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Culture eats Strategy for breakfast

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger
person pointing white paper on wall

HR professionals are a pragmatic lot. We focus on changing behaviour because changing the way employees think is too slow and too much hard work . We are disappointed but not surprised when they revert to old ways when no one is looking or sanctions are removed.

An topical example  of this is the typical response to Black Lives Matter. HR will be asked or suggest that the recruitment and retention process is reviewed. Yet again  HR will look at redesigning application forms verses use of CVs, examine the use of standard Person Specifications and Job Descriptions to identify any unnecessary criteria which might exclude candidates, look at the makeup of interview panels (gender and race balance!) provide a reminder that interview questions must relate to criteria on the Person Specification, give guidance on scoring including agreeing in advance what constitutes a good answer. They may even suggest that a member of HR sits in on a cross section of interviews to monitor consistency and compliance.

Non of this will challenge racism but will provide the organisation with a defence against allegations of institutional racism. Uncomfortable as some will find it the responsibility for challenging racism lies with managers at every level in the organisation not just senior managers and HR.

The more effort we put into recruiting employee from BAME groups the more we state our aspiration is to have a diverse work force from boardroom to front line the more we raise expectations that people will be treated fairly. Unfortunately this expectation is not always met. Casual racism may be socially unacceptable in the work place but there are disproportionate more Black staff disciplined, BAME employee feel that they are over looked for promotion, are not given the same encouragement or opportunities to train, are too often allocated the work others prefer not to do and are rarely given the projects which would enhance their career prospects. When they raise these issues informally they are told they are being over sensitive, when they follow the formal grievance process they are labelled, “difficult”, even when the grievance is up held. Understandably they go from feeling their line manager is unfair to lacking confidence in management as a whole.

In most cases this is not overt racism, it’s poor management. It’s the lack of people management skills, lack of insight into how your behaviour effects others, an insensitivity to other people experience where they are different to your own, an inability to challenge appropriately,  a failure to support and nurture and a rigid management style. It is no less acceptable for not being racially motivated.

In other words an organisation can get away with managers who have technical skills and are good with budgets but not people until you introduce a diverse work force which exposes their lack of people skills.

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