Training & Development

Navigating the Future

Crafting an Agile Training Strategy in the Age of AI and Technological Innovation

In today’s rapidly transforming work ecosystem, marked by the swift emergence of AI and digital innovations, the role of HR is more pivotal than ever.

 As HR leaders, it’s time to re-evaluate our training strategies, ensuring they’re not just robust but also inherently adaptive to the ever-evolving demands of our times. This article  guides you in this journey, helping shape a framework that’s not just reactive but anticipatory of technological advancements.

We need to empower our greatest asset – our workforce – to excel in an environment that’s as dynamic as the technology shaping it.

Assessing Capability Gaps

The starting point for an agile training strategy is to ask ourselves ‘why do we need one?’

Secondary benefits to great L&D opportunities are employee satisfaction, increased efficiency, and appeal to potential employees. The number one reason for any L&D strategy is to ensure the organisation and its employees have the skills they need to deliver its capabilities.

Organisations with a comprehensive capability model has a central point of truth from which to work.

It’s impossible for HR and senior leaders to understand all the skills needed to deliver business area capabilities. Most of the work is delivered by specialists who may be unique in the organisation.

HR must understand which capabilities are vulnerable, where there is low redundancy and poor continuity planning. This involves asking senior leaders to identify where chokepoints or skills monopolies exist in their teams.

Your actions:

  • Conduct skills audits to identify gaps
  • Anticipate future skills needed for new tech
  • Align training to strategic business goals

Measuring Training Effectiveness

Learning and development is in constant conflict with work. Managers, running with the bare minimum hours to complete the job, see it as a threat to delivery. Learners often see mandated training as an irrelevance which puts them behind with their work, whilst experiencing exasperation that genuinely helpful training has been blocked by bureaucracy and budgets.

This is a communications problem where  L&D is seen as a disabler for the business, rather than an enabler.

How would I change this?

We need to start communicating the metrics of success both downwards and  upwards. Managers need to know 99% of employees completed health and safety training; employees want to hear that the training has reduced workplace accidents and injuries by 50%.  We need to better measure the effectiveness and impact of training and share it in a way that helps people recognise the value created.

Measuring outcomes is crucial when managing budgets.

Take for example, the ‘lock-in’ approach to training. the ‘we’ll put you through this training, but you have to stay or pay’. It’s natural to fear that an employee may take the training and move to a new employer, but it’s worth remembering that if an employee is forced into doing learning in their own time, they’re doing it for their next employer, not for you. If you end up forcing an employee to do their own development, they’ve already quit.

This is tied to the phenomena of unrewarded loyalty. Studies identified it’s more financially beneficial for employees to regularly job hop than stay with a single employer. The main reason for this is that, unless you’re working in some sort of super-scaling start-up environment, people evolve faster than their employers do.

Therefore, we need to move away from  ‘turnover’ and leavers and focus on metrics like length of service. In 99.9% of organisations, even middle performers are going to get a better offer if they go looking. HR needs to ask how can we increase the average service length to reduce recruitment and retraining costs? If someone leaves before 75% of the average service length, we should investigate. At an organisational scale, we must identify how much (if at all) improving personal learning opportunities affects that number?

Rethinking training

Dragging dispersed teams of workers into a room for training is inefficient and for remote teams, a massive and unnecessary cost. This is about ticking boxes (they attended;  they are trained) rather than creating valuable and lasting learning experiences.

Of course, when done well, it can be powerful. I’ve previously spoken about Atlassian’s approach, where the remote-first organisation has built dedicated teams to support the delivery of memorable in-person experiences for employees. This approach makes the office a place where people want to go, rather than must go

The training room approach fails to deliver personalised and relevant training that meets worker or business needs. As mentioned work is specialised which requires unique skill sets and specialities.

There are many different workforce L&D  requirements, but they can all be put into two groups, universal, and exceptional.

Universal training, for all employees, tailored for different groups, functions, and seniority levels, generally has the same objectives and outcomes for everyone.

Exceptional training is more niche. It may be for thousands of people, or just for one, but has a specific purpose which involves improving an employee’s performance or skills.

E-learning is an effective way of delivering both these types of training.

Universal training through e-learning is simple. A course is added, completion is tracked, with a goal of 100%. However, exceptional training requires more specific and niche courses. Many of these are commercially available; for example, Umbrella HR has produced an e-learning course for line managers to upskill in performance management. But when we look deeper, we run into issues. Employee’s bespoke training needs are often blocked by managers (especially where not directly related to current job role) or delivered informally by a colleague who may or may not be trained. As a result,, capability gaps are not identified, and employees are forced to upskill outside of work just to do their job, breeding resentment.

Your actions:

  • Curate self-service e-learning platforms
  • Facilitate peer coaching and collaboration
  • Track learning outcomes across locations

The Road Ahead

For too many, ‘learning’ ends at school or university and this is embedded by poor support for learning in organisations. But employers can change this. It’s common to have a volunteering days allowance; so, give employees a personal development allowance and measure the impact of this on organisational capabilities.

It’s crucial to support employees through change. We’re living through a period of unprecedented disruption on the global, local, societal, and working levels. Supporting employees with the skills and knowledge they need demonstrates an investment and appreciation likely to be rewarded with improved retention.

The two specific learning areas crucial for organisations to deliver effectively into the future are  skills and knowledge The organisational ‘lore’ is an often-overlooked part of learning, but codifying what has and hasn’t worked in the past embeds organisational learning and prevents wasteful mistakes being made twice.

Organisational knowledge is a key opportunity which data driven organisations are using AI to exploit. Moving information from employee’s heads into formal repositories via intranets and knowledge banks is a crucial part of the bigger picture behind L&D. Practitioners who take an active role in AI development, will be able to effectively control this learning delivery method.

Finally, we often fail to take note of skills and training delivered before an employee joins. Unless a certification or skillset is a job requirement upon appointment, we rarely understand the other skills or competencies that people bring to a role, which results in poorly constructed job descriptions, or worse, we underuse an employee who then believes themselves to have been slighted. Properly recording and, rewarding the full capacity of our employees is an increasing challenge as skill shortages sharpen.

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Diversity & Inclusion

Promoting neurodiversity; reducing conflict

As I was pondering this piece, the ‘first rule of systems engineering’ popped into my head. This is popularly written as:

“Everything interacts with everything else.”

