A manifesto for everyone

Work – it should be simple….

Look me in the eye and say “good morning”

Know my name, even my first name

Listen to me, sometimes

Trust me to do what I say I’ll do, because I want to get it done well

Take an interest in what I am doing, even if you are only interested in the results

Consider the challenges I face, they wont be the same as yours but they will be just as important to me as yours are to you

Ask my views on something – anything – just because

Cut me some slack sometimes, I may not always be at the top of my game but may just need a little space – I’ll be back

Understand that I have a life, however simple and dull my stories would have you believe, outside of this place

If I come up with an idea that saves or makes you money, let me have a slice – I may be inspired to think of another one

Balance the view that sometimes I want to get on, and sometimes I just want to be

If I’ve taken some time off because a family member is unwell – remember, and ask me how they are, it can be a lonely place

Make allowances for the fact that I am human – vulnerable, emotional, unpredictable – and don’t behave like the machines and computers all around us – you can’t just reboot me, you might have to talk to me

Tell me how I’m doing – not once a year, but regularly – and give me some tips from your experience of how I can do better

Allow for the fact that I am probably not as bright or resourceful as you

Let me talk to my mates about the football at the weekend – we get a buzz, we feel good, we work harder

Make sure the place and the stuff I work with is safe, my kids want me home in one piece

Talk in a language I understand, not management guff (like forget “objectives” – what do we need to get done?)

Give me the stuff I need to do my job – I can’t cut down trees with a rusty penknife, or even a sharp penknife

Ask me how my weekend was, even if I would rather not tell you or I can’t quite remember

Make sure I can have a decent cup of tea and a healthy(ish) lunch while I’m here, and that I wont owe you more for it than you pay me

Say “thanks” – it makes me feel good, and if I feel good I try harder

Buy me a beer once in a while, I won’t spill it

And if all that happens – work will be great for us all


If change managers were organising Christmas

They would at first point out that they were not here to “manage” Christmas but to facilitate it using your natural skills and resources. Especially your financial resources.

The programme would see Christmas Day on 23 January, because they really should have been brought on board earlier to have been effective. If Christmas Day has to be 25 December, all contracted deliverables are void.

They would organise an all-expenses paid trip to interview Father Christmas, to understand his vision, motives and world view. In Selfridges.

Expectations would be aligned around a common goal. Like a heated massaging footspa, for example.

The importance of disruptive behaviour would be encouraged. Like drinking advocat.

They would convince everyone that without their involvement Christmas would be a total disaster, and that old habits like giving and receiving presents and pulling crackers would continue.

They would encourage the use of positive language at this time of year. Like “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year”. Nice.

Its important to be yourself at work.Post-Christmas party moral bankruptcy would be handled sympathetically, through the posting of pictures on a specially-constructed Authenticity Board. And Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

They would superimpose the Grieving Curve on the whole thing. The low point would be unwrapping the heated massaging footspa having asked for a PlayStation.

Carols would be replaced with crustacean mating calls. They’re tricky.

They would deploy a troupe of Associates (all available) to convince you that the heated massaging foot spa was far more what you wanted than the PlayStation you actually asked for, and that you are actually eternally grateful.

A session would be planned for Boxing Day on “letting go”. Of the TV remote.

The appointment would be extended until Easter to ensure all behaviours were bedded in, and that all of the advocat had gone.

They would be returning next year, free of charge, for more of the same. Because it was the best fun they ever had.

Back in 2015, Happy New Year!


