Thinkers50 Radar 2022: David Liddle

David Liddle is a recognized leader in the areas of conflict resolution, mediation, cultural change, and transformational leadership. His extensive experience in mediation and dispute resolution has made him a passionate advocate for the need for organizations to move away from damaging, retributive models of workplace justice towards restorative approaches. David pioneered the use of restorative justice to tackle youth offending, and has been active in numerous mediation, restorative justice, and community regeneration programs across the UK.

In 2001, David established The TCM Group – Train. Consult. Mediate, which has worked to reduce the negative impact of conflict at work by creating the conditions for employees and managers to have better conversations. Though his team is focused on the workplace, David contends that the principles of mediation are universally valuable and relevant in virtually every area of society.

David delivers award-winning conflict resolution, leadership development, and cultural change programs for organizations across the globe. In 2021 he was named as one of the Most Influential HR Thinkers by HR Magazine.

On Tuesday, 3 May 2022, Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove will have David Liddle on as their guest in a new session of the Thinkers50 Radar 2022 LinkedIn Live series in partnership with Deloitte.

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In this episode of The HR Book Club with HR Recruitment Solutions, David Liddle discusses his book, Transformational Culture: Develop a People-Centred Organization for Improved Performance (2021). David describes the typical justice models used by organizations as “intrinsically adversarial.” His book is a blueprint for adjusting these systems by removing retributive justice, which he calls the “blame, shame, and punish model of justice.”


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Transcript

Des Dearlove:

Hello, welcome to the Thinkers50 Radar 2022 series brought to you in partnership with Deloitte. I’m Des Dearlove.

Stuart Crainer:

And I’m Stuart Crainer. We are the founders of Thinkers50, the world’s most reliable resource for identifying, ranking and sharing the leading management ideas of our age, ideas that can make a real difference in the world.

Des Dearlove:

In this weekly series of 45 minute webinars, we want to showcase some of those ideas to bring you the most exciting new voices of management thinking.

Stuart Crainer:

As always, please let us know where you are joining from today and send over your questions at any time during the session.

Des Dearlove:

Our guest today is David Liddle.

Stuart Crainer:

In 2001, David established the TCM group, train, consult, mediate. His vision for TCM was and still is to reduce the negative impact of conflict at work by creating the conditions for employees and managers to have better conversations.

Des Dearlove:

For the past 18 years, David has been at the forefront of conflict management, mediation, employee relations, and leadership best practice.

Stuart Crainer:

He’s the author of Managing Conflict and most recently of Transformational Culture, which proposes a radical rethink of the systems and processes used to run organizations.

Des Dearlove:

So from conflict to transformation, there’s a lot to talk about David, welcome.

David Liddle:

It’s fantastic to be here, Des, Stuart, thanks so much for inviting me.

Des Dearlove:

No, we’re very pleased to have you here, but tell us a little bit about the journey that you’ve been on to reach this point, because I know when we’ve spoken in the past, you’ve been at the kind of the coal face of conflict resolution in the workplace from the beginning.

David Liddle:

Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, I mean my background began really in the late 80s, I was really interested in racism and discrimination, so I went to study a degree in race and community relations up in a wonderful college called Edge Hill College, which is now Edge Hill University up in the Northwest, to truly try and understand the nature of racism and discrimination and inclusion and exclusion. And following that, I went to the distinct as president of the students union, and then went to work in the wonderful city of Leicester in the East Midlands.

David Liddle:

I began my life as a tenant engagement officer with the local authorities as part of a regeneration program. My job was to bring hard to reach community, single parents, black man ethnic community into economic regeneration programs. And I saw firsthand the damaging effect, the insidious impact of conflict within communities, between families, within families. And I held my head in my hands at how woefully ineffective the responses of our agencies and key partners were at resolving these issues.

David Liddle:

So I set up… I did this for about a year, I had the opportunity to go to Bristol to learn a little bit about some work being done in the area of mediation and restorative justice, it’s around 93, and then set up a mediation and restorative justice program in Leicester. I ran that for about eight years, providing mediation and conflict resolution within communities, in gangs, between neighbors and disputes.

David Liddle:

In schools, I set up a program called Crisp the Conflict Resolution in schools program to train pint size mediators to go into disputes in the classroom and the playground. Had a BBC documentary made of that, which I was really proud of. And then had a bit of a conflict in the work I was doing with my trustees, so decided that was an opportunity to go off and maybe do my own thing.

David Liddle:

And I studied an MBA at the time at De Montfort University. And I also was offered an opportunity to go and do some consulting work in two large London bureaus. So I combined those and did a bit of research introducing restorative justice and mediation in two large London bureaus and wow, I mean, having learned about the corrosive nature of conflict within communities, I thought workplaces would be different, warmer, more pleasant, more dignified, more respectful. And I held my head in my hands again and saw the insidious, encroach-ive nature of bullying, harassment, discrimination in the workplace. And really, at the time in the early 2000s… Arguably things haven’t necessarily moved a lot, although they have to some extent the woefully ineffective systems for resolving this stuff in the workplace.

