Two little words, three common threads

We all like to think we appreciate what others do, but do we, really? Do we fully appreciate the things we have and the things others do for us, or are we too busy on the wheel of life, quickly moving from one thing to the next, without stopping to enjoy the journey?

The last few weeks have been an interesting time for me. Having no choice but to take a period of “enforced relaxation” following a recent minor operation, I found myself having to work hard at doing nothing – in fact I found it more difficult than work! Anyone who knows me well will know that I struggle to have blocks of white space in the diary, I like to be busy.

I very quickly learned how much my usual healthy and very fortunate self took for granted. Simple movements, bending, walking became a chore and had to be practiced where previously they were not thought about.

Listening to friends and family members, I noticed something, which transpired into common theme. Stories regularly citing being “taken for granted” both at home and in work life. I noticed three common threads which can be applied to both areas, but may prove particularly useful if you have responsibility for managing people;

This is one of the most frequent issues I encounter, particularly with the manager/employee relationship or when we are assessing people for recruitment or development purposes. Thinking we know what the other person is about to say, or how they would act. Sometimes it’s like the person has a crystal ball and can tell me how the future will play out, without having a shred of evidence. My question is always “how do you know?” “have you asked?” If not then don’t assume. Work on the basis of leaving nothing to chance and gather the facts first before reaching a conclusion.

Sometimes people do things not because they want to, but because they feel they have to, or they have done it for so long it becomes expected, a habit almost. This feeling that things are expected can lead to resentment if under valued. A little bit like the unofficial team roles sometimes assumed. For example, how many times have you heard the organiser of the Christmas party say, “I’m not organising it next year, someone else can do it”. Maybe it’s time to review those unofficial roles and expectations and make sure these are fairly distributed and that the incremental effort is recognised.

Bringing me nicely on to…

Or should I say lack of. In each example, home or work, most people were saying things like “they don’t even notice what I’ve done” “I don’t know why I bother” “an occasional thank you would be nice”. Sound familiar? I’ve made mental note to say thank you more for the things others do for me.

My conclusion, forced relaxation is not all bad. Taking things for granted is. It can lead to demotivated, unhappy people and is bad for relationships. So as it’s Valentines Day, spread some love and appreciation to colleagues and loved ones. It can start with those two little words, “Thank you”

Let me know how it goes…

5 Secrets to Successful Recruiting

Over the years many people have told me that they “hate” recruitment, which I can never understand.  As one of my favourite professional pastimes, here are my 5 top tips to make your campaigns successful, based on my own extensive experiencehiring of recruitment and assessment activities.

Step 1 – Planning

I would argue that this is THE most important part of the process and frequently the stage which is overlooked or rushed.  So, when a vacancy arises, ensure you allow sufficient time to consider the requirements of the organisation and role.  Often every day pressures force employers into hiring someone quickly, therefore simply re-using a former document or advert, or calling the same recruitment agency.  This may not necessarily get the results the organisation needs.  So, before you charge ahead, give some thought to the following:

  • Think about your existing team – what skills do you have and what do you need?
  • Future needs of the organisation – think wider/broader, what do you really need?
  • The true role and responsibilities of the new hire – avoid over or under-selling the role
  • Timescales – including allocating time for sifting and selection
  • Whether any interim resource is required until you find your ideal employee
  • Budget for the campaign
  • Resource for managing the recruitment campaign effectively


Step 2 – Documentation

Once you have defined your needs, the next step is to ensure this is supported in your documentation – the job description, person specification and any chosen means of advertising.  Be as clear as possible when trying to attract new employees.  This is an opportunity to promote your business and the role on offer, so do so honestly and clearly (which in my humble opinion includes the salary).   This will help you to attract suitable candidates, rather than wading through reams of unsuitable ones.  Or worse still, getting to the end with your ideal candidate then they refuse because the salary is too low…

So, how can you be clear?  Set out the skills, experience and attributes you are looking for in your person specification.  Ensure that your requirements do not directly or indirectly discriminate in any way.  This document should then underpin the rest of the recruitment process and in the interests of fairness and best practice, should not be changed after you have advertised.