Barefoot in the heart, part 10: the HRD

you probably don’t know me I’m the new HRD MSc CIPD here to dispel the legacy of personnel tampax and tea hired by witch trial fired by fax hardwired by policy deranged by iniquity its all changed of course now we are human resource the fanatical want to call us capital so we’re strategic not tactical but its comedic I know about human beings me want to be your equal your business partner your confidant your trusted advisor always on your shoulder the organisational direction your protection the quiet insurrection in your head the instead in your dilemma cracking the cemented code hacking fracking quacking the motherlode we’re all social media cupcakes now the stakes are higher we speak gen y they’re a limited supply no reason why born online with an endless capacity for the assonine we’re on the frontline in the trenches fighting the just war for talent filling benches with the itinerant/ambivalent/belligerent who end up leaving when they stop believing the inflated inculcated crap that led them out from the duvet and into the trap but they’re hard to find when you’ve been found out but when all alleys are blind we’ve still got Klout got an enviable litany of bullshit-free motivational inspirational transformational exercises oh yes a cacophony for success going to get crowned for turning this business around and when all else fails I still have the employee estrangement survey for an annual confirmation of derangement at the heart of the polis and through the monotony of my claim to a seat at the table I find solace in polishing the mahogany and crushing velvet for the backsides that reserve it through accidents of history the dream lives on in perpetuity but in my heart I am barefoot searching for identity and a place in posterity knowing my contribution would be immense if I could just be heard above the ambivalence so I fight push assert act extravert insistent bold but I’m a people person and it pierces my heart like a dart when you tell me I’m unapproachable distant cold

This post was first published in This time its Personnel: Humane Resourced 2 available on Amazon, all proceeds to charity

Not being there

No, I wasn’t at the event.

I didn’t read the liberty news on the train, free of the clasping jaws of the usual day, instead of the meeting action list.

I didn’t pause to collect the badge of awkwardness that I wear in my eyes as well as crooked on my lapel.

The promotional bag wasn’t mine to fumble through and discard all but the memory stick that I could stand in the drawer like the terracotta army. So much storage, so little data when it’s all just ideas.

I didn’t wonder at the discomfort of the opening stand, butter in a cold pan.

I didn’t feel the dislocation of the division bell, called from an entangled conversation to my seat, the momentary disorientation.

I didn’t feel the acupuncture of slides, the linearity of the message, the scattering of bullets on a marble floor.

I didn’t tangle with the ubiquitous frustration of the escherian stairs, the eternal ascent towards something meaningful, a stepping off point in which I could settle.

I wasn’t called on to juggle my thoughts, reflections, plate, napkin and glass with the struggle of searching for those I know, or those I don’t. And I didn’t have to worry about eating horseradish by mistake.

I didn’t wonder if I had been held underwater for longer than my burning lungs and scrambling claustrophobia could handle, such was my need for breathable daylight.

I didn’t feel the creases slowly stitching into my face as the day grew colder, and as the call of the mythical early train emptied the room.

And my spine didn’t ache from shifting in ever decreasing circles in a chair design for a set square, counting the loss of feeling one disc at a time, until the ache pillowed the spoken word.

I didn’t drink too much wine on too much coffee on too much expectation, and wonder whether next year I would expect less, consume less, and listen more.

No, I wasn’t at the event.

Was it good?


Humanity is a brand

In the midst of a discussion about branding a workspace, I found myself pleading the cause of humanity, and the need for comfort, warmth, welcome, ease. At which point came the realisation that we overlook the fact that humanity is itself the most important brand of all.

Consider the characteristics of a successful brand.

We are clear about – and continually communicate – who we are, what we stand for, what we offer – and why.

We are authentic, and even when behind a mask eventually reveal ourselves.

We are carriers of emotion, are driven by emotion, and make an emotional connection with one another and the environment around us.

We are of the same consistent genre, attracting loyalty and commitment – but each entirely unique, retaining an element of mystery and surprise.

We are full of energy, passion and life.

We stimulate all of the senses – sometimes we appeal to them.

We create so many conversations.

We have longevity, driven by evolution, adaptation and innovation.

Our very existence changes others.

In any environment, the overriding brand we see, feel and experience has to be human. Or what is it for?


The picture of futures, grey

He sat alone. He seemed to be the only person at the conference not peering apprehensively over a metaphorical shoulder. He caught my eye as I loitered gazing at the dog-eared manuscript sat across his lap, The Soul of Man Under Socialism. He smiled softly in my direction, perhaps a shared sympathy at the lethargy of the day, and the paucity of ideas. I imagined he was going to simply say “This is crap, isnt it?” It was a far more eloquent introduction.

“My dear chap, your workplace is a struggle for the soul. In the hundred and twenty years since I wrote this, the arena has merely moved from the theatre of grand politics to the denuded avenues of primary and secondary circulation.”

His assurance was calm, his assertion suffocating. And he had been listening.

