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Yellow Card

Last week the CIPD ventured into football territory by issuing all its members with a Yellow Card.

And the crowd went wild.

Principally because the new membership card, designed to reduce plastic usage, was so flimsy it tore upon removing from the covering letter and looked a lot less professional than members wanted.

Many took to social media to complain, and in the end David D’Souza recorded a short explanation and apology to all, which I thought was a nice move.

We all make mistakes. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be human.

Sometimes we make big, public mistakes like this one too.

I remember once bringing in a new payroll system in an organisation and getting everyone to check their own data that was being migrated from old to new systems as a bit of a data cleansing exercise. I asked the administrators to print out each persons data and give it to them to check, and so they did.

I kind of assumed the administrators would put such data in sealed envelopes, but they did not and the data was left on peoples desks, containing all sorts of sensitive and confidential information now visible to passers by and other colleagues.

Quite understandably, people went berserk at me.

A lot were quite abusive.

But, it was my fault. Whilst I’d assumed the administrators would bear in mind the sensitive nature of the data and package accordingly, I hadn’t specified this and, well, you know the danger with assumptions.

I owned up and apologised to everyone. I’d had the right idea, with a noble aim, but it was poorly executed. Just like DDS and the CIPD last week.

But it didn’t stop me feeling absolutely awful at the time and I sought advice from my late friend Clive Gott, who said to me something I remember and advise people about to this day, almost 15 years later.

He said that we live in day-tight compartments, and that each day is separately sealed off from the others. If a bad day occurs, it is thus sealed off and filed away and has no bearing on ones performance, behaviour and mood on other days.

He added that sometimes on really bad days we can live in hour-tight compartments with a similar principle. If something awful happens, seal it off and move on.

A bad hour, or a bad day, caused by a well intentioned but ultimately awful mistake, is no reflection on you as a human being or your ability to perform in whatever it is you’re doing. It’s sealed off and gone, and your proportion of great hours or great days far outweigh it. Even the number of average and uninteresting hours and days will far outweigh the bad ones.

What is a reflection on you as a human being and your ability to perform in whatever it is you’re doing, is how quickly you realise what’s gone wrong, how quickly you open up and apologise, and how effectively you’re able to seal off that hour or day. And how much you learn from it.

It’s an approach that works well for me, and I hope it’s worked for DDS and CIPD too last week.

That said, I don’t even think this mistake was the worst thing to happen to DDS in that week, as I watched Tottenham’s Champions League Final performance and think that was worse. So let’s put it all into perspective.

An honest mistake, well intentioned – trying to please everyone but ultimately pleasing no one – but well explained, a human apology, and attempts to move on and learn.

Let’s move on and learn.

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, my wife has started her own freelance bookkeeping company. If anyone needs any bookkeeping or general accountancy support from a qualified Chartered Accountant, but not at Chartered Accountant rates, either get in touch with her directly at katiecookson16@outlook.com or through me.

From now on

As many of you know from social media, I, and my wife, are currently dealing with a situation that is causing immense stress. I’ve written before about mental health, HERE, and the situation certainly matches scenarios talked about there. In this blog I’ll explore ways of dealing with it that have helped me.

I run my own business and it’s often been said and written that business owners are amongst the most susceptible to stress simply because of the relative difficulty in switching off. It’s certainly true for me, in that I find my thoughts drifting to my business at inconvenient times of the day and night.

I’ve written and spoken before on the value of physical exercise as an outlet and means of coping, and it’s always been that way for me. I’m a triathlete and have to have a decent training plan each week, and aside from the physical and mental benefits it brings me, I enjoy planning out my training schedule each week.

The beauty of having my own business is that I can work in my training around my business to a large degree.

And so it helps.

But I’m also a qualified personal trainer, and whilst I don’t do a lot of that kind of stuff, when I do I am always keen to tell people about the need to rest too, and not just that, but to actively PLAN rest as an activity in their training week.

Physically, the body needs time to recuperate from training sessions, and rest days are a vital part of that. It helps restore energy and allow the body to do what it needs to do.

In recent months I’ve been slowly upping my training ready for the summer races, and my body has been quietly complaining. I’ve had rest days each week but they’ve seemed almost accidental, as if I ought to have been training but hadn’t been able to, and it’s made me grumpy, as if I’m missing out on training.

