What HR Can Learn from Corbynmania

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It’s all over (so to speak) and we have now seen at least the first chapter of Corbynmania come to a conclusion.

Throughout the campaign, and over the weekend, I have been thinking about the wider lessons that we in organisations can learn from what has happened with Corbynmania. I’ve got them down to four main ones.

 

1: Engagement and Authenticity

Lots of people criticised Labour for opening their leadership elections up to registered supporters and, going back slightly further, for moving to ‘One Member, One Vote’. Over the weekend Radio 4 played an archived recording of Ed Miliband explaining why they were making these changes and it actually all sounded very sensible. Miliband wanted people from all walks of life to have a say in leadership elections. He spoke of construction workers, nurses, teachers, self employed people and the greater good of the whole of society having a say in who should lead the People’s Party (my phrase, not Ed’s).

The lesson for HR and organisations is to really test those values statements and engagement plans: do we really want that? It all sounds great but, if you are saying that you want everybody in the organisation to have some control over decision making and future direction, do you mean it? If you don’t it’s better to be honest upfront by scaling back what you promise rather than lose credibility by grumbling when it happens.

 

2: Social Media and Group Think

I’m including this because a fluency in social media is now expected of HR practitioners in all forward looking HR departments. What we saw in this election was not unlike what we saw in the General Election earlier this year. Self selected social media connections encourage group think and mutual affirmation. How many times did we read ‘everybody I know wants Corbyn to win’ or ‘the Tories have no chance, nobody l know is going to vote Tory’. What we also saw this time around was pack mentalities forming and people, on all sides of the debate, losing some perspective. My personal favourite was seeing Neil Kinnock described as a “Tory stooge”.

How many people that you follow or interact with on social media hold very different views to your own?

 

3: Offering unacceptable options

The MPs who supported Corbyn’s nomination without wanting him to win have come in for a lot of flak. To be fair, nobody could have seen this coming so it is a bit harsh to throw rocks at them. The lesson though is a very simple one: don’t offer an option that, if chosen, you couldn’t live with. Things can change very quickly and, again, the damage is enormous of pretending to support a wide debate and offering choice without really being committed to it.

 

4: Where interest is high, it is impossible to counter misunderstandings in a networked world

I think it was down to genuine misunderstandings, but there was a lot on social media ahead of the campaign highlighting what Corbyn would ‘deliver’ even by those who didn’t pretend he would be electable in 2020. After the results were announced I read a lot of tweets of relief of “Finally, we are now going to see some changes” including a mother of disabled children hoping Corbyn would introduce legislation “within weeks” of his leadership election to help them. I also saw lots of messages describing how terrified the Conservatives secretly were of a Corbyn led Labour party. Wrong assumptions were put out there so often, and circulated so widely, that there was no way of effectively combatting them. The networked age continues to bring new challenges.

 

It will be fascinating to see what happens over the coming weeks and months. What is clear though is that leadership elections will never be the same and politics students will not be short of a fantastic dissertation topic.

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