Grumpy Old Men is a conversational-style British television series showing a number of well-known middle-aged men talking about any issues of modern life that irritate them. Grumpy Old Women, a spin-off, repeated this formula by featuring famous middle-aged women talking about their pet hates. As I hurtle towards the beautiful age of 50 I am officially becoming a grumpy old woman and I love it. I have the confidence to be honest about my two pet hates in business - hypocrisy and BS. In the words of the Will.I.Am song, "I want to scream and shout and let it all out."
I'm not just tired. I'm not simply fed-up. I'm not just sad. I'm all of these things but above all, I'm angry. VERY ANGRY. Why do we waste so much of our valuable time acting and speaking in hypocritically mindless ways? Why the need for so much politics and BS? Why can we just not be honest? As Mark Twain said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
The standard of ethics, morals and governance is at an all time low and even the general public can now see through the decades of façade in light of the outcomes of the two significant political events of 2016 - Brexit and Trump's electoral victory.
For me, the two business areas where there are significant levels of hypocrisy and BS are Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) and Talent Management.
Let me begin with the field of D&I and that notorious elephant in the room. Them vs. Us. In other words, 'Snowy Peaks' Syndrome (a small amount of white, middle class men at the top of an organisation) vs. the rest (people of colour, women, LGBT, disabled). Let me illustrate this with a couple of real world examples.
For instance, when headhunters say to clients that they can't find women of colour with experience it's BS. What they are really showing us is that they are lazy and are choosing to earn fees ahead of sourcing quality candidates of difference. Equally, when clients say to headhunters that they want women of colour with experience in the field and then stipulate a set of rigid criteria it's BS. What they are saying is we want to seem to be 'doing the right thing' in this politically correct environment but really we want the same type as before. Both are equally wrapped up in their own BS so much so that they are quite happy with blaming each other. When they do both agree that indeed, they can't find a woman of colour to fill the role then they conveniently draw upon the old adage of 'culture fit'. This is the ultimate BS - it's not about 'fitting in' it's about valuing an individual's potential contribution and achieving intersectionality in race, gender, age and culture.
In a conversation with a CEO in recent years I was advised the following: "You will have to continue with your own business as a consultant or be a professional interim. You'll never be an employee in a company at the level you should be employed at. i.e. Executive." Why I asked? The answer: "You're a woman. You're a woman of colour. You're a woman of colour who is highly intelligent. You're a woman of colour who is highly intelligent and very well groomed. You're a woman of colour who as well as being highly intelligent and very well groomed is willing to challenge the status quo. That's five too many threats!" Now that is honesty. The most I've had in the last three years - thank you!!
The world is not fair and realistically we can never be equal. We can't be when there are a few who make 50 billion a year and many others who earn 50 bucks per annum. When some earn several thousand $/£ per hour and some are just scraping the barrels on a minimum wage. What I'm seeking is equity and equal opportunity in a fair and just way that includes all individuals despite of differences. But progress continues to inch forward at a snails pace despite the many commissioned reports, countless reviews, and targets set etc. So why all the BS when D&I blatantly sits on the periphery of business activities and the intention/will/commitment/choice to actually implement and embed inclusivity is not there?
In business, any kind of investment requires justification and so, if you have a new idea for a product or service then normally, you are asked to submit a business case that justifies the fit with corporate strategy, the value, the contribution, the cost, the resources required, risks, the return etc. This applies for business cases for D&I and many have been submitted over the years. First up, do we really need 10-20 years of business cases to have an intention and commit to implementing D&I as a normal business activity? Seriously? And have these business cases made a difference to where we are now compared to where we were then? The results of investment have been underwhelming and insignificant. Small, wee steps to temper the mood. Not notable giant steps for mankind. This is BS. Surely you don't need a business case for increasing innovation and creativity in your organisation?
