Tag Archives: Engagement

People Artists

In April 2015 I received a lovely note from my friend David Zinger, asking if I would like to make a contribution to a forthcoming book, titled People Artists. With a title like that – how could I refuse? David asked me a handful of questions which I answered as follows:

How would you define a People Artist at Work in your own words?

I believe we are all born artists, so we all have the potential for people artistry. Here are a few things I practice which can help define a people artist and ensure your artistic flame can flourish.

Being open to possibilities
Accepting your own vulnerability
Showing your work

We Are All Artists

What makes you or the person you are thinking of a People Artist?

Developing a habit of awareness and presence helps make someone a people artist. A willingness to suspend judgement when new ideas are forming helps too, as does being kind. Never underestimate the artistic power of simple things.

Can you offer one or two specific examples of where and how People Artistry was demonstrated?

Follow this link. It takes you to a series of images cocreated by learning and development professionals invited to think about the future for their profession. For me – this collection represents a facet of people artistry.

What do you see as the results of the demonstration of People Artistry?

When I see people artistry at work I see smiles, I see people getting to know one another better, I see people supporting and encouraging one another and making work better, together. I see people…simply being people.

Is there anything you would like to add about the topic?

People artistry is partly about encouraging creativity, and creativity isn’t something you just switch on. It ebbs and flows according to the environment and attitude around you. I like to invite people to consider this question. What levers and dials do you need to be aware of and be able to adjust, to help bring out creativity and people artistry in yourself and those around you?

I sent my response to David and got on with my life. Yesterday morning there was a knock at the door and a large parcel was delivered. I had no idea what I was signing for…

People Artists

Inside the package is a signed copy of the new book, and a wonderful signed, framed print of the painting used for the book cover. People Artists is a beautiful collection of thoughts, feelings and ideas about how to make work better, twinned with a series of images painted by Peter W Hart.

People Artists will be available for sale very soon and I’ll update this post with more information, and share details of how to buy it on Facebook, Twitter et al. For now, thank you David and Peter for putting an excellent book together and for such a lovely way to appreciate the contributors.

 

I Need You To Know Who I Am

In a previous life working for Megacorp Inc., I shared some responsibility for surveying staff on how they felt about working there. In common with most employee surveys, we forced anonymity on our people. Apparently this was done so that staff could speak up, and feedback honestly and openly, without fear of retribution.

original artwork by Doug Shaw

Artwork by yours truly – with apologies to Rene Magritte

What this enforced anonymity indicated to me is that the business has a deeper problem, a lack of trust. I took a look at some of the data from the previous five years surveys, which showed me there was growing, strong disagreement to statements such as:

  • It is safe to speak up
  • Change is managed well here
  • Megacorp Inc. keeps things simple

Conversely – the number of people strongly agreeing with these statements had flatlined over the same period of time.

I’m no expert, but I’m seeing things here that make me think maybe enforced anonymity isn’t the key to unlocking open honest feedback.

I showed my findings to the divisional Managing Director who agreed to meet with me and talk about what I was seeing. He never showed up for the meeting, then cancelled a rearranged meeting before telling me I should take the information to HR. ‘People stuff – that’s their job’. In this case, I think you can add a total lack of interest to the lack of trust I mentioned earlier.

This data shows me there are people at work who do not feel they can speak up for fear of retribution, and I have experienced that myself too. However I’m no fan of anonymity, and I believe this fear is something we need to help people through. Forcing anonymity on people is not helping. In it’s own way – this simple act reinforces the kind of behavior we are saying that we don’t want.

When I worked on the survey team, I always asked if we could make anonymity optional, so that those who choose to stand by their comments can do so. My request was always refused, though never with a satisfactory explanation.

When I completed the survey myself, I used to frig the system by adding my name in every open comment box I could, knowing that colleagues would go in behind the scenes and redact my name, and the name of anyone else trying to be heard. My reason for doing this was not purely mischievous, more importantly it was driven by a desire to be engaged in making our work better.

If I have ideas about how we might work differently and you really want my opinion, then you need to know who I am so we can act together. In these circumstances, anonymity is completely disempowering. What your enforced anonymity says to me is that you don’t really want to work coactively with me and with others; you are just using the opportunity to survey our feelings and attitudes as a means of satisfying yourself.

