Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Adding Parkruns C and D to the list

Over the last few weeks I've had the chance to add 2 more letters to my growing collection of parkruns I have completed.

Given that we were taking our daughter to an interview day at Cardiff Metropolitan that meant we were at the campus for 8:30am on a Saturday it would have been rude not to have taken the opportunity to do the Cardiff Parkrun a few hundred meters down the road.   A popular event with well over 700 people taking part made for a crowded start line though the field rapidly spread out along a lovely course beside the river.

Last Saturday a visit back to Durham offered the opportunity of a morning visit to the University Sports Centre at Maiden Castle for their parkrun.  I remember visiting the sports centre to play squash   but that was while I was at school so fair to say it was a considerable number of years ago.   Another lovely riverside course, though recently changed and hence not quite as described on the web site.   The finish line is some distance from the start and the route back is not 100% obvious.  Given that you don't get any marshals after the finish line I recommend you find someone who looks like they know where they are going and follow them - or do what we did and ask someone when you find yourself at the boat club.

With C and D added to the list I'm now up to 7 letters in my parkrun alphabet.    Will be back in Winchester for a few weeks now though I think aiming to cross that 30 minute barrier.  

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Parkrun tourism

Waterlogged fields at Winchester have meant recent parkruns there have been cancelled.  I've taken the opportunity to visit a few of the local alternatives.

This morning I ventured over to Basingstoke parkrun in the War Memorial Park and joined 570 others.  Almost entirely on paths around the edge of the park there were no problems with waterlogged fields.   Only stretch on grass was the walk from the briefing to the start.
First timer briefing 

Finish line

On New Year's day I headed down into Southampton to be part of the huge event they have there on the Common.  Mainly on tarmac paths round the park, squelchiest part was around the finish, collecting my position token and getting barcodes scanned.  Notable for being the first park run where I've finished before 200 other participants....mind you it was also the first time I've had over 680 finish in front of me !
after the finish

My first exploration of other Hampshire parkruns was on 30th December when I visited Eastleigh and their decidedly muddy course.   Pretty much all on grass and the only one so far when the welcome briefing included mention of a water jump !  Good fun though and a chance to try out a new pair of trail shoes designed for just that sort of terrain, and happy to report they worked very well.


Finally for this post, and not due to a cancellation in Winchester this time but rather due to being in Great Yarmouth staying with friends for the weekend, my first piece of parkrun tourism was a visit to Gorleston Cliffs back on 18th November.  The course description mentions how you have to "climb the cliffs" on one of the circuits but don't be put off by that .... these are Norfolk cliffs.  Terrific location for a parkrun, great to be alongside the sea.


I saw mention recently of someone who'd completed the A-Z parkrun challenge which I'm assuming is to complete at least one parkrun starting with each letter of the alphabet.   With my recent tourism I'm now up to grand total of 5 ( B, E, G, S, & W).

Saturday, 16 December 2017

From oxymoron to 32:21 on a frosty Saturday morning

On 9th September I tried my first Parkrun.  As part of celebrating my 51st year I was looking for new things to try and had seen various friends referring to Parkruns on social media.  So, I turned up at 9am at Winchester's North Walls Recreation ground and joined the first timers' briefing.   After that we had the welcome and notices from the event's run director and then we were off.   I made my way round the course, mainly at a brisk walk, and posted a time of 40:12.   I don't recall any occasion over the preceding 50 years when I've taken part in a timed event like this, and indeed was firmly in the camp that "fun run" definitely belonged on the list of oxymorons.

Well....that seems to have changed.  Here we are just over 3 months later and I've completed my 10th Parkrun.  Having started walking most of the course on that first go, things have gradually changed to the point where I can now complete the full distance without resorting to walking pace.  Time has come down steadily as well and last 3 times have been sub 33 mins.

I've been really taken by the friendly atmosphere of the Winchester event and the sense of being part of a wider movement.  I also love all the stats and how I can see the progress over the weeks.

I'm enjoying my weekly Saturday morning runs and even a few months back I'd not have imagined me saying that :-)

I  expect the rate of improvement in my times will slow down but have my sights firmly set on the 32 minute barrier in the coming weeks and would be great to get below 30 mins before next September - see, I told you I loved the stats!

Saturday, 25 February 2017

June / July 2016 Reading

Playing blogging catchup ... some notes from books I was reading last year...

Beyond HR: The New Science of Human Capital by John Boudreaux and Peter Ramstad

Written in 2007 ..from the preface “This book describes our vision of a future where the issues of talent and how it is organised get the attention they deserve, the kind of deep and logical attention worthy of a resource that’s vital to strategic success.”

