Podcast transcript: Doing HR differently with Lucy Adams

Check out the transcript from episode three of AHRI’s new podcast, Let’s Take This Offline, where our host Shelley Johnson speaks with CEO of Disruptive HR Lucy Adams about rethinking traditional HR practices for a disrupted world of work. 

Listen to the episode below.

Shelley Johnson: Hi, welcome to Let’s Take This Offline, a brand-new podcast from the Australian HR Institute. My name is Shelley Johnson. I’m a proud AHRI member. And I’ve spent over a decade leading HR teams and helping to create positive work cultures. Whether you’re on your commute, taking a lunch break or looking for inspiration, this podcast aims to share meaningful conversations and actionable insights that leave you feeling inspired, informed and ready to take action. It’s safe to say that the HR profession has been truly elevated to new heights over the past few years. We can all remember those early days of COVID. And we saw workplaces turning to HR for answers on how to make things work. When employee wellbeing concerns spiked globally, it was HR tasked with providing useful solutions. Of course, HR have done this type of work for decades. But now it really feels like we’re in the driver’s seat, helping organisations build better, stronger and more productive workforces for the future. So how can we maintain this momentum? And what changes do we need to make to our own function to keep pace with new ways of working? We’re diving into this topic today with Lucy Adams, who’s the former HR director at the BBC, and now runs her own HR consultancy in the UK, called disruptive HR. In this episode, you’re going to learn about Lucy’s EACH framework, which stands for employees as adults, consumers and humans. She’ll walk us through how to develop an employee persona, to create tailored employee experiences, and how to get leadership buy-in to do things differently. Plus, we’ve got a stack of helpful resources in the show notes to help you put these insights into action. Let’s jump in. Lucy. Welcome to the show. It’s so great to be having this conversation with you today.

Lucy Adams: Oh, it’s lovely to be here. How are you doing?

Shelley Johnson: I’m good. And I have to say I have been really excited to dig into some really deep questions about HR with you, because I know you have such a fresh perspective in this space. We like to start each episode with the same question for our guests. And that is what’s one piece of advice you’d like to give HR professionals.

Lucy Adams: We’re at our third evolution in HR right now. And I think the one thing that HR people could change is how they see their role. Because we have historically seen our role has been about helping people helping employees, then we kind of graduated to being told that we were all strategic business partners now. And it was all about working on the implementation of strategy with business leaders. But I think that actually the one thing that we can do for ourselves right now is to recognise that our role is to create the conditions where people can do their best work. And I think if we can kind of get our heads around the fact that our role is very different from perhaps the personnel officer or strategic business partner that we’ve lived with, I think that gives us a different perspective and lifts us up and out. So I would focus on that. But for those people who saw me speak at the conference, they will also know that in addition to that, I think that there is a fundamental need to change the way that we do things. And we sum that up with our EACH framework employees as adults, consumers and human beings, I think a change of what we see our role is, but also the way that we shape our relationship with our leaders, our employees and our organisation.

Shelley Johnson: Let’s see, I know there was a lot of positive feedback at AHRI’s convention last year about your keynote, where you shared the EACH framework, and especially the A and the C, which stands for treating employees as adults and consumers. And I keep coming back to this idea of how do we give more autonomy and trust, which we know is so important, but also creating bespoke experiences that are tailored for them, just like a retailer would do for its customer. We’ll share more about the framework in the show notes so people can read up on it because I know it’s super helpful and practical. But I wanted to get a sense from you about what kind of environment we need to create so that people can really thrive at work.

Lucy Adams: That’s the golden question. Right? So and this is where I think instead of us focusing on what are the processes that we want to implement, we need to start thinking more about the human beings that we’re working with, and to ask ourselves the question, what would enable that individual to thrive or this team of people to thrive and do their best work and typically this is where it brings us back to the EACH framework is that actually being in a position and being in an environment where you do your best work typically means that you are going to have the space to do it. So this kind of feeling trusted, feeling empowered, finding the way that works for you best, finding, you know, being most productive in terms of how, when and where you work and being trusted to know what’s right for you. And to be able to find that in your work environment for yourself. There’s also this piece about treating me as an individual. So one size fits all processes are not going to get the best from people, but actually really understanding what makes me tick versus what makes you tick. What motivates us what makes me feel valued, what are my particular strengths, so that kind of customization piece, and then, you know, we come to the human part of it, and to create the conditions where we’re doing our best work, then HR processes need to be refocused on the human being. And so in terms of what makes me want to improve my performance, well, what’s going to make me want to improve my performance is me owning and driving my own objectives, or having regular feedback sessions at a time that works for me, rather than a set performance management process. What enables me to do my best work and feel good about it is feeling valued and appreciated in a way that works for me. So it means that we need to move away from those big standard bonus schemes that we’ve had for generations. And instead really think about what would I as a line manager do to make that person feel valued and special. So come back to that EACH framework, if we treat people as adults, if we treat them as individuals, we treat them as human beings, we find that actually, they start to thrive.

