There’s something about people…
We love what we do. It might seem an odd thing to say, given that we work in one of the most maligned jobs in the business world, but we do really love it. There’s just something about ‘people’ that makes the work a gift, and on some days, even an honour. And we don’t say that with an ounce of cynicism or sarcasm. We really do love it. We’ve both been in and out of the ‘People’ function, but have never been in and out of our conviction that people matter deeply.
What’s so unique about people?
And much more than the Smithsonian’s ‘upright posture’ and ‘opposable thumbs’.
It is all about the complexity and possibility. The potential, and growth.
It’s about imagination, and creativity. That we can follow instructions, but we might not if we think of a better or more interesting way.
Emotionality and irrationality. That we can respond to exactly the same thing today differently than we did yesterday.
That we’re both individual and collective. Complete as one person. But so much more when we positively impact each other. We literally care about the person next to us, and when we do, we do better and so do they.
That we’re delightfully uncapped. Everything else in business, is exactly predictable. A dollar is a dollar. A building is a building. As asset is exactly where you left it on the register. But people, ah, they’re different. Smile and they give you 100%. Care and respect and they give you 120%. Frown and disrespect, and they stay but are lucky to give you 50%.
Its understanding all of that and much more, that makes ‘people’ the most complex and most valuable part of everything.
I’m the first to say Yes.
We declare our bias, if it wasn’t already obvious.
We love people. Whether we’re invited to a really interesting Board meeting with ridiculously insufficient notice, to discuss serious or crazy possibilities around culture or people, or whether Mum calls to say she’s getting the band together on Saturday night for takeaway, we are both always first to say yes.
Part of saying yes, that optimism, helps find the good in almost anything. It means you can constantly find really wonderful people in every room, every team, and every organisation, and we get to work with them.
This makes saying yes an honour. Saying yes, to be invited into people’s worlds and have the opportunity to understand their work, and their passions, and their challenges, and in some small way, work with them to make a difference. To improve things.
Isn’t your job to critique?
No, not at all.
What an odd anomaly that is often accredited to people in our profession.
We’d much rather grow and lift and rally behind than critique.
How many times do you hear an HR person saying “I ask the hard questions” or “I can point out exactly what’s wrong with any team/leader/organisation”, as if that’s the art. But it’s not even close. If we had a dollar for every time we heard ‘leadership capability isn’t where it needs to be’. We’d have enough to retire, yet we wouldn’t as we’d still be passionate about what we do.
Anyone can ask hard questions, and often should. It takes a little confidence, and massive doses of respect and humility to do it well, but it’s very doable, if your intent is to understand and not to tear down or break.
Given every human is fallible and flawed, pointing out flaws in individuals or collectives, must, by definition, be fairly easy.
But the real value of being in the room, is not the questions or critique, but the solutions, and possibilities. Way more emphasis should go here.
When you’re invited into a room, team, or organisation to measure, understand, listen, and appreciate work and culture, you’re trusted into people’s most vulnerable space. Most grown-ups know they’re flawed and fallible. Most are also doing their best, and trying their hardest to do better. If you’re invited in, wholeheartedly, it’s because you’re trusted. Your opinion and ideas are valued, and that is a gift to be respected. You need to turn up not to critique, but to add value. Like every person in the room is already doing their best to do.
How seriously should this work be taken
If your job is making shoes, make the best you can, but making a mistake is fixable. A little more leather, a little more glue or soul rubber, and have Shoe 2 ready to go.
If your job is administration, the impossible calendar is wild, but being a little late, or moving something to a later date, is not the end.
But when you work with people, they’re not replaceable. Each is unique, special, valuable, and to be treated as such.
We completely get those sports stories about people who are at training an hour early, and do twice the work just to make the team. As we trawl over every data point looking for explanations, or every page of facilitation plans, or every word of a culture review, no matter the time of day or night, it matters. It all matters. And every hour of preparation or planning, could make the difference, or bring the most critical insight to light.
Do we have our critics?
We’re sure we do. Of course, we do. Because that’s human too.
If you want to work to make a difference – particularly if you want to do things differently and change age old conversations and practices, as we certainly do – you must put your head above the wall. You must step up. And this is Australia, after all – we love to bring people down a few notches – to keep things real.
We look at culture of teams and organisations as systems. People are used to a ‘’win/lose’ scorecard, but understanding a system is both harder and more important.
It’s not ‘good or bad’, but ‘as good as it can possibly be’, or ‘out-performing’ everyone else trying to do the same thing.
Work – whatever your business – finance, food delivery, moviemaking, elite sports, scientific engineering, telecommunication – is complex, complicated, under threat from competitors and societal expectations, and everything is changing, all the time.
So, when you get to culture and leadership, there is obviously no perfect culture and no perfect leader. You simply must be as clear as you can be on who you need to be (strategy and ambition), who you are (data), what strengths and opportunities you’ve got to play to, and what areas you’ll need to step up and improve. Frankly, you need to be as good as you can possibly be, as often as you can possibly be.
That’s not a ‘high/low score’, that’s a culture map. A deep appreciation of who you are and can be. And a big ambition around where you go next, along with a courageous, vulnerable yet tightly aligned plan of what to do next. And a fierce determination to work with the best efforts of every single person on your team for every single person you’re working for.
That is culture work.
Not a high/low score, but how the system can align and work together.
That is people and leadership work. Not a ‘let me tell you how far short you fall’, but let me work with you to play your best – individually and collectively.
Why do we love what we do?
Because it matters.
Because people matter.
Because business is business, but its impact on people, by people, means everything.
And that’s a gift of work to do.
To find an individual you can offer to listen to, and in doing so, ensure they’re heard.
To find a measurement that shows possibility or potential to be better.
To work with a leader who deeply cares about their team and their customers, and wants to step out and make difference.
To resolve a conflict, that sees everyone go home whole.
To work alongside a team, who are serious about being the best, and standing together to change everything.
To support a founder who believes there is a better way.
All of it matters.
We’re only ever a small part a of team, or an organisation. They have their own work, and purpose, which we always grow to understand and love.
But in some small way, if we can make a difference to the opportunity, person, team or organisation we’ve been invited to, then that’s well worth making.
And that’s why we love what we do.