Friday, 16 November 2012

Politics and people

It's been a very active week in the increasingly heady world of employment and politics, with Nick Clegg's announcement on the extension of flexible working and parental leave and good news on the unemployment front.

We've also seen a proposal from the EU that would see companies compelled to fulfil a quota and ensure 40% of board members are female. I have very mixed feelings on this. While there is a desperate need to see more women on the boards of their businesses, I am not a fan of having anyone there to fulfil some imposed obligation. A board position- or any promotion- should be awarded on the basis of ability, not gender. 

I do fear that boards will become bloated with women being promoted into non-executive positions to meet the target and make the company appear to have a commitment to equality of opportunity- but with key decisions retained by the existing board members.

Bias cut

On a similar tack, there's been trouble for the Labour Party in Rotherham this week over their selction of a 'non-local' female candidate to contest a forthcoming by election brought about by the resignation of the sitting MP (and rightly so.) Many oppose the chosen candidate so strongly that they walked out of the selection hearing. The official reason is the fact they clearly had a more 'local' person in mind, but some are blaming the party's policy of adopting all-women shortlists when selecting a candidate to contest certain seats. That wasn't the case in Rotherham, but it hasn't stopped people darkly whispering about and criticising the initiative. 

Sometimes, giving women the advantage just isn't playing fair by anyone- including the women in question.

I have a badge jokingy gifted to me by a friend who knows better. It reads: "Behind every successful woman is a man who tried to stop her." I believe the far bigger problem are the people who pushed her forward when she wasn't the best person for the job.

Thank you

One political person I would like to give an enormous vote of thanks to this week is London MEP Claude Moraes, whose guidance through the minefield of UK-Polish employment law has been invaluable. If MEPs were all as accessible and helpful as Claude, I suspect we in the UK would have a very different view of Europe and our role.

Engaged? More like hung up...

In the week when the Government launched Engage For Success, aiming to promote employee engagement and greater working relationships, its clear there's a big problem with another kind of engagement- and it's one for the politicians to address urgently. The 41 areas electing a Police and Crime Commissioner for the first time reported 0% turnout at some polling stations, and turnout as low as 12% in some areas. The by election in Manchester Central saw the lowest turnout since the Second World War- despite being held to elect a new MP for a traditionally politically active area. The voter apathy on display goes beyond the reluctance to venture out to vote on a chilly November day/ evening- it highlights several issues with how connections are not being established- and it's hard not to draw parallels with what we can see in some businesses.

Just as people have given various reasons for either not bothering to vote or spoiling their ballot paper and the politicians should be worrying, we in business should use this opportunity to consider why employees refuse to connect, contribute, or indulge in protest.

Lack of information

Providing poor information (or no information in the case of many areas electing PCCs) has resulted in many not bothering. Why should they back someone they know nothing about? Why would employees back an initiative they've not been properly informed of? Why would they feel a connection if they feel data is being held back, and they are not trusted to analyse it and make an informed decision?

They're all the same

New ideas (and new managers) are too often greeted with groans and "Here we go again..." They assume it's just like before, when they got excited and saw nothing change. Hope is tarnished. Trust has evaporated. People are BORED.

How do you get your message across? Well, we always start by talking to the people any new idea will affect, and identify what they need. Imposing your views and ideas- no matter how brilliant they seem- isn't the way to get them excited. Collaboration and giving people a chance to set out their needs is the way to deliver a quality proposal that they'll feel they have some investment in, and interest in seeing develop.

Anger is an energy

Yep, energy. Just as voting or contributing to a workplace initiative is supposed to be a useful way to get your voice heard, often it's protest that's used to get objections noticed. Objecting loudly or silently distaning yourself from a process can be the only way some feel they can express their uncertainty, fears, concerns and sometimes downright disgust at events. Just because they don't bound into the room asking a squillion questions and demanding to be included doesn't mean they aren't expelling energy. It's also no excuse to exclude them. Find out what they think. Be prepared for emotions, awkward questions and uncomfortable truths- and to go back and consider if you've got things right at all.

Timing is everything

Think about when you're implementing a new idea or making a change. In times where there's been economic upheaval for 4 years now, the old argument of waiting until the storm has passed no longer holds (rain)water. That said, don't make it hard for people to join in. Don't call meetings for times when you are aware they are under pressure. Don't arrange late discussions that can run on when you know they have somwhere else to be, and a home life to go and attend to. Winter elections see a traditionally lower turnout than those in summer months. Your meetings and get togethers will suffer if people feel it's just plain difficult to be a part of it. Make it as easy as you can.

There's no surefire solution to engagement as every team is different and techniques and ideas must be adapted to meet what they're looking for. It's impossible not to notice similarities between recent events and the question of how we can better connect people to their workplaces naturally- without making them feel there's a special effort being made.

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