Trust starts in the words that we use

I think it goes without saying that large parts of society have an issue with trust. Whether it is trust in politicians, trust in the media or trust in business. Institutions that once were seen as being cohesive forces in society are now the perpetrators, if not originators, of societal fragmentation.

At the heart of this mistrust is our inability to speak openly and honestly about subjects that are of mass importance, to be clear about the impact of change, to face into the repercussions of our actions. I wrote a few weeks ago about a session I did a number of years ago where I portrayed a rather bleak future on the back of the introduction of technology and how it fell on deaf ears compared to the sugar coated, unicorn riding, emancipation argument being offered on the other side. I’ll bet my house on which one of us is right.

The point though isn’t the change itself, it is our inability to be honest about the implications. And this is something that we see everyday in organisations, in the same way that the “self employed” delivery driver being measured by the second doesn’t recognise the benefits of technology allowing an executive to answer their emails from the Bahamas, too often we communicate an artificial version of the future that just doesn’t match with the reality that people experience.

Last month, Tesco announced around 4,500 job cuts in order to “serve shoppers better”. That’s right, having fewer employees in stores will be better for shoppers. Well I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of one time I’ve been in any retail outlet and thought, “I wish there were fewer employees here to serve me”. Of course the reality is that Tesco needs to cut overheads in order to compete on price and maintain its dividend and one of the most effective ways of doing that is through staff numbers. So why can’t they say that?

If we are going to try to regain trust in our organisations, in business as a whole, then we need to start by being honest. That means being straight up about the good and the bad, it means being honest when things will have a negative impact, it means facing into the implications of the decisions that we make. It means treating employees (see also voters readers and viewers too) as grown ups who are able to understand when they are being told the truth and when they are being fed an institutional mistruth.

Our corporate norms reject ideas of candour, the call for palatable half truths. Our corporate norms, however, have got us into this situation. Maybe now is the time to reappraise. If we can’t be open and honest, we can never truly build trust.

 

Conferences are the ultimate fake news

Last week saw a significant change in corporate Britain when, in amongst the ongoing Brexit shenanigans, Marks and Spencers were demoted from the FTSE100 for the first time since the creation of the index which, broadly, highlights the largest corporate organisations listed in London.

Whilst the origins of the demotion lie predominantly in the changing retail environment, it reminded me of being a young and enthusiastic student of HR and being bombarded with case studies from these organisations. I particularly remember one about the quality of talent attraction and management at M&S. One would think that if it had genuinely been so good at attracting the best and brightest, they might have been able to see this coming – Next Plc remains in the FTSE100.

This isn’t intended to be a pop at M&S, in fact over the years I’ve spoken to a number of their HR team and they’re a decent bunch. They’re just a symptom of the over exaggeration that we encourage in the industry through our conferences and awards. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve sat in an audience and listened as people talk about their businesses without the data to back up their assertions, or indeed the times I’ve sat as a judge and read a submission for an award that talks about the “transformation” delivered by their initiative, launched only six months ago…

In a world where we question the veracity of almost every news story put before us, we seem to turn a blind eye when a conference brochure tells us “How Xx Plc DISRUPTED their HR model to drive bottom line growth” or we place praise on a company for driving organisational transformation, only to read months later of the inherent discrimination that exists against women or minorities.

Before you say it, yes I do speak at conferences and I have won awards. But I’ve always been clear what the data is, what the evidence supports and where I’m expressing opinion. It isn’t about headlines, it’s about integrity. And my greatest ask is not of the speakers or the entrants, but of the organisers and the awarders. What’s really sexy and exciting isn’t the BIG SHOUTY headlines, its the evidence of meaningful results. That’s what we’d all like to see.

And if you don’t believe me, here are some real examples:

“Unlocking creativity and adaptability – how inclusion will drive your business through disruption”

“Unleashing human potential: Applying Digital HR in the workplace”

“Actionable, Impactful People Analytics & HR Insights Which Add Value & Build The Future Of The Business”

You couldn’t make it up…

How not to screw up your holiday

As the schools start to break up, we are in to peak holiday season with workers and their families looking to take some well deserved time off. And for all our talk about flexible working, four day weeks and remote working, there’s are a number of things that we can all do to support our colleagues when they (or we) are on holiday.