Shelley Johnson: It’s really interesting, what you’re describing around those three stages we’ve been in as an HR function. And I love that we’re now moving into this far more people centric version, I think a lot of our listeners will be nodding their heads, and really resonating with that, because it’s something that we all want to do. But sometimes there’s the hurdle of getting it over the line with our exec team, or not knowing where to start, what would you suggest?

Lucy Adams: What I would suggest you start small, right, so don’t try and change the big stuff. Because that’s too risky. And it’s too scary. And it is hard to do this stuff differently, it is hard to move away from one size fits all processes, and it is hard to try and change the way that we do things in terms of moving to a more adult to adult trusting relationship. So I think, you know, start small with an area that if it goes wrong, it’s not actually going to backfire so much that you’ve presented, you’re not allowed to do anything else for the next few years. So start small. pilot with something, think about going with your early adopters, you know, so it doesn’t mean that the whole organisation has to do it. But we’ve all got two or three managers that we close our eyes and think about it are probably going to be okay to work with us, they’re a bit more curious, they’re a bit more open. So work with your early adopters and take it in baby steps, you know, so it doesn’t have to be done overnight with everybody. I think, you know, as when I was an HR director, I always felt that I would kind of have my ideas, I then go away with my team, and we’d work it all up. And then we’d work really hard to do the big launch. And the big launch would always be perfect, frequently asked questions would all be written scripts for managers and the cascade plan would be done. But actually, we need to think much more about that kind of agile product design. So minimum viable product, what’s the least I can get away with, try it out, get some feedback, iterate. And I think you know, HR can see itself as part of those early adopters. You know, at Sky, they always made the point that it would be the HR team that would pilot everything, because if we’re not trying it on ourselves, then how can we have the confidence to go and sell it more widely? 

Shelley Johnson: What are you seeing in those organisations that are doing this really well, where they’re introducing those adult based practices where they giving high trust, there’s a lot of support, but there also is high expectations for what we want the organisation to achieve. What are those organisations doing that you think? Yes, they’re absolutely nailing it.

Lucy Adams: Well, I think no one organisation absolutely nails it right. So everybody is kind of doing some good in some places and perhaps less well in other areas. But I think if we look at kind of typically what they do is that they will challenge themselves you know if those that kind of those thoughts come into their minds around but what If they won’t do it properly, or what if they, you know, we don’t trust them to do it, and they challenge themselves on that. So they’re kind of looking out for those red flags, I think the other thing that they do is that they will typically look for principles. So instead of trying to prescribe for every eventuality, they will typically look at the principles, because they know they can’t possibly prescribe for every eventuality. They allow managers to use their judgement and help them to understand how to use their judgement by bringing them together in kind of clinic sessions, where they share scenarios and help them work through that. So there’s a whole variety of things.

Shelley Johnson: I guess, to expand on that. And I think there’s so many good examples of how to focus on the principle instead of policing. So how do we have those principle based decisions in HR? One of the things that, I think is a tension point, I think someone might have bought this off at the convention is how do you do that in a highly regulated environment, especially in industries where there’s a lot of physical safety risks? There’s a lot of employment legislation that really gives the guardrails for how HR need to practice and operate, how do you balance ah, model in those environments that are highly regulated?

Lucy Adams: Yeah, and it can be tougher, you know, I think that we’ve seen that in say things like financial regulations or public health or, or just that you’ve got an organisation that is deeply rooted in very traditional ways of doing things, it can be tougher to move to this more adult to adult approach, more individualised approach. But I think as an HR function, what we need to do first and foremost, is to be really clear, what are we being asked to provide and demonstrate? And we need to know what the regulations are actually asking for, you know, sometimes I think we’re told by internal audit, or we’re told by our leaders. Oh, yeah, we have to prove this, we have to do it this way. Whereas actually, when you look at what’s being asked for, we’re not being asked to do a performance review in that way, or we don’t have to have a policy for that. It’s just easier to provide the evidence. So I think first and foremost, we do need to look at what is being asked of us, we have to know what the regulation is actually saying. And sometimes, you know, fair enough, we just don’t have the scope for it. But there’s always scope in other areas that are not as highly regulated. So for example, how could we move to much more employee owned learning? Instead of it always being mandated and prescribed? Are there some policy areas that aren’t as prescriptive? So, bereavement policy, dress code, social media guidelines? There are always areas for scope? And I think, you know, instead of thinking, Oh, well, I can’t change that. Therefore, I can’t change anything. It’s where can we do things? Where is the scope? Could it be that actually you want to focus on employee owned career discussions, which might not be as heavily mandated or regulated from the centre?

Shelley Johnson: I love that so much lately. Where can we, instead of the current, like, attitude that sometimes we find ourselves getting stuck into in HR? We can’t do this? We can’t do that. We can’t do that. Because of the legislation? Where can we make those changes? And actually, I think it’s just a really beautiful reframe. One of the things I really love in your EACH framework is the consumer aspect. And at the convention, I know you talked about organisations that develop specific personas for their employees to really understand what motivates and drives that and can you give us an example of how you’ve seen that out work in organisations?

Lucy Adams: Yeah, I mean, it’s probably just worth touching on employee persona, very quickly about kind of what they are just in case listeners aren’t aren’t familiar with it? So it’s a marketing technique, right? It’s something that marketing and product designers use all the time, they will talk about it as a consumer profile, and over consumer persona. So instead of trying to think about one product that fits everybody’s needs are a million products to think about everybody’s needs, it’s where can we provide choice? Where can we provide options through an understanding of the types of people that work for us? So these types of Persona, and we’re seeing increasingly, this being used in organisations by HR teams to make sure that what they’re providing is relevant and has impact. So an example would be Starbucks. And what they looked at was, why do people work for us? What’s their motivation? And they develop three persona based around that. So they had the careerists. Those were the people who worked at Starbucks, who were incredibly ambitious, who were happy to move around. Then they had the artists and the artists were a persona that typified those people who loved working at Starbucks. works, but they wanted to work. In that particular coffee shop, it was all about their team, their local community. And then they had the skiers, as they called it. The third persona. And the skiers were those people who were working at Starbucks for the cash, so that they could go skiing, or whatever their particular hobby and passion was at the weekend, three personas, three very different motivations for working at Starbucks. And they use this to really kind of shape their approach to Career Development conversations to learning and development opportunities. So personas are a brilliant way of really getting under the skin of who works for us, not on the basis of grade or job title or level, but motivations, personalities, likes, dislikes, preferences. And you know, as an HR director, I would feel really happy that I had one size fits all for everything, a universal process for everything. Whereas what I should have been thinking about is how can I make sure that what I do has relevance and impact, and personas can be a good way of doing that.

Shelley Johnson: I think one of the challenges lately and I’d love your perspective on this, but one of the challenges for managers can be that thing of I want someone who’s very driven, I want someone who’s ambitious, but you’re gonna have a mix of people, the skier, versus the artist versus the careerist. And there’s not a judgement on that you’ve just got different people with different motivations. How do you help managers to kind of understand it and start to read, these are the people and here’s how you get the best out of them. Going back to what you said up front, around HR creating the conditions for people to do their best work.

Lucy Adams: I think we have to look at ourselves first and foremost, and say, what level of data and insight are we actually providing managers about their people. So you know, they get a CV at the start, right? They’ve done an interview. So they’ve got maybe a little bit of insight. But what we’re then providing them with tends to be a bit like an asset register, you know, we tell them how many they’ve got, we tell them what they’re costing, we might tell them what their shelf life is, when they’re due to retire, we’ll probably give them some diversity inclusion data. And then once a year, they will do this whopping great annual engagement survey. We might give them churn data, we might give them absenteeism data, but how are we helping them think through what makes that individual tick? So I think there are other ways we can help them. So onboarding, I think, is a massively wasted opportunity to really find out what is special and different and unique about each individual. One of the things that we’re seeing coming through right now is a lot of growth of personal user profiles, or personal user manuals, which are often done during onboarding and HR can help with this, where they’re asking individuals when they join, tell us about you, you know, tell us about how you like to be rewarded and recognised tell us how you learn. If they don’t know, then there are loads of free little surveys that we can do. There are loads of techniques that we can do to help individuals kind of think through that for themselves. But then maybe giving those insights to managers now the rubbish managers will do nothing with that. But we’re really more about focusing on the ones that might be open to it might be a bit more curious. And that’s where I think our coaching capability needs to come from business partners thinking about how I can help this manager get the best from that individual? Yes.

