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Your Dreams and The Pot

26 Sep

This time last week I was involved in a Sports Day with the kids at the Retrak centres in Kampala, Uganda.

 

They enjoyed playing football, pig in the middle, flying kites, volleyball, etc. I had forgotten how much fun it was to just throw a ball and run around.

 

What I really liked about all of the ‘play’ sessions and activities that the staff put together for centre kids and street kids, is that there was always a more of a relaxed sit-down learning session. This time last week I learned about ‘the pot’.

 

We all got into a massive circle and we were presented with a traditional clay pot. We were then given a piece of paper each where volunteers, staff and children had to write their dream on. We then started singing and dancing and passing the clay pot round. We dropped, one by one our folded piece of paper/our dream into the pot.

pot

After we had all put our dreams in, we carried on dancing, singing and passing the pot to each other, until a member of staff dropped it and the pot shattered into pieces on the floor.

 

I was so upset. I was upset that the gorgeous pot had broken. I was upset for the kids that looked upset. I was upset for the member of staff that had dropped it. I felt a sense of impotence and confusion that is quite hard to explain. I was surprised at my feelings and upset at the sadness the kids were feeling when asked to describe their emotions.

broken pot

Little did I know that this had all been planned. Why be upset about the pot? Why focus your energy and emotions on that? What matters are our dreams and our dreams were there, they were fine, they were unbroken. It was an excellent lesson on resilience and not losing focus of what is important and what really counts. The sense of relief and happiness after their explanation was palpable. There was hope and determination in understanding that no matter what is happening around you, no matter whatever might be shattering or falling to pieces, if what you want to reach is clear to you and you are focused and committed, you will get there and achieve your dreams.

 

group with pot

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Don’t be a D**k

25 Sep
It’s been hard to come back to reality and feel that I am not making a substantial difference to lots of people everyday. I was in awe of all the workers there, from the outreach team, talking to the kids on the streets and trying to gain enough trust for them to follow them to the Retrak centre. The nurses that deal with kids with nasty open wounds to potentially having contracted malaria/typhoid. The social workers that try and get to the bottom of any child abuse and explain to them what a ‘bad touch’ is and that ‘no means no’. The list goes on, they were all fabulous and working hard towards Retrak’s mission of ‘No Child Forced to Live on the Street’.
However today I witnessed something that both upset me and gave me some hope and purpose. My colleague Jonathan was walking on the street to the office when he witnessed someone verbally attacking and abusing a homeless woman on Peter Street. The individual was throwing her belongings in the middle of the road and asking her to move on from that pavement. Instead of walking off, Jonathan decided to get involved and urged the individual to stop his aggressiveness and leave. The person was so out of order that the police had to be called out and my colleague waited until they arrived.

 

This incident reminded me and really brought to life a conversation I had with one of the volunteers Sandhya Sharma. We were talking about coming back to reality, chasing business objectives and not feeling a sense of purpose. She told me that if only we looked after 10 people around us, then the world would instantly be a better place. This is obviously very true and we should all work harder to display more kindness to one another. Or to put it more plainly, just Don’t be a D**k to people! 

You don’t have to raise masses of money or donate if you can’t, you don’t have to give up your job and volunteer for no money. Just be nice. Be nice to those around you. The ripple effect that follows would surprise us all.

 

 

This time last week

24 Sep

This time last week I was in Uganda thanks to Retrak and #connectingHRafrica.

 