If you’re starting to think about the warmth, the smell of suncream and the thought of a cool drink by a pool, try to spend a little bit of time also thinking about your co-workers who are staying behind.

  1. Do a proper handover –  the good old fashioned handover is a thing of beauty when done well, because it allows you and your colleagues to relax and enjoy their break. But I can tell you now that you won’t be able to remember everything you need to convey in the last five minutes before you leave the building. Start a week or two before to list down the things that are ongoing, worrying you or lily to occur and then plan good time in with the people that you need to tell.
  2. Work until the end – of course you’re excited about your holiday, that’s entirely normal. But it starts when you finish work and finishes when you start work. Your co-workers aren’t in the same fortunate position as you (although they may be soon enough!) so remember to pull your weight right through until the last. Last minute online holiday shopping can be done after work, but don’t worry you’re still allowed to show your pics off when you get back – just not for the next two weeks!
  3. Remember you’re on holiday – some of us like to interfere and been involved in pretty much everything, even when we are on holiday. But here is the deal, you’re either in or you’re out and doing the workplace version of the Can-Can is not ok. Decisions will be made without you, conversations will take place, you’re surrounded by capable colleagues, so let them do their jobs.

But of course, if we all want to have a happy and harmonious holiday period then it isn’t just the person going on leave that needs to watch out. Those of us left in the workplace need to play by some basic rules too (remembering this will come back on us at some point too).

  1. Don’t forget to hold the baby – which I’m using as an idiom, unless you happen to work in a nursery or kindergarten, in which case in the literal sense as well. We are all busy with our own work and responsibilities, but in order for everyone to have a decent break and not regret it when they get back, we all need to pick up the slack. So if your colleague asks you to look after something when they’re away, don’t forget to do so.
  2. Don’t rely on your memory – a lot can happen in two weeks and if your colleague is off for that length of time, you’re probably not going to remember everything that has happened that would be useful for them to know. I”m not talking about the water cooler gossip, but the stuff that makes work easier. So make some notes as you go along and, just like the handover, make sure that there is time set aside to bring them properly up to speed.
  3. “I know you’re on holiday but…” – I’ve written before about the toxicity of this statement, but I want to focus on the more general point here. If someone is on holiday, they’re on holiday. If you can’t operate the business without them for a couple of weeks, then there is something pretty wrong with your organisation. Unless it is an absolute crisis, leave them be to get a break and come back as a rested, happier and more productive colleague.

 

Have a great holiday when you get there. Whilst I won’t be on holiday, I’ll be back on the blog in September.

You’ve got to buy a ticket

When we want things to change, we need to act. There is no circumstance where this applies more than in the culture of the teams and organisations that we work in.

Ultimately culture is a reflection of all of our actions, all of our behaviours and all of our shared beliefs and opinions. It is a reflection of us. Which means if we’re not happy with how things are, we need to start by asking what we can change.

Before you start to tell me that individuals can’t change the organisation, of course to some extent that is true. But we can each change the way that we show up, the way that we are and the way that we interact with others. We can’t change the whole, but we can change our impact.

There is no point in complaining about how things are, unless you’re willing to help make a change. There is no point in wanting things to be different, unless you’re willing to make that so.

It reminds me of a joke that I head a number of years ago in an entirely different context:

A little down on his luck, Joe decides to ask God for help. He begins to pray…

“God, please help me. These last few years have been tricky for me and it’s about time I had a bit luck. I’ve never asked you for much, but I need my life to change. So God, please let me win the lottery.”

Lottery night comes and somebody else wins it.

Joe again prays…

“God, I’m going to ask you again. I need my luck to change. Please let me win the lottery!”

Lottery night comes and Joe still has no luck.

Once again, he prays…

“My God, why have you forsaken me??  I don’t often ask you for help and I have always been a good servant to you. PLEASE just let me win the lottery this one time so I can get my life back in order.”

Suddenly there is a blinding flash of light as the heavens open and Joe is confronted by the voice of God Himself: “Joe, meet me halfway on this. Buy a ticket.”

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