Reflections on Brexit: internal agility and the world of work

I am a political animal. From the moment I began to articulate my political values in my early teens I have always been a creature of the progressive Left. But this is not a political blog.

But today it is. Today I find the the personal, the professional and the political cannot be compartmentalised. Perhaps they never can.

As I wake ridiculously early on day two of our new post-Brexit world, I find myself reflecting on yesterday’s events and some of the broader implications for the world of work.

I spent some of yesterday on social media trying to find some articulation of hope and resolution amongst the confusion and despair. I found it in Caroline Lucas’s video – shot and posted in the early morning light. In her Huff post article posted later in the day. And I found it in Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s call in the Guardian for the young – those who will be most affected by this historic vote – to mobilise, politicise and fight.

But I also found it at work.

Three things that came into very sharp focus for me yesterday were:

  1. True business agility is built on internal capability
  2. An agile workforce is a flexible, international workforce, and
  3. I am proud to work for the CIPD

True business agility is built on internal capability

CIPD is a knowledge business. We produce and provide content that supports our membership and the wider Human Resource and Learning and Development profession.

I am a huge advocate of building internal capability, particularly digital capability. I have always believed that having such a capability in-house is vital to help us respond to business threats and opportunities.

Businesses should ask themselves: what are our core digital needs, and how do we develop and deploy them most successfully? Well of course at CIPD we have many core digital needs, but one of them is the ability to successfully communicate our message and to reach as wide an audience as possible.

And the ability to do that well and do it quickly.

Over the past year we’ve been building our internal video production capability. Today video is such a potent and important medium that it’s imperative that we can produce, embed and distribute high quality video.

With no budget. And with limited resource.

There’s a post coming up on this soon, so I won’t go into the details of how we’ve set that up here and now. But suffice to say that over the past year we have developed a team of people at CIPD who – on top of their core roles – can do this. And do it quickly.

Yesterday, as CIPD’s Editorial and Communications teams worked out our response to the UK’s decision to leave the EU, we found ourselves on the front foot.

The external agency that we often use to produce ‘corporate’ videos was not available for days. So we called on the internal team.

It took a little less than two hours to film, edit and post a video of our CEO Peter Cheese addressing members’ Brexit concerns and questions and re-stating CIPD’s vision.

Within hours we got our powerful message out there to our members and to our community.

And what is that message? An agile workforce is a flexible, international workforce.

An agile workforce is a flexible, international workforce

It’s something CIPD has been saying for years. We have an accumulation of research, evidence and experience to back up our claim.

We know that it is vital that the UK has access to a flexible, international workforce to plug the skills gap. It is important for business and for our wider society. And it is particularly important in the emerging technology sector (see Techcrunch’s recent post on Brexit fears amongst London’s digital start ups).

Much of London’s success as an economic powerhouse is due to that agglomeration – that coming together – of talent from across the UK, the EU, and beyond.

The Digital Production team and the CIPD as a whole includes many colleagues who were not born in the UK, but who have made it their home. We rely on their considerable skills, their enthusiasm, their passion, their talent.

I am proud to work for CIPD

On Friday 24 June, in responding to the news, colleagues at CIPD really nailed all of our PACE values: expertise, agility, collaboration and a sense of common purpose.

Purpose: so important to unlocking that discretionary effort. Vital for our own self-motivation and to motivating the teams we lead and/or work with.

CIPD’s purpose is to Champion Better Work and Working Lives. Our mission is to help shape the debate around work in the modern world. And – in an increasingly uncertain but connected age – to make work meaningful, to the benefit of the individual, Business and society as a whole.

When our CEO Peter Cheese responded to the EU Referendum results yesterday – in text, in video and in person – he re-iterated that purpose.

Championing Better Work and Working Lives means championing a flexible, international workforce.

[A] key element of our flexible labour market is that it enables employers to access or bring in skilled and unskilled workers from outside the UK to help support business growth and address labour shortages in our public services. It is important that this is not forgotten in any reform of the immigration system. …it is vital the Government continues to focus working with all constituencies on the very real and strategic challenges that continue to threaten the UK’s prosperity in future years, namely the productivity, skills and employment agendas.

Peter Cheese quoted in the CIPD Press Office Briefing, 24 June 2016.

Over the coming months and years, as the UK and the EU works out what Brexit actually means, CIPD will use its evidence and its experience to influence government policy and the wider debate on immigration and flexible labour markets.