I realised recently that I wasn’t following the advice I give to people, to actively plan rest days as if they are a training activity in themselves.

So that’s what I’m now doing. My training schedule includes planned rest days where I’m doing nothing physical. And I find myself looking forward to them because I know they are a vital part of my regime.

Without the rest days, I can’t perform as well as I should.

And I’ve started doing similar in my work and business too. I’d realised that a lot of the stress was made worse by my not switching off, not spending time looking after my family and myself by working too much.

I was having rest days, but again they were almost accidental and sometimes resented by me.

But I realise that rest days (and by that I don’t mean weekends per se) are crucial in maintaining mental health and building resilience. If I don’t plan in time to take off work, I never will take time off and my performance will suffer as a result.

As someone who is self employed, the minimum annual leave entitlement doesn’t apply to me or others in similar positions. But it should. And even if it doesn’t, we have the power to make it apply ourselves.

The minimum annual leave entitlement is there for a reason, and it would be foolish to ignore it. I’d been booking in foreign holidays with the family, and Xmas, but not actively booking in any other time off and I realised I was missing out on…

…rest days.

From now on, I’m actively planning in 2 days a month (plus family holidays and Xmas) on weekdays where I won’t work and spend time with my family or doing stuff for myself.

These are my rest days, and they started this month. I’m already enjoying them, and I don’t feel guilty about them. Of course there’s the potential I lose out on some work if a client wants me on those days, but I’m not shifting them because if I do, my family and I will lose out in more important ways.

The body needs time to rest.

The mind needs time to rest.

But sometimes we are too busy to make these things happen.

From now on, I’m not too busy to make the time for the important things.

From now on…

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, my next race on 12 May will be my 50th since I started racing back in 2010. I wonder whether I’ll ever get to 100 races? It would be nice.

King in The North

On 30 March I’ve got the pleasure of taking part in and speaking at the North of England CIPD Student Conference, taking place in Liverpool. In this blog I’ll explore what’s going on at the conference and will also give a short update to this blog after the event.

First off, if you haven’t got a ticket for this event then they are still available up to the day itself and you can access both the programme and tickets HERE.

There’s a number of things must be said about this conference, and its other regional variants.

  1. Its billed as for students, but really its for anyone looking to develop their HR career. Just look at the programme and the sheer quality of the speakers and different events happening, not just in The North but at each of the other regional events. At £35+VAT this is an absolute bargain and I know of no other HR/OD/L&D conference that offers such good quality for such a low price. Certainly none of the other CIPD events come close.
  2. This one is for, and in, The North.  That means its the best. There’s simply no argument about this. Its also in Liverpool, which is a good thing because that city often suffers in comparison to Manchester when it comes to HR-type events, so its only right this happens there.
  3. Its on a Saturday – this immediately gives it a different vibe, a more relaxed ethos, than HR conferences that take place on weekdays.  It also doesn’t seem to be putting people off attending either. Great quality learning without interfering with the working week.
  4. For students, this is top quality learning that will likely top, for sheer value alone, much of their formal learning. And I say that as someone who gets involved a lot in the formal learning students do.

I do a lot of work with CIPD students, and have done for about 15 years since I stopped studying myself. Its great to have tutored and supported so many students at the outset of their HR careers, and to have made so many good friends as a result.

As I will be saying at the conference, as a tutor it really makes my day to help others learn about HR and leadership and about themselves – but I also learn a lot about myself and grow as a result. There really is no drawback.

On the day I’m involved in two things. The first is a panel discussion with other senior HR professionals discussing our careers to date and sharing advice (or in my case, mistakes) and taking questions.  The second is one of my by now infamous Ignite talks, this one on the value of professionalism in the future world of work.  If you’ve heard me do an Ignite talk before, you have an inkling as to what’s coming.  If you haven’t, then if you stay till the end you’ll see.

I’m looking forward to both, and to closing off what looks to be an amazing conference.

Have I mentioned how good value this conference is?

Have I also mentioned its for, and in, The North?

Have you booked your ticket yet?