The point of this rule is to remind the systems engineer that any changes made will have knock-on effects. Optimising one piece of a system in isolation does not mean an optimisation to the system’s performance as a whole – in fact, it can often bring about the opposite effect.

And of course, our workplaces are systems. Every department, team, individual, is a component of the larger system. The individual contribution of each of these pieces means very little; it’s the cumulative impact across disciplines, projects, and departments that delivers organisational results. Most organisations abhor the ‘rockstar’ employee for this very reason – they’re an unpredictable and outsized component that can potentially cause similarly outsized damage.

Whilst this is a very dispassionate and dehumanising take, it speaks to the underlying nature of the modern workplace. Everybody is intentionally replaceable, else the whole system grinds to a halt.

But this take stands in contrast to how we speak about diversity and inclusion. After all, one of the key benefits of EDI is improved creativity and innovation; utilising the unique experiences and skills of all employees to unlock new opportunities.

The truth is that innovation and stability have always stood in conflict with each other. The workplace system exists in a state of balance, where risk lines are determined by whether something pushes that balance past a tipping point.

Which brings me, in a tortured and roundabout way, to neurodiversity.

Because, of all the aspects of diversity we talk about in the workplace, neurodiversity (and neurodiverse individuals) are those most likely to upset that balance.

Why do I think that? Why neurodiversity, more so than race, or age, or gender?

Because neurodiversity is fundamentally an issue of behaviour. Neurodiverse individuals, almost by definition, demonstrate behaviour that doesn’t fit societal or organisational norms. And we do a disservice by trying to ignore this. Indeed, the CIPD’s Neuroinclusion at work guidance mentions behaviour in the context of the neurodiverse individual only once across thousands of words.

And ‘different’ behaviour is, historically, classed as socially bad behaviour. The system, in all forms, penalises different. It contradicts the social contract and undermines cohesion. And some of the behaviour of neurodiverse individuals can often be a violation of societal expectations.

Coming back to the workplace as a system, we see that neurodiverse behaviours can be incorporated up until the point that they push past the unwritten balance point. But this balance point is different in different parts of the system. Having a neurodiverse team member has a greater impact on a team than the organisation as a whole.

This is where the theory and real world collide. Almost every line manager wants a hassle-free life. Removing stress factors is important to their mental health. Minimising team conflict is a key part of that. So their ideal is to build a team with diverse complementary skills and homogenous behavioural expectations. 

In practice, this has meant that success for underrepresented groups derives from adapting and adopting the behaviours and cultural norms of the dominant workplace culture. That’s not the point of EDI initiatives, of course, but it means the numbers improve, which is the real metric that leaders want to see.

But this fake inclusion is revealed as a sham by the experiences of neurodiverse individuals, where bringing their ‘whole self’ to work is penalised.

And I think that’s because we spend so much time thinking about the what of EDI, we’ve completely neglected to think about the how. EDI so often forms a bolt-on to an existing process or operation in the workplace system. Recruitment: now with added EDI considerations. Progression: the same, but allegedly different. Innovation: but not too much.

With all these things, we’re ensuring we don’t break the system. By just changing things a little bit, we achieve progress, whilst not disrupting the balance.

But, actually, the balance does need to be disrupted. When EDI is seen as an ‘add on’, it’s easy to also be seen as a potential ‘take off’. Something we’re seeing across the world.

Instead, we should be looking at EDI as an environmental factor. Are we building environments in our workplaces where inclusion is truly practiced, or just seen as part of the recruitment process? This doesn’t just apply for neurodiversity – outcomes across many underrepresented characteristics are lower because EDI in recruitment and the other areas HR controls brings diversity into an organisation, but the working environment and organisational culture rewards and forces employees into conformity.

To truly promote neurodiversity and reduce conflict in the workplace, organisations must go beyond just recruitment and look at the whole system. As I shared at the beginning, focusing on improving a single part can lead to lower performance across the whole.

Five ways to improve outcomes for neurodiverse employees

1. Educating the workforce: Provide comprehensive training to all employees, especially leaders and managers, on neurodiversity and the benefits of an inclusive workplace. This will help dispel myths, build empathy, and equip them with the skills to manage and support neurodiverse team members effectively.

2. Adapting the work environment: Assess and modify the physical workspace, communication methods, and processes to accommodate the needs of neurodiverse individuals. This could involve providing quiet spaces, offering alternative communication channels, and allowing flexible work arrangements.

3. Encouraging open dialogue: Create safe spaces where neurodiverse employees feel comfortable sharing their experiences, challenges, and suggestions for improvement. This open dialogue can help identify areas for growth and foster a culture of understanding and acceptance.

4. Reviewing policies and practices: Scrutinise existing policies and practices, such as performance criteria, to ensure they are fair and inclusive for neurodiverse individuals. Involving neurodiverse employees in this process will help you gain valuable insights and perspectives.

5. Celebrating neurodiversity: Actively promote and celebrate neurodiversity as a source of strength and competitive advantage for the organisation. Highlighting the accomplishments and contributions of neurodiverse employees will help position neurodiversity as a key aspect of the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

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Diversity & Inclusion

Gender Pay Gap – Time to Act

Despite years of effort, the UK’s gender pay gap remains stubbornly wide.

Surprisingly, and despite the introduction of legislation, including the requirement for gender pay gap reporting, environmental factors have delivered the most significant changes; as seen below, both the financial crisis in 2008 and the coronavirus pandemic in 2019 produced sharper improvements to pay equality than 20 years of policy.

Figure 1: The gender pay gap has been declining slowly over time, falling by approximately a quarter over the last decade among full-time employees and all employees

Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests legal and policy interventions do nothing but enact the law of unintended consequences without delivering change. For example, the oft-repeated story of major London firm’s tactic of addressing potential bad news in the run up to 2017’s introduction of Gender Pay Gap Reporting by outsourcing the low-paid cleaning and secretarial roles (that were dominated by women) ensured wonderful pay-gap figures for their organisations, whilst changing absolutely nothing at the national level (as seen by the chart above).  In fact, moving those low paid employees to insecure agency contracts presumably did far more damage to the social fabric than the pay gap did.

The same applies to other interventions, such as Women on Boards. Whilst the intent was to encourage the promotion of more women into senior roles, the outcome was simply that a few women took on a large number of non-executive positions. Alas, this was all too predictable; the Norwegians (who introduced quotas for women on boards in 2003) even have a name for the phenomena – Golden Skirts.