Now we’re really talking about the communication of valuable ideas here!

And finally…

A friend of mine recently sent me a quote from Viktor Frankl’s holocaust memoire, Man’s Search for Meaning.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

We choose our response to events in life. We either choose despair and we give up, or we choose hope and we fight on.

Yesterday I found hope amongst the chaos.

The video

You can see the video at




Maintaining our digital skills: ‘understanding is in a state of perpetual beta’

We are Expert

In my last few posts I’ve been talking about what the PACE values mean to me and for digital projects at CIPD. We are Purposeful, Agile, Collaborative and Expert. In this week’s post I’m going to explore what it means to be expert in the digital sector.

What is clear is that it’s not like it was in our grandparents’ or even our parents’ day.

There’s no longer a career for life with a single set of skills


Previous generations expected a certain evolution to their careers and the acquisition of a set of skills that would accompany them throughout that career. At a time when technological change was slower paced, indeed ponderous by today’s standards, there was a certainty and a security associated with developing your professional skill set.

Developing professional competence meant the gradual accumulation and mastery of a handful of skills that would see one through from awkward adolescence to the gold watch. For example, at 18 my Grandma Butterfield learned the shorthand and touch typing skills that sustained her through her entire career.

Skills have a very short shelf life…

But things have changed. The other week I came across a shocking fact: present day work skills have a shelf life of just 2.5 years. [Deloitte Human Capital Trends Switzerland 2014]. If we’re working from 21 to 67, that means 20 cycles of acquiring and mastering a new set of skills. And that skills shelf life is only set to get shorter, as the pace of change increases.

…And ours are shorter than most

The Digital Production team need to master a set of skills with a shorter shelf life than most; working in an industry experiencing a dizzying pace of change. Bleeding edge becomes best practice within months, superseded by a whole new methodology, new thinking and techniques shortly after.

Countering digital bad habits

Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning officer at Microsoft UK, spoke at CIPD 2015 ACE. He warned of the digital bad habits we pick up in an attempt to cope with the demands of all-pervasive tech and the information overload. Particularly the tendency to skim read rather than engage deeply with information. But the complexity of the modern workplace and the problems to be solved by teams like ours, means that we can’t graze our way to comprehension.

Keeping digital skills up to date

So how do we do it? How do we as a team operating in this fast moving, complex arena keep up to date, keep innovating?

In a sense we’re fortunate in that there is a natural affinity and overlap between digital skills (as I imagine there are in many teams) – see my last post on Collaboration where I explore this further.

This makes for a team where sympathies, skills and experience complement and interface nicely with one another, and where by pooling that collective experience and knowledge we can both keep our collective skill set current and effectively collaborate to solve complex problems.

‘Collective understanding is in a state of perpetual beta’

Harold Jarche writes that we must accept that

our collective understanding is in a state of perpetual Beta. This is how we can create a culture of innovation.

Harold Jarche, Seeking Perpetual Beta: A Guidebook for the Network Era

Each of us in the team has a personal responsibility to continually seek out appropriate sources of information, filter, understand and relate them to what we’re working on and then be prepared to share with the group to further refine, re-shape and connect.

How do we do it in our team? As well informal knowledge sharing, working closely and collaboratively across different – often related – projects, we also share our skills in more formal ways. Because we’re all passionate and interested in what we do, in the space in which we operate, we’re all reading, learning, discovering. Interesting nuggets are shared with the team via email, curated via Google+, or explored in team meetings.

Digital factoids

Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is only really successful and sustainable when it’s fun and when it’s embedded as part of our everyday routine. So in our monthly team meetings I encourage everyone to share a ‘digital factoid’ we’ve unearthed during our online sauntering. These can be digital humanity-is-doomed-style facts:

  • Did you know Domino’s Pizza launched a physical button (presumably to place alongside the TV remote control) that allows customers to place an online order for their favourite pizza? (Link)

…digital humanity-is-awesome-style facts:

  • Did you know that there’s now an app that pairs the visually impaired with the sighted so that people can provide commentary to help others cope with small everyday tasks. (Link)

…‘march of the algorithms’-type facts:

  • Did you know that comments in discussion threads can be analysed, summarised and graphically displayed to give a ‘a coherent and concise account of the commenters’ opinions’. (Link)

…or just plain weird facts.