Not that anyone is taking it for granted, but when I was a CIPD student 20 years ago there were no student conferences, so its great to see this being offered and so many students taking up the opportunity.

I’ll give an update to this blog here once the event has happened – hopefully I’ll see some of you there.

Till next time…

Gary

PS in other news, our period of high stress in our lives continues, and I know its having a detrimental effect on me at least, and no doubt my wife too. Hopefully our situation will resolve itself soon.

Sarri seems to be the hardest word

In this blog, written in partnership with Mark Hendy, I’ll be discussing the recent situation involving the Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri and goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga (known for obvious reasons as Kepa).

This situation occurred on 24 February and you can read more about it HERE.

My friend Graham Wilson, leadership expert, managed to get interviewed by Sky News about it which you can watch HERE from 48:10.

Both Mark and I were astonished by Kepa’s behaviour and here’s our thoughts on it.

First we considered whether Kepa was right or wrong to react as he did. We both think, unquestionably, that Kepa was wrong. As Mark says, “tactical decisions belong to the manager…Kepa disregarded an instruction from someone who had the right to make that decision. It was a selfish call by Kepa.”

And I agree. This, in HR terms, was a failure to follow a reasonable instruction at one level however there’s another view that Kepa knew his own abilities and effectiveness best and may have been better placed to know what was the right call in the circumstances. We shouldn’t necessarily encourage a command and control culture and we do want to encourage employee voice – although this seems a questionable way to exercise it. Its fine to challenge decisions, but Kepa could have run to Sarri to explain his views and let Sarri make the final call. Doing this from a few hundred yards away made this the wrong decision by Kepa.

We considered how it leaves Sarri as manager, particularly after his acquiescence to Kepa and trying to brush it under the carpet to press afterwards.

Our view is that Sarri will find it incredibly difficult to command respect from his team now. But how important is a managers ability to see through a decision and course of action, versus how important is it that they operate a democracy and can change their mind? What do we value more?

In the workplace this would be failure to follow a reasonable instruction and possible gross misconduct but Mark points out that this isn’t really a straightforward comparison. As a minimum though Kepa should, and did, face sanctions but we would also question whether Sarri himself needs a bit of a talking to by more senior leaders about his own behaviour. It isn’t clear if Sarri was spoken to and in public at least, Chelsea have backed him – as to do otherwise would be seen to be giving in to player power.

However what if Sarri had resigned straight away? He didn’t, but if he had, would he have had any claim for Constructive Dismissal? I think he would, but Mark thinks not. I think this would be a justifiable resignation on the grounds of being undermined but Mark thinks the club could not be held responsible for that. This makes Chelsea’s backing of Sarri more important as if they had not done so, then surely Constructive Dismissal would have been able to be claimed?

Finally we’ve thought about Sarri’s immediate and later reactions and the difference between them. Instantly he had an emotional reaction which we both understand. Later he had calmed down and reflected and that was fine too, but he reversed course and took blame for the situation that was at odds with the way that Chelsea then acted and the punishment that was dished out to Kepa. Far better to retain some consistency in his responses and retain some semblance of respect too.

So there we have it. An interesting case study in leadership, culture and organisational behaviour that shows, again, how football sometimes mirrors the workplace but sometimes shows how different a world of inhabits.

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, my wife has resigned from her role whilst on maternity leave and is searching for a new role. The situation is quite surreal and we have both learnt a lot from it.

Part-time Lover

There’s been recent media coverage of Labour’s pledge to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees from day one, and the Prime Ministers’ previous statement that all jobs should be advertised as flexible by default. I’ve also recently tweeted about organisational views of part-time employees, and in this blog I’ll explore these themes more.

This is prompted largely by my wife’s current search for employment. She has worked 3 days a week as a Chartered Accountant for four years and is approaching the end of her maternity leave. She is unable to return to her previous role (a long and scarcely believable story) and is looking for a new 3 day a week role.

Note I’m using the phrase 3 days a week here and not part-time for reasons I’ll explain later.

I’ve helped her promote her job search on LinkedIn but she’s very much her own person and is having lots of conversations with various recruiters although it isn’t really what she wanted to be spending the last two months of her maternity leave doing.

