Cake & Chat with Karen Moran

Our spotlight feature, Cake & Chat, welcomes Karen Moran, Director at Disruptive HR. With over 20 years of diverse HR expertise Karen has extensive hands-on experience of leading and implementing fresh thinking HR initiatives.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Karen, we are really excited to get to know you a little better over cake.

Tell us about yourself…

I’ve been in HR for over 20 years and I’m a Director of Disruptive HR – an agency we started 8 years ago with a mission to change outdated HR and people leadership practices for good! I’m married to Matt, and we have two awesome ‘grown-ups’ Lewis and Scarlett. I find joy in the simple pleasures of life. I love pottering about at home, keeping fit, spending time with my family and friends and exploring new places – European city breaks are my favourite.

Tell us about how you got into HR? What was the driving force?

I had no idea what I wanted to do and stumbled into HR through a temp job and never looked back.  I can’t think of anything more satisfying than enabling people to do their best work.

What’s your career highlight?

The career highlight that stands out is setting up Disruptive HR with my former boss and best friend Lucy. Starting a business was always something I hoped to do but it wasn’t a risk I felt I could take when I had young kids and a big mortgage. I feel out of my comfort zone daily, but it’s also incredibly exciting watching our business grow.    

What are your top three tips for a successful HR leader?

Empower your team, always challenge the status quo and be a decent person.

What’s the best advice you can give for keeping on top of the ever-changing world of HR?

Always ‘look up and out’ for inspiration, be open to change and listen to your employees so you can understand their real needs and wants.

Where do you go to keep on top of the changes happening in HR?

I read and listen to a lot of podcasts about anything and everything and at Disruptive HR we make it our business to always look at what progressive and successful organisations are doing differently.  We also look to other disciplines like marketing as so many of the trends there can be applied to HR.

What do you feel are the benefits of being part of a membership or community with other HR professionals?

By connecting with peers in the HR community, we open ourselves up to valuable opportunities to gain fresh perspectives, share our successes and challenges and recognise that we are not alone!

What do you do to keep your mental wellbeing in check?

Having control over my diary is a big deal for me. Knowing I can balance errands, family, friends, and fitness alongside work keeps my my mental well-being in check.

What’s your favourite life or work related quote that inspires you or keeps you pushing on?

“Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future” I think this is true in life and also at work. I’m very lucky to have good people in all areas of my life.

Lastly…what’s your favourite cake?

Lemon drizzle  – always!

A big thank you to Karen for the great chat.

Join us for an evening of discussion on HR in a Disruptive world with Karen Moran on 20th June, 6:30pm-9pm at David Attenborough Building in Central Cambridge. Tickets can be reserved here. 

If you would like to learn more about Cake & HR and the community membership opportunities we offer for HR professionals working in an SME environment, please reach out to [email protected].

Employee Engagement Surveys – how to action feedback?

Employee Engagement Surveys (EES) are one of the best ways to understand your employees motivation and engagement in the workplace. Gauging wellbeing and happiness in their environment means they are more likely to perform their best and achieve desired results. They also give you the data to respond to issues that the business may not be aware of. 

Regular surveys give an ‘over time’ insight into the effectiveness of key metrics put in place to resolve any problem areas. Not only are all these crucial points covered by an EES, but it also sends the message to employees that their wellbeing is of high importance. 

So, what are the right questions to ask to get to the bottom of any pain points? And how do you action the feedback? We have collated some tips below:

    1. The objective of the questions put to employees, is to understand if they are energised and engaged to put their best into their work. Questions can be split into individual satisfaction, alignment and future view themes. Example questions below:
      • Satisfaction questions: Do you believe the organisation has your best interests in mind when making business decisions?
      • Do you feel excited about coming in to work?
      • Do you enjoy working with your team?
      • Would you recommend working for [business] to your friends?
      • Alignment questions: Do the businesses visions and values inspire you?
      • Do you believe you receive regular adequate communication with all employees?
      • Do you feel your manager / leadership team are invested in your success?
      • Does you receive appropriate recognition for your work?
      • Does the company culture offer a comfortable and supportive work environment?
      • Future view: Do you see a path for career progression?
      • Do you feel supported by your manager in your career aspirations?
      • Do you know how you fit into the organisations future plans?
    1.  Open ended questions also make up an important part of an EES. Being direct about possible pain points and asking for open feedback allows the business to ensure that they are aware of any key focus areas:
      •  What do we do well?
      • What could we improve on?
      • What do you enjoy most / least about your role?
      • Is there anything preventing you from doing your job well?
      • What changes have you seen since the last survey? (if applicable)
    2.  Work-Life balance is an important consideration in our fast paced world, featuring some questions on this will show employees that you consider this as an important factor in their wellbeing:
      • Do you get enough time to do your job well?
      • Do you find yourself working at evenings or weekends?
      • Are you often stressed with deadlines or workload?
    3.  Collating and actioning the feedback is possibly the most important part of the EES. Employees will only feel connected to the feedback process if they are going to see action or acknowledgement of their views. Some of the best ways of taking action are:
      • Create a transparancy report – showing the findings of the survey for the company to review will show that the feedback has been extensively reviewed and is being taken seriously
      • Employee led reviews – Ask all managers to review their anonymous feedback with their teams and hold a company wide meeting or call to cover off any key themes
      • Maintain communication – Regular comms on changes that have been actioned
      • Collaboration methods and continuous improvement – ensure leadership teams are promoting continuous workplace improvement and excellence with employee feedback in mind. Or look at creating employee led learning programmes. Encouraging collaboration and inspiration can be a great step to actioning feedback. 

The process of Employee Engagement is a continuous one that should evolve and grow with the company. Taking it seriously could have a great impact on employee performance, retention and ultimately results for your business. 

We hope you found this short guide useful. To learn more about our HR membership and how we can guide HR professionals with a safe and consistent network to learn and share these kinds of insights, please email [email protected]

AI is talk of the town at the moment – how does it play a role in HR?

From Chat GPT to Feedback AI, there seems to be an artificial intelligence (AI) system developing for a multitude of purposes. The adoption of AI has occurred at a rapid pace, leaving humans playing catch up to efficiently integrate AI in a process-driven and cost-effective way. So, how does AI play a role in HR?

The late Stephen Hawking wrote: “The real risk with AI isn’t malice but competence.” He urged business leaders to pursue AI with purpose and prudence but to embrace the coming changes.

We’re entering an age where AI is becoming a serious proposition at an executive leadership level, preparing us for a future where humans and machines can work together, cooperatively, and harmoniously. It is too early to know the precise impact AI leadership will have on organisations.

Examples of AI include activities like a search engine tailoring search results based on our past searches. A GPS navigation system can incorporate live traffic updates to avoid suggesting busy routes. By capturing and analysing data, a learning experience platform can recommend courses based on an individual’s learning interests and what other people with similar interests have done. Some spreadsheet software can analyse a data table in just a few clicks and you can let it know which automatically generated charts were useful for your report. Meanwhile, some modern HRIS can proactively highlight key insights from your people data, going beyond the key performance indicators on your people analytics dashboard. All these are examples of specific cognitive tasks that have been automated – examples of AI in action.

Where AI impacts people and particularly when it comes to the sphere of people management, it’s important to consider what uses are acceptable, and how to increase awareness of AI’s potential use and safeguard against misuse.

A survey carried out by CIPD in partnership with HiBob found that bosses were uncomfortable with letting AI do tasks that might disadvantage people’s job prospects and risk the organisation’s reputation. The greater the negative impact, the more uncomfortable bosses were with delegating the task to AI. Indeed, where automated decisions have significant effects on individuals, the UK General Data Protection Regulation limits its use to certain scenarios and allows affected individuals to challenge those decisions. So, bosses’ discomfort about certain AI uses could also stem from concern around regulatory compliance.

