The Winter Wolf for Oxfordshire Mind

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There is always plenty of discussion about the issues that surround our mental health; ways of dealing with it, help available, attitudes of others etc. The biggest topics of conversation however always seem to focus on intolerance and care.

Our general attitude to mental health as a topic and to those that suffer from one form of mental illness has changed drastically over the last few years.  I hope so.  I hope it isn’t just because I am more aware having had my own challenges. although I suspect it’s a bit of both.  I remember a few years back being fearful upon starting a new job of what the reaction might be if the investigation into my medical history specifically highlighted a diagnosis of depression and anxiety.  Thankfully I avoided (refused) completing the medical history form.  But I shouldn’t have had to though. Thankfully legislation is now in place to protect people and to do what it can to eliminate prejudice or at least the fears of prejudice in the work place, the latter probably being more common than the former, I suspect.   However we still have a long way to go to, certainly evidenced by the poor judgement used by ASDA and Tesco stores in the last week and their “Halloween Costume”, the labeling of which went way beyond poor taste.

The other area of focus is the care available for people who are in need of help.  The range of mental health illnesses is vast and very complex, or at least it sounds it to me. 1 in 4 people experience mental and emotional health problems such as anxiety, bereavement, depression, life crisis, loneliness, recovery from breakdowns, panic attacks, stress and schizophrenia at some point in their lives.  To put some kind of scale to it, for the UK, that works out to roughly equal to twice the population of London!!  It’s not just those that are sufferers themselves that are impacted, but family, friends and carers many of whom go unnoticed and few are actually given the support and help they too need.

I’m not sure if it’s just my perception given how close I am to this but the press love to heap sensationalised criticism of the care either available or given to patients .  Sadly the criticism tends to concentrate on extreme cases the result of which adds more pressure on the system and perpetuates the negative attitudes that the uniformed and ignorant public has.

I could go on for ages on this issue and turn this into a major rant.  But I won’t.

For the last few years my wife studied Psychology at Reading University, obtained a First Class degree and now works as a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner for Oxfordshire Mind.  I am very proud of her not only what she achieve academically but also now for the work she does and the help she gives every day.   So when I was offered the chance (challenged more like) to take part in The Winter Wolf Run I not only jumped at the chance to get muddy and wet but also saw it as an opportunity to raise some money for Mind UK to help them help us all.

So this was a rather long winded plug for my run and a request for you to dig deep and sponsor me on 2nd November.  I have a modest target of £1000 to reach (for no other reason that it’s a good sum and an attainable target or at least I hope it is).  Thank you so much to all those that donated so far and got me 29% of the way to target in just three days last week, your help and generosity is inspiring.  However it still leaves me 71% to go.

If you would like to donate please go to

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!



Which Is The Best ATS for Me?

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One of the most common questions I seem to get asked or see being asked by many is paraphrased along the lines of “we are looking to get an ATS, which one would you recommend?”

It’s a very good question. With so much choice out there and an increasing number of users with opinions and experience of one or more products, it makes sense to ask for help and advice at the outset.  Yet asking such a question is a bit like asking how many bricks are needed to build a house.  It is just not possible to answer the question in isolation.  When building a house there are an abundance of issues and objectives to be established and prioritised before the design and architecture can be decided upon, let alone constructed. Much in the same way, when you feel you need to acquire technology to help you resolve a problem or organise your processes it is essential you know why you are embarking on such a project in the first place and once selected, what you plan to do with the ATS.

This kind of planning and forethought is fundamental, yet this is hardly ever the way in which companies or, in particular their HR Departments proceed when in an apparent rush to select and acquire a shiny new ATS.  Now I should make it clear at this stage that every organisation will need to go about things differently and this will be based on a number of things but in theory any justification for budget spend and intention to acquire a new tool should consider the following:-

  • Business Objectives
  • Strategic Workforce Plan
  • Size, scale and scope of project
  • Budget
  • Resources, capabilities, skills
  • Previous experience and knowledge of similar projects

And don’t forget one size does NOT fit all.  What works well for one organisation won’t necessarily work for you and vice versa.  Whilst companies may choose to use software from the same vendor, their experiences of it and the benefits they derive from it will vary considerably. Such variations will be entirely dependent on how the system, or should I say the required solution, has been designed and architected prior to and during implementation.  It is also true to say, sadly, that the level of service received from the software vendor will vary depending on the nature of the contract, price paid and the relationship that you have established with them.  So many variables.

