pass the Turing Test. They decided it wouldn’t catch public’s imagination but they decided they wanted a related challenge to bring elements of competing against humans and understanding human speech.

They decided to build a new supercomputer which would tackle the US gameshow “Jeopardy!“. Over 7,000 episodes of Jeopardy! have been aired and it has been running for over 30 years. The basic premise is that it is a quiz in which contestants get general knowledge clues in form of answers and must phrase their responses as questions. IBM set up a special game between their new supercomputer Watson and the show’s two most successful champions in January 2011.

Watson accumulated $77,147 (£47,923) versus Mr Jennings’ total of $24,000 (£14,907) and Mr Rutter’s $21,600 (£12,416)

So what did IBM do next with this technology, which could assimilate vast amounts of information, combine it and then selectively use it to generate a response? They turned to healthcare.

Tim showed this video which demonstrates how Watson has been developed. 

What does all this mean for HR? Well, there are implications for employees in various sectors. Hospitals using Watson in the US are replacing doctors with nurses. Watson could be used in remote areas where there are no doctors. But taking it further, even those roles that require some kind of judgement which we previously thought couldn’t be carried out by computers could be replicated. Like Human Resources….

Maureen took over again:

Computers might tell you ‘what’ but not necessarily ‘how’… We have the technology but do we have the human or the work ecosystems to manage this stuff properly? How do we reshape work to reflect this? How do we deal with assembly line jobs, first line contact centre jobs being automated?

Maureen quoted work by John Boudreau, who has been asking what the future workforce will look like. “Jobs for life” has been gone for some time. “Rapid skills obsolescence” is the new phrase – the speed of skills redevelopment is increasing.

Sarah Dixon, People and OD Analyst in the HR team at Liverpool John Moores University spoke about the use of data in HR analytics. She asked the interesting question, “If your organisation has provided you with wearable technology, who owns your data?” We have willingly given our health data but what is being used for?

Maureen picked up again to discuss algorithms. Precisely engineered instructions to complete a task mean complicated chains of commands for a machine. A machine might be able to tell you that someone is off sick for x number of days. They might not be able to tell you that person A is the main carer for an elderly relative.

Which roles  are least likely to be automated in the future? Maureen quoted Benjamin Snyder who suggests:

  • Lawyers
  • Hotel managers
  • Education (especially nursery and infant schools)
  • Construction manager
  • Social workers
  • Substance abuse/mental health workers
  • Arts occupations

Which roles are most likely?

  • Cashiers
  • Bookkeepers
  • Drivers
  • Packaging
  • Assembly
  • Accountants
  • Legal assistants.

Maureen quoted Peter Cheese who said that robots will only take our jobs if we let them. She asked “Do we want straight line algorithms deciding what we do about absence management or do we want to put a human interaction in there?”

There are huge ethical dilemmas around AI and robotics. We watched an interesting video featuring Barack Obama speaking about driverless cars. Who sets the moral rules for driverless cars? Do we have a general consensus? The same applies to medicine.

The key word here is “values”. Who are we impacting with that decision, at what point do we stop the machine and say “we’re taking over that decision now”? The technology is there. It will come through very quickly.

The World Economic Forum said that in the machine age only the human organisation will survive. We are in the fourth industrial revolution – the boundaries between humans and machines are quickly eroding. This is HR territory!

There is a lot of potential for augmented reality in Learning & Development: we can get a much greater feel for how people can do potentially dangerous jobs without putting them “in the line of fire”.

It forces us to think about what is special about being human. A machine will tell you what but not necessarily how. Human beings don’t stop thinking. How often do you go to bed at night with something on your mind and at some point you wake up and you’ve solved it? The unconscious keeps going. Machines might be able to mirror learned intelligence but how about emotional intelligence?

Channeling the forthcoming Star Wars: Rogue One film (probably unintentionally), Maureen says one of the things that distinguishes humans from machines is that we have hope!

The World Economic Forum also said we are moving from knowledge economies to human economies where the key “skills” will be creativity, empathy, morality, imagination, ethics and compassion.

“Ethics and design go hand in hand” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

HOW report – there are three different points on the spectrum of organisational characteristics:

  • Blind obedience – command and control
  • Informed acquiescence – rules-based, performance-based rewards
  • Self-governing – shared values and ethics not policies. Only humans can operate in this environment

John Boudreau asked what do we in HR become? He outlined four possibilities:

  • Organisational Perfomance Engineer
  • Culture Architect and Community Activist
  • Global Talent Scout, Convenor and Coach
  • Trend Forecaster and Technology Integrator

It was a fascinating evening with lots of very relevant issues discussed and some eye-opening examples of the potential of technology were given. The debate about the future of work will rumble on as long as there is work to do! We agreed that there is definitely scope for a multi-disciplinary group to get together and consider the major issues we had discussed throughout the evening.

