What is it about culture?

Others before me have said, and more learned folk after me will say this – organisational culture cannot be controlled or managed. We forget that a workplace has us in it. We exist and bring to work a form of ourselves that has to fit in with everyone else. This is inherently a minefield of personality, opinions and people. And it will have both positive and negative impacts on everything around us.

Did I expect to change some fundamental beliefs I held from being in the workplace? No, I really didn’t, but I did. Not because it was enforced through an organisational design programme or effective learning and development, but because of those I interacted with. With such a focus on efficiency and meeting targets we forget to focus on those who are actually there.

Could you benefit from changing the way you think about topics at work? Yes, and the more conversations we have the better we will work together. Be you a believer in collaboration or not, it is the key way we measure and think about success. Your colleagues and peers give you a benchmark to measure yourself against. That’s a lot to bear in mind when thinking about that engagement survey.

We have such a pre-occupation with measuring and engaging and listening that we forget the basics of life at work. People like to be successful. We like to talk with others. We enjoy solving problems and helping others. We are social beings and seek out opportunities to connect willingly and actively.

L&D: Protectors of the Realm?

Ever seen the film American History X? One of Edward Norton’s finest films for his portrayal of a white supremacist who learned just how wrong his actions and thinking was, and what the consequences of this were for his family.

A while back, I was asked to deliver some Diversity and Dignity at Work training to a company who specialised in Fire Safety and First Aid training. It came about because one of their group was delivering a 4 day First Aid course, and through the course made non-stop sexual innuendos wherever he could about the human body. The course did have a lady delegate, but she wasn’t the one who raised the concern. It was a delegate who felt uncomfortable the trainer did this at all.

Organisational culture is a beast. It’s the result of a range of events, activities, beliefs, actions, processes, procedures, management, leadership, networks and more. And it’s one of the things a lot of employees can identify with easily on day one of work. But what happens when the organisational culture isn’t a good one? What do you do to combat this? Ford Motor Co. were probably the first high profile company during the 1990s to face such issues. There was open racism, discrimination and bad practise rife within their walls. It took a brave few, and the work of good journalists to bring this to light. At the time, the equivalent of the Commission for Racial Equality mandated that Ford change their business practise and to this day they have to report on the diversity practises they employ.

My concern, though, is in this day and age, when you might consider that institutional racism and discrimination are no longer open concerns, how confident can we be that this is the case? And what’s one of the few places you can see how evident this is?

The training room is a fascinating environment. L&Ders will be mindful of creating strong learning environments, effective learning materials, inclusive exercises, and an overall positive intervention. The delegates will have expectations, apprehensions, and issues they either bring with them, or want addressed in that environment. But what of the unspoken truths evident, and the audacity of a few individuals to make comments about the diversity of the delegates? I heard recently about a team away day for a group of sales people. One team were more ethnically diverse than the rest. A joke was passed around that it looked like an advert for the United Colours of Benetton. What a disgrace.

So when you consider who is entering that environment, and you see the make up of the group, what questions should be raised? Who should they get raised to? I don’t think it’s even a question of if it should be raised. Let’s not consider for a moment that training happens across the world, and this brings with it a separate set of issues. But in the UK, and I could support this with data but I have not searched for this, most training environments will consist of white males. The next ‘majority’ will be white females. Beyond this, the diversity of a group will and does split in small ways. Does the L&Der do enough to not favour one group over the other?

Who notices that? And what’s being done to address it? As I say, the training environment is one of the few in your face places that you can identify almost immediately what the diversity of the workforce actually is. And then linked with that are a host of assumptions – who is eligible for training, who is eligible for progression, who is eligible for investment.

Lastly, what happens, as in the initial paragraph when you have a trainer/L&Der who is discriminating, or being prejudiced, or being racist, but they’re blind to it? Going through training will help in one respect. It won’t take care of the issue though. Sacking them seems an obvious choice, but that doesn’t help them, and sends the wrong message to the company. Feedback and coaching may also seem like options, which would seem to be the better option.

The above is an observation on a certain state of play which I perceive to be an ongoing issue which L&D in particular can influence. Businesses will present arguments for and against diversity which is so bizarre a state I don’t even know where to begin with that. L&D are protectors of the realm. We promote our culture, and the way we do things around here. This can also mean we are unwittingly blind.