Shelley Johnson: So right about onboarding. That moment, if we think about the life cycle, and we had that moment, right, it is so crucial. And I think one of the things I say, for leaders and in workplaces, we feel like if we’ve missed that moment, we can’t pick it up later on, because we should have done it at the beginning. And I think if you’re there and you think okay, well, we haven’t done that with our new employees. But there’s nothing that stops you now from doing that personal user manual exercise where you sit down, you go, what energises you, what are your pet peeves? What do you love about your work? What do you like to have on the team? What don’t you like? Doing upfront so valuable? But if you’ve missed the moment, just start and I think that’s the essence of what you say loosely like just the small steps just start.

Lucy Adams: Yeah, and it’s even better if managers are doing it, you know, we can do it. And I think onboarding is a great opportunity for us to do that. But managers can do that. And we can help them by giving them the questions to ask. So you know, this is what the HR team do at LinkedIn and Dropbox, where they provide managers with questions to have in what they would call a stay conversation, which is about retention. But it can also be used to really find out what motivates that individual, what makes them tick. What could I do as a manager to create an environment where they are doing their best work. So One of my favourite questions that I think a manager could ask so easily is, if you are managing you, how would it be different? So it’s not about that kind of what am I doing wrong? It’s about you telling me how a manager would get the best from you. So it becomes less worrying for the individual. Am I criticising my manager, what they’re talking about is, if I was managing me, this is what I would do. And it can be such a great way of giving managers some insight about what’s the one or two small things that they could do differently with that individual that might make a massive difference.

Shelley Johnson: Yeah, I love that question so much. And I think a lot of people are gonna be writing that down and making sure that they start to implement that, I’d love to expand this out a bit and think about what is happening in the broader work landscape. And right now we’re seeing a lot of changes we’re hearing a lot of it’s a bit noisy about the future of work. And so it’s hard to know. Okay, well as HR, what should we be doing to prepare the organisation? And what skills will we need to build to adapt to what’s going to happen in the future? What’s your take on this? I know, it is a bit of a noisy space, though. So I’m keen to hear your perspective.

Lucy Adams: Yeah, you’re right. It is noisy. I think it’s always been noisy. Actually, you know, I can remember kind of, probably 20 years ago, when I was starting out in HR that, you know, these were the kinds of questions that we were always talking about. And I think sometimes we can get very over excited about the latest fad. And I don’t want to dismiss the fact that of course, we should be preparing our people for the onset and advent of AI in terms of the impact that it has on their jobs, for example, in just the same way that we were talking to them about digital 10 years ago. You know, I think there’s always something there, I think that every HR team of any size really ought to kind of have one eye on, you know, and kind of a watching brief is how I would describe it, and make sure that we are always thinking about what does this mean for our people, our career, you know, career ladder that we’ve had in the past? But I would kind of, I think, take a step back and say, you know, what are the key skills that I see the more progressive HR people having? And what is it that they do slightly differently? I think first up, we need to be really great at understanding insights that are required for our organisation about our people. And I don’t mean the asset register of old I mean, that regular pulse surveys, I mean, making sure that we are tapped into just as we described, and we were talking about employee persona, who are they? What is it that they need? What is it that they want in the context of a changing world, but providing those data and insights to our own team to help shape what we do, but also to managers directly, so to inform them to help them and build their capabilities, I think that our ability to coach people rather than perhaps train them, we’re seeing a move away from those kind of big processes in HR, where actually what we then needed to do was train managers in the process. And instead really thinking about the coaching, facilitation, enabling managers to use their judgement, helping managers to be better at what they do. And then I think, you know, again, some core capability or mindset or is around the ability to influence the ability to make change happen, not in the old fashioned way, have an HR transformation programme with a big Gantt chart, but really understanding how change can happen, how to make it stick, how to move it. So for example, moving away from big complicated change programmes to really think about micro changes, keeping it small building from the bottom up. And then the final skill and capability in addition to kind of insights, coaching influence is around seeing ourselves as product designers, product marketers, you know, we’ve always thought about ourselves as a service function. That service takes you down standardised processes, one size fits all streamlined, cost effective, monitored from the centre. Whereas actually, if we think about ourselves as product designers and marketers, then we start with the user. Are they using it? Do they like our product? And if they don’t like it, we don’t make them go on a mandatory training programme to understand it and use it. We say let’s change the product. We then can get involved in Agile product design techniques, like sprint planning, like minimum viable product, like early adopters, like hackathons, you know, so it’s really thinking about ourselves as product designers and marketers is a kind of a big step forward.

