Tag Archives: HR

Taking Responsibility

A friend recently pointed me in the direction of a short TED talk by Barry Schwartz (8 minutes), titled “The way we think about work is broken.” Schwartz observes that we’re not used to challenging things which have become socially acceptable, and over time, the blandification which sets in as a result of this reluctance, makes more and more work soulless and demeaning.

Schwartz’s short talk strikes a painful and necessary chord for me. I spend a lot of time taking deep breaths before asking those awkward questions. In so doing, I offer a challenge to the so-called ‘socially acceptable’ stuff. I seek to do this with kindness, yet observing and inquiring about those “elephants in the room,” frequently brings forth dissonance.

I’m both privileged and cursed by my late Mum who brought me up this way, to take responsibility for what I see around me, and to ask why. The initial responses I get from people in these inquiries often include shock, disbelief, sometimes even anger. I understand and appreciate the nature of the responses I get because very often, the awkward question I’m asking, however simple it may seem, challenges my own beliefs too.

To disagree with the norm puts people at risk. At risk of social exclusion, maybe even the risk of losing your job. A good friend recently introduced me to a group of people with these words: ‘Doug is someone who has an ability to ask challenging questions, openly and honestly and in a way that acknowledges his own shortcomings too. It’s powerful, and it’s why some people can’t wait to work with him again and why others never want to see him again’.

People say they want honesty and openness, until they look me in the eye and see my own and their own inadequacies reflecting back at them. At that point, it becomes easier to blame someone or something – in preference to owning (at least a share of) the responsibility for change.

I’m working with a group of people who are gathering some data about their performance, from people the group provides a service to. Prior to starting the exercise, the group reports feeling undervalued. The initial signs from the data relating to responsiveness, quality of work and other things, is strongly positive. There seems to be a mismatch? People self-select into small groups during some brief time we have together and agree a plan to self-organise, meet and discuss the data, then reconvene and share observations, findings, and suggested actions for improvement.

We gathered again several weeks later for the review, and it quickly became clear no one had met to talk. No one at all. Reminders had been sent, offers of assistance had been made, and nothing seemed to have happened. I was keen to understand why, and no one had any answers, at least none they were willing to state to the group. Maybe I should have gently persisted, gone deeper, but I didn’t. Maybe the sense of feeling undervalued which the group expressed is part of their own way of not taking responsibility? We ended up having the discussion together when the original intention was to have a review of things already discussed, and progress from there.

These things happen sometimes, and in this case, there was frustration expressed by people, both in the room and afterward, at the lack of progress. By way of an example, someone fed back, anonymously, that the whole thing was a “pointless waste of time because no one contacted me to arrange the discussion.” It apparently hadn’t occurred to this person they could have chosen to be the catalyst.

Subsequently, I reviewed the situation and asked myself what I could have done differently. What pieces of the process could I have taken better care of, could I have taken clearer ownership for? I spotted a few things, and I also wondered, did I expect too much that this group might self-organise and make something happen? After all, they were used to working in a typical hierarchical way, which often involves waiting to be told what to do. I’m not sure, and what I did observe, was that all the feedback from the group was about apportioning blame, rather than taking responsibility.

Enthusiasm, encouragement, support – these are all helpful, lovely, necessary ingredients which go towards co-creating a good working experience. And they’re not enough. At times, we need to take a deep breath and ask the awkward, challenging questions, and acknowledge our own shortcomings and those of others too. Not with the intention of shaming anyone, but in pursuit of a better outcome next time. We also need to take responsibility too. The clearer we can be about this the better. Clearly defined ownership of specific actions beats vague high level sweeping statements from which we can all abdicate from. Without finding the courage to do that, my concern is that all the rest, all that other good stuff, is surely just a waste of time?

 

The Art of Innovation : HR Inner Circle

This week, I spent a very interesting and enjoyable day at the 2017 HR Inner Circle Conference. I got to meet and speak with a lot of interesting people, I heard two friends, Phil and Ian, talk about their work, and I spoke with the audience about exploring and applying the creative process to our work. There will be some video footage emerging sometime soon and if I can unpick a few useful clips, I’ll happily share them. For now though, here’s an annotated version of the slides I used to accompany my session, I hope they prove useful.

 

In addition to all the interesting conversations, there is another reason why the day was so enjoyable. Daniel Barnett and his team, our hosts for the day, were outstanding. They took great care of all their guests, and made my experience as a speaker a really good one too. Briefings and advice I received beforehand were spot on, and on the day, everything was done to enable me to be at my best. It is unusual to encounter such a blend of good preparation, genuine interest, and great service. Thank you.

Stretch Your Canvas

This is one of many lovely art works I’ve collected over the years, made by people who I work with who tell me they cannot draw. Apologies, I don’t currently know the name of the artist, but what we have here is a visual response to the question ‘what brings you joy?’.

A lot of my work is about encouraging folk who talk about creativity and innovation, to talk a little less, and do a little more. Take some action – convert your thoughts and ideas into objects and artefacts, learning from what that feels like. Something I observe in the work, is it needs repeated practice. Doing things differently often doesn’t come easy, and when you and I cannot respond positively to the ‘so when was the last time you did something you felt uneasy about?’ question, we undermine our ability to encourage, to influence.

In the coming weeks I am particularly busy, playing in the space where people’s desire to progress meets the stalling effects of uncertainty. For me – I feel better equipped to help people move through these feelings, into participation, when I am also pushing myself. In order to refresh this desire, at the beginning of last week I decided to take part in an open mic event at The Brook, a lovely venue just down the road from me. As the big day drew nearer I realised that this was no ordinary open mic night. A band called Love Zombies were visiting the UK to record a new album at The Brook, and the venue announced the band would be taking part in the open mic evening.

I arrived and the place was packed. I nervously approached Dan, who organises/encourages/sets up/pretty much does everything to make these evenings work well, and asked for a slot. 9.15pm it is then. At 8pm I take my seat and watch the venue come alive.

Love Zombies played first, then a series of talented local musicians took to the stage, as each one concludes their short act, my time of reckoning draws nearer. Heart thumping, 9.15pm comes and goes, things are understandably overrunning a little, it’s hectic in here. I lost my bottle at around 10pm, and went to find Dan to apologise before leaving. He said sorry for the delay, I realised I was being a chump, and we opted for a 10.15pm start.

At the reallotted time I took to the stage, nervously, and played two songs. I fluffed the first (When I Grow Up – by Tim Minchin), picked myself up and finished it, and the second (Where In The Hell Did You Go With My Toothbrush – by The Reverend Horton Heat) came out better, in the right order at least! I did what I set out to do. Sure, I made some mistakes along the way, and I got it done. I’m as certain as I can be that further mistakes will occur in the coming weeks too, and I’m also certain that when someone asks me ‘so when was the last time you did something you felt uneasy about?’ I can respond positively, currently, and authentically.

Whatever you’re up to this week, go well, have fun, and maybe even make a mistake or two? 😉