#HRD11 final thoughts Part 1

In a range of posts recently, I’ve been posting thoughts about the sessions I attended, and the planning of #HRD11 itself. Today, I’d like to address something about the content of the exhibition and conference. If you look at both the exhibition free sessions or conference seminars, is there a particular topic which seems to be glaringly missing? Let’s take a look…

Leadership development? Check.
Organisational development? Check.
Change management? Check.
Wellbeing? Check.
Coaching? Check.
Conflict? Check.
All manner of things to do with being an effective internal L&D consultant? Check.
e-learning and blended learning? Check.
Social learning? Check.
NLP? (Trusty old NLP – *spits* > I really should write a post on why NLP sucks arse.) Check.

I’ve probably missed others, but I’m building the case for my point.

Why have attendees or conference organisers not thought to include Diversity as a topic that should be discussed? There were several suppliers present, but I saw none of them present, or the timetable didn’t have them on there. What’s going on here? How have we missed this? Seriously?

Cynicism on the topic aside, there is currently so much happening in our workforces that Diversity is pretty much the one topic that just doesn’t get enough PR. And to not include it on the rolling list of topics at a celebrated event such as #HRD11 just serves to reinforce this point.

There are a myriad of positive ways to reinforce the message of Diversity and Inclusion. The days of sitting people in a workshop to make them ‘get it’ are long gone. Well, ok they’re not gone, they still exist, but they’re so old hat it makes me sad. But let’s take a basic look at this topic. On your team, what is the mix of people you have? A wonderful mix, I’m betting. And what is your organisation doing to reinforce that mix? Not a lot I bet. But not because they’re ‘afraid’ of the topic, or because they don’t want to upset the ‘PC brigade’, but I’m betting more because they’ve just not put the right thought on the topic.

People ‘get’ Diversity and Inclusion on an intuitive level. And that’s fab. But the trouble is organisations are not intuitive, and there’s too much scaremongering going on that enables a culture to be rich with this type of thinking.

Culturally, who are you?

Looking around the office, I notice – physically – up to at least 4 different possible nationalities working in my vicinity. Listening to their voices, I can notice up to 10 different accents. Amongst those accents I notice further delineation of intonations and strength of language. Observing over a week or so, I notice there are distinct patterns of behaviour which I’ve not seen previously. Observing over a greater period of time, I notice distinct working patterns, that I am not sure if I should attribute to culture or to personal performance capabilities.

And that’s where things become interesting. How do I know whether I should attribute a working trait to your cultural way of doing things, or to your actual ability to perform a job? Easy answer is, I don’t. I remember doing a module in a leadership workshop, where the delegates were all European, and all with English as their second language. A key thing they needed to understand about each other is how they communicate with each other. And – importantly – how to understand the intent behind the message. It was a truly fascinating module with incredible insights being shared across the group.

So this week’s Q&A post is all about sharing cultural insights, either personal, or your experience of working with others.

Here’s my insight:

I have both Indian and English culture. This means a mixed bag of how I approach work. I have the very English attitude of being sarcastic and enjoying banter with work colleagues. I fully expect this banter to be witty and challenging. I have a built in love of all things to do with London. Anyone says anything against London, or England, and I’ll be all guns blazing! In work, I will be direct and to the point. Fools are fine, and I have the tolerance of a saint, but I will express annoyance if you continue to be a fool. I fully expect to be promoted for good work, and to be rewarded along the way.

My Indian side means I will always defer to authority. It takes a lot of effort for me to be assertive with management if I don’t think I’m being respected appropriately. I don’t like confrontation and will be diplomatic in pretty much every situation I face. Family values are vital to my being, and I will always put my family above work. (Couple this with English stubbornness, and you get an interesting balance) I have a strong belief in God, but will not and do not see the need to evangelise about this. I will share, readily, food and treats that I bring in for those I work with.

And that’s me. So. What about you?

>Why I took on a Dragon

>Yesterday I had one the most surreal conversations I’ve ever been involved in so far. There needs to be some context behind this post though. On Friday 1st October 2010, the Equality Act was introduced in the UK. There’s been a lot of expectation about what this new Act will mean for employment legislation. Essentially it brings together all previous employment legislation into one Act, and with it all relating terminologies and nuances. If you want to know more please visit the Acas website.

In truth what this means is in the main, HR folk, employment law specialists and anyone involved in recruitment have one point of reference in regards to equal practices across all groups that may want to enter the workforce.
On the same Friday, Dragon’s Den star Duncan Bannatyne wrote an article in the Daily Mail expressing his thoughts on the new Act and what he thinks it holds for UK businesses. You can read that here. On Monday, a lively exchange ensued between Duncan Bannatyne and someone from the HR community (Darren Newman).
Darren wrote a post for XpertHR. One of the Editor’s of this site is Michael Carty (who is quite possibly the kindest man I know). He posted a request to Duncan Bannatyne through Twitter asking him if he’d like to respond. Duncan’s response was “I would need to read it first and I can’t be bothered”. Here’s that exchange.
This is where I come bounding in. I like Michael, he’s a nice guy. I don’t like when good people get trounced on for no reason. I am also very conscious about the sensitivities that sit around Equality, Diversity and all topics that fall under this. I’ve written past posts on

Diversity and about banter. And there are a myriad of experts in the field who will defend the importance of this legislation, and rightly so.

