Author Archives: Dorothy Dalton

fellings in the world of AI

Feelings in the world of AI – UNLEASH18

One of the main paradoxes of any HR conference focusing on digital and tech, is there is always  as much discussion around the human element as the technical stuff. This year at UNLEASH18 I felt it was even more pronounced than usual. Threaded through the event was a strong emphasis on soft skills, emotions, relationships, psychological safety, trust, sustainability, wellness, inclusion and ethics.

Whoever can put this onto an App will be a multi-millionaire.

For me there was one word that stood out and somewhat ironically for a tech setting talking about AI, it was “feelings.”   Not just how we feel personally but also understanding how others feel and experience their working lives. The quality of our interactions with each other featured large.

Feelings in the world of AI

No matter how sophisticated A1 becomes, there is one undeniable fact. It can’t feel anything whether joy, stress, anger, excitement, love, happiness or empathy. Feelings in the world of AI and digital are the ultimate paradox.

Anyone who attends an Unleash conference will be familiar with the sensory overload. There’s noise, movement, visual effects and great food. You can’t beat a Dutch Bitterballen. And not forgetting the 4500 people. It’s impossible to go to everything. So I have selected only three areas that highlight for me what seems to be a growing concern that we need to stop neglecting feelings in our increasingly digital worlds. There were many more.

Employee experience

“If people don’t feel that they can use these technologies during their work experience to contribute and improve their work experience, they going to find them less useful than ever.”


Josh Bersin kicked off strongly as usual with the latest updates on HR trends. He told us that with $6 billion of investments in tech start-ups, technology is now way ahead of the workplace. Although there is full employment and increased technology application, he reported that productivity is actually at an all time low. So something is skewed. Bersin emphasised that the success of technology was at risk if employees did not feel it to be valuable or if it did not enhance their individual contribution in the workplace. 

Morné Swart, VP Global Product Strategy, SumTotal Systems identified the three top digital initiatives implemented by CHROs in organisations. 60% are using digital technology to enhance the employee experience, 53% are using digital technology to increase employee productivity.  Bersin sees employee experience and productivity as one and the same and all tech vendors are now “employee experience vendors.”


“We are hired for our skills but let go because of the way we handle our relationships.”   

Esther Perel is a leading relationship therapist, author and world renown keynote speaker who offers compelling insights into modern relationships. Bestselling author of books Mating in Captivity and The State of Affairs, she is a veritable powerhouse on stage. She cited a need for a CRO (Chief Relationship Officer) in our businesses. She gave compelling examples of how we bring our personal relationship history into the workplace and explained the way in which these impact a group dynamic. She illustrated how our need for independence, adventure and security can be as mismatched in the workplace as in our private lives.

Perel believes that the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives and careers and the same also applies to organisations. Effective relationships grease the wheels of any organisation and make them function successfully. Highly performing organisations are more profitable. Poor relationships can create a toxic corporate culture, where employees feel psychologically insecure with significant fall out. This can include absenteeism, mental health problems, increased errors and reduced creativity.

These are all factors which impact employee engagement, ultimately hitting productivity and therefore profitability. Soft skills and the way leaders make people feel are the new P & L drivers.  People leave organisations because they don’t feel recognised. “We want a sense of belonging at work otherwise we will leave.”

Happiness, compassion, altruism

“Happiness is a skill, emotional balance is a skill, compassion and altruism are skills, and like any skill they need to be developed. That’s what education is about.”

Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk closed the event, talking about the importance of compassion and altruism. By embracing these concepts we can continue to live next to each other and with each other in greater happiness. With a Ph.D. in cell genetics at the Pasteur Institute in 1972, he moved to the Himalayan region to follow a spiritual path of Tibetan Buddhism. He is actively involved in neuroscientific research on the effects of meditation. 

Ricard suggests  that altruism, that is having more consideration for others, “is the only unifying concept that allows us to answer the main challenges of the 21st century.”  He believes that in this way we can make the world of work and our wider world  a kinder and happier place. He urges us to understand that altruism is a necessity not a luxury needed for our long-term sustainability, By committing to transforming ourselves to these principles we will thrive not flounder. The development of altruistic love, compassion and other fundamental human qualities we can help us increase our contribution to society and improve our own feeling of well-being.

The price of AI

I couldn’t help but wonder as David Green the MC encouraged us to lift our heads from our smart phones to talk to the person sitting next to us if we will eventually have an app for that too.

Ding: Message to self….talk.

There is a clear risk that the quality of our interactions will impact our feelings in the world of AI if we let it drive us. We will pay the price and be less effectiveIt’s important to find the balance and learn that we manage tech and not the other way round. Tech should liberate us from routine processes so we can spend more time on the “feeling” work.

Feelings it would seem are a business issue.

Attract the right talent – get in touch!

cultural fit

Cultural fit under the microscope

Devising little tests such as a hiring lunch and other tricks have always been around to test job seekers for cultural fit. Thomas Edison is famously reported to have served candidates a bowl of soup when he was interviewing for research assistants. He seemingly wanted to see whether they added salt or pepper to the soup before they tasted it. Candidates who did were automatically cut. Edison didn’t want to hire anyone who made assumptions. Assumptions apparently are the killers of innovative thinking. In some ways Edison was ahead of the bias curve.

Trial by sherry

Some companies have weekend long processes once euphemistically called “trial by sherry;” where candidates are subjected to two days of evaluation including cocktail parties, teas, dinners and golf outings. These social events are interspersed with highly useful team building exercises such as fence building and presentations. All are designed to identify which candidates demonstrate the best skills, while at the same time juggling a canapé, a glass of wine or a hammer. I heard one story of a candidate who had imbibed a few too many sherries and jumped fully dressed into the hotel pool. She wasn’t shortlisted. Other companies talk to their receptionists before making a final decision, or ask for a lift in the candidate’s car to see the state of their vehicle. This is perhaps “tidy car/tidy mind” thinking. I suspect the latter would make me unemployable in the eyes of some.

