The APR* May Be Dead But Watch Out For What Follows

*Annual Performance Review. Photocredit: http://www.flytrapcare.com

Earlier this year, Accenture boss Pierre Nanterme announced with a flourish the death of annual performance reviews.  As I read his rationale I found myself nodding in agreement, but by the end I was more anxious than reassured.

From an employee and union perspective Performance Management is a big big deal – even more so in a deregulated labour market with increasing emphasis on basic pay and pay progression being linked to performance.

Put any ten union reps in a room and we will quickly  come up  with just about the same “top five”  of poor performance management  regimes – inappropriate target setting,  seeking constant improvements when the employee doesn’t have the means to achieve them,  “levelling” or a  lack of transparency/objectivity,  discriminatory  practices , and their use as means to manage our members out of employment.

We all will have had to face the sometimes awful, life-changing or, tragically, even life-ending, consequences of bad performance management.

Without wanting to state the obvious, this is bad for our members but also for the employer who risks productivity and reputation by pursuing misplaced methods.

So when M Nanterme asserts that “the traditional annual review process does not justify the cost, effort or outcome…the process can actually demotivate the vey people that companies want to retain and develop, “ I want to read more.  (I also want to invite him to a Unions21 event to expand and debate this some more).

Reading on, it seems that M Nanterme may be one of those employers who can see things the same way as we do: “No longer will we rely on forced rankings and comparisons of employees…..no longer will we fill out time-consuming assessment forms that focus upon the past. It’s not what we need.”

So far, so reassuringly good.  But it is one thing to identify a problem, and quite another to solve it. And this is where I start getting nervy.

If our same ten reps standing in a room turned their attention to what a good performance management system would look like, I think it would be less likely that we would come up with the same visions. In an ideal world, would we have PM at all, still less determine anything to do with pay on the basis of it?

But recognising that we do not necessarily have all the answers doesn’t debar us from a critical review of the post-APR world.

“Our job as leaders is to create the right environment for the new [millennial] generation to flourish in their careers…..the focus is on the future and how through frequent, timely and individualised coaching decisions – people can improve their performance….” says M Nanterme.

Two immediate issues, don’t you think?:  What is the concept of a “career” in the future world of work?  And just how “frequent, timely and individualised” is the new way of working?

Fortunately, M  Nanterme gives us a further insight: “The change we are making at Accenture puts people at the center [sic]…our people are looking for real-time, on-demand conversations to define priorities and to get and to give feedback….This new approach is entirely digitally-enabled so that conversations can happen anywhere, anytime and on any device.  This is the new world all of us are operating in – with fluid feedback at the point of need.”

Well let’s just stop right there.  A “Martini” approach to performance review. How alluring. Rather like a Venus Fly Trap to an unfortunate insect. Where are the limits to and control on such an all-enveloping utterly invasive mode of assessment? Whose “need” are we talking about?  What means do employees have to ensure that the commitment their employer expects from them is reciprocated?

That is the real and pressing challenge in what M. Nanterme is championing. Every instinct points to anxiety – that the reality of such a scheme will be assessment on a granular scale, 24/7/365.  The savings from digitalising and automating this function will accrue to employers but not employees.  And further automation means that algorythms will present irresistible opportunities for further savings – only for the lack of control and responsiveness from managers that so many 21st century workers have complained about for years to increase still further.

From there it is but a short step to a dystopian “Black Mirror” future where life chances and experiences are predicated on measures you can neither see nor alter.

I warmly and genuinely invite Pierre and his colleagues at Accenture to tell us it isn’t so?

 

This post first appeared on the Unions21 website

Unions Need Good Governance

Good governance in action? (Not the NEC, but the Russian Federation Council in session)

 

As trade unionists we demand, fairly, that the enterprises employing our members are run properly. We challenge bad management and expose the worst excesses – the Philip Greens and CityLinks and Sports Directs.  In short we champion good governance.

That is entirely correct, but do we do as we say others must?  What does good governance look like for trade unions?

It is an important question and not just because of the expectations we have of other employers.  Yes, other employers, because we are significant employers too.  And unions also are subject to the same commercial norms as every other business.  Yes – business, because if we spend more than we earn, we will go bust, just like any other business.

