Monthly Archives: November 2010

My worst job interview…

@MarkShaw has just tweeted a question:

Over the years I have had a lot of job interviews.. Most were professional, some were very amateur… What’s the worst job interview you had?

I tried to tweet my answer, but there was no way I could get it into 140 characters, so I shall give it here… (Context, as they say, is all!)

I once has a second interview for a job: I think I had basically got the job, and the firm I was going to work with were trying to work out which team I would work with, but I didn’t really know that at the time. I was being considered for two teams: this interview was with the team leader – a pretty senior manager – of one of them. There were no HR or other people in the interview: it was just me and him.

The interview consisted of this guy firing a list of activities or tasks at me as closed questions: “Can you do this? … Can you do that?” It was practically impossible to answer: I worried that saying “No!” might lose me the job.

There was no discussion – no real attempt to dig to discover whether my skills were compatible with his teams’, or whether I had behavioural fit. He wanted yes or no answers.

The first interview had been broadly competency-based, with a psychometric test and a presentation thrown in for good measure. This second interview didn’t seem to fit in at all.

The interviewer came across as a single-minded sociopath who couldn’t hold a proper conversation. Not as someone I would want to work with. It was a lousy advert for the organisation.

Fortunately, I had another interview with the other team leader and one of his team. This was completely different: an exploration of how we could work together, what he could expect from me and what I could expect from him. The difference pheonomenal: I came out of it really wanting to be part of this team.

I was offered the post in the second team. I wouldn’t have worked with the first team if they had offered twice – three times – the money: it would clearly never have worked.

Conversing with Like Minds

I spent two days – and two nights – in Exeter last week, at Like Minds. I had heard a lot of good things about the last event held in Exeter, and followed their Finnish summertime adventure on Twitter, so when this one came around, I took the opportunity to participate.

Like Minds fell somewhere between an unconference and a more formal affair. There were set “keynote” speakers, but there were several more freeform sessions. Some of it worked really well, some bits less so.

There were three (or four, depending on your definitions…) different components to the days. First up in the morning were immersives, in-depth discussions around various topics; then there were lunch-time sessions, debating different issues; and lastly in the afternoon were the keynote sessions, more formal conference-like elements. Between each keynote, however, was time for small-scale conversations, ostensibly to discuss the keynote but more practically to talk about anything one wanted with the people sitting nearby (or anyone else!).

This meant that there were lots of different ways to interact, to discuss and learn from each other. I loved the idea of the lunchtime sessions – gathering at local cafes and restaurants to debate a variety of fascinating topics – but the actuality of trying to take part in a fascinating discussion at the end of a long table proved frustrating. The lunch moderators were great, but it was hard to talk against the background noise of a bustling restaurant playing loud music. This meant that the debate broke up into conversation with one’s immediate neighbours.

The first lunch session I went to was on crowdsourcing and creativity (Ann Holman wrote about the discussion). The second was on making innovation happen. The discussion in each was lively – agreement and disagreement fuelling the conversation. Both dealt with intangibles to a degree – we argued about definitions of crowdsourcing, creativity and innovation; there was a fair bit of challenge.

The immersives were good, too. The first, led by Andrew Davies, focused on social media and publishing – interpreted as the legacy business of publishing. The general view was that the old business model was dead – nothing new about that – but there were diverging views about whether this mattered and what could replace it. In part, the stance taken depended on how “old media” the speaker was: those that had most to lose from the push online seemed to care most, which I doubt would surprise anyone. There was a lot of discussion about the difference between creation and curation: someone said that “curation is providing the context” – fitting creation into the narrative, perhaps. I think creation and curation overlap to a fair degree (a topic picked up by Andrew Dubber’s keynote the next day). With social media, we can all become curators: sharing links on Twitter, for instance. This has always been done to a certain extent – think of friends sharing articles from a magazine or newspaper – but social media have allowed users to do this more consciously, and to broadcast the result. Think of, for instance. (Curiously, today someone mentioned Newspaper Club to me today – a way of creating one’s own hard-copy newspaper using online tools and, I assume, materials.)

In the other immersive, Joanne Jacobs led a discussion on using social media for small, local businesses. This was full of great stories and pragmatic advice, and will get me to start using social bookmarking tools (another form of social media curation!). Alastair Walker has a rather more in depth overview!

The several keynotes were more of a mixed bag. On each day, there was one keynote I really didn’t enjoy; I won’t dwell on these, but it was only at these times that I drifted and started playing on Twitter. There were several interesting keynotes from the not-for-profit sector – I really liked Sim Stewart’s presentation on Cofacio, an online tool to engage with helping others.

I would have liked the chance to question the keynote speakers, though; for many, this happened in the bar later on, but I wanted to take Robyn Brown who discussed the work of the National Trust to task: she felt that there were relatively few members of the NT present, and she hoped next year there’d be more; but actually the NT has 3.7 millions members – say, 7% of the adult population – and perhaps 20% of the audience said they were members: over-represented, then. (Frankly, much as I respect the NT, I think it frightening that it has nearly eight times as many members as the three main political parties in England put together (476,000, according to this House of Commons paper.)

I think Steve Moore’s talk on “the Big Society” would really have benefitted from a broader discussion. Over the last year, we’ve heard a lot about the big society, but it is one of those concepts that seems to mean all things to all men – especially our politicians who seem to badge anything they can as being part of the big society. Steve has contributed to the thinking behind the big society, and is clearly knowledgeable about it, but I didn’t really have a firmer idea about what the big society actually is.

