Time’s Up in 2018 – Making work place changes to deal with harassment and intimidation

The start of every New Year is an occasion to make changes – 2018 has some particular opportunities.

The wave of change for those who fear oppression or harassment in the work environment continues to gather pace. Hollywood made a major stand at the Golden Globe awards. As we wait to see whether fine words and matching black outfits can be translated into positive action and a genuine cultural shift, the world is hopeful that real change will follow – in the film industry and beyond.

Recognising there is a problem is a vital first step in solving that problem. It can be a very difficult step, but that doesn’t mean the steps that follow will feel easier. Having acknowledged that culture needs to change across all industries and sectors, we need to enable that change and ready ourselves for the new challenges this will bring.

It is expected that both women and men who experience harassment will be more emboldened to make complaints. So organisations need to be prepared to investigate these situations and deal with them head on. This passive approach of waiting for complaints alone will no longer suffice and organisations need to encourage their staff to step forward if they are treated badly.

Some of our political parties have shown us how not to do it. A lack of investigation and untested allegations have led to suicides by those accused. By mismanaging the situation, it is not just the victims who can suffer. With peoples’ lives and livelihoods at stake, it is not appropriate to wait until a situation arises and ‘learn as you go’ how to manage it.

We have seen the abuse of power in various guises revealed across society – not just in the headline grabbing spheres of showbusiness and politics. It is no longer realistic to think ‘it couldn’t happen where I am’ – all businesses need to be prepared.
2018 may present difficult challenges, we may have to deal with damaged trust and to help damaged people; but our response is the key to unlocking the positive. Each claim and case thoroughly investigated and satisfactorily resolved is a foundation stone for building a new, open and honest work environment. This New Year, real change is possible.

The Weinstein Scandal – protecting against the abuse of power

photo from hollywoodsign.org

The Harvey Weinstein story raises the issue of senior manager bullying and psychopathic type behaviour. The allegations of misconduct and sexual harassment made against him are terrible but, sadly, not shocking. Described as an ‘open secret’, it is behaviour widely assumed to occur in casting couch scenarios but which has been allowed to pass due to a cultural tendency to disbelieve the victim. Only now are the reports, allegations and accusations being treated seriously.

What is shocking is that some reporting on this story would lead you to believe that this behavioural problem is confined to Hollywood. It is very visible in all businesses as well as the film industry. It is all about abusing power. The abuse may take different forms, but it is always bullying. Bullying occurs all through life from school onwards. Bullies need to be rooted out, named and shamed.

It is well documented that there are many sociopaths and psychopaths in business. Key features of these conditions – a lack of empathy, no guilt, no conscience, lack of emotional intelligence, and the manipulation of people – have traditionally aided bullies’ rise to positions of power, from where they are able to hurt more individuals and enjoy a greater degree of protection.

A strong HR function should aim to protect organisations from these types of people. Although successful in the short term, they cause a great deal of direct and collateral damage in the long-term. Firms harbouring them will eventually suffer expensive legal cases, loss of talent, and loss of clients. The greatest damage is that done to the individuals who have suffered at the hands of the bully. Personal damage can be irreparable and irreversible.

Hollywood’s ‘open secret’ – a culture in which people are prepared to look the other way in exchange for continued success – is not confined to Hollywood. Individuals exhibiting the characteristics of a bully are often excused if they are temporarily useful. Euphemistic epithets can sometimes hide serious behavioural issues – he’s ‘a character’, she’s ‘larger than life’. In Hollywood films, the villains arrive onscreen to ominous music. In real life there’s no tell-tale music but there are signs and HR must be vigilant.

Leadership across different worlds: Post-truth, facts and feelings

leadership worlds
2017 has been a strange year so far. There is a disconnect between how things are and how things feel. Last month saw a leadership contest where the winner felt like they had lost and the loser felt as if they had won. This weekend a rugby team felt like they had lost even though they had travelled to the far side of the planet, beaten the odds, come from behind in a series and achieved parity with the best in the world.

Elsewhere in the world, the G20 summit took place. Taking part was the man who had won the US presidential election, even though he had lost the popular vote and is under a Federal investigation. It may not feel as though he is particularly presidential, yet it is he with whom leaders must meet. In the Middle East, Iraqi forces retook Mosul; but the video images of a bombed-out and shattered husk of a city do not convey the feel of a victory.

There are two versions of the world – the world that is and the world that appears to be. Where should we focus our attention? ‘On reality, of course’ would be a likely answer, ‘on facts and truth’. But in a post-truth world, is there still room for fact? The General Election and the EU Referendum were certainly fought on feelings rather than facts. The Alt-Right in the US and the Alt-Left in the UK dominate the social media news space with their ‘alternative facts’. The stock market has always been based on confidence not evidence.