David Liddle:

And I’ve got the bit between my teeth to a massive opportunity for mediation and restorative justice within organizations. And the next 20 years, has been a real whirlwind of helping organizations to adopt mediation. In the first instance, to have a mediator parachuting into a dispute and help find solutions, which obviously would be great to talk about, but you haven’t got to do many mediations before you start looking at managers and HR and others and leaders that come on, what are we doing to our people? How are we handling people that they’re getting to such a difficult and adversarial and positional situation, which is so damaging and so harmful without any systems and processes being put in place to act in a more transformative, transformational, proactive, predictive way to resolve this stuff.

David Liddle:

So the last 10 years of my work has been working upstream with HR managers and leaders to start asking these questions. And the good news is, and there’s a lot of good news. People are starting to realize that changing our systems, processes the culture of our workplaces can act as a really powerful antecedent to better relationships and better quality conversations in our workplaces.

Des Dearlove:

That’s fantastic. You’ve mentioned the phrase, restorative justice. I mean, that was your life, started talking to you. That was the phrase that I sort of cottoned onto. And can you tell us a little bit, what is restorative justice and how does it apply in these situations?

David Liddle:

So let’s think about it firstly in contrast with the prevailing system of justice, which I would call retributive justice. I would call it retributive justice. So our justice systems, which permeate through our society and are deeply ingrained into our organizations are based on a principle that there must be someone who’s at fault. So we need to identify who’s at fault in order to be able to punish the individual and retributive justice systems require a punishment which fits the crime. So there’s a balance of probability in our workplaces, 50 plus 1% you undertaken an action which has caused harm and there will be a punishment. And of course in the workplace, the punishment is dismissal.

David Liddle:

Restorative justice in contrast is about identifying what the harm is, what the cause of the harm is, what the impact of the harm is. And presenting an opportunity for the person who created the harm and the person who’s been harmed to come together to establish and understand what happened, why it happened in a compassionate, supportive, open environment to draw out… And I think it’s really important, three really key elements. The first one is insight. Why did it happen? How did it happen? The next one is understanding what impact did it have on me, on you and on our situation. And the third one is I think, where we start to see this link into productivity and performance is identifying the creative solutions to prevent that harm occurring in the future.

David Liddle:

So restorative justice is defined as being compassionate, empathetic, driven by insight and learning. But let’s not pretend for one second it’s a soft option. It’s a tough option where we present each other with the real impact of our behavior on another human being, rather than subcontracting justice to these broken systems and other tired paradigms, which actually draws apart rather than drawing us together, they build walls rather than build bridges.

Stuart Crainer:

How does the notion of justice go down within organizations? When you talk about justice to HR directors, do they run a mile or do they see it as in their remit?

David Liddle:

It’s a fantastic question. If you think about, I mean, I’ve got… I’m sure there are many people listening to this, it’s not fair. It’s the first time that we hear a young person define a value or a belief. It’s not fair. My brother’s got this, my sister’s got that, that’s not fair. So our notions of fairness and justice are deeply ingrained in our sense of who we are with human beings and how we relate to other human beings. And we go through our lives with a very strong and palpable sense of fairness of what’s just, of what’s fair, of what’s equitable, we see that across our society yet in the workplace, no one seems to talk about justice. No one seems to understand justice. We default to this retributive blame, shame and punish model of justice, which we say to our managers go and deliver justice, but we never really give them the tools to do that.

David Liddle:

So what does a [inaudible 00:08:48] and fair and just outcome look like for a manager who’s maybe managing performance or managing change within their workplace? But when that manager engages, and what I see is the two models of justice that happens in our organization, extensive inaction or expensive overreaction, because they’re not sure how to act. We then defer or subcontract justice to these processes, discipline, performance, grievance, absence, capability, these big adversarial retributive models of frameworks that we then say, okay, we’ll ask you to go and deliver justice, but they don’t deliver justice. They deliver retribution. They deliver blame, fear, betrayal, anxiety, uncertainty, harm, division.

David Liddle:

So when that breaks down as indeed, it does, we then look to then subcontract justice to our third stakeholder in the piece, our lawyers. And of course the lawyers then see justice delivered as a model of reducing risk to the employer rather than a model of delivering a fair and just outcome. So what people say to me is they see justice as being essential tenant, a core function of the organization, but they start to realize that they’re subcontracting justice out to these three functions without having really, truly considered what those notions of justice, fairness, inclusivity, and so on and so forth are about. And that’s the big conversation that’s happening in organizations driven by social justice movements, climate justice, and this desire for us to have a much more transparent, open, inclusive model of justice within the workplace.

Stuart Crainer:

It’s interesting you would say that organizations are reactive in this sphere and they’re not really leading the way.