Diversity new global mindset 

Research from LinkedIn suggests that diversity is one of the four trends shaping the future of hiring in 2018 with 78% of talent professionals and hiring managers say that it is the top trend impacting how they hire.  There are after all compelling statistics substantiating the diversity correlation with employee experience and engagement, innovation, customer satisfaction and overall business success.

The days of rejecting a candidate because he or she added salt to their soup before tasting it should be long gone.But the notions about assumptions are not incorrect. Cultural fit is still a significant driver in hiring, assessment and job search processes for all involved. For recruiters and hiring managers it’s a pre-condition for selection and is seen as a key indicator of a successful hire.  On the other side, job seekers are encouraged and coached into persuading employers that they would “fit” in beautifully. They research the organisation, use corporate language and adopt a style that they believe will be convincing. People are hired specifically because of their potential to be a great cultural fit and organisations reject candidates because they won’t.

I have never heard of anyone receiving an offer because no one liked them.

Today, the notion of cultural fit is being redefined and re-evaluated. It is increasingly under the microscope, now seen as short-cut thinking, interfering with diversity, which is considered critical to innovation, collaboration and growth. The real struggle is to recruit people with a different mindset, who challenge the existing culture and shake it up but can work together.

We should now be talking about cultural value rather than cultural fit.

Cultural value rather than cultural fit

How do we get there?

#1 Define your culture 

Frequently no one in the process understands what cultural fit for their organisation really means. Cultural fit should be about slotting people into places and roles where both the individual and the environment benefit. In my early career I worked in television and was involved in a hiring process for a Graphic Artist. He was cut because he looked like an accountant and wouldn’t “fit in.” He was wearing a suit. He went on to have a very successful career in Hollywood.

If an organisation wants to recruit candidates that fit in with their culture, they need to define what their culture is exactly and more importantly if it’s a culture worth holding onto or needs shaping into something new, diverse and dynamic.

#2 Leadership commitment

Cultural change requires leadership commitment backed up by systemic changes to move away from in-built group-think. Team leaders and hiring managers need to be encouraged and motivated to bring people who are not cookie-cutter templates of existing employees. This leads to systemic changes where technology can be harnessed to extend the reach of any hiring process. Adopting blind reviews where certain fields are masked to eliminate bias triggers such as graduation year, name, gender etc. Appointing diverse hiring teams with checks and balances embedded in the system and taking steps to deal with unconscious bias is all part of creating a culture of inclusion.

#3 Employee referrals

31% of open positions are filled by employee referrals. Unless employees have diverse networks it is inevitable that Mini-Me hiring will follow. It’s important to encourage and motivate those involved or contacted in the process, not so much to think outside the box but to lose the box altogether.

#4 Employer Branding

Growing an employer brand that is transparent and open to a new type of hiring can be reflected in all the touch points that candidates encounter. Whether this is related to neuro-diversity, physical ability, race or gender the commitment to a diverse and inclusive workforce can be highlighted in an organisation’s outreach activities, on the web site and careers pages as well as social media platforms. The brand has to reflect a new style and thinking.

#5 Difference isn’t negative

Letting go of the notion of cultural fit instills deep fear into the hearts and minds of hiring managers. But it isn’t about hiring someone who will disrupt a team in a negative way but switching to seeing difference and diversity as value adding. Carrying out a box ticking exercise to increase numbers of diversity hires for its own sake won’t work. To be most effective businesses need to build inclusive cultures which optimise their employees’ experience so they can do their best work. They need to feel welcomed and valued. Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a feeling. If employees do not feel welcome this leads to churn further down the pipeline. Put simply. They leave.

Who knows what would have happened if the woman who had jumped into the pool fully dressed had been hired.

If your organisations needs to get beyond recruitment stereotypes contact me NOW


Why LinkedIn needs a civility button

There is much discussion around civility in the workplace and social media. On the one hand you have a demographic quoting from Orwell’s 1984  railing against “thought police” and insisting on the right to free speech. On the other a group that wants to agree a code of conduct that sets out guidelines for some basic etiquette. I am firmly in that number which is why I feel strongly that LinkedIn needs a civility button.  I don’t have a problem with people expressing their opinions, just how they do it. It’s all about respect. 

Why LinkedIn civility button?

My concerns are with individuals attacking the person rather than the content. I think name calling should be outlawed. When some of our most high profile leaders do not hesitate to hector and bully, insulting individuals live and on social media, they have created a culture of acceptance. You know who they are, I don’t even have to name them. This in turn filters into the workplace and social media platforms.

It is possible to report an offence on LinkedIn but the range of options is limited. You can block a LinkedIn member and you can report a post. I understand we are getting into difficult territory here when you talk about incivility because it varies from one person to another and between cultures. If you are used to disrespectful behaviour this is your normal.

Don’t feed the trolls

In general the guidelines should be:

  • Avoid direct attacks for personal opinions.
  • No insults
  • Do not post offensive images
  • Beware swearing or vulgarity – this can be a debate subject. Standards can change between demographics.
  • Keep content professional

There are ranges of abuse from the downright offensive to mildly upsetting. The first group are extreme and clearly identifiable. For them the ground rules are clear. Block, report and move on. But there is a second more sophisticated group who cross the line in a less flagrant way, but are no less pernicious. LinkedIn needs a civility button more than ever for these people.

I posted the same question on a LinkedIn discussion started by Judi Fox a LinkedIn strategist on general comportment on LinkedIn. Her message was that if you wouldn’t say something in a F2F meeting, don’t post it on LinkedIn. But the fact is that people do, because they can. I invited some other LinkedIn experts to share their views.

