106 Communications

6th Sense

“Be the best” – let’s not confuse ambition with elitism.

January 2018 | Employer Brand

Recently it was disclosed that the UK Ministry of Defence had considered dropping its long-standing tag line ‘Be the best’.  According to the Daily Mail, a briefing document outlined the case for change,

“Be the Best was a recruitment strapline from 1993 and has appeared on Army branded material ever since. But it was never a researched or defined brand … Market research in May 2017 found that Be the Best did not resonate with many of our key audiences and was considered dated, elitist and non-inclusive.”

The travesty, according to the Daily Mail, was that the process had already cost £520,000 and the whole programme would have totalled £1.5 million.  In our opinion, it is not the cost that is the issue – after all, it could have been money well spent if it had solved the gap in Army recruitment (and therefore would have saved a lot more than £1.5 million).

The question we ask is why ‘be the best’ is not inclusive?

We know from research conducted by bodies such as the Social Mobility Commission that elitist messages can be off-putting to people from lower income and less privileged backgrounds, where aspirations may not be as high or simply there is a lower level of self-esteem – i.e. they are more likely to as the question ‘am I good enough to do this?’

This is often a quandary for professional services and law firms, who dedicate vast recruitment budgets to recruiting what they could to be the very highest achievers (the best of the best) and often struggle to attract a more diverse workforce.

Again, research tells us that to recruit a more diverse workforce, we must be mindful of different aspirations, show relevant role models and tackle unconscious bias (i.e. the tendency to recruit people like you or people who you think fit the requirement).

But does any of this negate an ambition to ‘be the best’?


And here’s why.

The ambition to be the best is, as Julian Lewis, chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee, said, “nothing to be ashamed of – it is a matter for pride and a very positive message to transmit.”

We’d love to have the best health service in the world.  We’ve developed some of the best tech in the world.  We expect our athletes to aspire to be the best. Apparently, we play host to some of the best footballers in the world.

There is no shame in aspiring to be the best.

What we are confusing is elitism and ambition.  Elitism suggests superiority (based on some form of ancestry, quality, connection, skill, experience) and can lead to power being held and nurtured by a group, whereas ambition is much more focused on achievement.

We don’t see anything wrong in trying to be the best, whatever our background.

It’s when that image of what is the best turns into elitism or bias or discrimination that it becomes a problem.  When a law firm only hires graduates from Oxbridge.  When there are more CEOs named John than there are women heading companies in the Fortune 500.  When a firm makes it difficult for a disabled person to even apply.  When a manager recruits in his image.

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