I’ve just read a blog post by Ian Buckingham entitled Internal engagement? Us vs Them?
As a regular blogger in an area of great interest to me – business and brand culture transformation – I often read Ian’s posts. This one particularly caught my eye as I had found myself wrestling with the Us and Them question a couple of times recently.
Ian’s post focused on the chasm of misunderstanding between the “us” of a head office team and the “them” of the front line staff, showcasing examples of ill conceived internal engagement initiatives.
My own encounters were slightly more ambiguous.
Recently, when writing communication strategies or proposals for the IT function, I’d found it convenient to refer to the internal users of the IT systems and applications as “the business”. This shorthand was in fairly common usage across IT until the relationship between IT and the rest of the business went through one of its more fractious phases. At that point, there was a decree that, as IT is equally part of “the business”, we should find other terminology to define our end user target audience. Henceforth I referred to “the client-facing business”. Despite being rather clunky and repetitive terminology, it did have the benefit of focusing the mind on the potential impact of any IT changes.
At this time, I also became more aware that there is a long history of separation (Us and Them) between IT functions and the users outside IT, with users habitually feeling ‘done to’ by IT, even when the changes are sponsored by their own business leader. Using inclusive terminology, as opposed to references that seem to segregate the IT function from the rest of the business, won’t resolve this longstanding issue, but neither will it reinforce it.
I’m regularly confronted with the ‘Us and Them’ issue when writing my own blog. When thinking of a title for my recent post on feedback surveys, my first idea was “Feedback surveys need to feel relevant to both parties.” I could see, however, how this wording highlighted the Us and Them element that is an undesirable but almost unavoidable feature of all employee surveys. Despite numerous brave attempts in employee survey positioning statements to encourage co-ownership of issues highlighted in the survey responses and the development of potential solutions, the fact remains that there is a strong Us and Them feeling inherent in the entire survey process.
It’s naïve to think that there isn’t an Us and Them at play in all businesses.
Leaders aren’t recognised as good leaders by being one of the masses.
They are recognised as good leaders when they are at one with the masses.