Sometimes people will fail

Here’s a thing; Not everyone can be successful in their job.

And that’s ok.

There are multiple reasons why failure happens, it can be the role, the requirements, the skills, the culture of the organisation, the leadership and management or just dumb luck. But we need to be ok with the fact that failure in role is real and normal. It is an inevitable factor of multiple people coming together to deliver an outcome or result.

I’ve worked in organisations with hire and fire cultures, they normally have little to do with performance and are more about dominant personalities, prejudice and conformity. Those that aren’t seen to “fit in” are rapidly shown the door, normally with some reference to, “not cutting it” or some other imprecise statement.

I’ve also worked in organisations where individual, persistent failure is normalised and accepted for far too long until a moment of  “truth” that often leads to a bloody and ugly end. Polite organisations which will tell individuals one thing, then moan to anyone who will listen behind their back.

Failure and underperformance can be the result of the individual or the organisation, it really doesn’t matter. The point is that it happens and dealing with it at the earliest possible moment is the best thing for all of the parties concerned. Nobody wants to come to work thinking that they’re doing a good job, but failing to meet requirements. Nobody wants to work with someone who is under delivering or performing. And nobody wants to manage or lead someone who simply doesn’t deliver.

Recognising and accepting failure is an important part of being able to deal with it in a mature, supportive and grown up way. When we avoid it, fail to recognise or accept it, we tend to want to make it disappear as quickly as possible – that’s why you have the cultures I’ve described above. Instead, what if we were to embrace it, to discuss it and to approach it as a natural facet of our human existence? How would that change the working live of the people in the organisations in which we exist?

Presence and state

We all know that how you show up in a certain situation or moment can change the impact that you have and the outcomes that you achieve. No more so than when you hold a leadership position.

My advice to leaders is always to think as much about how they are as what they are doing or saying. The impact of presence and state convey more than words, actions or intent will ever do.

Think of the manager, arms full of papers rushing from one meeting to next past their team who are up to their necks in work. Or the conversation when they’re “listening”, but there’s no-one home behind the eyes.

Our ability to control our state and to be present in the moment when people around us most need us is critical to being truly successful and effective as a leader. Using emotion effectively rather than letting it leak and making the moment more about us than others.

Of course, everyone is human and there will always be moments when we are down, distracted, angry or even simply unhappy. But there is a big difference from “having a moment”, to having a permanent state where we make ourselves the central point around which the emotional state of others should gravitate.

Making a conscious decision to be selfless in action is one of the biggest leadership skills and the higher up the organisation, the more self-control, discipline and focus is required. The closer to the sun you get, the larger shadow you cast. Each of us in our role as leaders would be well served to take a little more time to focus on our presence and state.

Are you sure you’re recruiting the best?

Its back to a favourite topic of mine, education. Last week parents up and down the land were waiting to hear which secondary schools their children had got in to. As any parent who has ever been through the process will tell you, it is full of uncertainty, angst and unpredictability.

And unfairness.

The socio-economic bias in the education is already well established at this point and based on your background, your educational outcomes are already being influenced. In a wonderful piece of research carried out last year, the Sutton Trust highlighted that,

“The top performing 500 comprehensive schools in England, based on GCSE attainment, continue to be highly socially selective, taking just 9.4% of pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM), just over half the rate of the average comprehensive (17.2%).”

There are a couple of factors at play, a fair amount of this (about half) is down to the catchment areas, with the same report highlighting that, “a typical house in the catchment area of a top 500 school costs £45,700 more than the average house in the same local authority” but the rest of it is simply down to social selection in admissions processes, “85% of schools in the top 500 admit fewer FSM pupils than live in their catchment area, with over a quarter having a gap of five percentage points or more.”

Let’s just take a moment to consider this. In order to get into the top 500 comprehensive schools you need to live within the catchment area, which is likely to mean that your parents are probably going to have to either earn more, or borrow more. And if that doesn’t apply and yet you still manage to live within the catchment area, if you’re eligible for free school meals you’re less likely to get a place, even living in catchment.

The reason behind this is the over indexing of schools which are in control of their own admissions policies, with voluntary converter academies, faith schools and single sex schools all over-represented in the top 500 schools.

“Faith schools are among the most socially selective group of top schools, more than three times as selective as non-faith schools, and make up 33.4% of the list. Converter academies admit the lowest rate of disadvantaged pupils of the main school types, and comprise 63% of the top schools, compared to just 40% of all secondaries.”

What does the mean in terms of educational outcomes? In a separate report the Education Policy Institute found that, “In 2016, disadvantaged pupils were on average 19.3 months behind their peers by the time they took their GCSEs – meaning they are falling behind by around 2 months each year over the course of secondary school.” Put simply, if you are a pupil from the least advantaged backgrounds your educational outcomes are nearly two years behind your peers when you get to take the first publicly recognisable qualifications.

Of course you don’t need me to tell you that this bias continues into A-levels and then to University, with the gap between those from lower socio-economic groups attending university widening even further over recent years.

Which begs the question, when you hire based on qualifications are you really sure you’re recruiting the best? Or just the luckiest?

References:

https://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Selective-Comprehensives-2017.pdf

https://epi.org.uk/report/closing-the-gap/#

https://www.hesa.ac.uk/news/01-02-2018/widening-participation-summary

https://www.ucas.com/corporate/news-and-key-documents/news/applicants-uk-higher-education-down-5-uk-students-and-7-eu-students

It’s all about responsibility

I’m going to go out on a limb here and state my belief that the world broadly splits into two groups of people:

  • Those that always believe someone else should carry the can
  • Those that always believe they’re ultimately responsible.

In our rational minds we know that neither of these assertions is correct, some things we’re responsible for, others not so much.

In  my work and my life I’ve met a lot of the first group and they drive me to despair. As an individual that believes most of the tragedies in the world are somehow connected to a bad decision I’ve made in the past, I don’t understand them at all. I don’t understand their footloose and fancy free approach to life, I don’t respect their unwillingness to share the burden and I dislike their lack of thoughtfulness.

In every single context I would rather hire, collaborate with, work with or live with the person that shares my constant assessment of responsibility. I love people who have lists, who wake up with a million things that they feel guilty about not doing, that fret and worry about not fulfilling their very best. Those that feel the responsibility of their existence on their shoulders.

I admit I’m biased, I’m not trying to hide that or to shy away from my personal preference and style. In a world where too often, too many are quick to point the finger at others, are unwilling to accept the responsibility of office, of stature and of simple existence, I’m proud of this particular bias.

It is, absolutely, all about responsibility. Every step, every action, every thought we have on this mortal coil has an impact. So let’s not shy away from that and accept the natural state. By doing so we shift our energy into conscious action and effort and through that we can start to make positive change.

Rather than just exist in our perfect mind.