Employee Engagement – we are doing it all wrong…

I am reading more and more articles beginning to debate the value of employee engagement initiatives, and more recently, the wasted money, time and effort that companies spend on trying to improve employee engagement.

It is an interesting conundrum that a company will get better results from engaged employees, and in seeking better results, companies will try to control and enhance engagement levels of employees; but engagement is an EMPLOYEE thing, not a company thing. But its a “thing” with commercial value, so companies believe it is worth spending time and money to figure it out.

The trouble is, I think it is vastly overcomplicated by consultants and authors alike. Sometimes, simple is best, and easiest to work with. I like simple.

It helps to start with an understanding of what employee engagement is. But its important to realise that nobody really “knows” what it is. It’s a feeling. A commitment, a synergy. A connection, a values fit. A symbiosis. Its the desire of an employee to spend themselves for some reason. And in the dreamy world of corporate strategies, all of these ideas coalesce into high volumes of high quality output.

I think the reality is that when we simplify it as much as possible, we can grab hold of some key understandings. It is easy, after that, to figure out HOW to influence engagement, but keeping things simple is key to not getting horribly confused and wasting a lot of time and energy.

Example. A man builds model aeroplanes. He starts with nothing but an idea, and he learns. He takes precious time and allocates it to this. Takes precious money and spends it. He learns how to build one. He learns aerodynamics. He learns balance. He learns precision. He learns electronics, and engines. He learns about wind, and weather. He spends hundreds, if not thousands of hours and hard earned dollars. He crashes his beautiful creation, and rebuilds it carefully. And then, now that he has mastered take offs, he has to figure out how to land. So he crashes again and rebuilds carefully all over again. And after many weeks and months, he can fly his beautiful model aeroplane safely.

All this, why?

It is so simple. Too simple, I fear, to make a lot of money from, which is why the consultants have to complicate it all up. A person does this, for pretty much one thing only.

For joy. For sheer, uncomplicated joy.

I believe that the pursuit of joy is what drives all of us. Let’s be clear though – Joy is not “happiness”. Joy is not “jollies” or “good times”. Joy is not a feeling. Its easy to misunderstand joy and call it something ephemeral, and light. Real “joy” is so much deeper than that.

Joy is a state of being, a deep sense of fulfilment, a contentment. Contentment that “who I am”, “what I am doing” and “what I want to become” are in harmony. But let’s not confuse contentment with satisfaction. Personally, I would MUCH rather be content, than satisfied. A content person is at peace, but not at rest. A content person is never satisfied. A satisfied person is at rest. They have achieved. They are done. But a contented person has not achieved, is not done. They are simply in harmony, at peace, and without internal dissonance.

Imagine a sailor. The sails are set, the wind is blowing, the sky is blue, the water is wide, and the vessel is underway. Everything is just as it should be. But the journey has only just begun. Is the sailor at peace? Of course. Is he there yet? No. Content, but not satisfied.

So in pursuit of joy, a person will spend themselves happily, feeling and knowing deep down, that their effort will be rewarded with contentment. Peace. Fulfilment. Resonance. Joy.

Companies focus on a few standard things. Money. Recognition. Reward. Environment. Flexibility.  Etcetera.

I believe what they really need to realise, is that people want to find joy.  People want to find harmonic resonance between what they do and who they deep down, really, really believe they are.

We choose our vocations, our careers, our skills based on a connection between our identity and the contentment that that vocation beings us. Somewhere, deep down, what we do is who we are (remember my earlier post on values?), and who we are becomes what we do. An engineer, a journalist, a lawyer, a doctor, a mechanic, a sailor, a pilot, an accountant. No matter what we do, we do it because of a connection with our deeply held identity and sense of who we are.

So the connection is there already; the capacity for resonance and joy is always there in the workplace. An employee chooses to do what they do, in a particular company, because of a few important things. And a company that understands this, and realises that it is simply a means for an employee to find joy, can influence engagement positively:

  1. A connection between the perceived corporate values and personal values. (Who I am and who I work for are sufficiently aligned that it feels good associating myself with them)
  2. A belief that the results they achieve (not the work they do) will bring them a sense of joy, of fulfilment, and a belief that efforts are not wasted.

So what a company needs to do, is, I believe, remarkably simple. Three things:

  1. Live its values, and
  2. Connect a person’s expected results, with their deeply held beliefs about who they are.
  3. Get out of the way.
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Values and Behaviour – a reflection on the Volkswagen tragedy.

