Time and space is the greatest gift

Anyone who has ever been through the process of moving house understands the sensation of discovering a vast array of stuff that has been squirreled away in various cupboards, drawers and hideaways over the years. We also all probably recognise the thought process that led to us holding on to the item in the first place. It goes something like this,

I’ll get rid of that. 

Wait, hang on…maybe it will be useful.

I’ve got space.

I’ll just tuck it in here.

Fantastic, I’ll always have that, you know, just in case…

And of course, the extra foot for the microwave oven, the instructions for the long broken CD player, the box from the expensive chocolates that we were bought by a random relative several years ago, all sit idle in the cupboard in which they were placed until we are absolutely compelled to face into their inutility and avoid the transportation costs.

Unfortunately, we very rarely have the same opportunity within our organisations to spring clean and start afresh. The one exception that I can think of is in a merger or acquisition, where there are a new set of eyes looking in the metaphorical cupboards. So instead of cleaning out we continue to either force more “stuff” into the available space or instead increase capacity.

But we aren’t dealing with cupboards and stuff, we are dealing with people and processes and the effect of this is to place our colleagues and teams under increasing pressure to manage the conflicting requirements in a bewildered and beffudled state. How many times have you heard, “I just don’t know why we do this anymore?” or, “I’m not actually sure what happens with that”?

And our organisational lives are even worse, because when we “move house”, instead of taking our rubbish with us, we leave it behind for someone else to come and add to. Generation and generation of leaders come, take a look and implement. Because we all know that if something isn’t happening, the answer is to change the process…right?

Every organisation exists to fulfill a clear purpose, management is about helping to achieve that purpose, it is never and should never be an activity in itself. We exist to help and facilitate our teams and people, to make their lives easy, to allocate resource and to remove barriers.

Sometimes the greatest gift we can give is to get the hell out of the way, to declutter and throw out those unnecessary activities and to create a bit of space to breathe, think and act. That, my friends, is true leadership.

How aware are you?

Let me ask you a simple question. How aware are you of what’s going on?

I mean, how really aware? What can you feel right now? What can you smell? Is it hot or cold? Can you recount everything that happened in the last five minutes? The people that went past you, the noises or changes in atmosphere? If I asked you where you were, how quickly would you be able to describe it?

Many of us will recognise the experience, whilst driving, of suddenly becoming aware of where we are and conscious that we cannot remember how we got there. Our hands are on the wheel, the road is in front of us, we are operating in the necessary way to perform the task at hand. But we aren’t present, we’re just following the flow.

Our workplaces are full of people doing the same, perhaps you’ve even experienced it yourself? Performing task but without being truly in the moment, getting the job done but without really understanding how or why. Getting from a to b, or 9 to 5. And when someone asks you what you’ve been up to, you have to pause and think.

When we talk about performance, it starts with consciousness.  Consciousness raises us beyond the completion of activity into contribution and delivery. It expands us beyond the immediate circumstances and unearths previously unseen opportunities. It unlocks in us the ability to connect on multiple levels and in multiple ways, even with the most seemingly mundane of task.

In turn, when we open ourselves to the possibilities that exist in people, in our organisations and in life, when we can experience our situation with simple curiosity and avoid the obfuscation of life’s unnecessary complexity. When we can find clarity and focus when we can process the multiple conflicting views and points of view. When we can see, hear, feel and allow our heart and head to inform us.

If we can do this then we can truly lead, ourselves, our teams and our organisations, not just follow the tracks.  And we can allow ourselves to enjoy the “right here, right now”, taking pleasure in the journey and not just the goal.

Is trust a term and condition?

I was struck by the news this morning of the deal between courier firm Hermes and the GMB Union on employment status. The latest in a line of challenges to self employment and the so called gig economy.

Employees will now be able to opt to have 28 days paid holiday and a guaranteed hourly rate above the minimum wage, in return they will have to accept to follow the delivery route set out by the company rather than choosing the order in which they deliver their parcels.

The logic presented by the company is that if they’re going to guarantee an hourly rate then they need to ensure that couriers take the most efficient route. Which on first reading makes sense, but also raises an underlying question.

Is the suggestion that people are less likely to seek the most productive route if they are paid by the hour, that they’re more likely to (for want of a better word) slack? Or is it that the company don’t care about lack of productivity if they’re not paying for it, that’s the courier’s (and subsequently the customer’s) problem?

Whichever way you look at it, it points to an interesting interpretation of the contract of employment – that “terms” trump the psychological aspects of the employment relationship between worker and employer. It suggests issues of trust.

My guess is that the company is trying to distinguish between the self employed and employed by taking away a freedom that their current couriers appreciate and enjoy. If you want the good stuff (holidays and guaranteed wage rates) then there’s a cost to you too – the deal is on the back of losing an earlier employment tribunal.

But regardless of the specifics of the case it raises questions for us all. What assumptions do we make about the behaviours of people that work for us? And do those assumptions help or hinder what we are collectively trying to achieve?

Another fad, another failure

Anyone has read my blog over the last decade will know that I have been pretty vocal about the faddism in business management and leadership. We like nothing more than getting behind the latest silver bullet destined to solve all our problems. Employee Engagement, Human Capital Management, Big Data, Disruption, the list is both endless and entirely vacuous.

I’m going to add a new one for you, a term that has been creeping into the marketing descriptions of consultancies across the world like an outbreak of Japanese Knotweed.

Employee Experience.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve talked about this in the past, a quick scan through the archives shows a first post back in 2011, but you know that when a once meaningful, philosophical concept becomes the next management buzzword it will turn into first fad and then failure. Why? Simply because it loses sight of the original intent.

There is a significant commonality (and indeed irony) between both Employee Engagement and Employee Experience. Both in, their essence,  are about feeling, emotion and attachment but instead are replaced with systems, processes and measurement as the consultants promise us “sure fire ways” to drive the “performance of organisations” through “unparalleled insights” as a means to monetise our desire for a quick fix.

There is no doubt that leadership and management need to focus more on the working environment, that goes without saying. But ultimately that is about the way in which we see work and our beliefs about the treatment of employees in the workplace, not about systems, apps and fancy branded interventions. Once we’ve got the belief system in place, the rest will follow in due course.

It is too much to ask that we drop our addiction to faddism, but I hope at least we can open our eyes and realise what exactly it is that we’re doing. Change comes from within, it comes from our desire to create something meaningful and different. It seldom comes in a beautifully branded brochure.

And if you want to understand how to make the world of work a little better, start by reading this.