What will the election mean for HR?

As we move towards the General Election, The main parties are making their manifestos available and so far the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats have published theirs. There is surprising consensus about the main themes to be tackled, but of course difference in approach and tone. So what are they saying about the world of work?

Executive Pay

There’s been a lot of reference to executive pay ratios and both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats commit to pay ratios across the board. The Conservatives state that listed companies will be required to publish pay ratios between executives and broader UK workforce pay, the Liberal Democrats point to “larger” companies having to publish the ratios between “top” and median pay.

In addition, they both also refer to binding shareholder votes on remuneration policies and executive pay.

Labour also mention pay ratios, specifically a limit of 20:1 in the public sector and for those companies bidding for public sector contracts, but perhaps surprisingly don’t reference the broader business community. There is no mention of any constraints on executive pay but instead to their “excessive pay levy” which would be paid by companies for employees earning over £330,000.

Minimum Pay

At the other end of the remuneration spectrum, all three main parties make reference to minimum wage rates – however, the content is particularly confused by the loose use of language, exceptions and omissions.

Labour commitment to increasing the “Minimum Wage” to the level of the “Living Wage” for all employees aged 18 or over.

The Conservatives plan to increase the “National Living Wage” to 60% of median earnings by 2020.

And then the Liberal Democrats commit to an independent review to set a “genuine Living Wage”.

No much clarity there then!

Employee participation

This is perhaps the most interesting area of discussion, with more inches dedicated to this than I can remember in any previous election. 

Labour approaches this through involvement of the trade unions, with a promise to repeal the Trade Union Act, a commitment to sectoral collective bargaining and guaranteeing Trade Union rights to access all workplaces.

The Liberal Democrats refer to employee representation on remuneration committees, the “right for employees of a listed company to be represented on the board” and to “permit a German-style two-tier board structure to include employees” but they’re not quite clear on whether this is an obligation, or an encouragement.

Finally, the Conservatives will make companies either nominate a board director from the workplace, create an employee advisory council or assign specific employee responsibilities to a designated non-executive director.

Employment rights

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats commit to the abolishment of tribunal fees, the Liberal Democrats also committing to merge those “enforcement agencies” that oversee employment rights.

Zero hours contracts come in for a lot of attention. Labour promise an outright “ban” whereas the Lib Dems refer to preventing the abuse and a formal right to request a fixed contract. The Conservatives make broader reference to protecting the interests of those in the “gig economy”. The Lib Dems and Conservatives also point to the forthcoming Taylor Report as a means of change.

Labour make a high profile commitment to an additional four statutory bank holidays (picked up by a lot of the national press) and a less high profile, but no less interesting pledge to ban unpaid internships.

The Conservatives make reference to a new right for employees to request information on the future direction of their company albeit, “subject to sensible safeguards”.

The Liberal Democrats present a right for employees in listed companies with over 250 employees to “request” shares in the business. They also float the idea of a kite mark for “good employers” that  covers areas such as paying a living wage, using name blind recruitment and removing unpaid internships.

Summary

Overall, my sense is that we can expect to see pay ratios being widely implemented in reporting in the same way that we are seeing with the gender pay gap and increasing focus on excessive executive pay.

The output from the Taylor Report looks more and more likely to be a turning point in terms of formal consideration of changes to working practices as a result of the “gig economy”. From recent press coverage, we can hope that the recommendations will be thoughtful and considered.

And finally, the debate about employee participation and voice is going to be fascinating. How do employees get a voice at the top tables of organisations, how do we formally enshrine employees as a meaningful stakeholder and how do we ensure more transparency?

Disclaimer

I’ve tried to remain as neutral and factual as possible, you’ll have your views as I will have mine. If inadvertently I’ve mis-portrayed a perspective, then it is entirely unintended.

I appreciate that there are other parties that will play a role in the election that aren’t included. I’ve used the information available at the point of publication.

If there are inaccuracies or omissions, please let me know and I will edit and amend as appropriate.

What are your boundaries?

Look at any source of advice on relationships and you’ll see reference to standards and boundaries. Like romantic relationships, our expectations of others at work can help or hinder our progress to achieving harmony. We don’t always need to get on, we don’t always need to agree, but it sure as hell helps if we can understand what’s going on.

And being clear on the difference between our standards and boundaries, can only help.

Personally, I like to be early. No, let me be more precise. I HATE to be late. It is a standard that is important to me. If I’m supposed to be somewhere, I’ll try and make sure I’m there in advance and I can arrive at a time that I consider fashionably early.

That’s my standard. It’s something that is important to me, for me. But what’s my boundary?

I appreciate that people get held up, that things crop up and that external factors can impact on the plans of others. However, there are things that I won’t tolerate:

  • If you’re late to a meeting it is your responsibility to catch up, not everyone else’s to wait for you
  • If you’re repeatedly late and it becomes a norm
  • If you don’t acknowledge your lateness and offer apologies to others

So when a colleague turns up to the meeting at 9.59, bustles in to the room with a pile of papers spewing out of their hands and a coffee stain down their shirt, what criteria am I judging them by? My standards, or my boundaries?