I had been looking forward to this moment for the last two years and I had massive FOMO in 2016 and 2017. When I was on the plane there I felt incredibly grateful for all the donations and support I had received over the past few months. My People Director and manager had actively encouraged me to apply and fundraising had not been as hard as I thought it was going to be. Kudos to my very generous friends, family and colleagues. I did it, I was on the plane, I knew what to expect as many people I knew had been on the trip in the previous years, but nothing had quite prepared me for how intense the experience was going to be.
We arrived on Saturday to Jevine Hotel and through dinner I got to find out more about the team that was with me. 10 HR professionals from across the UK, all excited to be making a difference. We were all together on the Sunday visiting Bulamu centre. This is one of Retrak’s centres for girls. Staff and girls gave us a warm welcome, although within the first hour I was brought to tears. First thing we did was an exercise amongst our volunteers: we were split into 3 groups. One group had to tie a balloon on them, one group were told to stay close to the person with the balloon and one group was told to try and pop the balloon. I had happily tied a red balloon to my neck and when group 3 started attacking me, I was left in disbelief that anyone would want to pop my balloon. I just stood there and allowed it to happen. Katrina also had a balloon and within seconds had ran away from the situation predicting that it was going to be bad news and that she had to protect herself and her balloon. It left us thinking that we both had a very different upbringing that left me trusting all people and possibly allowed me to become a bit naive. Katrina, on the other hand was always on the look out for danger and protection in unknown situations. This exercise made us realise what vulnerable children go through, how they are left confused and upset and how people near them are either not protecting them or not doing anything to stop the abusers. It was a simple, but very powerful first exercise. We then started meeting the girls, who one by one introduced themselves to us and shared their dreams and favourite subjects with us. I had to keep reminding myself that all of those girls, from the age of 6 had been subjected to sexual abuse. it was hard to comprehend as they looked and are children. When a 15 year old stood up and wasn’t able to say a word to us, that reminded me of what kind of traumas they are working with. She just stood there with tears in her eyes, looking absolutely petrified. Meeting the psychologists there and finding out about the group therapy and single sessions they do, gives you hope that some of them will move on from what they have suffered and will be able to lead a better life and achieve their dreams.
Next we played with them and whilst at first I was a bit scared of how I would be around a large number of children, spending only few minutes with them reminded me of how much fun it was to be a child and play. And I was pretty good at doing that. On my own or with other children. Some of these girls don’t know how to throw a ball and tell me that they simply don’t know how to play. To see their transformations in only a few hours and how much they were enjoying themselves and running around with kites, was one of the most rewarding things that have happened in my life. They were finally kids again.

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They were having fun and grateful to be able to play in a safe environment with adults. The girls were also very keen to dance with me, so I suitably embarrassed myself, creating lots of hilarity amongst them. It was just a brilliant day that left me ecstatic about the impact we made in only a few hours, but deeply angry and upset at adults. How could anyone do that to children? How is this possible? In Kampala, in Uganda, in Milan, in Italy, in Manchester, in England, anywhere in the world… How does child abuse happen? Why? What type of monster would do that?

Monday and the slum walk helped me understand. You hear about slums. You know it’s going to be bad, you know a lot of people are crammed in small spaces and you know it’s going to not be hygienic, however, nothing can prepare you to experience it first hand. It was dirty, it was grim, it felt dangerous and unsafe, but also at the same time it felt bizarrely homely. There was so many kids and toddlers around and you couldn’t have known how far away from their hut or families they were. There were babies looked after by 5 year olds, there was poverty like I have never quite seen before. Small houses with 15 people in them, kids looking for scrap, women cooking, unbearable smells, brothels with children in them, children and young people sniffing jet/aviation fuel, adults working in terrible conditions. Despite the shock of seeing what I saw and being escorted by two armed policemen, I couldn’t stop smiling and interacting with the very amused kids of the slum that followed us round. It was clear that they didn’t see a ‘muzungu’ (white person) everyday. They chanted ‘muzungu’ and quickly the word spread and we had many children and people around us. They know no different, that is their reality and they are still smiling. No point in getting upset or feeling sorry and as we all know, smiles are infectious. Once we left the slums I understood why children can be abused and are abused, when adults and families are living in those conditions. This is what I imagined Manchester to be like after reading ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’ by Engels. When he described the dirt and misery in Ancoats during the Industrial Revolution and how children, if they didn’t die were used in factories at a very young age. We are talking about survival, poverty and no other option but to be trying to survive yourself. So much so that sometimes kids are forced, but also have no choice but to volunteer in activities such as prostitution to help their families or single mums. We met Sonia in the afternoon, in a football pitch. She was an incredible girl, about to turn 18 and thanks to apprenticeship programmes offered by Retrak she was able to start hair dressing, get the tools to do so and stop prostituting to help her mum out. She now has a stable job, speaks amazing English and captains and coaches a girls’ football team. She was a great leader that luckily was able to change her situation and work with the charity to now support other kids and talk to them about the benefits of apprenticeships.

Sonia

 

Monday last week was a whirlwind of emotions. From the upset of Sunday to the realisation of how much work there is to do for the charity, how the reality of the situation actually is and the amazing work of the apprenticeship programmes that really help families make a sustainable change. it was truly inspiring and eye opening and I have felt very blessed to be able to witness the situation with my own eyes and come to my own conclusions. It was definitely a powerful start to the trip.

