• Keith Rozelle


Courageous Conversations

Courageous conversations – What are they, Why are they Important and What does it really mean to have courageous conversations in the workplace these days?

In short, “courageous conversations” means the confidence or ability (or sometimes, the art) to respectfully challenge poor behaviours. This week in particular, people seemed more interested in filming bad behaviour and posting it online than in challenging bad behaviours head-on.

I attended a CIPD event in Birmingham this week which discussed courageous conversations. I’m glad I did, even though I’m not an HR professional.

Could this be You?

When was the last time you challenged poor behaviour in the Workplace? Think about it, casual racism or bullying dressed up as “banter,” a lily-white or all-male shortlist to recruit to a senior management role. You probably observed something similar very recently but did you challenge it…or did you let it go? If you let it go, have a think about why you let it go; was it a lack of confidence, feeling disempowered or perhaps you’re worried about the ramifications of calling-out poor behaviour?

If you let it go – that is, you fail to act – you’re likely in the majority.

Very few people have the backbone or temerity these days to challenge poor behaviour

But that’s just the problem isn’t it; it’s a sort of prisoner-theory problem. In jail, the number of prisoners vastly outweighs the number of prison guards, yet if everyone simultaneously rose-up, there would be significant results; I’m not inciting unlawful behaviour, just painting a picture to illustrate a potential outcome.

What if People Fail to Act?

FAILING to have courageous conversations could mean that once-excellent businesses (e.g. your favourite restaurant) can go out of business. If serving staff fail to “push back” on kitchen staff when food is presented poorly or if the maitre d’ fails to motivate staff when service quality slips, that could have real consequences for the restaurant.

My family used to have a favourite restaurant we visited regularly on holiday. We noticed the service quality started going down-hill and had to send our food back on more than one occasion. I heard recently that that restaurant has actually closed down – all because poor behaviours went unchallenged. Eventually, customers like us just stopped going there; the restaurant started making a loss and, ultimately, had to close. People probably lost their jobs too.

Could this be true of the organisation you work for? Could it be true of you? Is there something you know of going on, which is wrong but you don’t have the confidence to say anything? Well, if YOU don’t say something, who will? And if you’re in a leadership position and someone reports an incident, are you going to look into and do something about it or pretend it doesn’t exist?

There is a way to have this type of conversation without making it unnecessarily adversarial and without triggering a claim for victimisation.

Back to Courageous Conversations

There is a clear and present issue in the UK Workplace – Diversity in Recruitment. One of the event’s panel members – Jacqui Francis BA, MA, FRSA – made a great point: “If recruiters don’t provide diverse long/shortlists, using an excuse such as ‘there aren’t any applicants at this level’, you need to push back. Tell them to go back and find them!’

Recruiters or Headhunters absolutely understand the concept of Fees and such fees are normally only payable upon successfully recruiting someone.

If you’re feeling confident enough for this courageous conversation, brief your CEO beforehand and ensure they are on-board with your position. It involves a little bit of conflict, which may feel uncomfortable but will not kill you…and you’ll feel great about having done the right thing. Moreover, you’ll feel confident about dealing with it if it should ever happen again.

Feeling the Pain

Unless someone (in this case, the Recruitment firm) feels the pain of Fees being delayed, where’s the incentive to change?

The restaurant closing, the lily-white, all-male recruitment list, a poorly-performing member of staff bringing a claim for victimisation are all symptoms of the same problem; courageous conversations are not being had early enough in the process and the rot has been allowed to set in.

We get what we are prepared to Tolerate

Einstein once said The Definition of Insanity is to keep doing the same old thing all the time, expecting a different outcome. Yet, here we are, STILL having issues with Diversity, Leadership and Recruitment. Moreover, UK Productivity is still languishing at a pre-2009 level (i.e. the financial crash or Great Recession).

The UK is currently 2nd to bottom (Japan has that honour) of the G7 which is driving everyone in this country mad and no one seems to have the solution. There are likely many possible answers, ranging from Brexit uncertainty to cheap money keeping Zombie Companies alive right through to lack of Diversity in the Boardroom. There is much evidence to suggest a direct link between Diversity and Profitability and, therefore, Balance Sheet health.

At the CIPD event above, the lead panel member – Deborah Cadman OBE (CEO, West Midlands Combined Authority) – said this, “Over 34% of the West Midlands population is under 25-years old, with over 50% coming from different ethnicities. We absolutely need to embrace this dynamic”

Moreover, Lancaster University Management School has been instrumental in delivering a Management Development programme called Productivity through People, strongly suggesting that investing in People is critical to improving UK Productivity.

Evolution, not revolution

Not too long ago, I had the privilege of working with Colin Matthews, then Chief Executive of BAA plc. His mantra was “Making every journey better” which meant asking “what went well with that journey – let’s do more of that.” Also “what was not so good about that journey, do less of – or make changes to – that.”

Terminal 5 had just been built at a cost of nearly £5Bn – a vast engineering accomplishment. However, “You don’t need to spend £5Bn to get a security guard to smile,” he said. “All you need is security guards who are happy and engaged in their work.”

What’s all this got to do with Sales?

Everything. In the profession of Sales – doing business with other organisations – we talk about the importance of “Strategic Fit.”

When all is said and done (e.g. Pricing), does our organisation have a Strategic Fit with your organisation? THAT’S how you can differentiate your company from your competition; your location (or Place) from your competitor’s Place and your Region with your competitor’s Region.

How do you get Strategic Fit? Well, Strategic Fit is a function of Culture, Values and People; all of which is central to the CIPD’s mission. I therefore suggest the CIPD – as the professional body for HR – is well positioned to help companies tackle Productivity.

In order to make its case heard at the Boardroom table, the CIPD needs to be talking less about HR and more about Balance Sheet

It’s not hard to do. All it takes is…courage.


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