David Liddle:

Absolutely. I think the organizations are reacting to circumstances with putting fires out. I speak to many HR professionals. It feels like they’re firefighting, constantly moving to respond or react to issues as they’re occurring, rather than thinking about upstream. What are some of the causes and some of the antecedents these issues and putting in place justice systems and models, which could actually prevent, predict these issues. And as I said earlier, as well Stuart, this isn’t a moral or ethical feature of the organization, although it is morally and ethically good to do this properly. I used the word creativity, innovation, insight, and understanding. It’s the understanding insight and creativity that comes out of a conflict or a difficult conversation that actually then [inaudible 00:11:09] competitive advantage. That’s where the smart investors will go, the smart talent, the top talent, the smart customers. So how we deliver justice has a direct impact on the culture, which has a direct impact on the outcomes that the business is trying to achieve in terms of investment, talent and custom retention.

Des Dearlove:

So you said at the beginning that there is some good news and there’s lots of it, what does some of this look like with the sort of work you are doing? Can we see some progress and who’s doing it, perhaps doing it well, or at least trying to do it better?

David Liddle:

I think the organizations that are doing this well, and there are a large number from private companies. We do a lot of work in the banking sector. I can talk about Aviva, who’ve gone for many awards and one award for the wonderful work that they’ve been doing, who are starting to be courageous. I think it takes courage. I think we’ve become so used to the status quo. This is how the things are, we can’t change them.

David Liddle:

And in some respects, there’s been a lot of whispering in HR directors and chief HR officers and chief people, officers, ears. You have to do it this way because it’s a legal compliance. It is not legally compliant to beat people up, destroy people’s lives, cause harm and cause injury to other people. And if there is a conflict that I’m seeing within the workplace, within organizations, the challenge is, are we going to be people centered, purpose driven and values based, or are we going to be legally compliant, risk oriented and damage relationships. And wat I see in organizations, if people are really challenging that status quo, they’re choosing person centered, purpose driven and value space.

David Liddle:

But what’s really interesting, and I think it’s being born out of great new organizations is as they’re approaching justice, conflict resolution, culture change and so on and so forth through that prism of purpose driven, values based, person center, it doesn’t only mitigate the risk, it actually reduces the risk of problems down the line. We don’t have to be retributive, adversarial, draconian, and punitive in order to mitigate risk in our workplaces. So the organizations that I’m seeing it happening so much now, the organizations which have the courage to reject those old paradigms and do something new are the ones I think that are beginning to move forward in a really exciting way.

Stuart Crainer:

Please send in your questions for David at anytime. And Anna Nielsen has sent in a couple of points. She says, I wonder where, where you see the trend of restorative HR going and what would leaders need to do to make it more widely used? And she also says, I love the idea of breaking workplace norms being less about a violation of policy and rules and more about a violation of the shared community.

David Liddle:

Yeah. Wonderful. I think it’s a rethink of the social contract, what binds us together? So seeing some great work where unions, managers, and like that [inaudible 00:13:58] for unions, managers, HR are coming together and rethinking some of those rules of engagement, moving away from adversarial and combative towards a more predictive and more proactive and more compassionate driven approach, and more in that collective relationship.

David Liddle:

In terms of the role of HR, I think they play a critical role. You know, every day I’m seeing people on LinkedIn now celebrating their new job as people and culture lead, people and culture partner, [inaudible 00:14:24] culture. There is a massive shift within the HR function to put people in culture first. Why do I think that’s important? People are the business. Business partnering to me, smacks of HR, taking the side of the business in opposition to others within the company and automatically the phrase business partnering and the notion of business partnering to me… It creates a division. To me it’s a divisive term.

David Liddle:

If people are the business, then actually the development of HR as a people profession, as a people function, supporting people, celebrating their brilliance, helping to create an environment where we can help them to be the best versions of themselves, creating policies and processes which are flexible and agile, supportive, compassionate, engager, detaching. And I know HR will have a view on this, they may not agree with what I’m saying, but the perception of great money is that there’s a paradox within the HR function. HR is a driver of strategy of talent, of engagement, inclusion, employee, experience, employee value proposition, employee branding, brilliant, really strategic function for the HR. But the felt experience when I go knocking on the door of HR is I’m sucked into these draconian adversarial policies and procedures. And that’s the felt experience of the workforce.

David Liddle:

But the perception is that HR is trying to be strategic. And what do we see there? How do we play that? What we see is there’s a set of rules for the strategic function within the organization, which is governed and supported by HR. And there’s a set of rules that I have when I have a problem in the workplace, which are going to cause me harm and distress. One set of rules for them, another set of rules for us, and somewhere in the middle, on the pivot of this is the HR function.

David Liddle:

And it undermines people’s perception of HR. And I don’t think HR necessarily realize it’s happening until they engage in a big listening exercise with people and start to have the courage to challenge. And HR sits in the center of this piece, one rule for them, another rule for us, strategy versus the felt experience of retribution. And when HR are able to release themselves from that perception of being pulled towards management, recognizing that people of the business, developing a policy process framework, which is much more about resolution than it is around retribution. Then we start to see or think the emergence of an incredibly powerful people and culture function and that’s happening right now in organizations around the world.

Des Dearlove:

Well, that’s exciting if it is. I can’t help but echo what you’re saying because often HR is seen as all about legal compliance. They’re like the managements enforcers. They’re like the police, it’s like the secret police sometimes too. You have that sense and people don’t… Fundamentally people often don’t trust HR. So that prevents them from being strategic or from achieving some of the other objectives that they might otherwise be bringing to the organization. But what can they do to change that? You say it takes a big listening exercise. How do you begin to reposition or convince people that there’s real change happening here?

