Want to make things things better? Respect relationships

One of the greatest mistakes that organisations make is to assume that people are there for the cause.

People attract people. It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

You might think that Joe Bloggs has left his job to come and work for you because of the pay, the benefits and the view from the window. But what really sold it to him was you, or at least the other people he met.

Likewise, voluntary organisations attract people based on the sense of community they offer, not the mission statement.

The professional relationships that form, sometimes over years, run very deep, very quickly. As a manager, if you see one of these relationships, you ignore it at your peril. If one of your colleagues introduces Joe Bloggs as a trusted contact, you might make discreet enquiries to verify Joe’s reputation for yourself, but you never openly question the value of that relationship.

These deep relationships, forged on trust and years of acquaintance mean that Joe Bloggs’ presence is considered by your colleague to be almost as valuable as the job you have given him or her. And after all, who’s to say this isn’t the case? Certainly not you. Unless you can guarantee said colleague a job for life (which I am guessing you can’t).

Likewise, voluntary organisations. You might start off giving up your time and skills because you believe in something. But it’s the people who keep you there.

In the past six months I have had the misfortune to watch a local voluntary organisation tear itself apart, because top down reforms took no account of fundamental friendships that were keeping the organisation going. One person goes, they all follow. Trust buys loyalty, causes do not.

So if you want to make things better, respect your peers and their contacts and relationships. This says more about your attitude to trust and understanding of people, than anything else. You don’t have to like these people, but you do have to respect their connections, and recognise the value they bring.

John Hurren and Chronicle Newspapers

I’ve been meaning to put finger to keyboard for a while now, to pay tribute to a professional mentor of mine who died almost a year ago.
John “Hell’s Teeth!” Hurren, writer, editor and business owner was the best, and possibly the worst, mentor anyone could have. The best advice, knowledge and experience you could hope for, delivered in the most direct and blunt way.
As a cub journalist I cut my teeth on the Chronicle series of newspapers in East Surrey, England. I hesitate to include that link, because the series was bought out long ago and is a shadow of its former self. However I was lucky enough to write for this cluster of freesheets when John was at the helm.
Work at the Chronicle swung from frantic to subdued, in as little as half an hour. Not necessairly because news was breaking, but perhaps a meeting or deadline had been forgotten. That’s not to say it was an unprofessional atmosphere, but John was always busy giving his time to the many locals who ‘just happened to pop in’ for a cup of tea and a chat. He recognised the value of these conversations though: occasionally worthwhile bits of news, but just as importantly these people were advocates for the paper, subtly persuading local advertisers of its value.
I quickly (“well, not quick enough old chap!”) learnt how to turn a 5,000 word report on a game of bowls into a 25 word nib, and how to take a half-usable photo at the local fashion show (“plenty of tits and arse”).
I also had my first taste of networking: long enjoyable lunchs in the local pubs, equally boozy council meetings and lots of school plays.
However, John’s appetite for networking had its limits. Despite making it clear that a prominent local estate agent was an important advertiser and not to be upset, his patience was eventually exhausted because of an overdue invoice. At the annual Edenbridge Christmas get-together for local businesses, the titled proprieter of said estate agent wished John and I a Happy New Year. To which John replied: “it will be if you pay your f*@king bill.”
For all the slog and graft I was handsomely rewarded however. John let me cover a bombing by the Animal Liberation Front and a humbling charity project to rescue women and girls from prostitution in Romania, to name but two examples. Along with the bowls reports, flower shows and council minutes this gave me just the experience and confidence I needed to kick start my career.
Thanks for everything, John.