I have had two interesting and frank conversations today with colleagues about how open and honest staff in BHT can risk being when telling me if I have got it wrong. The context is a major consultation that I am undertaking about organisational culture called Striving for Excellence. One aspect of the consultation relates to the quality of leadership within the organisation.
In the first conversation, the member of staff raised the spectre of ‘gross insubordination’ should they voice (or write) criticism of me and/or senior staff. In the second, at a staff forum in Hastings this afternoon, another member of staff reflected on concern that if one disagreed or criticised a view expressed by the chief executive, it could cause career damage.
At first I was disappointed, even saddened, that they felt it necessary to even raise the issue. I feel that I am an open sort of guy, who encourages honest feedback, wanting to learn so that we can do things better and get things right. I also recognised that it had
taken them some courage to challenge me in this way.
Having explored what lay behind their concerns, it seems to be one of three things:
First, the power dynamic that exists in most organisations between front line employees and even operational managers, and senior executives. Personally, I can quite easily forget that when engaging in debate, while I see us as just a bunch of BHT staff together, employees are mindful that the chief executive is present and can be guarded in what they say.
Second, people have had experience of ‘open consultation’ elsewhere, where the consultation has been anything other than open or meaningful. There is understandable cynicism when yet another senior manager or executive, regardless of motive or authenticity, presents fine sounding words and a vision which is no more than a tick-box exercise.
Third, there is a legacy within BHT from a period five or six years ago when there was a dispute and strike action over cuts to salaries and other changes to terms and conditions of employment. There was a rumour, untrue, that a member of staff had been disciplined for gross insubordination for comments, which were untrue, he had made about me. But these things can take hold.
Of course it is important for any of us to consider how we comment, and what we say about others. I have no problem with a member of staff saying they don’t agree with my Striving for Excellence approach, in whole or in part. I would welcome ideas how to change and improve on this vision. It is quite a different thing to impugn motives,make personal attacks, or question honesty. (No one has done this in this consultation). We all must conduct ourselves professionally, and ensure that our personal conduct does not detract from the issues under discussion.
So, to any and all BHT members of staff reading this, please comment on Striving for Excellence. Be honest in your comments. It’s important we get this right.