Sometimes, there can be a real temptation to turn this into a “fishing trip” once the CV’s land and you see skills you think are interesting.  However if you have covered the planning stage effectively, hopefully any such skills will be in addition to your requirements.


Step 3 – Attracting Applicants

Think carefully about how to reach your target audience, as often the best candidates are not necessarily looking.  Consider using a variety of methods ie. social media, use of your website, networks, specialist media, recruitment consultants etc. Some of my clients have seen great success using social media.  It provides a great cost-effective way of attracting people and sometimes finding those passive candidates, who may not be looking until your cleverly-worded message sparks their attention.  Remember it is a two-way process, so think about what you are offering to any new employee and what may appeal to the job-seeker.

Always offer candidates at least two alternative methods of submitting their application and again think carefully about application methods to avoid discrimination.  Application forms can offer a consistent way of gaining information.


Step 4 – Selection

Consider the best way of testing the criteria you asked for in the person specification and ensure any sift is documented thoroughly.  In the unfortunate event that any decisions made are challenged, it is important that you can objectively justify why you have selected one applicant over another.

Use of assessment centres has grown significantly in popularity and can be a good way of testing particular skills and behaviour through role plays, presentations, written activities and so on (and can be a lot of fun!)  In the past, organisations have presented me with “fantastic” candidates, who have interviewed well, but when faced with practical activities have turned out to be quite far removed from what the organisation needs, or indeed thought they may be getting!  Statistics show that assessment centres are a more reliable predictor of behaviour than interviews alone (source BPS).  However they are not right for every role, so whatever you decide, make the activities relevant and proportional to the role.  If using interviews, best practice suggests that structured competency based interview questions will test evidence of behaviours and performance more comprehensively than others (ie. hypothetical “what if” questions).  You should also have two interviewers.  If you are trying to improve diversity, think about how this is reflected on your interview panel.  Independent Assessors can be a good additional resource at this point and bring an extra level of impartiality.

With any methods, ensure that all candidates are subject to the same process.  With interview questions, prepare some core questions which will allow you to explore the relevant competencies.  However, you will also need to take into account the applicant’s experience, therefore be prepared to ask supplementary or probing questions to explore their responses in more detail.  Good listening skills are vital!

Practically, also think about the finer detail, such as interview confirmation letters, information sent to candidates, who will greet them at the venue and how will you professionally put candidates at ease on the day.


Step 5 – Making the Offer

Once you’ve found your ideal candidate, don’t become complacent.  Accepting a new role can often be daunting, so put yourself in the candidate’s shoes to reduce the risk of losing them at this late stage in the process.  Issue the paperwork promptly and accurately and if there are likely to be delays for any reasons, keep them informed.  Communication is key, make them feel important and welcome and give some thought to how you will plan their induction when they join your organisation.

Also communicate to unsuccessful applicants.  This promotes a positive image of you as an employer and also leaves you with options should your ideal candidate not join for any reason.  Don’t fall into the trap of leaving them until after the successful candidate has joined.  Time permitting, consider offering feedback, maybe to the stronger candidates.  Whilst this can be time consuming, again it creates a positive feeling with candidates and may leave you with potential future employees should something more suitable arise.


And Finally…

Above all, recruitment can offer a great opportunity to promote your organisation positively and needn’t be a chore when planned properly.  It should always be a two-way process, allowing the candidate to find out more about your organisation, alongside portraying your requirements to help you to gain the best “fit”.  As mentioned, the initial investment in planning can pay dividends further along in the process.

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Does Practice Make Perfect? 5 Tips to Help New Managers

There are many views on whether talent is born or made.  I sit on the “made” side of the fence, as over the years I have developed many skills I didn’t have, to a pretty decent level, even if I say so myself.  Take running for example…

medalOn Sunday 18 October I ran the Birmingham Half Marathon.  I wasn’t the quickest, but I did run all the way and raised over £650 for Macmillan Cancer Support.  3 years ago I couldn’t run a mile without stopping and certainly couldn’t run up a hill!  I was always the last at school to “get picked” for anything remotely sporty.

