Looking Forward – January 2022

As January begins, the outlook has started to look a little less bleak. We’re hearing of a ‘living with Covid’ plan from Downing Street, Holyrood has begun removing restrictions and a sensation of clarity is forming (unless you’re involved with Chester Football Club). There’s a rising confidence that organisations can plan again.

This year will see employers divided into two camps – those mandating returns to the office, and those formalising their agile working policies. I suspect this will correlate with those who hold long and inescapable leases on large buildings.

Talent issues will continue. We need far more assistance from the Government to avoid the visa system becoming an option only for employers with large in-house legal departments. Smaller organisations and HR teams simply don’t have the capacity to learn the rules, so will only recruit domestically.

Inflation is on the increase around the world, and with it demands for pay increases. Your bike to work scheme doesn’t put food on the table, so employee benefits must be aligned with employee needs. Retention, already a challenge, will become even more so.

Whilst we can replace skills, we can’t replace knowledge. The people who know why a thing works, not just how. Passing on organisational lore has always been hit and miss, but remote working adds even more barriers to knowledge sharing. As always, resolving this issue will probably fall to HR.

Get the Diversity Calendar 2022

Use our free Calendar to plan your diversity programme in 2022. High impact activities could include asking the CEO to talk about their own experiences, recognising relevant individuals or sharing the results of a survey.

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New Challenges

As I write this, my phone alerts me that a human bird flu case has been confirmed by the NHS (not now, 2022), but I hope that this year will see Covid slowly disappear from the headlines. HR shouldn’t get complacent though. We should look at the pandemic as an opportunity to improve safeguarding protocols for vulnerable employees; flu hasn’t disappeared and like Covid is incredibly dangerous to those with existing health issues.

2022 should see us picking up where we left off with pay gaps. The gender pay gap has increased and encouraging early work on race and disability pay gaps has, in most cases, fizzled out.

Generational inequalities will increasingly become employer’s problems. Home working is much easier when one has space in one’s home to work, and with large proportions of young people shut out of the housing market we may begin to see migrations from traditional centres of business to places where house prices are lower. This influx of talented, hungry young people may be the missing ingredient which revitalises communities long seen as left behind. Whether this is powered by remote working or employers following the talent and investing in up-and-coming locations remains to be seen.

2022 will likely be a good year for HR technology vendors. Employers will finally have the headspace to replace systems which couldn’t keep pace with changes to working practices during the pandemic. Start by identifying all the workarounds and bodges users have to do to make the system work – and then create a ‘shopping list’ of features your ideal system needs.

Taking action

Trans issues will become employer challenges as relevant legislation drifts apart between the UK’s devolved administrations. Following criticism of Stonewall and the advice it gave to Sussex University, it remains crucial that processes and procedures are based on up-to-date independent legal advice. If you believe you have employees that may be impacted by the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, action taken now could avoid legal issues later.

Mental health is set to be a major issue. Many people have been living with social anxiety for almost two years, and even for those who aren’t in an ‘at risk’ group of Covid, returning to ‘normality’ will be hard. Like all change, it will fall to HR to support employees as they adjust to living with Covid, both in and out of the workplace. Recruiting Mental Health First Aiders is a good first step, but introducing support groups to deal with what I suspect will be a very common concern may help employees resolve issues without HR input.

As I said earlier on, it’s looking like we can make plans again. To help you plan your diversity agenda for 2022 we’re delighted to offer you our free interactive diversity calendar. Use this calendar to identify events, themes, and activities, then engage senior people, employee groups and key teams.

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Develop your own calendar – use this one as the basis and consult your people to identify other dates you would like to include. Focus on D&I as there are so many dates now that celebrate a wide range of events, situations and people.

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The Only HR Audit You’ll Ever Need

Let’s be frank; commissioning an audit for your own function is like inviting Prue Leith to critique a batch of Betty Crocker cupcakes. It’s not going to be pleasant.

It’s why we in HR orientate towards the audits, benchmarks and accreditations that I describe as ‘Loud and Proud’. They’re opportunities to shout about the work we do and the successes we’re responsible for. I’d use ‘Loud and Proud’ to describe the Stonewall Top 100, Sunday Times Best Companies and basically any employer awards event.

Whilst all these Loud and Proud programmes are valuable assessments, there are two problems with them.