In the book the authors argue for a new decision science for HR and provide frameworks to guide its introduction.  They note that rather than having a clear focus on business strategy outcomes the HR function is instead focussed on score cards that focus on costs and activities… HR cost per unit of revenue, ratio of total headcount to HR headcount etc

They make the interesting observation that in the early 200’s lots of organisations adopted performance management systems that were based on stack ranking ( 20% top performers, 70% middle, 10% low).  What could the strategic or economic shift be that caused all of these companies to adopt the same approach?  Answer of course is that it was actually the publication of Jack Welch’s book on management at GE which included this approach.  GE was successful, we want to be successful so we should have the same performance management approach seemed to be what happened.  What was it though about finance and marketing departments that meant they weren’t expected to adopt GE’s approach in those disciplines - why the focus on HR.  Could it be down to a lack of frameworks in HR for determining how decisions like this should be taken?  

I also particularly liked when they suggested that organisations should ask themselves how worried they would be if their competitors had a copy of the company's HR strategy?  How would that feel compared to them having a copy of the finance or marketing strategy?   If you aren't as concerned about the HR strategy being known does that say something about how strategic you view it to be?

Human Resources in the 21st Century edited by Marc Effron, Robert Gandossy and Marshall Goldsmith

The book is a collection of chapters by different authors drawn from the editors' contact lists.   The theme is around how HR will change as it comes to terms with forces that are driving change across the corporate world.  Issues of speed, technology, complexity, globalisation, demographics etc all substantial changes to the dynamics of organisations.  How will HR evolve and morph in the 21st Century.  Includes a chapter by IBM’s Randy MacDonald, as I read more books in this area it is interesting how often I come across case studies/quotes/chapters relating to IBM.

Is this the End of HR? by Stan Davis p 240   Talks about how in the mid 1960s industrial relations was starting to morph into personnel.  The shift in wording linking to a more enlightened era for company’s approaches to the people who worked there.  “Industrial Relations” had been the theme since unions were formed around the 1920’s-1930’s.   From then through to the 60’s the concern of firms was on their “labour relations”.  In the 60’s we see emergence of a focus both on the administration of employees entitlements - pensions, benefits etc and a focus on training and development for the staff.  The personnel label lasts through to the 1980’s where we see emergence of human relations.  Here again the name change reflects a shift in attitude.  Underlying philosophy now recognises that employees are very important to the success of an organisation.  “Trust, cooperation, and Theory Y replaced confrontation, negotiation, and Theory X."

How to Manage by Jo Owen

I was asked to read this book as part of the Chartered Management Institute’s Management Book of the Year award.  I liked it and was pleased to see it make it onto the shortlist for the Practical Manager category.

The book covers 3 areas of management, providing sensible advice in each.
  • Rational Management concerns the skills to deal with problems, tasks and money
  • Emotional Management concerns the skills to deal with people
  • Political Management concerns how you acquire the power to make things happen
The author’s thesis is that all three are needed for success and that all can be developed.  Concepts are presented but the clear focus is on the practical challenges faced by managers and what steps can be taken in response, this is particularly true in the section on political management.   The writing is clear, succinct and refreshingly candid, which means that a lot of valuable advice and guidance is fitted into the text.  Relevant mini case studies are included to illustrate key points and demonstrate how the concepts can be applied.   I would certainly recommend this book to anyone starting out in management and to anyone with experience of the role who wanted to take a step back and consider how to further develop their capabilities.

One sentence I particularly liked on the importance of keeping things simple ... “The best strategic thinking is very simple: clever people make things complicated; really clever people make things simple.”

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Postgraduate Research Winter Symposium at University of Winchester

Today I attended my first post graduate research symposium for University of Winchester students.   It was a terrific opportunity to listen to a series of 20 minute presentations on a wide diversity of research topics and to spend time chatting with fellow students on what they are doing.

Here are a few short notes on the 10 talks we had during the day that give an indication of what was covered.

Investigating endings - looking at endings in novels that have been short listed for the Booker and Costa prize since 2000.  Different sorts of endings, different approaches of writers - including one who starts writing a novel by writing the last sentence.   Given that some people will start a book by reading the ending it made me wonder if authors might respond to this by creating last lines that could make sense as an end to the novel and yet if which read first would purposefully send the reader on the wrong track.

“I Love you, guys” - looking at inclusive masculinities in a Californian High School Cross country running team.  Exploring issues of attitudes to homosexuality and how that impacts on displays of masculinity - if homosexuality is not socially acceptable then this could lead to hyper macho displays of masculinity as boys/men seek to avoid any suggestion that they might be gay.  Introduced me to a new term “homoerasure” when society denies the very existence of homosexuality.   Interestingly in this context there may actually be greater acceptance of less macho behaviour.