In the last 5 years there has been a growth in the number of ATS or other e-recruitment systems available, this in response to the growth in demand for such technology by organisation of all sizes.  There is a solution for every company of every size and market. The available solutions will help you manage the processing whether you are recruiting for volume or niche roles, for executive or graduates and school leavers, for professional specialist skills or temps. These solutions work.  Rarely do they not, let’s face it the software vendors wouldn’t be able to sell it if it didn’t.  When companies get frustrated by the software they have selected, it is rarely the products’ fault. More often than not the dissatisfaction is as result of poor understanding in the first place a lack of adequate design or poor implementation. In many cases business requirements have changed yet the architecture of the system was overlooked or people have moved on leaving a void in the available expertise to make such changes.

In simple terms an ATS – Applicant (or Application) Tracking System is a software package used by organisations to help them manage the journey that a person takes when they apply for a job, become a candidate during an interview process and then proceeds to being offered a job, if they are fortunate.  There are a myriad of other functions that it can be applied to and have an impact on, but for the purposes of this post we don’t need to go into what they are.

Typically if used wisely the ATS will help organisations structure, schedule and report on activities taking place at each stage for each vacancy and for each person in the process.

What it doesn’t do, and won’t or can’t do, is the recruiting for you.

Now I know this make sense to some of you, yet there are some who are now pausing, or at least I hope they are.  The ATS is a tool, a tool that needs to be used by people, following processes defined by the company and the Resourcing function.  Yes, it will address some of the administration issues that you have to deal with, it will help you as a company organise and keep track of workflow so that the information about a vacancy requisition and those that apply to it can be maintained and organised, in the hope that errors are minimised.

What an ATS won’t do is replace human interaction and hands on recruitment. Recruitment by needs to be high-touch and have a significant level of engagement, otherwise it becomes less recruitment and more administration, common amongst those companies that don’t really take recruitment seriously enough to invest in it properly. I’ve known some people/companies that have been able to justify an ATS on the promise of saving headcount, only for that to cause serious issues down the road.  It is therefore crucial that time and effort be set aside to define your objectives, map your processes  and consider the architecture of the installation and how the software will be used and how it will effectively meet your business needs.  This will need to be assessed in line with your current or planned operating model and the capability of your resourcing function.  You will always be thinking of scalability preferably in line with your long term Strategic Workforce Plan which will be mapped to your organisation’s overall five to ten Business Strategy.

One could argue that even with all the planning and foresight you will never get a perfect solution, there are always going to be compromises and limitations. Well that is true, but having clearly defined objectives, a solid plan and the knowledge and expertise at hand to know what the limitations will get you closer to a perfect than you were before you started.

For now.

Music of the moment: The Blister Exists by Slipknot

Words I am Unlikely to Say

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I was recently researching a company online and that included having a look at the profiles of their senior management.  Each of them had “Words I am unlikely to say” at foot of their bios.  The answers were along the lines of “nothing is impossible”, “never”, “I can’t” etc. You get the drift.  Maybe these words do honestly sum up the personalities of those that they are attributed to, only they will know for sure.  I can sort of understand what it was or is they want to convey, yet it comes across as cheesy, all faux positivity and formulaic, straight out of a motivational seminar. and hardly likely to be consistent with a properly profiled personality.  It was as if they haven’t given it much thought or, thought it would be a good reflection.  Maybe they had some advisors that did it for them. Who knows?

Still it did get me to asking myself about the words I never say in the same context however.  I didn’t have to reflect, because they were there front and centre of my mind as I read.  I’ve lived by them for as long as I can remember.  Actually there are two such standards I’ve used as a yard stick to getting things done properly.