Social media myths

For many of us, social media is part of our everyday life. It is what we do and how we do it – whether for work or personal or a little bit of both.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of my stuff that I am one of these people. After all, I’m a self-confessed social media convert through and through. It is a key part of my business and of how I do people stuff generally. But whilst social media isn’t exactly new and is being used by millions of people all over the world, there are still plenty of organisations and individuals alike who don’t get it.

Of course, there are no rules that say you have to do social….. but if you run pretty much any kind of business and ignore social media you are taking a big risk. A risk that means you could be missing out on customers, feedback, engagement, or an opportunity to promote what you do.  Unfortunately, there are still too many who believe the common myths and misconceptions about social media. These myths and misconceptions mean that the potential benefits get missed.

I recently created a Slideshare featuring some of the main myths that I hear most frequently. Here is a link you can follow to it.

You know the kind of thing: Twitter is people talking about what they had for breakfast.  Social media is just for kids. I don’t have the time. I don’t have anything to say. And the most worrying myth of all: we are just not that sort of business.  Yes, someone has said that to me, in 2016.

Only when we get past these myths will we realise the benefits of social media. The opportunity for leaders to connect with the people that work for them, unhindered by geography or timezones. For internal communication and collaboration, social media – whether internal or external – providing perhaps one of the best opportunities that organisations have to change traditional ways of working and open up the flow of information and knowledge. For individuals, social media as a way to network, learn and engage with professional communities.

I’ve been speaking about this stuff as part of my work with Liverpool John Moores University students and their reactions have been eye-opening. I have mostly been met with a quizzical look that says “why wouldn’t you, as a business in 2016, be on social media?” They haven’t needed the persuasion required by some of the overtly sceptical HR audiences I have spoken to. I’ve also spoken at two of the recent series of three Comms Hero events for Communications professionals. The audiences there have expressed palpable frustration at the lack of engagement from HR professionals and leaders alike in getting social. They get the benefits of this stuff because they see it on a daily basis – and they believe we can achieve more if we work together on it.

It is time to bust the social media myths.

5 steps to employee advocacy

One of the big “future direction of HR” topics for me at the moment is the increasingly close relationship between HR and Marketing/Comms. Nowhere is this clearer than in the  growing area of employee advocacy.

Simply put, employee advocacy is the promotion of an organisation by its own employees: the people who work for you sharing your content across their own networks because they want to. From an employer brand perspective, this is perhaps the ultimate goal. Research (such as the Edelman Trust Barometer) shows that people trust real life reviews and the opinions of “average employees” over corporate and senior executive messages every time. If you’re lucky, your employees may already be sharing your content – but why leave it to luck? Having a strategy and formalised approach could help to maximise your efforts.

Consider this ideal scenario: your employees, sharing your messaging with their friends and family, on the social media network of their choice – without prompting (or bribing!),  talking positively about what it is like to work for you. Employee advocacy is essentially harnessing the power of word of mouth – social media style.

Of course the whole point of employee advocacy is that it needs to be organic. You can’t really force it, and if you try it may well backfire on you. But it is definitely something that you can encourage and make easier for people. So if you want to engage your employees and their social networks, here are five considerations:

1. Make it easy for employees to share your stuff. Send them updates; make it clear not only that they can share this information but that you would positively welcome it. Include sharing buttons for relevant sites – this is practical but important.

2. Don’t just tell your people that you are happy for them to share – provide guidance too! Some employees will need to expressly be told that you want them to share company messages. Of course, you want content to be shared in an effective way that appropriately represents your brand. It doesn’t need to be excessive but if you haven’t already got a policy on social media then launching one before engaging employee advocates is a good move.

3. Reward advocacy. This doesn’t necessarily mean providing excessive or monetary rewards – this might of course generate the wrong behaviours. But a thank you, especially a social media one, goes a long way and reinforces the desired behaviours.

4. Get some role models. You will need leaders to send a message that sharing on social networks is not only acceptable but actively encouraged. But as well as leaders, consider engaging some champions across the organisation. Find out who is already very social, connected or influential and get them involved and part of the team.

5. Train your people on social media. Although social media has been around for some time now, for some people it is still new or confusing. So if you really want to get people social you will need to spend some time explaining what is in it for them to get social and provide practical help on how to actually do so. You’ll also be helping them to find a potential source of professional knowledge – but that’s a whole other blog.

Employee advocacy has the potential be a huge boost to your branding efforts. But ultimately it will only happen if your organisation is a good place to work. If your employees aren’t willing to share your content or express their pride in working for you, then you might have a bigger cultural problem to consider…

If you would like some help with thinking about employee advocacy in your organisation, then please get in touch. I can help with that!

I know we ought to…

I’m now two weeks into life as part of the so-called “gig economy“. So far, it has been fun with lots of variation, some hard work and quite a lot of coffee drinking. I’m speaking to lots of different organisations about lots of different issues, which is a really big change from me after almost twenty years in-house. What’s really interesting though is that a lot of organisations are facing the same, or similar, issues.

