The Elephant Powder Test and HR

A guy is walking down the road and he comes across an old man sprinkling white powder on the road. He walks up to the old man and the conversation goes something like this

What are you doing?
I’m sprinkling elephant dust
What does that do?
It keeps away elephants
But there aren’t any elephants around here…
I know, it’s really good stuff isn’t it?

At the CIPD Northern Area Partnership Conference last week David Clutterbuck talked about HR bling: the activity we cling to that that is appealing but doesn’t add value. It put me in mind of the old man sprinkling elephant dust, confident in the results, but in reality making no difference. Just expending energy, repeating the same activity and assuming success.

In particular Clutterbuck was scathing of current Talent Management processes, giving an overview of the weakness in correlation between key tools and approaches and actual demonstrable business benefit.

I guess the Elephant Powder Test is about how you can validate that what you are doing is making a difference.

There are probably 3 ways to check whether you are passing the test:

  • Stop doing what you are doing and see if anything really changes. For example remove a policy and see if hell really breaks loose…
  • Understand the initial state so clearly so that you can rapidly understand if a pilot of your work is making a difference
  • Look to external sources to validate your approach (just to be clear, this isn’t doing it because everyone else is doing it, this is doing it because there is evidence it is the right thing to do)

So keep your powder dry and have a think about how you can make sure your activity isn’t just chasing off imaginary elephants.

Will you still be authentic?

I recently started work with the CIPD. I’ll be doing a role that I consider to be genuinely worthwhile. If you live in London and work in HR or L&D feel free to connect. We’ll be doing some good things and I’d love more people to benefit from them. If you currently don’t think we are doing good things then I’ll buy you a coffee and you can tell me why. We are probably doing more good things than you think.

I’ve only ever wanted my career to pass a test of ‘worthwhiliness’ so I’m currently very happy. There is no doubt, however, that the role is a significant change. Having ambled around conferences for a couple years saying whatever I like and looking scruffy, this career move has raised some interesting questions over ‘voice’ and ‘authenticity’.

The questions I got asked most often in the run up to me starting were around stuff like…

– will you still be you? You know… authentic
– are you still allowed to blog?
– will you keep the beard?
– will you have to wear a suit?

I’ve never really understood the concept of authenticity. I understand it academically, but really I don’t find that many people ‘fake’. People talk about authentic leadership, but for me it is more a question of integrity, intent and adapting to context. My wife, my daughter, my friends, my family and people I work with will all see a different side to me – and I’ll talk to them all in different ways. Adapting your style to connect better with people isn’t inauthentic. It’s human and natural and healthy, because life isn’t about you; it’s about the relationships between you and others.

I won’t be changing my values and I’ve joined an organisation that is about championing better work and working
lives, so it’s a pretty good match for what I’ve always tried to do when I get up in the morning.

Will I change my writing or things I say? A bit. I’m probably not going to publish a ’10 things the CIPD needs to do better’ blog. But then that’s because I get to spend my days helping the CIPD try to do things better, which seems a more constructive use of my time. I will keep writing, I will keep thinking. Nobody has spoken to me about changing tone or content. Nobody has told me what I can or can’t speak about. The CIPD should be about exploring a complex world and how we have the best impact in that world as a profession, not about a clone army with one single stance or thought. We have a few vacancies currently, we are looking for smart capable people. I like to think we aren’t doing that with the intent of telling them to turn their brains off on day 1.

Will the beard go? No. It keeps me warm in winter, hides spare chins when I’ve had a week of multiple takeaways and it matches my Twitter avatar. If I lose another stone it might go…

Will you wear a suit? Sometimes, as I’ll be meeting organisations that take you more seriously in a suit. I don’t particularly agree with that mindset, but I’m doing my job to make a difference and my preference for clothing is a reasonable sacrifice for making work better for others. I won’t enjoy it though… Occasionally I’ll get to wear my on brand trainers. On the days that I can, when I don’t have external meetings, I will wear jeans. Clothes do not maketh the plan.

Oh. And yes I mean ‘worthwhiliness’, it sounds more fun than ‘worthwhileness’.


The Imposter

During the the past week I have had more than one person congratulate me on how good I am at networking and self promotion, citing the success of the book as an example of this. I thank them for that, I really appreciate the time and thoughtfulness behind it.