The truth is, as Twenty-First Century leaders, we need to be aware of both worlds. Truth may be unpopular right now, but it won’t go away. No matter how successful you may feel your business is, if the company accounts are telling a different story you may need to take action or seek assistance. If a star employee decides to move on or retire, it may feel like a disaster, but rational thought will remind you that other exceptional performers are out there just waiting for an opportunity. You may feel as though you’ve been particularly diligent regarding regulations such as the Senior Managers Regime, but you are either compliant or you are not.

When it comes to people, we need to remember that feelings are not always telegraphed. We need to develop our emotional intelligence and empathise with how the world feels to others. The records may show that an individual has achieved a great series of results recently. However, you can’t assume that they’re feeling positive about this – the effort may be utterly draining them. An analysis of requirements and skills could indicate that someone is ideally suited to their role, whilst they may actually feel great frustration in their current position and be deeply unhappy.

Leaders need to be able to keep track of multiple worlds. The way the world is – the cold, hard world of facts, laws and reality cannot be ignored. However, the way the world feels is important too – judging trends and gauging direction is how you recognise opportunities. Last, and by no means least, is the need to remember the personal worlds that people inhabit. Clients, competitors, employees, and partners all see the world through their own lens and it is a reality to be mindful of. A work culture is a reflection of how a leader leads, and cultures of understanding can evolve where these worlds can co-exist without friction.

Bearing these things in mind might not help make any sense of a strange year on a strange planet, but it may help you to navigate the strangeness more easily.

A Leadership Tale

May Corbyn Nuttall
Once upon a time there were three leaders trying to gain control of their country. One was a confident leader who was so determined to be strong and stable that she told everyone. Unfortunately she did not display other authentic leadership qualities such as some humility, a willingness to engage with her people and believed everything that her advisers told her.

Another leader focused a lot of his energies towards the younger voters. He promised lots of things that would appeal to them like minimum pay, scrapping of university fees and making the environment much more youth friendly. He also came across as authentic and relaxed when talking to voters. He also made good use of social media and communicated effectively.

Finally there was the leader who inherited a political party that was in complete disarray. He also had to try and sell an old set of policies that had already been achieved and there did not seem to be anything new to offer. He definitely came across to voters as someone who had been given a “hospital pass”.

So what was the result. Bizarrely, the person who won the election actually felt that they had lost – mainly because they were expected to win by a massive landslide and did not. The person who came second felt that they had won because they had not been wiped out. Finally, the leader is disarray remained In disarray and not only did not get voted in, but also resigned as leader.

So what is the key leadership lesson? It is all about trust – If all the other factors had remained the same, different levels of trust could have altered the fortunes of all three.

If the first leader had established a strong trust with people beforehand, they may have supported her decision not to engage with the process, maybe even seen it as a sign of superiority. But not enough trust was there. The second leader’s ideas were considered by critics to be too fanciful and optimistic. But many people ignored the negativity because they trusted him. The third leader had to rely on trust. Having been dealt an empty hand, he had to create belief for his followers in a new relevance and purpose. But the trust wasn’t there.

The moral of the tale? If you can persuade your people to put their trust in you then success is much more likely.

When People Risk Costs £150m

People Risk BA IT
If you want to understand People Risk, take a look at the recent case of British Airways’ £150,000,000 system failure. People Risk is the potential cost and harm that can befall a business when its people make poor decisions. It’s not always obvious how the actions of individuals within a company affect the business as a whole. However, every so often, an example like BA comes along which makes People Risk starkly clear.

The £150m outage is believed to be the result of a single operator’s error. The event is classed as a system failure and, indeed, the IT system did fail. We underestimate systems. It is easy to blame unfortunate events on faulty systems, malfunctioning technology or flawed processes. However, what causes systems to fail? Quite often the root cause is people – in BA’s case, a person.

Security experts maintain that the human element is always the weakest link in the systems they design. High level data security and encryption is most easily undermined by the executive who leaves their laptop on the train or who sets their password to ‘123456789’ or ‘password01’. The BA IT system had its own backup to switch to in case of failure. A likely cause posited for the total shutdown is that someone manually interrupted this automatic switchover sequence, flooding the servers with double the normal voltage.

The BA story is an extreme example. Flights grounded worldwide and thousands of stranded passengers are big news stories. Such large scale errors may not be common, but they do bring questions about People Risk to the fore. How many smaller, unreported People Risk events are taking place on a daily basis? What preventable costs are businesses unknowingly incurring from individual errors and decisions? What is the level of People Risk within your own business?

