Archive for January, 2015

A glimpse behind the curtain

27th January 2015

I stumbled across this HBR article the other day and it got me thinking about the relationship between our working lives and what we do with the rest of our time. And it made me especially conscious of the eroding distinction between the two.

Eyewitness: DubaiWhen I first started work, I was taught to do things differently than I did at home. I had to wear different clothes, my relationships with the people around me were implicitly and explicitly ordered by status, rank and hierarchy. I was expected to do as I was told, mostly without question, and I was expected to arrive and leave punctually every day. When I was taught to be a manager, I was taught specific ways of marshalling and coordinating the people who ‘worked for me’. I was taught how to talk to them if they were late or failed to do as they were told. I was taught how I would make a plan for my area of the business and how to tell the people that worked for me about it afterwards. There was real reserve between people that worked together. I’m not sure if I ever discussed my poor choice of football team, I certainly never mentioned my choice of entertainment most evenings and I wasn’t even slightly interested in the marital affairs of my colleagues.

Of course everything is different now. We wear what we like and we work from home a lot. I get upset if people treat me with undue deference (any deference at all, to be honest). The people that ‘work with me’ choose their priorities; we are relaxed and informal together. The managers in my team mostly don’t sheepdog their folks, they facilitate and enable. They are about to write our strategy without me in the room.

And now when we develop leaders we talk to them about purpose and values. Their life purpose and values, that is. We ask them to bring their authentic, genuine selves to the working day. Their true self, not a 9-5 version. We manage development with reference to personality, not taught behaviours. We foster an environment where the passion of people for their work is encouraged, supported and allowed to find its own way to get us to an end we can describe together.

Of course social media has made private lives more public than ever before, but this delve into the personal seems to me a step further than sharing photos of your favourite cocktail. Where I work, even members of the Facebook generation are only really comfortable sharing selected portions of themselves with anyone who isn’t a ‘friend’ and work colleagues are regularly not at the same level of intimacy as those who they grew up with. Now all of a sudden we’re sharing our life plans, our innermost secrets and fears, those things which are deepest and most precious to us. As the HBR article points out, not everyone’s ok with that.

I’ve written before about holding something back at work and to echo a conversation with someone I used to know, the decision is not about whether or not sharing and intimacy are good, the decision is about where the line is drawn between what is discussed and what isn’t. I rather suspect that the line is being drawn by some technology here without anyone stopping to work out whether we’re all as relaxed about that as each other. Where I work we’re careful to make sure people come to their own conclusion about what they’re happy with and I think we need to be mindful to make sure that stays the case.