Lightning Rods – Disruptors or Destructors?

Hello PPMA friends

It’s the integrity stupid…

I promised myself that I would spend at least one Bank Holiday this year not twittering and linking in. But surprisingly Saturday was a wonderful day on social media, there were some fabulous articles posted and nourishing reading.

And then today we have another episode of ‘Lightning rod leadership’ in the top leadership of Government.

As HR and OD professionals we are no strangers to the world of grey…..

I have written before that this global crisis has amplified the good and the bad. In many areas. We’ve seen extraordinary courage, compassion and dedication from public service employees in front line and non-front lines during Covid 19.

We’ve seen extraordinary achievements – new hospitals, temporary care homes, humanitarian hubs built in record time. We’ve seen extraordinary resilience and grit from the public too. And fortitude and a quite incredible determination.

And of course, we have also seen the irresponsible, the unfair, the thoughtlessness, the wilful disregard, the continued polarisation of viewpoints, and the genuine confusion.

So, in all of this, how do we deal with the ‘lightning rod’?

Lightning rods – disruptors or destructors?

The answer is definitely yes to the first but not always to the second. It depends on context. The life of a public figure is not an easy one. The scrutiny is relentless and constant and judgement often excoriating. And often made without all the facts being known.

I’m not and never have been a fan of the worshipping of the ‘disruptor’. But as ever, the meaning of ‘disruptor’ and ‘disruption’ is in the eye of the beholder if organisations don’t use language that explicitly defines what these terms mean.

Bringing new ideas that challenge the status quo, that drive us to constantly seek progress, improvement etc shouldn’t actually be disruption. That should be – and for many high performing organisations already is – the day to day work of the organisation.

But there genuinely will be moments and times of disruption. A global pandemic is one of them.

So, what of our disruptors in times of crisis?

This isn’t the first time Dominic Cummings has caused controversy – and it is likely that we all have come across similar disruptors in our organisation. He is genuinely a living case study of ‘how to apply HR advice’.

Managing a disruptor is a genuine conundrum. Particularly when they are in the political world. Because disruptors – and he does seem to positively revel in being one – are employees too. And as such whenever there are any allegations, they need to be properly investigated. As an employee he is entitled to be treated according to policy and employment law. Indeed if he wasn’t, the Government would be liable potentially. Confidentiality will apply and a consideration of the broader circumstances too.

Some of these will include:

  • an examination of whether all the stories in the public domain about the allegations are true
  • consideration of whether the storm of media at his home represents a threat to his physical safety and his mental health. And that of his family.
  • Consideration of whether some of the current outrage is a function of the impact his previous behaviour has had on people.

Lightning rods tend to care little about what people think of them. And Dominic Cummings is on record with his criticism (and contempt) of some politicians and some civil servants and some media outlets and journalists too.

Notwithstanding all this very loud and considerable ‘noise’ there is the basic allegation at hand. And this should be a pretty straightforward issue. The key question being:

– Does the evidence support the allegation and is it sufficient to justify disciplinary action?

Pretty straightforward you would say.

Life isn’t just about the individual, it’s about the whole though too…..

However, there is often more to this in the judgement that needs to be applied. I’m never sure that enough people in organisations outside the HR & OD function realise that in every set of circumstances, HR & OD is considering both the individual and the organisation as a whole.

This means understanding what previous precedent has been set. You shouldn’t ever be slave to that, but you have to take it into account. And you absolutely MUST consider the consequence of your decision on the rest of the organisation.

UK plc is a pretty big organisation…..

And this is a pretty big crisis.

The more senior you are, the more responsibility you have to uphold values and behaviours. I certainly agree with this.  And whenever I’ve done Executive Level investigations these considerations have been paramount.

There is an often deeply uncomfortable balance for a leader to make. A senior colleague is a senior colleague for a reason. But all the more important therefore to be aware of the impact the actions senior colleagues have on the rest of an organisation. The qualities that leaders display is often more important than the technical capabilities they bring to a role.

Walking the talk…..

Any HR & OD leader will advise his/her Leader that honesty, authenticity, trust and integrity eat everything else for breakfast in a crisis. And especially when you need those qualities to engage a whole population in a complex, challenging, frightening time which is asking for many sacrifices to be made.

It’s not rocket science to understand that trust and confidence in Public Health messaging is a matter of life and death. And that to ensure that on a long term basis means rules apply to everyone.

I imagine today that Government will be reflecting on whether the lack of acknowledgement of why this particular issue is causing such deep anger needs addressing.

 If it isn’t, it damned well should be. And it should be acting. Sharpish and smartish.

By | 2020-05-25T13:45:36+01:00 May 25th, 2020|Categories: COVID19, Karen Grave, PPMA President|0 Comments

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