As an HR practitioner, I have watched with interest not so much the media frenzy surrounding the Volkswagen debacle (although that has itself been instructive) but rather the company itself. It’s behaviour as an organization at this time is a starting point for yet another chapter in the discussion that is often held around corporate “values”. I think, though, this presents really clear lessons.
We in HR are often called the guardians of culture; the change champions. It’s important to remember that these responsibilities are delegated to us by the CEO. No officer in any organization had any authority that is not delegated first from its board, then from its CEO.
We in HR are co-labourers with the CEO to firstly nurture and then embed the desired culture, skills, and behaviours of the organization. But let’s take a step back first. The primary stakeholders in any company are those who have invested money in it. They have done so, in order to make MORE money.  Specifically, they are willing to assume some level of business risk, in order to make a return on their money that is above what can be generated by simply putting safely it in a bank. That is the primary purpose of a business: overcome the risks in a lucrative opportunity, in order to make a high return for shareholders.
The authority delegated to the CEO by the board is the same. Create a significant return on shareholder funds and minimise risk to those same investments.
We have not yet mentioned the environment, culture, products, services, values, health and safety, etc. There is a reason for that. They are not the goals of business. They are either enablers or constraints on the primary goal, or the method of achieving that goal, but they are not THE goal.
Volkswagen demonstrated unequivocally to the entire world that it’s goal, above everything, is to make money by selling cars. It also demonstrated unequivocally to the entire world that in order to maximise sales and make the maximum profit possible, it is willing to do anything when it thinks it won’t get caught. Its pursuit of money supersedes everything, and self restraint was completely abandoned in that pursuit. It knew that the combination of engine power, and fuel economy, was incompatible with environmental standards, so it faked the development of technology that appeared to give environmental agencies what they wanted, and consumers what THEY wanted.
That brings us to the concept of corporate behaviour and corporate values. Values are intrinsic qualities. Theoretically, they are long term and core to an identity. When we talk about an individual, perhaps values are easier to understand than for an organisation. There is no artificial statement of values adopted once we commence our existence. We get our values as we grow, and as we participate in family and society. Our values are made, not chosen. We grow to believe in what is truly important. Values are why we do what we do, and they govern what we do. Why we choose work over family, or family over work. Stability over risk and risk over stability. Entrepreneur over employee or employee over entrepreneur. Each of life’s choices is made on the foundation of our values. And every behaviour we exhibit is also, not surprisingly, a product of values. In fact, it is possible to say that our behaviour is the best (and perhaps only) indicator of what we truly value!
A wise man once said “Where your treasure is, there is your heart”. I love that inversion of concepts, where we normally talk of our desire and our priorities (heart) leading to results (treasure), Jesus Christ said that our treasure (results) reveals our heart (priorities, desires). So we can see a persons values not from what they SAY they value, but by looking back on their life and seeing what they have ACTUALLY prioritised. from this perspective, values are revealed, not predicted. Shown, not proposed. Its a a hindsight thing. Aspirations can be stated in advance, values can only be recognised in hindsight.
Volkswagen has shown us it’s true values. Not its corporate values. Well, lets be honest and call them what they were –  marketing tools. Their websites talk at length of sustainability, responsibility, partnership. It says these are it’s true values.
Lets look back, and we know that their real values, as revealed by their behaviour, are not sustainability. Or responsibility. Or partnership. Their real values, as demonstrated by their ACTIONS, are Money. Gaming the system. Appearances. Deceit. Environment be damned. Integrity be damned. Responsibility be damned. Give us sales. At, clearly, ANY cost. Honestly, even if their cars were exceptional, would you want a car from a company like that? If there is a comparable alternative, thats where I am shopping for sure. If I were to spend a single dollar on Volkswagen, I would be endorsing and embracing the values and the behaviour that built the lie.
The values they subscribe to on their website, are clearly simply the enunciation of things that they think will make people buy their cars. Things that will not alienate customers. Given how deliberate their actions were, it is feasible to say they do not even ASPIRE to those values. They had no intention at all of acting in accordance with those values. Only of APPEARING to act in accordance with those values, because, if they didn’t, people would buy cars from some company whose website said they DID value those things.
Thats the real problem. Companies CHOOSE values, they don’t “grow” them into their DNA. Corporations don’t even HAVE DNA. They have people who have DNA. And because values are adopted, chosen from a  list,  they are therefore flexible, malleable and sadly, sometimes negotiable. They are not the product of a lifetime of experiences, they are a marketing device to draw in the consumers (and in the case of Volkswagen, cynically so), or an aspiration. Aspirations are good, laudable and respectable, but lets not confuse them with actual values. Unless of course, a company is willing to be ruthless in pursuing their aspirations until they are forged into their employees DNA as values. But there are precious few of THOSE companies out there. Do you know of any willing to fire the cash cow salesman because of a values fit?
So what does this discussion mean in the HR space? We are often delegated the responsibility of governing culture. Clearly in Volkswagen, the responsibility came with no authority whatsoever, and I think, this is more common than we like to concede. Those of us who have the KPI of Culture in our Position Descriptions, do we have the authority to direct change and to challenge behaviour not in accordance with stated corporate values? If we do not, then the KPI of governing culture is a fiction. We cannot be responsible for culture unless we are empowered to read, lead and govern culture.
That means participating in decisions, conversations, debates, strategy formulation, in a way that gives us visibility on the connection between corporate values, and the behaviour of the senior team that are the primary drivers of behaviour in the organisation. An HR manager far away from those environments cannot and should not permit, the inclusion of a KPI on culture in their position description. And most CEO’s should not kid themselves. THEY drive the culture of the organisation. their behaviour is by far the most influential. Their approval the most inspirational. Their disapproval the most powerful. Their priorities, the most contagious. Unless the CEO is a recluse, their values become the actual, real, practised and practical values of their senior leadership team. They cannot and should not be allowed to abdicate or avoid this truth.
The senior leadership team. They lead large teams, and drive deliverables for the CEO and shareholders. They get their cues from the CEO, but they then step away from the EXCO meeting and work away from the CEO’s direct line of sight. So their own values become hugely relevant to their teams. A CEO can insist on integrity, for example, but a senior manager can work the system and in so doing, teach their team to do likewise.
I was a consultant for a time, and saw many things. I worked for a company that prohibited bribes and unethical behaviour in their home country, but had a specific fund for exactly that when working internationally. I worked for another company that valued integrity, but allowed documents to be falsified and profits to be misreported. One that embraced racism and gender inequality as a way to increase profits. All their value statements were excellent. Integrity, fairness, diversity, you name it, they had subscribed to it. But when it came down to brass tacks, the pursuit of money ruled everything.
Volkswagen’s corrupt value system is sadly not uncommon. Its not so common, though, to get caught, as they did, and many companies rely on the short term win of profit, to excuse behaviour that is discordant with their values. We as HR practitioners, need to make ourselves credible activists on behalf of a great company culture. yes, we need to be commercially valuable to the business, and we need to drive many initiatives on behalf of building a great team.
If our companies have a value statement, it is our responsibility to work those values into conversations, into performance appraisals, into mentoring and coaching, and into leadership development. We need to hire for the right values, and fire for the wrong ones. Creating the best possible culture is a deliberate act. A deliberate series of acts, hour by hour, day by day, and week by week. If those values area convenience, and not a commitment that sticks, we have a  choice. Become the change agent that will bring about that cultural transformation, or move on.
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Incompetent and unaware…