For example, on four separate occasions in just the last week I have had the same conversation. Each time with small businesses and each time about social media. A variant on the same theme: “I know we ought to be doing more with social media but…..”

Sometimes it’s about not having the time. Other times it is about not knowing what to do or how to do it. Questions usually follow around which platforms to use, what content to share, who to follow and what to say. Most importantly, how to maximise their efforts for the best reward.

For some of us, social media feels like it has been part of our lives for ever. It is part of our every day and as natural as breathing. But for others it is still a confusing place; a language they just don’t understand – but they feel they should. Some people are just feeling left out and aren’t capitalising on the opportunities for connecting, learning, sharing and branding that it offers. For those of us who do use it every day this might seem strange. It is easy to say that these individuals and businesses should just get stuck in, figure it out and start getting social. But sometimes people need a little help to move beyond those vague guilty feelings of “we really ought to….” and figure out their strategy, what is (potentially) in it for them and then the practical how to.

Even people who are comfortable with the mechanics of it can need a little encouragement. One individual I spoke to this week who has broken through those first, faltering steps to become an experienced user told me this week that he initially felt like he “was bursting into the middle of a conversation between a bunch of close friends” and found it difficult to get started. Eventually he realised that people welcomed him into the discussion.

All of these conversations (and many I had while I was still in-house) are why I have set up #getsocialwithTim. As part of my (newly-independent) work, I can offer practical assistance to individuals and organisations that will help with both the strategy and the practical side of social media, designed to empower people with the confidence and the practical ability to do it for themselves in quick time.

Small businesses and independent practitioners don’t need to spend a fortune to learn to use social media. They don’t need to outsource it to someone else. They just need some straightforward, real world advice and support. Pointing in the right direction with the necessary skills. There are loads of organisations doing social well; boosting their sales and improving their customer service as a result. As an example, I often give the excellent Liverpool artisan bakery Baltic Bakehouse as an example of a company who use Twitter and Instagram to make me want to visit their venues and buy their products Every Single Day.

So if you know someone who is having the dreaded “I know we should be doing more with social media but….” crisis, then please put them in touch. We are living in the social age – it’s time to stop knowing we should do more and actually do it: I can help with that!

The Social Media PLN

The concept of the Personal Learning Network, or PLN, is gaining a lot of interest amongst the HR community at the moment. If you haven’t come across the term before, a PLN basically does what it says on the tin: it is all about creating a unique network of people and sources from which you can learn and grow as a professional.

Continuing professional development is a key responsibility in many professions, to ensure that practitioners keep up to date with new ways of thinking, developments in the field and external influences that might come to bear on their areas of work. How to improve your own practice is also vital for both personal and career development. But it is even more essential for those of us working in a fast-moving profession that is constantly evolving like HR and L&D are. The worlds of work and technology are changing around us – and we must meet this challenge head on.

Once upon a time my PLN basically consisted of reading the HR press and attending the occasional employment law update – when I had the time. Now, my PLN is based around Twitter, where you can find me as @TimScottHR. I engage across many social media platforms, but joining Twitter in particular had a transformational effect on me, my approach to HR and my career. It works incredibly well for me and has become a daily part of my routine that I’d feel lost without. Of course Personal Learning Networks take many forms, they aren’t just about social media.  But social media has opened up new ways of learning for professionals and organisations alike.

So my first piece of advice to any HR professional who wants to develop their own personal learning network is to get on Twitter! There is a warm and welcoming HR community on Twitter who are actively discussing ideas and sharing the work that they are doing via blogs, tweets and podcasts. The beauty of a Twitter-based PLN is that it renders geography and timescales irrelevant. You have access to the work and ideas of thought leaders across the profession, on the device in your pocket, whenever you need it. You can dip in and out whenever works for you. It can help bring the outside in. Not only does the HR practitioner themselves improve but so does their organisation in turn, benefiting from this enhanced knowledge and experience.

In order to develop my own learning I read blogs, listen to podcasts and share my ideas and practice too, for the benefit of others. Social media allows you both to be a resource and to use others’ resources. But it is about finding what works for you.

If you are not already a big user of social media, or aren’t too sure how to make the most of what you are doing to build a PLN, I have three pieces of advice. First of all: dive in. Just go for it and get involved in the conversation. People already doing this stuff genuinely welcome new voices bringing fresh approaches and different experience. Secondly: be you. Just be yourself on social media, like you would in a real life, face to face networking situation. Actually, the same unspoken rules largely apply: four example, don’t be tempted to go straight into “sales mode” – remember it’s a conversation! And finally, share stuff.  As well as helping you build connections, sharing stuff makes you a useful resource for someone else’s PLN and could help to promote your organisation’s work too.

If you want to read more about social media and HR, or learn more about what it can do for you and your organisation then you can download the book I co-wrote with fellow HR professional Gemma Dale on the subject from Amazon here or contact me via the website for training on all things social media!