Among the examples of people management activities, dismissing underperforming employees was most cited as something bosses were uncomfortable with letting AI do, whether the performance criteria were clear (net 87.1%) or not (net 84.1%). In fact, most said they were extremely uncomfortable with letting AI do this.

And what about letting AI identify underperforming employees? Bosses’ opinions were split where performance criteria were clear, with just over half saying they were uncomfortable with letting AI identify underperformers (net 54.1%). Where performance criteria were unclear, more bosses were uncomfortable with letting AI do this (net 77.3%). Undoubtedly, it’s unhelpful to give the task to AI if there aren’t clear criteria to let it to do so accurately.

What does this all mean? AI isn’t going to lead HR strategy or replace people any time soon. Businesses need human discernment and knowledge to manage teams in the best way possible. AI can however enhance the ability for HR professionals to lead with streamlined processes and intuitive data. AI is developing at a rapid pace, who knows where it will lead in the next five years but as Stephen Hawking said, we can adopt it with purpose to help shape ways of working going forward.

Sources: CIPD – Using AI Responsibly in People Management –

People Management – How AI will change Leadership –


Action learning


  • Identify common learning needs and meet these within the group through shared learning
  • Bring people together to find solutions to problems—developing the individuals and the organisation in the process
  • Provide ongoing reflection and learning supported by colleagues
  • Get things done!


  • Learning about the problem/issues  being tackled
  • Learning about ourselves
  • Learning about how we learn best
  • Learning new ways of doing things


  • Enhances networking
  • Increases responsibility and self confidence
  • Increases interpersonal skills
  • Increases resourcefulness
  • Builds coaching skills
  • Encourages action and accelerates learning
  • Increases self awareness

How does it work?

  • Identify common issues/problems or individuals take turn in bringing issues to the group
  • Approx. 6—10 members
  • Group usually meets regularly
  • Issues/learning explored during meeting
  • Individuals state support required (i.e. advice, listening etc.)
  • Support and challenge from the group
  • Agreement to act (what are you going to do?)
  • Try out in practice
  • Learn (from successes and failures), share, review, learn (come back and report)

How does an action learning group work?
Five key elements:

  • The person—owns the problem/issue. Uses the group to explore the issue and work things out for themselves.
  • The group—act as consultant /coach: questioning, confronting, challenging, supporting, advising, playing devil’s advocate
  • The problems—and outcome must have relevance for all
  • The process—observation, reflection, hypothesis, action
  • The facilitator—explains the process, provides structure/focus, facilitates learning

Group values

  • Shared ownership
  • Non judgemental
  • Honesty
  • Openness
  • Desire to be more self aware
  • Risk taking
  • Reflection
  • Commitment to own learning, to the group, to action
  • Additional ground rules agreed by the group

Getting going

  • Agree what issue to explore and who it belongs to
  • Presenter presents the support they require
  • Presenter presents the issue uninterrupted
  • The group question (using open/coaching questioning skills and not leading questions) to help the individual open up/explore the issue.
  • The group provide feedback and advice (leave advice until after the questioning round if the individual wants it).
  • The individual agree actions.
  • As a group reflect on the problem solving process & how well it worked & on group and individual learning at the end of the session.

Future sessions:

  • Start session with an update of actions from the previous session.

What we’ve learnt about remote on-boarding

7 tips for onboarding your new hires!

Most of us agree that ‘the way we work’ has changed significantly because of the challenges of 2020 and no I’m not talking about BREXIT.

Pre-pandemic, many organisations invested heavily in the onboarding programme for new hires, funding travel and accommodation to bring them to ‘head office’ for a comprehensive programme of meetings, training, and introductions to key stakeholders. So, what has changed?