Talking about business cases lets talk about leadership development programmes currently on offer. My advice - question/interrogate/appraise the inherent root of both their fundamental premise and business outcomes of programmes before signing away millions. Why? Because my experience (and the evidence is beginning to be acknowledged) that leaders are not being developed in the fundamentals of good leadership practice. That is, ethical values, empathic communication, positive conflict and personal commitment. Today, a leader's language and their behaviour rarely equate. Their said intentions and their actual choices are often misaligned. That is, they don't do what they say they will do. Rather, they excel at being excellent 'window dressers'. This ability at window dressing filters through and is seen in the disjointed and inconsistent practices in D&I and Talent Management.
Another example that is increasingly becoming a bug bear of mine are networking events. I used to attend up to four events a week. I'm now down to four a month (if that). Often choosing to go because I may learn something new as opposed to making any fruitful connections that may lead to 'making a difference' outcomes. Networking events today are very rarely about understanding where our contribution could actually make a difference? Rather, they provide a definitive guide to the 'smoke & mirrors' of self-promotion and marketing one's service. Don't get me wrong; there is absolutely nothing wrong with self-promotion if that is what the gig is about. But let's call it that and not the BS about increasing D&I in the workplace.
Why? Because I'm tired and fed up of going to these events pretending to do something to further the cause. I'm sure you can believe that there have been times at these events when people have squirmed when I walk into a room and visibly rolled their eyes. Why? Because I don't allow people to get away with the BS and now they just can't look me in the eye. I see in their faces thoughts like please don't sit at the front of the room because you'll see and smell my BS. Please don't ask me questions because my hypocrisy will be discovered. It's tragic because these events ranging from business to academia to special interests etc. have the opportunity to influence and yet they choose not to and I'm bored. It's not of value to me because it's all hypocrisy.
I plea for honesty - 'radical honesty'.
The second area where hypocrisy and BS is at an all time high is in the talent management arena. Yes, that bandied around frequent cry that there is no talent. Don't get me started! What the hell, I'll start. Let's speak about talent.
Organisations know they are not getting talent walking willingly through their doors and, there are many reasons. Firstly, it begins at the educational system with students having to attend the 'right' schools. That is, private fee paying schools that will inevitably provide access to the roles that will equip them with growth and opportunities across their lifetime. It goes without saying that most children are not privy to these schools and the education/connections that they may offer. Secondly, at the higher education level the education system is in such disarray that students are doomed before they even begin their careers. General knowledge and basic language and maths skills are poor (at least in the UK). If you would like to agree with me, have a look at the myriad of reality TV shows for great examples of abysmal use of language and poor levels of general knowledge. (and this is not the privy of youth only!)
Even poorer are 'social skills' (this one's international)!! A 'like' on Facebook or a 'heart' on Instagram or a fleeting story shared on Snapchat is not the same as, I like your opinion in real life. I value your contribution. I actively listen to you. Believe me there is a difference! Communication skills and emotional intelligence are not being developed. Rather they are being stymied as a host of potential talent lose the ability to access these basic skills.
Which leads me unto the generation dilemma. Believe me, confusion reigns! Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y (Millennials), and now Gen Z all working together sometimes in the same organisations. Well, trying to work together! Baby Boomers currently sitting it out and waiting for their pensions. Gen X about to step into leadership positions but lost in the mire of focus on Gen Y. Gen Y who have been told that they can have it all but who have very little clue of what this means and how to achieve it. And then there is the emergent Gen Z who appear to be going down the value driven route and not even wanting to join organisations.
I could go on about the talent quagmire but for now, I've said enough. Can we just not do away with all the hypocrisy and BS and make space for the truth? Until there is truth, then our actions are rooted in a lack of integrity and falsity. And falsity will not lead to sustainability. This will inevitably lead to D&I and Talent Management ending up as another business fad of the 21st century. Let me be clear, this cannot happen. As President Obama states: "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." Let us have the courage to have an honest conversation and take positive action in D&I and talent starting now. No more excuses. It is time for action.
At the beginning of 2017 I publically said that my guiding practice was "inclusion at its best" - a mission to include all at every level. At this point you might be thinking to yourself how is she achieving this by writing a blog on hypocrisy and BS that has the potential to piss off and exclude. Let me sum up my intentions through an apt phrase that Richard Branson recently tweeted: "Hope has two beautiful daughters: Anger and Courage". By stirring through anger I will create positive action as the outcome. BOOM!