I am a business leader, psychotherapist and equalities and social policy consultant. An enthusiastic advocate of working and living well, I believe in supporting everyone to have positive, safe and equal chances within a modern environment.
I've worked in the field of early years learning, childcare, anti-discrimination and equalities for 30 years. For 20 of those I have managed my own consultancy and training business www.hempsalls.com working nationally and internationally for a range of government, charitable and private organisations. Throughout that time I have loved shaping and delivering policy, and working to useful, impactful, and outcome focused solutions. And with a nod to my original passion for design, I am also a co-director of www.harrimanandco.com an independent furniture and home-ware design store.
For quite a while I’ve flinched every time I’ve said or overheard the word ‘empowerment’. I have felt uneasy that some might think the oppressed or disadvantaged should all be helped to be more confident. I’ve been searching for and cogitating on an alternative. Finally, I think I’ve got one. For now, at least.
First, you may ask: why be uneasy with empowerment? Seems like a positive and helpful thing doesn’t it? Well, my big difficulty with it is this. It assumes the person or subject of the empowering lacks their own power or agency. To not have power does not mean their is a lack of capacity to have power, or to use it positively. The problem instead is those with power around them, if they are holding onto it with a vice like and un-sharing grip. It isn’t equal. It is being controlled and restricted to the few.
Second, the whole process of empowerment suggests there is a giver and a receiver. The assumption is those that are to be empowered cannot assume power without the enabling facilitation and support of a benevolent power-holding expert. That’s just too simplistic, and holds echoes of colonialism, patriarchy, and patronage.
Third, we could argue those who don’t have their fair share of power have already done extremely well to achieve so far, against all the odds. They have a full range of skills borne from experience to date. In contrast, those with more than their fair share, may have built it themselves – I admit, or perhaps they were gifted it, or inherited it, or they were privileged enough that it arrived by default. their relationship with power runs the risk of being unconscious and incompetent.
What therefore could be more empowering than empowering? How about dispowerment? That way we acknowledge the actual process required, it gives those in positions of inequity more agency and choices, and deconstructs the sense and feeling of the giving or equipping of power in the process.
A sure way to shine a light on something is to cover it up. After decades and centuries of evidence and examples have proven this to be true. Nations have: hidden nuclear accidents, US Presidents have lost their job or reputations, and countless corporations have denied product failures. All have been found out and had to face the consequences. So, why haven’t we all learned to fess up and deal with the flack yet?
Recent events, and there have been many of them, have provided clear examples of the pitfalls of cover-ups. Celebrities, politicians, royalty, and business leaders have continued to seek to hide what they perceive to be inconvenient truths, to gloss over uncomfortable realities, to deny ill-judged relationships, or to erase moral or legal errors. Think speeding tickets, workplace romances, HR process swerves, nepotism, abuse of power, tax-avoidance, lockdown misdemeanours – the list is easily endless.
What appears to happen is these events trigger an instinct to retreat to virtual bunkers with a gaggle of PR and legal advisers. New realities are constructed, and scripts of distraction and denial written and rehearsed. Then the advisers release their client to the world, whilst they themselves prepare their invoices.
Everyone makes mistakes, we aren’t infallible, we are human. Mistakes are by definition not intentional. That differentiates from deliberate and conscious choices, wholly different matters altogether.
I follow the principle that it isn’t the mistake that is important, it is what happens next that counts. The signs of cover up are numerous. It starts with the feeling that stories simply aren’t adding up, that there are tongue-tied and unnatural scripted verbalisms, the body language disconnects with what is being said. This all fans the flames of intense curiosity and scrutiny. It multiples times ten what interest there would be if you had confessed right away instead. A ripple of reactions of suspicion and doubt starts to build, with the potential to become a wave, and then an overwhelming and destructive tsunami.
It is the emotional reaction that then causes all the damage. A cover up’s wake destroys trust, nothing seems truthful or believable anymore, little can be taken on face value, and relationships suffer with all stakeholders (such as friends and family, colleagues and managers, clients and customers or end-users, advertisers, and the public).
