A post about the challenge of defining what you do and how you do it.
What Do You Do?
Working in a large organisation, what you do is frequently defined by function and hierarchy. ‘What do you do?’ I’m an HR Business Partner/Head of Finance/Director of Legal Services/Vice President of Sales. We often accept these answers, and yet they don’t really tell us much, if anything about what you actually do. My last role in BT saw me land in a box marked General Manager. This box came with a pay band and a bunch of other stuff, and for once, a helpfully vague title. Most people quickly dumped the title in favour of something more grand and important sounding, I’ve never before or since worked in a place with so many so called directors. For my part, having spent some great years in sales before moving into what was then termed Corporate Social Responsibility, I’d come to a realisation that good work is all about good people. I wanted to work more intentionally on the simple belief that we can make work better, together. Nice idea – not a great fit into a corporate machine though, so in my case I ran with General Manager, at least the title gave me room to roam, to generally manage.
Fast forward to now, and of course I still get asked the question, ‘What do you do?’ As a freelance consultant that is sometimes a tricky question to respond to. I know from experience there are days when a purposeful, concise response simply flows from me, and equally there are many days when I stumble through the answer like a boy scout lost in a dark wood, flailing and failing his orienteering badge.
Many moons ago I was fortunate to listen to Ross Sargent, a founder of Cambridge Kung Fu, give a TEDx talk on Mindful Movement. I’m grateful to Ross for suggesting a helpful way to avoid getting stuck in the ‘What do you do?’ trap – begin your reply to the question with these three words: ‘Currently I am…’ Three years on and I still enjoy playing with this idea – I don’t always get it right and it definitely brings a sense of ‘nowness’ to my thinking.
Principles of Work
‘It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it’, or words to that effect. As well as gaining an understanding of what we can do for each other, people often ask me how the work feels, and how does it manifest itself? In order to help clarify my thinking – I sat down around the beginning of 2014 and came up with a set of principles of work. These are things you can expect of me when we work together, and ideally, you may feel encouraged to reciprocate some of these too. These principles are not set in stone, I make small adjustments as time goes by. Here is where I currently am on this journey.
What Goes Around – Principles of Work – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
I enjoy keeping an eye on my principles of work – and sometimes you might want to go deeper too. In these cases – maybe what you need is a manifesto? I’ve often thought about, and not yet written one for myself. And for as long as there are examples like this one by Bruce Mau I may never need to write one.
Despite the difficulties I sometimes have with ‘What do you do?’, I can at least be certain that my response to the question is real, it is me. I don’t have the challenge of trying to rally squadrons of people behind a set of values. Company values, those much maligned, and often over simplified statements of nothingness. Why shouldn’t we all have some of those too? When I worked for BT, our company values were: Straightforward, Helpful, Heart, Inspiring, Trustworthy. An odd bunch of words perhaps, even odder when read as an acronym (in fairness these values were rearranged in a different order by the spin doctors at the time, – I just found this particular arrangement easier to recall). I wonder how much BT paid for that?
The biggest challenge at this level of ‘What do you do?’ surely has to be two fold. Percolating and formulating a statement which has a sufficient sense of meaning and purpose about it is the first thing, and the second is simply that the larger the group of people you try and fit under the umbrella of your values, the more likely you are to fail. You risk ending up with mindless drones trying to deliver against something totally vanilla (with apologies to vanilla which I happen to think is quite a tasty flavour), or people not responding in a way which helps your values stay alive – experiencing someone telling lies when one of your values is trustworthy, for example. I realise it’s easy to knock this stuff, so by way of balance I’d like to ask you – do you have any examples of businesses where this values thing is done well? If you do – I’d be grateful if you could share them with me – thanks.