The 7 qualities of exceptional practice

  1. Creativity – Whilst it might seem a strange one to start the list with, the ability to bring creativity into design and problem solving is one of the aspects that really sets exceptional practitioners apart. We can all suggest something we’ve done before, but can we imagine the new?
  2. Empathy – I’m really clear that this is different to sympathy – the cross that the profession has to bear. I’m talking about the ability to put yourself in the shoes of others and consider the evidence from their perspective and to understand their lens.
  3. IQ – Sure, I know this isn’t fashionable, but I see a simple link between intellectual horse power and performance. It isn’t enough on its own, but without it you’re surely going to struggle.
  4. Curiosity – The people who excel are fascinated about learning more and constant discovery. They ask questions, explore and see opportunity in every circumstance. They’re restless and intellectually always on the move.
  5. Structured – I’ve written many times about the benefit of systems thinking in the world of work and the ability to structure and think systemically is key. This doesn’t mean that you need to be PRINCE2 qualified or an engineer, but you need to understand how things fit together and how to get started.
  6. Courage – This manifests in different ways, in the ability to have brave conversations, the comfort in being vulnerable and the drive to constantly want to do more and be better. Courage means that we address ourselves as well as others.
  7. Humility – Most of our practice is not about us and we need to be ok with that. We need to bathe in the glory of others, be proud of the contribution we’ve made and enjoy the success that we help build. Our gift is helping others to be the best they can be, not owning it for ourselves.

That’s not a gap, not if you look from over here…

The BBC ran an article this weekend highlighting the gender pay gaps of a number of companies that had already reported. The original article is here.

Already we’re starting to hear some interesting responses to the debate that it has raised:

It’s the wrong metric
The situation is complex
We shouldn’t confuse this with equal pay
Women aren’t as good at asking for raises
Sorting this could be bad for women

The over intellectualisation of the situation runs a massive risk of missing the unmistakable point:

The world of work has been designed to be discriminatory.

That’s not to say that individual organisations have gone out to structure their workforce in particular ways to discriminate against any specific group, just that the world of work over a number of decades has become biased in many different ways and we have been complicit by failing to interrogate it with the level of granularity that it required.

It is absolutely right to say that the issues are systemic in nature, for example the gender imbalance between pilots and crew isn’t (I would imagine) the result of direct discrimination. But, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t wrong and that it doesn’t need tackling.

My biggest fear on this issue is the level of mansplaining that is taking place to justify the figures. We are immediately looking at criticising the data, rather than embracing it. At the same time, we need to support and not belittle companies that are publishing gaps. Ultimately progress will be achieved over the next two or three years and that is when we should be judging people based on progress.

The factors that have led to the current situation are multi-faceted and complex. The solutions will be equally complex and multi-faceted. You don’t change a system overnight. But we will make absolutely no progress unless we accept the basic truth that we have a problem.

And that problem isn’t just about gender, it’s about race, disability, it’s about socio-economic background and ultimately it is about fairness. So let’s not try to explain it away, let’s walk forward together with confidence, courage and a single unifying purpose, to make our organisations better and fairer, for now and for the future.

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.