So, what is the alternative? Here are five suggestions:
Take responsibility for the mistake. Own it. You did it after all.
Apologise. You didn’t mean to do it did you? Say sorry, express regret. Acknowledge its consequences.
Make reparations. Make sure you do what you can to repair some or all the damage or consequences you have caused.
Prevent it happening again. Identify the root cause and consider what can be done to ensure the mistake isn’t repeated. And put in place that preventative action.
Do better things next time. Those cringeworthy moments are things to learn from. “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything (Einstein).
When it comes to planning for retirement, the traditional focus is on finance and rest. It is practical and sensible, and necessary – especially in the current economic climate. Financial pressures mean that many feel unable to even contemplate stopping work, or stepping off the treadmill fully or in part, and being able to sustain a new way of living. Working lives are can be busy and stressful. People find themselves trapped in career cul-de-sacs and it feels like the only way out is to stop altogether. Who wouldn’t fantasise about stopping the bus?
All the thinking and preparation for a quality life experience in retirement, is often overlooked. I wonder how transformational it would be if equal emphasis was placed on the social and emotional aspects of this significant life stage. Because guess what, people find it really tricky, and confusing, and unsettling. So much so, there is a growing trend of people unretiring.
Unretirement happens when, after stopping work and catching some restful and reflective moments, retirees reconsider their life-goals and re-enter the working world in new and exciting ways. Reinvesting their experience and skills in new and different ways.
This can be driven by a renewed sense of personal purpose. A desire to enjoy more control, and to develop and take new choices, and to create a greater sense of purpose and pleasure. Perhaps achieving latent ambitions and long-held dreams, or seeking to make a difference to the world around us by learning new things, meeting new people, developing new businesses, undertaking charitable work, or enjoying people-focused activities.
It is a time when we want to divorce ourselves from financial shackles it feels like we are married to. To liberate ourselves by determining our own wage worth – whether that be higher or lower than what came before. Or so set us free from mortgage repayments, or any spending that doesn’t feel necessary anymore. To live for self, not finance.
Five helpful tips:
Investing time and energy in planning for self at all stages of life and work, helps build self-awareness and agency. You will be better prepared for retirement and there will be fewer unwelcome surprises later.
Reinvent your career choices pre-retirement, be bold to create and navigate careers junctions and roundabouts. Be the person you want to be at work today, not consigning it to ‘maybe one day’.
Take time out to rest, reflect and re-energise when retirement comes to help reconcile what was imagined and how the reality looks and feels. What new insights and opportunities does this shine a light on?
Remember it is never too late to learn new things. Forget that old adage about old dogs and new tricks.
Retain a focus on your values, pleasures and choices, unretirement is when you are doing things for you, no-one else.
Recently, I’ve been watching TV, reading the tabloids and scanning the socials with a degree of professional curiosity. All about understanding the comings and goings in TV land. My spare time (and working from home time, if i am honest) has been spent avidly reading between the lines, scrutinising the verbal and non-verbal language, and analysing those super-slick presentation skills projected to viewers at home, all across the morning schedule. I have found there have been deliberate, scripted and overt behaviours, as well as covert and unconscious messages for those of interested in the world of people and work.
Why the interest – you ask? Well, there has been something going on in TV land. Allegedly.
For a few weeks we’ve been led to believe key TV presenting partnerships have deteriorated, former friendships have dissolved, feuds have been fuelled to a fiery heat, patterns of old and new behaviour have been exposed, and circles of trust have been broken. Sounds more like a drama serial than an entertainment programme, it all feels more like a deconstructed reality show. The sparkle and polish has become tarnished, and all things have unravelled.
Something had to happen. Time had run out. Decades long tenures on the sofa have come to an end. I don’t really know what has happened, I have revealed my sources above. But it hasn’t stopped me thinking. Because it has flagged several management issues and lessons that we should all listen to.
Commercially it is important. All of this dysfunction of the ‘on-screen chemistry’ that TV executives have long demonstrated is worth millions to them and their paymasters in the form of their advertisers. When things go wrong, viewer numbers go down, adverting sales take a hit, and share prices plummet. But how could this have been allowed to have happened to HR (human resources), PR (public relations) and SV (share value)?
