Susan Popoola

Leveraging The Value of People

Archive for the ‘Talent Management’ Category

October 27th, 2014 by SusanPopoola

Enabling Creativity

Employability skills has become mainstream terminology in the business world, especially when it comes to the employment of young people who are often criticised as not coming out of education equipped with the appropriate skills for the workplace i.e. employability skills.

As defined by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) the key employability skills are:

  •  A Positive Attitude – readiness to take part, openness to new ideas and activities, desire to achieve
  • Self Management – readiness to accept responsibility, flexibility, time management, readiness to improve own performance
  • Team working – respecting others, co-operating, negotiating/persuading, contributing to discussions
  • Business and Customer Awareness – basic understanding of the key drivers for business success and the need to provide customer satisfaction
  • Problem solving – analysing facts and circumstances and applying creative thinking to develop appropriate solutions
  • Communication and literacy – application of literacy, ability to produce clear, structured written work and oral literacy, including listening and questioning.
  • Application and Numeracy – application of numbers, general mathematical awareness and its application in practical contexts
  • Application of Information Technology – basic IT skills, including familiarity with word processing, spreadsheets, file management and the use of internet search engines.

In my mind, a number of these are related and are aligned to the natural curiosity and creativity that we all have as children. In many ways we process this out of children, by dictating not just what has to be done, but specifically how things need to be done. I believe this is followed through into the workplace. Without question there is a need for guidance on the how, especially when people are learning. However, there is a need for people to be able to use their initiative, to be flexible and to be responsive to specific needs.

I often see how over prescribed processes limit employees ability to work effectively. I believe this is, however, best highlighted by an episode of the television programme, Undercover Boss that featured DHL. On one particular day, the boss worked with a member of staff in the call centre, which had very specific flow chart processes on how staff responded to customer calls. This meant that when a customer called from Australia with a concern that she had previously called about which was yet to be resolved and asked to be put on hold, the staff member refused, as it was not in line with protocol. The undercover boss was quite annoyed by this, however, when confronted at a later stage, the employee pointed out that she had followed the (target driven process) and if she had done otherwise she may have got into trouble. It could be argued that she took things to the extreme.

However, if we really want to encourage skills amongst employees such as positive attitudes; self management; business and customer awareness and problem solving; we need to enable them by adopting processes that provide frameworks and guidance without dictating the details of how things need to be done.

Dictating the how, not only limits creativity in the workplace, I believe it also limits trust as it send a message that says that we don’t trust in employee’s capabilities and we therefore need to tell them precisely what to do and how to do it.


Susan Popoola

Susan Popoola is a professional Human Resources Specialist with close to 20 years HR experience working on numerous HR related projects across the Private, Public & Voluntary sectors.

Click her for information about events



May 22nd, 2014 by SusanPopoola

Shared Organisation AND Employee Values

An organisation has a Customer Charter that specifies that it has an excellent reputation for trading honestly, maintaining their reputation by actively pursing the highest levels of customer care and integrity.   The customer’s Charter goes on to promise:

  • A focus on customer needs
  • Never pressure selling
  • Aftersales care

To add credibility to this, the website additionally includes a number of testimonials inclusive of one concluding on the note “ A first class service that I have already recommended to friends and family”

It all sounds very good and it is possible that this is what the management of the organisation truly believe.

However, recently two of the organisation’s employees were secretly filmed by a consumer support programme and exposed as doing the exact opposite of what the organisation espouses. Even though the organisation went on to suspend both employees, for many who watched the programme the organisation’s espoused values become meaningless and the organisation will lose all credibility.

To me it clearly reiterates the need for organisations to recruit employees that are not only technically able, but that also share the organisations values and beliefs. Also providing training and/or briefing to employees to ensure that they understand what this means in practical terms.

Copyright 2014 This document is the specific intellectual property of the Conning Towers Consultancy. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated from content obtained from other sources and such content is referenced as appropriate.