I really valued the various conversations in between the keynotes – it really was all about the conversation.

There were two stand-out keynote sessions for me, one on each day. The first of these was Benjamin Ellis on thinking in a different way in the digital age. His self-depreciating manner and knowledgeable but low key style were a panacea for the mind-weary. Benjamin described how the “We Generation” think differently from the “Me Generation”, mediated by social media and freely available data: technology has facilitated a move from tightly controlled behaviour to “barely-planned behaviour”, where small decisions can be networked to have a big impact. There are lots of issues here – especially for those of the “Me Generation” (like me…): our structures and institutions rely on hierarchy and governance, which social media and new conventions can sweep aside. Firms and organisations will be changed by this – as an example, Google means that anyone can more or less find out how to do anything: the need to know information has mutated to how to find it. This isn’t new – Benjamin quoted Johnson on explicit (what we know) and implicit knowledge (what we know how to find). Now, all explicit knowledge is on the internet – and this could be damaging for today’s knowledge workers. For Ellis, it is all about creating a narrative – curation is, once more the context.

The other stand out keynote was Andrew Dubber on curation – or, nore correctly, his stance on anti-curation. This was a fascinating talk. Andrew dumped his slides, deciding that he would just talk, sitting on the edge of the stage. He too talked about creating a narrative to make sense of knowledge – and in doing so, creating value out of making meanings. His stance is that the curation should be left to the user – the audience. Dubber works on collaborative projects with musicians (such as the Jura Project and Aftershock), and he throws everything into the mix, putting everything online. The creator curates, and so does the audience: we decide what is valuable and what isn’t.

I don’t fully subscribe to this idea – when we create something, we are deciding it has some value, and in putting those creations into social media – like me putting photographs on flickr – we are making a statement that we think the media are worth showing. But the talk was fascinating, and I have been thinking about what Andrew said a lot since. It clearly made an impact!

Change Management: an oxymoron?

When people ask what I do – which has happened a lot in the past couple of weeks as I chatted to people at ConnectingHR and LikeMinds – I invariably say that I work in change management.

But I always feel a bit of a fraud when I do this, for two reasons.

First, I am not sure that one really can manage change.

Second, I worry that by calling myself a change manager, I’m allowing someone else – someone who should be out there, dealing with business issues like change – off the hook. By setting up “change management” as a specific role – a profession, even – it lets people who should really be getting involved say, “he’s the change manager, so it isn’t my problem”.

So, first thing first: can one really manage change? Change is, of course, a constant: it affects every organisation – every person – out there. People change, day by day; and organisations change, too. In a competitive environment, things are changing the whole time. People, products, markets – all change.

Change management is about helping organisations cope with change in a measured, controlled way. The problem for me is that this gives organisations the illusion of control. But change isn’t like that. An organisation might set out to change, having an ultimate goal; but like a boat sailing, making allowances for the wind and the uncertainties of the tides, where they end up might be completely different.

The thing is, they have to try – otherwise, buffeted by wind, dragged by unknown currents, they would be lost.

Any organisation thinking that, once they’ve embarked on a change programme, they’ll get precisely to their destination will come horribly unstuck. You can’t actually control change like that: that’s not the way it works. Whatever kind of control freak your organisation hires, they can’t control change – they have to work with it. “Change management” doesn’t really describe what goes on.

Most change programmes are centrally devised, but implemented in a distributed fashion. I have worked on change programmes in both the private and public sectors; the people actually making the change happen – those directly affected by the change, were far-removed from the central teams planning the change. However strong a lead the centre gives, what is actually implemented will probably be very different to what was envisaged.

This is not necessarily a bad thing – indeed, if you want change to happen, you have to engage with those delivering it: involving those affected by the change is essential – but what they actually do might be quite different from what the centre designs: an interpretation of an interpretation of an interpretation.

So: change is going to happen, whether you want it to or not, whether you plan it or not – and it makes sense to have an idea – a plan – of where you want the organisation to go, because otherwise you really won’t have any control about where it goes.

But be realistic: you have to try to manage change, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you can control it.

The second thing, then: change is going to happen; and it should be everyone’s responsibility, and particularly everyone in management. Lots of organisations now organise work into projects. By definition, they want something to be different after a project: otherwise you wouldn’t set up a project. Projects are all about change. You do a project because you want change.

But lots of organisations use particular people to manage change. They get people like me to help them set the vision, produce a plan, set up a change programme and manage – implement – the change. These change managers may be internal or, like me, external; we know how to work with change. But internal or external, once we’ve done our work, we’ll move onto other projects; and those who don’t – the managers and staff left owning the “business-as-usual” state after the change programme has got to wherever it ended up – will be given a get-out clause. They’ll be able to pick up whatever they want and say, “the change programme didn’t work”.

They can do this because they’ll be able to look at the change programme – the planned, controlled and implemented change – and say that it didn’t get to where they thought it would – it didn’t achieve what they expected. And because they are not responsible – because they hired me or used someone else to do it – they can pin the blame on us and not actually be held to account.

These two points are connected of course. This might seem esoteric; but it is important. Its explain why most government change implementations often fail – not just in the UK, but in the USA too. And, I’d guess, everywhere else.