Expert input

Some tips for LinkedIn

  • Create a membership experience survey to establish what boundaries are most important.
  • Create a code of conduct based on that research and include it in the terms and conditions which members accept when they join.
  • Circulate that code of conduct to existing members when they log in. Everyone’s done it anyway for GDPR.
  • Add a wider range of behaviours other than “inappropriate” to the report options. Include personally insulting, bullying, harassment, abusive.
  • Weed out fake and troll profiles then remove them.
  • Don’t allow the creation of profiles without photos or full names. It’s a professional networking site – it holds members to account if they are visible.

It seems that I maybe a minority of 1! For me LinkedIn needs a civility button or better options for dealing with trolling, offensive and abusive behaviour. What do you think?


For all your executive search and research needs contact me here.



Digitally savvy candidates expose “Hire-zillas”

Employer branding has always been important to attract top talent, but today it is more significant than ever. The emergence of a generation of super digitally savvy candidates means that the standard ways of building a strong employer brand are no longer sufficient. These candidates are smart enough to lift the curtain and dig deeper.

Research from the job the UK website “Indeed” which collaborated with Censuswide found that 70% of job seekers would not apply for a role until they had researched their would-be employer’s online reputation. More than 56% said they would not apply to a company that lacked an online presence.

Strong web site not enough

Many organisations think that having an attractive careers page ,on a good web site with a strong message is enough to create a strong message. But is it? As the competition for talent hots up the need for a pristine online presence and  an impeccable digital reputation also increases. Today’s digitally savvy candidates are now coming of age where they are applying for mid-level and even senior jobs. Millennials now have kids and mortgages. There are even more ways they can check out potential hiring companies to see if there is anything going on under the surface. And they know what they are and where to look. Some time I wrote that social proofing was here to stay. Now it is taking over in importance to regular branding.

A “Hire-zilla”

Jason was recently in a recruitment process for a mid-level role. “The web site  was very professional and showed the company had great benefits and what looked like a good working atmosphere. There was generous holiday entitlement, a gym, a Friday tab. They featured interviews with employees just like me all claiming to be really satisfied! It sounded perfect  so I was really excited. But there were some small red flags from the start which I didn’t pay enough attention to. We had communication delays and the interview time was changed several times. I rationalized this by thinking that stuff happens.

There were some veiled remarks about the manager expecting a strong work ethic and emails coming in at 02.00 a.m.  When I finally met him after taking 2 half days off work and seeing multiple other people who told me that the job was pretty much mine, he hadn’t read my CV, or discussed my salary expectations. He was aggressive, almost rude and dismissive of my experience.

Jason has created a great word! Hire-zilla. A big destructive monster in the hiring process. It can be a recruiter or a hiring manager. In this case it was the hiring manager. He continued:

He was a real “Hire-zilla.” It was a terrible candidate experience and there was no way I would ever work at that company, even if they made an offer. When I checked on Glassdoor the reviews were terrible and reflected my experience. There were over 40 testimonials, more than 50% negative. No one had stayed there more than a year and the words “sweat shop” were used more than once. The management had contested some of the comments but in a very hectoring and dismissive way that seemed to be the accepted tone. It was all indicative of a toxic workplace”

Short of putting an NDA and a non-disparagement clause in employment contracts limiting disclosure then any employer should take this situation seriously. It might not be a brand issue now but it will only be a question of time.

How to handle negative reviews

So what if you are getting negative online comments. One or two are not important. Companies cannot be all things to all people. But over 20? That is a significant message that something is not right.

  • Reflect on the feedback. It’s important to take a step back and reflect before taking action.
  • Respond professionally.  You are only allowed one response, so it’s important to make sure that the tone is direct and correct. If there are any inaccuracies or false details you can contact the website administrators and they may agree to reviewing and addressing the situation.
  • Value constructive feedback. Negative reviews should be used as constructive criticism of your company’s activities, hiring processes and more. You should view this as an opportunity to discuss the area or areas receiving criticism and take appropriate action.
  • Evaluate thoroughly.  One negative review can happen, but over 20? That is a strong message. If it is the same criticism multiple times you have a problem.
  • Frame the feedback. Is it one department or team where there is a  single”Hire-zilla” or does it indicate a wider cultural tolerance of toxic behaviours? If it’s one person you need to deal with it. If it’s wider and deeper then a more profound assessment and audit could be necessary including an anonymous employee engagement survey.
  • Encourage positive reviews.  Satisified employees are less likely to post reviews of an organisation on sites such as Glassdoor. Encourage your top performers and internal allies to add their positive comments. If they are reluctant to do that….. once again you have a problem.
  • Carry out exit interviews. These have different levels of popularity but if an organisation is in touch with its employees then these reviews should not come as a surprise. If you have a NDA or a non-disparagement clause in the contract that is the point at which to remind them of that fact.

There is no doubt that employers can’t pay attention to every negative comment about their organisation. But if you have a high number of online reviews or comments which reflect badly on you it will lead to higher levels of churn and lower productivity. Eventually your customers will find out and your business will suffer. Today, it is only a question of time before all job seekers will fall under the heading of digitally savvy candidates.

 If your organisation needs support with its employer brand contact us here.
Resistance to Unconscious Bias Training

Lessons in resistance to Unconscious Bias Training

What we can learn from the resistance to Unconscious Bias Training

If you asked any corporate leader if they wanted their workplaces to be respectful, open-minded and psychologically secure for their employees most would say immediately “yes.” There would be a few who couldn’t care less but they are unlikely to admit that publicly. The strong leader knows that providing a positive employee experience leads to strong engagement which impacts creativity, collaboration, reduces churn and increases profitability. The path to behaviours that helps us do this tends to comes under the umbrella of inclusive leadership and unconscious bias training. Given the known positive outcomes of training associated with creating inclusive workplaces, what could go wrong?  But resistance to unconscious bias training is widespread.