The effects of anxiety and depression on eyewitness memory - this one struck me as hugely ambitious research activity given the breadth and detail of what was being studied as it will cover perceptions of legal professionals as well as questions of how people perform in interviews, video identification lineups and under cross examination.

The next topic was a case study of the Whitney Plantation and how it represents slavery from the perspective of the slave and not, as is more usually the case, from the perspective of the plantation owner.  Powerful talk based on the speaker’s experience of having visited the plantation and clearly having been deeply affected by it.   Reminded me of my visit to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg a couple of years ago - you can read about periods in history but there is something deeply impactful about visiting the place.

Thomas Jefferson and slavery -  exploring paradox of man who penned US Declaration of Independence and promoted abolition of slavery yet held views that blacks were inferior to whites and owned slaves through his life, was opposed to interracial relationships and yet had 6 children by one of his slaves.  

John Rawls and his theory of justice - talk from someone who has recently started their doctoral journey so this one was more of a scene set on Rawls and "contractarianism" then their own research findings.

Presentation on career paths post PhD - given by first person who graduated with a PhD from University of Winchester when it became able to grant its own research degrees.   Interesting examples of how engagement in the right networks led to opportunities.  Also reference to article that compares structure of academic roles in the UK with how drugs gangs are organised - lots of poorly paid insecure roles at the start taken by people hoping to be the ones who succeed and breakthrough to the better stable roles further up the hierarchy.

“Embodying another’s memory” was an interesting investigation by the speaker into her father’s past in war time Poland.   Again the impact of visiting the place came through and how she had discovered a very different narrative to his life when she investigated what had happened compared to what he had told them.  Fascinating how he seems to have woven stories from his family into his own life story when presenting it.

The Last Judgement mosaic on West Wall of Torcello Cathedral, Venice was a detailed exposition of the iconography and meaning of the various complex elements of this 11th Century mosaic.  Astonishing level of detail on the individual elements and how they might have been intended to be “read” by the people viewing it.

Last talk of the day explored how different types of dual-task performance would have different effects on novel skill acquisition.   As an example consider people learning for the first time how to play an Xbox game.  Experiment then looks at how ability to learn how to play the game ( bowling in this case) if that is the only thing you have to do vs learning to play game while also counting backwards from 300 in 3’s vs learning the game whilst listening out for and responding to an audio beep that is played periodically.   The underlying research question is whether an exploration of this sort of dual-task approach could improve how stroke patients are helped to relearn tasks that can lead to greater independence and improved recovery.

All in all a very interesting day and I shall certainly be looking out for the next symposium.  As well as learning a lot about such a range of topics and feeling a sense of inclusion into the research community at Winchester, it was also good to reflect on how my own identify as a researcher and DBA student has evolved over the last year.   More than once I was able to think of things I had read in my own research which had relevance or informed me about something being presented.   Was also a whole lot better placed to cope with some of the more social sciences style of language used by some of the presenters.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

What I've been reading - May 2016

Got through a few more books this month - combination of complete books read at home and others where I have read portions of them in the library.

Starting with the ones I read completely...

Hard Facts, Dangerous Half Truths, and Total Nonsense - Pfeffer and Sutton

Terrific book which makes the argument for Evidence Based management.  Often times we operate based on false assumptions and beliefs about what works - this could be from perceived wisdom or anecdote.   Authors argue for basing decisions in fact, inspired by evidence-based medicine.  They include a range of areas of management and consider how conventional thinking may not be helping.

Well worth a read but be ready to have your assumptions challenged.

Creating a Strategic Human Resources Organization: An Assessment of Trends and New Directions by Edward Lawler and Susan Mohrman

This book is a report on the Center for Effective Organisation's thirs study of the HR function in large corporations.   It dates from 2001 so not current but interesting to see what trends they were starting to see then.

They focus in particular on whether the HR function was changing to become more of a strategic business partner in the organization and the extent to which is was becoming a "value-added contributor to organiizational performance".

The book introduces the study and provides some high level observations before diving into the detail of analysis of the responses they got to the study.  Having performed similar surveys previously they can do some interesting comparisons and trend identification.

Transformative HR by Boudreaux and Jesuthasan

The book looks at how an evidence based approach to change can be taken in HR.  They look at examples where the seemingly obvious answer is not the best one as it is based on partial information and a lack of understanding of context.