Starting a new job in a pandemic is a different experience, IT equipment gets delivered by courier, training has moved on-line, and introductions happen by zoom. Managers had to quickly get to grips with having one-to-ones remotely, holding team meetings virtually, measuring output instead of the number of hours at a desk. All of these things are here to stay with hybrid working.


  1. THE PROCESS: Remember the employee experience starts with recruitment. The handover between recruitment and HR/line manager needs to be seamless. When a new hire has been in post for a while and we realise that we can’t action payroll because a key piece of information is missing, our new hires lose confidence in us. Develop a checklist, do whatever you need to do but make sure the hiring process is fully complete before induction begins.
  2. IT: Getting the right equipment delivered is usually the easy bit as long as you remember to order it in plenty of time. Once you have sorted the hardware, make the most of software to introduce new hires to the company, use e-signatures and electronic document sharing software. Remember your new hire will probably need to use their smart phone to access content initially (until you have delivered their laptop), so access to videos and on-line training that work on a mobile platform will get better engagement.
  3. YOUR BRAND: Deliver the vision, values and employer brand messaging up front (before the new hire starts if you can). Include videos from employees that tell a story of their own journey and ‘how we do things around here’.
  4. MEET THE TEAM: Remember orientation is a very small part of the onboarding programme, but it’s still important. Getting to meet colleagues and knowing how to find information can get forgotten in a remote programme.
  5. THE MANAGER: Start with the manager, in any new process. Do managers need training or coaching to be able to support remote new hires? Check out our free managers resource for ‘managing remote teams’ just go to the knowledgeshare page on our website.
  6. WELCOME: Include a genuine welcome from the boss! This could be a phone/video call, or a personal card or email. Canned messages are not nearly as effective at engaging new hires as a short personal message, but recorded messages do have their place in the process.
  7. FEEDBACK & REVIEW: Build in the opportunity for the new hire to ‘feedback’. New hires always have questions, we need to make it easy for them to learn our processes and to tell us what else they need. Using remote buddy’s or allocating an onboarding mentor, are effective options. Finally, review the process regularly so that you can continuously improve the employee experience.

The benefits of coaching and mentoring

Coaching and Mentoring is a different approach to employee development that focuses on future possibilities, not past mistakes and encourages the employee to identify and solve problems and challenges. It is a very non-threatening and positive way to help staff take more responsibility for their own learning and continuous development.
Coaching can …..

  1. help employees to be more confident and willing to take more responsibility.
  2. give key staff the knowledge and transformational leadership skills to develop others in the business and improve overall performance.
  3. strengthen the business and reduce its vulnerability to future change.

A coaching culture can…….

  • increase commitment to training, learning and development.
  • improve the transfer of training into the workplace.
  • improve staff retention as individuals use more of their potential and feel that they are contributing to the business’ success.
  • create an environment where interpersonal skills are valued and developed.
  • improve workplace communication, creating a friendlier and more trusting environment.
  • encourage employees to become more self-directed, accountable and less dependent on others.

As a result, cooperation is increased with employees working together to achieve team objectives and company goals. Employee engagement is high with employees feeling motivated, enthusiastic and valued.

Who Says So?CIPD Training and Development Survey
Companies surveyed who had used a Coaching and Mentoring approach reported the following:

– 99% – said it delivered tangible benefits
– 96% – said it was effective in promoting learning
– 93% – said it enabled the transfer of learning to the workplace
– 92% – reported a positive impact on bottom line results.

Fortune 1000 companies study:

Companies involved in the study reported the following benefits as a result of using Coaching and Mentoring:
– an average of 53% increase in productivity
– 39% increase in effective customer service
– 32% increase in retention of key people
– 23% reduction in costs
– 22% increase in bottom line profitability

Xerox Corporation 
– 87% increase in effectiveness of formal training when followed up with coaching.

International Personal Management Assoc. 
– Training programmes supported by ongoing coaching improved workforce performance by 88%.