“What, then, are we seeking that remains the same?” I asked hesitantly.

“To live, as an Individual. To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

“But we are striving for this. It may be slow, but we recognise that we need to base our decisions, our organisations, our processes, our aims around people. We here today are committed to it. These are good people, with a shared vision. This is the right place to be, isn’t it?”

“As when I wrote this” he rolled his manuscript as though a weapon “the obsession with private property changes nothing, as it has made gain not growth its aim. While we reach for gain, our aims will remain underfoot. So obsessed with property are we that we cannot freely develop what is wonderful, fascinating, and delightful in mankind— in fact, we miss the true pleasure and joy of living. The important thing is not to have, but to be.”

“But we are challenging the soul of our organisations, we are upheaving measured taylorist monotony. We are fighting the inevitability that previous decades would have us live tomorrow. As you said so yourself in your pamphlet” I gestured to the scroll “man is made for something better than disturbing dirt.”

I felt a little self-satisfied, quoting the icon before me in my own defence. He nodded his head sympathetically, and not without a little pride.

“Ah, disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion. Agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilisation. People like Perry Timms.”

“Organisations are becoming more democratic.” I responded. “The flow is with us, and will only grow stronger as the ideas gather credence and a practical footing. True, the germ-free hipster press don’t help, but its only a matter of when, not if.”

“The pursuit is foolish. Like so many ideas today, they gather pace before they have the oxygen to sustain them, they accumulate followers fearing abandonment, not those of conviction.” he laughed for a moment, drew breath and fixed his gaze on me. “Democracy is not your answer. Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people. And be careful that the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good.”

“So what is our hope?” I asked, by now expecting little.

“Our hope, dear chap, is Individualism. Not selfish, harmful or egotistical individualism, but the Individualism of the true artist. That is, the artist who shuns populism, who grows through joy. Your workplaces need to create, nurture, grow Individuals, to create only the opportunity, not prescribe the solution. The tyranny of the crowd – its “crowd” everything, right? – the collaborative, the artificial collectivisation of creativity is a damnation. Organisations and structures make only what is useful – while only the Individual makes what is beautiful. Art is the most intense mode of Individualism that the world has known.”

He leaned back, and appeared to survey the interaction, chatter, irregular clank of porcelain with sadness. He was lost in his own thought.

“And what of the soul of humankind? Why is the struggle here, in our workplace?”

“Its where the Individual of your age flourishes, or is lost. Not in politics, but in your social relations and your environment. Only when you realise this, will you think of your environment, your relations and your intentions differently. For now, all the rebellion and disobedience in the world is in vain. It is a mirror.”

In that moment I saw myself, or perhaps the parody of myself. As I turned my gaze to think, he was gone. We were summoned back to the conference. When everyone had meandered in, chattering, clutching teacups, lost in themselves, I dropped my badge in the bin and slipped away. I hoped I would catch him hailing a taxi, window shopping, sneaking a cigarette…. but the streets were already awash with the human tide.



Some of what Oscar Wilde says is taken directly from “The Soul of Man Under Socialsm”, some are his words that I modified, some I made up altogether because they felt right

Wilf has his appraisal

Wilf received the e-mail telling him it was time for his annual appraisal.

He was never quite sure why anyone bothered. Last year he got a C, with some comments on his good work and one or two things to “develop”. The year before he got a C, with some comments on his good work and one or two things to “develop”. Last year the things to “develop” from the year before weren’t mentioned.

Snaking back through Wilf’s memory, he had only ever got a C. One year when a very nice lady from an external company reviewed the appraisal system, he was put in a small group with people from other departments he didn’t really know as “flatliners”. He wondered if this meant he was dead.

He was asked to prepare for the discussion with Marcie, his “line manager”. Marcie didn’t know what he did, because she worked in another building.

Wilf thought about it, as he did every year.

He had worked hard, put in his hours, put in some more, and been a good friend and colleague. He compromised when he needed to, and enforced the regulations when he needed to. He went to all of the drinks. Everyone liked Wilf. And nothing fell over.

He hadn’t broken a new market – Kelvin had done that.

He hadn’t hit a personal sales record – Arnie had done that.

He hadn’t seen a way to remove 30% of the production errors – Pippa had done that.