Time to look in the mirror!

That the first instinct of many was to massage bad figures shouldn’t be surprising, but focusing on the blunt instrument of reporting meant that became the objective, rather than delivering change. And not investigating how pay gaps affect our organisations is a missed opportunity. Because the pay gap represents a failure to optimise our organisations and have the right people in the right roles. It’s a numerical value of missing or underused talent.

Failure to recruit women in senior roles or more men in junior roles coupled with bias in the recruitment process and the inability to provide progression for individuals are all big issues.  But fundamentally the pay gap is a parenthood penalty. The parent who loses more year’s workplace experience due to childcare responsibilities will never catch up with someone who doesn’t lose that time. The parent with primary childcare responsibilities is more likely to take part-time, low responsibility job roles. And that parent is overwhelmingly likely to be a woman.

It is only by accepting this unpalatable truth that we can seek to deliver change. There are dozens of unconnected decisions and policies that are contributing to the motherhood penalty in your organisation. Enhanced pay for maternity but not shared parental leave. Lack of job sharing in senior positions. Support for new mothers returning to the workplace that ends about three months after maternity leave is up.

I feel a lot of blame rests on Protected Characteristics. They’ve become the be-all and end-all of diversity and inclusion to the exclusion of all else. We’ve become blinkered to the ‘big nine’ and forgotten about the breadth of the human experience.  Particularly damaging is the Pregnancy and Maternity protection, which absolves employers of the need to do anything at all once the period of maternity leave ends.

And if you don’t believe me, look at your diversity monitoring forms. I’d wager you have no way to report what proportion of your employees have responsibility for young children, or are working part-time purely for that reason, or are reliant on ad-hoc, undocumented permissions from their line manager to manage childcare.

Time for change

As someone who believed pay gap reporting would have a greater impact than it has, I hold my hands up. It will be social and environmental factors that make the most difference to how fast the gender pay gap closes, not more legislation.

That causes me a great deal of concern about ethnicity pay gap reporting, something supposedly high on the impending Labour government’s priorities. Will the next government learn from the non-impact of gender pay gap reporting, or simply seize headline figures as a pointy stick to poke the opposition during that week’s media grid?

For me, there are two key areas that HR teams can work on to create real change in your organisations. The first is training. A good bias and inclusion training programme doesn’t limit itself to the legal minimum requirements but encourages the learner to explore the context of their decision making in the round. By setting out a list of things that one can’t discriminate against, you inadvertently give the learner a somewhat larger list of things which one is allowed to. My belief is that childcare responsibilities definitely fall into that second list where this happens.

The second area is auditing and data. If, as I supposed earlier, you don’t have data on your employee’s parenthood responsibilities, you’re missing a huge part of the employee puzzle. This information affects succession planning, internal job applications, retention and leaving rates.

I’ll finish this piece with several unrelated but definitely interconnected facts. The UK has been unable to improve productivity for years. The UK is increasingly facing skills shortages, and the recent anomaly of buying skills into organisations rather than focusing on training existing employees is coming to an end. Young women are predominantly better educated than men and actually see a pay gap in their favour up until their early thirties. And finally, the average age of women at the birth of their first child is 30.9 years old.

Making the workplace work for mothers of young children is the key to unlocking the gender pay gap. But it’s also the key to unlocking the productivity of UK PLC and filling the skills gaps plaguing our workforces. We simply can’t afford to keep pushing women to the side just because they have young children.



Diversity & Inclusion

Revitalising Staff Networks: Five Strategies for HR Leaders

This year I’m challenging readers to recognise their greatest asset – the employees who go above and beyond to make their organisations better places to work. I’m referring, of course, to staff networks.

Whether you call them Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), Employee Forums, or Workplace Alliances, staff networks are one of the most effective tools your organisation has for:

  • generating ideas and getting feedback
  • providing safe spaces for people
  • developing visible role models
  • delivering and implementing EDI agenda items
  • recognising and celebrating diversity
  • helping to create an inclusive culture where people feel they belong

But they’re not without risk. Risk that, if not managed, can result in damage to your work and the organisation.

Two of those risks are opposite ends of the spectrum. Firstly, it’s possible for employee networks to dominate informal power dynamics, cutting out official chains of authority and proper procedures and structures. Indeed, whilst this can be an advantage, cutting through needless bureaucracy to achieve goals and change quickly, it can also represent a threat to processes that exist for very good reasons.

Secondly, and in contrast, and as is more commonly the case, employee networks can be seen by senior leaders as simply collections of staff members that can be used as on-demand sounding boards.  This eliminates any of the advantages of staff networks listed earlier.

In fact, the most successful groups sit between these two extremes. They are given agency to set and work on their own agendas, but within a framework that ensures accountability and alignment with other business priorities.

But how does one reach this sweet spot? If your employee networks seem a little lacklustre, or you just want to revitalise your group’s members and add some spark to your ERGs, read on.

Professionalise group management

Involvement with networks is very similar to non-profit volunteering. Members are taking on additional unpaid roles to help improve the organisation. However, whilst most organisations are thrilled that members are doing ‘free’ work, forward-thinking employers recognise that the best way to retain and grow the value of staff networks is to see administrative staff network positions as key drivers of growth, retention, and ideas.

These organisations recognise that the best way to maximise the value of networks is to professionalise their structures, ensuring that those driving the agenda forward are compensated and supported fairly.

Paying fairly for roles (including guaranteed time allowed during working hours) and responsibility is often an excellent way to identify and upskill emerging talent, whilst also discouraging senior figures from taking leadership roles in the network; these individuals are better utilised as ambassadors and advisors, as a leadership role in a network could inhibit their ability to make challenges or discourage junior employees from raising their voices. It also helps create boundaries between ‘network work’ and the day job.

Recruitment and selection for group roles can be a tricky subject. Groups and their members will be understandably resistant to ‘corporate’ imposing their own candidates in these roles. But organisations aren’t democracies, and HR has a responsibility to ensure paid roles are being filled by the right candidates.

There is, of course, an easy way to solve this problem that I have seen used effectively in organisations with outstanding networks. That is for group members to nominate and vote for candidates to form the shortlist, with HR interviewing and appointing the best candidates.

