Elephants on the Moon? Why we Embrace Lies over Truth 

Posted: June 8, 2020 by Matthew Hanwell in Change, OD, People, Utopia, Values

Blog Post by Ian Gee.

I have been wondering why the UK Government continues to get such high ratings in the polls despite the untruths, half-truths and direct lies they have told and continue to tell. Lies about Brexit and now about COVID-19. On numerous occasions their lying and half-truths have been uncovered by journalists and challenged by the lived experience of citizens. Being found out, would appear to have very little impact on the approval ratings of either the Government or the individual ministers and politicians who have been promoting lies. 

Like many, I naively imagined that post the 2016 referendum, once people understood the truth about Brexit, they would change their minds and support the campaign for a second referendum. For me the results of the referendum were a consequence of poor campaigning and a lack of knowledge about how we benefited from our membership of the EU. How wrong was I!  Some people did move from being Leavers to ‘Remainers Now’ but if you look at polling during that time, a huge shift did not happen.  Even when ‘Vote Leave’ publicly admitted they lied![1]  Many of us went on marches, lobbied MPs, talked to people at street stalls, leafletted hundreds if not thousands of houses and in December 2019, we ended up with a Tory 80 seat majority Government with a manifesto commitment to ‘Get Brexit Done’. 

The Brexit lies were bad enough, but now we have our Government telling lies about the COVID-19 pandemic.  COVID-19 has led to the death of what the Financial Times estimates to be just under 60,000[2] people with the Government saying the figure is around 37,000.  COVID-19 is leading to untold suffering with people not able to see their families and friends, attend the funerals of relatives, a tsunami of job losses and ongoing financial hardship. Yet still very few people are calling out the lies and demanding something better.  Increasingly Government Ministers are refusing to go on news programmes where they feel their preferred version of the truth may be challenged. When members of the Government do submit to interviews and are confronted with reality, this seems to have had very little impact on the overall favourability ratings of the Government.

Since the Brexit campaign it has become increasingly obvious that ‘facts don’t change feelings.’  A lot of Brexiteers when confronted with the likelihood that their post EU dreams would not match up with the promises made, said and often shouted ‘Project Fear!’  Repeating the lies of ‘Project Leave’ as if they were a gospel truth. Believe enough and it will be true!

Talking and listening to Leavers I was never able to get any clear understanding of the benefits they felt they would get by our leaving the EU.  How their lives would be made better, easier or more complete. What I got were abstract concepts like ‘sovereignty’ and ‘taking back control’.  Not one leaver could ever answer my questions about what more sovereignty would give them.  All I got were vague and sometimes explicit racists statements about too many foreigners taking our jobs and using ‘our’ NHS. More Sovereignty they said would cure this.

A lack of truth telling is also a characteristic of the Governments response to the COVID-19 pandemic.   The Daily Mirror published a list of lies the Government have told[3].  These include:

  • Matt Hancock promised 100,000 tests a day by the end of April. When the 30th (April) arrived, the Health Secretary simply mailed out an extra 40,000 to meet his figure.
  • Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick boasted of 400,000 surgical gowns from Turkey. They did not arrive next day as promised. When they did, they were useless
  •  Mr Johnson pledged “to fix the crisis in social care once and for all”. Had he been telling the truth; care homes would not be in the desperate state they are now
  • At first, they appeared to show Covid-19 deaths on a similar trajectory as those in Italy, France and Spain. Only pressure to include victims outside hospitals revealed the true gruesome picture

Many more lies have come to light since the Daily Mirror compiled this list[4]. There has been very little public outcry about the ongoing obfuscation of the truth.  Even when caught out in a lie, no Minster,  politician or special advisor has resigned or even said sorry.  People seem to accept and expect lies and I can only think they would rather deal in lies than face the truth.  In late April there was a post doing the rounds on social media saying that the highlighting of lies and half-truths during the current crisis was unpatriotic, talking the country down, and not helpful[5].  In other words, we should simply allow the Government to get on with what they are doing, with no scrutiny or holding to account.  We just need to trust and if this needs to be blind trust then so be it.  It is almost as if people are immune to lying and unconcerned about what is fast becoming a national delusion.  My question is why and what is sustaining this? 

Now it is time for a few definitions of the terms I will by using as I move this forward:

Societies Dominant group – a supposed group of people who have the majority power in society along with privilege and social status. They are not necessarily the majority group but a group given special status

Narcissism – full blown narcissism is a personality disorder. In the context of this piece of writing I am using the term to explore traits that to one degree or another we all share.  When our narcissistic self kicks in, we tend to have an exaggerated sense of our own self-importance, become arrogant, manipulative and demanding with a strong sense of entitlement to special treatment and consideration. We also lack empathy and have no real sense of the ‘other’

Othering – objectification and stigmatizing of another person or group in negative way. By ‘othering’ we add to our own positive sense of self, because we are not ‘them’ 

Empathy – Our ability to understand and feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference.  Our ability to put ourselves in the shoes of other people

My initial thoughts about why lies are really important is that there is something going on in terms of individual and group unconscious identification with the perceived dominant group in society.  Somehow the Brexit Vote Leave campaign enabled many people to think, at an unconscious level, that by leaving the EU they would no longer be the ‘other’ in society.  The cost of this was that you had to be unquestioning in your belief about what Vote Leave said and do what they asked you to do.  In this way you had the opportunity to give up your status as ‘other’ and become part of ‘them’, with all the benefits that accrue to such status. The ‘other’ in this context refers to the white working class who for many years have felt left behind and ignored by the political elite.  I do not feel I have the data or lived experience talk directly about BAME groups in this context. The area I live in is very white and mono-cultural.  What I do know is that BAME people report that they are continually ‘othered’ by society.