They propose that there are 5 principles of Evidence based change.
  1. Logic-driven analytics - understanding that one set of measures does not apply universally.  
  2. Segmentation - Arising from the logic driven analytics we may find that one group of employees is very different from another.  This then leads to the principle of segmentations.  “HR must understand where segmentation is vital to the organisation and where it is less necessary.”  However need also to avoid over segmentation.
  3. Risk Leverage - interesting dimension this one as it focusses on not simply reducing the risk but rather knowing when to take the risk and when not.  If we focus just on the risk of someone leaving the organisation then we may decide not to train them or grow their skills as this could lead to them leaving.   That may be the right approach but we need to think also about the risk that if they are not trained we loose out on the possibility to move them to other roles in our own organisation.
  4. Integration and synergy - rather than treating parts of the organisation as closed systems we will want to look at broader cross organisational concerns as well.  
  5. Optimisation - this is around making the right investments in the right places to maximise our return.  Hiring the best qualified person for the job may make sense in some roles where we require instant high performance but in others areas there may be more scope for a different approach that brings people in and then grows them in the role.
They also introduce the concept of ROIP - return on improved performance.   This starts by thinking about what the impact would be if the performance of employees in a particular group was improved.  This is a different approach to thinking about who the most important people are in the organisation or indeed those who deliver the greatest value - what we are looking for here is the incremental return potential of improved performance that we could invest in generating.

... and now the ones in the library ( 2 online in the Bodleian and 3 in the Sainsbury Library at the Oxford Business School ) ....

Online first

Fitz-Enz, Jac THE ROI of human capital : measuring the economic value of employee performance - 2000

This author has been writing on measurement in HR for a long time - indeed he is credited as being the first to argue that HR should be measuring the impact it has on the overall business.

Very practical book with lots of details on different metrics that can be used.  Including range of models of human capital eg Human Economic Value Added,  human capital revenue factor,  human capital cost factor etc -  all formulaic metrics based on finance data and HR measures such as absenteeism rates, salary, benefits etc.

He notes that "Measurement of the effectiveness of human capital has been conspicuous by its absence in corporate financial reports.  Only with the advent of the balanced scorecard has there been any attention paid to this most important of resources.  the single typical measure, revenue per employee, is simplistic and out of date. " (p58)

Predictive analytics for human resources 2014 Fitz-Enz & Mattox

As noted above Fitz-Enz has written a lot in this topic area and this book builds on that previous writing but moves beyond descriptive analytics, that tell us about what has happened in the past, to predictive analytics which show us clues of likely future outcomes.  Suggests the Lorenz waterwheel as a metaphor for employees joining a company, moving around inside and then exiting at some point.  Recommendation of James Gleick's book Chaos... watch out for that in a future blog post.

... and finally 3 other books I reviewed in their physical form...

Human Capital Analytics - Pease, Byerly & Fitz-enz

The book focusses on predictive analytics which will not only measure impact but also help to optimize and prescribe future investments.  They suggest that " The human resources industry is just beginning to grasp the value of understanding its human capital and evolving from a shepherd's role to one that can bring change and add significant strategic value."  (p xi)

Mentions how HR has moved from monitoring transactions ( what did it cost to hire someone, train them, pay them etc) to performance monitoring ( how might a change in hiring process affect employee performance) and then to how do we compare with others.

Chapters focus on 
  • alignment - positioning human resources organisation as a strategic partner in support of the business.  Need to get broad range of stakeholders on board and also how you need to agree on the measures of success.
  • the measurement plan - map out the investments ( what are we going to do, training event, recognition program etc), what are the leading indicators that will suggest we are on track ( these are non financial measure - could be employee engagement for example), what are the business results ( KPIs .. these are tied to financial value.) , strategic goals ( desired end results of our initiative/set of initiatives... likely to be expressed in terms of improvements in revenue or costs )
  • data - types of data, linking datasets together to get broader view,  understanding which data you can use will be important part of discussion early on in the project.  Beware issues of people wanting to prove an assertion that they believe to be true - an analysis project that sets out to prove value of some initiative rather than seeking to understand what value it is bringing.  
  • descriptive statistics - these are the start point and ensure we are all talking the same language.  Watch out for commonly help views that are actually no longer correct.
  • causation - just because things are correlated doesn't mean causal link - has great example of number of firefighters called to attend a fire and the amount of damage done.
  • sharing the story - how to communicate what you have found.  
They conclude "We are at a moment in time where theories about human capital, the amount of data available, and the computing power necessary to deal with the data are radically changing how business is done." (p155)

The New HR Analytics  Jac Fitz-Enz

Another book from this author - I told you he wrote a lot on this topic !

Interesting structure to the book with discussion of each topic area by the author followed by a series of essays from other contributors.