As HR professionals, we wouldn’t create any other role without identifying training and development needs. However, precisely because we aren’t professionalising them, these sort of voluntary or extra-curricular workplace roles often slip through the net. Running a successful employee network requires a skill set likely to be unique in the organisation, and only by supporting and upskilling role holders will you be able to get the most out of your networks.

Give networks agency

People thrive with boundaries – hence why firms offering unlimited annual leave usually see employees take less than they would if given an allowance. The same applies for staff networks. Without clear limits, networks are more likely to err on the side of caution, avoiding the risk of pushing too far.

Agreeing scope and limits with the network’s executive gives them a boundary and a target. The answer to ‘can we do this?’ changes from ‘we’ll check’ to a straight yes or no. It empowers network reps to crack on with activity within the remit of its powers without having to request authorisation. Giving networks agency in this way is a fantastic way to turn a network from a talking house to an ideas factory. It also gives members the opportunity to take on projects and tasks that help them upskill and build experience that may not be otherwise available – especially for members of under-represented groups.

Assign budget

We don’t expect any other business unit to create outcomes from thin air, and we shouldn’t expect networks to deliver the world for free, or worse, go through some sort of internal tendering process every time they need to spend money.

As with giving networks agency, this allows members to develop and evidence skills they’d not be able to in their normal role, as well as giving networks freedom to deliver projects and initiatives in their own way.

Inter-network collaboration

Teamwork makes the dream work, and when multiple networks collaborate to deliver an initiative, the results can be unprecedented. Often networks can be working on similar projects, and the risk of silo behaviour can be high. Prevent this by having a single point of contact for all networks within the HR team, who can identify opportunities for link-up. Another great way to energise collaboration between networks is to create ambassador roles for employees who are members of more than one network, who can take responsibility for sharing information and ideas.

External engagement

By taking on responsibility in a staff network, members have already identified themselves as being passionate advocates and ambassadors for the organisation. Rather than sit back and complain, or quietly quit, they’ve volunteered to help it change.

These employees are exactly who you should be recruiting for engagement activities. They can tell a unique story about your organisation as well as promoting their network’s successes.

A well-managed staff network is a real multiplier in an organisation – offering opportunities for cross-functional collaboration, sharing, and networking. For under-represented groups they can often give a rare chance of projects and visibility that organisational barriers may otherwise prevent.

So please, take these ideas back into your own organisations and discover what your employees can deliver when given proper support and agency.


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Strategy

2024 – HR Predictions

Barring a huge geopolitical shock, Sir Kier Starmer’s Labour Party seems set to form the next Government. Whilst the Conservatives could in theory hang on until early 2025, persistent rumours suggest that an election could be called as early as April/May 2024; a date which would mean avoiding the US Presidential election climax.

Immigration

What is clear is that immigration remains a political hot potato. At the time of writing, Labour hasn’t stated whether it would reverse the recent changes to the spousal visa income threshold. This isn’t surprising – it’s clearly a pre-election trap to build the Tory attack line that Labour is soft on immigration issues. But the silence is telling. The Uxbridge by-election demonstrated that focusing on singular, emotive issues can deliver a shock result.

Nonetheless, immigration will remain high throughout the next decade to maintain the balance between the retired and working age populations. As in Europe and the United States, the ‘Boomer bulge’ means an unprecedented number of people are living to retirement age. The ONS’s census analysis predicts the Old Age Dependency Ratio (measuring the number of people over state pension age compared to the number between 16 and state pension age) will increase from 280 to 352 by 2040, a 25% increase.

This leaves an unsaid, politically unsavoury truth – without a dramatic increase to the pension age (or means testing), the UK workforce (and tax revenue) of the future will be dependent on immigrant labour and skills.

This is set to have a major impact on employers, the distribution of skills, and how employers look at EDI.

It’s a known fact that both young people and migrants tend to gravitate towards urban centres. It’s why cities are more diverse than less urban areas. It’s where opportunities are for people with small or non-existent personal networks, and where they will find cultural familiarity. For employers outside of big cities, this means an even greater disadvantage.

I predict that this will result in a form of virtual reverse commute, where employers located outside of London and other urban centres have to offer increasingly attractive terms to attract the skills they need. Instead of the traditional model of workers in commuter belt dormitory towns travelling into the city, more and more city dwellers will be working remotely either in dispersed teams, or for organisations which have traditionally recruited locally.

This will be a big flip. During the pandemic urban centres were emptied of workers and felt the impact of WFH culture. But long-term, as the working age population in less-urban areas falls, it will be smaller, regional employers who must adopt a national, or even global, approach to talent management.

As talent becomes both harder to find and more expensive to acquire, EDI’s importance and relevance will increase. A challenge in all organisations is to define and measure the business impact of EDI initiatives – something which is rarely realised over the accounting year or even the five year plan. This lack of tangibility is a gift to critics of EDI and its effectiveness, but will, I believe, soon be more identifiable by its absence than its presence. As with IT (a business area where the main success metric is being unseen, unheard and unneeded by the majority of employees), long-term planning and implementation is key.

New metrics for EDI may take their inspiration from technology. We may start to place things like workforce resilience, identifying weak points in skill distribution, and workforce planning, under the banner of EDI. We should certainly expect to see EDI voices become more influential, especially with greater numbers of people approaching 20 plus years in EDI roles. And with this new level of importance we should also see greater financing and prioritisation of EDI.

I suspect that this will lead to some counterintuitive developments. With more money and focus, demand for strategic results will increase. What works will receive more support, whilst activities with low impact on commercial priorities (even if they are successful) will be defunded. Of course this already happens, but this may well mean many activities are subject to an undue level of oversight as organisations pivot from wanting or having to do EDI, to needing to do EDI well.

One other impact we’re likely to see is increased emigration of workers with highly valuable skillsets. I believe this will take two forms – younger, talented, educated, professionals being poached by high wage, high growth countries, and people with connections to developing countries identifying and capturing opportunities in those countries. The UK has become used to emigration being a retiree pursuit – we even give migrants from the UK a different name, ‘expats’. As the pace of global movement increases, we should expect to see the fight for talent become international.

Policies

Whilst we are still some way off manifestos being launched, the New Deal for Working People gives us a good sense of the employment policies of a Labour Government.

One interesting policy agenda is around secure work; the banning of zero-hours contracts and strengthened protections for workers and the self-employed. Of course, many workers and self-employed would argue that a reversal of the recent changes to IR35 would be a higher priority than strengthened rights and protections.