What is less clear is why training sessions that help leaders achieve respectful and open-minded profitable corporate cultures get this type of pushback. It’s also less obvious why organisations are afraid to deal with it.

The answers are possibly rooted in the fact that it’s a lot of work. It means introspection and self-reflection, something else that doesn’t come easily to most. But it also involves personal behavioural change which is even more challenging. None of us like to change. Especially ourselves.

Nudge Theory

The resistance to unconscious bias training is so common that it has generated widespread discussion. Appealing to the rational mind to make specific changes on its own is not moving the gender parity needle. The nudge theory has been developed to try and deal with this push back.  Nudges interrupt and outsmart unconscious gender bias and expectations in a practical way by encouraging our unconscious minds away from our short-cut gender stereotype thinking, to considering alternative decisions and perceptions. In everyday language it’s comparable to a way of convincing toddlers to eat their vegetables without telling them what they are doing.  Nudges drive people towards a desired behaviour so gently that they don’t notice they are doing it.

Nudge is a concept in behavioral science, political theory and economics which proposes positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions as ways to influence the behavior and decision making of groups or individuals. Nudging contrasts with other ways to achieve compliance, such as education, legislation or enforcement.

Inclusion Nudges

Successfully employed in marketing and other areas where behavioural change is desired, nudges are now being used in many diversity and inclusion initiatives, especially gender balance. Business language and behaviour as well as definitions of corporate success tend to be male coded. When both men and women draw a picture of a leader it is usually a man.  Gender balanced visuals are small “nudges” to balance out employer and product branding material and away from gender stereotyping. They convey a message that an organisation is “friendly” towards women. It’s important to include photos and testimonials of female employees, especially those who work outside stereotypical female functions to send more positive signals. Showcasing the profiles and successes of senior women as brand ambassadors is another nudge that helps overcome the unconscious bias that leadership is a male activity. The use of male only icons, and images on web sites and infographics is commonplace and needs to stop!

 Nudges are used in attracting women to apply for jobs. Research shows that men and women approach career advancement differently. Many women self-de-select from career opportunities when faced with ambiguity and when they don’t meet 80% of the requirements(  (Mohr 2014).)  Changing the language of job adverts and profiles to become more gender neutral is a nudge that leads to an increase in female applicants. If women can see that they can accomplish the tasks set out in the job description, and have an understanding of the support which is available to help them achieve future success, they are also more likely to be attracted to the role. (Gaucher et al 2011) Interestingly men are not put off from responding to gender neutral adverts or even female friendly ones.

Resistance to Unconscious Bias Training  

In all the years I have been involved in corporate training and coaching, one of the few areas where I have observed resistance is in unconscious training. Training involving knowledge transfer tends to be less problematic, but any process that aims at behavioural change is usually more nuanced and the results difficult to measure.  Over time I have come to understand that senior leaders should be able to decode some of the unstated messages  revealed by any push-back. Resistance to unconsicous bias training comes in many forms and ironically this is the very type of behaviour which would also be charaterised as non-inclusive.

  • Non-attendance: The unconvinced unapologetic non-inclusive leader will find any excuse not to attend a session. If their boss makes the training mandatory they will find other passive aggressive ways to make their displeasure felt.
  • Poor time keeping:  late arrival and early departure, perhaps frequent sorties to take “urgent” calls. Not returning from breaks on time.
  • Lack of engagement: significant time spent on their devices, not participating in breakout sessions, even physically isolating themselves in the room.
  • Disruption: talking over, interrupting
  • Distraction: side tracking their neighbours with running negative commentary or other converersations.
  • Either/or thinking: aggressive attack of the validitity of the content, staying in defensive rather than discovery mode, unwilling to discuss constructively.
  • Criticism: of just about everything else. The coffee, food, room tempertature layout or position.

Learning bonuses

Organisers can usually identify the key players who show resistance to unconscious bias training by their non-inclusive, uncivil or even disrespectful behaviour. I advise them to sit where they can have visibility on the room. It can be helpful to observe the proceedings as well as participating.  Leaders can try to understand the reasons behind the negativity and take steps to deal with it. This can be via one- to-one follow-up with an executive coach or diversity and inclusion champion. Senior managers who stand out as toxic participants in one area are highly likely to apply the same beliefs and strategies to their other interactions. I have never been in a situation where the training organiser has been surprised at which participants were not engaging. Some even try to warn in advance which executives will be difficult although I prefer to go in with an open unbiased mind.

There is another added learning bonus. When organisers fail to notice any non-inclusive behaviours in the resistance to unconscious bias training, that also contains a message. Very often these behaviours are so embedded in an organisation’s culture –  poor time keeping, interruption, lack of engagement, that they have become the cultural norm.  Noone notices. It needs outside input to flag it up.

On the plus side over the years I have been doing this type of training the number of unwilling and disruptive particpants per session is reducing.

So instead of being concerned about any resistance to unconscious bias training, we should use it as a basis for learning about the culture of the organisation and take the lessons learned for moving forward.

For more information on unconscious bias training – contact me here.



political correctness

When did political correctness become incorrect?

And when did respect become political correctness?

Have you ever noticed how people apologise for political correctness or pour scorn on it as somehow  it’s something we have to justify. We frequently hear sentences starting with “I know this is politically incorrect but…..”  They then go on to say something mildly or even extremely offensive.

