The only precedent that matters

Many times throughout my career, I’ve discussed the issue of precedent. I imagine in HR departments up and down the land, people are arguing what might or might not set one.

Pronunciation /ˈprɛsɪd(ə)nt/
An earlier event or action that is regarded as an example or guide to be considered in subsequent similar circumstances.
there are substantial precedents for using interactive media in training’

Law – A previous case or legal decision that may be or (binding precedent) must be followed in subsequent similar cases. ‘we hope to set a legal precedent to protect hundreds of miles of green lanes’

For me, this is one of the examples where the law has strayed too far into the workplace. We quote decisions made as if they are legally binding, when of course they are entirely within the remit of our organisation. The fear of treating people as individuals is one of the reasons that stands in our way of creating really powerful cultures.

“If we allow them xxx, then everyone will want one”
“If they can do xxx, then we will need to allow everyone”

“It will set a precedent”

If you’re making a decision based on the facts of a case or situation, if you’re taking into consideration the various aspects, then there is no need to fear anything. If a similar situation occurs, it either has the same fact and aspects – in which case you can make the same decision again, or it doesn’t – in which case you have the reason and explanation for making a different call.

Too often we use an argument of precedent as a shield to hide behind, that stop us engaging with the human factors of a case or situation. We avoid the need to thoughtfully consider the specific aspects by creating a one size fits all solution, which we refuse to move away from at any cost.

Fairness isn’t about treating everyone identically, it’s about applying the same consideration to every situation. The only precedent that matters, is making good decisions.

What lies beneath?

When the politician stands up and says that politicians aren’t delivering enough. We applaud.

When the policewoman stands up and criticises the failings of the police force. We consider them brave.

When the surgeon tells us lives are at risk because of falling standards. We’re shocked but supportive.

When the banker talks about the loss of control on risk taking. We say, “at last”.

But, when a HR person says the profession is underperforming?

We tell them to stop being negative and “get involved”.

Funny that. Don’t you think?

The thing is, in order to improve you need to highlight the deficiencies. In order to challenge the norms, you need to raise the possibility of other alternatives.

It isn’t whinging or whining, it is challenge.

And sometimes when behaviours are so ingrained, when opinions are so homogenous, when thinking is so linear, you need to make a bigger noise to wake people from their stupor.

To get us thinking, to get us reflecting, to get us talking.

But yes, if you want to really want to change the world of work, you do need to get involved……..inside a company, on a permanent basis.

Over the long-term.

A tweet isn’t going to change anything, a blog won’t make things happen, I promise. Even if you post it on LinkedIn.

We need to identify the issues, but identifying the issues isn’t providing the solutions. Because the solutions aren’t generic.

Take the, “we don’t need policies” schtick. Go and try that one in a petrochemicals company.

Or the, “we don’t need measurement, we need conversations” diatribe. Take that one into the operating theatre of a heart surgery unit.

We need to challenge the thinking, the perceived wisdom, but the real creativity and problem solving needs to take place in the organisations themselves. And they need to be tailored, compatible with the overall systems and reinforced over the longer term.

The provocation is above the waterline, the real change happens beneath.

Solutions start with identifying problems. There is nothing wrong in identifying and calling them out that damages the profession.

But ignoring them, closing your eyes, sticking your fingers in your ears and going to your happy place, well trust me, that does.