Seeing beyond your nose

Today marked the start of Be Kind To Animals week. I expect that lots of you along with many other people didn’t realise that. There are so many days, weeks and months to mark something. In fact I think most things have some form of commemoration day to raise awareness from doughnuts to dementia. Some are serious and others are a bit of fun.

The fact that it is Be Kind To Animals week is not the issue, what is important for me is that people are aware of their surroundings. I am continually surprised by the fact that while younger people have the world at their fingertips they are interested in nothing beyond their small group of friends.

As we head towards the election it is clear that many young people don’t vote because they have no interest in what is happening. They can’t see the link between the national discussion about politics and what takes place in their local communities. And in the modern world where you can keep in touch with the latest events for every second of every day they seem unwilling to switch on.

It is a huge concern for me that in the future people will become more and more isolated within their own small worlds. They will mix with their friends, see the same people every day at work, and keep within safe boundaries. How then are we going to have people who will question the status quo and challenge what is taking place in the world? How will we get people to work together to improve society? How will we find people to keep us evolving and developing?

In short, there will always be a few people who are prepared to swim against the tide. These are the people who will be aware of the wider world and keen to get involved, challenge and move things forward. I wonder whether it is now time to encourage an interest in society, culture and politics at an early stage within schools. In that way we may start to increase those active citizens who work for the common good and will be heading to the ballot box.

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Seize the day – well, after a rest

Today is a bank holiday. If you ever wondered why we have bank holidays then it goes back to the 1800s. In 1834 the Bank of England reduced the number of holidays it observed from 33 to four: 1 May (May Day), 1 November (All Saints’ Day), Good Friday and Christmas Day. This has been changed and adapted over the years and now we  have only three strict bank holidays two in May and one in August.

We often feel we have to do lots of things when we have the long bank holiday weekends. It is important to make the most of the extra free time we have whether that is going out and about or doing some DIY at home. I feel I have to pack something into every second of the day so I can look back and feel I have been productive.

It is true that modern life really is jam-packed. We are all busy, busy, busy trying to have everything a job, career, family, home life, hobbies, sporting pastimes. You name it and we all seem to be trying to squeeze it into every 24 hours. I am as bad as everyone else trying to shoehorn so much into my waking day and even curtailing sleep sometimes to get everything done.

This activity is good but we often sacrifice a bit of down time. In my childhood, which is not that long ago, Sunday’s were always a day of rest. They had to be there was nothing to do. Nothing on TV, shops were shut and there was no Internet. I remember being very bored on many Sundays but what I did have was a chance to relax and unwind. In 2015 having any time to just sit and reflect is rare. We are always within arms reach of our smartphones and ready to log on. So when do we switch off.

I can’t say I am using the bank holiday to have a well-earned rest. To start with I am sat doing work and writing this blog. I am not taking the opportunity to have some recovery time from a frenetic life. Perhaps I should. But as I only have three bank holidays to enjoy during the year rather than the 33 we used to have I will be making it count. Time to seize the day but first I might take my advice and have a brew and some time out.

Enjoy your day whatever you are doing.

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Happier staff in five steps

It is a question we often ask ‘how is work’, but few of us probably give an honest and detailed answer. I had an interesting discussion last night with a friend who is about to retire in the next few months. The conversation was focused on why so many people are fed up or disillusioned with work. It seems it doesn’t matter whether you are in the service sector or manufacturing, public or private sector or at the start or end of your career most people appear to have low morale.

This is one of the perennial challenges for internal communicators. How do you improve the staff morale? What can we do to make people happier and more productive at work?

There is a lot of detailed research, analysis and reports that are available discussing this issue and I am sure they are useful. But I think there are also some simple things that employees are looking for to improve their experience at work. There are, for me, five elements I believe are important to make a difference to this work apathy.

1. Find ways to show people their work counts and they are making an impact. It isn’t easy at the minute when there are few ways to provide financial rewards to staff and in much of the public sector this is a considerable challenge. However, it doesn’t need to be a financial reward something as simple as saying thank you can improve people’s attitude to work.

2. Value people’s views of how to improve or change the business. This means listening to what employees have to say and considering their views of what can be done to improve work. For me this is more than just having a staff suggestion scheme it is about building real consultation into every part of the business process.

3. Treat employees as individuals. Many line managers have been given larger and larger teams to manage making treating staff as individuals a problem. However, there are ways of doing this and that may involve a little bit of time in the short-term to bring longer term benefits.

4. Listening. This isn’t just as part of point 2. It is about all levels of the organisation listening to the views of people above, below and on the same level as them. But it is essential for the CEO or chief executive to ensure they and the top team take time to listen to a broad range of views about what is affecting their employees.

5. Prioritise employee communication. In recent years when the financial crisis hit many organisations slimmed down their communication function and in some cases lost the specialist internal communication role. It is vital that there is a group of people who can ensure messages are shared throughout the organisation. These are the people able to gather feedback and help bosses to do all the points 1 to 4.

It is very easy for employees to keep moaning about the state of their world of work. It is even easier for managers and bosses to moan about the lack of morale in the workplace. The key is for the two groups to work together to improve the situation. This all sounds very simple. I think it is but it is also really difficult for this to be kept at the forefront of the daily business when there are many more urgent demands.