He hadn’t re-organised his team reducing costs by 25% and boosting productivity at the same time – Kelsey had done that.

He hadn’t discovered and fixed a glitch in the financial process that was leaking the company thousands – Corey had done that.

But he had worked hard, put in his hours, put in some more, and been a good friend and colleague. And nothing had fallen over.

Just like every year before.

This year, Wilf got a D.


Cool is dead

It could be considered that for a couple of hundred attendees of Workplace Trends (#wtrends14) on Wednesday in London, it was the day we killed“Cool”.

How did we ever fall in love with the zeitgeist that is “Cool”? It is smothered in the tyranny of white, the compulsory daub of the age. It is slick, smooth, inexpressive. It is attached to its very own facial expression – the slightly muted smile, the narrowing of the eyes, the slow and controlled nodding of the head…. and then the stretch of the vowels into a term of admiration. In this manner, of what we behold we are saying we are unworthy.

The dominance of Cool has drowned out warmth, inclusion, adaptability, sensitivity, and our sensory perception (all seven of them – including balance and position). Its parrot-squawk has become a snowblind self-parody. We are bombarded with sprezzatura – effortless nonchalance, a grand deception. Hipstermedia has pumped us full of envy of desolately Cool workspaces where people are nothing but shadows and outlines.

Because in this germ-free world that’s how people are seen – interruptions, spoilers of the aesthetic. In the world of Cool, the environment is everything and people are nothing. The workplace is the star, it has its own ego, it’s vanity has to be fed with coverage.

Steve Maslin took the first shot at the hegemony of Cool with humility and quiet calm. He made us see the folly of so many modern workplaces through the perspective of human conditions we rarely consider, and implored we design as much for the psychological as the physical. I had considered that “activity” alone may be too shallow and we might consider emotional-based working but here we also had sensory-based working. Steve asked what our buildings might say if they could talk to us: I suspect they might be silent, offering merely a gesture of the hand.

As if to emphasise the point, Richard Baldwin of Derwent London showed with pride their Tea building with a smorgasboard of a Reception, immediately flanked by a staircase to the lesser gods. He also offered the garbled myth of the “TMT Sector”, that fairytale clique of stripped-down workplace Cool that allows developers to offer less, or worse still create to create “white collar factories” that conjour all the victorian gloom of a hipster workhouse.

In the post-lunch debate, no-one showed their hand for the one size fits all approach – not even the official advocate – but many in the room had designed, delivered or justified just that. Through the fragile confidfence of the vote against, it’s possible we don’t believe in what we are doing or are asked to do. Strangely at no point in the debate that was so one-sided that it dwindled into introspective lethargy did anyone point ou that size has nothing to do with it. As Gareth Jones had shown earler in the renders of four modern offices, whataver their size, they look identical in over-reaching their desire for Cool – like teenagers at Monday night’s “two for one” at the Top Rank.

If not Cool then what? Certainly not Penson’s ephemeral, edible, pick ‘n’ mix offerings crerated for “names” dropped like buttered snakes. There was something far more endearing about Franciso Vazquez’s “before shot” Lima office that spoke of vulnerable Bolivarian charm than the garish restatements that followed. Anne Marie McEwan implored us to remember what we had forgotten about rich our working relationships used to be, and how our workplace was defind by them. Brian Condon’s “curatorial, not janitorial” Centre for Creative Collaboration and Lloyd Davis’s sporadically-conceived workplaces like the Mayfar squat beautifuly christened the Temporary School of Thought illustrated far more of what “start-up” means – “small pieces, loosely joined” – than the over-designed, de-energised, airbrushed halls of the post-industrial leviathan that ape the Gaultier-clad middle-class rebellion derided by Perry Timms.

The Workstock presentations showed that we need the perspectives and input from those outside the normal world of workplace. In our own silos we don’t seem capable of working it out for ourselves and probably can’t be trusted to do so alone. Richard Martin’s peloton metaphor and Andy Swann’s tales of John the unwilling production manager illustrated this with wonderful lyrics – as did Cara Long’s mesmerising stories that illuminated the power of subtle changes at the margins of the everyday. Doug Shaw’s incredible mashing of song, performance art and wisdom, and Janet Parkinson’s pin-drop poetry silencing the social cacophony showed there are other means of expression and connection.

