HR Lessons from Downton Abbey

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The early 20th century wasn’t a high point for worker rights and responsible employers, but British period drama Downton Abbey still has lessons to impart – even if sometimes it’s what not to do.

  1. Have clear career path options for junior employees
    While servants Alfred and Jimmy compete for First Footman, it’s not clear what they need to do to get to that position. Make sure your employees know what they need to achieve, and what steps must be complete for them to qualify for promotion.
  2. People follow leaders they respect
    [Spoiler alert] Heir to Downton Abbey Matthew Crawley was killed in a car accident in last month’s season finale, but before his death he was a respected leader for both upstairs and downstairs. Blogger Ryan Siskow said Crawley possessed four key traits that made people eager to follow him: integrity, vision, competence and judgement. If your organization’s leaders aren’t inspiring your employees they’re unlikely to be able to maintain trust, engagement and productivity.
  3. Have processes in place for complaints
    When underbutler Thomas makes Jimmy, one of the afore mentioned footmen, uncomfortable with how touchy he has become, Jimmy complains to a co-worker but has no other recourse. By having an HR system in place for reporting inappropriate behaviour, Jimmy’s discomfort could be investigated and dealt with, without the power play on hand at Downton.
  4. Don’t be complacent about succession planning
    Lord Grantham is getting on in years and thought he’d pass his estate on to Master Crawley (a plan derailed by the afore mentioned car accident) but he’s on the edge of financial ruin and needed someone with more business acumen than Matthew in the role. When looking at your next leaders, don’t be swayed by who you like or think will be a charismatic leader – consider what your organization needs and who can fulfill that role.



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