Putting the DNA into Diversity and Inclusion

This episode of the Inclusive Growth Show features Tracy Boylin who is the CEO of Organisational Genetics. Tracy talks about how her experience of toxicity in the workplace led to founding her business.

In this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show, I was joined by Tracy Boylin. Tracy and I are both based in Manchester and we met through a business accelerator programme run by the University of Salford. We’ve also both set up our own businesses: I’ve set up a Diversity and Inclusion consultancy and through this conversation, we’ll learn more about Tracy’s business.

Through doing the introductions on this accelerator programme, when Tracy explained the work that she did, I realised that it was really complementary to what we do at Mildon. There’s a lot to learn from Tracy’s HR experience and the software that she is developing on the back of her experience.

We got started with me asking Tracy to fill in some more details about herself, her business and her background in HR.

‘I am Tracy Boylin and my company is Organisational Genetics Limited. I named it Organisational Genetics because I think it should be about organisations connecting with the DNA of their people and all the people that they have.

When I left school, as most of us do, I was not sure what I wanted to do with my career. I got my first job in a recruitment consultancy that supplied civil engineers and architects in the UK and overseas. My role there was as a researcher, looking at the companies that were their clients and giving them a bit of background to that and looking at where we could get the best type of consultants to put into these companies. I got into HR through working there because basically a female architect applied for a company overseas, many years ago now, and I thought she was the best candidate. She was not given the role based on her gender. It was felt the client had a very male-dominated culture. So basically, they ended up having issues because of that. And that really sort of piqued my interest in HR and getting it right for both companies and the clients that we work with. So, I started my CIPD study, I’m CIPD qualified at level 7, and I just loved what I did in HR. I totally enjoyed it. I got head-hunted eventually by the public sector after working in a few corporates.

In terms of working in HR for organisations, the public sector sort of ended my career as an HR director. I’d got to the level of HR director in one particular NHS trust with a particular culture.
A doctor came to me with patient safety concerns, and that led to a whole load of issues, which has taken me on the path that I am on now. So, I still do HR, but from my own company perspective and from the way that I feel it should be delivered.’

To recap what Tracy has just said and what I know from our previous conversations, after being headhunted into the NHS, she found it was a toxic environment. I asked Tracy if she could elaborate on what happened, without kind of divulging any confidential information, and recognising it was a very difficult situation to be in.

‘It was pretty horrific, and one of those life-changing moments, really, Toby. A big learning curve because I felt I knew quite a lot in terms of HR. I kept up to date. I was very good on the legal side. And basically, the doctor shared these concerns over a coffee. Because he hadn’t come to me directly. I just sort of stopped him, because I didn’t think he looked great, and asked him how he was. And he did the usual, “I’m fine”. And I said, “I don’t think you are. Let’s go and grab a coffee”. So, we did, and he opened up about what his concerns were. That was interesting for me, because technically what he was doing, well, exactly what he was doing, by sharing with me, made it potentially a whistleblowing complaint.

‘As HR director, I thought, “Okay, so this is my job to act on this now, and make sure it’s dealt with for him, for the patients that we serve, and for the NHS trust.” I didn’t see or perceive myself as a whistleblower, because I thought that’s my role, as the HR director, to act on that and ensure the policies are followed. So, I shared with him that I felt I needed to address it, and I needed to tackle it. He was very, very nervous, because of the toxic culture that we both worked in.

I said I couldn’t unknow what he’d shared, and it was quite serious. It ended up that he gave me permission to follow the policy for him and follow it through. But he suffered significant bullying as a result. Eventually, I ended up being bullied by the organisation too because I didn’t let it drop. But he ended up dying as a result. For me, that was when I thought that would be the moment the organisation learned, and it didn’t. So, that is what sent me down a different path after that, really.’

I asked Tracy what the organisation had done after the doctor died.

‘They were relieved that he wasn’t around to drive his concerns through any further. He’d got his own lawyer because of the way they were responding to him and making baseless allegations against him. At that stage, they offered me a package to leave because they felt I should have discouraged him from taking the concerns further, which I didn’t do. And then, I’d escalated it to the regulators. So, at that point, even though I hadn’t raised the initial concern, in law, that’s when I became defined as a whistleblower. So, they offered me a package to leave, which I refused, but left anyway.’

After this experience, Tracy worked on a number of these types of cases. I asked her if she’d noticed any consistent themes with these.

‘Yes. I set up the business not knowing what to do because I was a single parent to two girls and suddenly found myself unemployed. I went to work for an organisation called Patients First which had been set up by Dr. Kim Holt, who was the whistleblower in the Baby P case.

