Saturday, 20 June 2009

In Defence of Hackney

I'm a proud dad this morning. The Times this morning published my 15 year old daughter's letter defending our fair borough from a savage attack by Giles Coren:

Hi Giles

I'm 14 years old, female and living in Stoke Newington, HACKNEY. When you finally decide to venture out into the world where multiculturalism is the norm and bicycles are seen more often than cars, let me know. You're assumptions on the hoodies and canals (or sewers as you prefer to all them) are what make me never ever want to move to Highgate/Islington/Hampstead

Miriam Stewart

The original article is here. That was the edited version. This is her full letter:

Hi there Giles,I'm 14 years old, female and living in Stoke Newington, HACKNEY. I am also embarrassingly upper middle class. I got the gist from the article that you are too, except unlike me, you've never ventured out from under your rock in hampstead heath or highgate. It's people like you that give middle classers like me who live in Hackney a bad name.

My family have lived on our road for, coming up to 20 years, and we have never once locked our car. And never once has it been stolen. Yes i admit it is a bit of a rubbish family minivan but none the less, my point remains the same it has never been stolen. I imagine you probably don't drive a minivan, I also imagine that you have a receding hair line and drive a BMW because your midlife crisis makes you too self conscious to be seen in anything but that.

I'm even imagining you wearing glasses, which by the way, you really should go and see an optician about because you seem to be having some real trouble opening your eyes. When you finally decide to venture out into the world where multi culture is a norm and bicycles are seen more often cars, let me know, because until then you're opinion is absolutely worthless to me.

You're assumptions on the hoodies and canals (or sewers as you prefer to all them) are what make me never ever want to move to Highgate/Islington/Hampstead, because like you clearly cant stand Hackney, i don't think i could stand you.

Miriam Stewart

P.S commenting on your sat nav problem, they are, as you clearly know, useless. the only reason you have one is because you are either too lazy, incompetent or up yourself to be seen reading an A-Z.

To Giles' credit, he did send a very nice reply and encouraged Miriam to stay angry when she writes!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Staff Surveys, Recruitment and Retention

Written for The People Bulletin:

Nandos, the popular restaurant chain, some years ago carried out research into what were the key factors that explained why sales at some of their restaurants grew faster than at others. After detailed analysis they found one factor stood out above all others in explaining the difference. This was how happy the staff were, as measured in the annual staff survey. In response they changed their bonus system, so that 50% of each manager’s bonus became based solely on those staff survey results.

So do you know what your staff think of working for you?
It gave a powerful message to managers that the root of success laid in happy and motivated staff and also of the importance of bothering to find out how they felt. In these challenging times it is more important than ever to create great working environments, where people feel valued. When we work with organisations to improve their workplace, our first step is generally a staff survey, plus interviews with employees, to find out how people feel at that particular moment in time. In particular, the results can show what needs to change to keep people, and thus improve retention.

It’s not just about pay
Managers are often in denial about staff dis-satisfaction and assume that people leave for jobs with better pay or prospects. Indeed research published in the Harvard Management Update
[i] found 88% of managers believe this. But research among the people who leave jobs indicates the opposite is true[ii]. The Saratoga Institute[iii] followed up 19,500 people who had left jobs in 18 different organisations and found that only 12% left for better pay or prospects.

The other 88% left due to factors related to the job, the manager, the culture or the work environment. If we assume this may be true of your organisation too, and many of those are people you want to keep, then you need to be working out what in your organisational culture is driving people away.

There is really only one way to find that out, and that is to ask your employees. What do they like about working for your organisation? What don’t they like and could cause them to leave?

Our own back yard
At Happy we have been carrying out staff surveys and upward appraisals for over a decade and I am pleased to say that they are now very positive. But it hasn’t always been that way. One of the first appraisals I received was truly shocking. I hadn’t seen it coming. I thought I was doing a great job of representing the company, networking and bringing in business. My staff agreed. But they also told me that, back at the office, I wasn’t listening well, wasn’t appreciating the work people did and wasn’t engaging enough – and that this was important to them.

My response was to put myself on monthly appraisal. I was determined to change and I figured it was no good waiting six months or a year for feedback. As I responded to the feedback, steadily my ratings improved. It was a crucial period for me and I believe the growth we’ve had since then wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t done those surveys and I hadn’t made those changes to my behaviour.

We are very proud of the fact that Happy was this year rated the best company in the UK for staff health and well-being, and has been rated in the top 20 workplaces in the UK for the last four years by the Great Place to Work Institute.[iv]

I know that upward appraisals are controversial in some organisations. But my view is to not have them is unfair. How can you be sure how you are doing as a manager if you don’t get clear feedback from those you manage? How can you improve and develop without that?

Staff surveys, whether they are about the company as a whole or appraisals of individual or collective management, are essential if you truly want to create a great place to work through more than guesswork. And, providing you phrase it to get the positive as well as the negative, you may even be pleasantly surprised by some of the results.

Free staff survey
You can create your own staff survey using easy-to-use software like (just $200 a year for as many online surveys as you want to create) or use the free staff survey at the Happy People web site: register at, get your staff to complete it and receive a full report, including benchmarking information.

[i] ‘The keys to retaining your best managers in a tight job market’, Marie Gendron, Harvard Management Update June 1998. Obtainable directly from Harvard Business Publishing

[ii] The 7 hidden reasons employees leave by Leigh Branham in association with the Saratoga Institute, published by the American Management Association, 2005

[iii] A human capital measurement service part of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. Details can be viewed at