Well if only it were that simple. Because of course we are not just like any other company or even voluntary sector organisation. We have specific reporting and accounting responsibilities – the AR21 required by the Certification Officer for example.  We also have peculiar obligations under the so-called Lobbying Act.

Then there are the not-so-merry dances required by the Trade Union Act and the exposure to punitive legal action for failing to comply.

Whereas most firms in most sectors have their own regulatory jungle to cut through, the dynamics of unions give us a distinctive set of circumstances.  We are proud champions of democracy, but this sometimes leads to confusion or even conflict as to where authority lies – at head office or in branches.  Often it is at Conference – but only when conference is in session! And from an employment perspective, who should union managers talk to first about some big issue or other – their own staff side reps or the elected policy makers?

We champion diversity and inclusivity, but the numbers of employees or elected reps are rarely, if ever, in proportion with our membership in terms of age, gender, ethnicity (and so on). And attempts to press the issue, by the use of reserved seats, or the creation of bespoke networks or sections can be resisted, tokenistic or viewed as a distortion rather than a facilitator of union values.

And on top of all this, we have an electoral process for selecting leaders that seems – on the basis of turnout – to fail to engage the clear majority of union members.

We are, of course, like all membership organisations – struggling to reconcile what we do on organising and servicing. Except we can’t necessarily chose who to recruit or who, in a controversial legacy from the “closed shop”  (and how old does it make me feel to need to  hyperlink that!) era, who to expel. And we do seem to have attracted a stalker to rival the hostility of most of the mass media in the form of HMRC, who have thrust themselves upon a number of unions over the last couple of years.

This unique cocktail of circumstances and constraints actually makes good governance even more important.  Because some of the inevitable consequences of good governance are the very things unions need to survive today’s sometimes existential challenges: A strong, clear sense of purpose. An esprit de corps.  Clear lines of accountability and management. A “good to know” not “need to know” culture. Searching, identifying and sharing “best practice” being an expected virtue.

In my book, we need to go no further in the search for what “Good Governance” looks like in our world: It is summed up in these key outputs. And all of these characteristics are impervious to the servicing/organising conundrum, internal pension reform, hostile government, bad employers and “heart-sink” members. These are things that we can –should, must – do for ourselves.

I hope I will be caught in a metaphorical cloudburst of comments and contributions that show how good governance is the norm and not, as I fear, still mainly an aspiration.

And before anyone gets carried away,  let’s not forget that the union movement is the largest membership based outfit in the country and what we deliver for and with our members changes lives and society.

This piece also appears on the Unions21 website. The Unions 21 conference on 21 March will look at what unions can do  to increase capacity and extend our influence – including some essential elements of good governance. You can  find ourt more and register for a place at http://bit.ly/2kgUGbh

#HeartUnions is here – but we need more support!

 

The role of membership data as a crucial asset in unions’ comms and campaigning work is being increasingly understood.  There has always been an obligation, borne of legislation/litigation and common sense, to know who we are talking to and what their membership status is. But the ability to look in more detail at the interaction we have with our members has the potential for us to improve the quality that relationship exponentially.

For example, knowing the email addresses of members who access union on-line services (including websites) enables us to cross-reference that with demographic data to see how effective we are being at reaching certain groups.  This can be fine-tuned in a number of ways:  we could focus on reps rather than members in general.  We could drill down to a granular level to see how much time has been spent on which page of the site.  We can track usage to see when people visit, and what their navigational pathway is.

This means we can tailor and improve our communications   both to and from our members. That’s valuable and important but of course it is limited by the data we hold on website visitors. And the biggest constraint on that is that the fullest – and therefore most valuable – datasets will only be for members.

I readily recognise that there is an arguable point of principle here: We should only be concerned with members because it is their subs that fund what we do.  And by joining, they have signed up for a club (see my piece last week on branding) in a way that non-members or “outsiders” have not.

