I was pondering this weekend on the essence of getting things done at work. Organisations are brilliant at creating structures and processes that are well-intentioned but can ultimately get in the way of actual activity. When things aren’t working the way we want, we lay another process on top to try to make sure that we get the intended result.
All of which led me to sketch out the following:
Which I think lays out the fundamentals of successful organisational activity.
Ultimately we want to have strong data and insight that allows us to understand the challenges and the options available. We need simple decision-making forums that allow the data to be discussed and actions agreed, which then have clear ownership. Wrapped around this we need to have an acceptance of accountability, responsibility for performance and the need to communicate and collaborate.
Everything else is just noise.
Seems simple when you write it out like that, doesn’t it? Or maybe I’ve missed something along the way.
I have a confession to make. When I hear about an employee that we’ve let down or treated badly, it hurts me. I can’t stand to read or hear about cases where teams that I lead and manage have fundamentally failed in their key responsibility to manage the employment relationship of every single employee well.
It goes without saying that we cannot always please everyone, there are moments in the work of HR and people professionals where we have to handle the most difficult of workplace issues. We are the ones that enter into situations of high tension, emotion and anguish so invariably there will be times when people are upset with the messages that we have to convey. I’m not talking about these situations, I’m talking about when we fail to care.
When I was doing my professional qualifications in the 1990s, care wasn’t a word that was used much in the classroom. We talked about commercial acumen, strategic thinking and human capital, but we didn’t talk much about looking after people. Nearly twenty five years later I can tell you that the worst HR professionals that I’ve seen are the ones that don’t see the human in front of them and the best are the ones that enter every interaction with the intention to care.
As I’ve articulated many times before, our role is unique in the organisation and we should revel in that distinctiveness. As marketing teams champion the voice of the customer, we should be able and willing to champion the voice of the employee. That doesn’t mean we become unable to act in the interests of the company, of shareholders or of any other stakeholder group. It means that we create balance.
Every time we let an employee down, we let ourselves and our profession down. The phrase the customer is always right, is trite and incorrect and similarly the employee is not always “right”, but how we handle the interaction, the relationship and the management of people in our organisations should always focus on the central pillar of care.
I’m currently in-between receiving A-level results and GCSEs for my two kids. Having been through the exam period with them and now awaiting results, I’m reminded how frankly barbaric this process is. As a means of assessing potential and capability, it ranks up there with Russian roulette.
Having spent 25 years in the HR profession, I can’t think of a time when I have knowingly and meaningfully taken the school exam results of a job applicant into consideration. As a candidate I’ve never stated my exam results on my CV, nor have I been asked by a prospective employer to detail the grades or results.
Yet when I talk to my kids, they’re told that the exams and their results are critical to their success in life and in work. They’re told that if they don’t fulfil their potential in their exams, they won’t fulfil their potential in life and this is something that I’ve heard from other parents and young people from across the country. This belief is as dangerous as it is wrong.
As a long standing champion of disregarding educational qualifications in the recruitment process, I believe business has a big role to play in changing this dialogue. Our job is to identify potential, to seek out talent and to build capability – yet we know that there is no direct correlation between this an academic results or educational establishment. This is why not only should we fundamentally limit the use of academic qualifications in assessment, but we should be open and clear that we do.
Imagine a young person that has accepted the view that qualifications determine future success, receiving results that are below the average or below their expectations. At 16 or 18 they are building a belief system that is already closing down opportunities, they are already limiting their potential, when they’re not even a quarter of the way into their life.
Education is about learning, it’s about curiosity and growth. The moment it becomes about disappointment and containment, it has fundamentally lost its way.
When my kids were little I’d ask them to clear the table. In response they’d take their plates and put them on the side. As they grew older and with a little direction, they learnt to take other peoples’ plates too and maybe put the salt and pepper back in the cupboard. As young adults now, I consider it a win if on asking them to clear the table, they take the plates, cutlery and glasses and put them in the dishwasher, tidy away the condiments and wipe the table clear of any stains or spills.
The same instruction, different interpretations of completion.
Throughout our lives we are faced with tasks , some we are given and some we give to others. How often as leaders do we have a clear vision of completion without a clear articulating of the outcomes that we want to see? And how often do we find ourselves frustrated when we complete a task, only to be told that it doesn’t meet the requirements of others?
Our ability to successfully contract is critical to collaboration, to organisational efficiency and to the effective delivery of goals. We have to balance the clarity that we need to achieve desired outcomes, with the empowerment that is required to ensure engaged, motivated teams working with forward momentum. It’s a tricky balance. And of course, the onus is not on one party, but all of those involved.
So next time you’re handing out a task, project or objective, or alternatively next time you’re being asked to complete one. Consider what assumptions you’re making about the outcomes that you think are required. Have you clearly articulated what’s important and what is free to be determined? Being specific and clear at the beginning might take a little more time and thought, but ultimately it will improve the performance of your organisation or team.