I suspect that the zero-hour contract ban will be punted into the long grass should Labour form the next government. Despite the moral panic around the term, zero-hours contracts are a conscious and welcome choice for a significant proportion of workers. And realistically, with claims by Angela Rayner that a ban would be implemented within 100 days of taking power, it’s likely that most zero-hour contracts would simply be terminated rather than converted. The cynic in me suggests that a large increase in unemployment numbers within the first three months of a new Government isn’t ideal.

Another policy familiar to those who follow European employment law is the ‘right to switch off’. This protection has been a feature of French law for some time now. But what’s interesting is the second part of this policy pledge; new rights to work autonomously and be protected from remote surveillance.

‘Work autonomously’ is a vague term and will presumably be fleshed out by the manifesto. But taken together with the mention of surveillance, this looks like a new agenda to protect remote workers and possibly introduce a right to work remotely.

A commitment to reviewing the Shared Parental Leave system is welcome. Shared Parental Leave is an excellent idea on paper but has been undone by its failure to appreciate the many other factors that go into the decision of which partner takes on the bulk of the childcare burden.

In its pledge for fair work, the most eye-catching policies are for the extension of pay gap reporting to ethnicity and disability and addressing inequalities in the workplace by enacting the socio-economic duty in the Equality Act 2010. Whilst pay gap reporting is an obvious and expected policy from the Labour Party, the socio-economic duty is a public-sector only piece of law, and as currently written has no specific workplace or employment implications. It may be that Labour intend to amend that section should they reach power.


If, as expected, 2024 is an election year, and if, as the polls suggest, there is a new Labour Government, it’s clear that HR will be faced with an agenda of fast paced legislative change. As HR leaders it will be our role to navigate that change, being agile and responsive whilst maintaining organisational stability. After 14 years of Conservative government, for many HR leaders this may be the first time they’ve experience big political and legislative shifts in the employment landscape.

Umbrella HR is here to help you navigate the unknown.

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Performance

The future of performance management in a hybrid world

How do you know if an employee is working ‘properly’ from home? And more importantly, does it even matter?

Some organisations are completely comfortable with remote work, whilst others are clearly very uncomfortable. I call this dichotomy “Remote first or remote forced”.

Organisations who are truly remote first have worked out that how a person performs work is less important than the actual work performed. This perspective shift enables them to overcome the challenges associated with remote and hybrid work, especially those around bonding, collaboration, and visibility.

One example of remote first is technology firm Font Awesome. A remote first and globally distributed team from the beginning, Font Awesome holds mandatory one week retreats every quarter that it calls ‘Snuggles’. For one week the team lives and works together, a time which Font Awesome says helps build and repair relationships, conduct planning, and review successes and failures.

Whilst Font Awesome is a great example of how remote first works in a smaller organisation, Atlassian (with almost 11,000 employees in 13 countries) demonstrates how to pull off remote work in a large one.

Central to Atlassian’s culture is Team Anywhere, the philosophy that puts team members in control of their own priorities. Atlassian also has a dedicated team devoted to arranging in person meetups for Atlassian’s departments and teams, ensuring that in-person time is as effective and productive as possible.

Looking at both these organisations, the main thing that jumps out is their focus on turning communication and meetings into deliberate and valuable activities.

As Peter Drucker wrote: “Meetings are by definition a concession to deficient organization. For one either meets or one works. One cannot do both at the same time.”

These organisations are overcoming the challenges of remote work whilst also tackling the bane of remote and in-person working – the meeting that needn’t be.

On the other hand, most organisations are remote forced. They were forced to enable remote work by the pandemic and have been forced to remain hybrid by their workers, who are reluctant to surrender the benefits of working anywhere simply to justify their employer’s ten-year office lease. This results in the worst of both worlds; managers without the organisational support to properly measure their employee’s contributions, and cultures that were formed pre-pandemic and encourage conflict between those who work fully in the office and those who don’t.

The problem with accidental managers

It’s understandable that so many managers find managing performance in a hybrid world to be a challenge. Without training they rely on imitating the styles and practices of managers they’ve worked under in the past – and in the past, observational supervision was a key part of determining the old measures of performance. That is, making sure employees turn up on time and look busy.

As HR leaders we need to get better at measuring what matters. Not only is reforming performance management key to managing hybrid workers, but also to tackling the stagnation of productivity seen over the past twenty years.

Without properly training our managerial team we end up in a situation where performance is measured in terms of costs and efforts, rather than results. Even the most accidental manager can identify how much effort the worker next to them puts in or calculate the amount they cost the organisation. What’s harder to assess is their effectiveness, impact, and contribution to results. For that, the line manager depends on HR to provide the tools and measures that matter.

Introducing inappropriately named ‘productivity monitoring software’ is rarely the answer here. My biggest argument against them is that they monitor activity, not productivity, and confusing these two things is the biggest barrier to improving productivity we have. It serves only to foster a lack of trust between manager and managed, encourages clockwatching, and fails to measure the impact of work, only that it happens.

Instead, we need to improve and upskill our managers. 82% of managers are accidental – without any formal leadership training. 28% of employees say they have left an employer due to poor management. And of course, we also need to be aware of the Peter Principle – that people are promoted to the level of respective incompetence before they stop advancing.

Performance management: HR’s time to shine

So, we should start looking at this another way. How much are managers with high employee turnover costing the organisation in recruitment costs? I’ve previously discussed how managers are rarely effective recruiters, and in the same vein, they’re also rarely good at reviewing and managing performance. They excel in the day-to-day of motivating and using their teams to deliver the organisational objectives they have responsibility for.

It is HR who are experts in the organisation’s performance management procedures. And it is HR that has the organisational reach to understand what counts as a result across departments and help managers to truly judge an employee by contribution to results, rather than efforts.

And this is the key to managing performance in a hybrid world. A hybrid working world is one where efforts cannot be easily observed. But equally, it’s one that proves efforts and results are not the same thing and this should provide the push your organisation needs to start measuring performance in terms not of efforts and outputs, but in results and outcomes.

Finally, a word of warning to those organisations who are ‘remote forced’. As more organisations start to insist on a full return to the office, the group that has the most to lose from this are women, who are statistically likely to have benefitted most from having the flexibility to support other responsibilities such as caring.