At the same time narcissism has had a part to play.  Leading to an empathy deficit evidenced by increasing expressions of ‘exceptionalism’ and ‘specialness’. The dream being that somehow Brexit would reboot the UK back to a perceived golden past and those currently left out would be part of this.  These ideas were further stimulated when I found an article by Ethan Gray on Medium called ‘The Narcissistic Face of White Supremacy,[6] This helped to move my thinking forward.

If you think of it in this way and recognise the power of these unconscious drivers, then you can see how attractive this must be to people who feel left behind.  It also becomes obvious how difficult, if not impossible, it would be for them to articulate personal, practical and positive benefits of our leaving the EU.  The connection between the dream and reality is tenuous at best. At an unconscious level they know this.  However, if your life is difficult and you face numerous challenges in terms of income, poor working conditions, lack of choices and aspiration and someone holds out the possibility of a golden dawn, where you will be a cherished part of society, then why would you not go for it?  It feels much better than continuing to be the ‘other’ in society, with limited life choices.  No matter how unrealistic this might be.

Now let’s look a bit more at narcissism. Shifting from being ‘other’ through the possibility of becoming part of the dominant group, I believe has activated people’s narcissism.  It has led to feelings of specialness and exceptionalism and has damaged many people’s ability to see, feel and understand the lives of those around them.  I think this is what led to the post referendum rise in hate crime. It has also led to an inability for Leavers to have any desire to really understand where Remainers were coming from. If you are operating from a narcissistic point of view, you need to have ‘others’ who are not you, in order to confirm your special status. You need to know what you are moving away from even if it is not clear what you are moving towards. You cannot afford to have too much empathy.  Any empathetic response is likely to lead to the realisation that the ‘other’ is not that different from you.

I believe that this narcissistic drive led to Remainers being called Nazis, unpatriotic and doing the country down etc. Not believing that the UK could be supreme amongst nations!   Dreams of national sovereignty have been internalised as personal sovereignty and I think it is this sense of personal sovereignty that is key to understanding the rise of narcissism.  Casting migrants and refugees as being ‘other’ gives you a new place to stand.  One where you are not ‘them’. Even if in reality you share the same life challenges in terms of work, housing, food poverty, impoverished aspirations etc.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic we have seen a rise in volunteering to support the vulnerable in society.  Yet at the same time a recent YouGov poll [7] showed a direct correlation between how people voted in the referendum and their feelings about lockdown. Those who disagreed with lockdown and want it to end in the main voted Leave and those in support of it voted remain. This is despite the fact we know that lockdown is saving lives. I think this is an expression of unconscious narcissistic exceptionalism with people believing they won’t catch the virus because in some way they are too special to be taken by it.

It is this combination of having a perceived opportunity to be part of the dominant group, combined with the reactivation of inherent narcissism that I believe means lies have to go unchallenged.  If you discover that the group you aspire to be part of has lied, then you might start to think that the big promises they have made to you may also be lies.

What is even more challenging from a COVID-19 point of view is that the lies we have been told have no doubt cost lives.  But if you start to recognise them as lies then you are likely to start to question if the overall premise that you will no longer be ‘other’ is also a lie.  And then what do you do?  Your whole newly installed world view and future sense of self is likely to start to collapse.  If you have basically given up your agency, felt you are special and suddenly it dawns on you that the likelihood of you ever being part of the dominant group is about as realistic as elephants on the moon, then you are in deep psychological trouble.  What a lot of people will do is simply up the ante and double down on their beliefs.  Ignoring any evidence that might challenge their new emerging world view.  This is classic cult behaviour. If we believe enough and follow a leader despite what they might be doing, and even if we know they are lying, then we will be safe and our dreams of a special and better future are protected. The Government know this and understand that they have to keep telling half-truths and lies in order to keep people onside and unquestioning about what the future really might hold for them. 

The process which started with Brexit has spilled over into COVID-19.  If the government cannot be trusted on a pandemic, how can they be trusted to deliver Brexit? If you start to challenge the lies you were told about COVID-19 then that bleeds into the lies you were told about Brexit.  The price you pay for believing that you will become part of the dominant group is that you have to believe everything you are being told.  If you start acknowledging consciously, even small lies, then you are likely to start to unconsciously and eventually consciously unpick the promise that has been held out to you for the past 4+ years. 

This house of cards will collapse.  It has to, even when COVID-19 goes away.  The Chancellor and the Bank of England tell us that COVID-19 will lead to the biggest recession for over 300 years[8]. Add a very likely Brexit no deal to the mix and we really are facing a very difficult and uncertain future.  Already the job losses are mounting and yet still there has been very little public outcry about the lies we are being told.  Understandably, living with the fear of the pandemic and for many people who have direct experience of either being sick or having lost loved ones, Brexit feels like a non-issue.  So what if we leave without a deal?  Things are bad now; truly how much worse can they get?  Little, I fear do they know!

On the 24th May[9] the news broke about the Prime Ministers Special Advisor breaking lockdown to drive to his family 260 miles away from London to Durham.  Ostensibly for their help in looking after their child while he and his wife were sick. Looking across Social Media this has caused outrage in many quarters with terms like ‘one rule for them and another for us.’[10]  Minsters and influential members of the government rallied round to support him.  Denying he had done anything wrong, saying he had used his judgement and made a correct and legal choice.

By the 25th May the story developed further and it has become clear that not only did he drive to see his family he also did not self-isolate but took a day trip to Barnard Castle a town 30 miles away.[11]   The outrage continues to rumble and grow.   A number of commentators and members of the governments SAGE committee are describing his actions as having ‘driven a coach and horses through the Government’s lockdown strategy’.  Government and pro-government supporters are doubling down on their continued denials that he has done anything wrong.  Social Media is full of stories of people saying they did not go to the funeral of a loved one, have not seen family members for months etc., because they followed the rules.  But given that it seems to be ‘one rule for them and another for us’ they would now start to make their own choices and ignore what the government is asking them to do.  Polling carried out on the 25th and 26th May appears to show a big drop in the Prime Ministers popularity with the leader of the opposition now polling much more favourably.  

