Room 101 – 2018

The first working week of the new year and the air is full of resolutions of hope and good intentions. At the same time, we’ll all be making assertions about the things to watch in the coming year. Frankly, I’m beyond predictions, who knew what the last couple of years were going to have in stock for the world, no-one saw that coming, right? But instead here’s the things I’d like to see the back of in 2018.

Everything being about AI – Remember big data? Remember how boring that got? Do you hear anyone talking much about it now? Yep, AI and robotics is the new big data – a tedious obsession with something that we don’t really understand and therefore extrapolate to cover a whole multitude of unlikely possibilities. I’m not saying there aren’t advances, I’m not saying the technology won’t be important, I’m saying there are many more pressing issues for us to be facing into right here, right now.

Experts writing books – The first question that should be asked of anyone writing a book telling you how to do stuff is, “when did you actually do any of this?”. You wouldn’t buy a cook book from someone who hadn’t been in a kitchen, or a travel guide from someone who hadn’t been to the country. But HR, management and leadership? All you need to do is have a Mac and a Twitter account and people will ask you to write a book. Just stop. Enough now, already.

The future of work being human – See point one above. A truly vacuous statement. Nothing else to add.

An obsession with the gig economy – Is it good, is it bad? Guess what? Both and neither. Our obsession with debating the pros and cons of zero hours contracts entirely misses the point about individual choice and free determination. That’s the real argument. Arguing that zero hours contracts are the root of all evil is akin to blaming Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson for every gun related tragedy. Let’s debate the real issues and not the cover image.

Our university-centricity – I have nothing against people going to university, but let’s stop trying to pretend that attendance at a specific institution equates to capability. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the education system is not a meritocracy. Factors such as wealth, location, parenting play an overwhelmingly significant factor in university attendance. None of these things, to my knowledge, have been linked to genuine potential.

The London bubble – Ok, so a big one to end, I know. But let me quote the recent report from the social mobility commission, “There is no simple north/south divide. Instead, a divide exists between London (and its affluent commuter belt) and the rest of the country – London accounts for nearly two-thirds of all social mobility hotspots.” That’s right…and not one of the top 65 cold spots is in London. Not one. If businesses want to make a difference, they need to get out of the London bubble.

If we could all just make that happen, I’d be truly grateful. Ok, thanks.

Five simple things

1) Learn in times of adversity – when things are tough you’re forced to look at life with a level of granularity and forensic inspection that can be absent in normal or easier times. Understanding the insight you gain, but not dwelling on it, is key

2) Walk forward with kindness – in the current climate it feels easier to polarise, to hate and to divide. Walking forward with kindness is a simple way we can all shed a little light n the world and bring small actions together to drive change.

3) Action is everything – in the grand scheme of things, we have so little time. Action is everything and defines who and what we are. We can talk and mull and ponder, we can write and reflect and rework. But only the doing actually matters.

4) Live in the gaps – busy lives are full of stuff, of competing demands. They’re noisy and pressured and complicated and oppressive. Live in the silence and gaps that emerge between. Indulge in the moments of nothingness.

5) Do over (and over) – there is no start, no middle, no end. Just a series of iterations and circles. Don’t be afraid to do again, to try, to repeat, to renew and revise. There is no path to take a wrong turn from, just a simple horizon to head for.

Have a good Christmas break and see you in the New Year.

Five simple steps to improve social mobility

I was genuinely saddened by the news this weekend that Alan Milburn and others were resigning from the board of the Social Mobility Commission. I’ve had interactions with this work for the last seven or eight years and I’ve been a big champion of their agenda.

If there is one good thing that comes from this, I hope it is a renewed focus and energy to address the topic. At the Skills Summit last week I was really pleased to hear the Minister for Education Justine Greening make it a central point of her proposals. But talk on its own won’t change a thing.

I personally believe that businesses and employers can do so much more to drive the social mobility agenda forward, without the need for Government to lead the way. So if you’re serious about putting your effort and energy behind change, here’s a few simple steps you can take.

1. Check out the data. There’s a brilliant social mobility map from the Sutton Trust that you can find here and the State of the Nation 2017 report from the Social Mobility Commission (here) to understand the make up of the geographic area in which you operate. Until you understand the problem you’re going to struggle to fix it.

2. Review your approach to new talent. Do you really need a graduate? And if so, do they really need to come from those universities? Are your recruitment processes stuck in the past? Do they really focus on finding the best possible talent? What are your obligations to the communities within which you operate? Quit whingeing and get behind the apprenticeship levy and make it work.

3. Build relationships with local schools and colleges. Providing opportunities isn’t enough, you’ve got to show that the opportunities are really available – and obtainable. Building a long-term commitment to relationships with local education providers helps not only support the education of all, but also can help raise aspiration.

4. Create sustainable careers. Not only in terms of fair pay and benefits, but training opportunities, security of employment and opportunities for progression and advancement. Mobility is exactly that, it isn’t about charity but opportunity. And that opportunity doesn’t stop when you make the hire.

5. Start to measure. Like every other aspect of diversity within the workplace, you need to understand the construct of your workforce and start to target improvements. We’re more familiar with measuring other areas of diversity (and I’d argue more comfortable with asking the question), but there are some good indicators that can be used some of which you can find here.

And of course, if you want to chat about it or think that we can do some work together, you can always give me a shout.

Cohesion is the next big thing

You want to know what the next big thing for business is going to be? Of course you do, we always want to know the next big thing. Right?

But this time it’s serious. I’m serious.

The next big thing is cohesion.

When we talked about the future of work being human, we were almost there. But not there enough. I’ve been writing on this site for seven years, talking about being the need to be more human focused, but it isn’t quite right. We’ve been distracted by debates around AI and technology and missed the main point.

The future is something much bigger and much more important.

In my forty-four years, the political, economic and social environment has never felt more fragmented, more fragile and frankly more perilous.

As organisations, as employers we have an obligation to bring something to the party that is greater than the simple exchange of labour for money. We have an obligation to bring something that creates more than we extract. That binds and helps communities to heal.

This isn’t simply about corporate responsibility, used by too many organisations as a social-conscious healing makeweight. This is about endeavouring to change the existence of the communities in which we operate through our work, our practice and our existence.

This is about creating workplaces that are safe, both in terms of physical and mental wellbeing. Where individuals are respected for who they are, regardless of similarity or difference. That the rules of tolerance and respect are adhered to by all.

This is about building long-term and meaningful partnerships with employees, either individually, collectively or through their organised representation. Ensuring that decisions are made for the benefit of all stakeholders.

This is about developing skills and education for the long-term, both in the workforce and the community – recognising that we have a power to teach and to give, even to those who may not work for us.

This is about looking after those that work for us, on a financial and emotional footing. Ensuring that people are fairly paid for their labour, that the pay is representative of their skills and their contribution, not their gender or their race. That they need not worry in times of sickness or difficulty.

This is about ensuring that we are commercially successful so that we can invest back into the infrastructure that supports employees, creates new jobs and allows us to share that success both directly and indirectly.

And it is about leadership that recognises the importance of every single individual that works in an organisation and genuinely respects the roles and the participation of everyone.

Cohesion is going to be the next big talking point in the world of HR. Don’t forget you read it here.