Somehow though the “big conversation” proposed in the final session to draw us from our silos feels too much like a onesie. Mass movements, banners and membership have done little for workplace in the past, and there is no evidence to suggest this may change soon. As Lloyd Davis suggested, “just enough structure – but not too much” might be all we need to stimulate the myriad of conversations that Euan Semple advocated.

We may not have proposed a viable solution to Cool but we started to point the way. If there was one message from the day, it is that we need an honest, human relationship with our space and our technology, be it in a workplace or in the wider urban sprawl. As Jon Husband pointed out, we are “in” the system now, not “of” the system. What we know is, we no longer want to be shadows. Cool is dead.


Red in the face

Ever wonder if we just try too hard?

The forcing of ideas and innovation is a 21st century obsession. We organise far too many events and gatherings to be useful, we build prescriptive spaces that do nothing but stimulate the opposite response, we demand unique solutions in our sourcing activities and scorn those who respond only with a commitment to effectively do what is asked – and because one might be led to believe there is something inherently wrong with absolutely everything, we preach incessantly about the need for new ideas. Red in the face and with an aching diaphragm, the results of this pressure upon ourselves and others is diminutive and unsatisfying. It never feels right.

In this unparalleled impatience, we have lost the art of allowing our thoughts and deliberations to ferment until ready. Breakthroughs are not made to order, new ground is not won through a scheduled and facilitated thought shower. Instead, they are nurtured in surroundings that work uniquely for us. Sometimes these environments are damp (the shower), cold (a long walk), sweaty (the gym), in sporadic and jerky motion (the bus), or are entirely new and surprising. They are often lonely, allowing the processing the outcomes of our interactions rather than at the time of the partaking – some of the words most powerful are those that re-appear in re-ordered illumination in a later moment. While our conversation and interaction are incredible ad necessary stimulants, we need to have the patience to know that they may end at just that for the time being.

In demanding innovation, we have perfected the art of spawning weak ideas, diluted by the demands we place on ourselves which are in turn exacerbated by the sum of these collective pressures. Beneficially, we might all cease at once, and stop trying to the turn the whole damn world into the curse of the age, a “think tank”.

We might lighten our spirits by putting away the flipcharts, post its and markers, and drifting into the evening subconsciously mulling it all over instead. We need to give our ideas time to form, to breathe, to strengthen, to let us know when they are ready – and to do this at our own pace, in our own way.

Thought is a natural activity. It arrives when its ready.


Archie: a workplace story

Archie was told that with the office move, it was all about sharing. Things that were once his now belonged to everyone. And by this decree, things that belonged to others now belonged to him.

When the packers came, everything that once belonged to Archie was put into crates with everything that belonged to everyone else. The packers seemed delighted, in a job that brought little delight.

In the new office, everything was the same. Same desks, same chairs, same lamps, same cupboards, same wires. He looked at his workmates, surveying the common sea in bemusement, and against the backdrop they looked even more irregular.

People who once all looked the same in a world of difference, now all looked different in a world that was all the same.

Archie struggled through the first day. He hid amid the confusion of cardboard, garish crates and lost umbrellas.

The following morning, the desk he had been sitting at was already occupied by Martin. The chair he had set for himself and wiped his sandwichy hand on, was being compressed under his heavy frame. The stapler he had filled and used was being used by Patsy, as she tried to force the hapless pin through a biblical report that no-one would read. And in the kitchen, Carmen was helping herself to a second portion of Archie’s Cheerios.

Archie had saved some tippex from the digital cull. Within the crevices of the day, he wrote his name carefully and obviously on the chair, the stapler and the cheerios. Flags in the sand.

The next day, Melvyn was leaning back in the chair with Archie’s name on. Cherie was clip-clipping finance statements together with the stapler on which his name peeped beneath her painted nails. Derek was pouring his Cheerios, bleary-eyed, distant.

The lines had been drawn in a different place, but were now invisible.

The morning after, Archie settled at a desk and calmly removed all of his clothes, folded them and laid them on the back of the chair, sat down, and logged on. He belonged to everyone else. He had a lot to get through.

No-one seemed to notice.