An International Coaching Federation survey of 4,000 companies found the benefits of coaching to be:

  • Improved individual performance
  • Improved client service
  • Development of people for the next level
  • Management/staff relationship improvement
  • Improved retention
  • Better communication

Let’s “follow the data” and get coaching embedded into our organisations! 


A reminder for HR to take action on EU national employees

HR: Are You Ready?
We were all reminded yesterday at our Cake and HR round table discussion with the CBI that any employees who are EU nationals should be aware that free movement will end by 31 December 2020, which means that if they wish to apply for settled status they should do so as quickly as possible. And not just employees but relatives and friends too.  

There is no fee and the app is available on any device now. 

Of course we cannot force anyone to apply but simply lay out the facts as we know them. Employers are not, and will not, be required to check that current employees have settled status but by the beginning of next year it is likely that we will have to check settled status for new employees. That means if an employee moves to a different employer the check will be made then.

A few of our members have talked about how they have given out as much information as possible to EU employees in order to demonstrate that we want them to stay and feel valued.

A few more tips came out in the discussion:

  1. Take care not to discriminate in hiring at this time by not appointing an EU national.
  2. There is an Employers Toolkit available from the Home Office.
  3. And finally ….carry out an audit NOW on all Right To Work Checks to make sure that everything is in order ready for the end of free movement.

Watch this space for announcements following the February Cabinet meeting and new salary thresholds expected for visa applications. 


​How companies market their employer brand?


  1. Active CSR locally. Broadcast CSR events on Social Media creating awareness of your company amongst potential employees.
  2. Applying to the Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to Work for.
  3. Managers giving talks to University students and schools.
  4. Unforced comments from employees on Social Media saying they are having fun, enjoying themselves, when they are attending external company events e.g. exhibitions showcasing products.
  5. Case studies on the website and/or Social Media about an employee.
  6. Actively arranging internships and work experience.
  7. Use Social Media to broadcast the employer brand in a similar way to the marketing team do/ should for the business brand.
  8. YouTube videos “Why it’s great to work here” – to attract the right candidates.
  9. Congratulate your employee of the month on Linked In / Facebook.
  10. Good candidates will be attracted to a brand that appeals to their values however small the company and they only know about the company if the brand is out there.
  11. There is a need to attract the passive candidate and Social Media posts help with this.
  12. Some companies use corporate membership schemes  to attract talent

The candidate journey

  1. The importance of giving every candidate a good experience and professional follow through.
  2. The importance of interviewing managers being enthusiastic and passionate about the company and job at interview.
  3. The importance of recruiting to values before skill set.
  4. Survey candidates after the interview.
  5. Good manners in responding to email applications to reassure that the application has been received.
  6. Involve staff in the selection process (tours, coffee).
  7. The importance of reception staff being good advocates for the company.
  8. Make sure the advert and role description is outcome based and not full of acronyms.
  9. Video CVs are new and some companies ask for them if they are relevant to their culture and sector.

Speculative applications
Reply to 
all speculative applications and offer to keep details on file. Have a standard message which aligns with your employer brand. Broadcast vacancies when they arise.

Unsuccessful candidates

  1. Very pleasant NO reply but ask them if they would like you to keep in touch with them every few months. Then issue a newsletter with business developments and the latest vacancies.
  2. Create a “talent bank” (as above) . One HR Manager in the group filled 30% of her vacancies from her Talent Bank.
  3. One director in the group arranged to meet up with unsuccessful candidates with insufficient experience for a specialist  current vacancy in order to keep them in mind for the future, and the company in their minds as they developed skills elsewhere. This approach would only work if it matched the culture of the company and sector.