Straight away though her requirement for 3 days a week is proving a barrier. She knew that there would be less 3 day a week roles than 5 day a week roles, but it’s the attitudes of the recruiters that has been surprising.

For a start she’s on maternity leave looking after a 9 month old baby. It isn’t easy to make a short notice job interview or to respond to recruiters asking her to just “come into our city centre office” for a chat about her search. Depending on the mood our 9 month old is in, it isn’t always easy to even answer the phone or indicate a time to call back! Sometimes these informal chats need to have baby in tow too.

Obviously if I’m around it’s easy but I’m not always there.

But it’s like some recruiters have no idea what being on maternity leave is all about. It’s stressful enough without having to find a job at the end of it.

There have been recruiters who have dropped her like a stone as soon as they’ve heard her mention 3 days a week. Some have said that their clients don’t want part timers, in a tone of voice that implies part timers are less productive and effective than full timers. One said that they would put my wife in touch with their Interim desk as they themselves only dealt with permanent roles, as if working 3 days a week is somehow less permanent a relationship.

The ages of our children means a need for both of us to have flexibility to do school runs etc. It means that every day, one of us can’t start work until 9am and one of us has to finish no later than 5pm, but in practice this differs day by day and isn’t massively predictable.

My wife explained her need to be able to finish at 5pm to a recruiter and they expressed a view that their clients may be able to cope with 3 days a week, but certainly not with “reduced hours” (eg finishing at 5pm) aswell, as they need staff who are committed to staying till the end of working hours.

I find myself having to state that those with caring responsibilities are not working “reduced hours” or with reduced commitment. They’re as committed as anyone and operate with greater flexibility.

Then there are recruiters who have heard my wife say 3 days a week and have ignored that completely and keep putting her forward for 5 days a week roles as if, suddenly, their persistence can overcome my wife’s inability to work more than 3 days a week.

Partly caused by, as I’ve hinted, the label of part time. It does suggest something less than what those who are full time offer. Took literally that’s correct but it’s proportionally equal and many part time staff are more productive than their full time equivalents.

I should add that there are plenty of helpful and understanding recruiters that have contacted my wife too, and she is building some helpful relationships as a result.

I remember an HR Advisor in my team asking to return 3 days a week from maternity leave. I confess I had very similar initial reactions to the recruiters above, but never said this out loud and took time to reflect on the request. I considered that the positive impact I could have on that one person by helping her with this far outweighed any potential negative consequences for the organisation and in fact no negative consequence ever actually arose.

Lots of people in the media talk about the death of 9-5 but what they mean is the death of Mon-Fri 9-5 and the traditional working week which, as I’ve spoken about lots of times, isn’t compatible with modern family and social lives anyway.

The concept of part time is a misnomer and we should not refer to it. Instead, focus on what someone CAN offer us. In my wife’s case, 3 days a week of high quality work.

Have you come across similar outdated views and how do you suggest we overcome them?

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, it’s been a busy time at home and work for all of us and we’ve been stretched really thin this last 5 weeks or so. The next 3 look the same and I hope we can cope…

#CIPHRConf19 3rd/final blog

The closing keynote speech was by David D’Souza, covering the future of work and how we reshape ourselves as a profession.

He began by asking how we integrate technology into what we do. He established that we would all be happy if technology could automate what we do, but the challenge is that we don’t really know what we want technology to do, and we haven’t figured out what we do if it does automate what we do.

Another challenge is that we have short term thinking – we focus on short term rewards and less on long term progress.  We can see what technology can do for us today, this week, next week – but we can’t see clearly into the long term future as much as we would like.

We are also scared that rapid utilisation of technology will lead to massive unemployment and possibly Terminator style scenarios.

But in general we are not good at predicting things, so we are scared of stuff that is highly unlikely.  However our fears come from not knowing enough.

Technology gives us a massive opportunity to do things differently and to make organisations better. It gives us a chance to think about what kind of organisation we want to be.

He gave his oft rehearsed Jurassic Park analogy to illustrate this. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” is the quote to remember here.

This means we should not copy other organisations who are successful, but focus on how we can become successful.

In the CIPD, he feels they are asking their membership to do three things.

