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Bosses Aren’t Immune To The January Blues

January can be a thoroughly dull and dismal month, and if you’re feeling a bit down in the dumps, then you’re definitely not alone. The festivities are over, the weather is miserable, and there’s pretty much a full six months to wait before your summer holidays will come round.

Right about now, you’re probably considering your strategy for relighting a little spark in the workplace, and ensuring that your employees have some solid goals to work towards. You don’t want the January blues to take over.

This time of the year presents a great opportunity for assessing priorities, setting goals, and ensuring that all the right boxes are being ticked in terms of your HR practices.

We don’t have to remind you about the importance of those performance discussions again, do we?

Today though, let’s shift the focus away from your staff for just a second or two, and think about YOU, and how you’re getting on with your day-to-day tasks and responsibilities.

You might be crying ‘But I thought you were an HR consultant! Shouldn’t we talking about my workforce?’

And yes, we should, and we do, and we can support you when you have problems to fix, initiatives to roll out, or big goals to smash.

But the reality here is that running a business can be really hard work. There are a ton of plates to spin. Your to-do list can seem never-ending. You’re the leader of your business and you’re expected to perform at a high level and demonstrate outstanding leadership.

For you to be able to do all of this to the best of your ability?

You need support.

You need time out.

You need to protect your mental wellbeing.

Sure, you no doubt have big things that you want to achieve this year. But you need to make sure that you’re creating a plan that is sustainable, that won’t run you into the ground, and will enable you to hit your business goals without making unnecessary sacrifices.

At the moment, you might be feeling energised and ready to take on a new year. Or you might be feeling overwhelmed and a little stressed out.

What’s really vital is that you know where you’re going, and you have a way to get there.

Right now, we have a few spaces left for consultancy work in the early part of 2017. If you would like to have a chat about how we might be able to work together to drive your business forward, ensure you’re compliant with upcoming legislative changes, and get your business fighting fit for the challenges ahead, then get in touch today via or call 0203 627 7048 to chat about your HR needs.

TheHRhub: on demand and online HR support for startups and SMEs

“Alexa, how do I motivate my team this January?”

If you’re anything like my family this Christmas, then the newest member of your household will not have been a dog, cat or hamster, but something altogether less high maintenance: Alexa.

Essentially a voice service, accessed through the Amazon Echo (which sold into the millions this Christmas in the UK alone), Alexa allows you to receive an answer to any question you might pose to her by scanning the internet (think Siri here) as well as connecting to a list of services – known as ‘skills’ – which can be found through other apps you may be connected to on your phone or device. The list at the moment ranges from the non-essential but fun (“Alexa, order me a margarita from Dominos”) through to those more promoting efficiency which can link to your home electricity, lighting and heating.

While I could spot that this might be useful if you have your hands full when in the middle of whipping up a meal – “Alexa, how much double cream does this torte need?” (Jamie Oliver being an early adopter of Alexa ‘skills’) or “Alexa, play me Florence and the Machine?” (she retrieves from Spotify or ANother music streaming app services) – I poo-pooed this ‘house-present’ initially and considered it almost a total waste of money. After all, which able-bodied person hasn’t got enough time in their day to switch on a light or put on their favourite album??

A few days into her arrival at our house however, I became a bit of a convert. And not because she seemed to charm old and young guests alike. Or because I realised that I could actually be that totally lazy person referred to above if the need took me…. But because I could see how useful a tool like this could be when it came to my business as well as my personal life.

When I seek specialist advice advice, I do so because it’s just that: tailored for me and for my business. And as such I’m therefore unlikely to replace my accountant or solicitor with a computer for the foreseeable future (the caveat being the speedy progress currently being made in the Artificial Intelligence arena which may cause me to revise this statement in a couple of years!). However the idea of being able to ask a computerised ‘advisor’ to retrieve information for me or answer a question on a specific topic which I’m unfamiliar with, but which doesn’t need to be specific to me, is hugely appealing. Mainly because I can do it in real-time, without trawling the internet and without picking up the phone or needing to interact with others. 

The answer to the title of this post, for example, isn’t one which Alexa can answer right now (I tried 🙂 ) but which can be answered by a previous blog I wrote last year: ‘The WorkForce Awakens: Picking Your Team Up After The Christmas Break‘. It’s information which is applicable to many and useful to some. And therefore is exactly the kind which should be able to be delivered as a ‘skill’, from a verbal request you make. Particularly useful to those who are pondering and planning this January period, out loud.

Not the question on your mind? The more factual the better: “Alexa, how much can I claim for use of my home on expenses?” or “What is the minimum notice period I need to give an employee?”. While obviously I can answer the latter myself, the former is one which I end up Googling or asking my accountant every time I come to do my accounts. It’s not difficult to find out  (if you know where to look) but somehow is the kind of information which never seems to stick in my head, which is useful to me at the point in which I need it but which is not significant enough to me to spend any length of time searching for. 