I suppose they may have been drummed into me in my early 20s when I moved from driving a keyboard working in datacentres to selling at a recruitment agency.  The Sales Director had a huge influence and has remained an inspiration to me. His name was Dennis Linscott.  Dennis sadly passed away 11 years ago, but many of the lessons he taught remain with me today. Chief among them is the attention to detail and thinking about what else can be done to get job done right.

Whether what I learned from Dennis moulded me or coincidentally suited my personality only psychologists can answer that one, but what I do know is I’ve always been one of those people that gives it all or nothing.  This can manifest itself in many ways; from total immersion into something, attention to the detail and form, tenacity, bloody-mindedness, belligerence and so on.

Slight deviation needed here. I am aware that I don’t always see typos or spelling errors. That’s not the attention to detail to which I refer above.  I refer to knowing, understanding, covering all the angles and perspectives, thinking what else can be done or needs doing, asking myself “so what?” That’s the attention to detail to which I refer. Dennis taught me that.

What I do now and how I go about it is governed by those principles.  I always ask myself “so what?” when putting a proposal or business case or project recommendation together; “what’s in it for them?”, “what would make a difference to them?”

So what are the two things you are never likely to hear me say when it comes to doing something well?

“That’ll do” and “It’s good enough”

Certainly not as a statement that I consider a task well done or indeed completed and if I do happen to use them when accepting work from others…….well the ambiguity of the phrases could mean I’m happy that all that can be done has been done, alternatively I might just be less than impressed.  I will let you guess, but a clue; Winston Churchill was fond of saying, “I am easily pleased…….by perfection”. I first heard that at school from a teacher drilling a similar thing into the class and that became a mental tattoo.

It’s an attitude and a way of being.  It’s me. I don’t even think them unless it’s to check what else I need to do, can do, should do etc.

“That’ll do” never does. Just by asking if it will do, you have abdicated caring about the quality. Likewise if you think something is good enough it very rarely will be and is an acceptance of a compromise to quality and to doing the job right.

It is always likely to be the difference between making something happen rather than just letting it happen by chance.

When I read the statements from the management of the company I was researching I could almost hear them saying “yeah that’ll do” and seeing the slight shrug of the shoulders as they said it.

So to keep the theme going what words are you never likely to say and why?

Oh and music of the moment – My Wave by Soundgarden

Who Do you Think is the Most Influential Leader in Global Recruitment?

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Do you work for or know an influential leader?Banner 344x80

I am sure many of us will have been fortunate to have worked for, or with a manager who has been an inspiration to us and has possessed the true ability to lead, not only the team and its delivery of services, but also has had the clarity of thought to lead the thinking on different issues important to you and to the business that you support. They are rare and we don’t always appreciate them at the time, but each of them as had a bearing on you and how your do things.

In their August edition Recruiter magazine launched “Most Influential In-house Recruiters” with a stellar line up of in-house practitioners for 2013, each of whom in the opinion of the author of that piece made a significant impact in their business or is a key influencer and thought leader. Many, myself included (I am pleased to say I am friends or at least know all but two of those mentioned), recognise that they each deserve to be included and for a variety of reasons. These leaders have made a significant difference to the teams they lead, the services they deliver, the innovations they have implemented at their employers or the changes they have influenced in the wider recruitment landscape.

It goes without saying that each one of those included by Recruiter deserve to be there, yet there will be countless others across the world that have had a similarly significant impact on the people they work with and the services they deliver and also richly deserve the accolades of their peers.
Do you work with someone that deserves the acknowledgement?
Who has made a difference to you and your business?

Whether you consider someone to be a good leader or an inspiration to you or others will always depend on circumstance and perspective of course.  And it is your perspective that counts.

Who do you think deserve to be honoured as The Recruitment Leader of The Year 2013? who will you nominate?