David Liddle:

I think the first one is, I mean, I think with anything in our lives, whatever it might be, we have to acknowledge that there is a problem and I just want to absolutely stress, this is not the HR person that is the problem. It’s the HR and management system that are being deployed that are the problem. So lets decouple the person from the problem. This is proper mediation stuff as well, the person’s not the problem, the problem’s the problem. So let’s take an honest and critical assessment of our processes. Processes aren’t everything, but it’s the processes and policies which define the nature of our relationship with each other where the problems occur. So if things weren’t, we look at policies.

David Liddle:

Let’s take our policies and let’s use a little bit of neuroscience. We haven’t got to be a neuroscientist to use a bit of neuroscience, but let’s just take our policies. Let’s take our standard grievance procedure, pick it off our internet site and let’s do a little bit of neuroscience with that. Let’s look at all of the parts of our grievance procedure, which are releasing dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphin, those happy hormones that we know when we are together, we’re connected, we have purpose, we have a higher growth mindset. Let’s mark all of those parts of the procedure with our green marker pen. And with our red marker pen, let’s look at all of the parts of the procedure which are likely to induce, release cortisol, adrenaline or any of those fight or flight hormones, which are likely to introduce the defensive or an aggressive response from the participant. Let’s use our red marker pen. Now, once we’ve gone through that process, let’s take a look at that policy and that policy, I can be pretty confident from the many that I’ve seen will be entirely red with very little, if any green.

David Liddle:

Now we know that people are likely to have a high growth mindset, they’re likely to engage with each other constructively, they’re likely to listen to each other when we’re in a good place. But how do we get people into a good place? We listen to them. We engage with them as adults, as human beings, constructively. If the frameworks that we are deploying are like tipping a bucket of cortisol over your head, then the processes are broken. So let’s take a step back. The HR is not the problem, the systems are the problem. Engage in critical analysis, analyze using the tools you have available to you. Let’s look at appreciative inquiry, positive psychology, nudge theory. Let’s look at the behavioral sciences, all of those things, which are really powerful drivers of change and apply those to our HR systems. And then I think HR are coming back to me saying, yeah we get this, we want do it differently.

Stuart Crainer:

Tom O’Connor doesn’t ask a question, makes a statement, which I think is kind of bearing out what you said, David. Tom says, some organizations are entrenched in these systems and procedures which increasingly convoluted, negative, time consuming and anything but beneficial for anyone. HR spending too much time in conflict and too little in developing and retaining people. And I suspect that is the reality in organizations that HR are handling the conflict instead of revolutionizing the systems.

David Liddle:

It seems to me to be such a shame to be so mired in transactional activity, we can’t see the wood for the trees. In fact, we can’t even see the wood for the trees, all we can see is the tree in front of our faces. And for many HR professionals when I speak to them, I ask this question when I go into do work with HR teams, why did you come into HR in the first place? What is it that drove you to be an HR professional? And people talk about getting the best out of themselves, aligning the needs of the organization with the needs of their people, all this wonderful work. But when you ask people what the felt experience of being an ER specialist, an employee relations specialist, or an HR business partner or a HR manager, it feels that those desire for transformation is overridden by the transactional nature of the organization.

David Liddle:

So I don’t think it’s Tom and I who are saying this, I think it’s many HR professionals out there saying, do you know something? We want to do something differently, but no one’s saying it. This is what I’m trying to do in the book and what I’m trying to do is saying there is another way of doing this stuff. That is the good news I was referring to earlier. Where are our public policy, where’s our political leadership on this? Where’s our public policy on this stuff?

David Liddle:

We saw Michael Gibbons come in 2007 and review the then statutory disciplinary grievance procedures. Everyone was crying out, it’s common sense. We need to get back to basics, put people first. Nothing happened, nothing changed. This is 15 years ago when we had the best quality public debate in our workplaces. And since then, we’ve seen the rise of alternative dispute resolution known as ADR. Alternative dispute resolution across our civil justice system, our criminal justice system, our family courts, yet in our workplace and employment relations, it’s been left behind. Again, it’s such a shame, such a missed opportunity. And I’m really calling out for a substantive review of the way that we handle disputes through the employment tribunals, right the way to local policy management in our own organizations.

Des Dearlove:

Gemma Bromfield says, this is fabulous. As a HR consultant this is something I champion after seeing years of broken relationships at the hands of the old justice systems in place. I’m passionate to challenge the status quo. But I think the book is very much about sort of making the journey from the transactional to the transformational. Tell us a little bit more about that. How organizations can actually sort of begin to foster and create a transformational culture.