On the evening of the 24th May the Prime Minister led the daily Coronavirus Briefing and used the opportunity to show his full support for his special advisor[12].  After the briefing there was a storm of anger on both Facebook and Twitter with people who had supported the Prime Minister and both his Brexit and COVID-19 strategies now saying they no longer supported him and were calling for his resignation.

Journalists started to use the term ‘Cut through’ to describe what the story was doing.  Not being a journalist, I can only think they feel this story is ‘cutting through’ the ‘gaslighting’, lies and obfuscation that have been so present in politics this last 4 or so years.  If so, then I believe this is the first time that cracks have started to appear in the compelling, unconscious fiction that by following our Government blindly, in relation to both Brexit and COVID-19, we can become part of the dominant group.  We will see how this plays out over the next few days and what the Government attempts to do in order to fill those cracks before they turn into fissures and break the whole thing wide open.   

Once it does break open, things will get very messy as many people realise that the unconscious promises they have been operating from for nearly 4 years are chimerical. I believe that a number of members of the Government and their advisors will, within the next month or so, find their position untenable.  Putting the genie back in the bottle will not be possible and their lies and half-truths will come back to haunt them.  Having a new leader of the opposition, whose magnetic pull is stronger than the previous opposition leader, will start to shift the national narrative in a different direction. With the possibility of a new version of the future. Hopefully a more realistic and grounded one.  

Many people’s lives are not what they could be.  Employment, housing, opportunities and the development of potential for many people needs addressing.  What they are about to find out is that Brexit will not in any way achieve this in a post COVID-19 world.  To heal the country and enable us to move forward as one nation we are likely to need both a commission of national reconciliation and deep forensic work to help people find new conscious truths to replace the past 4 years’ worth of unconscious half-truths and lies.

Ian Gee

28 May 2020

[1] 8 February 2017 https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/news/vote-leave-director-admits-won-lied-public/08/02/

[2] 28 May 2020  https://www.ft.com/content/6b4c784e-c259-4ca4-9a82-648ffde71bf0

[3] 9 May 2020 https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/voice-mirror-deserve-honesty-covid-22002310

[4] 15 May 2020 https://bylinetimes.com/2020/05/15/britains-chernobyl-covid-19-and-the-cost-of-lies/

[5] 23 April 202 https://bit.ly/2M40ljw

[6]  19 May 2020 https://medium.com/@_EthanGrey/the-narcissistic-face-of-white-supremacy-f3c0f31a2a8

[7] 14 May 2020 https://docs.cdn.yougov.com/oygox62yaw/YouGov%20Covid%20Lockdown%20Results%20May%202020.pdf

[8] 7 May 2020 https://www.ft.com/content/734e604b-93d9-43a6-a6ec-19e8b22dad3c

[9] 24 May 2020 https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/voice-mirror-cummings-lockdown-breach-22076219

[10] 23 May 2020 https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/may/23/cummings-and-cabinet-cheerleaders-feel-heat-from-social-media-fury

[11] 23 May 2020 https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/may/23/new-witnesses-cast-doubt-on-dominic-cummingss-lockdown-claims

[12] 24 May 2020 https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2020/may/24/uk-coronavirus-live-dominic-cummings-under-intense-pressure-over-lockdown-breaches

The OD Practitioner of the Future

Posted: January 27, 2017 by Matthew Hanwell in Change, Human Resources, OD, Technology, Uncategorized


Blog Post by: Ian Gee

Carole and I have written a series of blogs about how Tech, HR and otherwise, is changing the nature of the workplace and the impact this is likely to have on the practice of OD.  This has included looking at Utopias and Dystopias, how OD practitioners might engage with Tech and exploring how we might make use of AR/VR, AI and gamification to drive and support OD and change.  For me this all raises the question of what skills, capabilities, attitudes and behaviours OD practitioners need in order to be successful in the future?

If you do a web search, you will find numerous articles and blog posts about the future of OD.  But not a lot about the skills, attitudes and beliefs OD practitioners need in order to be effective in this future.  Many of the articles express the need for a shift from the humanistic and behavioural science origins of OD, to a more pragmatic understanding of the changing world of business and organisation. There was nothing I read that I could disagree.  A lot of it felt like revisiting the old arguments about whether OD should be focusing on emergent way of engaging with change or stick to traditional programmatic way of working. What none of the articles explored was the transformative power Tech is likely to have on our practice.  I truly believe that we need not just to engage with Tech but fully immerse ourselves in it.  We need to understand what it is all about or risk becoming an irrelevancy in tomorrow’s workplace.

I believe good consultancy skills are at the heart of OD practitioner excellence.  The kind that people like Bill Evans  have spent many years helping practitioners to develop.  I would then add in political skills like those advocated by Simon Baddeley, Kim James and Tanya Arroba.  I believe these essentials, with the addition of a deep understanding of the world of people and organisations will remain at the core of what an effective OD practitioner needs in the new technologically driven workplace.  When thinking about the specific new skills, attitudes and beliefs demanded by our technology driven universe I have come up with the lists below:


The interaction of personal values, beliefs, feelings, a way of thinking and feeling about something

* Embrace the potential of the future rather than trying to shoehorn it into a version of the past.  This means scanning the horizon and keeping curious over what is coming and working out how we might incorporate it into our practice or need to respond to it and help shape it

* Develop a deep reflective practice to help us understand what has worked in the past, what our relationship is to technology, what excites us and what frightens us

* Being prepared to build new alliances both inside and outside of the organisation, recognising that the inspiration and support to develop ourselves and the organisations we work for can come from many different places

* Make friends with software architects, consumers of our organisations services, pressure groups, new media etc. In other words, stop seeking just to work with the top and hankering after only C Suite relationships!

