Call me picky, but I do have a thing about people looking professional in their work attire. I was in an organisation recently where the person attending to me looked less than professional – wearing a dark jersey covered in either cat fur, dog hair or their own hair, dark walk shorts, white sports socks and black trainer shoes. At a glance, the overall image was casual in comparison with the other staff and with the person’s collection of fur or hair accessories, a bit untidy. I wondered at the time whether the person realised they were covered in fur or hair and if they did, I wondered if they cared or, if they knew how they might look to someone meeting them for the first time. I recalled a comment made to me years ago along the lines of you get literally seconds to make a first impression, so it helps if you make it a good first impression. It is a difficult subject to address in the workplace, as not everyone cares deeply about their personal grooming; and not everyone has the same standards as to what good grooming would look like anyway. I wonder how many organisations (apart from airlines) have documented dress codes and of those that do, I wonder what level of detail they go into? I think they are good things to have as staff are the face of the organisation and they need to make great first impression, within seconds – but how many do?
I’ve been reflecting on a breakout session I attended at a conference a while ago. The topic under discussion was the need to get "new blood" into an organisation that was long established and by and large, lead by people who had been there since its inception. The conversations around this topic identified the difficulties that arose when new people did enter an organisation, only to find they couldn't get "heard" or accepted in any real way, because of the weight of the status quo – the "how it has always been done" approach; the processes used by "the old guard" that bypass many people outside of those networks; the discrimination against people who may be perceived as being "young". Someone in the group suggested that most people eventually realise when they are "past their use by date" in a role, so to speak, but I don't agree. I believe some people are sufficiently self aware to know when their interest or energies or commitment in things has changed, but not everyone is. Some people may be happy to leave roles with particular status and power, but that isn't so for everyone. Not everyone welcomes change and what it may mean for individuals and the organisation itself – its products and services, its overall direction. The difficult challenge for organisations that want to get new blood in them, is that they have to first create the space for that to occur.
Just recently I was at a function to celebrate the beginning of an organisation's training and development initiative and the CEO spoke of passion and how important it is in the workplace. The passion he spoke of concerned managers and their everyday decisions and asked if the business was their own, would they be so casual about budget blowouts and writing off bad debts? Would they be so casual about tolerating poor performers? Would they be so reluctant to show initiative and lead the way? He thought not and I did agree with him. It is easy not to care so much when a salary goes into a bank account regardless of whether we strive for excellence or take a near enough is good enough approach. Yet the pity of that approach is that everyone in the organisation and the organisation itself, suffers, over time. Just imagine what could be achieved if everyone cared passionately about what they were doing and viewed the organisation they worked for, as their own.
A website that's well worth a visit is http://www.authentichappiness.com/ It is the work of Dr.Martin Seligman, a director at the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Centre. Seligman's studies have been around positive emotions, strengths-based character and healthy institutions. The site has a huge range of questionnaires that can be taken, on such things as gratitude; general happiness; depression scale; optimism. Seligman is of the view that most people want to lead meaningful, fulfilling, happy lives and he has found some ways to help people with that.
Have you ever noticed how people mentally leave a job sometimes years or months and months before they physically do? And have you ever noticed the small tell tale signs that signal this is happening? The signs I've recognised in myself (in the days when I used to be an employee) and seen in others, over time include a lessening in overall energy; a growing lack of enthusiasm over work; an increasing slowness to make decisions or to do the work in hand; sometimes a reluctance to embark on new work tasks or responsibilities; and an incongruence between what is often verbally expressed – "work's fine, really" and what is expressed non-verbally – "I can't stand it anymore". There is little to be done to help people who have mentally left the job but physically still there, other than talk to them about it if you are in a position to do so and it is appropriate to talk to them about what you have seen and heard. Sometimes naming the state for what it actually is, is helpful as some people don't recognise the feelings for what they are. If you are a manager and someone's performance is suffering because of the state they are in, you may need to confront the performance issues head on. You could also encourage and support people to explore their options, if they do admit to being trapped in a role they no longer want to be in and are mentally elsewhere, most of the time.
