What are your boundaries?

Look at any source of advice on relationships and you’ll see reference to standards and boundaries. Like romantic relationships, our expectations of others at work can help or hinder our progress to achieving harmony. We don’t always need to get on, we don’t always need to agree, but it sure as hell helps if we can understand what’s going on.

And being clear on the difference between our standards and boundaries, can only help.

Personally, I like to be early. No, let me be more precise. I HATE to be late. It is a standard that is important to me. If I’m supposed to be somewhere, I’ll try and make sure I’m there in advance and I can arrive at a time that I consider fashionably early.

That’s my standard. It’s something that is important to me, for me. But what’s my boundary?

I appreciate that people get held up, that things crop up and that external factors can impact on the plans of others. However, there are things that I won’t tolerate:

  • If you’re late to a meeting it is your responsibility to catch up, not everyone else’s to wait for you
  • If you’re repeatedly late and it becomes a norm
  • If you don’t acknowledge your lateness and offer apologies to others

So when a colleague turns up to the meeting at 9.59, bustles in to the room with a pile of papers spewing out of their hands and a coffee stain down their shirt, what criteria am I judging them by? My standards, or my boundaries?

Let’s look at something more emotive. Honesty and openness.

I believe in being open and honest. I try my best to express myself as openly and honestly as I can – recognising that I’m not a model of perfection. That’s the standard I hold myself to – to be honest. My boundaries are that I won’t accept being lied to and I reject the withholding of information for the sake of organisational politics, but I accept that I cannot know every detail of every situation.

What happens when I hear about a situation that has occurred in work that I have an opinion on, but haven’t been able to contribute to. It might also be one that personally impacts my work.

Do I hold judgment based on my personal standard, or assess against my boundaries? I know and recognise that I cannot be informed about everything, but surely this piece?

Understanding the difference between our personal standards, the things that we hold dear to ourselves, and the boundaries, the red lines that we cannot accept others to cross is critical to our ability to successfully navigate around our organisations and make things happen.

It is only natural to confuse the two at times, but understanding what we’re doing can only aid us in our contribution in both our personal and professional lives.

Bacc-ward thinking

Yesterday’s announcement about the proposed new English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBaccs) fell with a thud of doom across my heart. The familiar reprise of raising standards, ringing in my ears.  I’ve written about education before and I’ll keep doing so. For those of us in the world of work need to pay attention to the world of education with a keen eye. This is our supply chain and we should be as interested and as vocal about it as we can be about any other aspect of work.

The proposed replacement of the often criticised GCSE exams has been long coming, but where there was an opportunity to really consider reform of the pre 16 education system, instead we have remained focussed on an outdated and depressingly archaic view of performance and attainment firmly shifting the dial from education to teaching.

Those that complain that the current system is about monkeys being taught tricks have merely changed the tricks.

Two years ago I was visiting prospective secondary schools with my son. In one, highly regarded, rather grand establishment we were treated to the Headmaster strutting from side to side on the stage telling us how they intended to “turn your young men into leaders” and the value they placed on “academic attainment”. In another the Headmaster explained that they “don’t place targets on the grades they expect to get and position in league tables, but instead on ensuring that every child fulfils their potential”.

In this, we highlight the difference the former is teaching, the latter is educating. And as UK plc we need to be educating our children, not teaching them to tick boxes.

In the same way that you don’t drive a performance culture by changing the competency rating system, you don’t drive educational performance by changing the exam system. Much is broken within our education system, teachers and head teachers are demoralised to the point that recruiting head teachers is becoming harder and harder and existing heads are being asked to take on more than one school. OFSTED is once again positioning itself as the Pythonesque Spanish Inquisition and the funding of individual schools is becoming increasingly complex and yet fragile in equal measure.

Educational reform should be focussed on ensuring that EVERY child fulfils their potential, that there is an educational offering that is engaging and exciting whatever your aptitude and interest. Educational reform should be focussed on ensuring that the very best talents are drawn into the profession and that we are entrusting the future success of our children and of the country as a whole with the most able people. Educational reform should be focussed education, on developing independent learners, not on teaching the performance of tricks – however hard those tricks are.

The EBacc is not the future for progressive education in the UK. The EBacc is not new thinking, is not radical, nor – in the long run – will it be effective in raising educational standards in comparison to other countries. A radical rethink would have seen the consideration of aptitude and interest assessments at say 14 and formal exams only at 18 (the end of compulsory education), a focus on both tailored vocational and academic learning, on teachers terms and conditions and on the structure of educational establishments.

With a resonance of depressing familiarity to the HR profession, these proposals try to change the culture and performance by tinkering with the shiny controllables at the end of the process, not the really hard, thorny issues that sit in the slightly grey opaque middle but that really make a difference. We’ve missed the latest opportunity to really rethink education and we will be poorer as a country and as individual businesses for it.

PS. if you want to know, my son goes to the second school. And the thing the Headmaster went on to explain, was that their focus on individual learning and performance was the reason that they were top of the exam tables for the county…..well ahead of the other school.