Monday, September 01, 2008

Compensation Roulette - place your bets

There but for the Grace of God...

Once upon a time, there was an Assistant Director, Alex, and his boss, Bob.
Bob was well-qualified, talented, solid, and in his fifties. Alex was younger, equally qualified, more talented, dynamic, loyal, ambitious but frustrated. He used to come to my office, we'd stay on after hours draining long G&Ts and discussing how to get his ideas put into action. Usually, it was up to me to go and 'suggest' them to Bob and, if necessary, lean on him to get things going.

Well, eventually, Alex had an offer of a better job elsewhere. I was desperate to keep him so I put it to Bob that we could unload him organise a beneficial early retirement package so as to promote Alex. It turned out to be pretty much the worst thing I could have done. It caused resentment with Bob, who felt insulted and wouldn't go. Resentment, too, among other senior managers who saw their comfort zones threatened. And, eventually, resentment from Alex once he realised he'd missed the boat.

My judgement was, I freely admit, subjective. If I'd had to produce written evidence of their different competencies, or Bob's deficiencies, I'd have found it difficult if not almost impossible. Much of the preference I had for Alex was based on compatibility - we sparked off each other in a way that Bob and I didn't and both performed the better for it. To be honest, even his willingness to stay behind and get pished was an asset. But securing his flair and ability for what I saw as the long-term benefit of the organisation was my only real motive for wanting to keep him. Probably in by-the-book HR terms, this was totally unrealistic. But these were all white men, so nobody had grounds for £1m discrimination claims so what the hell.

So I'd screwed up. Maybe I should have handled it better or maybe just done nothing, I still don't know. But either way, I thank my lucky stars that none of the people involved were black or Asian. Because the state of race relations that we've reached now, as the Tarique Ghaffur/Met Police case shows, is making decision-making impossible in situations where a question of equal treatment comes up. How we deal with the issue of racism when it's falling off the invisible end of the spectrum, I just don't know. It's blinding obvious, really... we just aren't all the same. I don't mean better or worse, just "same", irrespective of/and/or/including ethnic differences. That's going to lead, at some level, to making some people harder to work with than others and some of them will be black.

Ghaffur has risen spectacularly through the ranks to his £180,000 job. He may just have reached the limits of his competence. May have been promoted a job too far, indeed. May even be the victim of having a less than compatible personality which could, yes, be rooted in his ethnicity and religion. But does that equate to racism? Nah.. I don't think so. If it's found to be so, we should look at re-writing the rules. Otherwise we're confirming the advantage
over the rest of us that people like Ghaffur are only too willing to exploit... and giving every other loser with a gripe the excuse to turn to the blame game as his excuse.


Glamourpuss said...

Hmmm, it's a fine line. On the one hand, I have no doubt that many people are treated badly at work largely because they are 'different' in some way, but at the same time, we are all 'different' and so maybe, when things go wrong we should be less eager to find someone to blame, and more carefult o understand how we might have contributed to the difficulty.

Easy to say, hard to do I suspect.


Selena Dreamy said...

“Race” is a development problem. That is, the issues to be addressed are poverty, education and human rights, rather than the more simple emotional cause - discrimination. But for as long as “a racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim”, the problem is, in fact, reduced to a collusion between a dangerous emotionalism and a misplaced deference to racial differences and imperial guilt - rather than being a conflict between equal treatment in a liberal democracy and a reasoned respect for law and the constitution!

If, on the other hand, Ghaffur wants to play the white man's game, for God’s sake, let him quit his whingeing, and - just for once - take pride in his own race...

All Shook Up said...

"we should be less eager to find someone to blame, and more carefult o understand how we might have contributed to the difficulty.

Easy to say, hard to do I suspect."

Correct Puss. And hardly worth bothering with when there's a payoff dangling in front of you if you're in a position to blame someone else.

All Shook Up said...

Selena, I'm sure you're right. The question is whether it can be overcome. Can clashing cultures, whether distinguished from each other racially or otherwise and whatever the level of goodwill, ever live with each other without conflict?

We are in an unprecedented experiment in Britain (well, unless we go back over 1000 years to the Danes/Saxons). Experience elsewhere in the world of distinct tribes with their own language and history being forced to share boundaries is not encouraging.