I still find Alexa annoying from time to time – like most family members of mine I find she interrupts my sentences on quite a regular basis & doesn’t always listen to what I am saying – and essentially like many gizmos, is a tool for the ultimately lazy. However I’m with Amazon in spotting her potential for helping people  and look forward to having ‘Alexa’ as a new team member in the future.

Until that time however: “Alexa, what animal am I?”

TheHRhub: on demand and online HR support for startups and SMEs

Find out more about us at or give us a ring on 0203 627 7048 for a no strings chat about your HR needs.

Image: Amazon

All I Want For Christmas Is… Feedback?!

A healthy dose of feedback is unlikely to be at the top of your christmas list. But constructive, 360 feedback is the gift that keeps on giving and could be the key to unlocking the growth potential that you know is there in the business you love.

Sounds great, right? AND it’s free. No fancy pants online forms or expensive consultants required. A simple, round-robin email asking staff to detail 5 things you (or the business) do well and 5 things you could do better, would suffice.

In fact, asking for feedback is the easy bit. It’s receiving it that can be hard.

Here’s how to embrace feedback like the welcome christmas gift that it is….

1. Allow Time For It To Sink In

When we receive information that’s significant but unexpected (positive, or negative) our immediate response – be it shock, disappointment, anger, elation or whatever – isn’t always the most appropriate or helpful. Let yourself experience the emotion, and then release it and try to accept what you have heard more calmly and rationally.   

2. Keep It In Perspective

It’s not unusual for people to allow one piece of negative feedback to overshadow all the great things that they do and forget the positive stuff about themselves. (Similarly, I have worked with some people who only paid attention to the praise and disregarded important corrective feedback they were given.) So allow the feedback to add to the psychological picture you already hold of yourself, rather than replace it or skew it.  Again, this sometimes takes time.

3. Show Interest And Ask Questions

You may need to explore the feedback in greater depth, assuming you can do this constructively, without being defensive or threatening. In what situations have they observed you behaving in this way?  What was the impact or consequences?  What would they like to see you doing instead?  

4. Look Below The Surface

In an ideal world, all corrective feedback would be wrapped up in tactful language, and delivered in a supportive tone by someone we believe has absolutely our best interests at heart.  But it doesn’t always happen like that. Sometimes feedback is clumsily expressed, or comes from someone we don’t particularly get on with (so they would say that, wouldn’t they), or sometimes we think even with the best will in the world, they are just plain wrong to think of us like that.  What then?  Well – with tactless comments, simply look beyond the language at the essence of the message: there may well be some truth there, perhaps expressed harshly, but still a helpful point.  With the feedback from the person you don’t like – again, they probably have an important point to make, so look beyond any relationship issues and focus on what you can learn from their feedback.  Finally with the feedback you simply don’t agree with – well, be honest with yourself first.  Is there not even a glimmer of truth in what they say?  If the answer is – sincerely – still no, then ok.  But they have a perception, and they have been brave enough to share it with you (if that’s what they’re thinking, you’d still rather know, surely?).  So while you might disagree with their view, you do have something to work with in terms of that person’s perception of your style and how you might manage your relationship with them going forward.  

5. Don’t Get Defensive Or Argue With The Feedback

Instead, try one of these: “thank you for letting me know, I wasn’t aware I did that and I can see how that would look from your perspective”, or “thank you for telling me that, could you please tell me some more about my tendency to behave in that way” or if you really believe they’ve got the wrong end of the stick try “thank you for sharing that with me, I wasn’t aware that’s how I can come across, can I just explain more about what’s going on for me in these situations..” although handle this last tactic with care.  

6. Reflect On What To Do Next

Once you have accepted that this is the view held by your colleague, you can decide what you want to do with the information.  Don’t be too quick to either dismiss it or take it to heart – do it justice by fully reflecting on it first.  When you’re ready you can decide whether you agree, partially agree or disagree with the feedback.  Whichever you decide, you do need to accept that this is the view held by your colleague, and acknowledge that it might not have been easy for them to share it with you, so thank them.

7. And Remember You Are Only Human…

Just like everybody else.  You have enormous strengths and skills – otherwise you wouldn’t be where you are today, having achieved all that you have. However, in addition to this, none of us are perfect: we all have areas where we can improve.  So regard any critical feedback you are given as a chance for you to learn more about the improvements you can make, in order to be more effective in the future.

Being able to receive feedback constructively is a great skill.  Done properly, the benefits are like looking in a mirror: just as we take a look in the mirror in the morning before we leave the house – to check our hair’s ok and there’s no toothpaste down our shirt – feedback represents the truth of how we come across to those around us.  Knowing other peoples’ views of you and how you might improve is a hugely powerful lever to improve your effectiveness. Leading without feedback would be like going through your working life without ever checking the mirror. 