Get your nominations in now  >> Click HERE

Closing date for entries is 30th Sept 2013

Originally posted on The FIRM Awards site

18 Months and All Change

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Be warned – this is a remedial brain dump.  This is for me, about me.  I should have written it a while ago to get it off my chest but hey………………….

So I apologise in advance if it is a wee bit introspective and selfish so wont be offended if you chose not to read on and click away now

It’s been quite a while since I wrote a blog from scratch, a blog that isn’t based on an observation of a topic trending elsewhere online, in fact I’ve not put anything out for almost a year.  I have to say I’ve missed it.

There are two or three reasons for this; firstly my confidence as a blogger took a knocking by someone who through either naivety, or perhaps simple ignorance was rather critical of the fact that I blogged and offered up observation or opinions on subjects or issues I was interested in.  Now normally I wouldn’t pay any attention or would discuss further in an attempt to win them over, however when it comes from a co-worker in an influential position it becomes somewhat tougher.  Now they never actually made a big deal of it to be fair to them, however it had me second guessing myself to the point that I lost my mojo, inspiration and inclination to write.

Secondly I was rather ill last year.  This had a massive impact on me both physically and mentally.  The strength of both capacities was for a certain time impacted drastically.  Physically I have lost approx. 25 kilos (55lbs) in body weight since then, much of it in the first few weeks which took all of my strength away. Mentally I was impacted by a massive amount of steroids that I had to take daily for the first 6 months before being weaned off of them from the start of this year, as well as the constant adjustment and fight against pain. It took its toll.

I also changed jobs so to speak at the end of last year and went from being employed to working on The FIRM full time for a few months and then setting up my own consulting business which had it’s own level of stress at a time, when I was starting to become unwell again, although I failed to recognise it at the time.

In July 2013 I had a reoccurrence (I was warned I would get them through life now) and was taken to hospital again – it could not have come at a better time.  Strange as that may sound, so much was going wrong physically that it was difficult to get through a day and then a night without pain. It was very stressful. I wasn’t a nice person to be around.  But getting into hospital again and being treated albeit, drip fed nothing but morphine, potassium, and paracetamol for 48 hours and then being put back on the steroids has been like having my factory reset button pressed.  Not only that, it has given me the power of hindsight and reflection. How to cope better, how to adjust to what is happening to me so I can better recognise when, (if) it happens again.

So looking back to over the last 18 months or so, the two things that have dominated my life and that of those around – change and food!

  • I’ve changed
  • My weight has changed
  • My size has changed
  • My way of thinking has changed
  • My moods change so much faster than I’d expect
  • I am much more disciplined now
  • I exercise much more – in fact having lost 25kg makes it easier

Oh and when it comes to food – where do I start? I have had to drastically change my diet – I am now gluten intolerant, dairy intolerant, fat intolerant and diabetic. Not all them were diagnosed at the same time either so I have had constant adjustments to make. Not only that but eating too much is a no no for me too! Who would’ve thought eh? Many of the good foods, particularly fruit and veg I cannot eat anymore, some cause me pain – why is that?  It can’t be fair not to be able to eat grapes, corn, oranges, broccoli, and cauliflower surely? Not to mention fried food!  I have yet to get an intolerance to water, so there is hope.

Those close to me know I have met many of the challenges of the last 18 months head on and enjoyed much of it. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t like being 10 inches smaller at the waist?  They also know that there have been aspects of what has happened that have not been so pleasant and have been a huge struggle; continued pain, continued weight loss, emotional extremes, fatigue, mood swings.  Each of which counters the enjoyment of the new Gary and has added extra worry, anxiety and stress for me and to others.

As with any illness either physical or mental there are no or at best, limited options or choices for much of what happens, control is taken away and your life is tilted on its axis. However it is still spinning, maybe at a different angle, at a different speed, it may even wobble but life goes on.  It’s all about managing change. We do it in our daily lives whether at work or a play, many don’t know that they are adapting or managing the change.