December 24th, 2013 by SusanPopoola

A Visit to Marks & Spencer

I’ve just got come from a shopping trip to Marks & Spencer and I must say that I’m pleased to have learnt before I left that they will not be implementing a policy which would have given Muslim staff permission to refuse to serve customers buying alcohol or pork products. Ref: The Telegraph, 23rd December 2013 (Muslim staff at Marks & Spencer can refuse to sell alcohol and pork)

You see, if such a policy had been in place, knowing that I would have an alcholic drink or two for Christmas in my shopping basket heading towards the check out, I would have scanned the members of staff and if anyone looked like a Muslim, I would not gone in their direction. I would have headed somewhere else because I didn’t want to have to queue up only to be told to go somewhere else. I would have got into this habit and in time I’d have probably done so even if I wasn’t buying alcohol or pork based products.

Don’t ask me how I would have determined whether staff members were Muslim or not. I’d have probably used stereotypes. If a staff member was wearing a head scarf of some kind, it would be obvious – wouldn’t it be? Outside of that I would have used the presumed ethnic origin of the staff member or whatever others assumptions I had stored in my mind.

Situations may have occurred whereby a “Muslim looking” staff member would have been waiting at a till to serve customers and I would walk past to someone else, even if there was a queue. The “Muslim” member of staff would have wondered why I was ignoring him or her.

If it was just me that started acting this way, it wouldn’t be such a big deal, however, I suspect that I would be one of many reacting in such a manner – consciously or subconsciously.  If I reacted in such a manner, my behaviour would have been seen as odd – if I was white, the counter-assumption would have probably been made that I was racist.

The good thing is that Marks & Spencer has decided not to go ahead with the implementation of this policy and I understand that they have even apologised for even thinking of doing so. As I result, today I went to Marks & Spencer with a smile on my face to the cashier with the shortest queue with no further thought. I can also continue to shop at Marks and Spencer without the risk of offending any member of staff at the store.


Copyright 2013 This document is the specific intellectual property of the Conning Towers Consultancy. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated from content obtained from other sources and such content is referenced as appropriate.








December 2nd, 2013 by SusanPopoola

Engaged People Don’t Need Carrying

I spoke to someone recently who expressed the frustration of having to carry people on projects that she was running.  An Expert – she was suddenly presented with the fantastic position of running a number of great projects, which she could not deliver, by herself – she therefore found herself in the novel position of having to employ a number of people to work alongside her in various capacities. I believe this should have been an exciting experience for her – people with different experiences and expertise that she had self selected to help make her dream projects become reality. Instead she was sadly frustrated as she felt she was winning work, but having to carry people alongside her.

It reminded me of Jake. He had done a great job of selecting people for a project on the basis of their expertise. – He had really pulled a great team together.  When he shared the vision with me, I was impressed.  To be honest I was disappointed that I was not actually involved in it.   The only thing is that he hadn’t actually shared the full vision with the team members.   He was, however, frustrated that the team members were not full engaged.

The only thing is that since the team had been formed, whilst he had, had the odd one to one conversation about things that he needed done, he had never had a team meeting just the odd conference call. This meant that the team had not actually met as a group or had the opportunity to engage together strategically, understand what other members of the team brought and really share the excitement of the project.

The bottom line is whether they are employees, contractors, partners or what have you; you can’t take highly skilled people, just tell them what to do and expect to get the best results from them you tend to get the best from people when you engage them.


Copyright 2013. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated

November 24th, 2013 by SusanPopoola

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want

I recently saw an advert on twitter for a Sales and Marketing Manager.  It specified, “Sales and Marketing Manager, ideally a return to work Mum full or part time consider. Salary ……..”

I always advice people against such adverts as I believe that they place people at risk of discrimination claims.  In this case from someone who is not a mum who unsuccessfully applies for the job.

I always say, think instead of what it is about a return to work mum that would make her suitable for the position – the competencies, capabilities and job requirements.

