9 things that won’t happen in 2020

  1. We close the gender pay gap – Repeat after me, “equal pay and gender pay are not the same thing”. Gender Pay reporting is a good thing and has opened up a much needed debate. The issues are widespread and complex – occupational segregation, education, family and cultural influences – not to mention the media. All need addressing, but can’t be handled by companies alone, so sadly don’t expect significant change soon. (Also: worth checking out the Trade Unions’ pay gaps if you have a minute to spare).
  2. We accept zero hours contracts – When Matthew Taylor wrote one of the best reviews of modern working practices a couple of years back, he was roundly condemned by everyone for being…well, thoughtful and reasonable. Zero hours contracts aren’t wrong, workplace cultures that misuse them are. Fact.
  3. We realise flexible working has failed – ¬†Similarly to executive reward, the ability to have a reasoned and balanced debate on the issue of flexibility seems to elude us. It isn’t working, either for organisations or individuals and the evidence is in the stubbornly low take up. So how do we make it better for all, not just keep banging a broken drum, or inscribing a problem into legislation?
  4. L&D grows up – If I hear another whinging article about why L&D is a separate, strategic function, I’ll beat someone over the head with their Insights profile (no, never done it either, but I bet I’m an orange ). Unless fully integrated, learning and skills development are pointless, self pleasing, momentary activities. Just without the tissues.
  5. HR chills out – There are very few scenarios I can conceive where anybody dies as a result of HR, but millions, daily, where they lose the will to live. That’s all you need to know on this point.
  6. We stop wasting money on leadership – Everyone is disengaged, profits are falling, we are at risk of disintermediation. I know, let’s get a member of the third squad for the British Hockey team that almost won the bronze medal in 1984 to help us figure out why! Frankly, it’s probably that sort of logic that got you where you are in the first place.
  7. We hold CIPD to account – When not spouting Orwellian nonsense, “The future of work is now!” (wide hand gesture and pause obligatory), they’re partnering with the pressure group the High Pay Centre to beat up on their members. More interested in column inches than member representation, chartered membership numbers are consistently ¬†falling and missing target. When even Number 10¬†are openly criticising you, you know you need to do better.
  8. We have a sensible debate on executive reward – See above. If your own professional body can’t get it’s head around the topic, then who is going to lead a thoughtful debate on the issue, rather than one driven by soundbites on the christian names of CEOs in the FTSE100? Will Hutton might, as ever, be our best bet. Interesting stuff here.
  9. We stop making faddy predictions – Big data, AI, Employee Experience, Generation Y, I could go on. Anyone who writes anything with numbered predictions, based on the time of year, needs to be taken outside, put against the wall and shot. Oh wait.

We are as we act, even at Christmas

Many, many years ago as a young student activist campaigning against the apartheid regime in South Africa I learnt a lesson about consumer politics that has stayed with me to this day. At the time we were handing out leaflets outside of a high street brand that was known to sell jewellery made from South African gold, at time when there was a voluntary boycott in place. The store manager came out and politely but firmly asked whether we knew the provenance of the clothes we were wearing, whether the conditions in the factories were ethical and whether there was any abuse of workers in the supply chain.

1-0 to the store manager.

The fact that almost thirty years later I’m still rehearsing the arguments I should have used is in some way testimony to the massive contradictions and tensions that exist in consumer politics. It is almost impossible to be entirely clean. There is always a trade off. And yet that shouldn’t be an excuse for inaction or used as some moral get out of jail free card.

Every action, every purchase is in some ways a political act. The topic comes to mind as I think about the preparations for the Christmas period. I’ve written before about the treatment of shop workers by angry Christmas shoppers. Young people who are paid minimum wage, not provided with proper training or uniform and then pushed out in front of the masses who are busy, anxious and pressurised. How we choose to act towards them is a reflection on ourselves and not them.

But it also relates to our arguments about the demise of the High Street as we shop on our phones. How we rage against work insecurity and zero hours contract as we wait for the same day delivery. How we worry about single use plastics as we order unnecessary and unneeded presents for people we don’t really like.

Of course no-one can be entirely righteous and one persons actions can’t change the whole, but we can choose to act in line with our own moral compasses, wherever they may point, and challenge ourselves when there are contradictions between our beliefs and our choices. Simply, we are defined not by our words, but by our actions. And at this time of the year too often we act in a way which falls short of our own moral standards.

All in the name of Christmas.

And on that thought I’m going to check out for a couple of weeks and come back at the beginning of the new year and the new decade when I’m sure there will be countless articles on new years resolutions, “look aheads” and “look backs” to rip into. In the meantime, however you choose to celebrate (or not) this Christmas time, I wish you peace, love, kindness and safety.

Peace out.

Neil

 

As we age we must change

Most of us will spend most of our lives in work. We will enter in our late teens or early twenties and leave when we are in our sixties or seventies (unless we are very lucky). For the sake of argument, lets call it 45 years, the probable majority of our lives.

During that time we will experience so many different things in our lives; love, bereavement, birth, separation, happiness and sadness. Who we are and how we see life will change. In each era of our lives we become someone slightly different, moulded by our experiences.

Yet at work so often I see people who remain broadly the same, wired into the system and unable to change their self image or behaviours, whilst the lens in which the world views them moves on with age. The cheeky chappy at 21 becomes the lecherous man at 52, the rebellious upstart becomes the unhelpful detractor, the interesting maverick into the permanently frustrated and angry stuck colleague.

Further proof comes from the way in which we describe ourselves, talking first about the job title and then the organisation and rarely if ever about the informal role and behaviours that we contribute. We talk about what we are not who we are and we spend little time thinking about who we should and could be.

If our organisations are social systems, then our role in those systems needs to change as we do, we need to bring different things and contribute in a different way for the ongoing success of the system. Where we were challenging, we leave that to others and learn to focus on support. Where we were rebellious, we can help others understand what we learnt.

We can all take a moment to think about the person that we were when we started work and who we have become. Celebrate the change and embrace our new roles in the new stage of our lives, seeking not to hang on to the vestiges of the past, but grabbing boldly with both hands the opportunity that awaits.

 

We all have a dirty pair of pants

One thing that strikes me about the current election campaign is that Brexit has been kicked under the bed like a dirty pair of pants. Their existence won’t change because of the lack of visibility and at some point they’re going to have to get hoiked out and dealt with by some unfortunate soul.

The tough, the difficult to manage, the hard to explain and the unpalatable so often get moved out of sight. We push them away in our organisations, in our teams and in our lives because, quite frankly, they’re tough. Why would we address things that by their nature are divisive and difficult, when instead we can focus on the things that have higher levels of agreement and approval (in the case of the current campaigning, who can spend more on public services).

Good organisations, good teams find a way of addressing these topics. They find a way to bring people together to discuss the things that risk causing division and help to find a way forward. Good leaders never lose sight of the topics, but know that the timing and right approach are key. They are brave in addressing the hardest topics, but achieve it through creating an environment of safety.

Recalculating the data never really makes the problem go away, presenting shiny new opportunities cannot erase the underlying issues. They may provide brief respite, but they’re not a cure. The only way out is through and that means a slow and sometimes difficult exploration of the hardest and most sensitive topics. Nothing goes away when you close your eyes.

Whether it is a long standing performance issue in a team, a slow but unavoidable decline in revenue or membership numbers, a loss of market share or even an organisational culture or behaviour that is causing damage. None of these issues go away by ignoring or avoiding them, they linger in the darkness, their existence remaining entirely whole.

We all have a dirty pair of pants, the measure of our success is whether we’re willing to address that.