Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.
Now we’ve launched Elephant in the U.K., we spend a few months a year in blighty. That’s as much of the bureaucratic culture that exists here as we can take.
But why is the UK like this? Why are there so many archaic processes for absolutely everything, and why do those processes take weeks to work through and are often pointless and frustrating for everyone involved in them? And how does this link to your development plan??
For many hundreds of years ago, the British Empire ruled a huge portion of the world. At its height, it was the largest empire in history. According to Wikipedia, by 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the worlds population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 24% of the Earth’s total land area.
To control and run an empire that big, you need processes. And rules. Lots and lots of processes and rules. And the British were very good at creating them. They also created many, many forms that had to be filled in around those rules and processes and many, many jobs to administer all the bureaucracy.
But what happened as the British Empire shrunk? All that bureaucracy, all those rules – they had to be channeled somewhere.
And so much like a heat seeking missile that has been used to control others, when there are no others, the missile turns and comes back to those who fired it. All that bureaucracy only has one place to continue. On the British people themselves.
And here’s how it links to you.
One of my favourite concepts is – our greatest strength, pushed to its extreme, can become our greatest weakness.
The British were very good at rules & process and that was a great strength in building and running an empire. But now there is no empire, that strength has turned and created a culture of bureaucracy, fear and control. I think that’s why customer service people in England are so miserable – because they have to constantly tell customers what they can’t do and say no because the process doesn’t allow anything. It’s why technology and innovation seem so far behind the rest of the world.
That skill is so strong it’s now become an issue and part of what I believe led to Brexit.
So when you are thinking about your own development – think about what strengths you have. Are they still useful? Or are they being pushed so far they have become a weakness? And in which case, what new skills do you need to learn?
As for the UK, perhaps Brexit will be an opportunity to think about what culture and values are needed going forward. That some flexibility and innovation could make Britain the country people want. That less bureaucracy would be a good thing for all.
Your greatest strength, pushed to its extreme, can become your greatest weakness. Make sure you identify it and do something about it before it’s too late!
Angela Atkins is People and Learning Director for Elephant Group NZ and Elephant Group UK – and also developed the Management Bites training programme. She is best-selling author of the bites series of books and is passionate about helping HR and managers create better businesses.