But with union membership  stubbornly stuck  at  around 6m, and  showing no signs of rapidly expanding,  and with coverage of collective agreements and density  at  depressed levels,  I would argue that  we should, indeed must,  use every opportunity  to  extend our reach  into the workforce.  Once we connect with people, as I have described above, all sorts of other things can become possible. But we have to establish a communication channel to do that.

This is where models of organising and membership come into play.  If we look at many pressure groups, such as Greenpeace, we see that structures that are orientated towards supporters rather than, or in addition to, members.  This two tiered  offering  sees  people  pay a lower  level  of subscriptions –  or possibly  no subscriptions at all –  to sign up.  Their access is restricted in comparison to full-rate members, but that is ok, because their expectation from us is much more basic. This arrangement certainly has lower barriers to entry – but also reduced powers of retention.

Members matter but supporters can play a crucial role too

What would the relationship be with supporters as opposed to members? Here’s my “starter for ten”: Basic generic employment law advice. Local contacts. Campaign material. Information on how to get involved. Calls to Action.  But something that is supporter-specific, an event of some description would be good.  This could be allied to a wider political goal such as the recent “JC4PM” tour, or an appeal to turn out for a local or national demo.

There will be endless permutations of possible and actual support-offerings, but the bottom line is surely this:  we need to reach out to and engage with people for whom a full-blown membership package will not be attractive. We simply cannot afford not to.

Many unions are already engaged in this task.  Forms of organising from Unite’s Community section to the IWGB are actively pursuing new forms of engagement. The NUS explicitly offers a two tier service with their “NUS Extra” programme.  Multi-party campaigns, consisting of unions and other friendly groups,  such as HealthCampaignsTogether and Schoolcuts.org.uk, have a particular focus on a supporter model of engagement, but here there is a specific set of policy objectives as opposed to explicitly promoting trade unions.

In all of this, I believe signposting and co-ordination is key.  There is little value in each TUC affiliate providing generic employment advice.  Partly because that would be duplication and partly because if we ae engaged in a battle for the future of the movement, we need a strong central coordinating body  like the TUC, as the default provider of  such  advice and bespoke centre-of- excellence.

The collection and use of data can give unions individually a key advantage in optimising communications and campaigning.  But it is in the collective space that there is even more to gain by bringing fundamental messages about trade unions to the wider population in a coordinated fashion.

As we enter #HeartUnions week, it is worth remembering that we have no divine right to be the voice of working people. But by aligning   membership strategies with developing an offering for supporters, we give ourselves a hugely enhanced future.

How we can use digital information is an ongoing area of investigation for Unions 21. You can catch up on all their work as well as hear some top level speakers on the key issues we face at the 2017 Unions 21 conference on 21 March. Details, including how to register are here.

This post also appears on the Unions21 website

Unions and Branding: Cause for Concern or Celebration?

(photocredit: Andrew Cowie/Getty Images)

Are our unions becoming a bit like football teams? We’ve come a long way from the lively, ornate, melodramatic fabric banners that used to typify any labour movement march of significance.

Now it is very much a “team colours” approach: Gold-and blue for PCS, red-and-white for Unite, blue-and-white for one teaching union, white-and-blue for another.  Turquoise-and-orange for a third.  Purple-white-and-green for Unison, black-white-and-orange (GMB), Burgundy and gold (CWU), green-and-white (RMT).

It’s not a question of size – everyone is at it: NAPO (two shades of blue and a dash of green), Equity (purple-on-white) and BECTU (blue-and-gold) – soon to merge with Prospect (two shades of blue).

Allied to colours is often an image – or more usually a shape. The CWU’s double wave, or the TUC’s 3-by-3 shaded grid.

But whether letters or shapes or both, these are clearly very different from traditional union imagery.  And so union demonstrations have arguably become homogenised and therefore somewhat sterilised, superficial, more concerned with image than substance.  At least that’s what critics – conservatives with little and large “C” s  – might say.

I’m going to disagree here and strongly. Far from giving-in to commercialised and bland marketing values, we have just got a lot smarter at the concept and practising of branding.

Look at the benefits it can bring – from an organisational and media perspective, you can readily identify “your” people.  And they can identify each other too.  You’re wearing the same colours as me – you’re one of us.  It facilitates a sense of community for members.

