The blame game

I understand your hurt,
And your disapproval.

I understand why you want to bring this to my attention,
And I’m grateful.

I understand why you’re upset,
And and I can see your anger.

I understand why you feel we could do better,
And how we could be more.

So I ask you.

What did you do recently that could have been better?
Where could you have done more?

When did you upset someone?
And how did you deal with their anger?

What did you learn about how you could be better?
And how did you take that?

And, most importantly, how do you feel,
When you hear disapproval?

Each time you complain.

Each time you forcefully make your views heard.

It’s unique.
For you.

But if you’re the person on the phone.
Behind the desk. In the office.

If you’re the person paid to listen.

You’re just another one.

Nothing special.

So what could YOU do. To make that experience difference?

To make it beyond the ordinary.

To really make YOURSELF stand out.

I. Am. Human.

Following the last two conferences I’ve spoken at, I’ve received the following unsolicited feedback,

“You don’t speak like an HR person”

On both occasions, I’ve assumed it was a compliment and taken it as the best bit of feedback I could receive. I hope I don’t look like an HR person either (no tissues in this cardigan baby) but there is always room for improvement.

The serious point here is that language is important. The words we use, the tone we use, the way in which we communicate both verbally and in writing. They matter.

I don’t care what the intention is, if the language sends out a different message. That’s what people infer.

You tell people what they can’t do. Why not tell them what you want them to do?

You tell people what will happen if they don’t behave. Why not tell them what will happen if they do?

We use a whole vocabulary that means nothing to the vast majority of human beings. A dictionary of terms that have been created to make us feel “strategic” as we “partner” with the business to deliver “value adding interventions” to maximise our “human capital” and drive “employee engagement”.

Or instead we could work with you to make this place better, you happier and the business successful.

But then. We might have to explain how.

Which would require us to think. And not produce another strategy document.

Which could prove tricky.

I am not Human Resources. I am human.

Feedback….it’s a gift…..

I once worked in an organisation that was big on feedback. It was hardcore. We had a manager join us from another company and when it came to the annual appraisal, she posed the work equivalent of, “does my bum look big in this?”. She asked,

“Is there anything that you think I need to know? That I could be doing better?”

BOOM!

Two weeks later, she was a shaking wreck on the floor. Admitting to me, “I didn’t actually want them to tell me!”.

And that’s the thing. We live in a feedback culture, but so much of the feedback is utterly pointless. I can’t order a product now without getting a request to rate the service, the packaging or the lumbar posture of the delivery person. But does any of this matter, does anyone care and does it make any difference?

I’m no role model here. I’m the guy that reacted to the feedback that I was “low in empathy” by responding, “Do I give a sh*t what they feel?”, but it strikes me that there are two types of reaction to feedback.

Active and inactive.

Yes, it’s as simple as that.

Either do something with it, or don’t bother asking. Don’t make the people sweat it over how to break it to you that you’re a closet Nazi, unless you’re willing to change your ways. Don’t make them lose sleep over how to tell you that you have personal space issues unless you’re willing to…..take a step back.

So before you go through the motion and commission that 360, before you ask those poor suckers that have to work with you what they feel, before you go through the motions…..ask yourself this:

What is the worst thing that I could hear that would really upset me? And would I be willing to accept and act on it, if I heard it said?

Feedback is important. Feedback is a gift. But it can also be the silent, smelly fart in the elevator.

Ask if you want to know. Don’t ask if you don’t.

But never just pretend you care.

The purpose of work

Over the years I’ve read and heard a lot about meaning in work. Finding purpose in what you do and how happiness can be found in almost anything that we want.

I’ve never completely been convinced about these arguments. In the same way employee engagement wants to make me poke out my own eyes with a rusty nail, the whole premise seems contrived. Because not all work can have meaning and not everyone wants to find meaning in their work. What worries me more about these things is that the argument feels patronising and explores work through a middle class, middle-income, professional lens.

If you’re holding down four temporary, part-time jobs, the last thing on your mind is finding meaning in the organisational vision and strategy. You just don’t want to get shafted by your employer, see your hours reduced, get charged for your uniform or have any losses deducted from your wage. You want to have some level of guarantee that you know how much you’re going to be taking home so that you can pay the bills.

But this isn’t just an economic argument. Even in the seemingly more stable office environment, some people want to come in, be treated like an adult, be allowed to do the job that they are paid for and get that pay and go home. In the same way that for many organisations, employees are faceless and interchangeable, for many employees organisations are similarly homogeneous.

This doesn’t mean that the world of work has to be grey and boring and impersonal. Far from it. By recognising that some people don’t give a flying fig about your company purpose or meaning, you’re recognise that they are individuals in their own right. If they want to get pay from work and meaning from their stamp collection, or saving small baby seals from being clubbed to death, that’s their choice. And choice is individual, and recognising individuality is the first step to creating a healthy organisation.

Instead of trying to deploy some sort of weird, HR Jedi mind control tricks, we should focus instead on making sure that there is a fair deal for all employees within our organisations, allowing them to prosper and enjoy life in whatever (legal) ways they chose to do. To use a favourite phrase of mine, we are there to create the theatre that allows our employees to make the performances of their lives. But we need to recognise that for some of them, that performance will be nothing more than a job.

Because our role is not to help people find purpose in work, our job is to make work better. Finding meaning and happiness is personal choice.