Another Reality

I Love It

At the beginning of last year, my friend Neil Morrison wrote HR: A 10 Point Agenda for Change. At the time I thought it was a powerful, challenging and hopeful piece of work. I retweeted it and referred to it often through the year, I even used it as a jumping off point for an unconference I helped to organise. A key reason why I like the piece so much is because it feels inclusive to me. It invites challenge, it invites participation, it invites.

Another reason I love it is this.

We need to accept that you don’t get influence through control, you get influence through other people’s positive experience of you. Get influence through people wanting you involved not by telling them you have to be.

Another reason I love it is this.

We need to be more human. We need to get out and talk, interact, spend time with people, we need to be empathetic and understanding, we need to feel. Sitting in the HR department bitching is not going to change anything.

Another reason I love it is this.

We need to stop focusing on cost and start focusing on value. These two things are not the same. Even if cost reduction is on the agenda, look at the value you can get from the budget, the resources. Cheaper and faster do not equate to better.

The whole post made me feel like this change was something I want to be a part of, and it even gave people who don’t want to play, the offer to leave. I love it.

I Hate It

At the beginning of this year, my friend Neil Morrison wrote Back to Reality. Neil is in a position of influence, so this is again a powerful piece, only this time I think it’s for the wrong reasons. I may be wrong, I often am, but the piece suggests that if you’re a practitioner, you’ve got something worthwhile to offer other practitioners, and if you’re not, you haven’t.

The dictionary defines practitioner as ‘a person actively engaged in an art, discipline, or profession’ and often, though not always, the term is used to differentiate between someone directly employed by a company, and someone employed on a more ad hoc basis.

In the context of Neil’s article, the term is divisive, and I also think it’s unhelpful, particularly when making sweeping statements like this.

As an outsider, you can talk. You can make proclamations. You can enthuse and criticise, propose and deny. You wake up and all that is left of the previous day’s noise are the final echoes reverberating around the empty stadium of your mind. You rarely see the results and never accept the failures.

Maybe I’m just taking the bait, but who is an outsider? Is it someone outside the organisation, outside your department, outside where? And when it comes to comments about outsiders having empty stadiums for minds, and never accepting the failures, I don’t believe these shortcomings are the sole preserve of the outsider.

Neil’s blog goes on to say:

Innovation, revolution, chaos and new agendas are so much easier when you only have responsibility for your self image.

If I have a wish for 2014, it is for an honest, open conversation, practitioner to practitioner, about how we can make the working lives of our employees better and at the same time improve the performance of our organisations. Without the guff and the noise of those that have no responsibility other than for themselves.

I want to hear about how we might incrementally improve things for real, not rip the rule book up in our dreams.

The fact of the matter is that through my working life I have been fortunate to meet stellar people both inside and outside of organisations. They do great work, sometimes quietly, sometimes noisily, often working on small and big things. Their position, either hierarchically or in relation to their employment status, doesn’t matter to them. They’re just doing their bit to make work as good as it can be.

The fact of the matter is that through my working life I have been fortunate to meet awful people both inside and outside of organisations. They do poor work, sometimes quietly, sometimes noisily, often working on small and big things. Their position, either hierarchically or in relation to their employment status, doesn’t matter to them. They’re just doing their bit to screw things up.

In both instances I am fortunate, because in both instances, I learn stuff.

From my experience, the world of work seems to be shifting, often to a more project based way of doing things. As this approach grows, and I think it will, then I think the value of outsiders will grow too, for a time at least. Work is becoming less about the long term job, more about pooling the right skills and experience whilst the project gets done. Then that team will likely disband and regroup in different forms to achieve different ends and outcomes. Not always, but often enough to make a difference. And of course in that mix we need excellent practitioners. So the value of an excellent practitioner is high, and should remain high too.

I share the basis of Neil’s wish, in so far that I too am interested in honest open conversations about how to improve performance, how to make work and working lives better. I don’t think that is best achieved by dismissing outsiders en masse, whatever your definition of an outsider is.

Some of the strongest people I’ve stood by and worked with have come from all walks of life, as have some of the weakest. I don’t recall ever judging someone simply on whether or not they hold a particular position in a company or otherwise.

That’s not the reality I want, nor one that work needs.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

6 thoughts on “Another Reality”

  1. Morning Doug,

    As you’d expect, I think you make some great points. But at the same time, I think you also slightly miss the point.

    The focus of the post was grounding our thoughts, activities and energy in reality. As I say at the end, “Debate is helpful, ideas are good. And even better when they’re focused on delivery and grounded in reality. Let’s make this the year where we move the conversation back there.”

    The point about outsiders isn’t a wholesale sweep across anyone who isn’t in an organisation. That would just be naive of me. It was to say that we hear too much from those that have no skin in the organisational game and too much from those that don’t. And we need to rebalance that.

    Too often, sitting outside an organisation, it is easy to say “we should be doing x” or “HR is too afraid to do y”. Which is nice, but easy. Too often, sitting inside an organisation, you are aware of the cultural, organisational, political and budgetary restraints. Should these things matter? No. Do they? Yes.

    So the point of the post wasn’t “only listen to those practising within an organisation” simply “start listening to those practising within an organisation”. I was speaking as one practitioner to others. That wasn’t meant to be exclusive, but I think we’d both agree that if I said, “If you’re a third party consultant I want to hear what you’ve done” I wouldn’t have to have waited long.

    Encouraging new voices is never a bad thing, even if it sometimes makes others feel excluded. So I’ll carry on if that’s ok?

    Speak soon.


    1. Hi Neil. By my standards, to only slightly miss the point is pretty much a bullseye!

      I really appreciate your comment, for me it adds very helpfully to the post you wrote yesterday. Delivery and reality are vital, and I really liked Helen Amery’s comment on your blog about dreaming too. There is a need for a balance, and a flow to these things.

      Sadly, our separate and shared experiences have shown us that all too often, people rush to sell a solution long before they even know what the problem is, or even if there is one. Most of the work I do now, comes from seeds sown and investments made many months, in fact years ago. Being patiently impatient hurts, and it’s worth it.

      As for carrying on if it’s OK – the day you need my permission for anything is the day we’re both in a whole heap of trouble. Proceed until apprehended.

      Besides – if you hadn’t written what you did – what else would have been kicking around in my stadium 🙂 Please – don’t answer that!

      Thank you Neil.

  2. Snoops

    Hippy Newt Beer to you and yours matey! I thought you would like to start 2014 with a few words of wisdom from a guy I found very inspiring after watching him give The Royal Institute Christmas Lecture in 1977; you can watch them on You Tube I believe. Carl Sagan was an absolutely fascinating man and wise in a way that you don’t normally associate with “boffins”, with apologies to Boffins everywhere, but I’ve met some real idiots with letters after their names! I’m sure you know some as well?

    “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”

    I commend his words to the house….


    1. Thanks Steve – I will check Mr Sagan out – I don’t know much about him but I like the quotes link you provided.

  3. Hi Doug, like you I was perplexed by the blog (and have just commented on it, and name-checked you).

    Why do people in organisations NOT speak up? (and there is a nice HBR clip about speaking out on ethical violations more often – it’s a proper piece of research). That would be a more interesting debate.

    And for those of us who operate independently – by speaking out and making pronouncements we are taking a risk. Our livelihood depends on our public persona – often more than it does for employees. Plus we usually went solo because we do feel strongly about things – and were the ones in the organisation as employees trying to make things better. But got demotivated by the mediocrity and self serving politics that has become the norm …

    Enough – I’m beginning to rant again!

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