There is a popular Internet meme out there nowadays:

“The thing with death, is that no one knows they are dead. Everyone else knows, but the dead person has no idea… It is the same… with stupid”.

I have just finished reading a very interesting research article entitled “Unskilled and Unaware of it: How Difficulties in Recognising Ones Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments” by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, from Cornell University.

The research postulates and then proves via experimentation, the following 4 statements:

1. Incompetent individuals, compared with their more competent peers, will dramatically overestimate their ability and performance relative to objective criteria. (Put simply – incompetent people think they are more skilled than they are)

2. Incompetent individuals will be less able than their more competent peers, to recognise competence when they see it – be it their own or anyone else’s. (Put simply – incompetent people don’t know what excellence looks like)

3. Incompetent individuals will be less able than their more competent peers to gain insight into their true level of performance by means of comparison with others (Put simply – incompetent people are less likely to self-diagnose and therefore less likely to self-improve, just by looking around them)

4. Incompetent people can gain insight about their shortcomings, but this comes by making them more competent. (Put simply – incompetent people need outside help to overcome their own shortcomings)

The article was challenging for me, as an HR professional. We are the capability planners, the people strategists and the performance enhancers, through our unique skillset. We are called upon to develop employees, to enhance their skills through training, mentorship, coaching and work experience. And in reality, I would say that most training achieves something of what we want it to, but perhaps not nearly enough? It would be hard to evaluate, but I have long wondered if it ever earns back its dollar investment or time commitment. Mentorship and coaching are better strategies by far, but they still fall short of the mark most times, I fear. Our capability improvement strategies are not always as effective as we hope they will be!