The book is about predictive management  or what they term HCM:21 which is the outcome of an 18 month study called the Predictive Initiative.  4 phase process from scanning the marketplace through to an integrated measurement system.  in middle we have addressing workforce and succession planning and optimizing / synchronising the delivery of HR services.

Introduces a five steps approach to analytics

1- recording our work ( ie hiring paying, training, supporting, and retraining) - learnign through measurement about how efficient our processes are 

2 - relating to our orgaization's goals (ie quality, innovation, productivity , service) basically the fundamental goals fothe organization

3 - Comparing our results selves to others ( ie benchmarking) needs knoweldge of the details of who we are comparing to and what we are looking at but can help us to develop

4- understanding past behaviour and outcomes ( ie descriptive analytics )   looking for and describingg relationships that we find in the data but without ascribing meaning to any patterns.

5 - predicting future likelihoods ( ie prescriptive analytics) 

Casccio & Boudreau Investing in People 2nd edition 2015

This book has detailed chapters looking at financial impacts of key areas of HR.  Lots of worked examples and data from companies in a range of industries.   Would probably make a good practical guide if you were starting out to do analysis of your own organisation in one of these areas.

They note that "the current state of the art in HR management is heavily dominated by efficiency measures" and suggest that their book will help instead to look at effectiveness and impact.(p7)

Sunday, 25 September 2016

What I've been reading - March / April 2016

A slower couple of months on the reading front so combined into one ...

Predictably irrational by Dan Ariely

Really enjoyed this book.  As the cover puts it …. “In a series of illuminating and groundbreaking experiments, behavioural economist Dan Airely demonstrates how expectations, emotions, social norms and other invisible, seemingly illogical forces skew our reasoning abilities.   Not only do we make astonishingly simple mistakes every day,,but we make the same types of mistakes.  We consistently overpay, underestimate and procrastinate.  We fail to understand the profound effects of our emotions on what we want, and we overvalue what we already own.  Yet these misguided behaviours are neither random nor senseless.  They’re systematic and predictable."

Not going to argue with that - fascinating read,

The book is full of examples of intriguing experiments that have been run.  In one case undergraduate students were recruited to take part in an experiment.  In the first part they were to solve some anagrams.  When the'd done this they were told that the experiment had a second part and that they needed to go down the corridor to another room to complete it.  What was actually being studied though was simply how long it took them to walk down the corridor to the second room.  Some of the participants were given words to unscramble that could be associated with “elderly” - US experiment so examples included Florida, bingo, ancient etc.  The people primed with the elderly words had a considerably slower walking speed to the next room than the control group that was not primed in this way!

In another example they explore how satisfaction with your food in a restaurant can be best assured by being the first person to order!  ( That way your order is not influenced in any way by what people before you have said).

Big Data by Bernard Marr
The world is getting smarter and big data is at the core, we increasingly leave a digital trail and this can be analysed by increasingly smart analytic software.  “Big Data” is often talked about and the huge volumes of information that is being gathered.  Arguably though the value is not in the volume but rather in the things that can now be done with that data.

The book provides a SMART framework for Big Data
  • Start with strategy - get clear on what you want to achieve, and what questions you want to answer
  • Measure metrics and data - understand different sorts of data ( structured vs unstructured, internal vs external etc), think though what sources of data you need to answer your questions
  • Apply Analytics - use the appropriate analytic tools to process the data
  • Report your results - think through how the data will be visualised, lots of new ways being developed that can be used to enable people to see the data.
  • Transform your business and decision making - gain fresh insights into your customers, internal processes, people.

The author has also written “Big Data in practice” - a collection of 45 case studies showing how companies are applying Big Data and analytics to their businesses.   Given my focus on the application to HR it was interesting to note that none of his 45 case studies are from that area.  

The HR Scorecard Linking People, Strategy, and Performance by Becker, Hustlid and Ulrich

The book focuses on how HR professionals can take a more strategic view of HR and its contribution to the success of the organisation.  Issues of alignment and mapping how HR contributes to the business strategy are covered.  Important to note that as HR Scorecard is developed this is not a one off activity but rather something that will need to constantly evolve as the needs of ht business change.  

They draw a distinction between Lagging and leading indicators.  Lagging indicators reflect what has happened in the past, e.g. financial indicators.  Leading indicators, unsurprisingly, are things that you can measure now which are predictors of future outcomes, examples might include current customer satisfaction as indicator of future sales.   Using lagging indicators is easier but they compare it to trying to drive a car by looking in the rear view mirror.

Another important point they make is the issue of using available data rather than relevant data to drive decisions.  Will be tempting to use the data that we are already collecting to base decisions on but this may not be the data that you need.  Using convenient data rather than relevant data to drive your decisions may not be a formula for success.