The first is independence. The organisations behind them aren’t spending time and effort administering them out of charity; they’re a commercial opportunity with business objectives. This influences overall placements so that these objectives can be met. A business awards ceremony that has seats and tables to sell can’t have a shortlist comprised purely of sole traders, regardless of merit, as they won’t fill all the places. This also leads to rumours of awards going to the organisations who buy the most seats. Likewise, the ranking lists must have a well-known employer at the top to guarantee the press coverage and visibility which generates entries for the next year.

The second issue is criteria. The criteria for these accreditations is designed to make it easy for the judges to rank entries, not to generate a fair assessment. They’re also influenced by the issuing organisation’s own objectives – this is a popular media criticism of the Stonewall scheme.

Luckily there’s another way.

ISO 30414:2018 is the international standard for Human Resource Management. It’s published by the ISO, the International Organisation for Standardisation, and recognises a global standard of efficacy, transparency, and good practice in people management.

I accept that ISO 30414:2018 accreditation doesn’t sound as sexy as being the Greatest HR Leader In The World This Year. But what the ISO standard lacks in sexiness, ease of enunciation and well catered award dinners, it more than makes up for in competitive advantage, cost savings and boardroom credibility.

The ISO standard has been designed to be applicable to all employers regardless of type, size nature or complexity; or whether they’re public, private or not for profit organisations.

Your organisation is tested against 11 core areas. Not all core areas are equal; Recruitment/Mobility & Turnover includes 15 different metrics whilst Productivity and Organisational Culture each only have two.

Each of the core areas, and the metrics they contain, have been chosen to demonstrate that you and your function are delivering the highest standards of HR. Proof to the whole organisation that you’re eliminating waste and providing a quality service to the employee population.

But where ISO 30414 really stands out is its ability to measure the intangible. It helps put a value on under-reported components of a modern organisation such as human and intellectual capital.

Get Audit ready with our Pre-Audit Assessment

A Pre-Audit Assessment is a light touch approach to a full Audit. This gap analysis is carried out in line with a full Audit and is completed before an organisation commits to the full certification process. It assesses the current position of the organisation, its compliance to the standard and highlights areas for improvement, allowing organisations to address these in advance of a full Audit.

Organisations often choose to consult with an external provider whose knowledge, skills, and experience determine their level of conformity to ISO 30414, as an independent consultant brings an unbiased approach that is considered best in preparation for certification. This, in turn, helps to focus resources on corrective actions thus avoiding additional resource and cost during the full Audit process.

This assessment empowers organisations to make decisions regarding their readiness and confidence to start the Audit process. It will also familiarise employees with the Audit process and develop their understanding of the importance of standardisation and compliance.

What are the benefits of a Pre-Audit Assessment?

Getting assessed before an Audit will:

  • Save you time during the Audit process
  • Help divert resources to the most critical business needs
  • Avoid additional costs and wasted resources
  • Address the current position of the organisation, helping you to understand the most pressing corrective actions to take
  • Get you ready to undergo an Audit, by building your confidence and giving you an insight into what to expect from an Audit
  • Get your team and stakeholders ready. Communication during a pre-audit will raise awareness and understanding which will see less resistance at Audit
  • Commitment from a Certified Auditor will give you the confidence that you are reporting the right metrics to make a difference in your organisation

A pre-audit has a number of functions. It’s an excellent way to introduce senior leaders to ISO 30414 at a fraction of the price. Being a significantly smaller investment than the full process means stakeholders receive valuable insights at an earlier stage, in turn creating an environment where a full assessment is likely to be approved.

Alternatively the pre-audit can act as part of an organisation’s self-assessment and reporting process should completing the full audit be unrealistic due to cost or resourcing. As a gap analysis the pre-audit delivers a full report on areas for improvement and current compliance levels, covering all 11 core areas and 60 metrics, complete with recommendations.

Learn more about ISO 30414 Pre-Audit Assessment


Holding HR to Account – June 2021

Working in HR is a predominantly reactive, rather than proactive, role. Whilst we begin each week with plans, aims and objectives, it doesn’t take long before the first piece of urgent business comes in. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to land on Monday morning without a pile of work waiting for you!

It’s this focus on firefighting which means as HR professionals we often measure the wrong things. Counting the number of fires we put out is much easier than calculating the number of fires we prevented.

As leaders we recognise this isn’t a great way of improving the function, or proving our own competencies. It’s why auditing, benchmarking and assessments are so popular in HR (as a measure of success; it’s rarely popular for the people having to complete them!)