I think this article helps to shine a light on why this might be. When someone has a skills gap or a performance gap, as managers or employers we often focus directly on improving the skills and the behaviour. But this is nothing more than the band-aid on the problem, unless we can take it far deeper. If we take the bigger picture as discussed here, we are seeking to bring personal change to an individual who probably cannot even see the need for change, and for whom denial of the need for change is almost instinctive.

We are asking an employee to acknowledge something that is deep at the core of their security and self image – to utter the words to themselves “I am incompetent in this area and I am failing myself and my team” These are hard words to hear let alone say to oneself.

It seems to me that the real problem is that old adage – that “in order for change to occur, it must become far more uncomfortable to stay the same, than it is to change”. Until a tipping point is reached, where staying the same becomes even more uncomfortable than the process of change, people will not be motivated to embrace change. There seems to be a ”push” into change, rather than a “pull” into it. A “Push” driver is a change precipitator born of reluctance, an “ok, then, if I have to” mindset, rather than a “pull” driver which would be more visionary and growth oriented – a “wow, look at the potential” mindset.

It’s probably realistic to say that change is always personal. Even if it is corporate. Because the individual has to choose it, and then change, as an individual. This applies to corporate structural change processes, but even more so to employees where the change is required because of a personal failing such as incompetence.

Having had personal experience with employees who are in this situation of unacknowledged incompetence, or wilful blindness, or are actually being prevented by colleagues or seniors from recognising their own incompetence (no, its not you, its the other person…!), I can confirm that the challenge a manager faces in this situation is huge. In a situation where there is no perceived need to change – where discomfort of the status quo has been removed, or dulled, the employee is not required to face the facts. The employee’s denial of their own incompetence, and of the need to change can become absolute and non-negotiable. In fact, the response to their own incompetence being identified and exposed can be actively toxic. Where employees are politically active within the workplace, this can become downright destructive to the office environment.

The problem is, according to this research, is that incompetence itself, is the biggest obstacle to dealing with incompetence. 

Where an employee has a performance or a skills issue the first port of call for a change agent should perhaps not be the skill set or the behaviour, but rather the employee’s unrealistic perception of themselves! Maybe the secret to successful performance management, or any change process, is to focus on the benefit to the employee from the start!

It is insightful to note that the usual approach of a manager is to insist on change that will first and foremost benefit the employer, of course, through improved performance, and only as a secondary outcome do we anticipate it will also benefit the employee in some way. So the chances are fairly good that the need for change is not even the employee’s need – it is the employer’s need, being projected onto the individual from the outside! I’m not disagreeing with this, just pointing it out.

But according to what I have read, not only are the incompetent convinced that they are actually fantastic, despite plenty of obvious evidence to the contrary, they equally are unable to see excellence when it is shown to them or to realise that they are not actually achieving it! So the obvious strategies we all embrace for initiating change in an underperforming employee, are not actually likely to succeed!

In reality, this article proposes that the employee cannot even see the problem, can’t understand what the company/manager wants, can’t fix it themselves and – crucially – needs other people to help them realise this.

So in order to create lasting change in an employee’s performance, increasing competence, is only the 4th of 4 requirements! And paradoxically, increasing competence is the only way to fix problems one, two and three!

Underneath all change strategies aimed at incompetent individuals, must be the unrelenting and unavoidable personal discomfort of not changing. Without this, there will NOT be change. That comes down to recognisable and oncoming personal consequences for a failure to grow. Then, and only then…

Firstly we need to help employees honestly see their own performance accurately. Secondly we need to find a way to show them what excellence looks like directly in comparison to what they currently deliver. Thirdly we need to show them how to self evaluate, and fourthly we need to offer help.

Next post: What kind of manager gets this right?

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The sad sad story of Walter, Floyd, Bill and Rolf.

I am an African. Boldly and unashamedly so, and as I have said, Africa runs in my blood. Deep and unrelenting.

This week the most imperial symbol of my continent has been thrown into the spotlight, not as a source of pride but of anguish. Cecil the Lion is no more. A beautiful, black maned, 13 year old lion, regal and confident, was destroyed in the name of “sport”. In the name of a pitiful man’s ego.

My soul is crushed. Broken. Not for Cecil specifically, although my heart breaks for him and for the ever-decreasing number of lions found in the wild. Ever smaller habitats, ever diminishing gene pools causing lower breeding rates and the deadly spiral continues. And every time a greedy capitalist wants more land, we say OK, and then blame the animals for misbehaving when they no longer fit on their designated postage stamps.

Cecil is a symbol, an image, a figure. And his fate is symbolic. Yes, my African heart weeps for the loss of a single lion. It does. But my African heart also weeps for the loss of self-actualised manhood and the self-respect  that makes it acceptable to search for a sense of manhood outside ourselves in such a destructive manner.

Walter James Palmer, Cecil’s killer, is a product of his time and his place, and his parents. Once he was “private”, but he will never be private gain. A quiet dentist, probably even well liked.

I think trophy hunters share a great deal in common with wife beaters, rapists and paedophiles. That may be regarded as an incendiary comment, but give it some thought. (I have no problems with hunting for the pot, by the way)

Consider these descriptions. A wife beater, rapist and/or a paedophile:

  • Gets their kicks from abusing innocence.
  • Gets their sense of power from abuse. From destroying innocence from a position of power and privilege.
  • Enjoys domination. Rules the world around them with destructive violence
  • Destroys things (others) for selfish and entirely personal gain. Their satisfaction is worth the destruction of other people’s happiness.
  • Hides behind a veneer of compassion and caring
  • Externalises blame or justifies actions with self serving logic. (In the case of the hunters – “Cecil has been done a favour – he has now been immortalised by being killed by a great hunter with a bow”. Yeah, right.)
  • Works in secret, creating ambushes and abusing trust
  • Engages in risky behaviour but always stacks the odds in their favour.
  • Specialises in taking beautiful things away.

Do these apply to a trophy-hunter? Every time.

But trophy hunters are not vilified like wife-beaters, rapists or paedophiles. Perhaps they should be. What does their “sport” add to our world? Nothing. It only takes away.

There are no “responsible trophy hunters”, like there are no “responsible wife beaters”, “responsible rapists” or “responsible paedophiles”. It’s not a concept that works. “I am a responsible destroyer of beauty. I only destroy innocence and beauty when there is enough to go round, and when other people like me have said it is OK to do it” “I only destroy innocence and beauty for selfish gain, when the paperwork is in order”

If that makes it acceptable then We. Are. All. In. Hell.

He made a mistake, a testosterone driven, arrogant mistake. It would be unwise to consider this a mere slip. This is major league narcissism and arrogance. Not killing Cecil – that was just the consequence of his mistake. His mistake is that he believed that having money gave him privilege. And the right to go to another country and kill what belonged not to him, but to them, because it made him happy. Made him feel more like a man. Or something. As Jimmy Kimmel said “There’s a pill for that, you know”

Now, perhaps he understands, as this firestorm hits, that it is not money that gives privilege. It is us, his fellow humans who give him privilege. We permit, and we deny. And yes, because of capitalism and a warped sense of values, we often permit and deny based on income, means and perceived status. And we should probably work on getting better than that. But it is US who permit or deny.

Now he is experiencing something of denial. The loss of what he treasures most. Recognition, and prestige. Possibly his family’s admiration. Hopefully it is not a temporary loss. Hopefully it is permanent, and becomes a useful lesson to him, his family and others. Hopefully we see this lesson through for him and others, for the good of all of us. Forgiveness can come, but it should not come too easily.

How we punish him without punishing his family and his colleagues, I don’t know. Hopefully he gets fired, and then his colleagues can continue to run a successful business without him. But they seem to be loyal to him. Maybe that is like Stockholm syndrome, I don’t know.  They do not deserve this firestorm… yet. But if they choose to be associated with him then yes, they can by association “carry the can” for his ways too. I’m ok with that.

His wife and kids, well, hopefully they are disgusted by him or are becoming disgusted by him. They will not “disassociate” as easily as an employer can. And that is right. They are family. But if they do not take a stand, then perhaps they also deserve to taste what he is tasting. Has he bred more destroyers and abusers of innocence? Do his children love killing? I don’t know, but I hope not. Has he taught them that all of creation is there to serve their pleasure? Or that they should steward it gratefully and humbly? I don’t know, but I hope the latter.

His mask has been stripped away and he is exposed to be someone that society has said it does not like. Because, coming back to the wife beater/rapist/paedophile comparison, he has done something that society abhors and hopefully will not tolerate. His money gave him the capacity to do this, but it is us who can take away his desire to do it. By rejecting him utterly and making him earn his place back with his OWN blood, his OWN sweat, and his OWN tears. By reengineering his values.

He needs acceptance. We all do. Some of us get it by being nice people. Some by joining clubs, or being good at something. He gets his acceptance and so do all trophy hunters, by substituting their own masculinity with the false masculinity of weapons and parading his victims.

But he forgets that there is only a real accomplishment in an equal battle. And like a wife beater, rapist and paedophile, he chooses only battles he cannot lose, against opponents who cannot defend. In my opinion, he – and all trophy hunters – are absolutely in the same mould as a wife beater, a rapist or a paedophile. A cowardly destroyer of innocence and beauty driven by their own brokenness to destroy the beauty around them.

Destroying him in return is not the answer. Why become like him? We are not that weak, surely? There is a better way. Let’s reject him and his behaviour. Utterly. Let’s ostracise him and all who are like him. Let’s agree that trophy hunting is like wife beating, and rape and paedophilia. Let’s hate trophy hunting. As much as we hate wife beating and rape and paedophilia.

I’m looking at you Floyd Mayweather. And you, Bill Cosby. And you, Rolf Harris.  And you, Walter James Palmer of Minnesota. You are all the same.

It’s the values that are the issue here, and what society permits as acceptable behaviour. He is a broken, selfish, self-engrossed and self-entitled human being. In his case, this works itself out in killing animals for fun. For others, this turns into wife beating, raping, paedophilia.

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The spirit of a Great Heart…

As an African, there is a saying: “I was not born in Africa… Africa was born in me”. I know that no matter where we are from, we each feel a huge affinity for the land of our birth, but for those in whom Africa was born, it does not seem to ever diminish with time or distance. As far away as we may live across the seas, and as long as we might have been away from her, Africa beats inside us like a drum.

Some unique things and memories stir us up – sports, wildlife, the taste of her unique foods, scenery, sunsets, the broadness of an African smile.

And her music. Ah, her music. Mbaqanga, Isicathamiya, they all call our hearts home whenever those strident bass lines and soaring voices, and the body rippling rhythms, are heard. It is deeply soulful and stridently stirring.

Perhaps one of our great icons growing up in South Africa, was Johnny Clegg, and his bands Juluka (it means “Sweat”), and later Savuka (“We are awakened”). Those of us who are far from our Africa resonate with his song “Scatterlings of Africa”, for that is who, and what, we are. He wrote another song, some lyrics of which I want to share with you as a prelude to a short musing on leadership. From a song called “Great Heart”

Every man has to be his own saviour
I know I can make it on my own if I try
But I’m searching for a Great Heart to stand me by
Underneath the African sky
A Great Heart to stand me by…

Perhaps my standards are impossibly high… you tell me. I believe that every person who stands in leadership or who finds themselves, by whatever path, in the public eye and regarded as an icon, or an example, has a responsibility to be “a Great Heart”.

What is a great heart? A great heart is an inspiration, a thing to hunger after, and to emulate. As a member of a team, it is hugely reassuring to be led by a great heart. One whose morals, convictions, passions, vision and values are so deep they are an anchor, and a North Star, for everyone in the team.

Great hearts are hard to find. They are jewels, a surprising rich find, in the dusty clay of most organisational cultures. Jewels are not formed in surface mud and spring rains, and they do not emerge from the earth cut and polished. It’s a tired analogy but its true… Jewels are forged. Crushed by an inexorable weight, seared by incredible heat, a jewel is beautiful precisely because of the time and effort that has gone into its creation, and the rarity that accompanies that.

A great heart, truly, is a jewel. In my career in HR, I have worked for many leaders. And I have met many more leaders. I have probably, as an HR Manager and consultant, been intimately related to about eighty or one hundred, over time. In all that time, I am comfortable in saying that I have worked for only two “great hearts”. A man called “HCJ”, and a man called “TPA”. (Not their real initials.)

Let me say that at this stage of my career, if I were to look for another job, I would only look for a job where I could work with a great hearted person. Life is too short to work for any other kind of person. I would interview themas much as they interviewed me, and ask questions that showed me their heart. Because a leader always reveals their heart when they lead.

“HCJ” is – was – my first real manager. Much older than me. When I met him, he was already cut and polished. Quiet, articulate, and loyal. Visionary, firm and exceptionally capable. He has a real connection with his teams, and we went willingly – and often – into battle for him. We would travel far, make huge commitments, achieve impossible goals. In my first 6 months on the job, he personally took the heat for all my many failings as I figured out what an HR Manager did and then how I was supposed to do it. Many times my naïve failures cost him credibility, but he stood by me as I grew in the role and learned how to be his right hand man. And then his patient and faithful investment in me paid off and I began to enhance his credibility through my work.

“TPA” is a very different person. Younger than me and full of fire and passion. He grabs the future and drags it into the present. Absolutely at peace with who he is, he is a work in progress and proud of it. Not content just to have a dream, he forges it and makes it real. Equal parts sure-footed and tentative; bold and cautious, demanding and considerate. As much as he is open to being refined by the fires of leadership, he expects no less from those around him. And there is a resilience to his relationships, an ability to cross swords, challenge and debate in both directions. He is somewhat of an enigma to me, but he is also deeply familiar.

That’s the thing with great hearts. They are instantly recognisable. And they are thrilling to be near.

Find a great heart, to stand you by. And BE a great heart, to stand others by.

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My Christianity and Gay Marriage

What the Supreme Court has said (and this is only important to us because the world seems to follow America’s lead) is that the right to marry anyone, is institutionalised as fair and just in terms of the law of the land (of America). It has no bearing on Christianity, and no bearing on Christians. Unless, of course, Christians need the protection and the endorsement of their government. And can only find this in a government that espouses and embraces Christian values.

Christianity, as I understand it, is a fringe movement. We are not supposed to be the government of the day. We are not supposed to be popular. We are not supposed to be “trendy”. Christianity is by all accounts, a faith for those willing to stand up and be counted as loving people regardless of what those people do or believe. Stand up and be counted as looking past what people do, to who they are. Stand up and be counted as seeing people through Gods eyes, as precious and sacred and beautiful.

Its natural, if one is raised in a Christianity that is afraid of diversity, and seeks to judge it and obliterate it, that the Supreme Court decision in America regarding marriage equality will cause a huge “disturbance in the Force”. It seems that Christianity – Christians, actually – have a choice to make. I have not painted my Facebook profile rainbow colours, but this decision does not disturb me as it does some.

I don’t care if gays get married or not. I don’t care if the government embraces it or not. (and when I say I don’t care, I don’t mean “I don’t give a damn”. I mean it’s not relevant to my world. I do care, in that I can imagine that finding happiness in this hard world is tough enough already, and people who are different to me should be free to find whatever form of happiness they can. Right or wrong is an absolute fact which will be declared one day, and not by me) I care if we as believers can love them or not. I care if we can look indiscriminately with eyes of love on everyone. Sexual behaviour around the world has always been and will always be, different to how the Bible says it should be. Nobody appointed the church – or Christians – as judge, jury and executioner. We are appointed to be witnesses, examples, and beacons of hope.

Our opinions on these matters are pointless. And arrogant. What we believe is for us and our community to share. For those outside our community, our opinions is irrelevant at best, usually hurtful, and at worst bigoted and hateful. We are not meant to be bigoted or hateful. We are meant to be full of love, peace, and joy. Patient, and kind people. Good, faithful, gentle, and self controlled. And the Bible is very clear that humility is a God-like quality, so that can be included here too…

It is not my – or our – responsibility to try and change people, or to tell them that they are right or wrong. Only to love them because of their value to God. The same reason we love other Christians, and our own family. Because they are precious to the Most High and He has given them to us. And through loving them to increase the chances that they will view God differently, and seek Him out, because of the example we set.

To all my gay friends and colleagues. Congratulations on your changed circumstances. May you find happiness and joy. But lets face it, marriage is no guarantee of joy, or happiness, or eternal bliss. Christians and non-Christians alike are getting divorced at equal rates – 60% or so. Marriage is hard, and living with someone so intimately, whether they are the same gender as you or not, is one heck of a challenge.

I can safely guarantee that marriage will not be the place you find joy or eternal bliss. You may find equality there, but that will probably be about all.

Posted in Personal Growth, Spiritual | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


Had a very interesting discussion yesterday about values, specifically “integrity”. This morning, an article in my email feed talked about Integrity being the number 1 corporate value.

But what, actually, is a value? I have found that this is often a very misunderstood thing, especially in the corporate sense. A value, from Webster’s has many definitions but the two most relevant are: “relative worth or importance; something intrinsically valuable, or desirable”

Not very helpful when considering “corporate values” or even “personal values”…

Let me offer an idea around the definition of “value” in this context. Esoteric definitions are very unhelpful, and I find it easier to create practical definitions that everyone can grab hold of in the context of their own experience. For me, then, “values” are the beliefs or things, that when the chips are all down, when we are staring destruction eyeball to eyeball and we are the ones likely to blink; that we do not let go of. Ever.

A story is told of a cold war raid by the KGB on an underground church in Russia. Apparently, a squad of KGB soldiers burst in and said that all Christians would be shot, and that anybody who wanted to live should leave. When various people had chosen to leave the room, and the rest were standing there waiting to die, the troops put down their guns and said, “Right, now that the impostors have left, lets have a church meeting”.

The modern equivalent, sadly, is the beheading of Christians by ISIS, when they do not recant in the face of inevitable and ruthless barabarism

More examples – It’s the whistle-blower who risks everything to reveal truth. It’s the rescuer who risks his or her life saving a child from a river. It’s the truck driver who steers his burning petrol tanker through a town to empty ground, so that no bystanders are at risk. It’s the doctor who admits their error instead of hiding behind their professional veil.

These people are living, and potentially dying for a set of values or beliefs they hold more dear than ANYTHING.

Integrity is easy to define. Webster’s says it is “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values; an unimpaired condition; the quality or state of being complete or undivided”. Again, lets simplify that with a re-definition: Integrity is when your beliefs and your actions line up completely, all the time, regardless of the consequences”

It gets interesting in the corporate world, because an organisation is not a “person”. It cannot have values that are intrinsic to itself. It can only have values attributed to it by others – usually chosen by the leadership team to reflect what they believe are the best representation of the drivers of corporate success. So, in a real sense, corporate values are commercial tools. That is not a bad thing; it is just how it is. But that does mean that whatever the values are, they are chosen because it is believed that they will benefit the bottom line. For that reason, sadly, corporate values can be malleable depending the impact on the bottom line. It is always surprising, and deeply satisfying to discover a workplace where that is not the case. Those leaders, are inspiring.

In reality corporate values are usually artificial, and many times poorly understood. Why do I say artificial? Because an organisation is made up of individuals, who all have their own set of values that they will stick to when their personal chips are down and they are staring personal destruction eyeball to eyeball. And those values are often fairly divergent to the organisation’s values! So what we have, largely, is an act, a role-play during the working day; that people do in order to get along smoothly and be “the right fit” for their employer.

It gets really sad when the corporate values are the act, when they are put on for show, or for commercial gain but are not practiced internally.

I remember a company having its core value of integrity, and an owner/director asking me to forge the date on a letter that he needed. I remember a company saying “our people are our greatest asset” and the directors manipulating the bottom line to save on bonuses. I remember a company publicising that it stood against corruption, and then re-hiring its corrupt CEO when he finished his jail time. (If I said its name you would know it.)

These are challenging situations. Personal integrity and corporate integrity are not necessarily the same thing. It is fantastic if they are – like that CEO in the news recently who cut his salary by over 90% and reduced profits, so he could pay his employees a fair wage. Excellent, noteworthy stuff. But all too rare. Mostly things run along smoothly and no one worries about these deeper questions, until a real challenge arrives that requires people to choose between their personal values and their publicly espoused corporate values.

The challenge arises because we hire for the easy things, and we manage for the easy things and we discipline or terminate for the easy things. Skills, talents, performance, behaviour. Challenging values is a very difficult thing, because everyone is entitled to their own values. But what happens when corporate values and personal values are in conflict/ What then?

It isn’t always obvious. Often values-based behaviour we don’t like is excused because of the individual’s exceptional performance, for example. In this case, clearly, the commercial imperative trumps the values imperative.

Lets look at Jeremy Clarkson as a clear example of someone, who in hindsight, has not so different values to his employer. His value seems to be “me, myself and I” “I deserve a meal at 22h00 and I will punch the guy who says otherwise”. And the BBC? They did the right thing in terminating his Top Gear contract, but did they continue to do the right thing in offering him another show almost immediately? Probably not. It’s the same employer, with the same stated values, but opposing actions one week later. Actually the BBC was demonstrating “me, myself and I” values as well – how can we minimise the damage we just caused ourselves? Lets bring popular Jeremy back to earn us more advertising and syndication revenue”.

Integrity is when there is consistently no difference between our values and our behaviour, whether we are a corporate, or an individual.

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