    • Did you know that the energy required to power the world’s appetite for knowledge is equivalent to 120 worth of eggs per second. If you don’t believe me, here are the workings:
      • Google claims that a search query requires altogether about 1 kJ or 0.0003 kW·h. (Link)
      • 1 large egg (boiled) provides roughly 331 kJ. (Link)
      • Google claims estimates there are at least 40000 searches per second. (Link)

Therefore – 40000/331 (kJ consumed by search every seconds divided by kJ in eggs) = 120 eggs per second (equivalent of power consumed)
Thanks to Ed Vald, Knowledge & Metadata Manager for this one.

Sometimes they’re directly related to what we’re working on, but often they’re not. But they always prompt plenty of ‘wow’s, discussion and connections between the team and between ideas.

The skills swap shop


We also run a monthly ‘skills swap shop’ (yes I’m a child of the 70s): a 30-40 minute slot in the team meeting where team members share insights from their particular area of expertise or describe what they’re currently working on. Occasionally guests drop in to talk about related projects or skills – last month the Marketing Database team came in to talk about search engine optimisation.

Curious careers

For those of us who are employed in professions with any degree of skills volatility, it is incumbent upon ourselves to keep our knowledge and skills up to date.

Being able to continuously learn, and share that new knowledge, will be as important as showing up on time was in the industrial economy.

Harold Jarche, Seeking Perpetual Beta: A Guidebook for the Network Era

Alan Tofflin

For our own continued employability, for the success of our teams and the organisations we work for, we must remain curious. Our antenea should be forever twitching, on the look out for the latest nuggets of interest relevant to the areas we’re working on. And we need to be prepared and willing to filter, share, discuss and develop that knowledge, those ideas, in collaboration with our colleagues.

Collaborative working

The PACE values at CIPD

You probably haven’t heard of PACE, but everyone who works for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development certainly has. They are the values underpin everything we aim to do and to be at CIPD, they run through our corporate culture like the words ‘Brighton’ through a stick of rock.

The PACE values are on display throughout the CIPD HQ in Wimbledon, on posters and stencilled onto the wall in our ‘OpenSpace’ coffee shop. This jaunty acronym stands for

Ever since I joined CIPD two and a half years ago I’ve been mulling over the PACE values, what they really mean, how we put them into practice.

In this week’s post I’m going to explore collaborative working and what it means for the Digital Production team.

We are Collaborative

Of all the PACE values, I think of collaboration as the meta value; we can’t be purposeful, agile or expert without collaboration.

  • To build an agile, innovative business, able to navigate and exploit the vagaries of 21st century economic reality;
  • To build our own expertise whilst contributing to the collective understanding of our teams and networks;
  • To deliver successful outcomes;
  • To develop motivated, high performing teams;

we need first and foremost to collaborate.

We are Drucker’s ‘knowledge workers’

According to the Work Foundation, in their 2009 Knowledge Workers and Knowledge Work report, 30% of the total UK workforce constitute ‘knowledge workers’ in ‘jobs with high knowledge content’.

The now ubiquitous term ‘knowledge worker’ originates with Peter Drucker and perfectly describes the work we do in the Digital Production team at CIPD.

Productive work in today’s society and economy is work that applies vision, knowledge and concepts — work that is based on the mind rather than the hand.

Peter Drucker, Landmarks of Tomorrow, 1959

For the Digital Production team we apply our collective vision, knowledge and concepts in the production of useful outputs, namely the delivery of digital platforms, communications and learning.

But knowledge is no longer stable

When Drucker described the concept of the ‘knowledge worker’ almost 60 years ago the knowledge acquired during one’s professional career had some degree of permanence.

But the knowledge acquired during the typical 21st century knowledge worker’s professional career has a shorter and shorter lifespan (see next week’s post Building and Maintaining Expertise).

And knowledge is no longer power

Knowledge might once have been power, but with the transient nature of today’s skills, the miserly hoarding of knowledge is no longer the path to success.

It is those who share their knowledge freely, pooling it with others to build a common, more sophisticated understanding, who thrive and progress in the modern workplace.

Working out loud

The Digital Production team, in common with the rest of CIPD, uses our Workspace intranet platform to work out loud, to share work in progress, milestones and ideas.

