Tag Archives: Gareth Jones

The one with the golden skirts

One of my early posts on this blog was about women and it was reflecting on how through the courses of researching an essay I was writing had found some information that influenced my thinking on the gender debate. I said at the time I worked in an organisation that was 80% women which is now untrue (infrastructure and engineering are still largely male dominated) but also said I knew some fabulous women who had been very successful in breaking the glass ceiling. That is still very true and in fact this post follows conversations with two of them who I am fortunate enough to work with on an almost daily basis.

The organisation I work in is what’s known as a meta-organisation in that it’s an organisation made up of several different partner organisations. One of those partners is currently striving to formulate new strategy on how they will approach improving their diversity and inclusivity. In the course of formulating they have taken some meetings with various management consultants who have shared research and statistics on the current state of play and efforts that other organisations are making to address the same challenge. It’s not new news but lets term it current affairs – the stats were up to date.

The comment that one of my colleagues made which has been bouncing around my head ever since made a very interesting observation. The point she made was (and I’m paraphrasing) that the organisations that have naturally arrived at having a gender balanced board don’t perform better because of the women on the board but because they have cultures that are open and inclusive so the best people are appointed to the board irrespective of gender. They are successful not because of a difference of thinking around the board table (or at least not JUST because of that) but because their cultures are open and meritocratic.

Fast forward 24 hours and I am discussing this comment with my boss and talking about its impact on my thinking with relation to what could be termed the positive discriminatory efforts of some (most notably the Norwegians) and she introduced me to the phrase ‘golden skirts’. Women who are imported into senior roles to ensure a particular business are ‘meeting their quota’ and are seen to have gender balanced boards. Does their presence make a difference to the organisation? Who knows? But in re-reading my earlier post I can’t say my reluctance to jump into positive discrimination will truly solve the problem or truly empower women to take a more leading roles in some of our largest corporations.

I was fortunate enough to attend the recent CIPD Annual Conference and the opening keynote was delivered by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones (they of “Why should anyone by lead by you?” fame) and their topic was ‘Creating the best workplace on Earth’ and referred to an article they had published recently in the Harvard Business Review. Reactions to the session were mixed (someone described it as a marmite session) but it landed well for me with one point they made creating the most resonance – a point of difference you may call it!!

They had created an acronym for their best workplace DREAMS (you can read more about it in the article) and a little shoehorning aside it worked. The D in their case stood for Difference and in their best workplace check list they offered these statements:

  • I’m the same person at home as I am at work.
  • I feel comfortable being myself.
  • We’re all encouraged to express our differences.
  • People who think differently from most do well here.
  • Passion is encouraged, even when it leads to conflict.
  • More than one type of person fits in here.

I can’t help but think that Diversity has become something of a 4 letter word consigned to ‘also ran’ status on the HR agenda and does seem, at times, to focus on one element of diversity over another (and in doing so self-defeating its desire to be inclusive). It does seem that a discussion about difference would be far more empowering for organisations – let me be me and rather than alienating those who don’t fit into one of the boxes; it could create an opportunity for everyone to feel included in a discussion that could build a better culture and workplace (and of deliver better results). It would challenge the way we (the HR profession) work as it would challenge some of the norms of recruitment and development to name two.

Rather than writing policies that create opportunity for resentment or make people afraid to act  it seems to me the best opportunity organisations have is to examine their cultures for what excludes and turn that into a force for inclusion not for creating labels or clubs. Let’s celebrate difference and let positively intended people explore it – they may make mistakes but in a great culture they’ll learn, not be punished.

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The one with the wrong era

I envy Don Draper… (from Mad Men)

Not just for the good looks, creative talent and his very attractive wife but for the fact that he worked on Madison Avenue in the 60s. It looks such fun – drinking, smoking, lots of socialising and even someone who takes your hat and coat in the morning to hang them up. OK not so much the hat but you get my point.

If I think back to when I was kid, my Dad worked in a senior purchasing role in Civil Engineering. He went to every sporting occasion he wanted (and saw Gareth Edwards go over in the corner in the mud), fought off gifts at Christmas and his expense account was a thing of beauty. Not a code of conduct or an ethical sourcing policy in sight!

I have come to conclusion I live in the wrong era!

These random thoughts were pinging around my head earlier this week but were brought into sharp relief by a blog post written by Gareth Jones. It’s called ‘Conversation is the new currency’ and it makes some impassioned and fairly bold assertions about the value of conversation to organisations. I am fortunate enough to know Gareth and his commitment to this topic is unwavering even though I on occasion drive him nuts with my requests for evidence or case studies.

Having read through and reflected on his post I have come to conclusion that I firmly disagree with Gareth (and not just on the fact that conversation is potentially the biggest source of business value) but specifically on it being the new currency. It is my belief (and I have no evidence or case studies either) that conversation is the oldest currency in organisations. What we are trying to do now is replicate something that used to exist in the past but has been lost in the waves of change, productivity improvements, downsizing, technology, expansion, relocation and globalisation.

If we go back to my Dad, he regularly went to the pub with his colleagues and stood around and chatted – not because they were on a corporate retreat, a team building day or because it was being paid for by the business – they just went to the pub. Business networking was not a load of uptight people exchanging business cards (or adding each other to Linkedin) it was Round Table which entailed a good deal of partying, dancing, travelling and some significant community and charity work. His dinner suit didn’t only come out for awards dinners and the people he did business and worked with became his friends (and one of them my godfather).

I do agree with Gareth that we need to focus on communication not on engagement. In the same way that Chris Shambrook talked about the need to focus on performance and not result. We need to consider how people are going to feel connected to the people they work with not just get a score of how many of them do. However you go about achieving that I think it’s worth bearing in mind that all we are doing with social media (and other solutions) is trying to replicate the oldest of situations – a group of people standing around talking.

As for me, I’m off to dream of being Don Draper…or maybe just to dream of Joan. Have a great Thursday everyone!

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