It is also a short-cut to recognition for the outside world – literally in the case of QR codes.  People who want to find us will know what to look for.  But common branding is also a short cut to a set of values.

We want both our members and the rest of the world to know what we are about don’t we?  That good work is important. That collectivism and community spirit is more important than undiluted and uncaring individualism.  That workers are entitled health, safety, fair pay and job security.  That we get things done and give people a voice.

But we want people to “get” this as easily as possible.  We don’t have the time or resources to engage every individual in debate about what we do and how and why we do it.  Branding   for the trade union movement can provide that quick link and give us greater reach.

Of course it’s not a “magic bullet”.  Things rarely are.  Branding is a double-edged sword, especially if one acquires unfortunate associations.  And such an approach  will only  work  if  there is  suite of supporting  measures – an integrated media strategy  with  clear and common  straplines, hash tags and so on.  A level of consciousness amongst  activists to ensure they actively disseminate  key messages by understanding that  they  have a union identity, and give life to it  by “liking”   material on Facebook feeds,  retweeting,  keeping branch comms consistent.

For the labour movement to survive and indeed flourish   we need to be smart and sassy.  We need to be easily identifiable and easy to connect with.  In a global, digital and robustly free-market economy, we need to use what generally works, tempered with an understanding of how to make it effective for our key issues.

I somehow don’t think that the collective colour scheme will be the key issue which seals the deal on the Prospect/BECTU or NUT/ATL tie-ups (if the latter is backed in the current members’ ballot).  But if anyone seriously pushes for the fluorescent shades illustrated below, then that really could be the kiss of death.

(Sock images courtesy of Sports Direct)

This piece also appears on the Unions21 blog

“Access Denied” to Workplace Mental Health?

 

(photocredit: Dimitri Otis/Getty Images)

In my 30 years of working in employee relations, I have seen mental health relentlessly climb the ladder of workplace issues. Historically, poor, even abusive, performance management and intense economic challenges have contributed significantly.

But levels of literacy in this area have also increased, so now employees, workers and employers at least have the words to start necessary, difficulty and often suppressed discussions.

Organisations such as Samaritans, MIND, SANE and See Me in Scotland and Papyrus for younger people, have been campaigning on this for years, but it is good see the relatively new groups such as Minds@Work join the fray.

There has been a new push by Geoff McDonald’s outfit, and it’s “USP” in a well populated space is its foundation on the direct experiences of its founder.  Full marks for McDonald for having the strength-in-depth to turn a crisis into something positive – and to continue to promote its good cause personally.

And I have to say I like  M@W’s mantra – “We want to create mentally and emotionally healthy and human workplaces where individuals can flourish and organisations prosper”.  This really does push all the right buttons: productive enterprises are those that nurture individuals and understand we are dealing with people not machines.

But the transition into reality is fraught with difficulties. Let’s start with the two steadfast obstacles of access and affordability. With all respect to McDonald,  his own  story, as  recently  recapped in the  Daily Telegraph, seems to be an illustration of someone  who  can afford to dramatically alter his working (and presumably salary) arrangements.  Seniority arguably gives greater access to or understanding of what remedies and help are available. It has been long-held that more junior employees will typically have less control over their working lives, and those who are workers in the gig economy have even less.

In companies who have committed themselves to doing more on mental health, often at the behest of the unions who represent their staff,(for example, the CWU) getting the message across can be difficult.  Take junior and middle management in a large company in a competitive sector – simultaneously you need to look after the wellbeing of your direct reports, whilst hitting those KPIs.  Both are stated goals of the company, neither takes account of each other.

Even in McDonald’s own plight seems not to have dented the prevailing idea that some roles are – and can only be – all-consuming.  If you can’t manage to do it all, then that is something for you to deal with, not the firm.

Will companies ever, truly be able to both prosper and have those “healthy human workplaces”?  This is a potential dividend from increased automation-driven productivity, and it is good to see the debate on “6 hour days” moving from “if” to “how”.  But set against that is the seemingly unstoppable rise of precarious forms of employment. Uber drivers, session musicians and Deliveroo couriers will, I am sure, secure “worker” status, but if companies are not willing to make the commitment of offering a contract of employment, then expecting investment in mental and emotional health seems far-fetched.

