A century-old lesson for HR
published by , on 23/11/2014

By Simon Barrow (consultant at Westbourne Communications).

Why a first world war soldier’s insights on management are 100 per cent relevant, 100 years on, according to Simon Barrow

I just read the diaries of a private from the first world war – the lowest rank in the British Army – doing a job as an orderly in a casualty station having to cope with wave after wave of grievously wounded and dying men. He describes the errors and omissions of the system and the culture which dominated it. So many of the problems remain familiar in conversation with junior but experienced employees today, let alone middle management.

‘Private Lord Crawford’s Great War Diaries’ from Medical Orderly to Cabinet Minister’ edited by Christopher Arnander, tells the story of no ordinary soldier. He’d been MP for Chorley. His family owned the Wigan Coal and Iron Company employing 10,000. He was the 27th Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, Scotland’s oldest peerage. When he left Oxford, he did social work in Bethnal Green in the East End. But, despite his social status, his experience of management isn’t too unlike today’s workplace gripes.

Under seven common headline findings, I thought I’d share what Private Crawford had to say in his reflective yet telling way a century ago:

Incompetent matrix management

Today there are twenty five officers, five nurses, one resident medical officer – thirty one people in all who are entitled to give orders to twelve NCOs and men!

Management arrogance

Officers luggage is immensely heavy. I fancy that thirty five pounds is the limit allowed to the normal regimental officer – but in fact many of casino the kits weigh up to 200 pounds. We have to toil up to the attic, and オンライン カジノ when it is there, the officer sends for it as he wants to find toothpicks or some old number of the Daily Mail.

Managers lack of real interest in subordinates

They are a curious study these officers. Their conversation, so far as it relates to military matters, is tactical not strategic, but they talk chiefly about their billets and personal grievances. One never hears a word about the men of the army.

Employee perceptions of management

I note the unerring intuition and speed with which an officer is assessed by his men. He is watched a thousand times more closely than he knows. His manners, skill, conversation, kit, tastes, friends and frailties – they are all known, scheduled and docketed.

Employee upward feedback

The army is the army, my rank is negligible and technically I have no access to the colonel, who in turn has no technical right to receive a report from me.

Opinion of own management compared to others

The officers! How many failures have I seen – abject irremediable failures. I feel instinctively that the junior German officer is a very different personage – arrogant, robust, self-assertive, confident in his mission and in his cause. He is a bully, with the combination of forces and obscenity which is a ruling characteristic of modern Germany – but he has force, he has impetus, he can strike and he can drive.

Lack of recognition

What seems to annoy our men more than anything in the sergeant major’s scold is the absence of any acknowledgement of good work accomplished.

Sound familiar? What would today”s HR do about these issues in the workplace?

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