Bryce Williams crystallised the behaviours and outcomes of using Social Collaboration tools with the phrase ‘working out loud’ which he boiled down to this simple formula:

Working Out Loud = Observable Work + Narrating Your Work

Working out loud is particularly useful for one’s own reflective learning: grounding acquired knowledge through public narration.

John Stepper expanded Bryce Willliams’ definition, to identify the 5 Elements of Working Out Loud:

  • Making your work visible 
  • Making work better
  • Leading with generosity
  • Building a social network
  • Making it purposeful

Blogging – let’s face it – does have an element of self promotion. (And why not?) But it’s also, as Stepper puts it, about ‘leading with generosity’, contributing ideas to the wider debate, building on other people’s ideas, using platforms and tools that encourage networking, sharing and debate.

The interoperability of people as well as systems

Today’s economy is a social economy with collaboration at its center. In the past, we could dominate by accumulating resources and driving efficiency, but now agility and interoperability that rule the day.  We need to shift our focus from assets and capabilities to empathy, design and networked organizations.

Greg Satel, Why the Ability to Collaborate is the New Competitive Advantage,

I often talk of the importance of the interoperability of systems and of data (see last year’s post on Open Standards and Open Platforms), but the interoperability of the people who build those systems is equally important, particularly the exchange of information and ideas.

We geeks need social skills

For the digital workforce, our social, interpersonal and emotional skills are equally important, if not more so, than our technical skills – for our technical skills soon date.

Communication, empathy, an awareness of how we interact with others and how others will interact with what we build; but above all, the ability to collaborate. And that collaboration isn’t just the ability to get along with your team mates, but the sharing of knowledge and the building of communal ideas with a shared sense of ownership. (For more on this look out for a future post on Ideation.)

Being a ‘techie’ doesn’t mean we’re somehow less human, that we’re some kind of Spock-like, robotic, coding machines. Being a successful techie, building workable solutions, has always meant the close collaboration of peers on common projects of extraordinary complexity.

The interconnectedness of digital skills

The Digital Production team operates in a space where the boundaries of our skills intersect with those of our team mates. Let’s take web content strategy as an example, it has some core skills and processes of its own, but has many commonalities with information architecture and user experience, in fact shares the same worldview (the centrality of the online customer experience).

The edgelessness of the web tears down the constructed edges in the company. Everything is so interconnected that nobody has a clear domain of work any longer – the walls are gone, so we’re left to learn how to collaborate in the spaces where things connect.

Frank Chimero, The Shape of Design

Because of this ‘edgelessness’ of digital work, we must, as Frank Chimero puts it ‘collaborate in the spaces where things connect’. And that’s what makes digital work so much fun: collaborating, building on one another’s ideas and expertise, working together to develop new and innovative solutions that delight, help and inform.

‘Job’ should never be ‘a four letter word’

That interconnectedness of the digital work domain also means that we can no longer think of our jobs as neat, self contained little boxes with a pre-determined, static set of tasks and accountabilities.

‘Job’ according to Harold Jarche ‘is a four-letter word’ because of the way that tightly constrained job profiles and narrow minded managers can stifle the ‘intrepreneurial’ spirit, narrow the space that we need to collaborate, dampen the creativity we need to be innovative – all those behaviours and that momentum businesses need to harness in order to exploit ‘transient competitive advantage’ (Rita Gunther McGrath).

Job profiles as a jumping off point for collaboration

So job profiles mustn’t be a straight jacket, but rather a jumping off point for collaboration and contribution towards the team’s, and ultimately the organisation’s goals and purpose.

Breaking down job boundaries – whilst ensuring people feel safe rather than threatened, that their unique contributions are acknowledged and valued – is key to engendering the collaborative spirt and creativity needed to solve the complex problems we’re working on.

Agile working

The PACE values at CIPD

You probably haven’t heard of PACE, but everyone who works for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development certainly has. They are the values underpin everything we aim to do and to be at CIPD, they run through our corporate culture like the words ‘Brighton’ through a stick of rock.

The PACE values are on display throughout the CIPD HQ in Wimbledon, on posters and stencilled onto the wall in our ‘OpenSpace’ coffee shop. This jaunty acronym stands for

Ever since I joined CIPD two and a half years ago I’ve been mulling over the PACE values, what they really mean, how we put them into practice, specifically in relation to the projects that define the work of the digital production team.