For help and advice on the HR needs of your business call us now on 0203 627 7048 or drop us a line at hello@thehrhub. Got a spare 10 minutes? Check out our latest ebook The Ultimate Step By Guide To Being An Inspirational Leader and find out how to lead like a superhero…

Image by Caitlin H

Magnificent 7: The Key Attributes of High Potential Employees

At some point, your growing business will require you to do some restructuring and introduce one or more levels of management. This will open up a great opportunity for you to develop a small proportion of your people into team leaders or managers – perhaps even into managers of managers.  Recruiting new managers from within is a powerful way to show your commitment to career development, it’s motivating for your staff, and it’s an opportunity to think about the kind of culture you want to encourage by appointing managers who exhibit the right behaviours and mindsets. Recruiting internally also reduces the risk of appointing someone who isn’t the right cultural ‘fit’ for your organisation. But it’s still a risk – assuming you’re looking at people whose management capability is as yet untested.

So what qualities to look for?  Somebody who reminds you of yourself?  Undeniably tempting, but fraught with obvious risks.. Someone who is super-smart and knows your product, or market, like the back of their hand?  Perhaps, but good managers need other skills too, right?  

Right.  But what skills – what exactly should you be looking for when spotting leadership potential and thinking about moving people into their first management positions?  What is ‘leadership potential’ anyway?  To save you wading through a load of leadership tomes, here are our top 7 qualities to look for:

1. Results-Orientation

This is a good place to start. In order for your business to succeed, your people need to perform. This means everyone understands what they are there to do and they’re focused on doing as good a job as they can, with your best performers keen to achieve ever higher levels of performance. While recognising that not everyone in your organisation will take this to extremes, an overly relaxed approach to performance standards and deadlines hardly sets the right example.  So when thinking about who to promote into a management role, look for people who are really driven to deliver results and move the business forwards. By this I mean they can point to a strong track record of delivery, rather than simply talk a good game.  Strong results orientation obviously should be tempered by..

2. The Ability To Get The Best Out Of Others

The very best managers are skilled in getting the best from their colleagues: they support their peers, inspire their teams, develop their people and regularly give feedback to people on how they are doing.  They are ready to praise and give credit for others’ great performance.  These are the people who show a genuine interest in others, work hard to create a sense of team, and motivate people through their enthusiasm and positive outlook. They are also the people who can..

3. Effective Communication Skills

High potential employees instinctively think about keeping others informed, like to build their networks, and recognise the importance of communication channels. They are skilled in adapting their personal style to the needs of their audience, listen well, and at the same time are prepared to communicate difficult messages constructively and sensitively.

While you can spot skills in communication and getting the best out of others in those with little or no previous management experience, this is obviously a multi-faceted human quality and few of us tick every box!  It’s not the easiest quality to master if it doesn’t come naturally but honest feedback and coaching will go a long way in helping people with leadership potential understand their strengths and take action on any weaknesses in these broad areas of interpersonal and leadership skills.  Another intrinsic personal quality for you to consider is..

4. The Ability To Put The Interests Of The Business Before The Interests Of Themselves

Managers must have integrity.  Do your employees base their decisions and actions on what will most benefit themselves personally, or what will benefit the wider team and the business as a whole?  Integrity, values and commitment to the success of the business matter: you need people you can rely on, and your employees need to see the ‘right’ qualities being role modelled and rewarded.  It can be highly demotivating for staff to see a colleague motivated mainly by self interest promoted to a position of responsibility. Look for people prepared to support colleagues, collaborate and compromise for the greater good of the business.  Finally, try to identify people who are…

5. Commitment To Their Own Learning And Development

According to Morgan McCall, one of the most influential thinkers on leadership development (check out his book High Flyers) learning underpins personal growth. It is, many leadership theorists believe, essential to career success, and particularly important is the ability to learn from experience. So try to identify people who have shown they can do this, and apply their learning to future new situations, building their professional capability as a result.  Look for people who have the confidence and ability to step into unfamiliar situations, who can quickly identify what information they need in order to perform well – and how to find it.  These are also the people who have the confidence to take calculated risks, yet are humble enough to ask for advice and listen to feedback. They are the people who reflect on both successes and failures and learn from them.  

6. Proven Adaptability Under Pressure

Business (and customer) needs can change overnight. You need people who can respond quickly to changing circumstances, think on their feet and change tack while keeping a cool head and bringing others with them. Self-regulation is not something everyone can do effectively  – and it’s a great way of sorting the wheat from the chaff ….

7. Show Strong Evidence Of Self-Leadership

Effective leadership starts with the individual themselves. Punctuality, for example, shows the person values their own time and that of others. Effective diary (and desk!) management indicates good organisation skils. Doing what they say they will builds trust with colleagues and key stakeholders. Also, keep an eye out for someone who has passions away from the office. It takes self-discipline to really nurture and develop interests outside of work and a healthy work-life balance often makes people happier and more effective in their roles.

