Many times when I write about Psychological Safety and it being the new gold for the enterprise, in particular whenever I outline anything that sounds accusatory to the organisation, some people are quick to point out that it isn’t only the employer that needs to change and do better, but the employee too. These people must think me one of the demagogues – the system-accusers happy to deplore the status quo and enjoy the rant for the sake of it – anyone who knows me is aware that can’t be further from the truth. My “life’s work” is in service of my obsession for personal responsibility and betterment – it is why I’m adamant we must deconstruct the outcry towards the organisation and use it to power the most important lever of real change and performance which is shifting the focus towards its most efficient unit – the team.
Furthermore, I’m a big advocate of every responsible adult having some type of “personal practice” – ideally containing what they do for their bodies and for their minds and souls as well- to ensure they are fit for this VUCA fight we’re all facing.
So important I find the existence of this practice that irrespective of its contents (if you choose to run on a treadmill instead of lifting weights or sit and listen to a hard rock playlist instead of doing Yoga or putting on your Muse to train your mind to be quiet and grateful, it matters not!) whether or not one has it, should even be probed, maybe even be part of performance reviews.
The work/life separation of the 1960s 9-to-5 workers is a thing of the past for most of us with our personal and professional lives intermingling and interweaving in a way that makes the effort to keep them artificially separated a job in itself, so we must reconsider it and drop it. Of the many ailments of today’s workplace this is possibly the most dangerous because it mandates that we aren’t to be humans with emotions and mental states while at work, but this imaginary robotic version of ourselves and that is a lie that hurts us all today and will hurt us even more in the future as our humanity becomes the only USP we have.
To challenge it, smart companies today are investing heavily in erasing the separation and the forced culture of discretion by showing their employees it’s ok and it’s welcomed and encouraged that they demonstrate they are real people with dreams and fears and weekends and childcare issues. That they should open up and ask others to do so. That they should be a whole person, relate to their teammates and empathise, and that there is no need to construct and manage an image where they are not a human.
“Do you do anything in the gym/in front of a Jane Fonda DVD/at the weekends? – AKA – Do you take care of your body?”; “Do you have a plan and philosophy on what you eat?’; ‘What do you do to better your mental well being?”; “What does gratitude mean to you?” and any other -be it HR and lawyers’ approved- version of these probings should be part of any leader’s questions to the individuals in their team and in my view, it ought to not only be encouraged but mandated by the organization that the adults working for it take care of themselves and help them invest in their own wellbeing.
For the team leaders, this isn’t an easy ask as they must set aside their deep-seated and previously encouraged need to be discreet where they manage the impression that they ought to never be intrusive and ask too personal of questions.
It doesn’t come naturally and it scares most team leads we work with, but what we advise is for them to stay as anchored in their sense of empathy as possible, and remember the commonality of being human they share with their teammates. Dig into how they feel themselves and realise much of that is in common with everyone else, and then be courageous and once they’ve laid the foundation of how no answer is mandatory, ask all the interested, involved and caring questions they can muster.
To start 2020 right – a good question is: “What did you get on your New Year’s Resolution list? Do you have one?”
As the year ends, we can’t help but be reflective, can we? Even the biggest anti-meditation advocates will have found they linger on a thought for longer. And the staunchest of detractors of gratitude would have scrolled past the umpteenth “this year these things happened to me” status and would have found themselves pleased it wasn’t them.
The easiest reflection is the objective one. The stats. We achieved X, Y and Z. Or we wanted to do W, U, V and missed the mark. The undeniable facts. Many of us will avoid dwelling on those unless we know the former category to be overwhelmingly full and let’s face it, judging by those same statuses (on Facebook, the impression management on LinkedIn is too rampant to count, over here, everyone was king of the universe) 2019 may not have accomplished that. So as a protectionist measure, we choose not to think of failure and what may have gone wrong. It’s understandable. Is it the growth opportunity and the learning mindset we strive for? No, it isn’t that either but hey, it’s Xmas fercryingoutloud.
And then there are the resolutions, versus no resolutions camps. Every year eyes roll far back into the skulls of both parties hearing the other had decided to either make some or make none. Funnily enough, merely being part of one of these camps, even the lazy one, is a good sign as studies show that those who are against resolutions still spend a fair amount of time considering why and mentally reviewing their goals. In other words, whether you choose to put in the work into articulating, expressing and attempting to follow your goals, or if you choose to declare that a silly practice, you’re still likely both the type of person who takes charge of life’s happenings and is interesting in bettering themselves.
And it is all about betterment at the end of the day, isn’t it? Be it about bettering our own selves, our personal life or our work life. And it is about bettering our organisation too – all this talk of “transformation” – much as I may hate the term-, and of “change” and “new” – they are all reflections of how the enterprise knows it needs to make improvements and be -in some cases- “radically different” if not simply “improved”.
I’ll admit I’m a rabid advocate of making those NYER – so what if you should abandon them over the year or even by the time February rolls around?!?- because whether our goals are for incremental changes, ways to be a little bit better, or for big reinventions of self, they are better off stated, detailed, visualised.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as “accidental betterment” where we do absolutely nothing and yet we became better in any significant way. None without the work and seeing the goal is the first powerful motivation we all need to plough forward.
So go on, have a thought about what would make you a better, improved or redesigned version of yourself and then go for it, be it for a while.
As you visualise this new you make sure none of the things you’ve resolved fall under the category of impression management though. “I resolve to look more X in 2020” at work is not what you’re after – in particular if that “X” is “competent”, “professional/unintrusive”, “knowledgeable”, or “positive”. The “look” there is what makes it the inauthentic and dangerous path we all take at times when we manage others’ impressions of us. Wanting to appear a certain way. Instead, try rephrasing and focusing on lasting, deeper wins that would mean something to you as a person. Instead of how you look – who you are. “I resolve to be more courageous in 2020” or “I pledge to learn more in 2020” or “I promise to speak up and be myself every time I interact with my peers at work in 2020”.
Ironically, it is impression management itself that stops us from getting a New Year’s Eve Resolutions list too at times- we fear to appear silly or sappy or a little bit crazy. Be brave and don’t worry about any of that, worry about you and being a better version and then be even braver and communicate it – ideally to your teammates and team leader, because the power of accountability added to the visualisation provides tenfold more motivation and strength and powers your efforts. And above all, if you did get a NYER list and you got asked about it, don’t fear looking any which way that prevents you from talking about it!
If you’re leading a stand-up or a kick-off or even just a weekly meeting next week once everyone had time to recuperate and be back, consider dropping the big motivational “we can do it” speech and hope for any -conventional- “work” being done in favour of asking what people ate/drank/did for their break and what their NYERs are, it ought to do your team a lot more good.
May the year turn find you excitedly clutching a list of awesome to-do’s and may it start with 20/20 foresight of whom you want to become then get to work and watch it be your best yet!