* Being ready and happy to explore immersive technologies and take a risk on applying them to our practice


The application of knowledge and expertise to get something done

* Understand and start to consciously practice both computational and algorithmic thinking.   Algorithmic thinking is thinking about how to accomplish a particular end.  It is detail-oriented thinking about methods.  It is a way of getting to a solution through the clear definition of the steps needed.  Computational thinking is thinking about data by using computers to transform data into a more easily understood form. (With thanks to Mark Guzdial)

* The ability to carry out basic coding and develop algorithms and apps to be used to support OD interventions

* Understanding things like Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Gamification and how to apply them in the organisation

* Knowing how to contract with and work with a much broader range of people from Geeks to venture capitalists

* Developing new ways of thinking about organisations and developing the skills to work with different organisation forms.  Such as, start-ups, intrapreneurship, workplace communities, short life organisations, partnerships, imaginariums etc.


The way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially towards others

* Being open working with a very broad range of people and having the ability to make these relationships work for ourselves, those we work with and the organisations we work with and for

* Openness to work with technologists and use our OD skills to bring their technology into the organisation and maximise its potential.  For example, my friend Thorsten Gorney and his new engagement offering Cabaana. Thorsten is not an OD practitioner, he has an interesting piece of technology but adoption and maximising the potential for an organisation I believe needs the skills we have.  The same is true for HR Tech – a lot of time and money is spent on buying and implementing but less time on ensuring maximisation of use and return on investment * Being happy to experience the metanoia of the OD profession.  Letting go of what we thought we always knew and embracing what might be

Let me know what you think.  Feel free to disagree as well as agree! If you have ideas for new attitudes, behaviours and skills then please feel free to share them in the comments section.



Post by Ian Gee.

We believe that Tech will not only reshape how OD is practiced but inevitably it will impact on the types of skills, training and background that the practitioner of the future will need. In this blog we provide a few examples of how we might do things differently taking advantage of what Tech offers us.

With thanks to the Urban Dictionary, here are some definitions:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is about ‘outsourcing our cognition to the machine’ if you use the ‘personal assistant’ on your smartphone you are already making use of AI. HR tech systems use AI, with algorithms to interrogate big data; the aim being to find predictive patterns to enhance decision making.

Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR & AR) VR is ‘a cyber world where the ugly can be beautiful, the weak can be strong, the old can be young, the poor can be rich, boys can be girls and no one really minds!’. ‘AR blurs the line between what’s real and what’s computer-generated’. With AR, users continue to be in touch with the real world, while interacting with virtual objects, whilst with VR, the user is isolated from the real world and immersed in a fabricated world. 

Gamification The process of turning the world, into a computer game. “Work doesn’t feel like work anymore Harry. It feels like they’ve got me jumping through hoops with these bonus points games. But games are games right? Bring it on!”

Now let’s have a look at how OD can make use of these technologies. These are our initial ideas and we are sure you will have your own ideas – please share them in the comments section.

Globalisation/ New Market Entry/ Business Uncertainty

Many of today’s businesses are looking to trade globally, enter new markets and or are managing a high degree of uncertainty about the future. – Use tailored algorithms to provide real time information for continuous business planning and strategy development processes. AI can carry out companywide sentiment analysis (that is, scan blogs, emails, social media comments etc. about your company and rate them in terms of support etc.), understand market share, employee turnover, pension liability, etc. Build computer based AR/VR simulations that could be used to ‘imagine the future’. Developing a ‘Tower of Babylon’ providing an immersive experiences of different cultures without the need for travel. The opposite is also true. An AR/VR simulation giving new market employees the chance to understand life at HQ.

Regulation, Ethics and Compliance

We live in a world where ethics and compliance failures can put a company under the spotlight and cause massive reputational damage. – Use big data to understand your companies pattern of compliance and non-compliance identifying potential hotspots. Develop VR/AR scenarios that allow employees to act in both an ethical/compliant and non-ethical/non-compliant way, so they can understand the difference and experience the consequences of their actions. 

Organisation Complexity

Organisations face increased complexity in the market place, ways of working, understanding customers, managing stakeholders etc. – Develop a ‘complexity dashboard’ using AI to do the thinking for you and only share with you what you need to know in a format that is easy to understand. At the same time inspires people to incorporate ‘algorithmic thinking’ detail-oriented thinking about methods) into their ways of working. 

Change Overload, Tracking Outcomes and ROI

Organisations can become addicted to change! More than ever we need to track the impact of change and provide evidence of the ROI. – Use algorithmic thinking to identify what changes are critical and will have the biggest impact and use AI to track change and calculate ROI. 


Diversity, in all its forms, is a differentiator in the 21st Century workplace and marketplace. – Track diversity using AI to identify stumbling blocks, talent management issues etc. Identify the positive impacts of diversity through a real-time algorithmically driven ‘Diversity Index’. Use VR/AR to provide employees with the chance to be someone different and experience the workplace from their perspective. Gamification can be used to give points and prizes for employees who are building a culture where diversity flourishes.


Effective leadership is critical to the success of organisations. – Use Ai to understand past leadership success and failures and track the conditions that allow success to occur. Provide a VR/AR experience that lets employees stand in a leader’s shoes and understand the complexity of the role.

Mergers and Acquisitions

70% of M&A activity fails to add value, yet we continue to do it in the same ways. – Use big data to Identify potential targets. Use AR/VR simulations to test integration plans. Gamify integration plans by offering points and prizes for those helping to realise the value of an M&A. Develop an internal ‘stock market’ where employees can invest in ideas related to integration.

Change Management and Culture Change

Successful change management and culture change are still problematic. – Use AR/VR to provide experiences of the positive and negative aspects of your current culture and proposed future culture. Gamify change by developing airline style levels of reward for supporting change, providing points and prizes for ideas and behaviour change. 


Getting the message out there continues to challenge organisations. – Use AR/VR to provide experience of the impact of communication and test how the cascade works. Use a ‘pay it forward’ form of gamification to reward effective impactful communication.

In the comments section it would be great to get your thoughts and comments about this. If any of you are technologically mind and would like to explore any of this in more detail, we would be happy to have a Skype chat or meet for a cup of tea…..


