A lesson I’ve learnt as I’ve got older is that kindness is a very different to softness. Too often, images and predetermination of the role of HR professionals can make the young practitioner shy away from kindness, fearing the tag of being soft, weak, indulgent – typical personnel.
This is a complete misunderstanding of kindness.
You can be kind as you break some of the hardest messages to people, deal in the most difficult of situations. You can be kind as you lead others through troubled times. You can be kind in every aspect of your work, no matter how trying or hard.
Being kind is to show consideration for others – that is at the heart of our practice and what we do. The antonym of kind isn’t tough, it is cruel. There is no reason that you cannot be both tough and kind, in fact I’d argue that’s in many ways aspirational.
As we go about our practice, whether you’re a human resources professional, a manager or leader, we can all take time to be a little bit kinder, no matter what the context. By putting ourselves in the position of others, by displaying empathy and understanding, we can help not only to achieve better results, but to learn and grow ourselves.
Kindness in business is not a dirty word, it is the secret that too many overlook.
We love to over engineer a management practice, don’t we? And never more so than the area of “talent management”. We take something with a relatively simple principle at it’s core and turn it into an elaborate, process driven, complex, laborious practice. Then wonder why it doesn’t work.
Let’s start by understanding the core principles behind talent management:
To ensure we have the organisational capability that we need now and in the future in order to be successful.
That’s it, nothing more complex than that. But “management science” would have us believe that in order to deliver this we need a range of complex interventions, grids, assessments that require hours of time to complete with little, if any, visible benefit. And then we repeat it on a regular basis.
One of the challenges is our inability to have good quality, meaningful conversations about the ability and capability of people within our organisations and to convey those conversations to them in an honest way. It is also our reluctance to think openly about the future, especially into areas of uncertainty.
Organisations thrived and succeeded before the 9 box grid was created, I’m not sure any of the great industrialists ever attended a calibration session and I’m certain the sun would still come up in the morning if we skipped the annual “talent review”. We’d be much better prepared for success were we to put the processes away for a while and sit and focus on the why not the how.
Simplifying our view on the capability we have, need and will need and how to build and develop is the real trick, not creating more forms that need to be filled in.
Throughout my career I’ve often been asked what I think the secret to being a great leader is. I’ve probably said things like, vision and drive or strategic thinking and commercial acumen. The truth is that I don’t think any of these things are the key to being a GREAT leader, they’re pretty much standard practice.
The thing that I’ve observed that really separates the good from the truly exceptional is a bit closer to home, a bit less glamorous and sexy and yet probably harder to achieve.
Truly great leaders recognise they’re not as great as others believe and they know how to compensate for it. They’re acutely aware of their strengths and weakness, they recognise how they’re behaving and why – the situations that will trigger them or cause them to react. And they work constantly to maintain that level of awareness.
Most of us aren’t truly self-aware – we build internal stories that allow us to explain away our foibles:
“I’m not impatient, I’m demanding”
“I don’t do detail, I”m a big picture thinker”
“I’m not a micro-manager, I just like detail”
But of course, none of us are perfect and therefore no leader is perfect either. Instead, the really successful recognise, acknowledge and either adapt or compensate for the areas where they know they fall short. That can take the form of public acceptance and permission to challenge, by building teams who have complimentary approaches or simply through self coaching and holding themselves account.
So if you’re on a leadership journey, my advice to you is to spend a little more time focussing on yourself. Be hard on “you” in order to give yourself a break. There is no model of leadership perfection that you will ever obtain, but you can be the best leader you’re capable of being. There is a path for you to grow and be better, but only you will ever, truly know how.
A few years ago I was debating the issue of unpaid internships and the effect of this on social mobility. The common theme at the time was that paying for internships would solve the problem. It was a compelling argument because of it’s simplicity, but fundamentally wrong.
One of the biggest issues with internships is the availability and transparency of opportunity. When opportunities are only available to those that are in the know, that are connected, or that are referred, paying rather than solving the problem of access just exacerbates it. This isn’t to say that internships should be unpaid, far from it, but that it needs to be combined with other systemic changes.
There is a similar argument to be played out in relation to university fees. The simple argument goes that by charging for university you restrict the number of entrants from lower social classes. Again, it is a compelling one. But one that isn’t backed up by data. Simply, there is nothing that would suggest that free education, without means testing, would do anything that subsidise the dominant middle classes.
In 2015, when the idea was mooted, a total cost of £10bn per annum was suggested to introduce this measure, equivalent to 11.5% of the UK education budget. Which begs the question what could be achieved by investing this money in primary and secondary education in areas with the lowest social mobility?
If you are an 18 year old in London and the South East you are more likely to go to university than if you are an 18 year old in any other part of the UK, by quite a significant margin. In fact, when you start to look at the entrants by parliamentary constituency, there is significant correlation with the areas of the greater social mobility highlighted by the Social Mobility Commission.
Assuming there is a finite amount of money available to government, the evidence clearly suggests that the best bet for improving social mobility is investment in the compulsory education system in those areas where the outcomes of young people are the lowest. That’s before we consider the alternative routes into the labour market other than university, such as apprenticeships.
The idea of free university is an appealing one, but unless significant changes are made to the education outcomes of those in the social mobility cold spots, it will do little to benefit social change. Instead, it will disproportionately benefit those who already have better outcomes and continue to widen the social divide.