David Liddle:

Yeah, thank you Des. So in the text, I set out a model which I call the transformational culture model and it offers three broad component parts. The first one is what I call the transformational culture hub, which is a cross-functional collaborative body of people within the organization who own the organizational culture. And there’s a big debate about who owns culture. Everyone, no one, seems to be the greatest asset or the greatest liability in our organizations that no one has real ownership of or, and find it so difficult to shape. So transformational culture hub own the culture, and they will be responsible for delivering and deploying a transformational culture in the organization. Chaired by the chief HR officer, directly report an accountability into the board. So it’s a direct board level function bringing together key stakeholders.

David Liddle:

They would then be responsible for delivering the eight enablers of transformational culture. So it’s about putting purpose and values first using our values as a golden thread through our organization, mapping our organization and embedding our values across the whole employee life cycle from recruitment, induction, all of the policies, the systems, the processes, reward, benefits and so on and so forth.

David Liddle:

Looking at the developments of an evidence base, so using evidence based practices within our organizations to drive the changes, so using and gathering data to drive the changes and then continually monitor and evaluate and tweak the culture based on the amount of information and evidence coming through the organization, really powerful use, real time use of data and analytics in the organization.

David Liddle:

Repurposing the HR function as I’ve mentioned, the development of the people and culture function. Integrating transformative justice, as we’ve been talking about, that procedurally sound restorative model of justice. Developing line management behaviors and line management capabilities and competencies to align those behaviors and competencies to the values and purpose of the organization. A really powerful piece of work, which sits at a center point within the transformational culture. Considering the alignment of wellbeing, engagement and inclusion, and drawing data and metrics from wellbeing, engagement and inclusion, to help us to really understand again, in real time the employee experience and its relationship then to customer experience. So bringing in colleagues who are conscious and working together in this space around employee experience and customer experience, aligning those two functions, and also thinking about this as in terms of brand reputation, risk, social justice, and sustainability. So there’s a number of enablers which sit within the model, which the hub would then be responsible for delivering.

David Liddle:

And the final component part of the output is what I call the seven dimensions or the seven Cs of transformational culture. And that’s around courage, connectivity, common purpose, communication, and so on and so forth. It’s about identifying those seven Cs and seeing those seven Cs as the outputs of a transformational culture, but also the inputs that feed back into it because that’s what our managers and leaders are delivering in terms of the felt experience of the work of the employee.

David Liddle:

So it’s those three different elements, the hub, the enablers, and then those outputs and those dimensions. And that becomes the transformational culture model that’s brought into the organization, not as a prescriptive model. I think it’s really important to stress this. It has to be flexed and flexible to meet the different needs and circumstances of each organization. And that’s, I think where its real strength is, is it can be flexed to meet the needs of any organization, of any size, of any geography or any industry.

Stuart Crainer:

And does the element of geography confuse things even more and provide even more challenges? Because a lot of the stuff we’ve talked about, like a concept like fairness, it is viewed differently in different parts of the world. And similarly with culture, if you’re in a global organization actually managing it, and becomes ever more troublesome and difficult.

David Liddle:

It does, but it presents a really great opportunity as well Stuart, to begin having conversations and defining that term. I think the last thing people want is someone like myself coming in and being prescriptive on what those terms mean. What I think the transformational culture model does, and this sort of approach does, is it generates a really big conversation in our organizations about what these things mean, what are these values? What are these beliefs? What are these principles that connect us as human beings? Create that sense of togetherness and belonging between us or indeed divergence or conflict between us and starting to understand those. So where there may be cultural definitions or geographical definitions, I think it’s a great place to start is to start… To try and understand what do we mean by those terms and what impact do they have on us in our everyday working lives.

Des Dearlove:

Anna Nielsen says, part of the problem I see is what you’ve… What we’ve been talking about. HR seems like it is differentiated from the rest of the organization like some alien. And the perceived power differences therein create a sense of power over versus power with. This is why part of my work is neutralizing both real and perceived power differences. Now, two things here, we could talk a bit about power because obviously that’s a big issue, but the other part seems to me is the trust. And unless we trust the HR function, it’s very hard to see how we move forward. Would you like to say a little bit about those two things?

David Liddle:

I think that’s absolutely right. So for me, trust, respect and communication are the three component parts here that we need to focus on. And in order to be able to build that trust, to have respect and have good lines of communication. We need to look at what some of the barriers are and some of the challenges, but also what’s working well in our organizations. What could HR be doing to reduce that perception that it’s an alien? Outside of the sort of normal day-to-day running of the organization and bring them in so they adding value.

David Liddle:

The idea of going to see HR is seen as a threat. I’ll go and speak to HR, I’ll take out a grievance, I’ll take out a disciplinary process. They’re sorts of [inaudible 00:28:45]. What HR professional went into HR to be described as a sort of Damocles that hangs over every decent, reasonable person’s neck.

David Liddle:

So how do we begin to redefine that? Well, one of the things I would say is go to our core values. So how can HR help to deliver the values within the organization? Becoming an advocate, an ambassador for the organization’s purpose and values. Now we know that the leadership function and management function are helping to deliver those. But if HR were going to be a police or doing something of that nature, then lets police the values, lets get how we can make those values a core everyday function within our organizations.