Blog Post by: Ian Gee and Carole Grimwood

Our next two blogs are polarised, the first will look at the ‘Dystopia in the Future Workplace’ and the impact technology will have on HR and OD.  In it we have taken our research and imagined a worst case future, one that we assume none of us would ever want to be a part of.  We have taken a look at how such things as AI, VR, Gamification and Big Data will affect the way we work in a negative way, leading us all as employees being both cut adrift from the workplace community and enslaved in a new machine age driven gig economy.  The second one, ‘Utopia in the Future Workplace’ will look at how much of an enabler and liberator technology will be and how it will provide us all with an incredible opportunity to revolutionise the way we work for the better of all and reinvent ourselves and the HR profession.

Now neither the Utopia or Dystopia we imagine are real.  Hopefully it goes without saying but just in case…. the Utopia and Dystopia blogs are fictional extremes to highlight potential scenarios and do not represent the views of the authors! You may therefore wonder why we have bothered to write them. In both scenario planning and the development of organisation simulations, it is very useful and some would say critical to push our thinking hard to explore as fully as we can both ends of the Utopia to Dystopia construct. In doing so we can really think through what we would like to happen and how to make it so.  If you want to read more about this we can highly recommend Mary Midgley Essay ‘Practical Utopianism’ in her book ‘Utopias, Dolphins and Computers. Problems of Philosophical Plumbing’. (Midgley, M., Routledge, 1996)

It would be great if when you have read both blogs you could help to enrich them by including your ideas in the comment section. We will then do a review and identify the common and distinct themes in both blogs and publish them along with both your and our reflections at the end of this series.


Blog Post by: Ian Gee and Carole Grimwood

It’s my birthday! If you’d asked me 20 years ago I’d have said that I’d be celebrating my retirement today – drawing a reasonable pension, looking forward to catching up with reading, travelling, learning a new language, joining a yoga class, generally indulging myself before I cast off this mortal coil. As the years pass however, the retirement horizon continues to stretch further into the distance. I do have a private pension plan, (several in fact), and I will receive a small amount in about 10 years but it won’t be enough to cover the basics. I’m not on my own, this is now the norm.

When I was younger I worked in HR, but most traditional HR work is now automated. I remember people saying that there were some things, like recruitment and selection, which would always need to be done in person. Managers used to pride themselves on their intuitive ability to select the best candidate, whilst we HR experts were always striving for a more objective approach. Now a Selectorbot conducts a video interview and applicant responses are analysed using a sophisticated algorithm. Apparently, this makes a much better job of identifying talent and predicting performance. We should be careful what we wish for.

I’m lucky that I still have one of the skills that hasn’t yet been fully automated. I have to make use of digital tools, techniques, and data of course (no one could get by without staying on top of the technology) but there is still a face-to-face element thank goodness. I don’t sit in the same room as the people I provide support for though – I do all my work from home. Apparently, with virtual reality we can’t tell the difference. I’m not convinced but I go with the flow.

So, I’ll be doing some work today and spending yet more time trying to find some new clients. Like the vast majority, I’m self-employed. There is no job security and there are no regular hours. It’s a very crowded market place and you need to be constantly in the ‘on’ position and ready to go to be in with a chance of picking up work. This is the reality of the gig-economy.

You never really feel that you are truly part of something either. I’m just a temporary cog in a machine now. Can you remember all the effort that we used to put into employee engagement – the holy grail of productivity and business success? All those initiatives to develop engaging leaders, to give employees a voice and ensure that they felt valued by the organisation. There used to be awards for it in the HR world! The trend these days is to gamify work to raise productivity. It’s all about prizes and badges and tokens. It makes me feel like I’m back in primary school.

The combination of home working and self-employment can be very isolating and there has been a massive increase in stress and depression. Alongside that though, there are many, much more effective, drugs to manage psychological illnesses. We must be grateful for small mercies I suppose!

At least I still have a modicum of autonomy and control. The people who have to work in roles where even as recently as 2010 they would have been employed are also engaged as contractors (they used to call it uberisation). They are increasingly manged by chip. Implants monitor attendance, productivity, health, and even mood. Sometimes I think it’s getting difficult to spot the difference between real people and the robots. In fact, it’s easy – the robots don’t have moods, or sickness absence, and they don’t need a loo break. They also learn a good deal faster. So much pressure!

Not too long ago we also used to put a lot of emphasis on creativity. That wasn’t just about major innovation to invent new businesses, new products, and new ways of working. We used to say it was important for all employees to come up with ideas for improving the way things were done. Human creativity seems to be pretty much redundant now. The power of artificial intelligence applied to the ever-increasing mass of available data has seen to that.

We also used to put a great emphasis on the idea of a career back in the day. When I was young, everyone wanted a career and success in life was largely determined by this. The notion of a job for life vanished pretty quickly but we hung onto the need for career development for a long time. Initially development was actually provided by organisations. Later it became much more of a personal responsibility. Now it’s not even an important concept. You get a gig because of what you can do and not for any potential that you might have. The only thing you need now in this gig world is flexibility, adaptability, resilience and to be prepared to keep up and work with the technological advances.

The worst thing for me though is the loneliness. I enjoyed the sense of belonging that comes from working for an organisation. I loved being part of a real, physical team. I enjoyed having the time to develop relationships with my colleagues. I remember when I started applying for my first jobs in HR I was told that I should never say ‘I want to work with people’. But you know what? That’s exactly what I want.

Hey – What a Wonderful World!

Posted: November 7, 2016 by Matthew Hanwell in Dystopia, FutureofWork, Human Resources, OD, Technology, Utopia


Blog Post By:  Ian Gee and Carole Grimwood

It’s my birthday and I can honestly say I have never been happier!  After over 20 years working in HR I feel I am truly doing the best work of my life.  When I look back to my early days I can only think how constrained I felt and how hard it was to really add value to the organisation.  It’s been a long hard climb to get to the top table.  I am there now and I like it!