I’d like to level with you all. I’m rubbish at networking and self promotion. I simply can’t do it. I feel uncomfortable and slightly like an imposter. At a recent event someone asked me if I was a consultant. My reply was ‘um, I guess so, I mean…technically…people pay me to do stuff, so I guess I’d have to say I was, but I’m not sure I’m a proper one or if it will last’.

Yesterday someone asked me what my areas of expertise were for a speaking engagement. My initial response was ‘I’m interested in lots of things, I’d hate to claim to be an expert’

These aren’t the responses of a natural salesperson.

From the very first black tie networking event I attended in my career I’ve felt inadequate, out of place and about to be found out. So I found ways to make the experience more comfortable.

i) I find one person who I know (or who also looks lost) and I talk to them about whatever they like

ii) I try and help them with a problem if I can – I listen and try to be useful to them

iii) I assume everyone has an interesting story to tell

iv) I open up early and ditch the formality. I’ll talk really honestly with people

So I mentally exchange my forced black tie event for an evening doing what I love – learning about people and helping them solve their problems. Last week that led to me getting a visit to Facebook, a wonderful experience. I’m happy to admit it came about through me just wanting to find someone to talk to at the CIPD Centenary Dinner, primarily so I didn’t feel like a spare part.

The volume of PR around the book has been based around not letting 50 other authors down. If this was my book that I’d written on my own? There is simply no way that I’m spending days tweeting people asking them to endorse it. That is a horrible concept to me. I’m not brave enough and it’s not in my nature.The fact there is a social ambition to it and an ability for me to create success for others is what drives my behaviour.

All the good stuff that people think is me being brave is just me running scared from failure and awkwardness. I’m not leading, I’m just finding the most creative way I can to run away.

This will probably be a problem for me if I continue to be a ‘sort of consultant’. I’m not comfortable at self promotion. I’m comfortable with sharing. I thought I’d share that in case anyone feels the same way.

So I’m sharing that if you feel awkward with self promotion – well, there is at least one other person out there who feels the same way too.

#CIPD13 – Celebrations and frustrations


A long time ago my HR dept used to do ‘celebrations and frustrations’ each week. Everyone would send in an email listing their work/experiences and then this would be circulated to keep people updated.

What tended to happen, all too often, is that the busiest people didn’t find time to fill it in, felt they didn’t get appropriate recognition and got progressively grumpier. That is why HR is tough. Designing systems around people is complicated.

Anyway, I’m stealing the format to do a quick overview of #CIPD13. Most of the bloggers have written beautifully reflective pieces. Welcome to my bullet points


  • As a networking opportunity it was incredible. I went to Facebook today and I’m off to Innocent Drinks soon. These opportunities came as a direct result of the event.
  • My love of Dan Pink is well documented. I was lucky enough to see him twice during the conference and to take part in a Q+A with him. That was an exceptional opportunity and he genuinely engaged
  • I got to see an overview of the Crossrail project that really helped me reflect on how much work can mean to people
  • I dropped into plenty of the sessions in the main hall and enjoyed the variety and content. Great, short sessions
  • I got an hour with the CIPD CEO and then another hour with the Deputy CEO. They were open to challenge (which was good because I challenged) and the debate felt worthwhile. They listened. I realise this contact time was atypical of most delegates experience, so it feels important to note the time they gave to random people like me
  • The CIPD were very gracious in supporting the book – still available to buy.

I met some great people and shared in their energy and enthusiasm. That’s always the standout isn’t it…


  • The opening keynote was flat. It really disappointed me and felt slightly shallow and by the the book (and very ‘buy the book’). I’ve seen the speakers before and they were ten times better when I did. I would have far preferred to hear more from Peter on his thoughts about the profession
  • More CEOs or people who are ‘not HR’ would have been great. HR is business, more people from the broader business would have been useful.’My HR team did this and this is what it did’.
  • I agree with Sukh Pabial about the lack of diversity in the speakers
  • The hack update was great in terms of content from the hackers, but the whole process feels a bit slow and not action focused enough. The hack model is about design – real life is about implementation and momentum. A lot of people signed up for the Hack – I’m not sure how many have been retained
  • I heard some really closed thinking from people, including a horrible description of how different generations learn (‘older people just want to be talked at in classrooms’)
  • I heard some really risk averse responses to ideas. It’s seemed unless an idea comes gift wrapped people won’t run with it. How would that work in your organisation? Well, that is something you are paid to work out. I get that we need to manage risk, but we also are in the business of growth and that involves encouraging risk.
  • It would have been great for the main sessions to be more interactive. If we are updating on the hack then… let’s hack. Send people away to discuss Dan Pink – do things to involve the audience. One person speaking to several hundred has less benefit than hundreds exploring a concept. If a group of HR people designed an internal event it would never be this formulaic. More on the fringe, more interaction, more involvement, more commitment, more exploration = better results

A few notes to give context on the above.

