Principles or pragmatism?

In life there is a natural continuum between principles and pragmatism. It runs throughout our work, our personal decisions, our politics and our businesses. Running the gauntlet between the two polar forces is a key tenet of successful leadership.

The allure of the principled leader is strong. We want people who stand for something, organisations with clear values and purpose. But the frustration is palpable when they stand in the way of  things just getting done.

People who make things happen, who are willing to compromise and change their position. We admire them with a distrust. What wouldn’t they forsake?

Knowing when to stand by your personal value set, your principles and knowing when to let go and move on for the sake of organisational/societal benefit is perhaps the biggest challenge for us all.

This easy answer is to say it’s neither one nor the other – it is a beautiful simple, yet totally impotent perspective. An anodyne position which adds little to any understanding of the complexity of values and decision-making.

Because the truth to leadership is not recognising when you need to compromise, or stick by your principles – but understanding why others need to do so. Giving forgiveness and tolerance to the value sets of others.

It doesn’t matter whether it is personal, business or political. Our difference is created by recognising the difference in others. That sometimes we all need to stand firm and sometimes we need to change, admit we were wrong and reconsider.

Failure is when we judge without seeking to understand.

 

It is not ok

Would you think it acceptable if someone at work shouted at you, called you names, told you to do your f***ing job? Or if they reminded you how important they were and that they could have you sacked? How about if they were drunk, high, abusive or sexually inappropriate?

Yet everyday people at work endure this treatment, from their customers.

It is not ok.

When “normal” people behave inappropriately when they’re placed in a nominal position of power in a retail, hospitality or leisure environment. When they talk to service staff, cleaners, security guards and transport staff as if they are dirt. When they lose all sense of humanity.

It is not ok.

Working in organisations, they’ll value “teamwork, “collaboration” and “partnership”. They’ll abide to corporate value sets about caring for one another and being the best that they can. Yet once outside, the good intent drops away and they enter into a different relationship with our world.

It is not ok.

It’s not ok to treat people around you any differently because of a perceived commercial superiority. It doesn’t matter whether that’s buying something in a shop, or a restaurant, or on a train. It doesn’t matter what your excuse is.

It is not ok.

Everybody is a doing a job. Some people have choices about the work they do, other people have less. Everyone comes to work to earn money for the things that they care about. Some people earn more, others less.

Everybody has a right to dignity and respect. Everyone has the right to be treated like a human being, to be treated with politeness, with understanding and tolerance.

It is not ok to lose perspective of the way that we work with our colleagues, talk to our friends and behave with our family. To treat people doing an honest day’s work with contempt.

It is not ok to belittle, demean or berate someone because we believe that our social value is somehow greater than their’s.

It is not ok to dehumanise anyone.

It is not ok.

Technology, analytics, data, life – start from the beginning

I’ve just got back from the HRTechFest in Washington. Last time I went to one of these, I wrote this about Technology being HR’s biggest asset. I still think it is – so take a look.

This time, I was struck this time about the commonality of a lot of the themes that people were talking about inside and outside of the sessions. I heard a lot about:

Transparency – the increasing expectation from employees that they can see the workings of an organisation beyond their own personal experience. Whether that is of compensation, decision-making structures, or promotion opportunities – to name but a few.
Customisation – no single person is the same and we therefore need to create employee experiences that recognise the different choices that individual employees will want to take at different stages of their lives and careers.
Experimentation – we need to be more comfortable with being less perfect and in trying things out to see how and if they work. Whether it is data, technology or traditional interventions, we need to love and embrace the pilot.
Analysis – data, data everywhere….and we need to start using it sensibly. Almost every presentation or conversation I had talked about the data underpinning decisions, but used it in a practical and sensible way – not for show, but for real, purposeful thinking.

But the biggest thing that I realised was that the companies talking about this were drawn from right across the board. The likes of Twitter and Hulu and Google and Hootsuite were rubbing shoulders with the likes of Barclays, Cimpress, NBC and health and education providers.

The challenges and themes were the same, but the routes to the mountains were different. And I think this is a factor that we sometimes overlook. If you want to develop transparency of compensation, then you’re going to take a different route in a company which has been in existence for less than 10 years and has a couple of hundred of employee to one that has thousands of employees and a lot with a length of tenure two or three times longer than the other company.

Our skill is in understanding our organisational starting place and identifying the path to take. That’s a significant part of what we bring to the table. Sometimes change is fast, sometimes change is slow. Sometimes things aren’t achievable right now because a whole load of other things need to be done first. And that’s ok.

We all need to aspire to be better, we all want our organisations to change and develop, to create better working environments for our employees and better workplaces for society. To do that we need to constantly take a step forward from the place that we started. Recognising the challenge is as important as recognising the goal. That way, we make long-term sustainable change. The sort that really, really makes a difference.

The future of work is…

A recent fad appears to be making predictions about the future of work. Made by the same demographic that watched Tomorrow’s World in the 70s and proclaimed that by the year 2000 we’d all be going around in flying cars and eating meals in the form of pills.

The excitement is real and genuine, every time a high-profile organisation does anything goofy, we hear “that’s the future of work”. Which totally misses the point. This isn’t about,

  • Social connection
  • Collaboration
  • Mobile technology
  • Holacracy (I can’t even bring myself to say it)

At the end of the day, the basis of work is an exchange of labour for reward. Not much changing there any time soon.

Too much of the debate is led by the middle-income, middle class, semi professional demographic. Who, it seems to me, are forecasting what they would like to see happen rather than basing it on anything solid.

So what are the trends that we are definitely seeing?

But none of these things are new. We’ve seen them all before. In fact, they represent the trend for significant parts of the history of work and employment.*

  • A gap between rich and poor
  • The skilled and the unskilled
  • Regional wealth
  • Longer working life and the dependence of the infirm*

In some ways, you could argue that the last fifty years have been the blip. When we look at the future of work, we need to look a little bit further afield…..

But it isn’t forward, it’s back.

And there’s not a single, shiny new management trend in sight. Just a significant challenge for all of us involved in the world of work to face up to.

*UPDATE: Thanks to @FlipChartRick for seeking clarification on this point. The use of the word “trend” is perhaps a little loose and reality might have been a better choice of words.