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Category: Change

If your organization could do one thing with enthusiasm?

Popular subject, this recession!

I love it when someone visits my blog and I love it even more when someone leaves a comment.  Sadly, though, on a blog, originally taglined beautiful work, I get more traffic about the role or HR and the recession than for topics like poetry.

So you want to know about HR and the recession?

These are my qualifications to talk on the subject:

1. I am a WORK psychologist.

I pay attention as much attention to the work we do, and the context that we do it in, as I do to the techniques of HR and the psychology of the work.

Here is an important point I have noticed:  Writers on HR are not exploring the recession itself. 

My observations are this:  this is not a recession.  It is not a depression either.  The financial system is too central to the economy and too large, with one quarter of our livelihoods in UK, for this to be regarded as a cold, or a serious bout of flu.  Indeed, I don’t think metaphors of illness or failure will take us far and it is best to think of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly: the one goes and another emerges.

Where will we be in five year’s time?  What industries will be surgent?  What will jobs look like?

I spoke to someone in Johannesburg today.  He had just been into Zimbabwe and I told him of the Forbes’ prediction that Africa will supplant China as the supplier of low cost labour in five years.  Look at Africa with that filter and notice the scenarios you now consider.  Look at the processes you now perceive to be the ones we should protect, cherish and nurture.

We are not in a position of more-or-less.  We are in a position of radical change.  We need, I think, to be discussing the nature of work in the UK and how work will change by the time we are out of this crisis.

2.  My second qualification is that I have lived through a serous recession before, sadly.

We go through phases in these situations much like the phases of bereavement.  We deny, we get angry, we barter, we accept.

At the moment, we are in the early phases, with many people believing that somehow this will all go away while a few others expressing a little anger – about fat cats, particularly.

Few of us are exploring our options in any depth.  And, even fewer of us are taking a leadership position in which we help other people understand what is happening and how they can work together towards a better future.

My experience of these situations is that the presence or absence of that leadership, workplace by workplace, will make a difference to the final outcome.  The last thing we need is to develop a pattern of each man for himself, women and children look after yourselves.

Leadership matters.  And leadership means believing in our followers, and showing it.

3.  I am a psychologist.

In any stressful situation, we are faced with the easy choice: be defensive and protect what’s ours.  Or, we can step up and be proactive and generative.  Which is often very hard.

Let’s take Obama’s inauguration as an example.

Obama’s inauguration will be one of the largest in history – people want to be there.  Obama is doing some predictable things.  He is looking for ways to include as many people as possible.  And he is capping donations at USD50K.  Both laudable.

This quotation struck my eye:

This inauguration is more than just a celebration of an election,” she said. “This is an event that can be used to inspire and galvanize the public to act. That is what we’re aiming for.”

To spend all that effort (and money) on a celebration of past successess is not enough – not now, not after such a campaign.   The collective party in Washington and across the country, if not the world. lays the foundation for the next round of effort.

Rahm Emmanuel, incoming White House Chief of Staff is quoted as saying:  Don’t let a good crisis go to waste.

Indeed, a good crisis allows us to think through what is important to us and how we will work together in the future.  I desperately want to read stories in the HR blogs on what we are doing together to meet the challenges of the future, together.

Before we launch into micro-actions of making people redundant or whatever else (there’s been lots of traffic on psychometric tests of all things), how do we want people to act?

What collective action are we hoping to inspire and galvanize?  What is the good use to which we will put this crisis?


From anger to effective action

Anger: Stage Two of the Banking Crisis

Today, senior bankers fronted up to a Select Committee to make their apologies.  Shortly afterward, BBC ran a chat show and asked the public whether apologies were enough.  The public had a lot to say and the BBC presenter was clearly testing the depth of our anger.

Anger is Stage Two in the FIVE stage process of receiving bad news: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

So what does acceptance look like and how do we get there?

David Whyte, corporate poet, tells a good story that helps us understand the beginning and end of the five stage process, what we have to do to move from start to finish,  and why it is so difficult to take the first steps.

Whyte was trekking in Nepal.  He had left his friends and came, alone, on a ravine with a rope bridge in poor state of repair.  He was horrified.  It was too dangerous to use the bridge and too late to turn back and rejoin his companions.

So many situations are similar. We are stuck. It is too dangerous to do what we want to do and we cannot immediately see a way out of our predicament.  We are overcome by a mix of frustration, anxiety, shame and fear, and are in Stage One and Stage Two.  We are ‘all emotion’, and reasonably so.  After all, we are in trouble.

But in that funk, we cannot think clearly and cannot find a way out of our dilemma.

Tomorrow, I’ll break the situation into psychological terms and point out what we have to do if we are ever to move on.

Come with me!

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