  1. To be principles led.  Back to the Jurassic Park analogy.
  2. To be evidence based. Make your decisions really sound and based on robust, relevant and proportionate data.
  3. To be outcomes driven. Make a difference in lots of areas in organisations, and consider how best to use our time to maximum effect.

HR will grow and reshape as a result of this. He used a great locksmith analogy to get us to focus on people’s outcomes and not how long they take to do a job.

Too often in organisations, we focus on inputs, and not outcomes. In HR, we need to take half a step back, and look at how we can make work easier and deliver better outcomes.

Stop focusing on being busy.

There followed a Q&A which lasted almost as long as the speech, and allowed DDS to cover more general topics.

One pertinent topic was whether HR are equipped with the right skillset to use the technology – and he feels that outside work we have the skills and use them, but don’t always do that within the workplace, and this seems to be a UK specific problem in that our economy is too slow because we don’t use it well enough.

And that’s the end of the conference – this has been a great experience and one I’ve been pleased to cover via three blogs and dozens of tweets, and I’ve had access to some great learning and networking opportunities.

Till next time…

Gary

PS I’ve been out early every morning this week before others have been awake, and am looking very much to being at home tomorrow.

#CIPHRConf19 blog 2

After a brief break and a presentation from CIPHR on their future roadmap, we have an employment law update from Shoosmiths from Stuart Lawrenson and Gemma Robinson.

Stuart began by showing how the Tribunal system is under strain, giving examples of some 3-5 day hearings taking upwards of 12 months to reach an outcome, and how this creates some risk for employers as their main witnesses may leave during that time.

He then covered some recent legislative developments, starting with Gender Pay Reporting which will be prevalent in the media in coming months.  He thinks many organisations are still not ready and will file last minute or late.  He also outlined that Ethnicity Pay Reporting and Executive Pay Reporting are on the agenda and will come in sooner rather than later.

The #MeToo trend was given some coverage and it was interesting to note that many US states are now making it a requirement for employers to train their staff on sexual harassment – this move may be replicated to some degree in the UK too…

GDPR was covered too but not in massive depth as there wasn’t the time.  A little bit of time was given to recent developments in Gig Economy cases, with a focus on Pimlico Plumbers, Uber and the like but with a clear message for employers to look at their use of consultants too.

In a difficult slot, Gemma from Shoosmiths took over and started with a Brexit update, which was almost impossible to cover but she did a good job in outlining some of the knowns and unknowns – and in good detail too.

In the Q&A session afterwards, the most popular question was about the most common area HR fall foul of GDPR. Stuart said it is data retention – for example you don’t need an employee’s bank details once you’ve paid them everything they are due post-termination, but some bits of data you do need to keep for up to 40 years if its H&S related – but often HR teams apply a one size fits all approach.

And then its lunch.

I changed my mind during lunch about which of the breakout sessions to attend, and headed to the Analyse stream, chaired by David D’Souza and involving Nick Court plus Andy Charlwood and Tricia Howarth, and which attempted to answer the question “How does HR become more evidence-based?”.

The panel started off giving their views on what EBHR actually is – and largely agreed with each other. I liked Nick’s view that really EBHR is not new, but it IS a difficult skillset for many HR practitioners and is often hindered by “crap in, crap out” data systems.

DDS did a straw poll that showed that only two or three people in the audience had come from a maths or statistics background, which further served to illustrate how difficult this is.

All panelists agreed that if HR can rely upon and use robust and reliable data then its impact becomes greater, but this needs to avoid bias within the data or the person making the decision too.

I asked a question via Slido about whether gut instinct can be classed as data to be used in EBHR. Tricia said it can’t be ignored, but one needs to be realistic about whether your gut feel is 100% suited to purpose, eg does it effectively answer the question being posed?

Building on this, the panel considered what kind of data is “best” and how does one prioritise it and avoid data analysis paralysis.  Nick answered, saying data and data sets need to be representative and relevant – there’s no such thing as “best” data.

Andy built on this theme – its about the matching of data and evidence to the particular purpose, and sometimes it is about ensuring the right question is asked – unless we ask the right question its difficult to gather the right evidence.

The panel made very good use of the Sli.do functionality to gather and answer questions from the audience, and the feature does tend to work very well with a panel style debate.