Others say that they are simply tired of it and feel it inhibits their right to express themselves freely. They say they “loathe obsessive political correctness.” The reality is that political correctness was politically imposed on us because as individuals and groups we fail to treat all people with respect and dignity they deserve of our accord. We seem to need outside guidelines to be respectful.

Political correctness is defined as:

the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.

What is happening is that certain layers of our communities look back to a time when they didn’t have to think before they spoke or took action without reflecting on the potential negative impact on others. It might have been at a time when as a dominant group, their life view was the one that prevailed and they could share opinions and use language that was racist, sexist, homophobic, or held prejudicial views against a specific group which was offensive in its nature. We see it now on social media in an extreme form and amongst some leaders who are offensive and abusive. They share their biases and prejudices openly about specific demographics  with few, if any, repercussions.

Incivility on the rise

According to research from Christine Porath of Georgetown University incivility is on the rise. There has been an increase of 13% since 1998. She also notes that 66% of these instances of incivility occurred between a manager and an employee. Incivility impacts employee engagement with all the downsides. Two-thirds of those employees who experienced incivility, “intentionally give less to their organization as the result. 25% take it out on the customer.” More than 50% of employee don’t report  incivility for fear of repercussions.

The reality is that most organisations don’t realise that their culture might be toxic until their employee engagement survey gives bad news. Most managers would be horrified to find they would be considered to be a toxic boss. 

How does workplace incivility manifest itself?

Workplace incivility has been defined as low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others.”

Here is a check list of areas where incivility and lack of respect can appear in the workplace:

  • rudeness – this is complex and can be difficult to define precisely because cross cultural differences have to be factored in as well as personal levels of tolerance and bias. It can be conveyed in writing, verbally and through body language.
  • unfairness  – playing favorites, inconsistent treatment of colleagues, facilitating gossip, withholding information, exclusion
  • poor time keeping – late for meetings or missing deadlines. It implies that you think you are more important than everyone else.
  • distracted or not giving full attention. Smart phone usage is rampant in this group. See above.
  • interrupting
  • talking over someone
  • dismissing a colleague’s view-point
  • name calling
  • attacking the person not the argument
  • adopting an either/or position rather than also/and
  • use of bad language
  • jokes and banter with racist, sexist or comments that belittle a person or a demographic
  • invading someone’s personal space
  • emoting – yelling, slamming doors, throwing things
  • lack of courtesy and good manners. No please or thank yous.
  • bullying  – this can be verbal, physical or emotional. The result is the employee feels psychologically unsafe in the workplace and is likely to be disengaged with all that implies for business success.
  • Exhibiting bias in a way that favours one demographic over an other

Impact on business of incivility

The impact on employee engagement of a lack of political correctness and increased incivility is significant.

  • Increased employee turnover
  • A high level of employee grievances and complaints.
  • Absenteesim and sick leave increased
  • Increased customer complaints
  • Drop in productivity
  • Conflict caused by miscommunication
  • Disconnect with leadership
  • Resistance to change
  • Reduced collaboration
  • Reduced innovation
  • Low levels of accountabilty

The very same managers who will think they are thoughtful and decent people will tick many of those boxes you see above. So next time you have negative feedback from your team, or the employee engagement survey gives a lower than expected rating, it’s think long and hard about our own behaviour and whether we are uncivil at a very basic level. Leadership language and behaviour matters and political correctness helps keep us on track. It’s about being mindful of others.

Now might be a good to to apply some political correctness if it doesn’t come naturally and spontaneously.

If you need support with your talent pipeline contact us now.

toxic boss

7 tips to avoid being a toxic boss

Last week I wrote a post “5 ways to avoid a toxic workplace culture.” This took a macro view of workplace culture. I have been asked by many readers to give practical tips to avoid being or becoming a toxic boss.

There is an old adage that says people leave bosses not organisations so all managers are responsible to some degree for employee engagement. But it can be easy for a leader to slip into becoming a toxic boss under pressure from an unrelenting  corporate world especially if no training is given. It is the seemingly unimportant, imperceptible daily actions which can have the greatest impact on employee engagement.

Dealing with adversity and ambiguity

External factors such as sector, financial or senior leadership crises occur, but it is how the boss responds in these circumstances that counts. I have worked with countless individuals who have been laid off and even when they are firing people,  they still respect good bosses. Without exception the best leaders are the ones that can sustain employee engagement despite ambiguity and adversity, even when they are making redundancies.

Many very well known and established businesses have pockets where individual bosses do not know how to manage their teams and create a toxic atmosphere. On an every-day level it’s the first line supervisor who has the greatest impact on employee motivation and commitment. Lack of employee engagement has a significant impact on the bottom line and with 81% of employees reported to be potentially open for a move and the cost in terms of innovation, customer service, creativity, mental well-being and overall productivity is high.

The toxic boss

Individual managers are rarely held accountable for employee engagement unless there is a crisis in their department or division. If the manager is responsible for generating revenue the fact that his/her employees show signs of demotivation is frequently overlooked. This also applies to more serious cases of sexism, harassment, bullying and unethical practises. Sometimes leaders and shareholders just want results with no questions asked. They are less concerned with the how until there are issues. A high percentage of the career transition coaching I do is rooted in poor leadership and lack of employee engagement, although they may not be the visible presenting issues. All of these negatively impact any employer brand.

Greatest asset

Business success might have nothing to do with a great corporate culture but about market conditions. The real test is what happens when business is challenging.  It is the same leaders who say that their employees are their greatest asset, but their behaviour is not consistent with their so-called mission or values statement.

Highly engaged and motivated employees should be any organisations greatest assets. But very often they get the least attention. At one time the people part of the business was even designated “human capital” which sounds more like “human cattle.”