Shelley Johnson: I think for HR, and you can see how that’s really strongly connected to our ability to influence. Because if we put ourselves into the mind of the user, if we think about it from a marketing perspective and go, How do I have empathy for the user of this process? And when I look at annual performance reviews, I think that they don’t have empathy for any of the users because they’re often Super Admin intensive. Everyone’s like, oh, this form is so clunky. And why do I get a rating at the end of it? And what does the rating even mean?

Lucy Adams: It’s just a classic example of where we have made mistakes, because we didn’t trust managers to do it properly. So what we did was create a big, heavy process. And somewhere along the line, we kind of lost the fact that this process that we were then adamant that they had to do and we felt good if we got 93% compliance, is actually it doesn’t motivate and it doesn’t improve performance. And that’s the reason why we wanted to do it. We wanted to focus on performance improvement, but we’ve ended up focusing on a performance assessment and collecting the forms in. And I think it’s a classic example where we lost sight of what our role is, to actually help improve performance, not to make sure that the system is implemented. It’s

Shelley Johnson: Such a good point about going back to the why behind those processes. And what are we actually trying to achieve? 

Lucy Adams: And also what do we want people to feel as a result of it? You know, I think it’s amazing that as a people function, we rarely ask that question. Within our team. How do we want them to feel it’s more about how do we know they’ve done it? How do we know they’re doing it properly? And it becomes about process implementation about, you know, how do we want people to feel so DNV, big kinds of engineering, advisory, consultancy, organisational professional services, they looked at? How do we want people to feel about performance management, and they came up with the fact they wanted it to be uplifting, they wanted people to feel lifted up in terms of motivation, ambition, clarity, performance skills, and then they looked at the process, and they were like, Oh, my God, there is nothing uplifting about this. So using that sense of how we want people to feel in those core processes will actually help us rethink it will help us redesign it and be much more creative and much more human focused?

Shelley Johnson: Yeah, there’s so much to learn from that design thinking process of how do we have empathy for the person who’s using it? And I even think about that idea of looking at, how do we want them to feel when it comes to performance management? How do we want them to feel and the name in and of itself, performance management is like, it just, it makes people get the shivers. You’re like, oh, no, like completely.

Lucy Adams: I mean, Hearst publishing, they didn’t change the process all that much. But they changed the name of it. And they called it career conversations. And what they found was that people actually just felt immediately better by it. Because they’re going I don’t want a performance review. That’s all judgy and assessy. And, you know, I’m going to be told, it’s going to be done to me. Whereas a career conversation feels adult to adult it feels something positive. Yeah, I’d quite like a career conversation. So just by them, approaching it in a different mindset, they found that the conversations were better.

Shelley Johnson: I love that shift is so subtle, for that person coming in, it almost gives them ownership over the conversation, that employee, it’s about their career. Yeah. Just on performance management. Before we move on to the next question. Just as an aside, I digress. My curiosity has gotten the better of me. What do you see people doing when it comes to? Moving away from traditional annual reviews? What’s the model that you think works really well? Is it monthly check ins, like I noticed, so many questions around? How often should I meet with my employees? And how often should I do these kinds of conversations? What do you recommend Lucy? 

Lucy Adams: And I think, if we start from the perspective of what’s the new model, we’re immediately into old school thinking. So I would actually recognise that it’s not about what the new model is, I think there are some trends and some themes that we can look at. But ultimately, it’s about what’s right for your organisation and your people. So what I would say is asking ourselves a series of questions can help us arrive at an approach that feels right for us, I would avoid trying to hang on to the last vestiges of the old scheme. So the minute that we try and mandate how often should people meet, we’re going to end up with a minimum frequency or a standard frequency that we think people should meet rather than thinking, what is the individual need? You know, you might have somebody who’s a newbie who is very insecure or who’s trying a new project project and it’s lacking confidence, they’re going to need loads more check-ins than somebody who’s perhaps more, more experienced, more confident. So it’s about what that individual needs, rather than what’s the framework and the model that we want in terms of minimum frequency. That’s because we have to tell the managers the minimum frequency, because otherwise they won’t do it. Whereas actually, if it’s employee led, employee driven, based around what I need, as an individual, you’re more likely to get something that actually works. And I think what’s really interesting, so we, we have a membership Club, where we’ve got a whole range of resources. And one of the things that’s most popular there is just providing employees with a sample of questions that they can ask if they’re having a check in, or if they’re having a career conversation. And even actually, even if they’re having a difficult conversation, helping employees with the questions that they can lead with, and the way they can start the conversation. So it’s less about again, it’s being done to them. And it’s more about how they’re owning and driving it. So I think that kind of approach, which is, the more we can equip managers and employees with having better conversations, the less likely we are to have to rely on a big system, 

