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 most entitled generation

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.
Yet they want constant acclaim.

Are they the most entitled generation that has ever existed?

The baby boomers.

Yes. The generation that has single handily robbed future generations of financial prosperity, of social equity, of political stability. I’m talking about my parents, their friends and the people they never will have met but they let commit these crimes against future generations.

I’m talking about the people that ripped the wealth out of businesses, that increased inequality. That were responsible for the financial crisis, the political and social unrest. The people that sold off our state treasures and bought reduced price shares for personal profit. That robbed us of our natural resources for financial gain.

I’m talking about the generation that has single handedly made sure that it benefitted from the best health service, but then made it unaffordable. That benefitted from a buoyant housing market, but then made it unaffordable. They benefited from free and subsidised higher education, but then made it unaffordable.

And I’m talking about the generation that has led the charge to isolation and exile. That wiped millions, if not billions off the pension funds of the next generation so they could live in a whimsical bubble of post war tea and spam sandwiches. That will remove the opportunity for the next generation and the one after that to enjoy the privileges that they have had, because of the fabricated fear of different faces – and the notional concept of “gaining control”.

The generation that doesn’t see the irony in the fact that most of them will be dead before the real ramifications of the decision are ever felt. Which in all this sorry mess, is the only upside.

You should all be ashamed. You did not do enough.

But then I say this. This is not your country, this is ours. This is not your future, this is ours. This will not be your vision, it will be ours. I tell you this,

We will make this right.

As your hips start to go and the catheters slip in. As the memory fades and the eyesight dims. As we push you quietly in to the corner to await your final moments.

We will sort this out. We will make this better. We will build a world and a society that will put you to shame. We will confine you to the history books as the most selfish, most entitled and most negligent generation ever. We will remember what you’ve done and always strive to be better than you.

We will undo what you’ve done and we will build anew.

And we will never, ever let this happen again.

 

NOTE: This was written on Friday, when emotion was high. But I’ve decided to post in full – realising that in places it may stray into vitriol. It was also before I saw this earlier post from my friend at Flipchart Fairytales. Which deals with issue much more sensibly.

Culture is everything. Everything is culture.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed tragic events take place on both sides of the Atlantic, under the shadow of separate political campaigns – the US presidency and the UK referendum. A brilliant piece of writing in The Spectator caught my eye, particularly the following line:

“When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged…..When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks.”

In other words, those of us in power – whether political or economic – create an environment and people live within that environment. We therefore can’t and shouldn’t be surprised when the environment we create has an impact on the actions of people. On one hand it doesn’t create a direct line of culpability, but on the other nor does it allow immunity of action.

When I’m asked by leaders how you make a change in organisational culture, my first question is “how much do you want it?” Simply, are you willing to change your behaviour, your language, your interactions in order to help the organisation to change? Because it doesn’t start with posters, fliers and conversation makers – it starts with you. It starts with everything you do.

It is also the reason why I call bullshit on the arguments that corporate failures – such as phone hacking, financial irregularities and mismanagement are somehow down to a lone wolf or small groups of people acting without the knowledge of others. There is always someone who knows something that knows someone. And there is always, ALWAYS organisational failure and complicity.

When you work in a toxic environment – you know it. It just becomes the norm. You either get trapped or you sustain your efforts, hoping to be one of the winners. You lose your sense of compass and direction, but you know that it isn’t right. You just make arguments that help you to believe it might be justifiable and surround yourself with those that are trying to believe the same.

I know, I’ve been there.

And our organisations are part of the environment that people exist within. We form part of the air that they breathe, the emotions that they fell, the existence that they have. We have choices every day about the culture that we create and the implications of that culture. A million small choices that could make a massive difference.

I’m not drawing any specific parallels, I’m not trying to make any political points. But what I am saying is this; we can’t change the world, we can’t change the political rhetoric, we can’t solve the problems that have been created over decades, overnight. But we can influence the environment of our organisations, we can influence the culture, we can be more inclusive, more tolerant, more aware.

We can operate more successfully within our communities, we can reward the things that matter and we can be singularly unafraid to care. Every action influences our environment, every decision has implications and every person that we interact with will respond to that interaction.

In times of tragedy it is easy to sit in despair. It is tempting to retreat into the safety of the familiar to assume helplessness. But we’re not helpless; none of us are.  Each of us has the ability to act and influence those around us. And for those of us running organisations those actions can be felt far and wide.

Are you ready for the end?

I’m not the sharpest tool in the box. I’m ok with that. The reality finally struck me that in a matter of weeks our world might be on the verge of substantial change. There is a very real chance that we could be collectively making the decision to leave the european union.

It doesn’t matter what I think, or what you think, the implications will be ours to deal with – both good and bad. In many ways, it is hard to think of a profession or an industry that will be more directly involved in unpicking the implications of that decision than the HR profession.

Nothing will happen too quickly, we won’t wake up and be faced with a series of challenges – other than uncertainty – but we would need to start thinking through the type of employment framework that we believe is right for the country and how we want our world of work to be designed.

Those for an exit will tell you that it will give unrivalled freedom to do what we want. Those against will tell you that nothing much will actually change. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle, away from the rhetoric and fear mongering.

But we do need to think through the type of economy we want and how we would go about building the arguments for creating it. The arguments of freedom come with the significant risks of exploitation and loose practice. Yet what is clear is that the “one size fits all” approach of central legislation does not fit the difference in the economic models of the UK and other countries.

What would you keep, what would you change? Have you thought it through?

Our entire landscape would be subject to debate and consideration. From immigration and skills, through discrimination, compensation and employment protection and litigation. We would be at the centre of some of the most contentious discussions and debates and we need to understand and find our voice.

Many think it will happen, I’m clear it could happen. In the event that it does, the HR profession will have a responsibility to lead business, to make its collective voice heard and to stand for something. We will have an opportunity to shape. And if we fail to take it, rest assured someone else sure as hell will.