I'm always a bit amused when I hear people speak about turning 50 or being in their 50's, and describe themselves as aging, ancient beings on a slippery slope to ill health and the grave. I'm always shocked when I hear the same people lament that life is passing them by and it is too late to do anything different career wise because time is short; and it's not appropriate to dream anymore of what might be possible, even if they would like to do something new and different. I don't like this perspective at all, as it traps people in a narrow cage of limited possibilities. I prefer to view this time in life as the perfect time to reflect upon what life has been like thus far and to dream about how it could be in the future. It is the perfect time to reinvent oneself and leave behind any inherited shoulds, oughts, or must-dos. It is the perfect time to follow the calls of the heart (the yearnings about what we've always wanted to do or explore) and not the head. It is the perfect time to consciously discard negative, inaccurate, outmoded, stereotypical views of aging. It is the perfect time to be bold and demonstrate that the middle years and beyond, can be the best time of all.
According to the International Coach Federation (http://www.coachfederation.org/ICF/) April 2008 newsletter, coaching credentials are now in their second decade of existence, due to the foresight of ICF's early pioneers and leaders. In 2005 there were less than 1000 credentialed coaches worldwide and now, in 2008, there are over 3600. This number doesn't include those coaches whose applications are in process; those who are awaiting their exams; those waiting for their results; or those who are currently working through the pre-application processes. The credentials – ACC, PCC and MCC – reflect coaches experience, education and knowledge; and commitment to their professional development and to their clients.
Although I read daily newspapers, watch the television news, read business journals, subscribe to a number of business related e-newsletters and read a range of educational books to learn from and be aware of things, there is a huge, growing part of me that doesn't want to do this any more. Some days I feel completely overwhelmed with information coming at me and I drown in information overload. I know my head is completely under the water line when I feel my stomach sink in opening up the email box; when I look at business journals and with a heavy heart, speed read them to find and rip out articles of interest; when I read the business pages with irritation at the nay-sayers talking themselves and others into recession mentality. I've decided I may take a leaf out of Timothy Ferriss's book "The 4-Hour Work Week", in which he suggests we waste a great deal of time information gathering, an activity that is a poor use of time and one which takes our focus away from our work. He describes how he stopped reading newspapers and watching the news etc and used the time to focus on his business. I find the notion attractive. I feel encouraged to give it a go and see what happens. And it may be a lot easier than swimming lessons.
It's probably not the thing to say, but I've never quite understood why businesses and conferences bring in motivational speakers. Their intentions are good, no question – give the troops some inspirational stories about success through perseverance; triumph over adversity; or 100 guaranteed ways to achieve your goals – with the hope that some of the people will hear a gem they feel inspired by or be encouraged enough to do something different in their working or personal worlds. Yet my hesitation about it all is that motivation comes from within. We have either an internal locus of control (what happens to us is our doing) or an external locus of control (things that happen are all due to luck or fate) and that's a factor to consider however for those with an internal locus they will probably do things anyway. For those with an external locus, they probably won't do or continue to do some things, regardless. I don't believe external prompts are sustaining. They may linger for a day or a week or two but probably not much beyond that. At the end of the day, it's up to us, no one else.
I never cease to be amazed when I hear staff speak of working under managers who are tyrants and bullies. I've heard staff describe their manager as speaking the corporate speak in public (or in earshot of their own manager) and trot out the usual thing – valuing their staff, importance of good management and leadership etc – yet outside of the peer-watched forum, do the exact opposite. Staff have described being hounded with unreasonable demands; having evidence of their manager deliberately lying to make themselves look good; taking credit for other people's ideas or playing favourites; micro managing the competent and rewarding the incompetent with increased salary or conditions. So who monitors the senior managers? What systems do organisations have in place to get feedback from their staff, about their senior staff? And what would they actually do about it if they found senior staff who outwardly presented as paragons of best practice, were instead, tyrants and bullies behind closed doors? I despair when I hear staff question who would ever believe them if they indeed step forward and really said what was going on. Who monitors the milk monitors, I wonder?