  • As I tweeted and blogged for the CIPD I didn’t pay to enter the event. I’m probably biased and they did provide me with biscuits which increases the probability of this further
  • I’m not a member of the CIPD, I never have been. If I’ve been positive about them it’s due to them deserving it
  • I attended a range of events across the 2 days and thoroughly enjoyed the evenings

An open letter to Dan Pink

I dropped this note to Daniel Pink ( We met during the week and well, I got a little starstruck. Here Dan is with our new book – Humane, Resourced – it was pretty much thrust into his hands so he did very well to smile.

Just prior to this I had asked to move in with him. It was inappropriate and a slightly knee jerk reaction to meeting one of my favourite authors. It was  quite a busy room in which to ask such a personal question.

If you read the letter you’ll get a good sense of what we were trying to achieve with the book and what we actually did achieve with the book.

Embedded image permalink

Hi Dan,

First of all, having spoken to my wife I’m afraid I’m going to have to retract the offer to move in with you. As supportive of my dreams as my wife is, she still believes, thankfully, that I have a role to play in my daughter’s upbringing. And I am a rubbish cook. I can’t pitch, I’m bad at sales, I apologise for what lies beneath.

The short bit

I appreciate you taking the time to be forced into posing with our book on Thursday. As all proceeds go to charity and its success is reflecting positively on all 50 contributors, it has really made a difference.

I’m going to send you a tweet (from @dds180) – if you would retweet it that would be brilliant – as we have no PR machine, the book is completely self published and success relies on advocates like Peter Cheese and the CIPD and the kindness of strangers.

You can stop reading here or keep going to find out what we’ve done with the book. I’d love you to keep going, because I know you love real life examples of doing things differently.
With no PR machine sitting behind us and a budget of $15 we became, for a brief time the 7th best selling Business book on Kindle in the UK, pushing down more established business books from the likes of Gladwell, Goleman, Sandberg and well… you as well. Sorry about that last part.

We remain the bestselling HR book in the UK and this week – when it has been available free on Amazon – the book has been #2 in the US HR charts too.In short, last week 50 people became able to claim they were bestselling international authors. The first genuine effort to make a book was a tweet on 14th July. We’ve done it quickly.

The (optional) longer bit

A few months ago I wanted to write a book but didn’t have time. I looked at HR blogging on social media and noticed a whole group of people who had great things to say but were time poor.

So I fired out a tweet asking if people would like to contribute to a book of blogs. 48 hours later I had 30 potential contributors from across the globe – US, Canada, New Zealand, Oz, Ireland…

We ended up with 60 asking to join – and 50 of those ended up contributing – no money exchanged hands, only enthusiasm.Of the final authors I have met only about a third. There are another third who I interact with only through social media (I’ve only been tweeting and blogging for 6 months). The final third I wouldn’t know if I passed in the street, but I like them.

The guidance given to contributing authors was this

  • Write less than a book, more than a paragraph
  • Nothing offensive
  • Write about what you are passionate about

We used a site called to coordinate the writing (like a community wordpress) and Peter Cheese graciously agreed to write the foreword. The book cover has been designed by one of the contributors (@simonheath1), the charities that money goes to were chosen by contributors, the title was chosen by contributors and the the final version was checked by contributors. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but I learnt how powerful it is to not want to let a community of people down.

A loose community of people with a shared goal got things done faster than most companies can, and without any dedicated resource (although with lots of dedication). The nicest review I have had so far is from a final year HR student, who says the the book helped him understand HR and business better than any of his required reading.

I’d love to add the story to your memory bank, maybe you’ll draw on it one day, maybe not – but I think it’s cool enough to be in there. I remember the anecdotes you used to illustrate the principles of Drive when I first saw you speak several years ago, and my modest ambition in life now seems to be to become an anecdote.

