A blueprint for HR

I’ve been in the world of people management long enough to know that our profession is not without criticism. Many of the challenges we face are of our own making as we flit between almost schizophrenic versions of our own identity, causing confusion and bafflement to the people that we serve – our employees. Which is why, when you see something that genuinely has the opportunity to move the profession forward, it fills me with hope and excitement.

It would be surprising to hear such excitement come in a package, describes as, “The new Profession Map” (yes, I’m confused by the capitalisation too, but let’s just park that for now), but this has the potential to really transform our profession. Launched by CIPD last week, the product of thousands of conversations with practitioners, businesses and teams the map for the first time, articulates the profession that I know and believe in.

profession-map-window

At the heart is the core purpose, “…to champion better work and working lives. Creating roles, opportunities, organisations and working environments that help get the best out of people, delivering great organisational outcomes, in turn driving our economies, and making good, fair and inclusive work a societal outcome.” I could have written that myself.

And to do this well, we need to be led by principles, ensuring ethical practice where people and professionalism matter. We need to based our decisions and initiatives on evidence, not fads and whims and to be focussed on the outcomes of our work for our people, for our profession and for society at large.

For once, I read a set of core behaviours that matter to me – “valuing people”, “situational decision-making” and “ethical practice” to call out a few and an articulation of core knowledge that I see in truly great practitioners, understanding “culture and behaviours”, being able to demonstrate “analytics and creating value” and “business acumen” rather than simple statements of commerciality.

Of course, the success of “The new Profession Map” will be dependent on the adoption by practitioners not just in the UK, but across the globe. I know my team have already started looking at how we can incorporate this into our organisation. And that’s why I absolutely implore you to do the same, to help us come together and build a profession that is fit for the now and the future.

It is easy to be cynical and to criticise, but I find it genuinely hard to understand how anyone could not find this both useful and productive for the profession. Now if we could just deal with those capital letters, it would be absolutely perfect.

Your sickness policy is killing the world

Did you ever think that policy you introduced to protect against “shirkers” was going to cause a global crisis? Well maybe you need to think again.

Last year, Public Health England warned that unless we started to address resistance to antibiotics we could see 10 million more deaths a year within the next thirty years. At a cost of £66 trillion in lost productivity. Which is…pretty stark.

“But what does that have to do with me?”, I hear you ask. Because one of the major causes is over prescription, with levels of prescription being clearly linked with areas of higher immunity and resistance. Nearly 40% of patients now expecting to be prescribed antibiotics when they visit the GP for ailments that will cure naturally over time.

Now of course none of us like being ill and the sooner we can be back to health the better, but I can’t help thinking that organisational culture and sickness policies are also part of the problem. Many years ago I was made aware of a retailer that had a process that involved sitting on a long bench in a communal area with a sign that read, “We’re sorry  you’ve been unwell, take a seat until a manager can come and speak to you”.

And of course it isn’t just the crass examples, its organisations that don’t pay waiting days, that don’t pay above statutory minimums, that change shift patterns or working hours or demand a GP note for any type of payment.

So next time you’re reviewing that policy, or you’re under pressure to make sure that you tighten up on the amount of sickness absence in your organisation, remember, our demand for always on, always available employees isn’t just ruining trust and engagement, it’s potentially ruining the world.

Lawyers have moral responsibilities too

In the middle of last week, a story broke about a businessman who had made financial settlements using Settlement Agreements including NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) on a number of occasions following claims of sexual harassment and racial abuse.

Despite the undeniably serious nature of the original actions, in a world of global news reporting it may not have warranted front page news, except the businessman in question took an injunction out against the newspaper that had investigated the claims preventing it from publishing the details. And then in return, a Lord used parliamentary privilege to name the businessman.

I’ve followed the story, beginning to end and you know what? The whole thing stinks.

It stinks because instead of having the right debate, we’ve wrapped the story up in one of legal rights and wrongs. We’re discussing the integrity of the courts versus parliament, we’re discussing the integrity of NDAs, we’re discussing the integrity of legal precedent.

When we should be discussing the integrity of the people involved. The individual(s) that carried out the act in the first place. The leaders and HR professionals that sustained the culture in the organisation(s). And of course, the victims.

But also the lawyers that drafted the agreements, that defended the agreements and who have now lost sight of the individuals at the heart of the matter and are making intellectual arguments about legal supremacy, when if they and their peers done the right thing in the first place, this wouldn’t have been an issue.

Now I know that I’ll be faced with arguments that these agreements are entirely legal and proper, that it isn’t for lawyers to determine right or wrong but simply to enact what is legal and what is not. That the sanctity of the independence of the courts is paramount etc. I know, I’ve heard the arguments before. But I call b******t.

I’m sat here wracking my brains trying to think of a time in my 25 years of practice where I’ve been involved in a case where we’ve used a settlement agreement to settle a case of sexual harassment or racial abuse, and simply I can’t think of one. So to have multiple ones in the same organisation?

You can talk about the sanctity of the agreement and the “independent legal advice” that the individual has to take before they sign, but I want to talk about the moral responsibility of people propping up a rotten culture. I hold my profession to account, I hold leaders to account, but I also hold the legal profession to account. You can’t make clever arguments to claim immunity, you own this problem too.

So instead of continuing to engage in intellectual masturbation on the rights and wrongs of a member of the House of Lords naming the individual in question, let’s ask ourselves why they had to. Instead of debating the use of NDAs versus public interest, let’s ask ourselves why they’d ever be used in a case of this kind. And instead of pointing the finger at others, let’s start by asking ourselves a few searching questions.

The shadow you cast

A number of years ago I was dealing with the behaviour of an executive colleague. For a number of reasons their conduct had been called into question and we were trying to unpick a somewhat difficult situation. Once it was all sorted I was amazed to hear other colleagues tell me that this had been a repetitive occurrence throughout their career.

Whilst they’d been more junior within the organisation, their behaviour had been an annoyance; troublesome but manageable. But as they progressed through the ranks (one can question the judgment of those that facilitated this rise) it started to be more damaging to the organisation as a whole, it created a bigger impression.

The closer to the sun you climb, the larger the shadow you cast.

I used this phrase last week to talk about the importance of leadership role models. It’s a factor that many leaders forget and therefore undervalue the potential benefit. To put it another way, as a leader you can choose to behave in a way that not only benefits those directly around you, but those further afield in your organisation.

With all the talk of authentic leadership, we forget to explore the reason why. What lies behind the value of authenticity? The simple answer is that people will engage and follow authenticity more readily. But I think it is even more important than that.

I can’t cite the evidence, but I was told recently about a study of people on London buses. They found that when a passenger alighted the bus and said “thank you” to the driver, the probability of other passengers doing the same increased. Similarly, the same has been seen with passengers giving up seats on trains or picking up litter in the street.

And at the same time, we know that if the person carrying out the act is in a perceived position of power, the effect is multiplied.

If you’re a leader in an organisation you have both an opportunity and responsibility to role model the behaviours that you want to see and to encourage them in every interaction. The power goes much further than any leadership development intervention, value statement or strategic model. And even better it costs nothing and can be deployed at will.

So what are you waiting for?