So is it that the return to work mum will be looking for flexible hours.  If so specific that the job will be suitable for someone looking for flexible hours. That way the male or female (possibly studying part time or something) who is also looking for flexible working hours will not feel as if he or she has been excluded or discriminated against right from the onset.


Copyright 2013. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated


November 6th, 2013 by SusanPopoola

Peter Principle

According to the Peter Principle, People are promoted to their level of Incompetency and sadly I can’t count the number of times that I have seen the Peter Principle take place and work to the detriment of both of the individual concerned and the department or an organisation as a whole.

This is particularly true, when an employee who is very good at working on an operational level is moved into a managerial role without being prepared for what it entails.

To avoid the Peter Principle and its implications there are certain questions that need to be answered before a decision is made to move them into a managerial role. Specifically are they prepared to:

  • Act more like a coach than a player?
  • Step out of the limelight and let their employees take the glory instead?
  • Both organisation and motivate both themselves and their employees
  • Handle paperwork and details?
  • Spend a lot of their time planning and analysing rather than being with people?
  • Listen to complaints and resolve their employees’ problem?
  • Handle personnel issues, inclusive of disciplinary issues which could amount to firing them?

If the answers to any of these questions is “no”, it is not to say that an employee should never be moved, but that time should be taken to prepare employees so that the answers become “yes”.

This indicates the need for talent management, whereby there is an extended time to prepare employees for the moves and at times to develop more creative ways of promoting and fully utilising employee skills, without giving them responsibilities that they will never be comfortable with or readily able to cope with.

Susan Popoola

Conning Towers

Human Resources Consultancy

Leveraging the Power of People


Copyright 2007 This document is the specific intellectual property of the Conning Towers Consultancy. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated from content obtained from other sources and such content is referenced as appropriate.


June 28th, 2013 by SusanPopoola

In Fairness to a Generation

The Most Competent, Capable and Caring Generation

 this Nation has Ever Produced

Vice-president Joe Biden gives the commencement address 

at the University of Pennsylvania’s 257th commencement 2013


I like the opinion expressed by Joe Biden, which I personally will extend to apply to young people across the world.  Overtime, however, I have found myself increasingly question whether we are generally fair to young people as we seem to continual critic them.

We refer to them as a “me, me, me generation” or the likes, in other words we call them selfish and spoilt. Ultimately they do need to take responsibility for themselves and their behaviour.  At the same time they are a product of their upbringing and the influences from the society that they, as we all live in. After all it is my hope and belief that for the vast majority of them – we did not just leave them to bring themselves up by themselves.

I could go on further about the social environment. Like the observation that although not yet updated in the dictionary; growing up, young people often find that whilst a number of adults standing together in a shopping mall are referred to as a  group; a similar number of young people are called a gang.  In milder terms it might just be said that they are loitering or hanging around.  Furthermore, whilst adults can buy coffee from a coffee shop and sit down for hours; young people are often made to move on as soon as they finish a meal talk less of a drink. They can only go into a number of shops in small numbers and if they stay at a hotel they are often looked at as if they are pests – even though they are paying.

I know I’m generalising and on the basis that it may be said that young people could choose to shop, eat, drink and stay in places where they will be treated with greater respect, let me not focus too much on this, but rather move on to education and the workplace.

Now when it comes to issues and concerns about the literacy and numeracy skills of some young people, even though I have some dyslexic tendencies and my spelling is far from perfect, I don’t feel able to defend them. Not even with the argument that the School system has failed them.  Yes, at times employers may be a bit too trigger happy dismissing applications because they spot minor spelling mistakes – possibly dismissing people that otherwise have a lot to offer. I believe there should be balance though so even I have dismissed applications when I have noticed masses of spelling mistakes including mistakes with 3 or 4 letter words.  I do recognise the criticality of literacy and numeracy to the business world as fundamental skills.