Fundamental for you in this area of learning capability is the ability to recognise what skills they will no longer need to perform well as a manager. Too often employees are promoted to team leader positions on the basis of their past stellar performance as a team member – without understanding that many of the skills that led to their previous success and promotion are, if not obsolete, then certainly far less important to their future success as a new line manager.  It will be the key management skills of business awareness, strategic thinking, resource planning, objective setting, giving feedback and coaching and so on which will determine their success in their new roles as managers. Ram Charan’s The Leadership Pipeline is brilliant and goes into all this in far more detail.

Promoting people into their first line management role is a critical decision – not only for your newly promoted managers, but for the teams underneath them and your business as a whole. Get it right and you will start to build a capable and inspiring management team committed to growing both your business and its people.

For more tips on effective management and development across your teams, theHRhub team are ready to help.

We are the ultimate online HR support service for Startups and SMEs – providing software, templates, expert advice, whitepapers and up to date news and views, straight to your mobile or tablet. Like having an HR director in your pocket but without the price tag! Find out more about us here.

Photo Credit: Don LaVange

P.s – If you’re secretly wanting to give your own leadership style a bit of a kickstart and want to take some action on it, then download our new eBook: Leadership 101: The Ultimate Guide to Being an Inspirational Leader.


SME Leadership: Have You Got What It Takes?

What actually is a leader? If you asked 10 people for a definition you would probably get 11 answers. One of my colleagues once commented that (in relation to a leader we both knew) “he may not always be right, but he was always certain!”. And it made me wonder how leaders could be so sure of their ground.

For business owners, the first step in creating your new business is a leap of faith and hopefully a solid vision. This automatically qualifies you as a leader. But things get a bit tricky as you start building relationships and partnerships with others. It can be your own people or it can be suppliers or trusted associates that help at critical times – the point is, you need every person acting like a leader in their own area of specialism. And they also need to be thinking like a teammate even if the “team” is not strictly delineated. Since the start of this century, the trend towards partnerships has paved the way for a more collaborative style of leadership, but it can be a hard style to master:

It All Starts With Crafting A Great Team

Margaret Mead, American social anthropologist (1901-1978) was famous for saying “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

But how many people would it take? With only one person, it’s hard. But when you put that one person with four or five more, you have a force to contend with. All of a sudden, you have enough momentum to make almost anything that is imminent, actually real.

The hit 90s children’s TV series Power Rangers was based on a band of teenagers who possessed individual  super powers and came together to defeat any villain. A compelling case for encouraging diverse skills and talent if ever there was one. And it’s the same for you: orchestrating the make-up of your ‘dream team’ is the smart way to excel.  

Collaborative Leadership Starts With You!

Being a collaborative leader means juggling the balance between respecting and valuing the differences of a partner or colleague, whilst smoothing out some of those differences in the interests of making the relationship work.

The leadership principles listed below will help you achieve this balance consistently. Modelling self-leadership is the most powerful way to embed a technique and it is further reinforced when you mentor or coach others.

These are the habits of self-leadership:

  • Practice, don’t preach.
  • Observe and listen.
  • Stay connected to your intention for change.
  • Stay with the conflict – don’t avoid it. Resolve it…help creative options open up.
  • Follow your heart-do what you love, love what you do.
  • Keep connected to THE big picture. Talking spiritual may be a step too far for some but the idea is – it’s a big universe of possibilities and serendipity has worked its magic already – make sure you keep connected.
  • Nurture your own space of reflection that supports your life journey.
  • Iterate. Iterate. Iterate. Your focus will improve as possibilities emerge.
  • Use different languages with different stakeholders.
  • If you want to change others (other stakeholders), you need to be open to changing yourself first.
  • And never give up!

Practical Tips for Collaborative Leaders

  • Develop in collaboration, a common agreement about the objectives and how the relationship will operate.
  • Facilitate enthusiasm – and if necessary, make this a focus to get things started.
  • When things go wrong it’s important that you have created open relationship communications to discuss and resolve difficult issues.
  • Charismatic leadership is not the only way – collaboration is more about helping all voices be heard and agreements reached before acting.
  • Yes, it takes longer but creates stronger bonds to complete the goal successfully.
  • Finally, collaboration is about sharing control. Think about the consequences of too much control and aim to lead with a light touch.

For more tips on achieving leadership across your teams, theHRhub team are ready to help. We are the ultimate online HR support service for Startups and SMEs – providing software, templates, expert advice, whitepapers and up to date news and views, straight to your mobile or tablet. Like having an HR director in your pocket but without the price tag! Find out more about us here.

Photo Credit: Valentin Delaye