In the not so ‘Good Old Days’ it took ages to do anything. I could never be certain that the data I was basing recommendations on was up to date or even real.  Today I can get workforce data at the click of a button and track how it changes every hour.  In fact, I don’t even need to do that!  I coded an app that does it for me.  The app sends alerts to my phone when it thinks there is something I ought to be aware of.  It does this 24/7.  My coding has urgent conditions that ensure I am woken in the night if it is something vital and impactful to the bottom line.  The kind of thing that needs to be brought to the attention of the leadership team.  Of course these are pretty rare events. None the less, my fellow SVP’s are very impressed with how on the ball HR is.  These kinds of things have shown how important the HR function is to the survival and growth of the business.

Do you remember how in the bad old days over 70% of M&A’s and OD initiatives failed to add value to the enterprise?  More often than not they destroyed value.  I often wondered why we bothered launching new corporate initiatives that drained everyone’s energy. Well not any more.  The organisation simulation I developed using Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality mean that the CEO, board, and staff have the opportunity to experience the future before it happens.  In doing so they can understand the likely consequences of their actions long before any real decisions are made. Working with our marketing colleagues we have adapted this to incorporate customers and suppliers in the process. This has given all of us the opportunity of refining change and M&A plans, truly understanding how culture drives and if you ignore it, kills change.

Our People-Data Chat Bots, which we in HR co developed with an external supplier, help us track the implementation of changes and steer the course to success.  They have solved the long standing problem of ROI by generating, gathering and interpreting current metrics and predicting future metrics in a real time way.  We no longer have any excuse for not knowing what is going on or having a dreadful 2 quarter time lag in knowing if what we are doing is making a difference and likely to succeed.  Change and OD have become a real time activity rather than a suck it and see, or let’s keep our fingers crossed one.

In the past I spent ages trying to get my fellow SVP’s to understand the importance of engagement and generosity in the workplace. How it impacts on productivity and why as a board we should be concerned about it.  Like most other businesses we had annual employee surveys and the like. But to be honest, very little happened as a result.   In HR we worked with a set of coders and app developers to build a companywide sentiment measurement tool (CWSMT).  The CWSMT scans all company communication, voice, email, social media etc., reading voice tone and identifying levels of happiness and generosity amongst employees.  The CWSMT helps us to quickly identify company ‘hot spots’ that require further investigation and exploration.  If we are not happy with the levels of engagement, we then give employees a ‘watch bot’ to wear.  We call these “Fit-For-Future -Work-Bits’ (FFFWB). They record detailed biometric and social data, analyse it and identify probable causes for the ‘Hot Spot’.  This has helped us to spot issues to do with the capability of local leaders, lack of skills, both cognitive and empathic, on the part of employees and even practical things like ways of working getting in the way of effectiveness, engagement and happy employees.   The FFFWB will even develop appropriate and tailored training programmes for the individuals concerned. They are amazing and accurate to a 98% tolerance level.  Employees often elect to wear them so they can build their skills and capabilities and get real time feedback on what they do well and not so well.

We use the FFFWB as part of our talent management programme.  The old days of identifying talent by sitting in shuttered rooms and talking about employees using highly subjective data are gone.  The FFFWB does it for us.  Not only do they provide data on skills they also provide us with data on relational and empathic ability.  They help us weed out people who do not share and live our values or our ethical stance.  In doing so they have helped us leave the bad old days of cortisone driven business decision making behind!

The majority of our employees, including HR professionals, are part of the gig economy, working with ‘at will’ employment contracts.  Our use of enhanced technology, including virtual reality gives them the freedom to work when and where they want and not to be bound by the old 9 to 5.  Yes, we have systems that look at and track the data for individual outputs, but now through the use of AI we can turn this into outcome data.  We and employees can see not just what they have done, but understand how they are being paid for the outcomes of their work.  This has helped us in HR to develop new compensation, benefits and reward packages that truly link the work people do to the beneficial effect it is having on shareholder value as well as things like environmental impact, customer satisfaction and enterprise sustainability.

Should employees decide to leave we offer them a data dump of all the biometrics and machine data we have gathered on them over their time with us.  We provide them with a ‘Data Dump CV’ (DDCV) that they can take to other employers.  This helps them sell themselves for future ‘gigs’ by really showing what they have done and the outcomes and the positive impact of their work.  Gone are the days of having to worry about people stretching the truth on their CV’s.  Our employees love the DDCV as not only does it help them understand what they are good at, it shows when they are good at it.  This helps them structure their time.  So some employees know they are most productive in early mornings, other late evenings.  They have real data to show prospective employers what they can do and the added value they bring.  This has helped many of them to raise how much they charge and get paid what they are worth.  We encourage all our gig employees to ask future employers to share the sentiment data for the team or part of the organisation they are looking for a gig in.  In this way they can easily avoid toxic organisations and seek gigs in places that will help them build their careers.

By embracing tech, in all its glorious forms, I think HR has finally liberated itself from being damned as a profession that is only interested in the ‘soft stuff’.  We have found a way of making the soft stuff hard and credible and easy for the rest of the organisation to see the importance of.  What more could I want on my birthday?!

HR Tech and the OD practitioner

Posted: October 31, 2016 by Matthew Hanwell in Change, OD, Organization, Technology, Uncategorized


Blog Post by: Ian Gee

In this blog I want to continue to explore why Carole and I believe it is critical for OD practitioners to engage with Tech, be involved with its development and find ways of incorporating it into our practice. In her last blog Carole mentioned the lack of visibility of OD practitioners at the recent HR Tech World Congress and expressed concern, that we might be coming late to the party and ultimately miss out. I believe not only will we miss out if we fail to fully engage with Tech, we will see a continuation of the abysmal figure of 70% of all OD initiatives failing.