Old school managerial style

There are many managers in post who subscribe to what would be considered a more old school style of management. This is a “command and control” approach rather than influence and persuade. It’s not necessarily always older generations who subscribe to this philosophy either. As millennials dominate the workforce they are looking for a more inclusive leadership style which is about transparency, flexibility and influence. Good barometers are not just in your employee engagement survey but comments placed on social proofing sites when people have left. These are frequently dismissed as the rantings of disgruntled ex-employees, but  if there is a consistent theme then it’s worth paying attention to the message.

Many pundits also dismiss the exit interview. These can add value if done correctly and there is transparency. Many employees are reluctant to be open for fear of reprisals and poor references looping back to the point about transparency. If fear replaces respect then any manager is in trouble.

7 tips to avoid being a toxic boss

Many managers have no idea that they have moved into the toxic zone where they are alienating their employees and not engaging them. In tri-partite discussions there are some who take a hard-line “this is how I am .. get over it” but others are genuinely shocked, upset even and open to change. Here are some simple every day  tips to bring that change about.

  1. Walk the talk – all leaders should embody their message and do as they want others to do. This means engaging regularly with your team and not sitting in an ivory tower sending out directional emails. You need to be out there seeing what goes on and being visible.
  2. Exhibit empathy – this doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything your employees say or do, but if they have a problem or a concern try to walk in their shoes and experience a situation from their point of view. It’s also about respecting their boundaries in terms of time and communication.
  3. Listen and be inquisitive – the most motivating bosses are the ones that listen and communicate openly and transparently. If a topic is not for discussion for any reason you can say that and let them know that as soon as you can you will involve them. Find out what is going on for them. Be up front that you may not always be able to act on what they want but you will always be willing to listen. Understanding your employees and being open with them is key to motivation. They won’t be open with you if you are closed with them.
  4. Be ethical – conduct yourself with integrity and with the values you subscribe to. Don’t play favourites and always be neutral and just. In an era where there seems to be a pronounced absence of leadership values it’s important to align yourself with values that employees trust and respect.
  5. Give responsibilities – empowerment and accountability are great motivators. Make sure your team have the proper skills and tools to do their jobs properly. Give credit, thanks and recognition when it is due and support them all the way even if the team comes under scrutiny.  All of these practises lead to increase confidence which benefits the employer and enhances the employer brand. This is the time when there is an I in team. Above all do not micro-manage. This is a consistent reported characteristic of a toxic boss and one of the single most damaging management flaws. It implies lack of trust, and is stifling and demotivating.
  6. Develop their careers – offer training and personal development opportunities. Sponsor and mentor as appropriate. Promote them where possible and give constructive feedback when their career goals are not being met. If promotion isn’t realistically feasible maintain their personal development and learning. Long serving solid employees offer as much value as the whizz kid hot shot.
  7. Create a team charter – one of the simplest ways of empowering any team is to agree guidelines on the things that are important to them, communicating goals and agreeing norms and values. This could be about communication style, the way meetings are run, dress code or protocols for the resolution of disagreements and conflict. An inclusive management style will have an immediate impact on employee engagement.

A strong highly motivated team will be more creative, productive and committed to the organisational mission. Make sure that you are on the right side of the line to avoid being a toxic boss.

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toxic workplace cultures

5 ways to avoid toxic workplace cultures

Very often those leading or working in toxic workplace cultures are unable to see things how they really are. Bad habits and behaviours are so deeply ingrained that the individuals involved no longer notice. Or if they do, they make excuses “That’s how he/ she is” or “that’s the way we do things here.” 

Then there is a crisis or a disruptive event that exposes a way of working for what it really is.  It might be a significant error of judgment with extensive fallout bringing a demand for third party accountability. We saw this in a multitude of recent scandals: the President’s Club, Oxfam, Miramax and the Starbucks racism exposure. It might be a solitary whistle blower who has finally had enough or their conscience is tested.  Chris Wylie’s exposure of Cambridge Analytica comes to mind. Or it could be a class action where a group of aggrieved employees campaign together to highlight systemic injustice as we saw with the female employees at Nike. 

Everyday issues too

We need to shine a light to ask how  organisations get to a place where in extreme cases implosion is just a question of time leading to an external investigation and reckoning. This is not just about the at times illegal and the ethically dubious. The normalisation of deviance manifests itself beyond the big issues, to every day workplace practises that we are all involved in. Many of us take them for granted. It can be creating a culture of overwork, promoting the domination of one group at the expense of another, allowing a negative communication style to predominate, and accepting the unacceptable, all contribute to the creation and embedding of toxic workplace cultures.

Organisational impact

The impact on organisations is substantial.  Cultural toxicity impacts employee engagement, productivity, creativity, retention and exaggerates churn. Lack of engagement costs 1% of payroll in the U.S and absenteeism from work in the EU is estimated at 2.5% of GDP across 27 member states, or 6% of working time. Mental health issues are at an all-time high and research from Gary Hamel of the London Business School suggests that 63% of the global workforce are not engaged in the workplace and 81% are open for a move. All of these elements will be reflected in the bottom line and employer brand. Starbucks closed 8000 coffee shops for half a day to carry out unconscious  racial bias training – at what cost? The President’s Club closed totally. A Volkswagen executive has been jailed for his role in the cover up of research data on diesel emissions. Harvey Weinstein has been charged with rape.

5 ways to avoid toxic workplace cultures

What can leaders do to make sure their workplaces are healthy and sustainable and don’t slide into toxic workplace cultures?

#1 Create a genuine mission statement 

Corporate values can be a bit of a grey area which don’t seem to be applied on a daily basis. Saying one thing but doing another is the way toxic workplace cultures take hold. It’s important for leaders to define their core values and then walk the talk and not simply pay lip service. Make sure these values are publicly displayed and everyone knows what they are and are signed up for them. Include them on the web site and in onboarding protocols.