Shelley Johnson: those difficult conversations can be so tough, especially for the HR leaders that need to initiate them. One of our most popular short courses is about having those difficult conversations, which just goes to show how many people are calling out for support in this space. And AHRI has a great guide for its members on how you can do those conversations with confidence. So I’m going to put a link into the show notes, so you can see that we will have a lot of HR practitioners listening, and they’ll resonate with what you’re saying. And they really want to do HR differently. But I think that we have some barriers. So it might be that there is some bureaucracy internally or some leadership challenges where it’s hard to get buy-in. What can people listening do to get buy-in from their leadership team to move away from some of these traditional approaches to what you’re describing in that EACH model? 

Lucy Adams: And I think this is, you know, one of the biggest challenges that the HR people that we work with and know really well, is that they they’re always kind of saying, you know, how do I get my leader to at least give me you know, an opportunity to do something different, they’re so wedded to the old processes. And sometimes I think it’s, it’s not necessarily that they are wedded to the processes, it’s just that they get them. You know, it’s a bit like that kind of, I don’t want to learn the new steps for the dance. I don’t like the current dance that I’m doing. But at least I know the steps and it feels familiar. And I know what’s expected of me and what you’re asking of me is going to be really difficult, it’s going to be time consuming. I don’t think I have the confidence to do it. It’s about changing a habit, which is going to be uncomfortable for me. So I think we kind of have to ask ourselves, why should they and quite often I see HR teams, perhaps making the mistake of going with a board paper that is making the case for change, a business case for change that is incredibly rational. It’s loaded with stats and research. And yet we know that that isn’t going to change people’s desire to change their behaviour. They might intellectually engage with it. But it isn’t going to make a difference for me. So we need to break it down a bit. We need to be very clear. You know, we talked about persona earlier, we can use leadership persona, to help us really think through how we engage with leaders, because it isn’t just one business case. It’s what is going to work for Shelley, what is going to work for Lucy as a leader, how am I going to get them what makes them tick. So you know, I had a boss years ago, and I could have given him all the data and insights in the world. And it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference to him, if in terms of changing and motivating him to do something different. The thing that did work was sharing with him what the competition was doing. He was so hugely competitive that all I needed to do was to drop in that our nearest competitor was trying something different. And he’d want to get ahead. I think it’s also about using our marketing brains and thinking, how can I convince what’s the hook for that individual? Sometimes it is just about getting permission to experiment and we can usually do that with data and insights. Deloitte famously did there you know, we’re spending 2 million hours on performance management. And that was a real great hook for their leaders because they sell ours don’t they sell time. So it was a real wake up call and what it at least did I kind of call this shock and awe data, you know, it’s those big figures that actually you go Oh, that’s quite interesting. Yeah, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t mind knowing more about that. So sometimes I think we can use data as a bit of a hook, we then need to obviously understand what’s going to make them be motivated personally. But sometimes just getting permission to explore alternatives. We often go with a business case, that is, this is what’s working, not working. Now, this is how we should be doing it, and I want to implement it. And sometimes that’s too many steps. So baby steps, let’s just kind of let’s get permission to explore the options, then maybe piloting, experimenting, trying it out, get your early adopters. And so you’ve then got another range of voices. It’s not just HR who’s saying that this could be great. It is also some of the leaders who are now doing it who’s saying this really works, we also need to wake up to the fact that there are going to be some leaders who are never going to change, they don’t want to change. And I think one of the biggest lessons for me, if I was to go back and be an HR director, again, one of the biggest things I would want to take back is Don’t waste your time, on the biggest resistors you know, they they are the ones who are going to sap your time, your energy, your talents, and chess, your motivation to do anything, it can be soul destroying, continually coming up against a brick wall, find those one or two people that might be willing to work with you use them as the early adopters to bring on side, the ones who are perhaps a bit more neutral around it. And don’t worry so much about the biggest resistors in fact, use that reverse psychology on them, you know, I’ve, we’ve done this with clients where I’ve said, Oh, you’re not ready for this yet. Or don’t worry, you don’t have to do it, take the noise out of the system, we’re working over here. And then suddenly, they kind of start to hear great things about this, the boss might be praising the ones who are getting involved in it for doing it differently. And being more progressive. Use attraction rather than force.