I’m going to tweet you this as well and if you’d share it that would be great. The book is available to buy through Amazon, I know you are time poor, but it’s episodic nature makes it quite good for gaining random (and useful) thoughts. There is even a chapter in there on #goodsales that would be right up your street….Feel free to leave a review – US link – UK link

Thanks for whatever and any time you gave this. It’s appreciated by 50+ people who are all keen to keep hacking away at business until it gets better.


Anyway – within a few hours…this happened. All is well in the world

Humane, Resourced – on the way!


!BoB cover

So, I’ve finally pressed the ‘publish‘ button after a near endless email chain with Hugh at Pressbooks. Essentially the issue that appears on my screen, previewer and physical Kindle – where the book starts in the middle of the index – doesn’t appear on his. I’ve therefore taken the gamble and published in the hope that for new readers the book starts at…the start. I’m hoping when I wake up it will be available in the Kindle store.

A few final notes:

-The book can only be ‘free’ for 5 days out of every 90. I therefore will make it free from Tuesday next week – so it is free to download throughout the CIPD conference

-This has been a ‘homebrew project’  – there will be formatting errors and I’m sure at least one typo will have managed to sneak in there. If you let me know any that you come across I will do an update in a month or so that will be available for anyone who has downloaded it. This a natural consequence of my relaxed nature to things like this and the speed of the book’s production.

– I guarantee someone has sent me something I haven’t included. It is just bound to have happened. To that person (or people) – I apologise, it wasn’t intent, it wasn’t an assessment of your writing – it is just me being rubbish. I’ll try and update it if I can, but please just let me know I’ve left you out without shifting into ‘I can’t believe you left me out you “£%”£$% mode’.

– There are links to videos and articles throughout, these won’t work on a ‘normal’ Kindle but will on iPad/Android/PC. It seemed a shame to leave them out and their presence is the reason that, at the moment, the book isn’t available as a physical copy. If it is successful then I might try and edit it so it makes sense in a print version. It would be nice, I’m sure, for all of the authors to have a physical copy of the book.

– There will be a second book that will improve upon the above….next year folks!

The final list of contributors is below, it is an incredible crop and I’m just delighted that the book has enabled me to come into contact with them. People haven’t just submitted articles they have supported, cajoled, edited, crafted the cover and promoted the book. They are great folk and they made this project happen for each and every one of the other writers

1.    Simon Heath (@SimonHeath1) – blog, glossary and cover
2.    Doug Shaw (@dougshaw1)
3.    Sukh Pabial (@sukhpabial)
4.    Ian Davidson (@ianandmj)
5.    Bruce Lewin (@fourgroups)
6.    Ben Morton (@Benmorton2)
7.    Richard Westney (@HRManNZ)
8.    Lembit Öpik (@Lembitopik)
9.    Emma Lloyd (@engagingemma)
10.  Gemma Reucroft (@HR_gem)
11.  Stephen Tovey (@StephenTovey13)
12.  David Richter (@octopusHR)
13.  Amanda Sterling (@sterling_amanda)
14.  Wendy Aspland (@wendyaspland)
15.  Peter Cook (@AcademyOfRock)
16.  Julie Waddell (@jawaddell)
17.  Leticia S. de Garzón (@letsdeg)
18.  Vera Woodhead (@verawoodhead)
19.  Nicola Barber (@HRswitchon)
20.  Tim Scott (@TimScottHR)
21.  Amanda Arrowsmith (@Pontecarloblue)
22.  Inji Duducu (@injiduducu)
23.  Anne Tynan (@AnneTynan)
24.  Neil Usher (@workessence)
25.  Louisa de Lange (@paperclipgirl)
26.  Megan Peppin (@OD_optimist)
27.  Ian Pettigrew (@KingfisherCoach)
28.  Steve Browne (@stevebrowneHR)
29.  Kate Griffiths-Lambeth (@kateGL)
30.  Tracey Davison (@mindstrongltd)
31.  Jason Ennor (@MYHR_NZ)
32.  Bob Philps (@BPhilp)
33.  Kat Hounsell (@kathounsell)
34.  Simon Jones (@ariadneassoc)
35.  Mervyn Dinnen (@MervynDinnen)
36.  Alex Moyle (@Alex_Moyle)
37.  Julie Drybrough (@fuchsia_blue)
38.  Susan Popoola (@susanpopoola)
39.  Ruchika Abrol (@ruchikaabrol)
40.  Simon Stephen (@simonstephen)
41.  Damiana Casile (@damiana_HR)
42.  Honeydew_Health
43.  Malcolm Louth (@malcolmlouth)
44.  Perry Timms (@perrytimms)
45.  Sinead Carville (@SineadCarville)
46.  Jon Bartlett (@projectlibero)
47.  Jane Watson (@JSarahWatsHR)
48.  Broc Edwards (@brocedwards)
49.  Sarah Miller (@whippasnappaHR
50.  Meghan M. Biro (@MeghanMBiro)
51.  Anna Lloyd (@buggilights)
52.  Luke Thomas(@springccr)

