I had the pleasure of attending the Redbrook Dining Club’s latest event at the weekend. It was an excellent evening that, as the guest speaker, Baroness Pitkeathley, commented, in many ways illustrated the best of what a community can achieve and exemplifies David Cameron’s aspirations for the Big Society (her comments, not mine, and she is a Labour peer). The mixed backgrounds and interests of the attendees (ranging from a contemplative, prize-chrysanthemum-winning shepherd to an eloquent former Attorney General), were almost as diverse as the ingredients for the excellent meal. The innovative chef at the pub had pulled out all the stops and created a banquet inspired by popular dishes from the 17th Century. She had sourced local ingredients and provided a descriptive menu explaining the origins and inspiration behind the meal. She utilised the best that was available and exceeded her diners’ expectations. In both the meal and the company, there was a harmony in the mix and variety.
Redbrook is a small village on the banks of the Wye. It once had a thriving world class industry, a tin plate works, and a railway station to its name – both are gone, but much of the village spirit and pride remains. In the old days Redbrook station was renowned for its decorative flowers (especially its roses) and often won awards (if horticultural skills are hereditary, that might partially explain the shepherd’s wonderful chrysanthemums). Redbrook is still winning awards – the village has just won a prize for the best children’s play ground and much of the night’s conversation centred round the most apt way to reinvest the prize money, so that a wide range of people within the community could benefit. Given that Baroness Pitkeathley was once a social worker, before founding the Carers National Association (now renamed Carers UK), it was hardly surprising that she had some interesting thoughts on how to involve all members of the village from the very young to the old. She is right. Society is fragmented and we are not good at mixing across boundaries – be that of age, culture or creed. We need to make efforts to do so.
Enabling diversity is one of a leader’s and HR’s biggest challenges. As we struggle to cope with the demands of the current economic and environmental situation, it is important for us not to simply repeat and perpetuate the practices of the past. It is clear that some of the approaches encouraged over the past decades have resulted in the issues that we now confront today, for example:–
· our dependence on carbon-based fuel without planning for the future or combating pollution;
· the creation of complex financial derivatives that are only understood by a few (combined with automated trading) that can result in the lurches we have seen in the financial markets;
· the current failure to provide a good education for all, regardless of background or location, so that our best can lead the world in the future;
· irresponsible approaches towards debt (both at an individual and national level);
· a lack of respect and disjointed relationships with other members of society, other nations and authority - resulting in civil unrest.
We live in a complex world at every level. To make it even more complicated, demographics are changing globally and organisations need to predict and ensure that they are able to provide the services that their future customers want and need. To do so, increasingly we must be able to interpret data, predict and plan for the future.
The squirrels are driving me mad in the garden – they are digging up the grass and depositing walnuts wherever they can. I appreciate that they are laying down stores in case we have a harsh winter, but they are ruining my lawn! We need to be brighter than the squirrels and, when we plan and prepare for the future; we must anticipate the impact we will have on others, as well as the potential benefits to ourselves. It has been so warm (until the past couple of days) that my bees have been as active as the squirrels. They are flying to and from the hives, panniers of pale ivy pollen on their thighs, and they are working hard to increase the amount of stores being laid down to enable them to thrive. Unlike the squirrels, the bees work together for the best outcome for their community, even when occasionally that may be to the detriment of a few individual bees. They don’t deliberately discriminate against specific members of their society; they are driven to behave in a manner that will ensure the on-going survival of the hive. By way of an illustration, now that there is no requirement for a new queen to be fertilised until the Spring, the male drones have been kicked out of the hive (as they are currently unnecessary mouths to feed). To humans this can seem brutal but it is a pragmatic approach to ensure their continued existence.
We too need to be pragmatic. We are rational (compared to squirrels and bees) and we have great opportunities to achieve outcomes together - both at work and in our wider communities. We have to be savvy, think about the bigger picture and how what we do impacts upon it. We must learn to collaborate, for the best outcomes for the majority, and ensure that we adopt sustainable approaches that take into account anticipated change. Redbrook is a great microcosm of what could and should be achieved at larger levels. Despite significant differences, the village community are aware and supportive of each other and they work to attain long-lasting outcomes, improving the lives of numerous people who live in the area. It is possible to adopt the same constructive approach at a corporate, national and international level. Like the bees, we each need to accept our responsibilities, as part of a larger community, and work together to ensure that we can enjoy the ongoing sweet taste of success.