CIPD Annual Conference 2018: You are the giants of the workplace, Amaechi tells HR

Employers have a responsibility to be more honest and consistent with their staff, says former NBA star turned organisational psychologist

The disparity between the values companies tout and the realities of how they behave are causing employees to become disengaged, clinical psychologist John Amaechi told the CIPD Annual Conference today.

Too many business leaders see their employees as “vending machines” and it is the role of HR to challenge this and push managers to live up to their organisation’s values, he said.

Speaking at the event in Manchester, Amaechi – the former NBA star who now also works as a director of Central Manchester University Hospitals – said the so-called ‘Overton window’ defining what is acceptable in both society and the workplace had shifted. 

“It is so far from what’s normative and what’s expected and what many of us have worked so hard to achieve” that HR has found itself challenged by behaviours, mindsets and approaches to work that were “almost regressive,” he added.

“We have to challenge this, it’s our ethical duty,” he said. “You [HR] are giants in your roles. People look to you to not only set the tone, to live up to the values of your organisation but also to reach out to those people around you to remind them their dual responsibility is to be good at their job, yes, but [also] to deliver the experience that we’ve been promising.”

Amaechi added that millennials were not “snowflakes” but were “highly sensitive to incongruence” between what a company said and how it acted. “We call them flaky and disloyal when [after two months] they leave, when in reality, what do you do if you’re in a relationship with somebody who lies to you? Do you stay? Of course not. 

“And then we wonder why we have a productivity problem. One half of the organisation does only as much as they have to do to remain in post, and an increasingly larger part of our organisation will leave because they realise the experience that they’ve been promised will never be delivered.”

Fixing this incongruence wasn’t about lowering standards but about demanding “every colleague, every manager at every level” understands acting in line with an organisation’s values is important.

HR also has a role in rebuilding trust by connecting with employees on an individual level. Amaechi likened this to having a great schoolteacher in a subject you didn’t enjoy. “Mine was biology. I couldn’t give a damn about mitochondria. But Mr Gregg, he loved mitochondria, he loved the plant cell stuff and because I knew Mr Gregg cared about me, I cared about what Mr Gregg cared about.

"That’s how you tie people to work that’s mundane. You do it by tying them to the product or service – you [tied] to the brand and them [tied] to you.”

Amaechi added it was impossible to predict and prepare for all the important moments in life or your career. “Sometimes we never know when we’re about to have this massive impact on the people around us, whether they be our peers and colleagues or people who report to us.

"And when you’re giants, you just can’t afford to take that chance of not being as vigilant, as careful, as mindful as we must be,” he said.