#2 Understanding little things make a difference  

Toxic workplace cultures frequently start with what seem like insignificant but expedient short cuts. Bad practises and corner cutting are oftentimes rooted in the little things. Turning a blind eye once sets a precedent, which unchecked will mushroom into a practise or a norm. This can be allowing the big sales generator some lea way with complaints about sexism, the raging of a senior manager to go unchallenged or “flexibility” on expenses.

#3 Don’t make excuses

At the root of all defences are the claims that whatever happens is in the interests of the business. It is necessary to maintain market share, to stay ahead of the competition, increase margins and sales or cut costs. All those excuses foster toxic workplace cultures. Like Topsy they also grow exponentially until there are clusters of bad practises, which rarely exist in isolation.

#4 Have pristine processes

If organisations genuinely want to prevent toxic workplace cultures they have to set up pristine processes that everyone trusts for open, respectful and respected communication.  It is vital to create an inclusive environment where employees can call out issues that are bothering before they escalate, without fear of reprisals. This also means having fail safe protocols for the more serious stuff, so that everyone knows that anything reported will be dealt with in a neutral and effective way.

#5 Carry out an audit 

It’s very hard to make an objective assessment of any culture where we play a central role or are deeply committed to. So carrying out an evaluation by an external provider in the way that company accounts are audited will only add value.  An objective assessment may flag up some hidden messages which will divert a crisis before it becomes one.

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toxic talk and anger

Toxic Talk, LinkedIn and the Anger Iceberg

Toxic talk is prevalent but has now reached LinkedIn

For some years Academics have becoming increasingly concerned about the potential fallout from “uncivil discourse.”  So called “toxic talk” can end up polarizing opinion “when individuals rather than issues are attacked” (Stryker, Conway, & Danielson, 2014). The concerns over incivility extend to the online information environment, where “nasty comments can harm healthy constructive dialogue.

Posting on social media is a potential minefield and can lead to inches of toxic talk. We are all aware of the rise in incivility in these areas, but I am still astonished at the aggression and vitriol which even the most mundane comment can produce. I have seen it on Facebook and Twitter but I had never encountered it on LinkedIn.

Last week I had very minor exposure myself to toxic talk, where it seemed I had the temerity to call out a male coded infographic on a post on LinkedIn which was used to illustrate a modern day workplace. All the icons were male. Male coded workplaces are one of the key reasons women leave organisations. It was evident that I touched some hot buttons and the level of push back was interesting and surprising.

My input was considered “brutal.” Really.

” If you choose to see more in it because of some inferiority complex, and haven’t got help for your own insecurities, that’s all on you.”

“Stop making problems.”

I could go on. I was tempted to engage and expand on my comment, but remembered the time honoured phrase don’t feed the trolls.” I didn’t feel further input would add value and would only engage me in a flame war. The conversation stopped. The influencer who posted the original topic and was in a Bystander role in this instance, did not moderate his stream. Why should he? It was heady click bait fodder.

I have seen some people include in their post requests for people to be polite and constructive, with the intention of eliminating any toxic talk. This shouldn’t really be necessary. But the fact that it is required is a sign of the times. Even factoring in the potential for miscommunication posed by email and posting on social media present, these extreme responses seem exaggerated.

Maybe I’m being a wimp but I had also not expected this on the professional platform LinkedIn.

Anger Iceberg

Compared to the experiences of others, I am fully aware that this small pushback is inconsequential. Women in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and those who stood up after the Parkland shooting have experienced horrendous trolling and toxic talk. Some of this is from leaders who should know better. Dianne Abbott a UK MP received almost half of all abusive tweets (both racist and sexist) sent to female MPs before the 2017 election including death and rape threats. She said the ‘volume’ of abuse she received was ‘debilitating, corrosive and so upsetting’

In today’s world anger seems to be the go-to surface emotion.

Sofie-Ann Bracke, Belgium based mediation expert, shared this Anger Iceberg infographic from the Gottman Institute which resonated.To lash out at someone online (they are probably unlikely to do so in person) we have to take a close look at motivation behind their reactions and responses. Sometimes all negative emotions which are expressed as anger are actually rooted in something else.

Emotional Intelligence

The ease at which toxic talk becomes a common pattern of communication also taps into levels of emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who helped to popularize the concept, says there are five key elements to it:

  • Self-awareness.

When we are self-aware, we have an understanding of how we feel and why and know well that, our emotions and your actions impact those around us.

My takeaway from my own experience now, is to anticipate a negative reaction. Rather than make a statement of fact, (“This is a very male-coded infographic“) I will probably try and elaborate with tried and tested intervention techniques. “Help me understand why a male coded infographic was used to illustrate the workplace which is 50% female.” Perhaps that would have made a difference. I will let you know.

  • Self-regulation.

People with emotional intelligence are able to self-regulate effectively rarely verbally attack others, make irrational or emotional decisions, stereotype others or compromise their value. Self-regulation is all about staying in control and not blaming other.

It’s easy to tap in an emotional response and hit send.

  • Motivation

This is about looking for an upside in every situation or challenge, no matter discouraging is a sign of strong emotional intelligence.

  • Empathy

Empathy is critical to successfully building relationships. Individuals with empathy are able to see another persons point of view and put themselves in their shoes without necessarily agreeing. They are able to give constructive feedback and challenge unfairness.

  • Social skills.

Those with social skills are great communicators.  They are good at managing change and resolve conflict effectively and diplomatically. They lead by example.

To communicate effectively, we must all acquire a solid understanding of how our emotions and actions affect the people around them. We also need to identify what triggers our emotions and why we respond in a certain way.

