The importance of being (a little less) earnest

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.

 

Cohesion is the next big thing

You want to know what the next big thing for business is going to be? Of course you do, we always want to know the next big thing. Right?

But this time it’s serious. I’m serious.

The next big thing is cohesion.

When we talked about the future of work being human, we were almost there. But not there enough. I’ve been writing on this site for seven years, talking about being the need to be more human focused, but it isn’t quite right. We’ve been distracted by debates around AI and technology and missed the main point.

The future is something much bigger and much more important.

In my forty-four years, the political, economic and social environment has never felt more fragmented, more fragile and frankly more perilous.

As organisations, as employers we have an obligation to bring something to the party that is greater than the simple exchange of labour for money. We have an obligation to bring something that creates more than we extract. That binds and helps communities to heal.

This isn’t simply about corporate responsibility, used by too many organisations as a social-conscious healing makeweight. This is about endeavouring to change the existence of the communities in which we operate through our work, our practice and our existence.

This is about creating workplaces that are safe, both in terms of physical and mental wellbeing. Where individuals are respected for who they are, regardless of similarity or difference. That the rules of tolerance and respect are adhered to by all.

This is about building long-term and meaningful partnerships with employees, either individually, collectively or through their organised representation. Ensuring that decisions are made for the benefit of all stakeholders.

This is about developing skills and education for the long-term, both in the workforce and the community – recognising that we have a power to teach and to give, even to those who may not work for us.

This is about looking after those that work for us, on a financial and emotional footing. Ensuring that people are fairly paid for their labour, that the pay is representative of their skills and their contribution, not their gender or their race. That they need not worry in times of sickness or difficulty.

This is about ensuring that we are commercially successful so that we can invest back into the infrastructure that supports employees, creates new jobs and allows us to share that success both directly and indirectly.

And it is about leadership that recognises the importance of every single individual that works in an organisation and genuinely respects the roles and the participation of everyone.

Cohesion is going to be the next big talking point in the world of HR. Don’t forget you read it here.

Principles or pragmatism?

In life there is a natural continuum between principles and pragmatism. It runs throughout our work, our personal decisions, our politics and our businesses. Running the gauntlet between the two polar forces is a key tenet of successful leadership.

The allure of the principled leader is strong. We want people who stand for something, organisations with clear values and purpose. But the frustration is palpable when they stand in the way of  things just getting done.

People who make things happen, who are willing to compromise and change their position. We admire them with a distrust. What wouldn’t they forsake?

Knowing when to stand by your personal value set, your principles and knowing when to let go and move on for the sake of organisational/societal benefit is perhaps the biggest challenge for us all.

This easy answer is to say it’s neither one nor the other – it is a beautiful simple, yet totally impotent perspective. An anodyne position which adds little to any understanding of the complexity of values and decision-making.

Because the truth to leadership is not recognising when you need to compromise, or stick by your principles – but understanding why others need to do so. Giving forgiveness and tolerance to the value sets of others.

It doesn’t matter whether it is personal, business or political. Our difference is created by recognising the difference in others. That sometimes we all need to stand firm and sometimes we need to change, admit we were wrong and reconsider.

Failure is when we judge without seeking to understand.

 

Our technology is making us dumb

Stand on any street corner and watch people going about their business and you’ll see a curious sight, so many people looking down. Locked in to their personal experience with technology. There was a time when it used to frustrate and annoy me as I made my way to work; the people stopping, walking aimlessly, unaware of their surroundings.

But now, more than ever, it not only annoys, it fundamentally scares me.

Technology was supposed to be the great emancipator, the leveller, it was supposed to open the doors to new horizons and new opportunities. But the reality is not one of bright new dawns, but closing doors. We are narrowing our experiences and polarising our attitudes at a time when we need to be more thoughtful, more explorative, more inclusive than ever.

Our social networks through their definition are based on people “like us”, we share news and comment that we agree with, with people that agree with us. Anyone who wants anything to the contrary can be muted, unfollowed, exiled in from our social existence. The opinions reinforcing our views and the assurance that “we” are “right”.

We “choose” our media, the things that we watch, listen to, read from an increasingly reduced selection of “things we might like”. Losing the ability to have the serendipitous discovery, the accidental opportunity. Instead allowing algorithms to serve up our future, based on what we once consumed, reducing our experience to predictable similarity.

And we close ourselves off from the world, plugging our ears with preselected sound, looking down to view limited content, basing our existence on the screen, not the world. We eschew the chance conversation, the momentary eye contact and smile, the haphazard interaction. We close off the sounds of life, anaesthetising ourselves from reality.

In a world that feels increasingly polarised, where the signs of social isolation and abandonment are becoming central drivers of our political and economic existence. In a world where we talk about the need to be more inclusive, more open, more tolerant and understanding. We are instead shutting ourselves away in closed systems of ignorance.

It would be asking too much to change, to reverse and renew. But perhaps if we were all a little more aware of our choice to have no choice, of our willingness to give away freedom, then we could recognise the limitations of our existence and challenge ourselves to step outside more. To break out of our circles of similarity, to experience difference and to venture more in to the unknown.