My feeling is that a test case under the Equality Act 2010 that challenges a mandatory return to the office as indirect discrimination on the basis of sex is likely sooner rather than later. The outcome of this could have major knock-on effects – including a de facto requirement to effectively make all roles hybrid unless they can’t be.


Our Manager Guidance: Performance Management e-learning course gives line managers practical support with reviewing performance, developing careers and tackling poor performance.

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Recruitment & Selection

AI and its impact on inclusive recruitment

Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be yet another long read about inclusive recruitment that tells you all about how diverse workforces are more likely to outperform their peers, and how you need to put job adverts in unusual places, or you’ll fail to attract the people you need to serve diverse customer audiences.

I know that you know that – you wouldn’t be here, reading this, if you didn’t. But knowing something doesn’t make it happen. We’re going to look at the barriers an organisation puts up against inclusive recruitment practices and how I think we’ll soon overcome them.

First, let’s look at the story so far. You’ve:

  • Got your executive leadership on board
  • Taken out all the gendered language from your advert
  • Realised that even though the Guardian is progressive, its readership is still as homogenous as the Telegraph
  • Proactively sought out ad placements in places that aren’t Guardian Jobs that genuinely reach diverse audiences
  • Actually produced a shortlist of quality candidates from diverse backgrounds that can be delivered to the hiring manager

And then, guess what? The hiring manager, who’s delighted that their unconscious bias training taught them that their favourite tactic of hiring someone as close to themselves as possible is so widely practiced it has a name, picks the person who ‘reminds me of myself 10 years ago’.

My point is this. As HR leaders we can only take the organisation so far. We must understand and appreciate that line management can and will completely ignore us in the majority of their decision making. As far as they’re concerned, their jobs and reputations are dependent on making the right hire – after all, they’re the ones who’ll have to work with the individuals. So, they’ll pick the safe option; the mini-me. It is an incredibly rare manager with the confidence and, often, arrogance to believe that they’re so good that their reputation can absorb the potential damage of a risky hire that ends in failure.

De-risking recruitment

This clearly makes increasing diversity in the workforce quite challenging. The answer is to de-risk recruitment. And this already happens. Graduate schemes are run by HR, which means that even if a line manager feels their grad is a liability, it’s not a reflection on their selection skills. The graduate can be given time, moved around and find their specialty without any risk to the manager.

And strangely, despite the concerns of bias, it’s probably Artificial Intelligence that will give us the ability to de-risk recruitment for managers. The HR and recruitment teams of the near future will be able to conduct full recruitment cycles using AI to select the best candidate.

Let’s be honest, recruitment isn’t fun. It’s also a distraction from daily deliverables, highly time-consuming, and demands that the hiring manager make an expensive, long-term decision with minimal, largely unverifiable information. In short, most line managers don’t enjoy being hiring managers, and would happily pass that responsibility off to a trusted ‘other’. Even to AI.

But, I hear you say, the AI models are biased. Well yes. And sorry to break it to you, so are every single one of your hiring managers.

And the solution to AI’s biases rests with you, and your data. Foundational models (the underlying data and code behind AI products) are being licensed or open-sourced for organisations and individuals to use and build their own technology on, using their own data.

Which means the level of bias in your AI powered recruitment journey will be, fundamentally, down to you. You will have control over the data you put in and the patterns the AI discovers. And what’s more difficult? Iterating and adjusting for the bias in your single AI recruitment model, or dealing with tens, hundreds, or even thousands of hiring managers all with completely different biases?

But that’s the destination – how do we get there?

As HR leaders it is our responsibility to identify and understand the opportunities ahead of us. AI is the biggest opportunity and the biggest change in the world of work since the dawn of the internet and will have an even greater impact.

However, having your own bespoke AI solution is still a couple of years away for large organisations and probably five years away for small and medium ones. So how do we de-risk recruitment for our hiring managers today, so that we can collect the inclusive recruitment data we need for tomorrow?

Firstly, prove the hypothesis. Do line managers in your organisation want to be responsible for hiring decisions or not? And certainly, there will be many who do, especially at more senior levels.

If the feedback is that certain levels do want recruitment responsibility, but others don’t – great. It may be a greater short-term burden, but moving activity gradually into HR now will make the eventual move to full AI recruitment much easier. But be super aware of your own biases!

Secondly, collect the data that’s important. Depending on resourcing, getting a data analyst to work on this with you can be helpful. They’ll be able to identify key metrics and indicators to be aware of that you can use to improve recruitment now and in the future.

Thirdly, look at the best things about recruitment now, and make sure to embed them into the future. It’s still a human process – people still want to engage with people, even if evaluation and selection is done by a big pile of computer code. And that’s something, if we’re honest, that we’ve not been doing well on. The AI recruiter will be able to share instant feedback on candidate strengths and weaknesses – human recruiters often end up ghosting candidates who ask for feedback. We can drag out the process far too long searching for that ‘golden egg’ and lose outstanding candidates. But we can be great at supporting candidates, building great experiences, and removing barriers.

So, think about what you’re doing well, and what you want to do better. You’ll be able to invest more time doing those things by automating the others. After all, bias in decision making is usually caused by making them in a rush.


AI isn’t the answer to bias in recruitment, but it is a tool that can help you find a solution. Easy access to AI is going to change how we work completely – you’ve probably already received cover letters and CVs written by ChatGPT. But along with threats and challenges come opportunities, if you know where to look.



Strategy

Creating an EDI Strategy and Plan

What’s the difference between strategy and planning? Well, Peter Drucker, godfather of modern management, distinguishes the two as external and internal focuses. Drucker’s definition of strategy is:

“A pattern of activities that seek to achieve the objectives of the organization and adapt its scope, resources and operations to environmental changes in the long term.”

Compare with his definition of strategic planning:

“The continuous process of making present entrepreneurial and therefore risk-taking decisions systematically and with the full knowledge of their futurity; and then systematically organizing the efforts needed to carry out these decisions through organized systematic feedback.”

When discussing strategy Drucker talks of objectives, the wider environment and long term. Planning involves decisions, the present and use of the feedback loop.

A common error in organisational management is to confuse plans for strategy. We’ll produce a whole list of tangible, measurable actions, and deliverables, and call them a strategy. Can you see where this causes a problem for EDI?