Humane, Resourced: Twitileaks

Secret Bunker
Secret Bunker (Photo credit: marcmo)

The list of authors is growing and is here: – I’m trying to keep it up to date but there is some lag.

Update on yesterday’s leak

I thought I’d write a brief note explaining what happened yesterday. A chain of events took place (with great intentions sitting behind them) that for a brief time meant that the book was circulating in an unfinished form. There is no harm done and it was completely unplanned. I wasn’t involved and it wasn’t part of a viral campaign. I was out shopping for socks when suddenly lots of people were tweeting about the book and copying me in. Nobody starts a viral campaign whilst shopping for socks. It’s not that the book is secret, it is that it isn’t yet ready. Also the front cover by Simon Heath is so cool that I would have included that.

I’ll be leaving it open on that link (rather than setting it to private) as someone tweeted lots of business/HR publishers with it and I’d rather they didn’t get a dead link.

Due to the leak I did want to set some people’s minds at rest by making some points about what was circulated as I got quite a few tweets/DMs

Have you axed me from the book?

No, you haven’t been axed from the book. The book isn’t finished yet, contributions are still coming in and if you weren’t in the list of authors at the back that is simply because I only put that list in (about a month ago) to remind me to put a list it. It hasn’t been updated since. The policy remains the same as long as what you have written isn’t a plug for your product or offensive you will find a home in the blog

I sent you my blog, but it wasn’t in there

Contrary to popular belief I’m not a blogging hermit. I have a family and occasionally go out in the sun! If you sent me your blog to update manually that will happen, but I was hoping to go the whole weekend without doing anything on the book. It hasn’t quite worked that way.

I thought the deadline had passed?

The original deadline was set to indicate pace. I really, really, really appreciate people who got work in on time or early. The nature of Twitter is that some people get to hear things later than others – I’ve chosen to welcome those people to the project. The nature of life is that people get busy and other things get in the way – I’ve chosen to understand that. Every author we gain is someone else to share your work, so please look upon the later additions positively.

When will it be published? 

I hope very soon, within a month if I can.  For clarity the factors in play with this are

i) I’m hoping the foreword will be produced by someone very senior in HR in the UK. They have generously agreed to this, so it will be well worth our wait to let them produce this

ii) I’m slowly making press contacts (but juggling this with attempting to find gainful employment) so if it makes sense to delay the launch to get ‘megapress’ we will

iii) We are reliant on the Amazon publishing process working as well as Amazon claim it will. I don’t foresee that being a big block, but if we lost all the formatting (for example) that would cost us time. We’ve used software to specifically avoid that so that is a reasonably well mitigated risk

iv) We are still receiving blogs so I won’t start a final edit or clear up until that stops (this week)

Anything I can do to help?

I thought you’d never ask. Anything you can do to promote the book, any contacts you have, any opportunities – bring it on! Also, anyone who would like to help with the proofreading would be much appreciated

Final thought

One of the lovely aspects of the leak was seeing (on a random Saturday morning) the support and enthusiasm for the book that already exists and also receiving tweets from people I didn’t know looking forward to the release. I received lots of tweets congratulating me – I have mixed feelings about those.

I’m proud of having the idea to bring people together but without 50+ other people I would currently have just written a foreword. This is a book that people shouldn’t be thanking me for but every other contributor – it took discretionary effort from a group of people to reach a viable length for a book. Thank everyone, not just me. I’m just the ideas guy.