In the meantime it’s important that we all do what we can in our own area of influence to reduce the levels of toxic talk and other communication in our streams. LinkedIn could also offer a wider range of reporting options as UAE connection Dawn Metcalfe found when she received a picture of a penis in her LinkedIn messages.

Who else has experienced toxic talk on LinkedIn? Am I being a wimp and just accept this is part of the LinkedIn experience?

I am running a workshop in Brussels on May 29th on “How to deal with Sexism and Harassment in the Workplace” Please join me. Details HERE 


hiring process

Do you trust your gut in the hiring process? Maybe stop

In any hiring process I have been involved in, if I had a Euro (or any other currency) for the number of times I have heard these phrases I could probably retire:

  • It didn’t feel right
  • He/she wouldn’t fit
  • There was something about…

Trusting our instincts can help us in many ways. But in some cases trusting our guts can mislead us into safe, tried and tested decisions, which are not always the best. They certainly don’t lead to building diverse teams. Most of the hiring process is ineffective either profoundly or marginally. But despite the publicity around the inefficiencies and the cost of making the wrong hiring decisions, companies rarely change their approach to filling open vacancies. They rely on submitted applications and key worded ATS searches, network referrals, telephone or video screening, maybe some psychometric testing or a behavioural interview task and finally an unstructured interview(s). Sometimes there could be series of 5 or more interviews with different members of an organisation at different times, but frequently  covering the same ground.  Some candidates report up to 9 interviews requiring multiple vacation days on top of hours of preparation. If they are rejected some never even find out why.

There are  multiple reasons for adhering to these outdated and flawed systems

  • No one has any experience of doing anything differently. Interviewers complain about being cramped by more structured and standardized approaches which they feel are more formal and potentially intimidating to top candidates. They want candidates to like them.
  • Most managers rely on their instincts and think they can trust their guts when it comes to making the right hire, especially when it comes to building a team. Their team. They can resent the interference of outside influences – such as HR or even an external specialist.
  • Many organisations want shared responsibility for hiring. It deflects accountability if something goes wrong.

Yet there is overwhelming data to suggest that more consistent and formal approaches work better than casual and laissez- faire set-ups. Structured interviews are the best way to assess potential talent in a hiring process. The challenge is getting hiring managers to accept and then adopt the methodology. One of the main challenges is diary commitments and getting all players on site at the same time. But if people are the most important part of any business then they have to be given priority and time must be made to accommodate interviews.

Here are 6 ways to avoid having to rely on your gut in the hiring process

#1 Manage expectations

One of the most off-putting situations for any candidate is not having clarity around the process and what exactly is going to happen. If possible this should be explained upfront  before the interview with details on the hiring process.  If candidates understand that the interview is set up to make sure that all candidates will be be treated fairly and equally and asked the same questions. If there is any pre-interview chat as part of the warming up process, keep it to  neutral generalities. The weather and, journey to the venue are both banal and uncontentious and should be non-bias orientating discussions.

#2 Select a diverse panel 

if possible interviewers should be as diverse as possible in terms of background, age, seniority and personality types. There clearly has to be a subject expert in the group. This is a good opportunity to give junior employees exposure to the hiring process to prepare them for the future. VP roles don’t have to be interviewed exclusively by peers or more senior employees.

#3 Bench mark competences

The role should have a properly prepared job description with a clear definition of the main competences against which each candidate will be assessed on a matrix with scaled results for hard and soft skills. Questions around which skills or personality traits are missing from the team should be asked rather than looking for people who will fit in and others will “like.”

Hard skills are easy to evaluate:  For example fluency in a second language might be a necessary qualification. In which case it will be benchmarked at 9 or 10.   An engineering degree likewise. Soft skills are harder to assess and questions need to be structured so that a candidate can describe situations where they have exhibited those particular skills as part of their career stories.

Creating a score card is invaluable in guided thinking and increasing mindfulness in the recruitment process.

#4 Structure questioning

Panel members or interviewers should have a pre-determined schedule for asking questions, with a series of prepared questions. Then it should be decided:

  • Who will be covering which topics
  • The order of questioning

Behavioural questions are always helpful

“Tell us about a time you had to deal with a situation when your opinion was the minority view. How did you deal with that?”  You can deep-dive with more penetrating questions: “What sort of opposition did you encounter?“, “How did you follow-up?“, “What was the outcome,”

#5 Be accountable 

Interviewers should evaluate candidates against the benchmark matrix consistently for all candidates. This can be scaled 1-5, or 1-10 based on the profile. If a person speaks French fluently they will be allocated a 10 against the benchmark. Conversational French might be a 5.

It’s important to be able to discuss any divergence in evaluations between the hiring team. This is the moment to raise concerns about potential unconscious bias. Why did one interviewer give a candidate a low rating on a particular skill when others rated him or her more highly? This will be invaluable to identifying the barriers to effective decision-making.

Any discrepancies in scoring should be highlighted in relation to potential bias in the most constructive way possible.

This allows prompt decision-making and the opportunity to give measured feedback if candidates ask for it.

#6  Make an immediate decision

The mind can play some strange tricks, so any discussion should be held at the end and also if necessary mid-way through the process depending on how many candidates are being interviewed. It might be important to check that everyone is on the same page. It is very common for hiring decisions to go through multiple layers of approval only to have the original decision overturned.

Senior leaders have to trust their teams to hire the right people. Micro-managing the process can be very frustrating for all involved. One of the most important revelations in any hiring process is for those involved to understand that their instincts may not always lead them down the right path. This is why unconscious bias  awareness training for everyone involved in the recruitment process is so important.

Organisations have to make systemic changes to their recruitment processes to produce better results both for the business and candidates. And no one likes change. That’s the problem.

For an innovative approach to identifying and attracting the best talent – contact us now.