Let’s look at something more emotive. Honesty and openness.

I believe in being open and honest. I try my best to express myself as openly and honestly as I can – recognising that I’m not a model of perfection. That’s the standard I hold myself to – to be honest. My boundaries are that I won’t accept being lied to and I reject the withholding of information for the sake of organisational politics, but I accept that I cannot know every detail of every situation.

What happens when I hear about a situation that has occurred in work that I have an opinion on, but haven’t been able to contribute to. It might also be one that personally impacts my work.

Do I hold judgment based on my personal standard, or assess against my boundaries? I know and recognise that I cannot be informed about everything, but surely this piece?

Understanding the difference between our personal standards, the things that we hold dear to ourselves, and the boundaries, the red lines that we cannot accept others to cross is critical to our ability to successfully navigate around our organisations and make things happen.

It is only natural to confuse the two at times, but understanding what we’re doing can only aid us in our contribution in both our personal and professional lives.

When is your leadership rehearsal?

If you play an instrument, dance or play a sport you’ll understand the importance of rehearsal and practice. The essence of producing the required performance at the time that matters is based on preparation and investment.

Yet how often do you spend rehearsing your performance as a leader? It is a curious peculiarity of leadership and management that are we expected to be always on and yet always perform.

Imagine a football player only ever having game time, or a musician always being on stage. Common sense and experience tells us that in these circumstances they’re unlikely to improve the quality of their delivery. Sure they might have natural talent or ability, but what is the likelihood they’d progress?

Even those at the top of their games spend time to practice, analyse and focus on improvement. Daily.

The natural rhythm of business life is counterproductive to the concept of leadership rehearsal. We move from one meeting to the next, from one decision to another. Rarely stopping to pause or reflect. And even at the end of the day, the structure of modern life is such that the emails, the papers and presentations continue.

The lucky few might find have a coach that they can spend time with and create a space for important focus and reflection, but what about the rest of us, what can we do?

Rehearsal is a mindset, it is about wanting to improve, deliver and perform. It is about being curious about the elements of your personal leadership performance that could or should be done better. What do you want to improve?

Rehearsal is about buying yourself time. It is about identifying the important moments in your day or week and ensuring that you’re prepared – not just intellectually, but behaviourally and emotionally. How do you want to be?

Rehearsal is about analysis. It is about reviewing and reflecting and seeking to understand the elements that went well and not so well. How did you do?

Rehearsal is about learning. It is about seeking out different sources of information, watching others, reading, seeking out inspiration and provocation. What could you learn?

The secret of performing, isn’t much of a secret – it is simply about practice and rehearsal. That applies to leadership as much as anything else. When is your leadership rehearsal?

Fads, fashions and the self-confident leader

Hands up if you’ve never looked at a photo from your past and thought, “what was I doing wearing that?”, or looked in the dark recesses of your wardrobe and seen the unworn, unloved item that at the time of purchasing, you were convinced would make you look swathe, sophisticated and downright sexy.

My guess is there’s not many hands in the air (not least because that sort of thing gets you thrown off the train or bus).

The point is that we are all susceptible to following along with a trend, a fashion or fad that we later realise wasn’t perhaps in our best interest. We do this in work and in business all the time – it is no different to any other aspect of life.

The corporate corridors are littered with the failed and reversed decisions made by leaders at all levels, because they read, heard or were advised that “everyone else is doing x”. It happens in HR, it happens across business and it is entirely and completely natural.

But that doesn’t make it right.

Its not hard to understand why we make these decisions, we’re often proposed something that feels simple, easy to implement, is recommended by “experts”, has some sort of resonance with a broader meta-trend within the world and will lead to tangible, measurable improvement.

We’ve seen this with mass outsourcing, TQM, holacracy, management by consensus, management by objective, the Ulrich model. I could go on.

None of these practices are in themselves bad, what is questionable is the wholesale implementation of these across the corporate spectrum without consideration of the best way of implementing change for the specific organisational context.

And that’s where the self confident leader comes in. In the same way that the phrase goes, “no-one ever got fired for hiring Deloitte/McKinsey/IBM” (delete as appropriate to your age and era), there is often reassurance in moving with the homogenous mass. That is part of our psychological makeup.

The role of the leader is to have the confidence, the willingness and the space to be able to call out when this isn’t in the best interests of their organisation, function or team. It is  to push the thinking, the creation of ideas and the solutions beyond the realms of accepted wisdom, to test whether it is really the right way forward.

No-one ever said being a leader is easy, in fact the better you want to be, the harder it can feel. Standing up and not doing the things that others are, can be harder than following. But sometimes the most fertile soil is found in the least worked ground.