From strength to strength

You won’t remember, nor should you, but back in 2011 I wrote about you. It was about being yourself, being strong, being able to make your decisions and hold your own in a world where people will be quick to tell you how you should be, how you should feel and what you should say. It was about never being afraid to stand up and have a voice, no matter what people, what society said was right or wrong.

You have one of those moments now. One of those times when everyone else is going left and you’ve chosen to go right. Its time to test your strength and your will and your mettle. It’s no longer about whether you wear your favourite purple jumper in the playground, but how you choose to push yourself, the adventures that you take and the places that you go.

And whilst I knew this moment would come, and whilst this is only really a trial, it feels wholeheartedly like your first step to starting something new The end of the beginning and the beginning of the end. The moment that fills you equally with joy and with fear. The moment that every parent works for, but secretly dreads.

The writing that I do now is so different to the time I first wrote about you. You realise that you’re probably losing me followers, kudos and street cred just by these very words? I know…..to you I have none of these things anyway, so what’s the big deal?

“The world is full of people who will tell you what you can’t do. Ironically they’ll also tell you what you should do. And even sometimes how to do it.  But in honesty they have no idea, they’re just scared and huddling together for the security that mediocrity and conformity brings.  Strength comes from difference.  The way you think, the way you behave, the way in which you treat people.”

And you have never once failed to surprise me in your willingness to grab the world by the neck and forge your own path, with a confidence and assuredness that I can only dream of having. You have never failed to use your strength, your opportunity, your good fortune to help anyone around you that you saw wanting. Not least that morning as you were saying your goodbyes.

I still burst with pride, just less obviously. I still hold you close, just now looking up at you. I am still by your side, just not physically. You’re writing another amazing chapter in the story of your life, one where only you really know the end. Yet as before, my only ask of you is this,

Be strong. Be humble. Be gracious. And beyond everything else. Be yourself.

After the storm…

Last week I wrote a post that became a bit of a beast. It happens every now and then and once it is done, all you can do is sit back and accept the repercussions of your actions.

A number of things were said to me, a number of accusations made and a number of incorrect assertions levelled against me. Now that the temperature has hopefully gone out of the subject, let’s take a chance to look at the facts.

Over 2,500 people accessed the page that the article was on, others read it on Linkedin, via email subscription and in feeds. The post was covered by the Bookseller in a news article on the fall out of the referendum.

Some people hated it. I was called “immature” and “ignorant”, told I should be “ashamed” and the post was described as “awful” amongst other things (thank you all for the feedback).  At the same time, many people contacted me in private to thank me for writing and sharing my views and expressing their personal anger, frustration and despair – but hesitation to express this publicly for fear of a similar response.

So what were the allegations against me?

The post was written in anger
The observant will have read the footnote and looked at the publication date. I wrote the post on the Friday, I published on the Monday. I wrote something else on the Sunday evening taking a measured response, but it just felt inauthentic. I accept that some people will think this worse, that I mindfully posted something that I knew was written in anger – but it felt the only way to be true to myself and I believe people need to understand the strength of feeling.

The post is about the referendum
Not really. It is actually about a topic that is much talked about, much reported and much debated. The provocation was the referendum result, but the issues of education fees, an inaccessible property market, the slow privatisation of the NHS, removal of pension schemes, social exclusion and alienation of the young are not referendum topics. They are economic and social issues that we should all be very worried about. The point wasn’t the leave/remain debate, it was a point about generational difference.

My role as a HR Director should be called in to question
First, my blog has and always will be a personal site, expressing my personal views. That said, it isn’t hard to find my career details. To those working in HR I would say this, if you spent more time discussing issues like this and less time talking about policies, processes and procedures – we’d have a better profession. That’s what we should be paid for. To those not in HR, I’d ask what they would prefer their employers were focused on – society and equity, or profit and personal gain?

I was stereotyping
The quotes at the beginning of the post, “They don’t care about the impression they make on other people, they think everything evolves around them, they don’t care about their reputation and yet they want constant acclaim”, were all taken from articles in the mainstream press written instead about millennials. Not only that, there are a thousand more statements made about young people that you could find that were be as bad if not worse. And I’m the one that is stereotyping?

The blog is discriminatory
Only in the HR profession could I be accused of discrimination and then people have a fight about what specific type of discrimination it was. Regardless, this is pretty stupid and ill thought through argument. I am not the first person to make these arguments, boomers are making the same comments themselves,

“I am part of the most selfish generation in history and we should be ashamed of our legacy” – Jeremy Paxman

“A young person could be forgiven for believing that the way in which economic and social policy is now conducted is little less than a conspiracy by the middle-aged against the young” – David Willetts

The point is to draw out trends and be clear on causes. If I state that men have consistently committed crimes of sexual violence against women, I am not saying that every man has committed such an atrocity, nor am I being sexist. When we say that the Hutus were responsible for Rwandan genocide, do we mean all Hutus? Are we being racist? And how about when we talk about “the problem with young people today”….?