She’d set it up because she realised more and more people in the NHS were facing repercussions as a result of raising issues. Robert Francis QC who’d done the Mid Staffs inquiry into the big scandal where there’d been all the deaths, had just been commissioned to do the Speak Up review right across the NHS. It was becoming clear that this was a big concern for the NHS and that more and more scandals were happening as a result. We’ve seen the Bristol heart scandal; we’ve seen the Morecambe scandal… Where we’ve got the current drama about the Post Office, similar scandals are going on over time in the NHS.

I basically worked with Robert Francis and with Patients First to look at evidence that we could submit to his inquiry. We took 79 cases from all our members that we felt were irrefutable, that had themes in them. The themes were around people who were initially discouraged from reporting concerns. If they did, they were seen as rocking the boat. Then it led to a whole host of policies being implemented through the HR process, which were around grievance, bullying, and disciplinary. And the person who’d raised the concerns just got overwhelmed with that many processes that they were getting involved in. If they were a clinical person, they were reported to the BMA and the RCN or the clinical body for raising these concerns, but with a different aspect or connotation; that they were difficult, or a troublemaker. They weren’t part of the culture that the organisation wanted. As a result, people have lost lives, they’ve lost careers and livelihoods. They’ve had to go overseas. These were the themes that we identified. And Robert Francis called it his thematic review and submitted it to the Health Select Committee. That’s when my life took a different turn because we got so many inquiries about it that Patients First had to eventually shut down because it couldn’t cope with the demand. As a charity set up by Kim, we didn’t have the funding. So, I found myself unemployed again.

That was the point that I thought, “I can help here.” I felt I’d got to do something because whenever they quoted this phrase, “Lessons will be learned,” it was like Groundhog Day. We were seeing the same things over and over again.’

I asked Tracy what her new business journey has been like.

‘Fascinating. Amazing. Inspirational. The people that I’ve met, it got me back to jumping out of bed enjoying what I do again. Frightening, at the same time. Overwhelming at times if I’m really honest. But it just seems to have taken off. Even now from when I first set it up, I’m getting 300 to 400 emails a day, a month from individuals in the NHS.’

From what Tracy has said it seems there’s definitely a need for the support her business is providing. I asked Tracy, ‘What’s your advice to organisations if they want to develop more trust?’

‘I think for me, they’re looking at it, the totally wrong way. They look at this from a people perspective and they therefore make them people issues. So, all these policies get instigated, which is the grievance process, like I said, the disciplinary process. And what that does is it draws a line and gets both parties, defensive and upset. It breaks relationships down further. And when people are raising issues rightly or wrongly, I think you should be looking at it as a risk to your organisation. Asking, “Is this a real risk? What do we need to do? How do we tackle it?” It goes down into a whole range of issues that you could get some great intelligence from. So, I ask, “Is it a risk?” And think about what needs to be done so the organisation doesn’t end up on the front page of the Guardian or God forbid, another television drama like the Post Office scandal.

Also ask, “What is it telling us about what our people feel in this organisation and how can we use that intelligence to benefit the people that we serve, whether it be clients, or whether it be patients?” Use this intelligence in a really productive way because I think it’s like gold dust for organisations.’

I agree that it’s interesting to look at this from a risk perspective as Tracy says. It got me thinking about diversity and inclusion in general. I would say some of my clients think about the upside and the opportunity. Like being able to innovate more, being able to break into new markets, that kind of thing. But then some of my clients think of it more as a risk or an issue. They might ask, ‘So if we don’t do this right, could there be reputational damage? Or is it going to make recruitment harder? Are we going to struggle to innovate?’ Therefore, they worry the business might not be as relevant in the market as it needs to be in the future. It’s interesting to look at it from those different perspectives, actually.

Tracy has also been developing some software, which got my interest because I’ve got a background in technology. Moving into the diversity and inclusion space, I asked Tracy if she could tell me a bit more about the software that has been developed and how that came about.

‘I love research and all that we do in Organisational Genetics is research-driven. We did a big project after a big scandal up in Scotland called the Stuart inquiry, which John Stuart QC led. We went in after that and helped them to put in solutions, which is now known as the healing process. Salford University is quite interested in that – it transformed basically what was happening in Inverness. Salford University got funding and I’m working jointly with them on doing a case study around all of that to evidence the outcomes and what could be done differently.

But for me, when you go into organisations, particularly the very big ones like the NHS organisations can be, when they’ve said they had a bullying issue and they wanted me to go in and look at that they can tell you the number of cases they’ve got. They can tell you about the breakdown in terms of ethnic origin of people involved in those cases. They can give you the outcomes but what I noticed in every single case, and it’s not just the NHS, this was in other organisations as well, what they could tell me was why the bullying had been raised, but not what the root cause of it was. If you don’t get down to the very, very root cause, how do you solve it? How do you put the right solutions in to address that? What the tech does is allow people to share issues through the tech, allows them to share why they think those issues are happening. It also allows them to share good things as well as bad.