Shelley Johnson: I’m just thinking back over my career and how many hours I’ve spent stressing about the big resistors. 

Lucy Adams: It is, it’s so demotivating, isn’t it, and it begins to put us into that kind of victim mode, which is really unhealthy. But also it means that we’re ignoring the ones who were shouting over here who were frustrated, who were actually interested. You know, at the BBC, I had, you know, one very senior leader, who was always gonna be resistant. And I wasted so much of my time, involving her in stakeholder consultation groups, and changing what I was going to do too, because she had a particular issue on X, Y, or Zed. Whereas interestingly, you know, there was the head of online who was a guy who was really open and frustrated with the status quo. And I was kind of almost going like, you know, you’d be quiet, Eric, I got to focus on Helen, why didn’t I say to Helen, you don’t need to worry. So actually take the noise out of the system, because she’s immediately got nothing to rail against, and then go and work with Eric, we’re kind of so worried about getting the biggest resistance on board that we waste too much of our time and talents.

Shelley Johnson: Yeah, that is a really important thing that I think all of us need to take away from this episode. So thank you, Lacey. Because we don’t have a lot of emotional energy to spare and HR, I think it is an emotionally taxing gig. And so that emotional energy is spent on the resistor. Let’s divert that to the people who are on board who want the help who are crying out for help over here, like I’ve got fun fighting fires, like, Please, let’s go and work with those people to get the traction, and I love the reverse psychology. You do what you’re doing over there and see that person slowly come around, because I like what’s happening in this department. At the end of every episode, we like to ask our guests to respond to a scenario that we think is playing out in lots of organisations around Australia. So here is the scenario. You’re a solo HR operator in a small business. The CEO has been in the job for over a decade and is stuck in her ways. She’s hesitant to embrace change and doesn’t like to part with her money. Your company has high employee turnover, and the CEO has tasked you with coming up with a solution. As a small business, there’s little room for upwards progression. So you need to suggest some out of the box ways to help employees see a future there. What would you suggest and how would you sell it to the CEO?

Lucy Adams: That’s really tricky, isn’t it? There’s so many elements in there. And I think that, you know, there’s some kind of key thing that I bring out there is that you know, you’ve got a high turnover, you’ve got little room for upward progression. So I would say that, you know, back to the persona thing is to get some insight into the people who have left. What is it? That is the reason that they’re leaving, you know, increasingly we’re seeing pulse surveys, the insights, the data collection, not just being limited to the people All that worked for us, but also the people who have left or the people who didn’t get the job. So expanding that to really kind of make sure that we’re clear on why people left us, I would definitely be looking at our Glassdoor store scores and it amazes me how many HR teams and even CEOs don’t know about their glass door school. So I will be reviewing that I’d be bringing that to the board. Very often, the approval rating of the CEO is usually a really good way of getting them engaged in that. And it sounds like the CEO might be a bit of a problem. So that might be something that you would want to do to kind of hold the mirror up and understand why they’re leaving. But let’s assume that actually, you know, it’s a fairly average company, it’s, you know, there, there’s no obvious reason why people are going, other than the fact that there’s no upward progression, you know, I would almost embrace it, kind of saying to our CEO, that what we could be doing is using an approach, which is looking at, like, the way that LinkedIn did it, when they’ve got this high turnover, is to embrace it and say, Actually, let’s handle this in a different way. So instead of seeing it as a hugely negative thing, is that they, they kind of agreed that with people upfront that they would be a tour of duty, they use this quite militaristic terms, but tour of duty, which is that we’re going to be we expect you to stay here for one two years or for this project. And that’s okay. During that time, we’re going to be giving you the most amazing CV enhancing experience that you can have. So they really doubled down and made it on that. When you go, we’re going to be celebrating that we’re going to keep in touch with you, we’re going to make sure that you can come back at a later stage. So instead of seeing this as a kind of a one way conveyor belt, it was much more of a boomerang revolving door approach. So I think that there are ways that we can see this kind of coming back as this sort of alumni network, I think it was DaVita healthcare that looked at this, and they, they actually rehired people later on down the line where they got the experience that could maybe make them come in at a senior role. I would also have a look at how we could create space for future talent. I think one of the biggest gaps in our talent strategy is that we focus so much on upward mobility or sideways moves. But how are we creating the space? So when we’re looking at our kind of creating space strategy, we need to start early, we need to make it the norm. So it’s not a personal attack on that individual. But we’re saying actually, what we can do is to say we don’t expect people to stay in the role for longer than, say, seven years, five years, 10 years, whatever works for you. So you’re having those conversations the day they get that opportunity. So it’s a conversation, which is that we expect people to move on to do something different. So you’re starting early, you’re having those conversations. I think there’s also another way in which we can help managers, which is when they’re having career conversations, we tend to focus on the people who want to go up the people who want to do something different. But what about those people who actually just kind of happy doing what they’re doing? So maybe there’s something around? How can we help you get even better at what you’re doing today? I think it’s Johnson and Johnson, they have an approach, which is growth isn’t optional. And they don’t mean that you have to grow up and out or grow sideways, actually getting an even deeper specialism so it’s tapping into that whole issue, you know, kind of mastery that Dan Pink talks about, how can we get people to be even better at what they’re doing today? And I think that’s a conversation that we don’t often have. And it’s a hugely valuable conversation to have that makes people feel good about what they’re doing. And it might mean that they stay just that little bit longer.