It’s that time of the year again – #CIPDACE16

4 Nov

It’s November and that only means one thing and no, it’s not the Red Cups from Starbucks or the German Christmas Markets popping up everywhere, it’s the CIPD Annual Conference. Wednesday 9th to Thursday 10th up here in chilly (wrap up warm!) Manchester. IMHO, this is the biggest and the best HR conference in the country.

Every year it offers the opportunity first and foremost to think about yourself and your own development. Us HR lot are the first to understand the importance of keeping up to date and learning, but we often forget to take the time out of our busy schedule to do so. We all need some time off to refocus.

This time last year, I was listening to Professor Cary Cooper talking about wellbeing. This prompted a blog post with some practical ideas on how to improve wellbeing at work. I knew last year that I was not leading by example. I realise now quite how badly I was looking after myself. I now know, looking back at how I was feeling this time last year, how much the office routine and my bad practices were really impacting on my health.

Reading the post today made me feel extremely proud of all the small adjustments that I have made and that have now become part of my routine and helped me feel better and perform better. I am mentally more resilient and I am happier. I am taking my lunch breaks, team meetings have been outdoors on nice days, I encourage colleagues to take breaks, have breakfast together and I’ve led by example. I’ve even joined our recently formed workplace choir!

I’ve realised in the past 12 months of how lucky I am to work for a company that will allow colleagues to sing for an hour a week, an organisation that allows yoga classes to go ahead, an office with free fruit around every corner and free breakfast. I know not all of us work for companies like mine, however it does start somewhere and it usually needs to start from the top. Are you a HR Director? Then if you campaign for a choir or fitness classes, you may even get a sign off and approval to go ahead. (please note that you may also get shouted at and lose your job…)  You can make things happen and then you can also lead by example. If you join the choir, this will encourage many more to do so and the company’s culture will slowly start changing. I’m seeing this happening every day. Are you a HR Manager? Then take your breaks, let your guys go home a bit earlier if they have worked hard for you and mainly lead by example.

I am excited to find out how #CIPDACE16 may change my life this year. I am looking forward to catching up with the rest of the blog squad that by using the above hashtag will keep the content coming your way in case you cannot make up your mind on what session to attend. No need to stress about it, we have it covered and you will be able to read up on what you have missed. I look forward to talking some more about change, uncertainty, Brexit, as this is already having an impact on our workforce and I look forward to the more light-hearted sessions like ‘Humour and Happiness for More Engaged and Effective Teams’. And I am really looking forward to hearing my first Italian keynote speaker and getting involved in all the fun events around the conference. Have a look at Gemma’s post here for 10 things to do.

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And just in case you need somewhere to reflect on all the great things you have learned or you need to catch up on some blogs on the Thursday night before heading home, Manchester has indeed got German Christmas Markets opening that day.

#connectingHRmcr n.8 + Ian’s 50th celebrations

14 Oct

Tonight was the night of connectingHRmcr and I quickly want to jot this down, before I forget what emotions I felt at this successful 8th Tweetup. I’m probably going to sound like a teenager writing in her diary and I might learn the lesson of not writing anything down past 11pm and after a few glasses of wine, but I don’t want this feeling to go.

It was a while since the last #connectingHRmcr and I was so grateful to see the amount of old and new Tweeps that turned up. It is always incredible to see how naturally this happens. Thanks everyone for creating such a friendly atmosphere. I think you could feel the warmth and love in the room.

This Tweetup was a bit unusual from our previous one as we also wanted to celebrate Ian Pettigrew in a special way. On Saturday he celebrates 50 wonderful years and we had to organise something special for him. We had to give some background around Ian and recognise him not just in front of some of his good Twitter friends, but also in front of strangers that were attending their first ever #connectingHRmcr event.

Nearly 3 years ago Ian and I met for the first time, after being Twitter friends for a while. We had many of the same connections and one desire, to meet our HR followers in person. We had heard of Tweetups organised in London and we went ahead and replicated it in Manchester. Since then we have not only met our followers, but we made great friends and connections. In so many ways, so many of our lives changed for the best. It’s soppy, but true.

People that know Ian, know how positive he always is, in fact every night he looks back at his day and thinks about at least 3 things that have gone well. This is a positive psychology technique that some of us use on Twitter with the hashtag #3goodthings. Our one and only Appreciateologist Dawn (yes, that’s one hell of a job title) came up with the fantastic idea of collating #50goodthings about Ian, for his 50th birthday!