A point reiterated by all of the panel was not to buy engagement surveys – its data that clouds the actual picture.

Another point made was that HR really need a statistical analysis skillset and that there aren’t enough of us with that skillset or mindset.

The panel then also began to discuss what HR can do to become more comfortable with EBHR.  Nick Court said ditch pie charts and 3D charts, and instead look at how you can use data to drive insight rather than something that just looks good?

DDS pointed out that the CIPD EBSCO database and factsheets are good sources of help, as is the Centre for Evidence Based Management, and the Organisation of Science for Work.  These would all be recommended start points for anyone wishing to learn more about data analytics and EBHR.

There was an interesting question about trust in data, particularly where data has been inaccurate or incomplete and where the organisation may have lost faith in the data. Tricia said to say sorry but draw a line in the sand and correct it.  Andy pointed out that those who enter the data need to take ownership of the data and understand that it is human error that makes data wrong most of the time.

We finished by going back to gut instinct – there’s a danger there is too much data and we lose the human approach towards HR.  Don’t create an industry for its own sake – use data that is relevant, proportionate and helpful.

Till next time…

Gary

#CIPHRconf19 blog 1

I’m pleased to have been asked to attend the CIPHR Customer Conference 2019 at Euston Square in London today, and to cover the event on social media and through blogs.

This involved a very early (5am) start for me, which for someone as currently sleep deprived as me was a bitter blow, but the first class travel on the train helped calm me and I’ve made it here in one piece.

I’m an ex-client of CIPHR but going back over 15 years and have some fond memories of their main product back then and also attending training at their offices in Marlow, so its nice to reacquaint myself with them.

I was surprised, but perhaps shouldn’t have been, with the volume of people here – there were far more people than I anticipated being here and it had a much bigger conference feel than I was expecting.

We started off with a view from Rob Oehlers from CIPHR giving an explanation of how CIPHR feel they fit into the world of work and how their technology helps us to cope with its demands.

He opened by talking about how connected we are and how reliant we are on both data and technology, mostly in our personal lives, but how this sometimes doesn’t transfer into the workplace.

Rob pointed out that the need for connected HR is becoming greater and greater – driven in part by the pressure to comply with legislative, compliance and regulatory changes but also by our own personal lives where we do most of our life and household stuff online.

The CIPHR portfolio of products and services offer solutions to these issues and trends, and you can find out more by visiting their website.

Next up was Karen Moran from Disruptive HR, stepping in for her colleague Lucy Adams.

She started by sharing many of the mistakes she had made and continues to make in her career, so pleasingly was not preaching from the stage.

One good story she shared was about the need to develop and maintain adult:adult conversations in the workplace, citing Netflix as a good example where the company makes ALL employees responsible for recruitment.  She gave another example of another company asking all employees to share and be transparent about everything they were doing, and trusting employees to use social media appropriately by having a really short policy.  There were more examples she had about flexible working, and taking ownership of individual L&D.

Its clear that, when they want to and choose to, organisations CAN reap the benefits of greater employee engagement and create a better employee experience – by trusting employees, letting them make decisions and make mistakes, and simply by asking them “how can we make your day better?”.

Sadly, not all employers do this.

Karen was honest enough to share that she hadn’t always lived up to this throughout her career but she has learnt from her mistakes.

That’s a key skill for HR professionals in my view.

We are all human, as Karen says.  We make mistakes.  We have emotions.

Use them.

She then went on to help us to try to understand why HR have a bad reputation – suggesting that the reasons are that: we often focus more on process than impact, we have a parental approach, are risk averse, work in silos, have skills gaps and do not effectively use technology.

These are things I’d agree with and which I’ve seen over and over again in my roles.

Karen said that we perhaps need to move away from the HR Business Partner job title as it almost seems an apologetic title to try to convince people that we are connected to the business, when it ought to be obvious.

In the Q&A session after people pointed out that often the barrier is the CEO or MD, and in HR we may not have the leverage we need to change the organisation. Karen’s response was one I completely agree with – you can either put up with it, continue trying to change it or go work somewhere else.

How many of us vote with our feet?

Something to think about as we head into a break.