We’ve spent an awfully long time explaining to organisational leaders that investing in EDI isn’t just being nice, or the right thing to do, or a PR activity; it results in improved organisational outcomes. And one of the key reasons for this is that a representative workforce that considers EDI as part of its business as usual delivers a better product, service, and experience for a greater proportion of the population.

That’s an example of an external factor. There is increased diversity outside of your organisation; in your customer base, your suppliers, your competitors. And that external environment is changing; it’s becoming more diverse and therefore there are new opportunities, risks, and requirements.

This of course is the main problem caused by most EDI functions sitting within the HR hierarchy. In HR we’re naturally insular, looking to improve the organisation by empowering and developing the people inside it. As a result, our EDI strategy and planning starts with employees and, in the best cases, might end with future employees by virtue of community engagement and talent programmes. It is a rare organisation – the most notable being HS2, which empowers EDI to sit outside of the HR function and become a team which looks both within and without.

Identifying strategic priorities

So, lets imagine we’re starting our EDI strategy afresh. We’re able to extract our why from organisational strategy – this EDI strategy is required for the organisation to meet its strategic goals. Building our strategy then becomes about how. How does EDI factor into the strategic goals? If the organisational strategy is to expand into new global markets, having greater cultural diversity within the organisation becomes a key part of the EDI strategy. We also need to keep an eye on other aspects of the external environment. The news that ethnicity pay gap reporting will not be mandatory means that the race pay gap will, sadly, be deprioritised in many EDI strategies.

The what moves us away from strategy into the discipline of strategic planning. If part of the organisational strategy is to counter attempts from competitor X to eat into some of our market segments, our EDI strategy reflects this by ensuring we have the right people, skills, and knowledge to serve that market. It’s no good basing actions on a starting point of simply having relatively too few women in leadership positions; our strategy must explain:

  • Why that should change (women are underrepresented in our customer base, and competitor X is focusing on taking those we have)
  • How we intend to change this (increasing the number of women in leadership positions so that their experience and viewpoints are properly reflected during the decision-making process, which will improve our product and ensure it adds the value that customers are going to competitor X to find)
  • Our strategic planning should then define what we are going to do to achieve our strategic goal of more women in leadership positions (comparing benefit packages and flexible working opportunities to competitors, implementing development programmes and mentoring, creating a Women’s Network/Employee Resource Group)
  • And who is responsible for these actions. If HR is responsible for recruiting and connecting mentors and mentees, we’ll fail. Tell senior leaders that they’re expected to mentor a junior colleague, set a minimum expected SLA for mentors, and give it a value in the leader’s performance objectives, and suddenly the pressure to make the relationship succeed pivots from HR as a third party to the mentor.

By creating a clear line between strategy and strategic planning we’re telling our colleagues across the organisation that we are creating solutions to their problems. The EDI strategy isn’t a distraction or a social justice project; it has a clear value proposition that supports you, people in the finance team, and you, people in the sales team, and you, people in the service team, to achieve your own strategic goals.


An independent audit of the current situation helps ensure the foundations are in place and that gaps can be highlighted – both at a legislative and at a best practice level.  This involves interviews with key stakeholders, a document review, analysis of employee data, employee survey results and employee interviews.  The resulting report can be delivered as a document outlining short-term and longer-term recommendations or a presentation to senior leaders.

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Structuring your strategy

There are five key components to the perfect EDI Strategy:

Overall aim

With an explanation of why this is the main aim and how this relates to the organisation’s main strategic priorities. This section is forward looking – a vision of the organisation in a future where the organisation’s main strategic goals have been met.

Background

Where we are now, and why it’s a problem. This section is focused on your organisation’s past, identifying the underlying reasons behind why both the Overall aim (above) and the EDI Strategy are required. The background should take the reader right up to the second before this document was written and is a good place to include any independent audits.

Competitor / benchmarking information

Where we are now in relation to the external environment. This section provides supporting evidence for why the EDI Strategy is important and why you have selected the priorities you have. Again, refer back to the Overall aim and how other organisations are approaching their own challenges.

Current situation including achievements and progress

You’ve reached the metaphorical banana skin! Whilst the temptation is to showcase how brilliant we are and wax lyrical about our success, this section should be the shortest. Here is your opportunity to provide evidence to add credibility to your strategic vision but remember that strategy is long-term thinking. Awards, achievements, and milestones are the consequence of what you’ve done, and whilst an essential part of reviews, reflection and analysis, should mainly form part of the background section.

EDI priorities 

Now we finally reach the how of your strategy. Identify the tangible priorities along with manageable KPIs. In our example above, we may want to do this by increasing the proportion of women in leadership positions from 20% to 25% in year 1, reaching 40% by year 3. By including a medium term and long-term target we ensure we’re thinking long term, as well as breaking ambitious goals into manageable steps. Use all the space you’ve saved by trimming down your long list of previous wins to produce really clear priorities that explain how creating change in this area will directly contribute to better results across the organisation. 


Well done! You’ve written your EDI Strategy without falling into the trap of turning it into a strategic planning document. Now it’s time for the strategic planning. Your action plan sets out the whats and whos that turn your strategy into activity. Use the EDI priorities from your strategy as headings and place your planned activities and initiatives beneath each. Some activities may contribute to multiple priorities – this is excellent and demonstrates efficiency in your planning. Simply describe the activity in full the first time it’s featured, and summarise it, with a brief explanation of how it specifically impacts this priority, on all subsequent priorities.

The action plan would include any new policies/procedures/processes required, reviews of existing ones, EDI related training, communication campaigns, engagement surveys, recruitment related proposals, and monitoring and measurement activities.

By taking this approach you ensure your priorities are all aligned to the organisation’s priorities, and all your activity is aligned to your priorities. You’re demonstrating that EDI is a key contributor to organisational success and that you’ve got a firm grasp of the organisation’s needs and priorities. Well done superstar!



Policies & Procedures

Handling Discrimination Investigations

Meet Ali, an ambitious HR manager in a perfectly ordinary organisation. They are admired by colleagues for their dedication to diversity and inclusivity and are eager to advance their career to a senior level. But like many HR professionals at some point during their career, Ali is navigating the complex landscape of discrimination claims. This article follows Ali’s journey in dealing with a race discrimination claim and the steps taken to ensure a fair, thorough investigation.

One day, Ali receives a complaint alleging racial discrimination within the company. The claimant, a valued employee named David, feels he’s been passed over for promotions due to his race. Ali knows the gravity of these claims and understands that they must be handled delicately and efficiently.