And over the next four posts I’m going to explore those musings and conclusions I’ve come to.

We are agile

I’ll admit, it took me a while to ‘get it’, but it’s with ‘agile’ that the worlds of running digital projects and CIPD’s values mesh most harmoniously together.

The Agile Manifesto was published in 2001 and has proved to be so successful and ubiquitous in software development circles that its methods and principles have been adopted into general business management; in particular the focus on customer centricity, facilitation-based management, iterative and incremental working methods, outcomes based evaluation, greater individual autonomy and collaboration.

In fact we might say we’ve entered ‘the agile age’, where organisational agility, nimbleness, responsiveness are the watch words for survival in the face of ‘transient competitive advantage’ (Rita Gunther McGrath).

The Agile Manifesto argues that software projects succeed when self-organised teams of motivated individuals come together and work within a supportive environment built on trust.

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
(The Agile Manifesto, principle #5 )
The best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organisting teams.
(The Agile Manifesto, principle #11)
Agile teams rely on self-organisation, customer centricity, knowledge sharing, collaboration and mutual trust.

Agile working might be a bit of a buzz word right now, but it isn’t just about flexible hours, or investing in the IT infrastructure to support remote working. Rather it’s about the wider adoption of the principles of the agile manifesto, of the hard won lessons of successful software development, into general business and people management practice.

‘Purposeful’ working

The PACE values at CIPD

You probably haven’t heard of PACE, but everyone who works for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development certainly has. They are the values underpin everything we aim to do and to be at CIPD, they run through our corporate culture like the words ‘Brighton’ through a stick of rock.

The PACE values are on display throughout the CIPD HQ in Wimbledon, on posters and stencilled onto the wall in our ‘OpenSpace’ coffee shop. This jaunty acronym stands for

  • Purposeful
  • Agile
  • Collaborative
  • Expert

Ever since I joined CIPD two and a half years ago I’ve been mulling over the PACE values, what they really mean, how we put them into practice, specifically in relation to the projects that define the work of the digital production team.

And over the next four posts I’m going to explore those musings and conclusions I’ve come to.

We are Purposeful

So let’s start with our first value, purposeful.

purposeful: we have clear goals and finish what we start

The PACE values: Purposeful, as it appears on the wall in CIPD’s OpenSpace coffeeshop

I have a bit of a problem with ‘purposeful’. Let’s face it, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. Purposeful means ‘determined and resolved’. But synonyms often hint at the darker side of any word’s meaning, and for purposeful we get single minded, inflexible, strong willed, hell-bent. Oh dear.

We have clear goals and finish what we start. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Until you think about it a bit more.

Let’s not Carry On Regardless

carry on team in carry on regardless

There is a very human tendency to carry on regardless, to finish something even if it’s not working or no longer needed. For anyone working on projects – whether digital or otherwise – this is something to be mindful of.

The project management methodology PRINCE2 can sometimes be seen as inflexible and bureaucratic compared to Agile, but it encourages the continual re-evaluation of the business case (the purpose of your project), and insists that projects should stop if they’re no longer valid.

Agile development methodology – in many ways the counterpoint to PRINCE2 – takes a slightly different approach. Rather than assessment against a definitive business case, it embraces changing requirements throughout a project. Changes that emerge from customer interactions with working software and the business’s changing priorities. It is the capacity to re-adjust and re-calibrate projects that delivers better, customer-centred solutions.

The other human tendency that bedevils project work is perfectionism. In seeking perfection we often expend more and more energy at the end of a process to achieve smaller and smaller gains. So I like this, the 10th Principle from the Agile Manifesto:

Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential.

But if you’re working with evolving requirements, if you’re seeking simplicity over complexity, how do you ever know when good is good enough? All projects need a set of clear outcomes that you can measure your output against – well defined success criteria.

So I like the first half of the PACE definition of Purposeful: We have clear goals.

The Agile Manifesto also emphasises building in incremental improvements to the development process (Principle #12). Teams should ask themselves: what went well and what didn’t go so well in the last sprint and re-calibrate and readjust working methods and the project accordingly.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

We Are Purposeful v0.2

So it might be a bit wordy to stencil onto the wall, but perhaps we should add some qualifying statements. We have clear goals and finish what we start…

  • but we know that sometimes it’s better to stop.
  • we re-adjust and re-calibrate along the way.
  • we know when good is good enough.