Sounds like the beginning of a crap joke huh? Sorry, it isn’t – but I hope you’ll read on anyway.
I missed the Crossrail session at the CIPD conference last week, which is a shame as by all accounts it sounded and looked good. During the conference, CEO for Crossrail, Andrew Wolstenholme was quoted on Twitter remarking about how few CEOs were speaking at the conference, and certainly his presence was an attraction for people.
That night over dinner, the lack of CEOs at the conference was bemoaned, and someone suggested something along the lines of ‘Wouldn’t it be good if we could get your CEO to speak, and yours, and yours…’, hence the title of this post.
I suggested that rather than obsess about CEOs it might be interesting to hear from someone who in an hierarchical sense is closer to the edge. Having had a few drinks, I offered up the role of bog cleaner as an alternative (role, bog cleaner….oh never mind). My suggestion did not meet with approval. ‘Why?’ ‘Why would you want to do that?’ ‘Why would that work?’ What I had to offer in return was something along the lines of, ‘Well everyone’s got their story to tell’. I mumbled on a bit about people close to and at the front line experiencing a different reality and having an equally valid tale to tell. I did not make the point very convincingly and I think it’s fair to say that at the table, I lost the argument.
Putting the red wine to one side – as evidenced by Andrew Wolstenholme, there is real power in having a CEO take to the stage, and rather than have her or him accompanied by more of the same rank, instead why not add layers and depth to the tale through a mixture of disciplines and voices. The approach wouldn’t work for a lot of organisations, many are too coercive, and simply too afraid of
the truth difference for this to be any more than a showcase of the unreal (and we’ve all seen enough of those kind of talks, right?).
I can vividly recall my biggest internal disagreements in big business were with the upper and very top echelons of management, simply because I relayed observations and facts to them that they weren’t used to hearing. This situation is not unique, war stories abound of how the big bosses typically get told what people around them think they want to hear, and it remains rare for a CEO to invest the time to go and discover what’s going on at the front line for themselves. For the right organisation however – one which is happy to share failures and successes in the spirit of learning – I think this could be a bold and powerful move.
Of course I may be wrong about this, I often am, so why not ask the audience? One of the ways the CIPD, and indeed other organisations could deepen engagement with its membership at conference could be to ask the members to choose a few of the conference sessions in advance. Maybe have an open invite for submissions and vote your preferences onto the stage?
Or should we now just shift our focus from case study addiction (and yes – I know – there are some great case studies out there, and they’re in the minority), to CEO addiction instead? What do I know? After all, I thought it was a good idea to involve the bog cleaner
Update. Since publishing I’ve spotted this piece about diversity over at XpertHR. One of the threads is about speaker diversity which has some relevance to this post so I thought I’d join the dots.