4. The Head of HR’s Experience

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In her own words: “We’ve been through a great deal of change in the last few years. We’ve had a lot of restructuring, which has had a huge impact on the businesses. When that happens, it can become the sole focus. And that’s natural. How can people get strategy into their heads when they’re faced with the possibility of losing their jobs? It’s been a tough time; I’m not surprised that the focus on strategy slipped.

Developing a plan and applying it in this context was always going to be challenging – really challenging. Typically, that process of putting a strategy together would have returned something like a Kaplan model. Through Padraig’s programme, they settled instead on the ONEThing Plan, which was preceded by the Hedgehog process.

Despite all my self-awareness, it took much longer than I expected to do my Personal Hedgehog and Personal ONEThing plan. I remember sitting down on numerous occasions and trying to work it out and just not being able to. It wasn’t until I was on holidays that it really started to come together for me. I remember I was lying out and it just came into my head. I was relaxed, I wasn’t thinking about all the other stuff that you have to think about in the normal course of a day, and I just got out a pen and paper and ended up totally changing my plan. I had a first draft for myself within a couple of hours.

I was trying to look closely and see of all the things that I do, what are the things that I enjoy doing? Where are my strengths, my real strengths, where do I really bring the value? Is this really what I want to do? Or where I want to go? Why is it me here doing this job and not the person that was here before me? When there was a choice to be made, why did they pick me? What did they see in me and then how do I see myself? Padraig has a particular style, and it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, no more than any coach or any mentor. To work with someone in that way, you have to be comfortable with them, to feel a connection. If you don’t like the person, it’s not going to work. The truth however is that Padraig and I got on very, very well. We had some really interesting discussions… but he is quite extreme. He pushes you hard.

I think we probably frustrated the life out of him at times… I know he probably felt, right, if I don’t apply the pressure, they won’t move it along, but sometimes he applied a bit too much pressure to the point where, at times, I felt like saying, ‘Listen, back off’, because we had a lot going on in the business. Yes, the programme is our priority but there were burning fires to be put out. They had to come first.

I couldn’t say, ‘Oh yeah, everything was fantastic’, because nothing’s ever perfect, is it? There are always bumps on the road. But the other side of that of course is that if he wasn’t pushing, maybe we’d still be back where we were a year ago, with nothing done. So it’s getting that balance. And it’s nailing down those things at the front, agreeing what does this proposal look like? What is it that we’re entering into here?

In terms of the ONEThing Plan, I think the engineers in the room struggled a little bit with it because it seemed a bit fluffy to start with. It’s about a mind-set, not about tasks. There are no hard deadlines, no hard milestones. You could use it in that way and turn it into something like that, but the way we did it was a total departure from how we usually plan. We would have had strategies in the past of course, and what you end up with is never going to be a million miles away from what went before. The market is the market; the customers are the customers and so on.   In many ways, it’s not about what form the plan takes, the focus should be more on following through on the plan and keeping the focus on-going. Keep revisiting it. Is it still alive? Is it still valid?

But forget about strategy for a minute. The journey that we went on together as a team was always going to be helpful. It meant spending time together working on the business. There were lunchtime sessions, set up internally to come together and discuss it, to talk about where we’re at, and about our Personal Hedgehogs. It did bring us closer together, which is always a good thing. The programme worked really well in terms of building relationships that weren’t there. Remember, the team was totally disjoined. We’re not there yet. I mean, I wouldn’t say that there’s a high level of trust in the team yet; I wouldn’t go that far but it’s certainly a long way towards that compared to where it was.

The deeper we went into it, the more the model proved to be really, really good. Everybody agreed that it was really beneficial to do your own Personal Hedgehog, to do your own personal ONEThing plan. We learned a lot about ourselves. And the ONEThing Plan works. It’s fit for purpose. I don’t know what people are doing individually with their Personal Hedgehog and personal ONEThing Plan, whether they’ve kept that going and kept it alive. I know I have, and I know I got a lot out of it. It’s been a very interesting journey for me.

We’ve ended up with a ONEThing plan for each business unit, which is being followed through on, and all that we said we were going to implement is being implemented. That’s the key thing, keeping it going, keeping it valid. Would I do it again? I would. I would certainly use this with other teams.”

Padraig says: “A great client; really open to the process. This person has a genuine concern for people but also is bottom-line focused at the same time – an unusual mix. She was under resourced, very stretched like all the team and probably working too hard. Most people have difficulty accepting feedback. She was very willing to accept feedback and I found that quite powerful. She was a pleasure to work with, and very much a champion of what I was doing. She worked hard to make it successful.”