And there’s no shortage of people offering magical checklists that’ll help your HR team do better. At my last organisation I initiated a whole package of them! But what goes into these assessments, and how do we know they’re looking at the right things? Are they genuinely independent assessments, or are they just a marketing tool with which to sell more services?

And the bigger question: do they actually introduce any accountability into the HR profession?

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HR has long been seen as purely functional, and those who work in it are often perceived as technically talented, but lacking strategic competence. That results in HR being held to account at the micro scale (sorting out an employee issue) and not being accountable at the organisational scale.

Part of the reason is cultural. HR can be seen as an obstacle: “I’ll have to get it past HR”. We’re seen as coming up with problems, rather than solutions.

We know it’s because we’re bound by regulations and laws. Just as finance departments are. But when finance managers say no to something, they’re protecting the business. When HR says no, it’s because we’re being difficult.

A HR Magazine survey from 2018 gives us a few clues why HR isn’t taken seriously at the highest levels. One respondent to HR Magazine’s survey was candid: “There is a gender issue with females (myself included) continuing to focus on what we believe we cannot do, while our male counterparts are not even considering or voicing any such development areas.”

We all recognise HR is dominated by women. Except at senior levels, and indeed, the HRDs who make it to the CEO position. Of the five examples in HR Magazine’s article on HRDs progressing to CEO, three were men.


Greater accountability within organisations is linked to an increase in commitment to work, morale, creativity and innovation which leads to higher performance.


HR leaders have high levels of emotional intelligence, an eye that’s spent its career looking years into the future and are experts in collaborating with every part of the organisation. The perfect skill set, you’d think, for the CEO position.

And yet us HR veterans are few and far between in the CEO hotseat. Research from Mullwood Partnership in 2013 puts the number of CEOs who are ex-HRDs at 5%; and the fact that no-one’s bothered to repeat that research in the eight years since speaks volumes!

Strikingly though, finance directors make up 55% of new CEOs (according to the same research).

That’s right. The person responsible for the organisation’s financial capital is 11 times more likely to be appointed CEO than the one responsible for its human capital. They’re the only other person in the organisation who makes investments that won’t pay out until years into the future. The only other person who has to negotiate and resource the needs of every other department in the organisation.

The HR Magazine survey found 47% of HR professionals believed the perception of the HR function among senior leaders would prevent them from becoming a CEO. So why is human capital management so much less valuable than financial capital management?

And how can you demonstrate the value that you, as a HR leader, generate for your organisation?


It’s been clear in my career that HR has to deliver a higher level of proof. Part of that proof is what people can see; typically greater integration through HR business partners. We also need to deliver proof of impact; how has the HR function tangibly improved things?

I’m coming to the view that benchmarking doesn’t provide true proof. For one, both you and the other participants are self-selecting. Which suggests that the true indicator isn’t which benchmarks one participates in, but the ones they don’t.

That’s why, despite spending years developing and optimising benchmarking systems, I’m taking a different direction. We should all be aware of ISO (the International Organization for Standardisation). But were you aware that they’ve developed standards for both HR and D&I?

Using ISO standards means you’re operating to the same standard of proof as other parts of the organisation, using a framework that other leaders will understand.


So how can HR leaders demonstrate a strategic level of accountability?


The first thing is to be proactive. At the start I pointed out that HR’s workload is reactive. But to progress the function, we need to push things forward. It may seem obvious, but you’ll be more likely to get extra resources for your ideas if you demonstrate how your workforce plans align with the organisation’s plans.


Establish your personal accountability. It’s not enough to have great ideas and push them forward. Owning failures can be just as important to the organisation as one’s successes.

Take the US attitude to company founders as an example; serial founders who leave a trail of failed ideas and burnt shareholder cash are still highly sought after, as investors recognise that they’ve learnt valuable lessons and are a better choice than someone who has yet to make those mistakes. 


Thirdly, acquire proof. That includes outside audits, and yes, if it’s important to organisational leadership, external benchmarking. Doing an HR audit using the ISO 30414: 2018 standard (or a D&I audit against the ISO 30415: 2021 standard) means your results are internationally recognised.

If you’re part of a global organisation, the ISO 30415: 2021 standard is a far more tangible measure for your leaders to understand compared with, for example, your position in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.


