Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.

What Downton Abbey can teach us about HR and management

While busy waiting for the next season of Downton Abbey, and staring my wordpress blog – I thought I’d repost this article I wrote earlier in the year!

Downton Abbey was one of my favourite series of 2012. The Dowager Countess and her cutting remarks. Edit’s doomed love life. Matthew and Mary working out married life together. Not to mention the goings on downstairs!

But much has changed since the series began in 1912, the day the Titanic sunk. Now the 1920’s have arrived. During the Great War, women started filling men’s role and being more assertive. After the war they started dressing more freely, taking roles that men used to ‘own’ before the war, got the vote and had far more rights. Young women started to marry who they wanted to (take Lady Cybil and Branson the chauffeur!).

And who had to cope with this? Mainly the men. And let’s face it – Lord Grantham and Carson don’t adapt well.

So how does this relate to HR and managers? There are actually a lot of similarities between Lord Grantham’s relationship with Matthew (his heir) that also happen between a senior manager and their HR Manager. So let’s take Lord Grantham as a senior manager in the ‘Downton Corporation’ and Matthew as his HR Manager. Matthew can see that Downton won’t survive if things don’t change and wants the estate to succeed. Lord Grantham can’t see why things have to change that have worked in the past.

For Matthew (or those of us in HR) he finds out that:

1. HR must have business experience

Lord Grantham just won’t listen to Matthew’s ideas because Matthew has no experience running a farm. It’s not until Tom Branson comes to live with them and has helped his grandfather with some farming – that Lord Grantham actually listens.

2. HR must build relationships

It’s taken a long time for Lord Grantham to actually trust Matthew enough to believe he wants the best for Downton. HR has to spend the time with managers to get to know them and show them that they’re there to help – and on a manager’s side – not against them.

3. HR must communicate the right way

Matthew was too forceful with his way of presenting his ideas and switched his audience off. HR has to know how to communicate with each manager in a way that will make them listen. When Matthew talked to Mary and Mary had a word with her father – it had far more sway. Sometimes a less direct route or using people who support your ideas help to get them in place.

And for Lord Grantham (and those in people management roles) he needs to learn:

1. Managers can’t dictate

When Lord Grantham bans Cybil from seeing Branson – she plans to marry him in secret instead. When he bans his wife and daughters from having lunch with Mrs Crawley because her house maid worked (gasp) as a prostitute – the women of Downton ignore him and go to the lunch. Lord Grantham then bursts in demanding them to leave and loses face completely when they don’t. Being a dictator doesn’t often work in managing people and some managers need to learn to be more consultative.

2. Managers must be open to change/ideas from their team

Matthew idea’s in the end save Downton, but no thanks to Lord Grantham’s objections. Often it’s people at the coal face who can see what needs to happen.

3. Managers must admit if they are wrong

When Cybil died (what a harrowing episode that was) – Lord Grantham refuses to admit to Cora that he might have been wrong to ignore the family doctor’s advice. And for weeks Cora won’t talk to him. Sometimes admitting you may have made a mistake can build bridges with your team and managers need to be the bigger person and stop being stubborn!

And if Matthew and Lord Grantham had taken these things into account? Downton would probably have moved to being profitable again far quicker and he wouldn’t have upset his family as much in the process.  But of course, the series wouldn’t have been anywhere near as riveting if they had!


3 comments on “What Downton Abbey can teach us about HR and management

  1. Lisa Hunter
    July 15, 2013

    Love this article, looking forward to reading more!

  2. hrmannz
    July 16, 2013

    Well done. Nice first post!

  3. Tracey Wayte
    August 6, 2013

    Loved the series and you draw some good connections between HR and Downton – I enjoyed it!

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This entry was posted on July 10, 2013 by in Uncategorized.


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