Till next time…

Gary

PS in other news, my youngest son is now 9 months and has started to sleep through the night, having done so 3/4 times now over the past couple of weeks. This has coincided with the worst period of sleep I’ve ever had.  How does that work?

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

You may have noticed the recent controversy surrounding Leeds United FC’s manager Marcelo Bielsa and his involvement in the “spygate” drama. In this blog I’ll discuss this and some implications for how we in HR deal with unethical behaviour.

You can read more about it here, but this involved Bielsa sending a person to spy on Derby County, a rival club, whilst they were training ahead of playing Leeds, and being caught whilst doing so. He attempted to avoid the controversy by first apologising, taming sole responsibility and exonerating Leeds, and explaining that in his own country this was normal behaviour (which plenty of people corroborated), and then explaining in detail how he works and how he has done this frequently in his time as Leeds manager.

There were, from Derby mainly but also others, predictable and understandable complaints that although there was no rule against the spying, it was unethical and unfair.

Before we discuss wider implications, let’s look at football and professional sport in general. I think the reaction to this says a lot more about the conflict between the old school in football who believe that you don’t need a rule for everything and people should behave “honourably” without any further definition of that, and a growing number of participants who believe you should use any resource at your disposal to gain an advantage if the aim is to win and prevent others winning, without breaking any rules. It’s an interesting dilemma and one that isn’t wholly replicated in the workplace where the aim isn’t always to win and prevent others winning.

Nonetheless this COULD happen in the workplace. It’s likelihood of happening, and our awareness of unethical practices via media coverage, are reasons why the CIPD have placed ethics more prominently in the new Profession Map and encourage HR professionals to champion good working practices and tackle poor leadership and cultures that give rise to unethical behaviour.

Part of the problem with that though is, akin to football, if there is no firm agreement on what ethical behaviour is or isn’t, it’s difficult to take action at first. Using Bielsa as an example, he seems to have had genuinely no idea what he was doing was wrong, but does seem to understand the prevailing culture now and to have committed not to do it again.

You could say Bielsa was naïve and he ought to have known all of this after a while in the job and country but also that someone in Leeds management, maybe in HR, hadn’t done enough to establish what their views of ethics are and now are paying the price.

Leeds could, also, agree that they ought to have been kept informed by Bielsa but that now it has happened and we all know that a) it’s not breaking any rules and b) it has brought relative success as a tactic to the organisation, that they may agree Bielsa can continue behaving this way, despite loud protests from others.

Basically there’s no right and wrong here but what does need to happen is conversations about it to establish internal expectations, and HR should be leading those.

I asked Mark Hendy, fellow HR professional and long suffering Swansea City FC fan, for his views on this: “I’ve found the reaction to the incident more interesting than the incident itself. Almost universally, from commentators, figureheads in sport, former players and other coaches the response has been “what Bielsa has done is wrong, but we know that people have been doing this for years, it’s really not the end of the world and his punishment should be light’. As a result, I’m contemplating whether Bielsa’s actions were indeed unethical. They ‘probably are’ but when the furore died down, it appeared a storm in a teacup that really didn’t seem to offend most people. We’ve learned from history that accepted norms often change. What was once acceptable is now unacceptable and the reverse the same. Could this be one of those situations, where we need to step back and re-evaluate what ‘unethical’ really means?”

But, just because a person may have done something considered acceptable elsewhere, doesn’t mean it is considered acceptable in another organisation. That said, a person shouldn’t be unfairly criticised for making a very honest, if naïve, judgement call if no rules are broken and no one gets hurt.

Or should they? Bielsa clearly knew he may face criticism for it, because he kept his actions hidden from his employer.

That, more than anything else, if I were in HR at Leeds United, would be the thing I’d be talking to Bielsa about.

But will anyone do that?

Another thing to consider is whether if, there’s no rule or law against it, that makes an action or behaviour acceptable? In Bielsa’s case, no one got hurt and it wasn’t against the law or any rule in professional football. But does that make it OK? I’m not so sure.

I think a key role for HR professionals is to ask the right questions. I’m not so sure we have answers, but we can at least encourage debate and, where we see unethical behaviour, we ought to challenge whether it is right or not, and in my view it doesn’t matter if the behaviour may be legal – it could be considered our duty (but not ours alone) to raise awareness of such organisational grey areas.