One of the things I found as an HR director is really getting to know how my people think and feel in that organisation. For me, that is critical. Even if as HR director, I didn’t agree with it, that’s their reality. You can only address things if you deal with their reality. So, the software takes them through and it gives you that intelligence that a survey doesn’t, or a survey very quickly becomes outdated. This is live data and what we do is turn that data into the organisation’s risk register based on their scores and we compile what we think the solutions might be. They can cover anything from the wellbeing of your organisation and how your people are feeling, to asking questions around how inclusive they feel the organisation is or whether there are any equality and diversity issues going on?
Is there a bullying culture? A bullying culture might only be in one part of the organisation, not in all parts because cultures can be different based on the people who are operating there. It can also drill down into what their perceptions are. So, if, for example, one of your values on the wall that people have is respect, what does respect mean to different people?

We get that because, particularly up in Scotland, what you could see is what respect meant to one group meant something different to somebody else. That’s where you was getting the clash of issues. So, if you could explore that through active learning and listening with groups, you very quickly got them saying, “Actually, I didn’t see, I didn’t understand you saw it like that.” That way you start to build up a more cohesive team again.’

What Tracey says is interesting because even if you’ve got a universal set of values in an organisation, there might be some misunderstanding or disagreement about what those values mean which might inadvertently be causing you issues. I think that root cause analysis that the software does is really helpful.

Tracy agreed, adding ‘What it highlighted up in Scotland, in one particular team, is that the team was a multi-diverse team. They came from different backgrounds because it was in a surgical area and you had physiotherapists, pharmacists, as well as surgeons, et cetera. And the guy leading that team had come from an army background where it was life or death. So, in terms of his training, it had all been about command and control, and this is the order, and then that’s what you do. And when his team started to explain how they wanted to engage and share their professional expertise into solutions, he finally got it. That only came through that data sharing finding there were different views. He had felt if they weren’t responding to that command and control style, they weren’t respecting him. And equally, they felt he wasn’t respecting them because he wasn’t listening to their views and solutions as well.’

I think it’s so useful to get those insights that Tracy has described from team members. Without them, the team will just be bumbling along as a not particularly high-performing team.

‘We discovered they were talking at cross-purposes. So now quickly, once we explored that as a group, they got back together because it was like that light bulb when they shared it with the leader because he wasn’t a bad guy. But prior to this, they had said he was a toxic bully. He was anything, but it was just his training and background. And when he understood and heard from them things they weren’t sharing because they didn’t feel they could talk to him and he didn’t listen, it totally transformed how they worked together.’

Before we finished our conversation, I was keen to hear from Tracy, ‘What does inclusive growth mean to you?’

‘I think inclusive growth means everybody in the organisation has got something to offer and is there for a reason. And sometimes it’s not just to pay the bills. Even when I was in the organisation where it was quite toxic, it was really interesting. The very first day when the cleaner who used to clean my office came in, I made her a cup of tea and she was quite shocked that I asked her did she want a cup of tea and I made it. And she just said, “Oh, is that okay? And I’m not going to get into trouble”. And I’m like, “Why would you get into trouble? I need a cup of tea each day to keep going quite a few times throughout the day.” Because of that, that relationship built where she shared with me all the skills she had, and that prior to the death of her husband, she’d got her own business.

When you hear that, you think, “How can we capture that to make our organisations better? How can we value someone?” She really valued that discussion and that I was interested. And I think for me it’s about different backgrounds and different people. That’s why I’m in HR because it’s fascinating and I’ll never get bored of hearing about people and what they do. And if you can capture that and utilise that, that’s when, for me, the DNA of your organisation will relate to the DNA of the people you’ve got. When I see that starts to happen, the organisations are the ones that become the high performing organisations.’

I would suggest that within that we need to be developing more inclusive leaders like Tracy. Where leaders are more curious, where they’re more open-minded, where they’ve got that learning orientation or that growth mindset, these are key traits of being an inclusive leader.

Tracy added ‘ Yes and developing that. We have a coaching side to what we do where we work with leaders and take all that best practice and share it so they can get ideas about how they can develop that. The difference it makes to how they then build trust with their people, that means a lot.’

To chat with Tracy about organisational culture, developing trust and enabling people in your business to speak up, or to look at the software to see if it could be a good fit for your business, contact Tracy via her LinkedIn page or visit the Organisational Genetics page.

Putting the DNA into Diversity and Inclusion - Mildon