And of course all this takes place against the backdrop of what is accepted as inadequate mental health provision in society as a whole and for the young especially.  So the “safety net” if ever there was one, certainly is in very poor repair.

It seems to me that as well as proper, robust funding of mental health services, business needs to square the circle of wanting to take mental health seriously, whilst at the same time delivering operational success. At the moment these seem often contradictory, but they surely do not need to be.  The more the issue is brought into the mainstream – by government, unions, campaign groups – the greater the capacity and likelihood for action.

In the long run, I would argue that M@W is not ambitious enough. Individuals will only really flourish and organisations will only truly prosper in mentally and emotionally healthy and human workplaces.  Business needs to truly understand that.

Driverless Cars and Delivery Drones – What is the Future of Work?

 

2017 is not yet a week old and already there have been more “machines replace humans” than you can count. Two just today – jobs disappearing and AI rampant. The future of work is clearly going to be one of this year’s Big Things.

What will this world, with its driverless cars and delivery drones look like? What will it be like?  No jobs means no employment means no workers means no wages – means no spending.  Hence the emergence of ideas likes Universal Basic Income (UBI) and its evolution off the page and into peoples’ pockets].  How ironic that arguably a most progressive programme of state aid – free money – has been borne out of the projected ossification of capitalism!   (But Keynes himself would probably smile and say “told you so”. State intervention has often been part of capitalistic survival, but just not quite like this.)

It is unsurprising that redistribution so that more people work less has also become attractive.  The so-called Swedish Six Hour Day (though not so attractive that the Swedish TUC or the Ministry of Labour backed the concept) which has now run into some controversy.  The idea is reduced hours improves productivity and therefore avoids lower wages. This makes sense to me, and you could argue that employment paradigms  in, for example, Denmark,  place value on workers not being knackered at the end of their shift, burnt-out at a relatively  young age, alienated from their employer – and often from their families  because of a long-hours culture.

UK unions such as the CWU have picked this up and, especially in a world where work is in short supply, what’s not to love?

Well quite a bit as it happens. More people in the UK say they are under-employed or have multiple jobs than ever before. These are the in-work poor, where depressed or persistently low levels of disposable income have create relentless destructive pressure.

So what explains the  gaps between those willing to embrace – at least on a trial basis –  a 6 hour day,  or the Danish working arrangements described by Helen Russell,- and the UK situation, where similar ideas seem totally untenable.

The issue surely is about control.  A deregulated labour market suggests that control – or should we say “management” – of employment is impossible.  On an individual basis, with union density depressed, employment protection legislation greatly diluted or inaccessible because of prohibitive pricing, workers are unable to exert meaningful influence over their circumstances.  At a macro level, there is no sympathetic compelling or dominant national narrative about work and its relationship with the rest of life and society. This is not the case in all countries –such as Denmark, Sweden and France.

The issues are not new.  In the early 1800s, the Luddites broke up the looms in defence of their jobs.  The battle for this future was anticipated nearly 50 years ago in books such as “The Collapse of Work” and “The Leisure Shock” by forward–thinkers such as Jenkins and Sherman. Why the intensity of the debate now?

I think it is because of two factors:  First the potential of current automation is almost limitless, and even raises existential issues about the survival of our species!  That’s bound to  lead to some discussion!

Second,   if we look at what jobs will be prevalent in the near-future; we see a steep increase in health and social care.  These are frequently the jobs that are not currently highly regarded in society. This makes us, collectively, very nervy because there is no coherent, comprehensive plan in place for high quality universal care of our ageing population.

Even though you might think it is in their own best interests, the government seems exceptionally unlikely to intervene in the labour market to the extent necessary to ensure that the future of work is one which is effective for everyone.  That’s a chilling thought, but the debate will not go away (as today’s stories demonstrate).  Political power is also shifting somewhat, especially in the context of devolution. So perhaps there is some scope for hoping that ideas like short working days, UBI, and setting higher standards below which workers cannot fall, will have the opportunity to prove themselves before it is too late.

