Putting yourself first to make work better for all of us.
Over the weekend my attention was drawn to a list. Not one of those top 100 most boring people in HR lists which cause so much angst and hand wringing, but a simple list of thoughts and ideas to live by. It was written by Stephen Waddington on the occasion of his 45th birthday, and is made up of a thought or idea for each of those 45 years. I really enjoyed flicking through it, here are a few of my personal favourites, and I encourage you to check the whole thing out too.
I find myself agreeing with a lot of Stephen’s thinking, and not all of it. One idea in particular is causing me discomfort.
Banish personal pronouns, we not me, and us not I. At first glance this feels like it makes perfect sense. When I worked in big organisations I spent a lot of time thinking about how I and the people I worked with could be a great team. For example, when I led a sales team I insisted that our targets were aligned so that if any member of my team failed, I failed too. They could cross the finish line separately as individuals, and as their manager, I needed them all to succeed in order for me to, too. This method of setting targets was not the done thing at the time, and I had to work far too hard to make it happen, and happen it did, and succeed we did. All of us.
Since setting up my own business, I have continued to work mostly in large organisations, helping people make work better, together. We not me, and us not I. As time passes, and I think more intentionally about well being, and more deeply about the craft that is my work, It becomes increasingly clear that this aspiration, this hope of making work better together, cannot be achieved until first and foremost, I am in the best place to be of use to you. As my customer, you pay me to facilitate and consult with you – you have every right to expect me to be fully present, at my best, and I believe I should expect the same of each of you. To that extent, for us to do something great together, I, indeed every I in the room and on the project, has to come before we.
Last week I was within the walls of Windsor Castle, at St George’s House facilitating some fascinating discussions around Social Capital in the Workplace. St George’s House will in due course publish a report of the consultation which I will share when it is available.
One of the things we talked about was our own social capital in the group. How many people did we know in the group, how did we know them, that kind of thing. We used some very basic data to start drawing maps of our connections, and someone suggested we should also note down our interests. ‘What’s My Thing?’ is how the idea was put forward. So among other things, our conversation over dinner turned to ‘What’s My Thing?’ and we each wrote down something about our interests and talked about it. After dinner we had a tour of St George’s Chapel, parts of which date back to 1240 AD, and then retired to bed.
Although the bed in my room was very comfortable, I didn’t sleep for very long, in part because I was looking forward to getting back to work so much. I was up and about shortly after 5am, and because everywhere is unlocked, I made my way down to The Vicars’ Hall, the building we were working in. The Hall was built in 1415 and it’s rumoured that William Shakespeare visited the building with Queen Elizabeth to see the first production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. You can just about make it out on the left of this moonlit picture I took.
Once inside the Hall – I got to thinking about ‘What’s My Thing?’. I looked through all the notes people had made over dinner the previous evening and decided to put everyone’s things onto a large sheet of paper.
This big picture is what greeted everyone when they came together to restart the conversation. It provoked a real buzz and all kinds of conversations about who does what. I deliberately left names off the picture, and people began to piece things together based on conversations from the previous evening.
I think that getting to know one another, beyond how we simply define ourselves at work, is an important part of what makes work better, and I think this group gained a lot of useful insight from each other as a result of this simple exercise. ‘What’s My Thing?’ wasn’t my idea, though I adapted the handwritten notes into the big picture. It was a social, simple, enjoyable way of getting a group talking and I thought I’d share it in case others would like to try it out too.
Some of you may recall I asked the question “What is your top tip for improving employee engagement in 2010?”. Folk were very generous with their responses. I received over 7000 words of advice and hints from across the globe. I’m currently ploughing through them all and will report back on what you said soon. For now I thought you might appreciate a quick view of the feedback and ideas, courtesy of wordle.
I removed the words employee and engagement from the text, here’s what’s left. Click on the image for a larger view.