If and when we in HR see anything we ourselves consider unethical or improper, let alone illegal, I feel we have a responsibility to speak up. Otherwise, if we don’t, lessons won’t be learnt and the unethical behaviour could continue and intensify.

I’m fairly certain this is why ethics is more prominent in the CIPD Profession Map. It was also at the heart of a talk by John Amaechi at #cipdACE in November which stuck with me, about us in HR being able to change organisations no matter if we are just one lone voice.

I try, in these blogs, on social media and in other work I do, to share my views about what is right and wrong. That doesn’t make me right, but it is me explaining what I think is right. And if that prompts people to consider their own actions, thought processes and behaviours and POSSIBLY make a different judgement call next time, then I consider it worthwhile.

Mark Hendy agrees: “When we think about what is and isn’t ethical, we often relate that to how something feels to us personally. When considering whether we think something might be unethical we consider whether it ‘feels’ right or wrong. And this is important. It is affirming. But we can also be wrong. Intuition can prove to be wrong, and is deeply personal.”

But I’m a micro organisation nowadays and don’t see things happening from inside a big organisation as previously. The examples of unethical behaviour I see are in other organisations and ones which I have no connection with, like Leeds United. All other examples I share are, by their very nature, hypothetical or derived from multiple experiences I’ve had in my career, but it’s right to share them in order to generate debate I think, though I am 100% certain they will have relevance and resonance within some organisations who can see their own behaviour mirrored in examples I share.

And again that’s a good thing if it helps those people review their moral code, and it’s something all of us in HR can do easily – speak out on such things, hold a mirror up to organisations in general and hope that just one person sees it and begins to think differently about how they lead, behave or treat other people. Even if we don’t work for an organisation that we see doing questionable things, we could consider that the people within it are not confident in speaking out, like in Leeds United, and do it for them.

Slowly, surely, we CAN change the world.

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, there have been a lot of gloomy days recently, weather wise. I really hate it when the sun doesn’t come out at all and it never truly goes light in a day. I find this adversely affects my mood. Do you have this too?

We’re going on an ADVENTure

As many of you will know, the wonderful Kate Griffiths-Lambeth has, for the last five years, curated a series of Advent Blogs each year on a given theme.

This year Kate announced it would be her last one curating the series, and asked for someone to take over from her.

I had some advance warning of this, having chatted to Kate at the CIPD Conference over some alcohol in the evening, and I mused on my way back to my hotel whether I ought to volunteer.

I mentioned to my wife the following day that Kate was stepping down, and without me even broaching the subject she said I ought to take it over.

So when, for the fourth year running, I wrote my Advent Blog for Kate and submitted it to her, I offered to take it over, but I did think that there would be a great many volunteers and I didn’t really think I’d be taken up on my offer.

But, as things transpired, Kate asked me some weeks later if I still wished to take over the series and of course I was happy to accept.

So, here we are.

Kate has just posted the final of this year’s Advent series and, as in previous years, the popularity of the series and volume of posts has seen it extend into January.

The series has, as always, been a joy to read and take part in, and Kate’s contribution to this must not be understated.

I’ve inherited a wonderful series, in tremendous shape, and I do feel honoured and privileged to be given the chance to do so.

Kate is a hard act to follow and whilst I can’t hope to emulate and duplicate what she has done entirely, I do intend to preserve the spirit of the series and the core principles she has followed in the last five years.

This is a series that isn’t broken, so there’s no need to fix it.

That said, I’m not Kate (and few are, if you know what I mean) and I’ll no doubt have elements of my own that will creep in over time, but I hope to keep as much of the tradition as I can.

Watch out for some announcements in the autumn, but I hope that many of the regular contributors to the series will feel able to carry on contributing, and that they’ll be joined by some new voices, and that all who read the blogs will enjoy them as immensely as I have with recent series.

Kate will, happily, return as a contributor, but her curation will be missed.

If I can do half as good a job as she has, I’ll be happy.

And I hope you will too.

Till next time…

Gary

Ps in other news, the New Year hasn’t got off to a great start on a personal level, and in fact on some levels quite distressing. One hopes that, after just one day, things can only get better…