The one with the code red

If you look at some of the best film monologues for all time there are many, but those that stick in my mind mostly feature Al Pacino…with two notable exceptions: Robert Shaw’s USS Indianapolis speech from “Jaws” and Jack Nicholson’s courtroom rant in “A Few Good Men”. Apart from the fact the writing is very good (future Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin) Nicholson’s performance as Colonel Nathan R. Jessup is compelling.

The final crescendo of his rebuttal to Cruise’s courtroom attempts to get an admission of ordering a disciplinary process known as a code red is this:

“I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said “thank you”, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!”

The last line always made me think, the challenging comparison of standards and his dissmissal of the lawyers sense of entitlement. It strikes me even now as a bold admission of what really matters and although Cruise et al. eventually win out the whole exchange often leaves me think that Jessup/Nicholson’s line “All you did was weaken a country today” is maybe far closer to the reality of leadership.

I recently spent a week in Kenya doing work with an organisation I am involved with outside of my day job. With recent events at the Westgate centre it was an interesting time to visit the country for the first time and as part of my trip I got to visit a flower farm and see real people doing real work. The day spent on the farm, seeing people working to fill our (the UK’s) supply chain and to strive for our standards really made me think about a number of things but the thought that has stayed with me is we have NO idea how good we’ve got it. We really don’t.

As HR professionals we spend hours, meetings, days and in some cases whole careers obsessing over both people’s entitlements (both actual and percieved), seconding guessing expectations and striving for that elusive goal of best practice. I can’t help thinking that sometimes ‘we’ both the we in HR and the we in the UK  need to get a sense of perspective on entitlements and expectations.

Let’s be clear at work you are entitled to respect and dignity, you are entitled to work, you are entitled to a duty of care from your employer, you are entitled to the protection of your employment contract, you are entitled to protection under the law (and that’s a lot in the UK), you are entitled to the reasonable protection under the policies of your organisation and you are entitled to be paid for that work as negotiated with your employer. Whilst this list is not exhaustive it is meant to be representative of the range of things you are ENTITLED to.

You *may* expect: better conditions, more interesting work, better tools to do your job, investment in reasonable resources,  career development, performance management, performance feedback, information on company performance, understanding (both of your work and your broader life), whizz bang inductions, town hall meetings, leadership visibility, bonuses, company cars etc, etc. This list also not exhaustive but hopefully illustrative.

Can we (both we in HR and we in the UK) please please please stop treating things that exceed expectations as though they were entitlements and to paraphrase Colonel Jessup, when someone or something exceeds your expectations, ‘just say thank you and go on your way’ because although I do give a damn what you are entitled to sometimes a little thank you wouldn’t hurt.


1 Comment

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One response to “The one with the code red

  1. Ian Greenwood

    Soooooooo true and too spent time in Africa on behalf of the UK retail supply chain it is painfully evident how good we have it

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