So what’s changed?  Training, practice, support and motivation to reach my goal. Adjusting my approach where necessary and committing to an overall vision – currently to run the London Marathon next year.  This got me to thinking about the similarities of my training to that of developing people…

I see many businesses getting frustrated with Line Managers who are not managing their people, or employees who may not be performing as well as they could.  We wonder why they get it wrong and complain about them when they do.  I’m sure you can all think of examples.  According to a recent survey by the EEF (The Manufacturer’s Organisation)*:

A whopping 88% of HR professionals believe their line Managers lack the necessary leadership skills.

Often people are left to “learn on the job”, without ever being shown a set of skills.  We promote our best Sales person to manage the team because they are good at selling, without helping them to understand how to effectively manage performance or providing any management training.  They have not been trained to run up that hill.

It doesn’t mean they will never be any good, they just need a bit of help.  Here are my 5 tips for starting that journey from novice to expert, which applies equally to running and to developing new line Managers to become great leaders.

  1. Know what you want to achieve.  Or as the great Stephen Covey said, “Start with the End in Mind”.  It was easy with my running goal, which was to one day run a half marathon (yes I know, the goal post has since moved…!)  In the case of leadership, make sure your newly promoted Managers understand what’s expected of them and are aligned with the vision and objectives of your organisation.  That way, they can ‘live’ this and in turn cascade it to ensure their own team members understand how their contribution counts.  If you do move the goal posts for some reason, keep them informed so they come along with you.
  2. Basic training – provide some.  And make sure they understand what good looks like.  Whether this is being able to hold a difficult conversation, or a more specific skill such as coaching techniques, this needs to be done in a timely manner and not left until business is quiet, as by then its probably too late.
  3. Regular practice – actually repeating the action over and over helps you practice a skill and guess what, you get better at it the more you do it.  No surprises there I don’t expect.  Make sure your Managers have the opportunity to apply their new skill frequently until it becomes firmly embedded.  This may include providing a safe environment initially to build some basic confidence.
  4. Learn from the tough days – we all have good days and bad days, your best learning never comes from the good ones.  Take time to reflect on the learning.  Managers may not get it right first time, but skills can be honed with regular, constructive and timely feedback on what worked well and what could be done better.  Running is the same.  (My learning from Sunday was stay away from the countless free jelly babies well-meaning people offer at the side of the route.  This will avoid a sugar coma later….) Watch out for them being too over-critical – we are often our own worst enemies when it comes to self-evaluation, so encourage the individual to give themselves a break.  Learning is a journey, things will not always go as planned, but when they don’t there are still valuable insights to be gained.
  5. Support – It can be a lonely road, so having a network of people who can offer encouragement, advice and remind you (or them) why you started down this route in the first place is essential.  I’ve found when the above four fail for me, when running or in business, my support network has proved vital in helping me to get back on track.  For line Managers this could be providing someone who can act as a mentor or buddy, or simply encouraging them to network with like-minded professionals who could offer an appropriate level of support.

So what’s all this got to do with running?  Everything.  if I’d been left to my own devices, I’m sure I would have run a half marathon one day, but it would have taken me at least twice as long and been a much more painful journey.  If you want to develop good Managers, they need training and the opportunity to practice those new skills time and time again.  In return, you will gain a stronger management team, happier more engaged employees and better business results.

To conclude, I’m far from the perfect Marathon runner, but I do devote time to my training and get better each time.  For that reason I think talent can be made, with sufficient motivation, commitment and time – it needn’t be costly.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your views.

Author:  Sue Davis

Connect with Sue on LinkedIn.  You can also support her fundraising at

PS.  There are many gurus on the subject of whether talent is born or made.  Read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for more insights on the theory of 10,000 hours of practice, or a shorter read is Matthew Syed’s Bounce – make your own mind up!

*EEF Article link