Longevity in the workplace is a great thing, as is experience. I am proud that we still have some of the founder members of our business working with us almost 25 years on. Of equal importance are new team members, and those that stay for a while before their career journeys find new challenges and opportunities. Bringing in and nurturing new talent, experience, approaches, and ideas in the workplace gives the opportunity for diversity and difference in every way.
Leaders need to facilitate the bringing together of established team members, and the new ones, so the best of both is harnessed. Leaders also need to know when and how to share power and opportunity with others. That is good succession planning, by over-lapping and layering the capacity and capability of the team. Otherwise, one day, that long established team will simply not be there anymore, and no one will be present or able to take over in their place.
Knowing when to go can be a problematic dilemma. Leaving a great team and a positive environment can be hard if opportunity awaits elsewhere. ‘Clinging on’ when the time is up, the culture has broken down (toxic even), relationships are irreparable, and power has shifted, and trust is lost is more than messy. There are no winners when this happens for individuals, teams, organisations, end-users nor shareholders.
There will always be losers, especially if the decision is made by someone else in urgent and clumsy ways, and all hope of a positive ending slips between one’s fingers. It is an indicator of management failure, laziness, and impotence across many levels. Instead, leaders and managers should help their organisations, teams, and individuals through all of this thinking to hold everyone to account in a safe space where values and culture, open and honest dialogues, power and opportunity, and transitions and choices are open to all and result in positive experiences for all, for now, and for the future.
Now, how I do I pop all that study onto my timesheet?
This week we spoke to a wide community of professionals concerned with evidence, impact, data, and evaluation at the Children and Young People Now conference in London. Our session focused on early years, no surprise there. Our opening assertion was that we can and must assertively quantify and demonstrate how early education makes a difference. Because it enables children to succeed in their educational futures. We can close gaps before children start school, but the greatest gift we can bestow children is to switch on their motivated personal learning journeys, and to help them embrace the opportunities that school offers, and be resilient to tackle its challenges. Early years isn’t an annexe to education, it is the second stage, after children have started learning at home with their parents. It is a vital and equal part of the continuum of learning before children start school, and a reliable indicator of their future needs and learning potentials throughout primary and secondary.
What is school readiness? We were asked. And how can early years serve teachers by handing over to them children ‘ready, willing, and able’ to be at school? It isn’t difficult to define, describe and evidence this, even though many believe it is. Let us tell you, to be school ready is to be happy, confident, and engaged. It is as simple as that. Without these two foundational skills, there is an unholy battle to be had. And we can measure this through the Leuven scales of Wellbeing and Involvement. Observational judgements made through informed and specialist assessments by trained early educators, who can use the scales to convert qualitative values to quantitative ones. Data that can target support and interventions and track progress – evidencing it along the way.
What schoolteacher would not want to work with a child, or a class that was healthy and happy, or actively engaged in what was happening around them? Two foundational skills that we can, and we do, deliver every day in the appropriately named Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But it relies upon us as a sector to grow our confidence. It requires us and all of those around us to fully understand the data we collect and how and why. That means we, as a sector, and those who rely upon us, need to open up to new respectful and impact and outcome focused conversations. And that data we collect needs to be stealthy gathered through realistic, and authentic understanding of best practice in early education. It should not be viewed through a ‘blurry lens’ or practice from later educational perspectives (I mean schools in case you missed that).
The early years of learning are unique and different – that is its strength, but it does get in the way when others don’t always comprehend that. They require practitioners to understand our youngest children’s development of thinking and reasoning. This is massively different to how assessment and testing is done later on. The assessment of which is an art, to track and evidence children’s development. In short, to think in the same terms as the developing minds and brains of our youngest children. And that is an art that can be quantified, tracked, evidenced, analysed, proved, and demonstrated – all without our youngest children noticing what we are up to. And crucially executed during day-to-day early years practice, without the need for extensive paperwork, and certainly without clutching a tablet – all of which creates barriers between the practitioner and the child, taking away significant value from the potential of interaction and best early education practice.