“B.H.S.” by Sleaford Mods is a catchy track. I was getting ready for the day and found myself smiling and energized after hearing it on the radio. It helped me out of the door with a spring in my step. And then I thought more about the lyrics, particularly the refrain, and wondered about my reaction:
We’re going down like B.H.S.,
While the able-bodied vultures monitor and pick at us,
We’re going down and it’s no stress,
I lay and hope for the knuckle-dragging exodus.
There is a wicked humour here. And it is a pretty bleak narrative. In humour there is often something of the satisfaction of recognition – a punchline dropping into place; or finding ourselves again in observational comedy. Perhaps we can recognize the experience of being constantly monitored, constantly findable via smartphones, GPS, CCTV; so we can identify with the chorus? And, as a society, we’ve seen a lot of evidence of vulture-like behaviour, not least of all thinking back to the 2008 financial crisis. But what caught my attention most was the phrase “going down like B.H.S“. British Home Stores, a department store that had been on UK high streets since 1928 before going into liquidation. It was very much a feature of most towns I knew when I was growing up, and, as a brand, I remember it being pretty middle-of-the-road, familiar, suburban; certainly not the high cultural icon you might choose to associate your demise with. It is very much an anti-heroic connection that Sleaford Mods are making; and there is a bitter wit and irony here that is strangely compelling. It has something of the dark energy that fuelled the punk genre in the late 70s / early 80s. It says, we are being picked on, monitored, controlled, and we may not feel approved of, glamorous, or valued that highly, but we are going down, and going down together. There is solidarity and comfort in this narrative. We are many. And they are to blame.
Narrative and organisation
And we see this in organisational life too. If we take a view of organisations as webs woven from the ideas and conversations people have and share, then narrative is important. OD practitioner and writer Gervase Bushe talks about one of the three main prerequisites for organisational change being a “shift in the narrative”. He also talks about the power of “generative images” which can provide a positive creative attractor for organisational futures.
However, perhaps there is also value for us who would try and intervene in organisations in appreciating how revealing some of the darker narratives can be. There is something uncomfortable about what Sleaford Mods are saying. And whilst the language and metaphors are colloquial, and not the discourse of social science or corporate organisation, they manage to articulate a truth that future visions of society or organisation often leave out, and which people identify with. From the relative comfort of our OD and transformation roles, are their uncomfortable voices or truths that we are neglecting to witness? Would it sometimes benefit us to hold the dark alongside the light for a moment? If I go back to my physical reaction to listening to the song, it certainly put a spring in my step, but it was a spring more akin to a boxer’s legs braced against the canvas of the ring, rather than the gambolling of a spring lamb. The smile was more mischievous grin than Buddha-like gaze of benign peace. But there was energy there nonetheless. However convincing we think our visions for the future are, it is worth recognizing that for every hero there is an anti-heroic position, with a truth and energy that can sustain movements.
If you’d like to explore with us more how these ideas can help us with change and transformation, do get in touch and join the conversation.
Bushe, G.R & Marshak, R.J. (2015). Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change. Oakland, CA. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Sleaford Mods (2017). English Tapas. “B.H.S”, Track 11, London: Rough Trade Records