Times Are Changing When Police Can Teach HR

HR and leadership deal with human relations in general and what works best, which is often counter-intuitive. That’s a key reason many line managers struggle with HR approaches. The recent demonstrations at Toronto’s G20 venue provided interesting examples.

Legitimate protestors are stuck in a puzzling situation. They can continue to hold marches during G20 meetings and head toward the barriers, thus providing mass cover in which a handful of criminal agitators can hide and do maximum damage. They thereby guarantee no one hears their messages. Or a better solution might well be to hold as big a rally as possible a week or so prior to a G20 or G8 in a safe location, where organizers could video-record sensible statements of protestRiot Gear at Home and logical arguments and alternatives to give to leaders ahead of the meetings when they might make a point. Vandals rarely show up where there’s nothing to vandalize.

There would be less mass media coverage, but the messages wouldn’t be lost in violence and attempted baiting of police. Larger numbers would turn out since additional protesters wouldn’t fear arrest or violence. It would demonstrate how many people are concerned about alternate solutions and would likely get more reasoned attention from leaders instead of being delivered at a time when their attention is fully occupied with deals the protestors don’t want made. Would it work? At least as well as current mangled efforts. Can anyone say clearly from what we saw on TV what the messages are? Anything has to be more understandable than that.

At least in HR we have research that proves counter-intuitive approaches are typically superior.

In day-to-day HR, for example, many line managers hate whatever pay system is in place because they don’t understand the core purpose is fair pay equity among employees and huge increases are counter-productive to their objectives. What they see is they want to pay their best people more and evil HR stands in the way. If every manager does this it will create a race to the top, extremely high pay for everyone, disengaging both top and mediocre employees. (Wait, isn’t that what’s happening with CEO pay, especially in the US where publishing pay scales has the opposite of its intended effect.) Second, based on subjective evaluations of who is ‘best,’ other employees will (and do) become severely upset unless their pay is also raised nearly as much. oops, more of the same problem.

And, third, of course, they pay no attention whatsoever to the tons of research showing that money isn’t the prime motivator – recognition is. Yet many managers continue year after year to say hardly a thank you, let alone a positively reinforcing ‘good work’ despite the fact this free option has been shown to have a far greater effect on results than dangerously raising pay, expectations, claims of favoritism and all the problems unmanaged pay systems create. As to pay, if employees at Toyota happily produce over a million profit-improving suggestions per year for about $50 t0 $100 each, why do we think big bucks are needed to motivate our people?

But counter-intuitive works in more situations than even I thought. At the G20 demonstrations in Toronto I got a front row seat (and picture above) with riot-garbed police at the foot of my downtown driveway. They pushed about 50 demonstrators down our street, past our front door to the main intersection where they promptly sat down and continued taunting police. The officers stood and waited about 20 minutes. and then. just walked away (taking time to drink bottled water from their back up vans and shed their helmets to wipe their brows in front of thirsty protesters). Then they marched back to the government buildings at the other end of the street that they’d been driving the protesters away from. The result – about 5 of the 50 protesters followed them and the rest went home. Bored, tired, dry and uninjured, they’d failed to provoke an incident and gave up.

I have to say I was stunned. I’m not sure what I expected, but in retrospect it all makes the perfect kind of counter-intuitive sense I routinely promote. Show the strength, don’t use it and it’s more effective than bashing people. Kudos to the Toronto Police Service who mostly trained and then coordinated the 15,000 officers it took to maintain this kind of order and kudos to the individual officers who were willing to follow the plan. Now if protesters and G20 planners would learn equally futuristic management, we could avoid spending much of the $1.4 billion this security exercise reportedly cost.

How stupid did planners have to be to put a G20 meeting in a downtown filled with banks and ‘capitalist’ shops with plate glass windows begging to be broken and many congested streets, vehicles and transit that are difficult to protect. Duh?! We know violence has marked every G8/G20 in memory.

With the danger zone placed squarely in downtown police have three choices – massive presence and arrests to move people away, however briefly; no presence, which would simply be an OK to throw everything including Molotov cocktails at whatever anarchists want; or a moderate presence, which would result in officers and bystanders injured in repeated scuffles and set up for a pitched battle at the perimeter fences with even more injuries and possibly even loss of life as we’ve seen in the past. What choice is there, but the former, which takes massive coordination, but provides maximum physical protection for leaders and demonstrators alike. No one wants a police state, least of all in your home town, but for 2 days G20 planners didn’t leave any of us much choice. It’s not a bad reminder of what our country could be like if we don’t manage sensibly. If you have to do something, do it wholeheartedly. and get it over with and go home. It was messy, but the least violence G-meeting in history I expect.