It really beggars belief.

So let’s get things straight. I’m sorry if people were individually upset by the post – I genuinely am. I’m not sorry that I said the things that I said. If anything, my single regret is that the call to action that I intended to come across clearly got lost in the rhetoric.

Because that is what this is about, this is about a message to my peers to do better. A message to my generation to try harder and solve the issues that we are left with. As we move in to the positions of power, in government, in business, in the economy, we have a choice. We can choose to better our situation, to profit, to benefit and to turn a blind eye. We can repeat the mistakes of our parents. Or, we can choose to make decisions that are not about us, we can listen to the angry voices of the next generation and design the world that they want to inherit.

We can create a legacy to be proud of.

When people get angry, when people point the finger, the establishment tell them to be calm, to not place blame. They tell them, “calm down dear”. In itself, the attempts to stifle opinion are as bad as the acts of repression that cause the anger in the first place.

If we want to better, if we want to go further, if we want to change, we need to call out the problems with a clear and simple voice, we need to call out the reasons with a clarity of purpose. Only that way will we be sure to never do the same again.

And if that makes you angry, if you think that somehow I’m wrong then make the arguments for a different reality. And if that doesn’t work for you and you want to get personal, maybe you should get off social media, take a walk around any small town in the Midlands, North East, North West, South West, in fact anywhere outside of London and the Home counties and see the reality of young people there.

If that still isn’t working, then there is always this.

The first possible answer

Do you think there is one single truth? How about one single answer? A definitive version of right?

Our explanation of our existence and the decisions that we make is defined by our retrospective analysis. Our psychology such that we create a narrative that supports our past conclusions. Only sometimes do we reflect and say, “what if?” and then when we feel external factors have left us short-changed.

Ironically at the same time we base our current thinking and decisions on our past. The past that we have rewritten to justify the decisions that we’ve made, becomes the foundation for our future direction. It’s a perfect circle of deception.

The product of this is that we tend to stop at the first possible answer. Our organisations are run by people that rely on this, which is why we struggle with genuine diversity of ideas and look for consensus. When we tend to have shared history, shared retro-perspective, we form more of the same conclusions. It makes things…..quicker.

But what is the probability that the first possible answer, is always the right one? Or even the best one?

Learning to ask the “what if” before rather than after, learning to listen to different views, learning to understand that our perspective is based on our rewriting of the past and that the more that we surround ourselves with people with similar pasts, the more we are likely to reinforce our single perspective. Could any of this help us make better decisions?

In science we talk about the null hypothesis. When we reject it without disproving its basis, we invalidate our research. Yet in business, we call it being commercial and agile, strong leadership.

Trying asking “what if” now and not after and see whether that moves you past your first possible answer. You might be surprised by the results.

What HR say (and what we really mean)

“Let me throw the question back to you” – I have absolute no idea what you just said, as far as I’m concerned you could be talking Hebrew. So do me a favour and talk some more until I work it out?

“It would set a precedent” – I am lazy. You’re asking for something that I don’t want to think about. It might mean being creative and then other people might ask me to be creative too. And frankly, none of us have got time for that.

“I think we need to take some time to reflect on this” – I’ve got a whole bunch of forms that need filling out before payroll cut off and you’re asking me to get in to a meaningless discussion about something that we will never do anyway.

“You need to speak to payroll” – I missed a deadline because I was cornered in a meaningless discussion. Nobody gets off a call to payroll without thinking it is their fault, so time to blame the cellar dwellers.

“The business wouldn’t like it” – I can’t be bothered to go and find out whether this is a good idea or not, so I’m going to refer to a generic homogenous mass as a means of trying to dissuade you from making me do some work.

“Why don’t we workshop it?” – You’re stupid, I’m busy, let’s get some other people to talk about this and then get caught in circular debates until recommending that someone else should look at it and report back.

“Can you drop me an email?” – Because that’s the stupidest request I’ve ever heard and I a) need to see it in writing and b) want to circulate it to everyone I know to show how desperate my life is.

“We need a talent strategy” – I know that you don’t understand this. You don’t know that I don’t either. But you can say that we’re working on it and therefore sound intelligent, and I can say that we’re working on it and sound strategic. It’s a win win.