Realising the need for subjectivity in this process, Ali decides to bring in a professional external investigator to ensure a fair and unbiased investigation.

Engaging an external investigator offers multiple benefits. Firstly, it demonstrates the company’s commitment to establishing the facts and addressing the issue impartially. Secondly, it offers reassurance for all involved that the investigation is being conducted by a professional who is experienced in dealing with such matters and understands the nuances of the Equality Act 2010. Lastly, an external investigator can make recommendations to prevent similar situations in the future, reinforcing the company’s dedication to a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Ali also understands the importance of timely action. Race discrimination employment tribunal claims must be made within six months less one day from when the alleged discrimination occurred.

In the 2021/2022 period, there were 200 discrimination cases in which compensation was awarded, with the maximum award reaching a staggering £228,117 in a race discrimination case​. These figures highlight the potential financial implications of a successful claim.

Over the course of the investigation, Ali keeps David informed about the process and assures him of the company’s commitment to a fair investigation.

When the investigation concludes, Ali implements the investigator’s recommendations and takes proactive steps to further foster an inclusive workplace. This includes organising diversity and inclusion training sessions, reinforcing the company’s anti-discrimination policies, and taking steps to ensure transparent, merit-based promotion practices.

Ali’s story provides a practical, relatable guide for HR leaders like you, demonstrating the benefits of external investigations. By understanding these aspects, you too can navigate such challenges with confidence and contribute to building a fair and inclusive workplace.



Policies & Procedures

Making Workplaces Shine: Practical Steps to Boost Inclusion and Engagement

We all know that a welcoming and inclusive workplace can make a massive difference in employees’ happiness and the overall success of an organisation. So, how can we practically apply this knowledge to help employees thrive? Let’s dive into real-world examples and explore how staff surveys, coaching, mentoring, and training can create positive change in the workplace.

Inclusive Cultures: Getting Real with Staff Surveys and Policies

Imagine this: Sarah, a talented team member, feels left out because her ideas aren’t heard during meetings. To effectively create an inclusive culture, improving your understanding of the current state of employee engagement and EDI within the organisation is paramount. Conducting staff surveys can help identify situations like Sarah’s, as well as assessing employee engagement and inclusion across the organisation. Surveys offer a window into employees’ experiences, revealing areas that need improvement and providing an opportunity to identify gaps and challenges.

Organisations can use these insights to implement targeted strategies and supportive policies to foster inclusivity. For example, a policy that encourages open communication and values diverse perspectives can make employees like Sarah feel more comfortable voicing their ideas, fostering innovation and promoting a sense of belonging. When organisations create policies that value individual differences and promote a sense of belonging, employees feel more connected and are likely to contribute more effectively to the organisation’s success.

By combining staff surveys with the implementation of inclusive policies, organisations can create an environment where employees feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work, ultimately enhancing engagement and driving success.

Coaching and Performance Management: Boosting Employee Growth with e-Learning

Picture Tom, a dedicated employee who lacks confidence in his leadership skills. Coaching is an invaluable tool that can help employees like Tom set clear goals, build confidence, and develop transferable skills, ultimately improving their job satisfaction and engagement. By providing employees with the right guidance and resources, coaching can lead to long-lasting benefits both for individuals and the organisation.

Incorporating e-learning into coaching and performance management initiatives offers flexibility and accessibility, allowing employees to learn at their own pace and revisit materials as needed. This tailored approach enables employees like Tom to engage with content more effectively, leading to better understanding, retention, and ultimately helping them reach their full potential.

By combining the power of coaching with the convenience of e-learning, organisations can create a supportive and effective environment for employees to grow and excel in their roles, contributing to the overall success of the organisation.

Mentoring: Empowering Employees through Connection

Consider Lucy, a new recruit who feels overwhelmed and isolated in her role. Mentoring relationships can be a game-changer for employees like Lucy by increasing self-confidence, enhancing communication skills, and providing opportunities to learn from experienced colleagues. By learning from the guidance and insights of a mentor, mentees can enhance their career trajectories and positively influence the organisation’s overall performance.

With the support of a mentor, Lucy can develop a professional network, gain valuable insights, and feel more connected to her workplace. This connection ultimately boosts her performance and contributes to the organisation’s success.

There are also benefits to the mentor. They get to hear a new perspective on the organisation and its operations that many senior leaders aren’t exposed to, especially in more hierarchical organisations. And they’ll often get the opportunity to learn huge amounts about a person with very different life experiences and goals than themselves.

By incorporating mentoring into the workplace, organisations can foster growth, enhance communication, and create a supportive environment where employees feel connected, engaged, and empowered to excel in their roles.

Training: Crafting Inclusive Leaders and Streamlining Recruitment

Inclusive leadership training is essential for addressing issues caused by managers unintentionally creating barriers for diverse employees. By training leaders to be more aware of and responsive to different perspectives, they can create an environment where everyone feels valued and supported.

Imagine a new employee, Priya, who is unsure about her workplace’s commitment to diversity. An induction program that includes EDI training can help communicate the organisation’s values and demonstrate that all employees are embraced and respected, fostering a sense of belonging from the outset.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), Focus Groups, and Listening Groups can offer employees like Priya a platform to share experiences, express concerns, and contribute to the organisation’s strategies. These groups can also provide employees with a supportive environment for professional growth and collaboration. Like mentoring arrangements, they are an effective way to break through organisational hierarchies and deliver ‘unfiltered’ feedback on the organisation.

Meanwhile, recruitment training for line managers is another essential component of promoting an inclusive culture. Equipping hiring managers with tools to make unbiased decisions ensures that the workforce is more representative and inclusive, reflecting the organisation’s commitment to EDI.

Choosing the right training method is also crucial. While e-learning can be effective for sharing information, virtual or face-to-face (F2F) training will often be better suited for case studies and experiential learning. Combining these approaches ensures a comprehensive and engaging learning experience, allowing employees to thrive in a supportive and diverse workplace.

Creating a thriving, inclusive workplace is a worthy goal for all employers. But reaching that goal involves multiple activities, strategies and policies. achievable through staff surveys, supportive policies, coaching, mentoring, and targeted training. But by putting all these things into action it’s proven that organisations can enhance employee engagement and performance, leading to a more diverse and successful environment.