This isn’t what bothers me. Even though I don’t have children, as a School Board member (School Governor) I’m generally mindful of the time at which exam results come out and I know that time will be spent analysing the results to determine whether they are in line with expected results. I also know that there will be a fair amount of commentary on the news and elsewhere with people criticising the quality of qualifications – suggesting that exams are much easier than they used to be and that qualifications are not of the same standard.  At this point I constantly find myself contemplating how I would feel if I was a young person who had done everything I was told to do to meet a standard only for people to turn around and suggest that my qualifications are substandard.

We go on further to question the degrees they take in University.  I recall someone recently saying that he decided to take his degree because it was on offer in a University of choice and it sounded interesting.  If the courses are not valid to the workplace, why are we offering them?

Up until recently, even when we started levelling fees for qualifications, we told young people that the way forward, in order to secure a good job is to go to University and get a degree.  Again they did as was required of them.  They went to university in large numbers and obtained degrees.  For many the jobs have not been forthcoming.  Well the world has been in recession so maybe it’s understandable that this promise has been broken.

It’s not just this though. We’ve removed that entry level ladder, we’ve told them to come in with degrees and to come with employability skills yet we still want them to start of by making the coffee and doing the filing and we try to micromanage them. Then we get upset with them when they challenge us wanting work that is more meaningful. Remember they’ve paid good money for those degrees. I wonder how many people leave work or sacrifice whilst in work for an MBA without the expectation of better opportunities.

When they are not satisfied or are unhappy in a job and decide to move on, we again critic them for their lack of loyalty and for wanting it all.  We forget about another message that we are increasingly sending to them. i.e. if you listen to the typical talk to students by guests speakers and teachers alike, there is a strong possibility that they will be told that for them it’s no longer a job for life.  They are told that that they are likely to have 7 or 8 jobs or even different careers in their working lives. Therefore under these circumstances, why should they be faithful to your organisation – especially if they don’t believe that they are have understood or treated right?  I believe they are much more aware of what they want and what is acceptable to them.

This is compounded by the growth in unpaid internships and other unpaid work. A lot of employers tend to get young people to work for free, saying young people should be grateful. Now I’m not against young people doing some work for free to gain experience in situations where organisations can’t afford to pay. In fact I will immediately declare I’m looking for some to do some work for me at the moment, but though they may not be paid financially at this point in time, I would want to understand what they are looking for and support their development and progress to their next steps.  Critically, I would only not pay if I simply couldn’t afford to do so.  I see this as very different from the multinational organisations that have put their graduate recruitment programmes on hold or the high-income organisations that can afford to pay.  What are we telling them about our perception of their value.

A key question for me is how capable and prepared are we to on-board and engage young people in the 21st century workplace.

As the likes of Ken Robinson have been saying for a very long time, I believe that there is a need for a full reform of the education systems that was designed for a different era.  At the moment we seem to just make superficial changes and change assessment processes.  This does not in of itself align Education Systems to the 21st Century workplace.

Directly relating to the workplace – a few things that I believe we need to focus on and do more of:

¨     Young people need to be provided with better career guidance – both via career services and employer interaction with young people before they even start looking for work.

¨     Young people also need to be made aware of the different education routes beyond just degrees and apprenticeships.

¨     Organisations need to have and communicate clear purposes and value systems to perspective employees so that they know if it is the right environment for them.

¨     Organisations need to have robust on boarding processes in place.

¨     Organisations should be clear about career paths within their organisations.  This is one reason why I have always advocated for competency frameworks.  They provide roadmaps to the capabilities required at different levels and within different roles.

¨     Role Clarity and Job Enrichment – provide clarity about what a job entails and also making sure that it includes responsibility that are meaning and interesting.

¨     Organisations need to have the confidence to delegate some responsibility to the people that they employ, with the acceptance that they may possibly make mistakes; embracing a culture that enables people to admit when they have made mistakes so that they can be rectified.

¨     Have a focus on clearly defined outcomes rather than tasks or presenters. Moving away from a culture that dictates how tasks should be done and moving towards letting people know what the necessary outcomes are (with timeframes where applicably), allowing them to work on the how, with whatever support they need

¨     Providing coaching and mentoring support and other development as required.