The combination of newly available technology, shifting workplace demographics and changes to the political landscape are the biggest drivers of change we face. You could argue this has always been the case. What has shifted is the pace at which these are moving forward. This presents immense challenges to us as OD practitioners.


We have chosen to focus on Tech both because of the speed of change and its potential to impact the very nature of work and our relationship with it. Yet, this seems to be the least explored area from an OD point of view. In terms of how it impacts on our practice, how we can leverage it to enable faster and more impactful change and how potentially it will change the practice of OD in ways that we can hardly yet understand. However, we believe that critically there is an interaction between demographics and change that we need to understand first before we look at how Tech will both change and enhance what we do.


We can track the development of OD approaches in terms of the dominant generation in the workplace and the dilemmas they bring with them as they enter the world of organisations. I think Baby Boomers have struggled with the dilemma of organisations being either about social control, conformity etc., or a place for self-liberation and freedom of expression. This led to OD ideas like NTL, T Groups, change agents, action research, Appreciative Inquiry, Future Search, etc.


To my mind, Gen X struggle with the dilemma of organisations being about efficiency and effectiveness, versus their need for security and a sense of place. This has led to them dismissing a lot of the ‘boomer type’ interventions as fluffy, soft stuff and consequently moved OD to OE with interventions such Six Sigma, Agile, Lean, re/engineering, Quality Circles etc.


Gen Y, who are relatively new to the workplace, I think carry the dilemma of desperately wanting to be part of the herd and yet at the same time wanting organisations to recognise ‘the specialness of me!’ As OD practitioners I don’t think we have not fully understood the implications of this, or the kinds of interventions that will resonate with them.   However, examples such as tech led reorganisations to drive down cost and increase efficiency, workplace communities and structuring for the gig economy all come to mind.


I don’t think we yet know what dilemmas Gen Z will be trying to work out in organisations or the kinds of OD that will work for them. As a best guess, I think it will be something about the move from backpack to briefcase being ‘always on and connected’ 4D thinking and a need for depth and focus. What kinds of OD work will resonate with this group goodness knows? However, I am willing to place a large bet that Tech, HR or otherwise will be at the heart of it! To be considered as relevant to Gen Z not only will we need all the skills we currently have but also to be able to demonstrate a true depth understanding of Tech in and outside of the workplace.


As Gen Y and Gen Z start to be the dominate generations in the workplace and given their facility with all things Tech, I believe it is critical that as OD practitioners we fully understand such things as Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Serious Gaming. Without this we will most certainly be considered old fashioned and of limited relevance by them. Our understanding needs to encompass not only what they are, but how we can make use of them to enable sustainable and impactful change. We need to understand the ‘what it is’ and to be able to help shape ‘what it might become’. My friend Alberto Torres has written an interesting blog about the differences between AI and VR that you can find here

As we continue these blogs we will explore in more detail what these technologies are and what we think they offer to the world of OD. We will look at Tech in the widest possible sense. Imagining a world where OD practitioners having coding skills, or a good understanding of them and be the kind of professionals who can work as equals with Tech specialists to develop ‘OD algorithms’ and co-develop apps and other forms of Tech we can use in our practice.

If you are already working in this way and incorporating any of these possibilities in your OD practice it would be great to hear what you have been doing and the impact, positive or negative it has had on the outcomes of your work.

Technology – Friend or Foe?

Posted: October 25, 2016 by Matthew Hanwell in Change, Human Resources, OD, Technology, Uncategorized


Blog Post by:  Carole Grimwood

A few months ago, I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend the HR Tech World Spring Conference in London with my colleague Ian Gee. It was a great event and if any readers are not familiar, take look and maybe go along next time. It turned out to be a couple of the most thought provoking days I’ve had in a while and I wanted to share some of my observations.

First, there was great energy. There were over 2000, much younger than your average, HR conference delegates from across the world with a passion for technology and a future focus. And the big question for them – how can technology shape not just HR but the world of work in general?

Second, there were innovations from wearable technologies of the FitBit/Smart Watch type for 2-way communication with staff, Mobile Apps for learning and employee engagement, video recruitment where the interviewer and assessor is the computer, systems for handling and exploiting big data, and robots with learning capability to automate jobs.

Third, there was much talk about the potential of data as a tool to help us shape our thinking and shape not just our workforce strategies but also the world of work itself.

(It wasn’t all exciting by the way. Maybe it’s just me but the pedestrian world of Learning Management Systems hardly seems to have moved on in the last 10 years!)

Two statistics that were quoted are of particular significance:

  • 35% of today’s jobs in the UK will disappear in the next 20 years
  • There will be a 37% reduction in the number of people employed in HR in the next 5 years

It could be that these projections are optimistic. According to research by Deloitte and Oxford University, as 47% of current jobs could be automated by 2020.

The hypothesis is that this won’t happen because of a failing economy and endless austerity measures – it will happen in spite of it. This is about growth and investment in technology and the exponential rise in the power and sophistication of robotics, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. Since the conference, I’ve read and posted a good deal about driverless vehicles, self-service bars, room service robots, automated journalism, and the 3D printing of houses. The list goes on.

It was disappointing to find that at the conference very little attention was being given to the OD implications of all of this. There is the potential for an unprecedented shift in the world of work and the need for experts to support the change. OD colleagues didn’t seem to be at the party.

So the question is what does all this mean for the future of work and by implication for the future of HR and OD? Over the next couple of months, we will publish a series of blogs about the impact of technology on the world of OD, HR and the future world of work. Let us know if you have particular views or if there are questions you’d like us to think about?

The Curse of Listicles and Clickbait!

Posted: May 5, 2016 by Matthew Hanwell in OD, SEO, Social Media, Twitter


By Ian Gee:

In the past couple of months, I have been using twitter a lot more. In the main this has been to promote the Ilfracombe Film Festival a project I am volunteering on.  I have had the Twitter account @IanRGee for many years though have never really used it. So as well as starting an @FilmIlfracombe account I decided to breath some life back into @IanRGee and @AlbanyOD as well. It has been a fascinating, if occasionally frustrating experience!