So I called out Duncan and here’s my exchange with him. I’ve been watching the conversation unfold over the last few days and have really had to hold back in commenting on anything to do with this topic. Well that didn’t happen! In the grand scheme of things, my little exchange with Duncan means nothing and there will be far more important people discussing the ins and outs of the Equality Act than either Duncan or me.
But – BUT – here’s the thing. Employment legislation causes a lot of anguish for a lot of people in businesses because they don’t take the requisite time to understand what the Act offers. So here’s common misconceptions people hold – and I have heard first hand:
1) I’m a white heterosexual male and I’m now in the minority
2) Laws like this only allow other cultures to take advantage of our society
3) But there are people who will use laws like this to make false claims
4) Laws like this make political correctness go mad
5) If someone overhears my conversation they can claim a grievance?
6) Why can’t people just mind their own business
And there are many many more. What’s annoying about the comments above is that the people who make those comments have zero clue what they’re talking about. They’ve read something in a newspaper, taken it as gospel, and formulate an opinion based on misinformation.
What Duncan Bannatyne has served to do is only feed into the insecurities of a lot of people who think that minority groups in the UK have far too much protection already. What his article does not help is inclusion, a multi-cultural society, the Big Society, or any other high and lofty ideals we might hold for being British.
As a high profile successful businessman in the UK, Duncan Bannatyne will never admit he’s been misinformed about what the Equality Act aims to achieve. He’s been told what the Act could mean for those in society who are malicious enough to act in disgusting ways. He’s taken that and decided he’s going to speak out against the Act.
That’s fine. Free speech and all that. The sad thing is that he thinks he’s done a good thing for readers of the Daily Mail. He thinks that he’s helped people see the folly of the old Labour government and that he’s unravelled the Equality Act to be a simple piece of nothing. He thinks that he’s educating people and helping them to understand the true motivations of the Equality Act.
What he hasn’t done is help people to see how disadvantaged groups of people have had to fight hard battles to secure a positive future for themselves. He’s made reference to the ‘Made in Dagenham’ film and subsequent laws which have been introduced to help minority groups, and then says we’ve gone too far to help them. To this day, minority groups face hardships Duncan Bannatyne can only conceptually perceive. Even I am sheltered from a lot of hardships faced by people from within my own community.
My plea is this. Before you get on a high horse and defend how ‘British’ you are, or how minorty groups are now favoured above you, think about who is the recipient of your message. Before you actively stand up against a Law which is in place to ensure we have a fair open society, think about which ‘good’ you’re trying to serve. The topic of equality and diversity will never go away. It will always be there. And there will be staunch advocates as well as staunch rebellions. Ultimately though, it’s about a society where we can live and work together with open and fair practices for all. No one should have to be subject to harassment, discrimination or bullying for any reason.

>Diversity is not important

>I’m loosely following an unconference happening with the hashtag #trumanchester on Twitter. This morning’s topic is on Diversity and the usual drivel is being spouted.

“Companies need a diversity policy to ensure everyone is being included.”
“If you don’t have a diverse workforce you don’t get the best results”
“Diversity isn’t just about gender and race but disability, religion, age and sexual orientation. Is your workforce representative of all the above?”


I worked for a consultancy who had to deliver to Ford Motor Company (UK) training on Diversity and Dignity at Work. It was mandatory training that all staff had to attend as the company was being regulated by government due to some high profile cases which happened in the 1990’s.

The topic itself is obvious enough for any member of staff. If you say or do something offensive or behave offensively you will get in trouble for it. For HR and legalities such as recruitment it’s vital to know what you can and not do in order to ensure you are being fair to all candidates and staff members.

But enforcing things like ‘Diversity week’ or ‘diversity policies’ or ‘diversity training’ defeats the point massively. If you have members of staff who are making conscious efforts to intentionally offend someone in any manner then you have an issue and it needs to be dealt with. It’s likely they don’t need diversity training, they just need to be sacked.

Look, I get diversity. I trained on the bloody topic for 1 1/2 years and could spout all things discriminatory, positive, direct, indirect, GOQ, and any other technical term. It’s there for good reasons. It’s just used horrifically badly by a lot of folk.

The bottom line is this. If you have to use diversity as a weapon you have not grasped the concept of diversity at all.