Back To School : What Does Good Work Feel Like?

When I was 13 years old, I had no idea what my career path might look like. Some days I’m still not sure! How about you?

I recently accepted an invitation to talk about my career with some groups of Year 8 students at a local school. Bearing in mind my own lack of career clarity, as I was planning what to say I thought I’d try something a little different. Instead of trying to describe my meandering career path in detail, I decided to invite some discussion among the groups, starting with a conversation about what good work looks and feels like.


Before visiting the school, I posed the question about what good work looks like (which quickly morphed into what good work feels like) on a few social networks. People were very generous with their responses, and I’ve compiled them all into a ‘What Does Good Work Look and Feel Like to You‘ file for you to read and enjoy. At the risk of compressing an excellent series of exchanges too tightly, here are one or two comments which stand out for me.

Good work means I know my effort makes a difference, where I know I am valued, as I am listened to, treated fairly, and where the quality of my work speaks for itself and I and others can see results.

Hey Doug, sorry I’m late to the discussion, and I think I’m more drawn to the question of what does good work FEEL like… I’m reminded of ‘all that glitters is not gold’. So what does good feel like? When I’m involved in something that reflects my values. Also, good doesn’t need to have an outcome… What do you and others think? (‘good’ question! :-))

Leaving formerly unhappy people feeling content and at ease. Doing something that makes people smile like their faces might split. Doing something brave that helps others break new ground. Work that fills your heart as well as your mind. 

A sense of needing satisfaction, of the tension between competence and challenge, and making a difference all feature in the replies. I recommend taking the time to have a read through – it’s well worth it.

Back to School

It’s tempting to think that because I’ve been invited in to speak, I must therefore have some wisdom to impart. I’m usually more interested in what others have to say, and when I asked the students the question about what good work feels like – they were responsive, succinct, and imaginative. It’s interesting to note that in one of the replies above is the comment ‘When I’m involved in something that reflects my values.’ Being involved, doing things with others, not to others – that matters to me, and judging by how the kids chose to respond, I’m confident it matters to them too. Here are just a few of their excellent suggestions about what good work feels like.

  • You put effort into it
  • It’s satisfying
  • You’ve done your best
  • It has a deeper meaning
  • It’s what you want it to look like
  • Makes you think
  • Creative
  • You put your heart into it
  • You put time into it
  • You chose it

Organisational Development and Art

We talked a little about organisational development, and after seeking advice from my 15 year old daughter beforehand, I used the metaphor of a bicycle to describe some of my work. This way we had a common point of reference which made it easier for us to talk about the importance of exploring and improving performance. ‘At first glance – fixing this old bike which has flat tyres might look easy. How might you fix the problem, and what might you do if the bike still doesn’t ride well after the repair?’ We quickly began to appreciate the importance of the whole system: bike, rider, environment etc. Huge thanks to Keira for the inspiration.

We talked a little about art and how it is subjective. I offered up a painting which we discussed and described, quickly realising that although we’re all looking at the same thing, we all see it differently. I suggested that when exploring organisational performance, there are nearly always multiple paths to explore – be open to the possibilities and don’t get too hung up on the need for certainty. We finished with a quick look at the free art project, which I offered up as a way of developing a sense of connection with community.

Thanks to the school kids and everyone who responded to the initial question, you all helped to make an inclusive, interesting exchange. After I left the school, I shared the responses from the classroom with a friend. She replied:

GOOD WORK indeed! I LOVE that. [This exchange] will give them agency all their working life; they will remember. Fantastic energy from the words.

What does good work feel like to you?


How Are You Inspiring The Future?

A review of my first volunteering work with Inspiring the Future

How are you inspiring the future? Pretty big question huh? Well the answer doesn’t need to be.

What is Inspiring The Future?

Inspiring the Future (ItF) is a free service with volunteers from all sectors and professions going into state schools and colleges to talk about their jobs and sectors. Anyone can volunteer with Inspiring the Future – you can be a young Apprentice, graduate recruit or a seasoned Chief Executive – young people will benefit from hearing about your experiences.  You offer to visit a local state school or college for ‘one hour, once a year’.

That is how ItF positions themselves. I found out about them through my membership of the CIPD, and because I think the worlds of education and work are currently not as well joined up as they should be, I joined the scheme to see if I could be of use. After spotting a few opportunities I couldn’t fit into the diary, a chance arose to take part in some CV skills development at a local school.

I registered to take part and as part of my preparation, I asked Twitter a question:

Twitter CV question

As you might expect – I got some great answers which I curated over at Storify if you’d like to take a look.

I headed on over to the school where I got a friendly welcome from school staff and Annie from the CIPD. Our first group of students were introduced, plenty of them already had a CV, but no one had brought a hard copy along. A few students had theirs on usb sticks but for IT security reasons the school wasn’t willing to load the sticks into their system to get printouts. Most people said ‘We weren’t told to bring them’. Our involvement was only part of a wider careers fair so I don’t know how things were positioned before hand, but given there were employers to be met and other opportunities to engage with, I was a little surprised at the lack of CVs. Would I have been any better prepared at that age? Probably not.

Small Steps on Long Journeys

I had an interesting conversation with three people. One wanted a Saturday job in retail to develop her people skills en route to a job in teaching, another wanted a job in teaching, and the third wanted a career in law. The person looking for retail work has dropped off plenty of CVs but not heard anything back yet. Why is that? Here are a few things we discussed.

Tailor Your Work

We spoke about framing what you have to offer from the employer’s perspective. I asked, ‘what does people skills look like to a retail employer?’ After a pause, ‘commitment and turning up on time?’ was put forward. ‘OK then,’ I asked, ‘and how might you demonstrate that in your CV?’ ‘I have a great attendance record at school.’ One said. ‘And is that clear on your CV?’ I asked. ‘Not yet’ came the reply. We talked more and suggested that using a phrase like ‘building on my customer service skills’ might hit the mark for a retailer a little more than ‘improve my people skills.’ We agreed a key point was to tailor your offer to the market place and the job, don’t just fire off a one size fits all CV.

Social Media

We chatted very briefly about social media and I showed everyone some of the Twitter help I’d received earlier. This led to a discussion about other ways to present a CV. None of the group knew about LinkedIn so I suggested they might want to check it out, filling in the profile could be a helpful challenge for them as they begin to think more about what they have to offer.

Developing an Edge

We talked a little about a career in law. ‘What characteristics do you need for that?” I asked. ‘You need to be argumentative!’ came a reply and we all had a good laugh, before settling on persuasive instead. ‘How could you demonstrate persuasiveness?’ ‘Do you have a debate club at school?’ Turns out they did and from there our aspiring lawyer suggested she would check the club out and see if she could put forward a debate on a relevant legal matter.

All too soon our time was up and off they went to explore other possibilities. I couldn’t stay for long but I enjoyed my short visit and I hope the people I talked with took something useful from our time together.

Inspiring the Future – Getting Involved

Taking part in ItF is easy. You just fill out a simple form and wait for opportunities to find you. Then when an opportunity fits with your diary, you simply go along and be useful. I recently spotted that Neil Morrison had spent a day in a school as part of ItF and afterwards had this to say, ‘I was HUGELY impressed by the teachers, the principals and the students. There was passion, enthusiasm, pride and energy. I think they’re destined for great things.’ 

That sounds like a worthwhile way to spend a few hours to me, how about you?