There is much to take from The Taylor Review

Last week saw the publication of the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices. Inevitably it made headlines and drew attention to a number of high-profile ongoing debates – not least the “gig economy” and the challenge of flexibility. Perhaps unsurprisingly it also managed to draw criticism from both the trade unions and some within the business community – I generally think anything that fails to appease two potentially opposing groups must have something interesting and progressive about it.

The debate about work, the future of work and the working practices that we want to encourage in the UK is one that weaves a tricky path between those that argue for deep legislative protection for employees and those that argue for total liberalisation of the employment market. The answer almost certainly lies somewhere in the middle and navigating the world of compromise and pragmatic outcomes is always harder than taking a simplistic, dogmatic position. It is always much easier to highlight the issues that aren’t solved, than to look at the solutions that are actually proposed.

The report is over 100 pages and yet most of the reporting focused on relatively small sections and all in all there is much to be commended in the review. It provides one of the most balanced, thoughtful and helpful assessments of the challenges of developing an economy whilst maintaining good work and working lives – particularly in a world post membership of the European Union.

The definition and scoping of “good work” aims to take the debate beyond simple wage growth or contractual status – but without suggesting that they’re not important. Like the political manifestos of all major parties, it recognises the importance of employee voice and participation within the workplace and discusses the importance of work life balance and working conditions.

The section on learning and skills and employability is one that has had perhaps the least attention but is perhaps one of the strongest. Let me give you three direct excerpts:

On education policy: “Government should use its convening power to bring together employers and the education sector to develop a consistent strategic approach to employability and lifelong learning. This should cover formal vocational training, ‘on the job’ learning and development, lifelong learning and informal learning outside work. It could be linked to the longer-term development of life-time digital individual learning records. As part of this, the Government should seek to develop a uni ed framework of employability skills and encourage stakeholders to use this framework.”

On careers education: “In developing a national careers strategy, the Government should pay particular attention to how those in low paid and atypical work are supported to progress. It should take a well-rounded approach, promoting the role of high-quality work experience and encounters at different education stages.”

On unpaid internships: “The Government should ensure that exploitative unpaid internships, which damage social mobility in the UK, are stamped out. The Government should do this by clarifying the interpretation of the law and encouraging enforcement action taken by HMRC in this area.”

The Taylor Review doesn’t answer every question on the future of work, but it provides an incredibly helpful, thoughtful and balanced starting point. It is beholden on all of us associated with and interested in the UK economy, productivity and good work to take the outputs of the review and to build on them to develop our country’s approach to work. There is much good within the review and much to consider, we mustn’t lose this amongst the faff and nonsense of special interest groups concerned with looking after their own, increasingly dated agendas.

Are you proud of your work?

How many of us can truly say that we’re proud of the work we do on an ongoing basis? I’m not suggesting that the work isn’t worthwhile or valuable. But do your efforts make you proud?

I wonder in a world of increasing complexity at work, whether we are making more jobs that remove the concept of personal pride. The simple linear relationship between actions and outcomes that allow us, at the end of the day, to feel that our contribution not only added value but gave us a sense of pride. If we are dealing with the fragmentation of task and the complex interrelationships that exist in many modern workplaces, is it possible to have that simple reaction to our work?

I immediately think of the challenges that teachers, nurses and those in the services and forces talk about. How the “stuff” gets in the way of their personal pride and drive. Whilst this is perhaps the most simple and obvious examples, is a similar issue occurring in workplaces across the world? Can we help retail employees, call centre operatives, warehouse workers and office staff simply feel a greater sense of personal pride?

“I’m proud of the work I do and the contribution that it makes”.

That feels like a pretty powerful statement and one that would potentially help us understand the level of connection an individual has with the work that they’re doing and the organisation that they work for. Far better than asking whether they’re proud to work for the company – as is often seen on employee and staff surveys. If one could create an organisation where everyone felt proud of their work and their contribution, would that almost undoubtedly lead to higher performance?

How proud are you of the work you do?

5 lessons on leadership

Your external network is everything – Being at the top of any structure can be a pretty lonely place – ask any CEO. You can’t go bitching and moaning to your boss, that’s not good karma, you can’t confide certain things to your team. So where do you go? That’s where having a good external network – people who are doing similar roles, facing similar challenges is critical.

You set the mood – From the moment you walk in the building, to the moment you leave you’re setting the tone. In your language, your behaviour, your pace and energy. You will receive back pretty much what you give out. If you’re having a bad day, keep it behind closed doors and do your best not to let it show. If it’s a bad week, it is probably time to take a holiday.

You have to trust your instincts – Every leader brings something of themselves into their team. Their personality, their experience, their style and their judgment. Most decisions, most questions don’t have a binary right or wrong answer – there are multiple right answers. Bringing your instinct as well as your intelligence defines your agenda and outcomes in a unique and personal way.

You can’t know everything – Or perhaps even half of things. One of the most important things to know is that the more you progress, the less (in percentage terms) of your range of responsibilities you will really know. Which means you need to have people around you who do. That’s their job and yours is something else. Second guessing them is never going to end successfully for either party.

You always have time to chat – Rushing around looking busy is not cool because everyone is busy. Life is not a busyness contest, it will win you no prizes. Be generous with your time, value the power of simple conversation, a quick hello or checking in on how someone is. If you’ve been through a day without genuinely inquiring after someone or stopping to pass the time, then you’re not doing a leadership role.

What do we do?

If you listened to a lot of the stuff and nonsense that is written and spoken about HR you’d think we were all engaged in hand to hand ninja fighting with machines, whilst repeating the mantra, “the future of work is human” and promising a tomorrow characterised by self actualised, engagement and bliss.

I don’t know about you, but that is far from the existence I see in most organisations. Far from the work that I see most people do.

First and foremost, before anything else, we make sure the trains run on time. We get people paid, we make sure laws aren’t broken. We handle the enrolment in to benefits that you never know you need – until you really need them.

We make work places safe, ensuring people have a place to go if they feel that they’re being badly treated, informing and educating towards a workplace that has dignity and respect at its heart.

We handle things when the go wrong. Sometimes it’s our fault, sometimes it is a manager’s or an employee’s fault. Sometimes, it is just one of those things. We are there to resolve, rectify and recover from situations that no-one would wish for in the first place.

We find and grow the skills that are necessary to move our organisations forward. Whether that’s hiring, developing or nurturing – making sure that we are able to be successful today and tomorrow. Running programmes, schemes, campaigns to develop the skill base of the organisation.

We support people at their best and at their worst. We deal with the extremes of workplace experience, from the promotions, job offers, bonuses or pay rises to the redundancies, dismissals, deaths and emotional crises. We own messages which most would find difficult and own them well.

We guide, advise, counsel and coach. We help others to find the solutions, identify the outcomes and develop the conclusions that make their work better. We stand shoulder to shoulder with leaders as they go through organisational transitions and changes.

We take the blame. Someone has to and we are more than used to handling it. Not everything will go right at work, not everyone can always be happy. Sometimes people just need someone to point a finger at. And that’s ok.

Sure, we do a whole lot more as well. But funnily enough, not a single robot slain.