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Getting social to survive

It was quite a surprise to find that Google Plus had sent out its first tweet on Friday this week. Unlike many people I am actually quite a fan of G+ and think it has a lot to offer. The problem has been that it is really only the social media geeks that have taken to the network and that has limited its wider appeal.

In recent months there has been a lot of discussion about the demise of Google Plus and announcements about it having no further developments. However, perhaps some of those rumours were a bit premature. I hope so.

I am a huge fan of the Google Hangouts which provide some really easy to use technology that has been a great way for me to be able to connect with people. One of my favourite experiences was having a hangout with someone in America, Iran, Colombia and me in the UK. It was linked to an online course I was doing but it was such an amazing experience and was only possible with Google Hangout. For me the layout was really clear and it was always relatively easy to use. The communities option was also a way of keeping connected to groups with similar interests.

There are obviously some limitations and one of the main ones was that managing your circles could become a huge challenge. I know some people found new tools to help manage circles and make keeping on top of things much easier. That all just seemed like a bit too much effort. I preferred to just let things happen and do my best to handle things.

So with the move of Google+ into Twitter I am hopeful that it may be a new dawn for the social network. It may encourage more people, non-geeks, to give it a go and look at what it has to offer. Perhaps the social network going social may be the key to its survival. We will have to wait and see.

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You can fool some of the people…

We are just days away from the General Election and this blog is definitely not going to get political at this late stage. However, the Question Time debate last night made for very intriguing viewing. It put journalism and not just the three party leaders in the hotseat.

For weeks we have been listening to journalists interviewing a wide range of different politicians. We have heard standard replies, the politicians avoiding answers and of course some questions never being asked. This is what made allowing an audience of the public to ask the questions so exciting.

People don’t follow journalistic conventions and have nothing to lose. They don’t have relationships to protect which mean they ‘go easy’ on political leaders. In fact all they have is a desire to get the truth and to have the question answered. Of course, they are also prepared to say when they think honesty is missing or a question is being fudged. It was quite refreshing viewing.

I quite want to see Prime Minister’s questions take on a whole new interactive element where members of the public are given the chance to raise queries on the issue of the day. There would be no holding back and perhaps we would get a new style of politics to take us forward. One where truth and honesty are central because people could so easily be found out.

After all you can fool some of the people some of the time but on the evidence of last night you certainly can’t fool all of the people. I hope we see more opportunities for members of the public to be able to openly challenge politicians both in the media and on social media.

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On the eve of a challenge

Tomorrow is the 1st May. May Day. For me it is the start of another May test. Once again I am doing the ‘blog a day in May’ challenge and will be writing a blog for every day of the month.

For anyone who reads this blog I am sorry that you will be receiving more regular rants, thoughts and random ideas during the next 31 days. It is really a challenge to me to see if I can be disciplined enough to sit down and write every day. I know I have a wide range of ideas that float through my head on a daily basis but I often lack the discipline to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

So, I managed it in 2014 and I am going to see if I can do the same in 2015. This is looking like a busy month we have the election next week, then I am lucky enough to be speaking at the Commshero event in Manchester, speaking at an internal communication workshop in London, having a few days off to do some dressage judging and helping. I am sure all these things will help me to find interesting subjects to write about.

Tonight I will draw breath and prepare for the challenge ahead. I hope it proves to be an interesting month where we can share and discuss ideas. And if you have any ideas about possible subjects for the 31 blogs that are ahead of me then please feel free to share.

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A concert and birthday party – thoughts on modern life

I had a couple of interesting events this week. Firstly, I went to watch a concert along with many others. We all came together to enjoy the live music and hear the old hits being belted out. Then today I came together with family to celebrate my nephew’s eighth birthday. What could these two things have in common? Not much I imagine you saying but actually they shared one major thing which is central to life – connection.

On Wednesday when I headed towards the Apollo in Manchester, so did hundreds of others and we connected through a shared love of music. It meant we enjoyed a shared experience and we could all go away with something that had brought us together. The people I met were friendly and open to a conversation despite the fact we didn’t know each other and came from very different places.

The same can be said of the birthday party today. It was a shared experience that we were all able to take part in. But it was also a way of connecting and revisiting even strengthening the ties we have as members of one family. As with most families we separate and continue our lives and then every so often come back together and reinforce our connection. Why are these things important?

We are by nature social creatures and live together in communities. It is vital for our health and well-being that we come together and connect with other people. Living in isolation is damaging and really needs to be done sparingly. In the modern age we spend a lot of time in our own little boxes, our own worlds where we focus on our own priorities and problems. I have written before about how with the world at our fingertips we often don’t look further than our own small sphere of life.

Isolation is a serious issue and one we need to recognise within our communities. Who are the people who rarely go out or in some cases are housebound? How do they connect with others and more importantly how can we help them connect with others? Some have criticised modern life for creating or making this problem worse. I don’t think so. In fact, I think social media used in the right way can help us to make connections. The important thing is to make sure that this doesn’t stay online and can be brought into the physical world.

I enjoyed both the experiences this week. Both were massively enjoyable and both reminded me what makes us human – the ability to connect. Connection that we can then use to grow, develop and live.

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