Do the internal systems and structures within your company work against people reporting harassment or bullying, or are there ‘safe spaces’ or non-judgmental support for those who need to tell their story? Can HR create these? And if not, then is the hard truth that HR are complicit in the pain of people who are subjected to this in the workplace?
I’ve just come back from Globoforce’s 2018 WorkHuman conference, and these were some of the many questions raised during the #MeToo panel, chaired by Adam Grant, in which Ashley Judd, Tarana Burke and Ronan Farrow were very moving as they shared stories and talked about their various experiences, calling for courage, respect, equality, and dignity in the workplace.
If there is someone in the organisation who is found to be harassing or bullying, then do we ever ask how we came to hire (and probably promote) someone who felt this behaviour was OK? Would an incident such as this trigger a review and overhaul of selection processes?
Some tough questions, but as Ronan Farrow put it “HR professionals are in an incredibly powerful position. You are a formal part of the chain of command. If you say something, it creates an opportunity for others to speak up. Don’t forget how powerful and important your role is”
“You can’t change policies after the fact. You have to create a culture where that behaviour is not ok” said Tarana Burke
You may have gathered that WorkHuman isn’t your average HR conference, in fact I’m not sure I would call it an HR conference. Its about humanity. Feelings and perceptions, and many personal qualities that aren’t often discussed at business conferences. Sure the attendees, and many speakers, were from the wider HR sector, but the many themes including courage, vulnerability, diversity, unacceptable behaviour, recognition, performance, humanising, happiness and creativity, were of more personal, and human concerns, even if they clearly they fall under the remit of most HR professionals.
“Your ego is not your amigo”
Leadership was to the fore and opening keynote Cy Wakeman was in no doubt that ego wasn’t part of it. “A leaders role isn’t to change the reality for employees – it is to change the negative energy focused on why we can’t on to how we can”. And as for ego? “Your ego is a filter on reality and corrupts your data. You’re making decisions based on corruptive data. Your ego is like wearing a pair of prescriptive glasses that are the wrong prescription”
Ego leads to drama, and drama can be draining and demotivating, taking up too much time in the workplace.
Brene Brown spoke of vulnerability and the need for leaders to embrace it “There is zero evidence that vulnerability is a weakness. It is the courage to show up and be seen when you can’t control the outcome”. She also warned that “If you set up a culture within your organisation where there’s no tolerance for vulnerability, no tolerance for failure, then there’s no room for innovation, productivity, or creativity”
She spoke of the importance of leaders showing accountability, which resonated with me – I’ve recently been involved with research conducted amongst 14,000 European jobseekers (published soon) and accountability came out as the top quality they look for in leaders. Maybe Brene knew why when she said “The opposite of accountability is blame. Accountability is a vulnerable process that takes courage and time. Blame is faster”
“Stop giving feedback, start encouraging people to ask for feedback”
David Rock ran two sessions on feedback, particularly in relation to performance management. “Performance management becomes feedback management” he told us. We don’t like receiving feedback when its unsolicited, which too much is. Its also often negative. We need to start getting our people to ask for feedback, when it will be less threatening and more welcome. Ensure people have conversations and make them future focused. Manager capability is key here. They need to minimise the feeling of threat around candid and honest conversations, and help facilitate insights to help people positively embrace change.
In another session, author Shawn Achor said “most praise is just comparison”. And he had a point. When we praise people by comparison to their peers and colleagues, or competitors, we are linking their potential, and their happiness, to others. This can create competition, rather than support and enable personal growth and development. Which I know from my research mentioned earlier, is the main thing people look for when searching for a new role. Maybe there’s a link back here to David Rock’s sessions on feedback – with managers using comparisons (even if unwittingly) rather than focus on each individual’s potential and contribution.
Shawn Achor also talked about his research amongst Harvard students that found social connections were the best predictors of happiness, success, future job roles. The relationship people have to the ecosystem around them. We are often the product of formal and informal networks of relationships and connections. The original Star Wars manuscript showed the famous line as ‘May The Force of Others Be With You’ although this was changed. This flags up a big concern to me though, as it underlines the problems we face with social mobility and finding ways to understand and develop the potential in everyone, irrespective of background, trajectory and networks.
“You can’t incentivise performance. You can only incentivise/reward/encourage behaviour”
Simon Sinek has spoken before of how the way to influence human behaviour is to inspire it rather than trying to manipulate it. In his keynote session at Workhuman he was looking at business being an ‘infinite game’. He drew the parallel between sport – which is a finite game with a beginning, an end, and rules – and business which is infinite.
“Winning and losing is the wrong language in business. It works in sports because you are playing a finite game, but business is an infinite one. Companies that last aren’t the ones that play to win, they’re the ones that play to keep playing”.
Great organisations have a have a fixed just cause and flexible strategy. But he told us that “too many don’t focus enough on the cause, and have an inflexible strategy. So many organisations have a new Just Cause after every offsite meeting.” Worse yet, they have a fixed strategy.
“Leaders ask ‘How do we get the best out of our people’. It sounds like they’re wringing out a towel. The question should be ‘How do we help our people to do their natural best”
Courageous leadership is what business needs. But too often we promote leaders because they deliver on results, even if they are untrustworthy or lack respect from their teams. This can destroy the fabric of a company. As Simon put it “Promoting high performance-low trust team members will destroy your organisational culture. But its easy to identify these people. Ask team who the asshole is and everyone will point to the same person, so this is avoidable”
The final takeaway from Simon’s session was that HR should be advancers of people, and not the last line of defence between the people and the executives. He suggested they stop being ‘executors of the executives’.
Ultimately it all comes down to culture. Being human, working human, and helping people to be their natural best requires a culture where ego, drama and blame have no place, and honesty, courage, vulnerability and openness can thrive. Where people feel able to speak up, and to be themselves. And can get the support they need to do the best they can.
And the next time you attend an HR conference and hear a series of sporting metaphors…remember…
Some more blogs on WorkHuman that I recommend you read: