The silent workforce

As I write the last post before the Christmas break, I’m drawn to reflect on the future of work. A debate that seems to have warranted more airtime than probably it was due. I say that, not as a denier of progress, not as someone blind to the opportunities, but more as someone equally as interested in the here and now.

Over the next week, many of us will down tools, put on the out of office, lock the door and travel to be with friends, family and loved ones. We will eat, drink, laugh, argue and share moments together safe in the knowledge that others are looking after the things that matter. Because at the same time as we relax and unwind, an army of workers are carrying on as if nothing has changed.

Out critical infrastructure will still run, so when we turn on the light, ignite the hob, run a shower or even connect to the wi-fi we do so in the knowledge there will be service. Should misfortune befall us, we rest assured that our medical staff, police and fire services will be ready to step in and help us recover. When we switch on the television or the radio to listen to the Queen’s speech or watch our favourite Christmas film we know they will be there. And should we choose not to cook for ourselves or maybe cannot do so, the chefs, waiting staff or care workers that will attend to our every need.

Over 1 million people will be working this Christmas in the UK alone and whilst not everyone in this wonderful multicultural country that we live in will place the same importance on the specific holiday, they’re providing a service so that others can take time off in peace. I can’t list the entirety of the professions that work and an omission is not meant to signal a lack of importance at all.

The future of work may see opportunities for some of these areas, but for many there will always be a need for humans to take time for the sake of others. So in our proclamations about the future, let’s not forget the now. My ask of you is simple, as you rightfully enjoy time off in the next few weeks, take time to think of these people and raise a glass and toast in thanks. They may not be seen, but they’re working so that we don’t have to.

Have a good Christmas.

 

 

Recruiting stupidity

Sometimes we get an unexpected lens on the profession. Too often we look from our own position of knowledge and insight and not often enough do we put ourselves in the shoes of a user, whether as an employee or candidate. We talk about “candidate experience” and the role of technology in providing this and  we applaud ourselves on the implementation of systems that improve our speed to hire.

And then we have the chance to look at it from the position of the candidate.

I had this opportunity to do this recently as my daughter applied for Christmas temporary roles with some of the biggest brands on the high street. And I’m here to tell you that your approach well and truly sucks.

Hold in your mind that we are talking about temporary roles here. Maybe four or five weeks. We are talking part time, low paid, customer service roles. We are generally talking about roles that get little training or direction and that are insecure and  disposable.

Which of course is why you need to have an application process that takes on average an hour per role, that includes psychometric testing and situational judgment tests and that results in a standard email telling you that someone will contact you. Which they never do.

Could it be that she just has bad luck? Maybe. But when I talk to her friends they all have experienced the same treatment. And two years ago I had the same experience with my son, resulting in this brilliant message exchange (it was January).

img_55451

So of course, your brand just looks a bit stupid and a bit out of touch. When you’re 16, 17, 18 you don’t understand why companies use such laborious and clunky approaches and particularly not as part of an exchange that doesn’t feel fair. You want me to complete all these hoops and hurdles for a minimum wage job with a life expectancy of weeks? No thank you very much.

So yes, it might make life easier for your resourcing teams, but frankly it makes you look stupid. Many years ago I was responsible for recruiting 20,000 Christmas temps for a UK wide high street brand. We put posters up in store asking candidates to speak to the manager inside – ridiculously old school, but funnily, that always seemed to work. And the candidate ALWAYS got to speak to a human being.

Now that’s candidate experience.

 

 

 

 

Lawyers have moral responsibilities too

In the middle of last week, a story broke about a businessman who had made financial settlements using Settlement Agreements including NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) on a number of occasions following claims of sexual harassment and racial abuse.

Despite the undeniably serious nature of the original actions, in a world of global news reporting it may not have warranted front page news, except the businessman in question took an injunction out against the newspaper that had investigated the claims preventing it from publishing the details. And then in return, a Lord used parliamentary privilege to name the businessman.

I’ve followed the story, beginning to end and you know what? The whole thing stinks.

It stinks because instead of having the right debate, we’ve wrapped the story up in one of legal rights and wrongs. We’re discussing the integrity of the courts versus parliament, we’re discussing the integrity of NDAs, we’re discussing the integrity of legal precedent.

When we should be discussing the integrity of the people involved. The individual(s) that carried out the act in the first place. The leaders and HR professionals that sustained the culture in the organisation(s). And of course, the victims.

But also the lawyers that drafted the agreements, that defended the agreements and who have now lost sight of the individuals at the heart of the matter and are making intellectual arguments about legal supremacy, when if they and their peers done the right thing in the first place, this wouldn’t have been an issue.

Now I know that I’ll be faced with arguments that these agreements are entirely legal and proper, that it isn’t for lawyers to determine right or wrong but simply to enact what is legal and what is not. That the sanctity of the independence of the courts is paramount etc. I know, I’ve heard the arguments before. But I call b******t.

I’m sat here wracking my brains trying to think of a time in my 25 years of practice where I’ve been involved in a case where we’ve used a settlement agreement to settle a case of sexual harassment or racial abuse, and simply I can’t think of one. So to have multiple ones in the same organisation?

You can talk about the sanctity of the agreement and the “independent legal advice” that the individual has to take before they sign, but I want to talk about the moral responsibility of people propping up a rotten culture. I hold my profession to account, I hold leaders to account, but I also hold the legal profession to account. You can’t make clever arguments to claim immunity, you own this problem too.

So instead of continuing to engage in intellectual masturbation on the rights and wrongs of a member of the House of Lords naming the individual in question, let’s ask ourselves why they had to. Instead of debating the use of NDAs versus public interest, let’s ask ourselves why they’d ever be used in a case of this kind. And instead of pointing the finger at others, let’s start by asking ourselves a few searching questions.

The shadow you cast

A number of years ago I was dealing with the behaviour of an executive colleague. For a number of reasons their conduct had been called into question and we were trying to unpick a somewhat difficult situation. Once it was all sorted I was amazed to hear other colleagues tell me that this had been a repetitive occurrence throughout their career.

Whilst they’d been more junior within the organisation, their behaviour had been an annoyance; troublesome but manageable. But as they progressed through the ranks (one can question the judgment of those that facilitated this rise) it started to be more damaging to the organisation as a whole, it created a bigger impression.

The closer to the sun you climb, the larger the shadow you cast.

I used this phrase last week to talk about the importance of leadership role models. It’s a factor that many leaders forget and therefore undervalue the potential benefit. To put it another way, as a leader you can choose to behave in a way that not only benefits those directly around you, but those further afield in your organisation.

With all the talk of authentic leadership, we forget to explore the reason why. What lies behind the value of authenticity? The simple answer is that people will engage and follow authenticity more readily. But I think it is even more important than that.

I can’t cite the evidence, but I was told recently about a study of people on London buses. They found that when a passenger alighted the bus and said “thank you” to the driver, the probability of other passengers doing the same increased. Similarly, the same has been seen with passengers giving up seats on trains or picking up litter in the street.

And at the same time, we know that if the person carrying out the act is in a perceived position of power, the effect is multiplied.

If you’re a leader in an organisation you have both an opportunity and responsibility to role model the behaviours that you want to see and to encourage them in every interaction. The power goes much further than any leadership development intervention, value statement or strategic model. And even better it costs nothing and can be deployed at will.

So what are you waiting for?