I often spent time on the road, visiting colleagues in offices all over the country. When I asked how they felt about the surveying process, two things regularly came up:

We don’t trust that the survey is anonymous

Nothing changes as a result of what we say

Pretty much says it all, huh.

The next time you are tasked with surveying the attitude of your staff, or asked to complete the survey, consider this: I need you to know who I am; otherwise, what’s the point?

Note: A version of this post first appeared on HRExaminer in January 2015.

More Than a Number

I don’t know about you, but I’m often skeptical when businesses try to distil something important into a simple score.

‘Our employees are 42% engaged’ ‘Trust in our company is at 54%’ ‘Our net promoter index has risen to 7.6’

Shudder.

I get that it’s easy to throw out a stat or two, but they often lack any real context and more worryingly, they seem to be unquestioningly accepted as the ‘truth’. I am not convinced that you can reduce these things to a number, at least not in isolation. I want to hear and read the story behind the digits, I want to understand why 42%, not just 42%. To help illustrate my point, here’s a personal example for you.

I’ve recently returned from a great trip to Chicago where I headed to be at the annual Illinois SHRM conference. I’ve already written about the anticipation of the event here, and shared some of the Art for Work’s Sake experiences Joe Gerstandt and I helped to cocreate at a packed pre conference workshop.

The second day saw me presenting on collaboration. I was on the main stage at the Drury Lane theatre…Oakbrook, not London 🙂 As I was introduced, something quite unnerving happened. The main stage lights came on and all of a sudden I could not see the audience. Eye contact is very important to me when speaking – I get nervous in front of an audience and one of the ways I get past this is to engage directly with people, looking at someone as I am talking – trying to make direct contact, albeit briefly, with as many people as I can. These direct connections help me feel like I am talking in many one to one conversations – and my nerves ease. I tried to get past this blinding lack of contact and the only way I could achieve this, was by leaving the stage often, and walking around in the theatre so that I could see people and achieve the eye contact I needed. It puts me at ease, and so the audience seem to relax too. The talk unfolded and afterwards I got a lot of positive feedback from people in the room.

You often get scored after giving a talk at conferences, and this one is no exception. A couple of weeks after the conference I got some feedback. My scores for overall effectiveness look like this:

Excellent – 65%
Good – 26%
Poor – 8%

Those numbers represent a pretty good shape for me. People often ask me why I am happy to get some ‘poor’ ratings – and the fact of the matter is – I take risks when I present. I try to find thought provoking angles to share, and these are not designed to please everyone – otherwise I don’t think they would be particularly thought provoking. I often remind people at the start of a talk that this time is theirs, not mine. I am their guest and I’d rather they voted with their feet on realising that my content and style is not working for them, than sit and endure me. Anyway – those are the numbers, and they don’t really tell us that much…do they?

The written feedback is perhaps more useful? Here’s what it says:

  • Relevant & Engaging. Very Collaborative.
  • Not the most compelling speaker.
  • Maybe a smaller room for Doug who likes the more personal space. The audio was distracting as he kept moving into the audience.
  • Great to have interactive part, interesting, overall did great job.
  • Different venue to allow for collaborative experience theatre setting was awkward.
  • Engaging speaker – look forward to more.
  • Doug is fab & needs the space to interact with the crowd.
  • Low energy not sure of his point.
  • Speaker would be more effective/comfortable in smaller breakout sessions.
  • Common viewpoints & not engaging (head down) but had some points to ponder.

I’m so pleased that a few people took the time and trouble to write stuff down for me. These few lines are for me, much more helpful than the scores. As you can see – some people concurred with me that a space designed for a play, did not work (or at least suit me) as well as a more typical presentation setting. On reflection – I could have anticipated the stage light issue perhaps – but I responded as best I could in the moment and thanks to the feedbackers, I’m in better shape for next time.

So what? For me – this experience serves as a very useful reminder that while 65, 26 and 8 may have some worth – it’s the story behind the numbers that really adds value, and helps me get better. So the next time someone tells you their engagement score is up from 29 to 41, please don’t just take that at face value and move on. Ask them – why is this so, and why does this matter? We owe it to ourselves, and to those who would seek to convince us, to delve a little deeper, and get a little better.