Shelley Johnson: I love that – growth isn’t optional. And I think reframing it doesn’t have to be a career ladder, growth doesn’t have to be upward momentum. Absolutely. For someone listening that resonates with that scenario. And one of the challenges has been, they want to invest in the growth within the foot of their people. And it might not be upward progression, but they want to invest in their learning, but it’s going to have $1 implication, and you’ve got that CEO who doesn’t want to spend money, is there anything that you would say to that person to to encourage them on any advice you’d have to that person? How do you show the value of some of those initiatives when they do have a cost to them?

Lucy Adams: Well, I think one of the issues is it that does have a cost implication. So you know, quite often our focus immediately goes to a training programme, which of course has cost implications in terms of people leaving the day job and going on the course. Maybe it’s a provider if we’re not doing it in house getting everybody together because we need a critical mass to run the programme. There are so many ways in which we develop people on the job, its primary way in which we learn isn’t it’s not through a training programme. There’s also though, if you want to kind of bring those external ideas in, you know, having a kind of Lunch and Learn session that the boss sets up, or HR running some stuff, which is, you know, kind of just half an hour. So we’re seeing increasingly this kind of clinic session, light touch, or even just starting meetings with, we’re going to look at this particular article that’s been sent around to everybody, or, Susan, I’d really love you to bring a YouTube clip to the next meeting of something that you think we could all be learning as a team. There’s so much out there, it’s about getting the conversation going. I think it was Deutsche Bank, who had this kind of whole approach of what did you learn today. So it’s much more about conversational learning, getting people together informally, over sandwich learning, it’s about managers introducing that sense of being more curious in meetings, by bringing in some external resource, an article or book and talking about it, there are loads of cost effective ways of doing it. And of course, you know, you’ve also got the fact that high churn will be costing them. So if you know we can do that return on investment piece, and probably relatively easily, I think, but I think maybe it’s just me getting older and more frustrated, you know, if a CEO can’t see that doing these things, it actually just makes sense for the organisation. That by being more curious, by being more interested, by being more open minded by bringing outside intelligence in, by holding on to people a little bit longer by enabling them to do their jobs even more effectively. If the CEO doesn’t get that you kind of wonder whether this person’s in the wrong business. Let’s kind of just take our talents where they will be really well received, rather than kind of trying to grind it out with people who just don’t get people to leave.

Shelley Johnson: See, there’s been so many great takeaways from this conversation. And the biggest thing I’ve taken is to figure out where you already have that momentum and put your energy into that area. And it seems like simple advice, but for the busy HR professional, it can be life changing and gives you those small wins to help motivate you and keep you going. I just want to say thank you so much for your time today and for sharing your insights and advice with us.

Lucy Adams: Oh, it’s my pleasure. I had such a great time when I was over in Brisbane, you know, and I was made to feel so welcome. So it’s the least I can do.

Shelley Johnson: Thanks for listening and check out the show notes for some resources to help you put these insights into action. If you enjoy this podcast, make sure you give us a five star rating and follow so you never miss an episode. This podcast is brought to you by the Australian HR Institute. If you’d like to learn more about AHRI visit ahri.com.au That’s ahri.com.au.

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