Towards the end of last year we terminated our relationship with a client; a fairly new client that we had worked with for six months but realised during that time that we were just not compatible. Deciding not to continue to work with clients is not something we do very often – only 2 or 3 times before in our 24 year history – so it is a big decision to take, but there comes a point in everyone’s lives when they have to stand up and be counted for what they believe in, and what we believe in is fairness, equality and good management.
The directors in this business did not believe in any of those things. They knew the words to say but when you got to know the organisation, the leadership behaviour displayed was very different from the words spoken. The lack of employment law knowledge at director level was frightening, but their complete disregard for the law and as a consequence, the people they employed, was worse.
My experience with that organisation made me think very hard about values, both my personal values and what I stand for, but also the values that we hold as a business. Ethical business, honesty and treating people fairly are essential to a successful business and without them, the consequences are clear for all to see – British Home Stores and Carillion being clear examples.
As HR professionals, we are urged by our Institute to display positive behaviours, such as courage to challenge (and believe me I did), to be a role model, to be personally credible and driven to deliver – all behaviours that senior leaders should have and display. The updated profession map includes working inclusively, ethical practice and valuing people – none of which were displayed by the directors of that Company. The negative impact on the managers in that organisation was huge, and at the point when I decided I could no longer work with the organisation, so did three other people – interestingly, all of them women.
When reading the Chartered Management Institute’s members magazine over Christmas, the CMI talked about modern management being upbeat and constructive, based on active listening. Again, none of those behaviours were displayed by the leaders of that business, but active listening is something we have been practising and promoting throughout the life of our business and the work we do (see our separate article on listening). I had been engaged to make a difference, but if business leaders don’t listen to what their managers and their professional advisers are saying, there is absolutely no point in continuing.
There are so many lessons from my experience, for HR professionals, managers and business owners everywhere – to behave like a leader and be a good listener being just two of them. Out of bad can come good; it just needs one individual to stand up and be counted for what they believe in and someone to listen to them. If more than one person is prepared to do that, the better the outcome will be.