¨     Having realistic expectations of them – not expecting more from them than we could actually deliver ourselves when we first entered a workplace.   After all most us were educated through similar education systems as them – think, how well would we do entering the workplace of today and what support would we want/need.

Ultimately, I believe we need to focus on and value who they actually are and what they have to offer a lot more, than the utopian focus on who we want them to be.



Susan Popoola runs Conning Towers Ltd, an HR organisation focused on Talent Management and HR Transformation and Engaged For Success a Social Enterprise. She is also the published author of Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective and Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain. She is also Winner Women4Africa Author of the Year 2013

Copyright 2013. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated



June 16th, 2013 by SusanPopoola

Uncovering Employee Value via Undercover Bosses

Once in a while I watch the television programme Undercover Boss.  Currently viewing in the UK is Undercover Boss Canada. In many ways the programme is flawed as it simply highlights a lot of what organisations should already be aware of about the way in which their organisations work or not; and the people that work for them. I’m also conscious that it singles out a few of the people that the undercover boss meets whilst undercover and lavishes them with professional and personal rewards. Whilst I’m always pleased for the people receiving these rewards I do increasingly find myself thinking about the rest of the workforce, which may work equally as hard, face equally as challenging personal circumstances and have similar hopes and dreams.  I therefore hope that after the programme the employers work on schemes that provide personal as well as professional support to their entire workforces.

Beyond this though, I enjoy watching the programme because it talks about the hearts and values of people in mainstream workforces. – it highlights the things that are important to them like their families; the challenges they have faced or are facing; their dreams and aspirations and the dedication to and efforts of so many to their jobs.

Recently I watched an episode, which was focused on The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). It very much followed the normal format with the undercover boss in disguise working with employees from different parts of the organisations.  In this case the boss (who happened to be a female) as per the norm shadowed employees on their jobs, gaining insights from them without them knowing who she was. At the end, the key people that the undercover Boss worked directly with were called to the organisation’s Head Office to meet with her. She gave them feedback on the experience inclusive of some of the actions that she was going to take as a result of her experience with them. She then went on to offer them a series of rewards, which leave the employees speechless, in tears or what have you. Ultimately as one employee says – “Being acknowledged is quite humbling”

I won’t go on about the fact that all employees should be acknowledged on such a regular basis that it is the norm and no big deal. I will move on to the case of an employee named Carmen who really stood out for me.

Carmen worked a 10 hours night shift in a bus depot – running around fuelling buses, checking the oil and cleaning around 50 buses each night. She specifically worked nights because she spent time during the day caring for and providing support to elderly relatives inclusive of a mother with health problems.

She probably fits into the category of working poor – those people that work very hard, yet struggle to make ends meet. Some such people have significant formal education, however a significant number such as Carmen less so – she would have liked to continue her education, unfortunately her circumstances until the intervention of the undercover boss did not allow for it.

She falls into the category of people often classified as unskilled, yet as illustrated by the attempts of the undercover boss, the likes of me and probably you with all our skills and capabilities could not do her job. Of people doing her job, she stated “We’re not perfect, we’re not machines, but we’re trying our hardest”.  As such shouldn’t we show greater appreciation of people in what we typically classify as low skilled jobs.

You make ask how? I’d say at one level – in things such as pay and benefits – the difference between minimum wage and living wages i.e. a wage that covers the cost of living.  At another level the way we talk about and refer to people in such jobs – remembering their humanity and input and not referring to them in the condescending manner, which we subconsciously do on many an occasion.  Finally, in the little things we all do and how we behave. In line with this case not leaving litter or food on public transport with the recognition that someone is going to have to clean up our mess.



