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.

Can you make the case?

There are two truths that I’ve learnt through blogging:

– If you write enough words the statistical odds are, that at some point, you will land on something that makes sense.

– If you reread that particular “thing” enough times, you’ll wish you wrote it slightly differently.

On this occasion, the specific phrase is one that I wrote in January 2013,

“We need to accept that you don’t get influence through control, you get influence through other people’s positive experience of you. Get influence through people wanting you involved not by telling them you have to be.”

Fast forward two and a half years and I’m sitting with some fellow HR Directors listening to the Conservative “political beast”, Kenneth Clarke MP, speaking about the challenges of winning the debate on continued involvement in the European Union. Critiquing the state of current politics, one particular statement he made really stood out (and I probably paraphrase a little),

“We used to look at the opinion polls and think, ‘how do we win the debate and convince people our arguments are right’, but now we look at the polls and say, ‘let’s do what they want’.”

In some ways, I think this is an argument that the HR profession needs to heed and particularly when we think about how we use data and analytics as a force for good work and organisational performance and success.

There’s a lot of pressure within organisations for HR to do what the “voters” want, and this has undoubtedly been one of the biggest weaknesses of the drive for HR to be more, “commercial”. Being truly commercial is more about leading the debate than it is following opinion, it’s about having a strategic direction and understanding the steps that need to be taken to achieve it, it’s about cohesive “policy making” and having a view.

One of the things that we overlook in our discussions on data and analytics is the, “so what?”. We can have all the data in the world, but what if it indicates something that is against the prevailing mood of the organisation or the leadership team? What then? Do we have the influencing skills to really carry the debate forward?

The fact is that data is only half the argument, how we use it, how we create the experience of the profession that positions us as experts of everything relating to the employment experience and how we develop the platform of knowledge and insight is as important as the data itself.

Sometimes, as in politics, we’re going to need to be brave and take forward an argument, a belief, a perspective that won’t be immediately welcome or in line with the prevailing opinion. At that point, we’ll test our ability to use insight and data to win the debate and convince people our arguments are right.

That’s when we’ll truly test our mettle and our organisational worth.