David Liddle:

How can the HR function using some of the skills I might use and many of the people on this call as facilitators and enablers? So using skills around principled negotiation, rather than positional bargaining. Using those skills of mediation, creating a psychologically safe space for people to come together. When there’s a management union collective dispute happening that HR aren’t sitting on the side of management facing off against the union. HR is sitting at the chair of the table, chairing and facilitating a really powerful conversation between these two players using their intrinsic mediation and restorative skills.

David Liddle:

So rethinking and in essence, releasing the HR function from some of those orthodoxies, I think that they’ve just fallen into 20 or 30 years, releasing themselves from those and actually taking themselves closer to some of those principles we’re talking about. Coaching again, they see some really powerful work that HR can be doing to deploy a learning culture through coaching conversations. So where we see the HR function acting as a coach and a mediator, supporting managers to have really powerful conversations at a local level to manage change and handle conflict effectively is a huge value add.

David Liddle:

So now when I go to HR, knocking on the door of HR, asking for support, I know I’m going to have value. It’ll be constructive, it’s supportive, it’s empathetic, it’s driving a positive outcome. It’s no longer a threat. And what I think that means is I’m going to come to HR earlier, and so I’m more likely to get a resolution closer to source because I’ve knocked on the HR door at much earlier stage, because I’m going to get a better conversation or a different conversation rather than leave it for six months, wait for it to fester, then it blows up, then I go to HR’s door and really leave them with very few options other than the formal routes, which we’ve been talking about.

Stuart Crainer:

Perry Timms is kind of supporting your point, I think David and he kind of defines HR as a group of professionals, attempting to calibrate, committed and enable people with their best work that fulfills an organization’s mission and reason for being.

David Liddle:

Thank you, Perry. As often as the case with Perry Timms, he puts it so beautifully, has very little to say, but I would completely concur with everything that Perry’s just said there and it’s great to hear from him.

Stuart Crainer:

You describe yourself as a lifelong mediator, David, and I wonder how CEOs respond to this and whether mediation is actually part of their job or their skill or how they view mediation or any of these issues, really.

David Liddle:

Mediation is the most amazing thing. I get bored quite easily if I’m honest with you. And so I’m always looking for a new challenge, but I never get bored in mediation. It’s the most incredible, powerful, rewarding and satisfying thing. And it’s so mired in mystery. It’s so misunderstood. I feel deep sense of frustration sometimes when I hear people misunderstanding it or medication or meditation, or people just almost brush it off as that’s nice to have over there, but the real tough business happens over here.

David Liddle:

What is mediation? Mediation is a powerful process of bringing different people together who have opposing views on a particular topic. And those opposing views for one reason or another, have fallen over to a set of behaviors which may have caused harm deliberately or otherwise, where people then hold a perception of the other that they have created harm.

David Liddle:

Now, those things can come to loggerheads or they can be ignored as we’ve been talking about, all those individuals can come to the table and have a conversation. Now, the best mediation I could ever do is an absentia. So the best mediation I will ever do is when I’m not in the room, because I’ve helped create the systems and the structures that puts the space, the correct space for that dialogue to happen. And a mediation doesn’t have to have a mediator there. It’s a principle, it’s a mindset, it’s a way of coming together, listening, seeking to gain insight, listening for meaning rather than listening to defend, having an open mind to another perspective and truth, sharing my truth in such a way the other person can respond to it, equalizing our power and recognizing the other person has an equal voice in the environment to seek learning and creative outcomes. That’s what the mediator does.

David Liddle:

Now, when I’m in the room, then what I’m doing is helping the two parties to have that conversation. And it’s a powerful conversation because we know that the conflicts and the tensions that we see, they cause people… They can’t sleep at night properly, they’re feeling ill, they’re feeling upset or worse as we see in many organizations. So the first thing I see as a mediator is this powerful transformation in the individual, their shoulders step up, their face seems to change, it’s less tired, less fearful and apprehensive. And then they start talking and it’s at first, they can’t look at each other and the heads are turned. And then you get this moment where they look at each other and start connecting with each other. Now these are skills I use as a mediator every day because there is a conflict.

David Liddle:

Now it seems a shame to me that we have to use mediation because of a contingent factor, which is a conflict, can’t we be using these skills of bringing people together and then negotiating outcomes, finding outcomes based on my needs and your needs? So this convergence, seeing where there’s different opinions, divergence and having a conversation about divergence as the source of strengths, taking the adversity out of diversity and creating this space where we can celebrate our differences. And it seems a shame that you have to be in a dispute or a conflict in order to mediate. So to your question about, is it a leadership capability? I would say it’s one of the most important leadership capabilities, bringing people together who have opposing or different views over whatever it is in order for people to share those opposing views, to reach some convergence and commonality in order that together, you can then move forward with those insights, that innovation and that creativity.

David Liddle:

And if leaders are able to do that in our organizations, whether it’s a merger or an acquisition, being able to bring those two functions together and create alignment between two cultures so they can synergize and be the most brilliant version of themselves or an individual level between two departmental heads or other employees in the organization, that is the power of leadership. And I would argue and vehemently argue that mediation skills, the skills we use as mediation could and should be one of the most strategically valuable tools that a leader could be using every day in their toolkit.

