Mind The Gap

January 18th, 2018


Why is it that when we go to work, we can develop the mindset of believing our colleagues are like robots, there to perform their tasks, with the same level of energy, motivation and focus, day after day? How on earth do we think we will engage them in their work if we don’t see them as a person at work?

We can think of the ‘person’ we are as having 3 bits of ourselves. There’s the ‘Professional bit’, the ‘Private bit’ and the ‘Person at work bit’.

The ‘Professional bit’ is the mandatory bit we are expected to bring to work. It’s our intellect, our knowledge, our relevant skills and experience, applied to the task in hand.

Then there’s our ‘Private bit’. This is the stuff we bring that’s in our world outside of work; our family experiences, hobbies, interests, activities with friends. Some of us bring this bit very readily to work and talk about it easily; others prefer not to share it, preferring to keep a clear boundary between work and not work. If we do bring it, it helps build relationships as we find connections with each other and get to build common ground. And it’s an easy starting point for conversations: ‘Hi, how was your weekend?’

I’m most interested in the 3rd bit, the ‘Person at work bit’. This includes our thoughts and feelings about our recent work experiences and the challenges ahead, our energy highs and lows and passion for the work we’re doing, our fears and concerns for the conversations we need to have, our disappointments with failed expectations, our excitement at the opportunities we envisage. I believe this is the arena for engagement at work, for building effective relationships that get the job done, because we are relating to each other as people rather than robots, and tapping into personal motives and energy that drives great performance.

And yet this is the ‘bit’ that, in some contexts, I see many people missing out on, especially when the pressure is on to deliver. The ‘small talk’ at the start of a meeting is so often about the football or the weekend or last night’s T.V. viewing and then the conversation switches sharply on to the task.  How much richer and valuable it would be if it then moved on to how people were feeling about the task ahead; how focused or distracted they were by other stuff going on for them; what was really driving them or holding them back to give their full commitment to the work; what would be helpful for them to engage fully right now. And only then, we moved the conversation on to engage in the task itself.

So next time you notice yourself about to switch from the ‘Private’ to the ‘Professional’ conversation, take a moment to Mind The Gap, and spend some time on the ‘Person at work’.



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A culture of Life jackets

August 27th, 2015


life jacket

I was fortunate to be on holiday abroad over the summer and one of the places we stayed at involved a 45 minute boat ride to get there. The boat held about 50 people, had open sides and sat quite low in the water as we journeyed up a series of creeks in the rain forest to our lodge. We came from a wide mix of European countries, the USA and Canada and were all ages, shapes and sizes!

By the time we started on our first journey, we had all put on life-jackets and on every subsequent boat journey, everyone did the same, yet we were never asked to do so and there were no signs anywhere telling us to.

I was intrigued by what had gone on; it was a hot day and they weren’t particularly comfortable (or attractive!) and I saw other similar boats passing where passengers hadn’t put them on. So what had happened?

As we got on the boat, there was a life-jacket on the back of each seat. At first many people ignored them, sat down and settled down for the journey. Then the captain and crew members all put their jackets on as they chatted to passengers at the front of the boat and these passengers started to put theirs on and some of the kids got a helping hand from the crew. Gradually more and more passengers put their jackets on until there were only a few left not wearing them and as we were about to set off, they put theirs on too. From then on, every time we got in a boat, everyone donned their jackets pretty much straightaway. The pattern had been set.

4 things struck me about how it had happened:

Firstly – ‘walk the talk’, ‘be the change you want to see’, ‘Do as I do, not as I say’ – whatever the phrase is that captures it, the power of setting an example through your behaviour was definitely highly effective here. Remember – no signs, banners, instructions were used, just key people, who everyone could see, doing what was expected of everyone.

Secondly, they made it our choice and easy to do – no instruction to rebel against, no reliance on anyone else to make it happen – just the jackets neatly on the backs of our seats, not hidden away or waiting to be handed out. We could put them on – or not – when we wanted.

Which is where the third point comes home – peer pressure. With the majority of the passengers neatly trussed up in their dinky jackets it wasn’t long before the stragglers got on side and made it a full house.

And finally – the power of a pattern set. Every subsequent journey followed the same pattern, needing no reinforcement or sanctions; the pattern was already set as ‘this is the way we do things around here’.

So maybe the next time you want to change behaviour in your organisation, rather than spending ages getting the ideal communications strategy in place for it or worrying over how to launch it, focus the spotlight on a few key people exemplify what’s needed, make it easy for others to choose to do the same and let peer pressure do the rest.


Happy Holidays!



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