We have seen numerous posts and commentaries about the recent actions where a UK senior advisor (paid just shy of £100,000 per year according to this annual report) by to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has been lambasted with calls to resign or be sacked (as he is not an elected individual) for his actions after he has been discovered to have broken the lockdown rules the government had set out for the people. There's also been several posts I've seen on my timeline recently which debate whether politics and the individual political views of people have a place on a professional platform like LinkedIn. For me, there are times where they can be separated. But sometimes the discussion really needs to be thought of in a wider context.
Personally, I don't think that Dominic Cummings’ actions are the main issue. It's how his employer (in this case the UK Government) decides to handle it. By defending his advisor, Boris Johnson has publicly endorsed the fact that his aides are entitled to break the rules whilst expecting the rest of the population to abide by the law.
Let's break this down a bit. You're working for a large multinational organisation in a senior role. You have a set of guidelines and protocols (let's call it an employee handbook or code of conduct) that have been considered to create the best culture for your people and to make your organisational culture as strong as possible. Lots of people have contributed to this and feel proud to have been a part of shaping what their working framework and environment look like. Then one of your management goes and breaks these rules by for example firing somebody for whistleblowing who reported financial misconduct. The company upon hearing about the matter refuses to take appropriate action and instead defends the propagator. Not only does this damage the psychological contract the individual who suffered the abuse faced, but also all of those who expected their organisation to handle things in a certain way.
The actions of the individual aren't irrelevant here. But it's not the important thing. The important this is how those actions are dealt with. As Boris Johnson (and therefore the government) demonstrates his full support of this behaviour, we as a population find ourselves unclear of what we can and can't do or more importantly what we should do. Even my mother who is classed as extremely vulnerable due to underlying health conditions joked about breaking lockdown restrictions when I delivered her shopping to her yesterday and even though it was said in jest, I could tell there was a subtext of "why are we all bothering?".
This is where we see the intersection of politics and business play out. The behaviour and actions of a government create an environment (or a culture) by which we all conduct our daily lives and business operations. With a government endorsing this unethical and breach of the Health Protection Regulations 2020, what other legislation can now be seen as breakable? Can corporations now not pay their taxes because the government doesn't have the integrity to now penalise companies, or have full permission to back those individuals in their workplace who violate the Equalities Act? The culture that a leader creates by enabling this behaviour is more than just an issue of our government reputation being in question. It's one that sets the tone for how both society and business choose to execute their daily operations.
So what as leaders can we do to ensure our organisational culture doesn’t follow suit? Here are my top three thoughts to prevent this level of despondence and disobedience in the workplace.
1. Follow your values: If your employees or contractors behave in a way that conflicts with codes of conduct or company values, do not sweep it under the carpet. It astounds me how many companies are not prepared to deal with things in a way that penalises wrong-doing or ineptness. Sometimes it can be because it is done by senior staff members and therefore the perceived penalty of reaching a compromise agreement or potential brand damage of the story being more widely known is scary. But think about what is the cost of NOT acting upon it? Will the brand reputation be even more severely impacted by not taking fair and swift action? Will the choice of consumers be more easily diverted to competitors who aren’t affected by weak leadership action?
2. Change your hiring methodology: Often we hire people based on their meritocracy. Their achievements. Their qualifications. Because this is what we have always been taught to value when we recruit people into our organisations so we can get the “best” people for the job. But with Leadership IQ’s research showing that 89% of staff are terminated because of attitudinal reasons, we need to think about how we reframe our hiring criteria to shift to reflect this. Because fundamentally, you are less likely to have people behave in this way in the workplace if you have hired people based on their attitude, rather than their historic achievements.
3. Creating a culture of belonging: Think about it. On the whole, when are you happiest? Is it when you are stressed doing something you truly resent doing and your management are resisting everything you are doing? Or when you have the full support and backing of your leaders and doing something that stimulates you and engages you? Better Up’s study shows that every single act of micro-exclusion has an immediate 25% decline in that individual’s performance on a team project. The more you include everyone, the better their performance and the less likely they will act in a way that conflicts with your organisation’s values.
We can see the impact this behaviour has on our workplaces on a daily basis. Especially now at times of extreme pressure and stress caused by the destruction of our standardised working routines. Now is the time that we must go above and beyond for our people to make them feel like they belong. To make them feel engaged. To increase that productivity that we have taken for granted up to this point where people previously felt like they were closer to other co-workers. We should combat these bad behaviours we are seeing set as the modus operandi by our governments of one rule for them and another for everyone else. This is where equality fails so hard in most organisations. For us to create the right environments for our organisations to thrive, we have to be firm in our leadership and clearly demonstrate we are all in this equally, and all in this together as one.