Here’s a bet…
I reckon I could ask anyone in your workplace, or mine, to name one thing that would improve their work or working lives and they’d be able to tell me within an hour maximum.
And of course, if I asked you the same question, you’d be able to tell me too.
Yet we all sit on all of these ideas every day, because;
- we don’t have permission
- it’s complicated
- we don’t have the time
- they wouldn’t like it
All of those good ideas going to waste and instead we do a whole series of things that we don’t understand the purpose of, can’t define the value of, do because we’ve always done. We knowingly reduce our potential value.
As leaders our fundamental responsibility is to help teams to deliver the value that they hold, to allow them to contribute to the best of their ability and to fulfil their potential. To do this, we need to remove those things that prevent and get in the way.
Whilst changing cultures and refocusing teams isn’t easy, it is the reason we exist and the duty we have. We should ask ourselves, what other better purpose we could serve? Every transformation had a first step, everyone needs to start somewhere.
All around us there are signs that we are changing the way in which we want to spend our existence on earth not least the rise of the experience economy. Some will argue about the use of the term millennials, but frankly that misses the point. And the human race is adapting and changing to its circumstances in work as much as anywhere else. Societies evolve and change and we have to ask ourselves what we need to do to follow suit in the way we run our organisations?
Immediately we jump to solutions, whether that’s flexible benefits, flexible working, our approaches to pay, learning or careers. But in many ways the answer starts well before the baubles and trappings of vendor led “solutions”. It starts with who we are, how we are and they way we choose to be.
I’ll give you an example from my own profession, but it is equally as true for every single one of us that works inside an organisations. In the world of HR, about 10% of the things we have to deal with require a level of seriousness and sobriety. There are moments in our days and weeks where we need to bring deep and meaningful thought and focus.
But there are 90% of moments where we don’t. We can choose exactly how we want to show up and the experience that we want others to have of us. My career has been full of disapproving looks from HR professionals who somehow feel that they are the standard bearer for the earnest and serious profession of Human Resource Management. Jokes are met with with comments about “appropriateness” and any suggestion of light heartedness met with a steely, and deeply underwhelmed, air.
Our experience at work isn’t driven just by the processes and systems that we put in place, in fact I’d argue that these are absolutely secondary, it is driven by the atmosphere and interactions that we have with those around us. If we are having a great time with our colleagues we can put up with all sorts of suboptimal situations, and we do. Who we are and how we are will always trump what we have to do.
So as you start your working week, just have a think about the levity and light you can bring to situations, the way in which you can change the experience for everyone around you and for yourself. Life is too short to stuff a mushroom, but it is also too short to listen to the cardigan wearing, tissue up the sleeve brigade. Let’s create an experience at work that people want to invest time and effort in and let’s do it by being a little lest earnest and having a little more fun.
I’m going to make a sweeping statement based on nothing but experience and belief;
Too many leaders spend far too much time talking.
I’m not just extolling the virtues of listening and asking questions, I’m also talking about the ability to be able to hold silence and say nothing. Let me ask you, how many times have you been in a meeting where the most senior person has spent the largest amount of time speaking? And if you’re a leader, how many times have you come out of a meeting feeling like all you’ve done is tell people what to do?
What if you said absolutely nothing. Zip. Nada. Rien.
When we talk about empowerment and building sustainable, resilient teams it strikes me one of the first steps is to hold back the amount we needlessly contribute and focus more on adding value where it is asked for and needed.
The next time you’re in that situation, ask yourself:
- Has someone specifically asked for my view?
- Do I have information that I know will help people move forward?
- Do I have experience that I know no-one else in the room has?
- Would something dangerous/illegal/costly happen if I didn’t speak?
- Am I offering something that I don’t mind being ignored?
If the answer isn’t yes to one of these, you might want to check yourself and listen to the conversation before deciding to step in.
I have a pathological dislike of mushrooms. Which is ironic, because I’m a fun-guy.
See what I did there?
Rubbish jokes aside, I often wonder when it became the rule that HR professionals had to have a sense of humour transplant. Admittedly, some of the people I’ve met in the profession have had some of the edgiest and darkest sense of humours you could ever come across. But the moment they walk in to the workplace, they seem to switch it off and become this dour, over serious, people professional.
Why can’t we just relax and be ourselves?
As we talk about authenticity and “bringing our whole selves to work”, I wonder what it is that prevents us from doing the same? Of course, I’m not talking about cracking your best one liners in the middle of a collective grievance, or fist bumping as you walk into a disciplinary hearing, there is a time and place for everything.
We are the people professionals and we shouldn’t be ashamed of that, we should be relatable, human and real. To do that we need to have the ability to show that we can be both light and dark, both high and low and both serious and downright silly. There is nothing that is more disarming than a person that you can laugh and joke with and who can make you smile. How awesome would it be if we gained influence because we were both brilliantly insightful and totally human?
Of all the things that I need to develop, humour isn’t one of them. When I was interviewed I was asked what my biggest weakness was, I said it was radical candour. The interviewer said that was a strength, not a weakness. I replied I didn’t give a sh*t what they thought.
Have a good day.