We need to embrace the truths that hurt

I’ll start off by explaining why I do the job I do. Simply, I want people to have a better experience of work, to feel safe at work, to be fairly rewarded in exchange for their efforts. You can call it making work better, making work human or any other nomenclature that is in the current vogue.

One of the downsides of my role is that no matter how hard I work, no matter what improvements and changes we make, there will always be challenges and questions about where we could have done more. That’s just the nature of the work we do in the society that we currently live in. The challenges will be different, but we have to accept that no matter what we do, it will never be enough.

One of the downsides of this is that we can homogenise criticism of our practice as always being unfair. “That’s employees for you, never happy” or, “If managers just did their jobs, we wouldn’t have to deal with any of this”. And the danger of this is we fail to see the truths that we need to embrace.

Just because we will always be the focus of challenge doesn’t mean that some of it isn’t justified. Just because we are doing our best and trying our hardest, doesn’t mean we don’t get things wrong. Just because we want to do good, doesn’t mean we sometimes don’t wrong.

Knowing how to separate out the noise from the real issues is critically important and incredibly hard. Listening to the truths that hurt is at the heart of exceptional practice. If we want to be better, if we strive to be the best, if we believe in creating something that can be called a legacy, then we need to recognise that sometimes we get things wrong.

Ours is a profession that has the ability to transform lives and bring out the best in people, it has the ability to make society a little bit better and to impact on generations to come. But with that power comes the potential to do the absolute opposite – and that is the truth that we should always hold close to our heart when we evaluate our impact and work.

Events have become stale and boring

Last week whilst on holiday, I found myself unexpectedly observing my own profession. I’d call it a busman’s holiday, but to be honest it wasn’t as bad as that sounds. The hotel I was staying in was hosting a leadership event for a company that will remain unnamed.

I was curious to start with, I was in a different continent these were different cultures and customs. How would it play out?┬áThe answer was depressingly like every leadership event I’ve ever attended.

Over the last 25 years I’ve seen and participated in hundreds of these. The locations change, the companies are different, the participants come and go. But the structure, the content and the general formula remain boringly static. I’d love to think this was because of the high success rate, but I think it has more to do with our collective lack of imagination.

Key note

Speed dating

Break out groups

“Fun” session

Plenary

Jiggle around, rename, reshape, but don’t alter a winning formula.

It makes me wonder how much business plc. invests in these sessions per year, what the value is and whether there is anything but a placebo effect to be achieved. There must be examples out there of doing things really differently (and NO paint balling doesn’t qualify, nor does using a quirky venue).

There’s a dearth of talent and thinking in this whole space, rather than excitement and creative thinking it feels more like the inevitability of new year’s eve. We talk about it with excitement and hope, we believe everyone else is having an amazing time, but the reality is an expensive version of an ordinary event, which we could and should do without.

Seek first to understand

Whilst mooching through social media this weekend I came across a fascinating thread. Someone within my network had posted a rather generic request for help on a pretty generic topic. It was one of those moments that we’ve all had where we ask, “does anyone know anyone who can xxx”.

What fascinated me was that despite the very generic nature, the thread was filled with responses, “I can” or “I recommend x”. It was only after about forty or so responses that someone answered, “I think I might be able to help, but I need a little bit more detail. What specifically are you looking for, who are the people you’re looking for this for and where and when would you need it?”

It reminded me of many of the conversations that we have at work. A problem is generically stated and immediately we all pile in with attempts to fix it. Suggestion after suggestion is made in the attempt to solve a problem that we haven’t even fully understood. From the limited data that’s presented we all form our own individual interpretation and yet we rarely take time to check that our understanding is the same.

The impact on the original requestor can be overwhelming as they are inundated with solutions that can often be contradictory to one another meanwhile the other participants can get frustrated as their “obvious” answer to the problem goes unheard. But what if instead of being at the end of the thread, those questions had been at the beginning? Would that have led to a better quality of response?

It would be easy to say that the originator of the question should have thought it through, but I disagree. The nature of collaboration is that we work together to try to find a solution and that is particularly true in the workplace. If we all take responsibility to ask questions and seek to understand all the aspects of a problem, rather than making assumptions, we not only help to achieve better answers, we save everyone time and effort in the process.

 

The silent workforce

As I write the last post before the Christmas break, I’m drawn to reflect on the future of work. A debate that seems to have warranted more airtime than probably it was due. I say that, not as a denier of progress, not as someone blind to the opportunities, but more as someone equally as interested in the here and now.

Over the next week, many of us will down tools, put on the out of office, lock the door and travel to be with friends, family and loved ones. We will eat, drink, laugh, argue and share moments together safe in the knowledge that others are looking after the things that matter. Because at the same time as we relax and unwind, an army of workers are carrying on as if nothing has changed.

Out critical infrastructure will still run, so when we turn on the light, ignite the hob, run a shower or even connect to the wi-fi we do so in the knowledge there will be service. Should misfortune befall us, we rest assured that our medical staff, police and fire services will be ready to step in and help us recover. When we switch on the television or the radio to listen to the Queen’s speech or watch our favourite Christmas film we know they will be there. And should we choose not to cook for ourselves or maybe cannot do so, the chefs, waiting staff or care workers that will attend to our every need.

Over 1 million people will be working this Christmas in the UK alone and whilst not everyone in this wonderful multicultural country that we live in will place the same importance on the specific holiday, they’re providing a service so that others can take time off in peace. I can’t list the entirety of the professions that work and an omission is not meant to signal a lack of importance at all.

The future of work may see opportunities for some of these areas, but for many there will always be a need for humans to take time for the sake of others. So in our proclamations about the future, let’s not forget the now. My ask of you is simple, as you rightfully enjoy time off in the next few weeks, take time to think of these people and raise a glass and toast in thanks. They may not be seen, but they’re working so that we don’t have to.

Have a good Christmas.