These days I’m predominantly known for my work in the area of Emotional Health for organisations and their staff. However I continue to do large chunks of work in the heavy industrial world of railway operations. I tend to get a call for subjects such as Incident Management or Accident Investigation. Subjects which might traditionally fall within the remit of Health and Safety or Quality / Environment professionals.
Except they are missing something.
Most of the people I train are superb engineers, they have years of experience and are technical specialists within their individual disciplines. They can solve problems and provide solutions in a heartbeat.
Until they get to interviewing people as part of their investigation.
Here they struggle to step away from the industrial and focus on the personal. To leave behind the technical and see the human in front of them. To separate the person from the behaviour.
Which to me is a crucial part of what leadership is about. To find out what motivates people, what holds them back and what they want to do about it. I’ve investigated numerous incidents and accidents and it was only in a handful of cases where any of the actions could be described as malicious or negligent. Often it’s decent people trying to do a good job whilst contending with all the other things that life throws at them. Be that domestic life in all it’s maddening, confusing glory or perhaps restrictive management practice or even whilst being bullied or discriminated against.
It would be easy to dismiss my observation as a specific criticism of an existing sector which is known to have issues but let me share my experience from last week. I checked in at a hotel and the member of staff only had “Trainee” on their name badge. I was running late and they were very helpful so I asked their name so that I could let their boss know of how impressed I was. The staff member replied giving their name and sadly explained that they weren’t allowed to have their name on a badge until after completing three months in the business. I was dumbstruck. This was meant to be the hospitality industry after all. Based on service to the public and yet they can’t look after their own people in a way that motivates them.
I know this isn’t news to those most likely to read my blog, be they HR / L&D colleagues or mental health advocates / service users. At some level we are all used to being looked past or ignored, to having those in authority or positions of power fail to consider our humanity. Can I suggest we all make a small start in these last hectic weeks of the year. Speak to the frazzled checkout worker, thank the busy receptionist or if you’re a manager, bother to speak to your staff humanely, find out about them. It may be business but let’s make it personal too.