 

Privacy and “The Snooper’s Charter” – unions take good note

The dreadful events in Paris last week have heightened attention on the already controversial areas of surveillance and data collection, retention and processing – part of the so-called Snoopers’ charter. The new Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill grabbed headlines when it was introduced by the Home Secretary at the beginning of this month.

The proposals overhaul the original Act, introduced in 2000 in something of a rush and widely agreed as being no longer fit-for-purpose. But the revelations of Edward Snowden[1] that the US and UK governments have been harvesting billions of bits of data about us, apparently irrespective of what the law says, has set both law makers and citizens a real challenge: In reality where is the balance between privacy and security?
The proposals for bulk data retention – for example all emails, phone calls, web activity to be retained for a year – makes you wonder if there really is any realistic expectation of privacy any more. The surveillance that features in films like “Spectre” could readily be a reality. Newspapers work to a code that says if something takes place behind your front door, not visible from the street, then you have that reasonable expectation. But the smartphone in your pocket, on your kitchen table or sideboard invites the world into your home – and as our heating, fridges and food are linked to the web the concept of privacy is surely diluted and degraded.
So if privacy is impossible, then all the proposed new law does is give a legal and accountable basis for how it is collected and ordered. And in this post-Snowden world, is that not a necessary thing?
Well, sort of. For progressives I still think this is uncomfortable. Its one thing to allow Tesco to hold shed-loads of data on you, because you chose where you shop, and you choose whether or not to have a Clubcard But the data we are looking at here is not that which has been so freely given – or given at all.
However, there is no doubt the data is there and almost every interaction creates more. So is not a greater question “How is the data used”?
I do think that this is the most challenging question in the current debate. There is so much data that programmes, spiders or algorithms of sorts have to be used to search through it. So that means profiles of us are being built automatically on the basis of how we match up against particular criteria.
But who sets these criteria? What is deemed relevant or important? How can we challenge conclusions that are false? Will we even know that profiling has been used?
Of course, sometimes that activity is important – vital even – in dealing with serious crime. But can we be sure that the arrangements proposed will be adequate?
Because on the left we have frequently suffered – and still do suffer – from the misuse of surveillance and data. Look at the Blacklistingscandal, still to reach a final resolution. We know now, many years after the event, of probably unlawful abuse of information during the 1984-5 Miner’s Strike[2]. With bulk data collection and processing, how will a tick in the “trade unionist” box (or any number of others) affect what profile is created for you, and what monitoring does that profile then justify? Undercover cops having children with those they were keeping tabs on was no doubt thought justified by some at the time.
This issue is of crucial importance to the labour movement today. The Trade Union Bill , also before Parliament reveals the ideological framework within which the current government operates. Who decides if trade unionists are, as previous Conservative Prime Ministers have declared, “the enemy within” and thus need to be the focus of intrusive surveillance and negative profiling?
So the whole issue of when and how is surveillance is authorised and data accessed becomes very important. Surely the thresh-hold needs to be set high. Although the Home Secretary seemed to offer a concession of judicial oversight, this had been exposed as simply not meaningful. Proper sign off – not just a review – is needed by a judge. You may feel that doesn’t give any accountability – but the alternative of Theresa May (or for that matter any Home Secretary) gives just as little!
Collection, retention, processing – all big issues in themselves. And that is without debating the impact of bulk collection on counter-extremism work, when and how interception and directed surveillance is justified, and the use of covert human sources. Liberty’s “safe and sound” campaign gives an excellent all-round view.
This is truly a minefield with no easy answers. I think the Shadow Home Secretary’s letter last week to his counter-part is the right political approach. But, as others have said, the devil will be in the detail. A key task is to make sure consideration of this is not rushed so the devil can be cast out! Great novels from Brave New World[3] to The Handmaid’s Tale [4] show what is waiting for us if we turn the wrong way down the many-forked road that lies in front of us.

[1] The Snowden Files, L Harding, 2014, [2] Detailed in The Enemy Within, S Milne, 2014, [3]Brave New World, A Huxley, 1932, [4] The Handmaid’s Tale, M Attwood, 1985