The result was explosive (and OF COURSE we got more than 50!!) Thank you to everyone that took part and I’m really sorry for missing some people out.

ians present

A simple idea + a magnificent technology enabler Mike, who with his design skills came up with the fantastic way of displaying the #50goodthings and there you have it: a perfect mix of thoughtfulness and a true account of who @kingfishercoach is. He is all of it: the great friend, coach, the kind and positive person and the beans on toast, the strategic lattes, Happy Valley and Jake + Sue. That is a testament to how authentic he is both online and offline.

I could see that he was struggling to take it all in and I know how it feels. Sometimes, especially in our profession, from business/personal coaches to HR, we are used to make people feel special, giving them the tools to perform better and encouraging them, by pointing out all the great stuff that they have already achieved. We teach them how to give positive and constructive feedback to their team members to get the best out of them and we try and make them feel that they can achieve absolutely anything. It’s hard to sit back and take in great feedback about ourselves.

I realised this when I was one of the 400 people to be nominated as part of out V-Fest at rentalcars.com. If you haven’t heard what happened, we had a weeks’ long Values Festival to try and define our company’s values. You can read more about it here. One of the activities was to nominate someone that personified the rentalcars.com values and to explain why. Not only I was nominated, but I was one of the 10 winners. I have received the video of the Awards ceremony this week and my face and reaction taught me exactly this. We work behind the scene and we do great stuff and our recognition is our work, but boy it feels good (and weird!) to be properly recognised for it. It’s powerful stuff and it can teach us a lot. I most definitely did not expect that and it has been the highlight of my career so far.
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We are humble enablers, that preach recognition, but are surprised to get it. Well take it all in Ian, enjoy your #50goodthings and all the love and appreciation for you at #connectingHRmcr and all throughout this week. You deserve it and happy birthday!
ian
 cake

It was always going to be HR

2 Nov

September and October have been crazily busy. I had days when I could not stop for a minute to think what had just happened or how I was feeling. I finally found a moment today to look back at my 7 years in the UK. I was only 19 when I moved here for university and so much has happened since. These 7 years have been intense and I have set myself so many goals. I feel like the more I achieve the more objectives I want to have. In 2007 when I landed I only had one goal in mind: graduate in 2010. Believe it or not, I was an introvert back then, therefore I was also determined to survive the whole ‘living-in-a-shoe-box-sharing-communal-spaces-with-strangers’ experience.

And that is where it all began. I surprisingly loved living in university halls of residence. I loved meeting new people and sharing my journey with them. I was not thinking of a career, but when I suddenly got involved with associations promoting the learning of languages in schools and subsequently found a job as an Italian language assistant, I took up the challenge and once again, surprisingly, enjoyed it. I was making sure that my students were achieving the results they wanted while learning and developing in a stimulating environment. I was also being approachable and supportive and trying to have a positive impact in their life. I never thought of teaching as a career, but I was enjoying myself and finding it very rewarding.

I did indeed graduate in 2010 and thanks to all the connections made, I knew I wanted to stay in Manchester and look for a job here. I did find one and it taught me that somewhere along the journey I had developed a very strong work ethics and I took pride in everything I did. I discovered the world of work and I wanted to play a big part in it. I discovered HR and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). With the support of my employer I embarked on a whole new adventure and all of a sudden my goal was to obtain a CIPD qualification, a decent MSc result and be part of a HR Department in 2012.

I attended my first CIPD Annual Conference in November 2011, I sat in a ‘Social Media and HR’ talk where most people in the crowd had their phones out and were sharing what was being said. They were doing this through Twitter. I had to join and understand what all the fuss was about. I was excited to have found a large and supportive community. I shared their values and wanted to be part of it, it was simply perfect for me. I was humbled by the number of HRD’s that were willing to help out a student like me. I interviewed some of them for my qualitative study. Of course this ended up being on ‘Social Recruitment’.

Social Media did not just help me and some of my university colleagues with our dissertation; it also helped us find our first HR job. I saw a vacancy for rentalcars.com through my manager’s Twitter account and that is how I applied for it. I have now been at rentalcars for nearly 3 years as an HR Advisor. Social media did serve a purpose for me at the time as I got all the help I needed from it. Crikey, I even got a job interview and subsequently a job…! It was a tool that I used to connect me with the right people. People that I am still connected to. Thanks to those people I feel that I have developed as a HR professional in ways I could have not otherwise. The same people that helped me throughout my dissertation I now call friends and mentors. Some of them have helped me tackle challenges that I faced in day job. One of them is Ian Pettigrew.

