HR & PoliSci 5.0: Social Contract Up for Renegotiation

Elizabeth Lembke
3 min readFeb 22, 2020

“The real job of a leader is not being in charge but taking care of those in our charge” says Simon Sinek.

Or as I like to say: we hire adults — we need to treat them as such.

What do I mean by that?

Case-in-point: We employ people who are able to negotiate vacation planning with their spouses and kids, who are able to navigate the quagmire of housing, insurance and streaming options: who are able to make choices and decisions and bring their life experience to the door everyday. Their abilities are inherently there — otherwise why would we choose to hire them? Unfortunately all too often, people are micromanaged, treated like bad children, managed in accordance to the 1% of risk versus the 99%, and are not encouraged to bring their full potential and abilities to shine at work.

Newsflash, folks do not want to be micro-managed — but rather want to have an impact and grow. Which is why we as consenting adults choose to be part of a team or organization. Every employee/ colleague/ supplier/ customer/ consultant/ etc. has an option if they choose to work with you or not. Now, I am not saying that there might not be hardships (financially/ socially/ politically/ legally etc.) if they do not — but everyone has a choice.

This choice forms the basis the social contract we become part of a community, team, or organization.

Which is why nowadays the term of “social contract” is coming up more and more often as something that is changing in our broader world. For those of you who like me do not have a political science or philosophy degree, social contract theory is the idea that people come together to form a group or community. Which only can (somewhat) stably exist via implicit and explicit standards that are commonly agreed-to set around the moral, communal and political rules of behavior. In other words, we can live morally based on our own choices and not because a higher/or divine power requires it. The expectations around the social contract change with time.

For example, during the 80’s it became commonly accepted that business leaders accountability was to their shareholders. Right now, there is a monumental shift from this social contract model of organisations and leadership like we saw in the 181 CEOs joining together in August 2019 to “broaden responsibility of business beyond profit, to incorporate all stakeholders impacted — the general public.” The social contract around personal and leadership integrity is being examined on a broader scale. The employee experience is founded on the idea of a social contract. This new focus has led to the results of the 5 elements of responsible leadership being presented during the World Economic Forum meeting in January 2020. These elements were identified after interviewing more than 20,000 people around the world. The five elements for a responsible leader e.g. the social contract glue are: 1. Stakeholder Inclusion 2. Emotion & Intuition 3. Mission & Purpose 4. Technology & Innovation 5. Intellect & Insight.

This, in turn, means that for us as adults who are part of teams, organizations, society — no matter if the word leader or HR is in our title or not — it is an important opportunity to test the stickiness of the social glue and our own expectations around what we choose to be a part of.



Elizabeth Lembke

Chief Talent Navigator: Passionately transforming work, culture, talents and HR. @hrimprov #learningmavens #AMaze2022 EN/DE/Gif