Deal or No Deal?

When I started work, I don’t remember thinking I was due anything other than a pay cheque at the end of the month. I’d received my contract and terms and conditions and I accepted the deal  – the amount of holiday, the level of pension and the protection for sickness. That is about all there was in those days.

I figured that if I worked hard, put in the hours, managed to show a bit of intelligence and initiative that it would help me. Not to get a promotion, but to get experience and ultimately a good reference. Because when I started the job, my director had been very clear – I wasn’t going to stay.

It wasn’t that he was a hire and fire them character – far from it – but he had taken a policy to hire young, eager, recently qualified professionals and to give them a chance in the world of work. In return he realised that he got good quality people, but one’s that would want to move on pretty quickly – and he was ok with that. That was the deal.

Throughout my career, I’ve heard reference to “entitlement” more and more. It really wasn’t a term I was familiar with back in the mid 90s. And whilst I’ve worked with some people who truly believe they were the most entitled on the planet, “we’re unicorns, Neil, that’s what you need to do if you want to hire unicorns”, I’ve met more who’ve been disappointed that a promise they were led to believe, hasn’t materialised.

The thing about a deal is that it has to work for both sides, and yet as organisations too often we want to pretend we have something greater than the reality, in the belief that what we actually have wouldn’t be appetising. The implication of this is we don’t believe that job applicants and employees are capable of making an assessment based on facts and acting in accordance with their best judgment.

So instead we talk about nebulous concepts such as career enhancement, progression, development opportunities and stretch, which are easily misinterpreted and can be unintentionally disingenuous. Frustrations normally kick in at about two years into the employee journey, when people start to realise that their interpretation of the phrase wasn’t the same as the organisation’s.

There’s nothing wrong about a straightforward deal at work, in fact I’d argue there is something pretty refreshing. “If you come here, you’ll be working with good people to do your job, we will look after your health, safety and wellbeing, we will pay you x and give you y on top. You’ll learn and hopefully enjoy yourself and in the future, who knows, you might find something else here you like or you might choose to move on. And we understand and respect that”.

Deal, or no deal?

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.

Women on Boards – Let the excuses begin

The interim report from the Hampton Alexander Review caused headlines last week. On explaining why they didn’t have enough female representation on their Boards, the review cited the most commonly heard reasons from FTSE 350 chairs and chief executives:

  • “I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment”

I would have some sympathy with this if it were presented as a problem that needed solving rather than a reason for non-selection. There is no doubt that the culture and environment of board rooms across the world needs to progress and modernise, but that’s exactly why more diversity is a good thing.

  • “There aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board – the issues covered are extremely complex”

Oh my…where to go with this one? It reminds me of a CEO many years ago who, when asked why there were no women on his board replied, “Why? Are the men doing such a bad job?” Words fail me.

  • “Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board”

This could be true. But how do you know? It certainly isn’t representative of the senior women executives I’ve worked with throughout my career. I’d have sympathy if you’d been repeatedly trying to hire and receiving this feedback, but my guess is that isn’t the case.

  • “Shareholders just aren’t interested in the make-up of the board, so why should we be?”

There is more than one stakeholder group that is important to the good running of a business, and more than that, this is about leadership. Show some leadership.

  • “My other board colleagues wouldn’t want to appoint a woman on our board”

Then you should probably have more vacancies on your board available to women. Can you imagine this conversation being acceptable in any other forum or part of society?

  • “All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up”

Whereas there is a plethora of average, middle-aged, white males?  I admit they “might” be harder to find, they might be less forward about coming forward, less likely to self promote in the board environment (I have no evidence to support this, I’m just being generous). But a lack of good women? That’s far from my experience.

  • “We have one woman already on the board, so we are done – it is someone else’s turn”

If there was ever a response that suggested tokenism, then this would probably be the World Cup winner. This probably worries me more than the other responses because it represents such a complete misunderstanding of the issue.

  • “There aren’t any vacancies at the moment – if there were I would think about appointing a woman”

If this read, “we haven’t had a vacancy during my tenure” I might be able to get with it. Also, maybe not just think about it, but actively pursue a diverse shortlist. Maybe.

  • “We need to build the pipeline from the bottom – there just aren’t enough senior women in this sector”

Yes, yes you do. But not just that. And board representation should pull on experience from different sectors and different backgrounds to ensure good governance and a diversity of background and opinion. So don’t stop the pipeline, but think about how you could turbocharge it too.

  • “I can’t just appoint a woman because I want to”

No. You could appoint them because they’re the best person for the job.

If you’re interested in finding out more, the full and latest Hampton-Alexander Review is published on 27 June.

Everyone needs a career plan

Most of us are going to spend the vast majority of our lives in work. If you start at 18, you’re probably going to be going for around 50 years. Depressing, isn’t it?

Whilst not everyone wants to be CEO, given the amount of time you’re going to commit to your working life, don’t you think you’d better have a plan? I’m not taking about the, “by the time I’m 30 I want to be xx”, but understanding what you want to be doing, where you want to be doing it and what makes you happy.

It may not always feel like it, but the simple truth  is that you have ultimate control of your career decisions. We all need to pay the bills, we all need to be economically productive, but most of us in work have choices that we often fail to see. (NOTE: NEET, long-term unemployed and areas of low social mobility are topics for another post.)

When I speak to employees who are seriously unhappy at work, more than not I can  track it back to a feeling of being “done to” on one level or another. And when you discuss it further, there is usually a choice or decision that has been overlooked or disregarded. Part of the importance of having a plan is that it puts you in control, it makes you conscious of the work decisions that you are making.

Let’s say you have a new boss that you’re struggling to get on with, you have a choice. You can put effort into building rapport, you can try to adjust your style to adapt. Or you could decide that you just can’t get along and look to move team or leave the business, that’s the ultimate choice. Which route you choose should relate back to your plan. Is the company in the right place for me, am I doing a job I want to do, is this part of a longer term career path?

What often happens when people don’t have a plan is they sit, react and get resentful. They defer responsibility, “I didn’t appoint them”, “they’re an arse”, “things use to be so much better”. And whilst all of these points are probably true, it doesn’t really matter because they are the circumstances you’re in. So what are you going to do with it?

Having a plan gives you forward energy, it gives you control and it makes you beautifully responsible for your own happiness. If we’re going to spend so much time in the workplace, it feels a shame to spend it feeling angry, sad and powerless. So take a little time, reflect and spend it on yourself and ask yourself the question, where do I want to be?