Twitter has been a great way of connecting with people, sharing ideas, asking questions and having fun. It has not been without its irritations mind you! My biggest irritation and turnoff has been the amount of clickbait and listicles OD practitioners and consultancies are tweeting.

What do I mean by clickbait and listicles? If you have any kind of social media account, you will have seen posts which start; ‘This kitten tried to rob a bank…you won’t believe what happened next!” or “The top 4 tips for getting a flat stomach’ The first is classic clickbait and the second is a clickbait listicle! If like me you are occasionally curious, or in fact at times truly foolish (for that read bored!), then when you click on the link you invariably get inundated with advertisements, exhortations for things you don’t want or need and have to click through goodness knows how many pages to find out what on earth did happen when the kitten robbed the bank and what are the 4 things that will turn my belly into a six pack?! For me as I click through I find I am just getting more and more irritated! What interests me is how many OD practitioners and consultancies are using this approach to promote their businesses.

Clickbait and listicles are an obvious and on the surface, easy way of driving traffic to websites, gamming analytics platforms, raising SEO status and advertising products and services. If we have something to sell whether it be a product, service or our time then advertising is vital. However, the inherent problem with listicles and clickbait is that they very quickly move people from being intrigued through to disappointed and even angry!   Many of the OD listicles and clickbait have done this to me!

Here are a few examples of what I mean. One OD Consultancy posted this ‘The top 2 things to do to increase employee engagement” When I clicked through and eventually got to the page this is one of the bit s of amazing, stunning, and frankly incredible advice ‘Remember to say Hello to your employees when you get to the office!’ I actually decided to make a tweet comment on this and said ‘Gosh who knew” and got a reply that said ‘We really feel it is very important to remind people of things like this….’

Here are some more examples of Clickbait and Listicles:

“Click here to diagnose all your team’s ills…and cure them!”

“Click here for the 4 building blocks of change”

“Check out this cool visualisation tool designed to answer your toughest business questions’

“Click here for a free Free 110-page book download that makes managing change incredibly easy”

What do you think? Am I being unnecessarily critical of something that we now just have to accept as part and parcel of the market place? If you have a favourite listicle or piece of clickbait, then please share it with us all!


By Ian Gee

I am sure we have all noticed the rise of mosher led microbreweries, hipster bakeries, nipster furniture makers, craft kids and DIYer upcycling shops! To me these all represent a resurgence and delight in artisan products, services and ways of working.  In most towns and cities these new types of businesses, led by urban tribes, are springing up and doing rather well.  Consumers seem willing to pay a premium to know where their products come from, how staff are treated and to feel that they are receiving something hand crafted and special. I would also argue that by supporting artisans, they are consciously or unconsciously feeling part of a movement.  There is a sense, that by buying from small local craft producers, they are having a bit of a ‘stick it to the man’ moment!

As someone who grew up in the 60’s I find this really interesting.   Throughout the last century having things from large companies was all the rage and a sign that you and your family were successful, letting go of the past and embracing modernity.  Things from large corporations had a shiny, bright and new glamour to them.  As opposed to hand-crafted items, which were dull, old fashioned and boring.  A sign of being stuck in the past and not getting with the programme!   We trusted the ‘big brands’ to deliver quality, efficiency and effectiveness at a good price.

From my experience the only interest in hand crafted goods tended to be the things that people brought back from their overseas holidays.  So the fancy sangria jug, or the Neolithic looking mortar and pestle brought home as a reminder of a lovely summer holiday.  I have a friend of Greek heritage and he told me how in the 70’s and 80’s when his Greek family visited the UK they would bring a lot of their ‘peasant, artisan goods’ to give to friends and family and then rush to Woolworths to fill their suitcases with Tupperware to take back home as gifts for friends!  The gifts they brought were kept on display as symbols of exoticism and ‘conversation starters’.  They were certainly never used!

To me the subtext is that in today’s market place artisan products and services are perceived to be more ‘truthful’, real and authentic than those offered by the big brands.  They are sold as less likely to be built on the sands of possible corruption or stir up feelings of ethical dilemmas.  They are local, shaped and crafted by the ‘horny handed sons and daughters of the soil’!  I think this evidences a strong desire to experience things on a much more human scale and to be able to look into the eye of the person who has produced what we are consuming.  When we buy from an artisan, we feel, rightly or wrongly, that we know what we are getting and through the economic exchange are forming a relationship, no matter how transitory, with our locality and in many cases with a particular community.

What on earth has the last 500+ words got to do with OD, I hear you muttering?!  Well, given consumers desire for a more artisan, transparent, local relationship with producers what would a more artisan like approach to OD look like?  Here are a few thoughts of the top of my head.

Artisan OD might include:

  • Small teams of people doing things in a very transparent way that people understand. Most likely working within their direct or immediate locality so they feel they know them
  • Practitioners who have an obvious passion for their trade and craft; making money being secondary to their vocation
  • A practice with a very evident set of skills and abilities, with no mystery or ‘behind the curtain’ type activities
  • A sense that anyone can do Artisan OD, if they are willing to put in the 10K hours to practice, practice, practice and more practice
  • The fact that the excitement and glamour is not in the power of association (how many OD practitioners have you heard bragging that they only work with C Suite executives, having lots of BIG clients, etc., ) but rather in the fact that you are using your craft to make an obvious difference at a local level and by association to the world
  • No checklists (the top 5 tips for employee engagement, the 8 things you need to do for successful culture change, the 7 things to change in order to be the change you want to be….) and not aphoristically driven (‘Change before you have to’ “Out there in some garage is an entrepreneur who’s forging a bullet with your company’s name on it.”…) but personalised, bespoke, connected, locality based, authentic and real.

I have lots more ideas, but before I share them, over to all of you my fellow OD, Artisan or otherwise, let me know what you think?  What do we need to do to become the new tribe in the HR world?!