I met Ian just after the annual conference in 2012 and we decided to start organising events called ‘Tweetups’ where HR professionals from Manchester and the North West could finally meet. When some of those professionals walked into the room, it felt like I had known them for a long time. Our first event was a success and since then we have organised another 5 #connectingHRmcr events.

Thanks to people met on Twitter and at #connectingHRmcr I was picked to live tweet for the biggest HR event of the year: the annual conference in 2013. The event’s hashtag was tweeted more than 7,000 times and more than 800 people tweeted in 2 days. This is simply incredible for those who are not able to attend and creates such a buzz and a sense of inclusion for those there. It is fantastic to have been chosen to be part of #CIPD14’s blog squad and I cannot wait to see the numbers and stats after next week. I see social having a more prevalent role in HR as the weeks go by, so it will be interesting to see if we will have more contributors and delegates tweeting this year! Eek, I am so excited to see what #CIPD14 has in store for us.

#cipd14 blog squad

This is my 4th annual conference and I am sure that many will agree that it is inspiring to see quite how many professionals, departments and companies are working hard to make a difference. This is clearly a profession that wants to keep up with technology and trends. We are out there sharing our experiences of the world of work. We like sharing knowledge so much that some of us wrote an Amazon Kindle book together! ‘Humane, Resourced’ is the first crowd sourced book of blogs that provides a fascinating insight into the world of work both now and as it will be. It has a foreword by Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD and it draws on the experience and expertise of over 50 international HR and business professionals. The book was launched just before #CIPD13 and its sequel was announced today. This is an example of why our profession is great and what can happen when people that have never met each other collaborate and share their thoughts by putting them into writing.

I am sure I have missed out many examples of why social HR has had a positive impact in my life, however I felt so strongly about ‘social’ that that I wanted to make sure that our local CIPD branch was also positively using it. Just before the annual conference in 2013 I contacted the CIPD Manchester Branch in order to try and help them out with their social media. Thanks to this I was eventually appointed as a CIPD Manchester branch committee member. As it is important for every committee member to organise events, I just knew what mine had to be on.

This is how #socialHRmcr was born. And of course Ian Pettigrew was the man for the job. Of course we knew the perfect speakers for the job: I had interviewed some of them for my dissertation back in 2012. And of course it could not be a ‘normal’ conference: it was on social and on HR, therefore it had to be an ‘Unconference’. The event was on the 16th October and it came around very quickly. The CIPD Manchester branch is well known for organising many successful events every year. It is the biggest branch outside of London and thanks to our enthusiastic chair Olive Strachan it has finally embraced social media like no other branch has. A CIPD Manchester blog was born and Ian ran a series of Google Hangouts with the speakers and facilitators of #socialHRmcr.

At the beginning of the day and for weeks prior to the event I felt a bit petrified and full of doubts.

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I was wondering if the North West was really ready to discuss social media in HR, recruitment and L&D. I was beginning to think that an ‘unconference’ was a bit too much for employers to be endorsing. I felt the pressure, but perhaps I knew deep down that I had nothing to worry about. Lots of people turned up! Perry Timms began his presentation, the crowd was smiling and getting involved and I started breathing. By lunchtime I think I was actually enjoying myself. I helped a few people get on social media, a few eggs were hatched on Twitter, a few selfies were taken and before I knew it the conference had ended and a few tears were being shed at ‘Pets at Home’ crowd sourced video.

It was a huge success.

#SocialHRmcr was the event that made me stop and think about these past few years in the country and in HR. This event is what made me look back at my social journey with a big fat smile on my face. Was this path always going to lead me down the HR road? Where would I be now without these social tools? I am not sure, but I somehow got a bit of clarity after 16th October. I enjoy my days. I enjoy what I do. It gives me a buzz, it makes me feel alive. I am proud of everything I have achieved. I am not sure if ‘it was always going to be HR’, however I would not have it any other way. All the people that I met on Twitter, at #connectingHRmcr, through CIPD, the Manchester branch and at #socialHRmcr have taught me a lot. You are the reason why I feel I am doing something meaningful, you have taught me a lot through your writing and through sharing your experiences with me. I believe that most people I met in this journey would feel exactly the same. We have all grown thanks to one another. Communication with our connections either virtually or in person is what makes us realise that we love what we are doing. If we are having a moan about our job, talking about a meeting, our objectives, our day, our failures and successes, we are doing it passionately. We might even get emotional about it. And this is because we care. This is because we enjoy our job. How many people can say that?

Thank you to everyone that has been on this journey with me. You are the people that remind me everyday that I am on the right path.

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