Use of social media in recruiting

  1. The biggest job hunt days from an applicant point of view are Tuesday and Wednesday.
  2. Send posts at breakfast time or in the evening otherwise they will get lost in all the other posts.
  3. Consider the way candidates would like to be targeted e.g. a salesperson would be better targeted by phone.
  4. Glassdoor: if you search for a company and you see the orange dot in the image below, it means that the company in question has not taken ownership of the site, you will only see feedback from employees. Nevertheless you can still follow the page.
  5. Current employee referralsThese ranged from £300, £500 to £1000 in the room; paid at the completion of the probation period and are taxable. One company paid a charitable donation for high level referrals
  6. New employeesHandwritten notes or cards to welcome them or a digital welcome card.
  7. Have their desk ready and set up with extra touches.

Job descriptions/ WebsitesMake them funky / outcome focused / serious according to your brand.
Website for applications – make it match your brand, make it easy to use, highlight key selling points.
Free websites like Reed and Indeed may not attract the best candidates. Normal posts on LinkedIn are free.


How to create a performance culture

Our top ten questions for managers to check that they are using the right techniques to build a performance culture:

1. In my leadership role what do I pay most attention to? How do I react when things go wrong? (It’s not what I say, it’s what I do / how I behave)

2. How do my people know which are the most valued behaviours at work?
After role modelling the next step is to be clear about the top three or five ways of working, therefore these ways need to be articulated and referred to. Never promote someone who does not have the behaviours you need for your work.

3. Am I recognising different motivations and strengths in my team and actively working to build on those?

4. Are team members outcome focused? Have we agreed outcomes? Are they clear?

5. Have I agreed the right mix of objectives with individuals? 
Objectives are there to focus effort in the short term so are they clear and agreed? Do they include development as well as task based objectives?

6. Do I delegate correctly and check on progress at the right intervals? 
Have I designed face to face check in points with individuals? Am I asking the right questions and, above all, am I listening to what they say?

7. Do I deal with underperformance fairly and swiftly? 
Leniency erodes culture.

8. Am I aware of my biases?
We all have them. Know them and take steps to counteract.

9. Do I schedule time for important work?
Or am I a blocker? Do I firefight? 

10. Have I got the right communication “scaffolding” for my team?
Do I use the right channels for the message and the audience? How do I ensure the messages have been received correctly? How do ensure I listen?


How to measure remote performance

Knowledge Share Event 9 June 2020Summary from May 2020

Motivating a remote workforce and finding new ways to innovate and thrive is proving difficult during lockdown”. “Remote managers’ biggest concern is employee productivity”.

Adopting an OKR, or objectives and key results-based, approach is one way of doing this. This was first developed by Intel boss Andy Grove in the 1980s and then adopted 20 years later by Google, in start up mode; it then spread rapidly throughout Silicon Valley and is now used by Amazon and Airbnb, Walmart and ING bank.

​OKRs have two components;

  1. an objective, or short description of what you want to achieve
  2. and key results, which consist of 2-5 metrics, which are used to measure progress towards hitting the objective set.

The CEO sets business objectives for the year ahead and how it will be measured although in these times monthly goals might be better.
Senior leaders do likewise and evaluate quarterly.
Individual employees work towards operational OKRs; at this time maybe daily.
It is vital that people see how they contribute to the overall goals; clarity and focus, OKRs are an anchor in tricky times.

Roof shots versus Moon shots
OKRs should include achievable objectives but also stretch targets that may not be achieved. Only having achievable targets does not account for the innovative or creative risks that would push a company forward (like Google). With OKRs your performance does not have to be perfect because you are free to learn in the process and take different approaches.

Yes the CEO has to set clear milestones but innovative strategies often come from the bottom up.
This is a strategic shift towards a culture based on innovation with calculated risks; the OKR culture rewards learning over strict, rote performance. Grow and pivot. Realign goals quickly in line with the market.
Employees need to be ambitious, autonomous self-starters. But if they are not we can still shift the culture.

(If you are wondering about the relevance of the picture of Sophie, our cake baker, well she has pivoted and grown her business in the pandemic. Its fair to say though that she just had no idea about OKRs! She altered her offering, changed her marketing and came out busier than before. PS the wine bottles don’t belong to her)