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Annie Hayes

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HR Practitioner’s Diary: Beyond the darkness

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Sue Kingston is bowled over this week by intrepid adventurer Steve Cunningham who has been totally blind since he was just 12 years old; read Sue’s extracts from this fascinating seminar to learn why the only barrier to realising potential is discrimination.


W/C 1 August 2005
It has been a busy week again and I’ve realised that I have not had a holiday yet this year so I can feel some R & R coming on very soon. Infact I’ve not enjoyed a ‘proper’ holiday for some five years now, so I think it’s high time!

Do you get what you pay for?
After much in depth consultation with my client in Kent I have finalised the staff contracts and we’re near to completion on the staff handbooks too.

This project has been very rewarding and the staff now feel far more validated than before. They now have a tangible structure in place for future reviews and development and I’m feeling very happy with the overall result.

My ‘hands on’ service has definitely helped here as the client has indicated they will continue to use my consultancy services in all of their HR issues, even to the point of liaising with employment agencies and negotiating more attractive rates and rebate periods.

Getting value for money from recruitment agencies is a contentious issue I come against from time to time. If anyone has found a truly unique service that is worth its value would you let me know please?

I deal with many agencies now throughout the UK and they know I am a hard task master when it comes to negotiating fees. In their defence however, I must say that those I have developed a special rapport with are absolutely superb, in that they understand exactly what ‘fit’ I need in a candidate, what terms are acceptable to me and my client and, more importantly, they know not to waste my time by expecting me to sift through inappropriate CV’s. I like agencies to earn their money!

Seeing is believing
I attended a breakfast networking event this week which was truly inspirational. Their guest speaker was Steve Cunningham, for those not familiar, Steve holds three world records for fastest speed on water, land and air – and did I mention he’s blind. You can find his website at www.stevecunningham.tv. He is currently planning to fly a helicopter around the UK. There really is no stopping this man.

Steve started to gradually lose his sight from the age of eight and eventually endured total loss when he was just 12 years old.

Whilst there were those that thought he would only be good for match making and basket weaving, I am delighted to say that Steve has done neither, he allowed himself to think big and supporters around him have encouraged that.

Steve’s earlier career was with a large banking organisation and he became very successful in their call centre. His employers took the time to install voice recognition software that enabled Steve to check account details on the computer system and he became a very popular employee, much in demand by callers as he proved to go the extra mile to be helpful to others – an important lesson their for the ‘whingers’ of the world!

There were times during Steve’s talk when you didn’t know when to laugh or cry. One time he arrived at a hospital for a planned operation, only to be told when he got there that the operation was not possible, a mistake had been made and there was nothing further to be done regarding his sight loss.

On another occasion his taxi driver fell asleep at the wheel, rolling the taxi three times with Steve and his guide dog in the back. Steve was badly injured and his guide dog was thrown out of the rear window. No-one could find his dog (or her body) at the scene, but she turned up, uninjured, four days later at Steve’s doctor’s surgery to find her ‘master’. How amazing is that?

Steve has successfully captained a blind football team and is also an accomplished golfer. I’m playing in a tournament with him on the 22 September in aid of Disability Discrimination. He has set a challenge to all participating players, in that we all get to take part in a ‘blind-folded tee off’ to see who hits the ball successfully, let alone has the best shot. It should be great fun and I will be at the driving range practising with my blind-fold on.

One thing that is worth trying is to shut your eyes for a few minutes and imagine you are travelling at 160mph or flying at 2,000 feet, you cannot see below you. Imagine coming into land with your eyes shut – how would you fare? The simplest things us able bodied souls can do is to walk around our gardens with our eyes closed, to touch and smell the flowers and see what pictures we can create with our minds. Go on, try it!

The only things I do without using my sight is to type and to cut the back of my hair! Yes, you did read that right, I cut the back of my hair with my eyes closed and ‘feel’ what I am cutting. I am told the result looks absolutely fine!

I am meeting up with Steve to see what synergy we have, in that I would love to help educate employers to the very real benefits of employing ‘disabled’ people. Especially in view of the Disability Discrimination Act becoming even tougher on employers, it is really about time that they sit up and listen and open their minds to the possibilities and benefits of these gifted individuals.

I remember a young man (Craig) I once encouraged to participate in the Army Cadet Force and he eventually became a Lance Corporal and was a very good shot on the rifle range. Craig had severe cerebral palsy which affected his left hand side, but we found a way to help him carry out the same duties as the other youngsters. He went on then to be a very confident, successful young man in his own right and his parents were delighted we took time to invest in Craig’s development. It only takes a handful of people to have belief in you.

It will be interesting to see how Steve and I may work together in the future to benefit disabled individuals in the workplace.

21st century challenge
Another new project underway is a local independent financial advisor who is restructuring his company. His staff are going to face considerable change in the way they carry out their tasks and also how they interact with one another.

Basically the proprietor, Mark, and his partner agreed to part company last year for Mark to then continue running the business as sole owner. He can currently generate an annual income of approximately £150K for the business, but knows that if his people and systems are more effective that he could then spend more of his time developing new business and take the turnover to in excess of £200K.

Mark has asked me to produce a model to ‘buddy’ coach his team to see how things are currently done and what can be improved. The main focus is going to be on improving communication between his team. Mark also realises that he will have to adopt new methods in his own approach and behaviour to achieve results.

Mark is a ‘young’ 60, but wants to fit in with the 21st century, so we do have the challenge of breaking some fairly old habits and standards in order to move the business to a new level. The great thing is that Mark has realised this much himself, so a large part of the battle is already won and I admire his courage.

This is going to be a superb challenge, as it gives me a real chance to show Mark what is possible with his people and the future, which should bring even greater success of his business.

Fortunately I have an excellent understanding of the regulated industries and entities such as the FSA (Financial Services Authority). This has given me the edge on being the person who Mark wants to help him achieve his goals. Not only that, but Mark knows a lot of people, so a good job done by me will hopefully bring further rewards and recommendations in the future – “Give is Gain”.

An interesting week, opening up yet more doors and new challenges, but where does that leave time for anything else …?

Vital Stats:
For all of those ‘singletons’ out there:

  • Weight – 9st 9lbs (hurrah, each 1lb shifted is a result, when you consider as a bride in 1983 I weighed 7st 12lbs – married life maybe was a little too contented!)

  • Chocolate – nil – 9st 7lbs is incentive enough to resist

  • Wine – two glasses of white wine followed by vigorous salsa dancing – my motto is “dance like no-one is watching you” – it works, great fun!

  • Boyfriends – one date – Charles is looking after my well being. He surprised me with half a dozen fresh eggs from his hens. As they are corn fed the yolk is ‘toffee’ like, absolutely gorgeous. Next week Charles has his two lovely children with him, so we are planning a picnic, weather permitting and I may be helping to put a new tin roof on one of his outbuildings. Nice digression from all things HR!

  • Golf – ‘grudge’ match with The ‘Polar Bear’ took place, yes he has been practising and yes, I did try to be gentle, he fought hard, but I beat him by 23 strokes! Winner got to buy the drinks, so I was pleased to do my bit. He is definitely improving and I suspect this will go on until he eventually beats me. We both really enjoyed ourselves though and he was a good sport.

  • Deep thoughts – Going to look for the meteor shower this evening. I feel like making a wish or two on a shooting star if I’m lucky enough to see any!

Keep it simple everyone and enjoy your week ahead!

More diary entries:


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Annie Hayes

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