I am learning to change every day. I learn some aspects of it better and faster than others.  I, like you don’t have a choice in some of it, it just happens, that’s life, I can manage it and its impact perhaps, if I am strong enough and equipped to do so at the time. Alternatively I can ask for help.  Not always easy, seems to be a human condition not to ask for help. But you will be surprised from where help can come from, if only you asked.  This applies at work or at home, whether you are managing a team or a new function or in your personal life.

So it was a bit of a jumbled ramble that needed to be unloaded.  There are about 25-30 people who I owe a huge thank you too for many reasons. Genuinely. Thank You.

The HR Juggler


So, my original plan was to follow-up the wonderful advent blog series with a summary post presenting my learning and the analytics and then take a bit of a break from blogging. That summary post will absolutely follow soon, but as many of you will be aware, Day 43 of the series created a tidal wave of interest and commitment from people across and beyond my network to come together and do something about the topic of mental health.

It is too easy to feel that surge of commitment and then to fail to take action. If you need any further proof, look here to a post that I wrote about mental health two years ago and have done very little about since. I have spoken at length with the author of the post and both of us have chatted with Mind to devise a plan for all who want…

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In-house Recruiters – behaviours and ethics, improvements needed

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Whenever in-house recruiting practitioners come together online or in person you can bet your house the conversation will soon turn to the use of recruitment agencies and soon thereafter to how bad or unethical they usually are.  Some of the more entertaining discussions in the online communities I am a member of are full of anecdotes of bad practice, lack of integrity, stupidity…..well the list goes on. Sadly the comments are all too true, frequent and similar in nature, so it is hardly surprising that all agencies good or bad tend to get grouped together as bad.


However on a number of occasions recently I have been party to some discussions and comments from the other perspective; those made by recruitment agencies about the issues they have with HR, in-house recruiters or hiring managers.  Some of them are the expected moans about an inability to sell, usually coming from a blatant lack of understanding for their customers and not worth the consideration, others however deserve much more.


Whilst the in-house recruiters might enjoy “agency bashing” as a frequent activity, the agency sales people do have some genuine reasons to “bash” back.    I give you a mashup of a couple of incidents from earlier this year, as an example of one of really poor behaviour.  Sadly the in-house recruiters involved are members of The FIRM and yes they still are, in the hope that they will learn from others.  Discussions have been had.


An agency is briefed on a role by an employer about a specific vacancy, asked to find suitable applicants and submit CVs accordingly.  The agency supplies CVs to the inhouse Recruitment Manager as requested, in accordance with procedures.  The Recruitment Manager contacts the candidates directly and attempts to bypass the agency. 


Because this is a mashup of incidents, much of the detail from each is omitted, including the names of all parties, but you get the gist.


Let’s be clear on this, if the agency has been asked to provide CVs for a particular role and responds accordingly I cannot think of any justification why this kind of behaviour is acceptable. You should be ashamed. 


I’d be interested to hear if anyone can try to justify it.  This is also I am sure, just one of many moans or genuine complaints that could be aimed at in-house recruiters.


Many in-house practitioners generally take the high moral ground when it comes to ethics and professionalism and become quite partisan in either promoting or defending that position, myself included, yet I am all too aware that there is merit in what the agencies say and based on the above I am sure few would disagree.   A couple of years ago I presented to an audience of over 100 inhouse recruiters and used the words “you are not as good as you think you are”.  I had learned that at the time as a result of my own, then recent, job hunting experiences. As a result of the growth of the in-house recruiting function in the last two years I believe this to still be the case today, more than ever. 


To be able to do our jobs properly we have to act with integrity. This is true when dealing with everyone in the candidate supply chain, no matter how they are sourced.  To behave any other way is not only a mistake, but so damaging to your recruitment brand and to your own personal reputation.  Even if you don’t have your own personal code of conduct, your company should without doubt. 


I am not saying you have to deal with recruitment agencies, however I am saying that if you chose to, then doing so with the highest levels of professionalism and honesty can only be a good thing.  I would hope that members of The FIRM think and behave the same way. 


I welcome all comments and thoughts on this one