Accountability, at both the organisational and the individual level, is crucial to keep your organisation moving forward.

Download my top tips to establish accountability systems in HR and D&I.



The Hybrid Workplace – May 2021

At the beginning of 2020 I was once again discussing how work was changing.

It was a conversation I’d had many times over the years. Employers would have to change to meet the needs of employees, I would say. And employees were telling us over and over again that they wanted more flexibility in how, when and where they worked.

The response was predictable – we can’t. Policies and procedures. IT says no. How can we trust people to work when we can’t see them? (Why you would hire someone who you believe will shirk off as soon as their supervisor is out of site is a different matter!)

Just three months later, everything changed.

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It turns out all that’s needed to remove the organisational logjam of the office-based 9-5 is a global pandemic. Who knew?

This in no way demeans the efforts of the people who made this happen – especially those working in organisations where there was no remote working at all prior to the pandemic.

But it does make me wonder what other things that we’re told “can’t be changed”, actually can be.


It’s time to enter the realm of speculation, as we consider the workplace of the (near) future.

Even before the pandemic hit we saw the emergence of organisations like WeWork, who saw that work was becoming a thing we did, not a place we went.

Many roles will be flexible by default, a stark contrast to the way we were at the beginning of last year. Not only is there no justification for 100% office, there’s also no point in undoing the technical and procedural changes that have been implemented at great cost over the past year.

That means the future for office roles is hybrid; where employees combine remote and office based time in a way that means they are as productive as possible.


A CIPD poll (April 2021) found only 14% of organisations were expecting to return to pre-pandemic levels of business travel.


Hybrid working has huge benefits for parents. It’s a huge win for mothers, who have persistently listed inflexible working hours as the number one obstacle to their careers. And for fathers, who are able to increase the time they spend with their children despite the social and societal pressures.

My view is that hybrid working is here to stay. We’ve seen that 100% homeworking has been a challenge for many, especially younger people who are sharing accomodation with others or don’t have room for a dedicated working space.

And there’s less tangible considerations, like transfer of organisational lore, that simply can’t be resolved without good old-fashioned face-to-face, real life same-place working.

Because our offices and warehouses, call centers and factories, sites and shops aren’t just for the delivery of work. They’re places where relationships form and grow. They’re the birthplaces of connections that last for years, across jobs and employers. And we can’t yet replicate that through a screen.


Over 50% of employees are looking to move jobs due to lack of recognition, appreciation and support with home workers feeling less connected to the company.


From my own experience of introducing hybrid working into organisations I’ve identified a few hazards for the HR professional to be aware of.


The first is managerial skills. Whilst the common impression is that managers of a hybrid workforce struggle with not being able to see remote workers, this isn’t the main issue I’ve come across.

Instead, I’ve found that managers need more support managing internal relationships between members of their team. Whilst the manager is able to keep track of each of their team member’s work, other team members fall out of the loop without the informal conversations that happen in the workplace.

An example is a team member (A) who is reallocated to an emergency project. Their old work is handed to a colleague (B), but as far as B can tell, they are just picking up A’s slack, causing resentment.


That leads nicely into hazard number two, which is relevant to all managers: information transfer.

We all joke about pointless meetings, but often the reason they’re pointless is because all the information they’re designed to share has already been delivered through informal networks. Without 100% workplace attendance, 100% of the time, these informal networks become less efficient.

As leaders, we’ve got used to other people delivering our messages. With hybrid working, we can’t rely on this being the case. So things like notice boards (both physical and online), newsletters and regular catch-ups become much more important. If knowledge only exists halfway up a Slack thread, it may as well not exist at all.


The third hazard of hybrid working is forcing it. The benefit of hybrid working is that it allows people to work in a way that’s most productive for them. If employee A lives with their parents and young siblings, working from home isn’t an attractive option. However, they may benefit from access to a local WeWork style co-working environment a few days each week rather than a full commute to their main workplace.

Conversely, as B is a working parent being able to work from home or at irregular times is crucial to keeping them and their skills in your workforce. Finally, C, who simply doesn’t want to commute every day, but still wants to connect with their colleagues, would probably benefit from a fixed days in/days out agreement.

As everyone’s personal circumstances are different, so are their feelings toward hybrid working.


Download my 10 top tips for formalising your ‘pandemic panic’ hybrid working policies. It includes advice for returning employees to the office, recruitment and strategy.


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