Des Dearlove:

Perry Timms, again, I’d be interested in David’s take on where HR and ESG sits in this sense of restorative justice, inclusion, dialogue, and accountability for what really matters. And the sense of employee activism, which is a topic that Thinkers50 has been exploring in recent times, so many of the strands come together in this conversation. And the sense of employee activism as a counterfoil to dogmatic and exclusive operating paradigms, where perhaps their misbehavior is a protest to unfairness. So not at all an interpersonal conflict. What are your thoughts on that?

David Liddle:

That’s a big question, Perry. [inaudible 00:36:36]. So let’s start with the kind of environmental, social and governance factors and use of restorative processes within those and creating a space for them, for us all to… We all have, I mean, we just have to look at our political systems, we just have to look at the climate change, climate emergency, we just have to look at the geopolitical circumstances that we’re all living through at the moment to know that we all have a stake in ESG. But is the ESG being done to us or with us? So could we be using these conversational tools and restorative processes to create a bigger conversation across our whole workplaces to draw in all of the various views? Now the challenge, I think though, and this is where restorative justice can play a really core role is because as we get all these views coming in, there’ll be views that we agree with, there’ll be views that we disagree with and there’ll be opposing views, which could become conflictual and could become a source of dispute or tension.

David Liddle:

Restorative justice allows all of those views to be discussed and add in a safe and constructive way. And the facilitator, the leadership function within our organization is able to manage those opposing views and able to harness them and harness the energy from them. I think you would like the word energy Perry, harness the energy from all of those views and bring them into the organization, so it’s not being done to you, it’s being done with you. And that speaks to a previous question about having power over rather than power with, this is power with.

David Liddle:

Now the challenge I see in organizations as well with employee activism is people want justice. People are campaigning for justice, whether it’s in the US today, right now, on abortion rights, whether it’s about climate change, misogyny, racism, people are challenging the systems around notions of justice and fairness. Bring your whole self to work, we say. Bring your whole you into our workplace. Well, thank you very much. I will. And I’m very concerned about these social matters and I’m going to have my voice heard. And I’m not really that interested if you’re not going to listen to me because if you won’t listen to me, I’ll go onto social media. I’ll go and speak to others who share my view and we’ll form a coalition.

David Liddle:

So employee activism to me seems to be one of the potentially, the most significant drivers of change within our organizations. Leaders are you ready to listen? We weren’t doing a very good job of it before. Are we ready to really listen now? Are we ready to engage these more than this? And again, those restorative principles that I’m talking about, allow us to engage our ears, speak less and listen more, create that space, again, the psychologically safe space for these conversations to happen, for people to feel heard and valued and that their point of view is being taken on board.

David Liddle:

People don’t expect you to agree with every word they say, that’s not the point. The point is, did you hear me? Did you value me? And did you give me an opportunity to have my point of view taken on board? And when leaders and others create the space for that to happen, amazing things can happen with other organizations. But when we suppress it or where we do not give the appearance we’re doing that, I think that’s when we see a storm on social media, which can have significant reputational impact or worse, probably a slow inexorable death of a thousand cuts of a previously very high performing good organization. So I think listening… So employee activism speak up, listen up and then act, those three things are critical to how we give voice in our organizations. Listen, speak, act. And I think then we’ve got a really powerful way of introducing or adopting these restorative principles that I’ve been talking about today.

Stuart Crainer:

Omolade Simbi-Wellington says, what do you make of organizations that don’t embrace divergence of opinions? Like they always have a phrase, that’s the way we always do it. And that’s the depressing reality in so many organizations.

David Liddle:

I think there’s a paradigm shift happening in our organizations and you know the… There’s a labor market. The great resignation, people are exiting the labor market. You know, we’ve always had a labor market. I read once on a tweet, we’re not trees, we can move to other jobs so we can choose to move, but people are choosing a different lifestyle altogether. So people are choosing to work for organizations which match their needs around values, beliefs, principles, speaking out, leadership, HR functions. So I think the first one would be those organizations who do it that way, because they’ve always done it, will start to see a slow shift of talent to their competitors. And of course you lose the people you want to keep, you keep the people you want to lose.

David Liddle:

So suddenly you beginning to drain your talent. Customers are demanding more… Customers every day are demanding more from organizations and rightly so too. So we start to see our customers then making choices in the competitive marketplace. It’s not just price. Clearly price is a massive issue at the moment, as we’re experiencing such a squeeze on price. Price isn’t the only factor, it’s matching against the customer’s expectations around values and beliefs. And of course, investment into our organizations, where are people going to invest their money? Will they invest their money in the organizations which look like they’re stuck in last year or will they be investing their money in those organizations who are predicting the future and doing a really great job of thinking about what tomorrow might look like? And those are, to me, are three compelling arguments for really starting to think about how we engage with people and how we shift away from the status quo. So, if ain’t bust don’t fix it, but the justice systems in our organization are bust, it’s time for them to be fixed.