People may often be the weakest link but that does not mean that they’re inherently flawed. People need to be invested in to the same extent as systems they operate or are a part of. BA had invested in Uninterruptible Power Supplies which have the capability to maintain the current after a mains failure with battery power whilst backup generators automatically spool up and take over. What was potentially missing was an engineer with the competence and confidence to know this, to remain calm and not to manually intervene during the spooling up period.

Reducing your People Risk involves making the most out of your people. People don’t have a backup setting that can spool up in the event of a failure; they need to get things right in the moment. Training, development or coaching your people enables them to make the right decisions at the right time and ensures that your business is as cost effective as possible. As the systems around people grow ever more complex and the stakes of failure rise, reducing your People Risk is more important than ever.

If you would like to have a conversation about People Risk, you can contact PRS here

Or, take a look at our HR Healthcheck:
You probably already make a substantial investment in your people. The People Risk Solutions HR Healthcheck has been designed to help you protect that investment and give you a fixed cost, highly professional, rigorous and independent overview of your people risks. Read more here…

When to Stay and When to Go


Managing Departure

You are not always in control of your own departure – just ask the miserable crowds stranded at Heathrow and Gatwick following BA’s global IT failure. However, some people’s departure from work is very much within their own control. Some leaders have and will face the prospect of deciding when to step down…or deciding not to.

The question of whether or not Arsene Wenger would stay as manager of Arsenal or leave was raised yet again at the weekend and answered this Wednesday with the signing of a new two-year contract. His story, though, remains an interesting case study.

Another Roll of the Dice

Wenger has been a leader for over 20 years. He has undoubtedly been a successful leader, with more FA Cup wins than any other manager. This weekend’s record 13th Cup win could have been a suitable occasion to ‘go out on a high’, but perhaps it was not ‘high’ enough. Wenger has unfulfilled ambitions – he has never won the Champions League and far rather exit with Arsenal as domestic league champions than cup victors.

Arsenal fans have ambitions too. They want the same successes as he does but, as each year goes by without them, increasing numbers call for a new leader to achieve them. It is a situation familiar to many beyond the world of professional sport – just when do you call it a day? Do you gamble on a last chance at glory and, should you fail, risk denting your hard won reputation from the years before?

Controlling the Agenda

In politics, Tony Blair engineered his departure before the 2010 election. Clouds had gathered surrounding his decision to invade Iraq and his popularity was on the wane. He chose to leave as PM, on his own terms rather than face a likely election defeat. Margaret Thatcher, on the other hand, clung on despite falling polls. The knives came out from within her own party and the end of her career was an ignominious one.

Parliaments are intended to last five years and a football season the best part of a year. The unexpected can and does happen, but there is often more time for strategic thought. In business the timescales are often much shorter and success can turn to failure very quickly. When should a successful leader step aside from their business?

Do you manage the agenda and pick your moment, or wait for the wolves to reach the door? Even if you’re not at that stage in your career it’s worth giving some thought as to how you would like to step away. The ‘stay or go’ moment may be thrust upon you by a sudden crisis or success and you may well be grateful that you took the time to think through the pros and cons beforehand.

French Lessons – Macron’s election from a leadership perspective

The election of Emmanuel Macron as the next French president comes as a relief to many, but presents France, Europe and the world with a series of unknowns. At this stage there is much speculation, in terms of policy at least. However, from a leadership perspective there are some interesting learning points.

Whilst our General Election may be framed as an individual leadership issue due to the Brexit negotiations, it is not designed to be so. The French presidential election, however, is all about the individual and therefore their leadership capability, as well as policies. When the French populace were asked to assess presidential capability, it appears that age and experience were no longer two of the essential leadership qualities required.

France seem to have broken the mould by not only voting in the youngest ever president, but also one who runs the newest political party. Created only a year ago, En Marche is not unlike a start-up company and has a staff with an average age of around 30. As people’s work and home lives are regularly transformed by similar, disruptive companies comprised of young individuals, it is not surprising that they place trust in youth, enthusiasm and drive.
french leadership lessons

The average age of CEOs is declining, and has been since the 1980s. As a leader, Macron seems to be displaying all the modern qualities needed in a social media age. More important than experience is authenticity. In his case, he presents himself as a man of the people, questioning the status quo but not wanting to destroy it. He has pledged to renewal and change; fresh faces and new blood.

Yet this change is likely to be tempered with continuity. Experience is still vital to meeting the demands of government. It will be interesting to see who he appoints as his key lieutenants in government. For all the benefits of youth and enthusiasm, many are expecting Macron’s cabinet to be balanced and anchored by some established political heavyweights. The fact that these individuals may be drawn from across the political spectrum makes the composition of this cabinet particularly intriguing.

Too many experienced old hands and his vision for change may be undermined, too few and his government may be underprepared for the task ahead. Getting the balance right will be crucial for him and reinforces an old lesson for us: That a capable leader is nothing without a capable team to lead.