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? The 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.

Everyone needs a career plan

Most of us are going to spend the vast majority of our lives in work. If you start at 18, you’re probably going to be going for around 50 years. Depressing, isn’t it?

Whilst not everyone wants to be CEO, given the amount of time you’re going to commit to your working life, don’t you think you’d better have a plan? I’m not taking about the, “by the time I’m 30 I want to be xx”, but understanding what you want to be doing, where you want to be doing it and what makes you happy.

It may not always feel like it, but the simple truth  is that you have ultimate control of your career decisions. We all need to pay the bills, we all need to be economically productive, but most of us in work have choices that we often fail to see. (NOTE: NEET, long-term unemployed and areas of low social mobility are topics for another post.)

When I speak to employees who are seriously unhappy at work, more than not I can  track it back to a feeling of being “done to” on one level or another. And when you discuss it further, there is usually a choice or decision that has been overlooked or disregarded. Part of the importance of having a plan is that it puts you in control, it makes you conscious of the work decisions that you are making.

Let’s say you have a new boss that you’re struggling to get on with, you have a choice. You can put effort into building rapport, you can try to adjust your style to adapt. Or you could decide that you just can’t get along and look to move team or leave the business, that’s the ultimate choice. Which route you choose should relate back to your plan. Is the company in the right place for me, am I doing a job I want to do, is this part of a longer term career path?

What often happens when people don’t have a plan is they sit, react and get resentful. They defer responsibility, “I didn’t appoint them”, “they’re an arse”, “things use to be so much better”. And whilst all of these points are probably true, it doesn’t really matter because they are the circumstances you’re in. So what are you going to do with it?

Having a plan gives you forward energy, it gives you control and it makes you beautifully responsible for your own happiness. If we’re going to spend so much time in the workplace, it feels a shame to spend it feeling angry, sad and powerless. So take a little time, reflect and spend it on yourself and ask yourself the question, where do I want to be?

What’s your ambition?

Do you have an ambition? I’m not talking personally – whether you want to walk on the moon, play the violin, or live by the sea is really a matter only for yourself and your loved ones. I’m also not talking about your career trajectory. I’m talking about the work that you do and the impact that you have.

It strikes me that we often make a big leap between personal ambition and organisational vision, but miss some of the most important elements in between. Most of us work every day, we attend a place of work and we do a lot of tasks – but for the sake of what?

As good corporate citizens we all adhere to the broader corporate visions and of course, we understand the role that we contribute towards them. But is there something else that falls in between? Something that operates on more of an emotional level?

For me that’s ambition.

When I work, I know what I want to deliver and I know what I want to achieve. I know what I need to do and I know the difference I want to make. It won’t necessarily happen immediately, often it takes significant time and effort. But it connects the work that I do to an overall purpose – it’s what is important to me.

I wonder what the power of team ambition would and could be, how it could help shape and form the work that we do into something that means and matters more. Not just about vision – that can feel too far away and ethereal – but something more concrete and emotionally engaging.

By its nature, ambition is big, bold and beautiful. It forces the mind to think beyond the immediately achievable, but to something that generates both sense of positivity and reward. It is worth the struggle, because it means something and it matters.

What’s your ambition? And how would achieving it make you feel?

Refocussing HR…..on employees

I’m constantly reminded about the need for HR to “refocus”. I get it. I hear it at conferences, in journals, on social media. We need to refocus. That’s great. Normally the schtick is based one of two things,

We need to be externally focussed.

We need to be commercially focussed.

Both are true and yet both are incomplete assessments of the state of HR.  The missing piece for me, the area that we should not speak, the real truth is,

We need to be more employee focussed.

If you speak to anyone in a consumer facing marketing function, they will wax lyrical about the need to focus on that consumer, to understand their behaviour, to open the channels of communication with them, to have a dialogue and to serve (yes, I said serve) them better.

But when we come to the world of people management, it appears we feel that employees are somewhat of an inconvenience that get in the way of good HR practice. If only it wasn’t for these pesky folk, we’d be doing great things.

Yes we need to be commercially minded and we need to understand the context in which our organisations operate. Yes we need to be confident with the financial aspects of our business and the economic conditions. But we also need to remember that our primary purpose as a function is to understand our employees’ needs better than anyone else. And to serve those needs.

I have a simple test, a simple analytic that I’ve built up over a few years when assessing what we’re doing and whether it is worthwhile. Ask yourself three questions,

Does it make life better for employees?

Does it make things simpler for managers?

Does it add tangible value to the business?

And if you can’t say yes to one of these three questions, then you should simply stop doing it. 

Here is my challenge to you, give it a go, ask yourself those questions. You’ll be surprised what you find.