Des Dearlove:

Yeah. The great thing about this conversation is we’re pulling together, like I said, strands. We’ve championed Amy Edmondson’s work on Psychological Safety, which you left us. We are big fans of Megan Reitz’s work on Employee Activism and on Speaking Truth to Power. But some of this conversation also reminds me of an HBR article that Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne wrote donkeys years ago called Fair Process. And they were talking about the fact that in organizations, if there is fair process, if people can see transparently, there is a justice to what happens and how they’re treated, it will bring out the best in people. People don’t mind necessarily if they can see why something’s happened to them and they feel it was just, and they were allowed to have a voice and the process was fair.

Des Dearlove:

But you said very early on in this conversation, you started talking about competitive advantage. Why can’t organizations, I mean, perhaps reframe that… There probably are organizations that really get it. I mean, fully get it. And they will have, I do believe they will have a competitive advantage from doing this well. Are there some examples that you can point to? Are their companies or institutions or organizations that we can look to for best practice?

David Liddle:

I think [inaudible 00:43:35]. I mean, we work with [inaudible 00:43:35]. I work with numerous organizations to do this stuff. I think we see globally a number of organizations that are doing this stuff really well. And I think it’s those organizations that we take inspiration from. And I certainly would be calling for more research, data and evidence to create the connection between culture, people, purpose, values, and competitive advantage. And I won’t just sit here, right now Des, and say that I have all of the answers and all of the evidence, but perhaps we do need our academics, and our academic institutions and our business schools to start to really begin to evaluate the relationship between these things, because they’re tangible and people can feel them.

David Liddle:

And what I mean by that is thinking about that competitive advantage, so let’s think about that from a human perspective. You talked about fair process. If I’m involved in a fair process, I feel I’m being treated fairly. Doesn’t matter what the outcome is, if I feel like I’m being treated fairly, I’m going to sleep well that night. If I think you’re treating unfairly, I’m going to wake up at two o’clock in the morning, because I don’t feel right. It’s going to wake me up and I’m going to start to work through my head. How can I get one over on you? How can I gain an advantage over you? And I’ll be running this through my head at two o’clock and then I’ll be still up at three. Then I’ll go to sleep at four. Then I’ve had a bad night’s sleep. Then I’ll wake up in the morning, probably ping you a rather stroppy email. You come into your office at five o’clock or whatever time in the morning and the day begins in that particular way.

David Liddle:

So at a very human level, that fair process on this example helps me to get a better night’s sleep. I sleep better. I come in the next day. You and I don’t have that fiery relationship. I’m more likely to put in discretionary effort. And if you had put five minutes discretionary effort in that day, because you’ve not had a dodgy email from me, I do because I’ve slept better. That’s 10 minutes of discretionary effort in that day. An organization with 10,000 headcounts, if every day would get five minutes of discretionary effort, because there was less 10 tension, I’d love for someone, there might be someone on this call who could work out, what would that be, an aggregate in terms of the amount of hours that we would see putting into that organization?

David Liddle:

So yes, we’re doing some wonderful work. We’re doing some great work with [inaudible 00:45:38] here in the UK, we’ve been working with Bloomberg, we’ve been working with numerous organizations who are doing some really exciting stuff and there really is a huge list of public and private and governmental organizations. But what I’d love to be able to see is a direct connection between, as I said, that purpose, the values, the behaviors, that relational stuff that we’re talking about and then the competitive advantage in the work that’s in the marketplace. And that to me would be a really interesting piece of research.

Des Dearlove:

And you are just the guy to write that book and do that research now. And that’s a conversation that we had the last time.

David Liddle:

No problem. I just promised my wife never again.

Des Dearlove:

Is that book any further along? Are you pursuing that?

David Liddle:

Yeah, so I’m on the second edition now of Managing Conflict. So really looking for some more stories and examples to build on those from 2017, of organizations who’ve done work around integrated conflict management systems and the approaches that I was advocating in relation to HR systems. So if there’s anyone who’s doing interesting work and in that space, I’d love to hear from you. They had to disagree. Well, book is, it’s just in the early stages. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into that for the economist. And I’m also thinking about the second edition of Transformational Culture and bringing together more stories from organizations because it’s been fantastic since it was published last year. People have been coming to me every day, telling me about the stories of good cultures and unfortunately some toxic and less good cultures. I’m really looking forward to sharing more examples of what good culture looks like and how we can shift away from those toxic and damaging and sometimes divisive cultures to something more purpose driven, fair, just inclusive, sustainable, and high performing.

Stuart Crainer:

David. Unfortunately we are out of time. We can complain about the fairness of that, I guess. Really appreciate you joining us today. Really interesting and important conversation. Check out David’s work. We strongly recommend his books, the required reading, especially for anybody in HR, but beyond HR as well. I think these are vital issues. So thank you very much to David Liddle, please check out his work.

Stuart Crainer:

Next week, we’re going to be joined by Basima Tewfik from MIT. Thank you everyone for joining us and thank you very much, David.

David Liddle:

No, thank you Stewart. Thank you Des. It’s been an absolute pleasure and thank you for having me as part of Thinkers50 Radar Class of 2022.

 

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