SEARCHING FOR THE HOLY GRAIL

Eight years have elapsed since I entered TEC ( The Executive Connection) as a nominee chair, under the tutelage of the venerable Dr Adrian Geering. Goodness that time has sailed by! Along the way I’ve met some remarkable people: chairs, speakers and administrators who, in some cases, have become great friends.

Following almost twenty years as an international corporate trouble-shooter I entered the TEC environment with trepidation. I knew I had picked up a bunch of skills on my travels but was concerned about whether they were adequate for the task in hand given my weak formal education achievements. Having observed Adrian’s meticulous planning and process skills my confidence was further threatened. I concluded at that early stage that I could never reach those heights and substance.

Nevertheless I set myself a goal to find the Holy Grail. In my case this revolved around people management. Although I was passionate and sometimes a tad hyperactive regarding the issue, I was sure my methods were unsatisfactory and flawed. Involvement with a great organisation like TEC would assist in my quest to find the true answer.

Having had the privilege to hear a raft of speakers from all corners of the globe: our own Peter Berry, Pat Murray, Ole Carlsson and Marshall Goldsmith from across the pacific, like most people I was inspired. I constantly scanned Chairnet for the myriad of theories offered on leadership and people management but ended up being more confused. Their approaches were not totally congruent with how I saw the world. Undaunted I stuck at the task seeking counsel from my colleagues within the community, which I must say was given without hesitation. I will always be grateful. Still my instincts told me I had still not found the essence of managing people, at least committing those thoughts to paper.

My epiphany came towards the end of last year whilst delivering a workshop to a TEC group. We were taking about change; a member proffered the view that it was unrealistic to expect trust between employer and employee. I must admit I was shocked but then got to thinking “Is this how we have evolved in the business community.” “Is this a widespread held view?” I determined at that very moment I would not give up on my quest and in fact was one of the reasons I would relinquish my duties with TEC. Not out of anger but a need to work with companies on a deeper level (A theme I have heard many times raised by a colleague Ozzie Gontang over the years).

Since an early age I have been fascinated by social change and how the world is always constantly evolving. My father, a coal miner all of his life, was a prolific reader and although had no or little education (he went down below when he was only fourteen), he could comment on a whole host of subjects with alacrity. In his footsteps I scour the various mediums on how societies around the globe react to change and the conditions it creates.

I would like to offer my view on the reasons why a great deal of our companies struggle to get it right with their people:

The simple reality is people in life display a range of behaviours.

People will astound you
People will inspire you
People will surprise you
People will disappoint you

We hear constantly from CEOs about the difficulties they have in managing and maintaining their workforces. Well one only has to look at global events from our recent history to find the trail for the answers.

Access to technology is breeding a new generation which has its own strong views on how the world should operate. The older generations don’t necessarily agree with their choices but the stark reality is that the proverbial freight train is coming though regardless of our current economic circumstances and substantial changes will occur in our workplaces. This has lead to a chasm on the issue of Respect (on both sides) defending their respective values and from a corporate point of view many organisations have witnessed almost open warfare.

For the wider population the influence of the media has been enormous, with it’s reach knowing no bounds (from a personal perspective I find it has become a blight on society and uses its power mostly in a negative vain rather than having a positive influence on our lives). People now receive information from a wide range of mediums and make and form opinions much more openly on how they feel and how they wanted to be treated in the workplace.

Listening to the more sagely and mature members of our community, they bemoan the loss of relationships. They claim we no longer cherish them and are too busy furrowing our own paths in terms of profit and personal aspirations to worry about other people. Could this apply to the relationships in our workplaces? Although it would be wrong to stereotype every organisation as it clearly many companies have achieved a good balance. Do we work hard enough in developing relationships or has the business environment become so tough they have been sacrificed on the alter of survival and other perceived priorities? I am not advocating the development of a warm and cuddly relationship, that is not realistic or workable, but a clear understanding of what we mean to each other and values.

My observation is that Trust is in ever diminishing supply and again we can look at world events for the triggers. The population mistrust governments whether it is at a country or local level for their actions and lack of transparency, in some cases bribery graft and corruption. The debacle of the global financial crisis only adds fire to existing problems. Put yourself in the shoes of millions who had their savings decimated and perhaps lost their homes. Would you be happy to rely on trust?

Companies especially at this time have to make tough decisions which unfortunately lead to a fracture of the trust pipeline. How these decisions are communicated will determine people’s view of the organisation and this is vitally important for the future. Although this recession/downturn in which we are encountering is grim and extremely serious, the fact is we will recover and looking to the horizon we will starting recruiting staff again. The old adage “trust us we are good people” will not “cut it”. We need a different approach to restore trust levels and let’s face it for some this may be a “bridge to far”. Collectively we have created this situation and if we do not focus our efforts to address the problem, it will not magically disappear. In fact I envisage further deterioration .

The simplicity of my thoughts may appear unsophisticated, but that is the whole point. To me we have become too clever, searching for solutions which in truth are right in front of our noses. It is my opinion we need to take a long hard look and ask ourselves the question “Is there a better way? ”

So I now go forward with these three pillars tucked in my pocket, which I know are achievable and the knowledge that my thirst for answers has been quenched:

Respect + Relationships = Trust

KEN WOOD