3. The Head of Health & Safety’s Experience

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In her own words: “The first session with Padraig did not work. It was very enjoyable, very challenging and highly energetic, but it didn’t work.

The purpose of that workshop was to begin developing a strategy for the different elements of the business. The theory was that we would each work on our core area, be it a business unit, or, as in my case, a functional area. We would develop what it was that we needed to do to support the business, to meet business needs and customer demands; essentially to get back to a point where we had a meaningful strategy.

The problem was that following the re-organization there was no clarity around roles and responsibilities. Team members couldn’t talk strategy because they were still struggling to identify their scope. And of course, there was the risk that if we developed a strategy locally, when we returned to the restructured organisation, we could be told, ‘That’s rubbish, we’re not doing that. This is what we’re doing.’

So the entire process was charged with uncertainty. Do we have the latitude to develop strategy? Do we have the support to do it? Will it be overwritten by another strategy? And so on… And that, I imagine, is why after that first session, everything changed suddenly. We parked business strategy and instead focused back on the individual, and started work on our Personal Hedgehogs.

To be totally honest, I was very unsure about this change of direction. Yes, there were good reasons why we couldn’t develop a business strategy, but why had we kick-started this personal development process in its place? I clearly remember sitting at a meeting with Padraig and saying ‘What’s the big picture? Where are we going with this?’ I’m interested in finding out about me anyway, that’s my natural inclination, but what I wanted to know was where does this – the development of the Personal Hedgehog – fit with the very first workshop, which was all about business strategy. How are these things all coming together? Because I couldn’t see it!

Padraig is very good at adapting and to be fair to him, the sudden change was a reaction to feedback he got following the strategy session. That feedback centred on the difficulty of developing strategy without really knowing myself, without knowing what I offer, or what combination of skills I have on my team. Between that, and of course the fact that the organisation was still very much in flux, we switched focus back to the individual from the business. So in terms of responsiveness, Padraig was very, very good. But that also gave you the impression that this was a learning exercise for everybody, Padraig included.

So now instead, we were going to build from the bottom-up as it were, and look at the individual managers first, then look at their teams, then examine what the business could do. As I got into it, I gradually came to see how good the Hedgehog actually was. I really enjoyed the process. It made me think deeply about what I’m doing, could be doing, should be doing, want to be doing, don’t want to be doing… so in terms of me as a person, sitting within this organisation and doing what I do, it forced me to work through things in a logical order.

I liked the tools that he used. I liked the way it all came together and I liked the one-on-one meetings where he continually challenged your thinking. I should say too that I think it would have been much easier for Padraig if he had come into an organisation that wasn’t undergoing as much change as we were. I think he constantly battled – and it’s no fault of his – the huge change that was running in parallel with his programme. The difficulty now is, even since Padraig helped me with my ONEThing Plan, change has overtaken everything again. I now have a different line manager and we’re back questioning the scope of the role again.

Having said that, the 6-month, 3-month and the 1-month activities on the ONEThing Plan, they’re quite operational. You know what it is you need to get doing and deliver on, so they are still helpful. The benefits of the Hedgehog are still there. That’s still very useful, not least in terms of generating ideas around what you can develop further or what you need to work on. At a personal level, that was very solid.

All in all, it was a great journey. Padraig is very responsive to his clients. He certainly didn’t come with a one-size-fits-all system that we had to be shoehorned into. Some consultants do that and that’s really hard for everybody. He adapted and learned and modified and that, I think, is why his approach is so solid.”

Padraig says: “I knew when I walked into her office that first day that I was in trouble. It was pristine. Everything in the right place, right down to the pens lined up to one side… It’s always interesting when you meet somebody who is a clearer thinker and better organised than you are. The first question she asked me was, ‘Why are we here? What’s the agenda?’ Very early in the process, I realised she’d be a very strong number two, a view that didn’t change as the engagement progressed. She was very strong operationally, very capable, very demanding. She always put me to the pin of my collar.”