Susan Popoola runs Conning Towers Ltd, an HR organisation focused on Talent Management and HR Transformation and Engaged For Success a Social Enterprise. She is also the published author of Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective and Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain. She is also Winner Women4Africa Author of the Year 2013

Copyright 2013. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated


June 9th, 2013 by SusanPopoola

Unlocking Charity Giving

I recently read an article by Sunil Bali on an Italian sandwich shop, which faced with the threat of a Giant Supermarket opening next-door ending up sharply increasing their profit within the period of six months.  I believe they attained this contrary result because they offered something of high value to their customers; they had an engaging approach and they remained focused without panicking.

This led me to reflect once more on a telephone call I recently received on behalf of a Charity, which was looking, to raise funds for what I must say is a very good cause. The approach adopted did, however, make me feel very, very uncomfortable.

The Charity in question was offering information on cancer. I provided my details in order to obtain the mentioned information and this led to the above mentioned phone call.

I was asked if I had a few minutes to spare, to which I responded yes. (If talking to them/providing information would be of help to them – why not) I was asked for confirmation of my contact information so that the details could be sent to me.  I confirmed the information required.  I was then asked how much I know about cancer?  That’s a very vague question I responded. The lady proceeded to ask me a few other questions in relation to cancer. To each of my responses she gave me some information.  I began to feel as if I was in school being spoken to by a teacher.

She moved on to ask me whether I knew about recent breakthrough and spoke about a specific breakthrough treatment now being trialed. She went on to speak about how they need support.  She told me she wanted to tell me about 3 ways in which I could support them. She started talking about a direct debit option. Only half listening to her, I waited for her to finish so that I could inform her that I would consider how I would support them once I had, had the opportunity to review the information sent to me. She pointed out that this level of information would not be included in what was sent to me, as they could not afford it as a charity. I told her I’d look at their website.  She asked me if I would commit to making a lower payment by direct debit. I explained to her that I wasn’t saying that I couldn’t help, but I don’t make commitment over the phone/without proper information.  I thought this would be the end of it.

The pressure continued as my discomfort and resolve grew. They could only call me this once she said. With the breakthrough they needed immediate help. It was cheaper to process payments over the phone. There was a cooling off period ………

I pointed out that I was beginning to feel as if I was being harassed by a doorstep salesperson. She still continued not recognizing how comfortable I was or how disengaged I’d become.  Shortly afterwards the call finally ended to my relief. I had not provided any information and now although somewhat put off I’m waiting for the promised from the Charity to see if and how I will support the charity.

It’s sad because the Charity is doing critical work of high value – I recognized that from the conversation. I was totally disengaged and put off by someone trying to do what virtually amounts to bullying.

All in all it reiterates my thinking that Charities will receive support if they have a worthwhile/valuable course.  Critically, however, is to target people that identify with the cause and to ensure that all the people involved with the cause effective serve as ambassadors and communicate with people in a manner that is informative, engaging and compelling.

As with the sandwich shop – the product or service should speak for itself.



P.S. Of possible interest – Conning Towers Ltd.’s Strategy, Skills and Brand Ambassadors programme.

Copyright 2013. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated

March 13th, 2013 by SusanPopoola

Working 9-5 or 24-7

I had the privilege of watching Dolly Parton’s musical, “Nine to Five” last Saturday – incidentally the day after International Women’s Day.

Although it was at least a tad exaggerated, it was horrifying to think of the way that men or at least some men viewed women in those days. I found it so disconcerting to watch that I turned to my friend’s husband and asked him whether he actually felt comfortable watching it.  He thought it was too exaggerated for one to be really concerned about it.

I’m not sure that it was that exaggerated though. Ultimately I’m thankful that things are so much better now – at least for the majority of women.

One bemusing part was when one of the ladies said imagine when we stop working 9 to 5 and start working 24-7.  Questioned about the comment she said she doesn’t know where she got the idea from.

Thinking about it, in as much as things are so much better for some, one must ask – is the 24-7 culture a justifiable price to pay?

Personally, I think females of younger generations will and in fact already are beginning to fight against this, so what will we move on too and will it be another “compromise” or the ideal state of play?

Susan Popoola


Copyright 2013. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated