Wednesday, 8 November 2017

#cipdace17 blog 3 - session B4

After a much needed lunch I had a chance to talk to some people from CIPD about their challenges in developing new and relevant content, particularly around OD. I was pleased to be asked to help and hope that my ideas are taken on board.

Time just gets away from you at this conference and already I’m back in another session. This time B4 and a panel discussion about adopting an ethical approach to HR. 

First up was Ben Yeger, who shared his illuminating stories from his time in the Israeli army, particularly around how he almost lost his humanity through an unethical choice he was presented with. This was such a powerful memory that it was difficult to capture here, but his main point was that you need to act from a stance of peace in order to retain your own humanity and behave ethically. 

Siobhan Sheridan, newly crowned most influential HR practitioner in the UK by HR Magazine and a thoroughly nice person to boot, picked up next. She drew on her own research about ethics. She felt that in her early career she was too scientific and not human enough, and recognised a point in her own career where she felt she had to change and become more human. 

I had a similar Road to Damascus moment in my own career several years ago and have been on a similar journey, but I think with less success than Siobhan. 

Siobhan urged us to consider the human element in everything we do, and it appears to be a hallmark of her recent and very successful career. She advised to consider the impact on people, as individuals, in everything we do. 

Roger Steare from Cass Business School, author and academic, took over nmext. He likened the decisions we all take to the decisions Ben had to take in a war zone, and Siobhan had to take as a high profile HR professional - all choices and decisions have a human element and all have an ethical dimension to them. He made a good point that although computers can now make very complex decisions, they struggle with the ethical dimensions because the computers don’t feel fear, shame or worry. 

He then went on to describe the moral character of the HR professional. He said that in our personal lives we are usually very ethical, but are influenced often by the workplace and the fear factor inherent in many workplaces and lose our human element because we wish to conform to the organisational culture and prevailing order. 

The bad news is, he says, we are close to Banking but even closer to the Media and Politics, and a long way from Healthcare and Nursing as professions. 

He said that where workplaces are modelled on lines of feudal control, then ethical behaviour becomes difficult. This leads to fear and coercion in the workplace and diminishes the ability of the HR professional to behave ethically. But workplaces are human communities and systemic entities that can only be understood at a very local, eg team, level - and therefore can be influenced at that level. 

Essentially, boil the kettle not the ocean. 

Leaders need to create space and safety for individuals and teams to be open and honest with each other and challenge ways of thinking and ways of behaving, in order for us to create room for ethical behaviour. 

In my career I’ve seen unethical decisions be taken, and have been called upon to defend such decisions. I am not proud of that, but it backs up the assertion by Steare that one is influenced by power held by other people and the prevailing culture in an organisation too. 

Siobhan made a point that people are people wherever you go. You need to stay close enough to people to bring them with you, but not so far away as to alienate them to what you’re trying to achieve. 

As someone who often has to wrestle with such dilemmas, irrespective of the ethical dimension, I found this an interesting panel discussion but one that perhaps needed longer to allow us to get into more depth. 

Mark Hendy posed a question from the audience about whether we have seen a tipping point in seeing unethical business behaviour, citing lots of recent examples. Although the panel agreed with the hope and sentiment, a view expressed near to me was that we haven’t, because nothing appears to have changed in the last ten years since the banking crisis. 

It’s hard to argue with the evidence on that, but I too agree with the hope and sentiment. 

Off to the afternoon break now. 

Till next time...

Gary