Solutions are sometimes so simple. Today my boss and I solved what can only be described as five months of pain, hurt disillusionment and despair with a simple analogy of an ice cream shop. I described to him what was going on felt like I was the kid with the parent being told “we are going to the ice cream shop”, “we’re really going this time”, “okay – this time we’re going to the ice cream shop”. Instead, I would prefer if I was told that we weren’t going to the ice cream shop at all rather than be told we were, only to never arrive. The next words out of his mouth made me feel the happiest in the workplace I have in the last five months! He said:
Mel, we are never going to the ice cream shop
With those words went all my stress, worry and concerns. I let go of what I’d been holding onto and I was then able to engage in a positive way to move forward. The most amazing thing of all this of course is that this afternoon in a completely different meeting, with a wonderful group of academics, we were talking about issues and solutions. I was then able to discuss solutions with them with the mind set of no ice cream shop. That meant I could see options like the candy, pie, and chocolate shop instead (or even the fruit shop at a push). Now I know there is no ice cream, I don’t want it. I just want everything else!
Throughout my working life I have changed jobs on average every 18 months. My dad is concerned by this as he comes from the generation of having a job for life. I’m concerned about it because it makes me reflect on my attributes in the workplace. Why do I change jobs? What motivates me? Well, sometimes I change because I get tapped on the shoulder for a really cool job. Happened a bit in the public service but not so much now. Mostly though I change jobs because I get tired of banging my head against the wall. But what if I worked with the wall instead?
What if I could assess the wall, consider it, identify points of weakness and then slowly chip away. What if over time I could coax, coerce, convince that wall to go away? Now, that would be very cool.
So what attributes in the workplace do I need to make that happen? The greatest is probably patience I’m thinking. For those of you who know me, you know that’s a big ask. But I have been on a path of self improvement lately, maybe I could have another a go at attacking this wall. Alternatively maybe I should just go.
I’m not sure, and I think someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to recall it was Ronald Reagan who said “It’s the economy, stupid” (yes I’m too lazy this morning to google it….). Reagan’s point from my perspective, was that it was so blindingly obvious that the financial situation matters that it was worth calling people stupid if they weren’t understanding it. Basically, it meant that people who didn’t get it, would say they did, just to not get called stupid.
Yesterday afternoon I was struck that in my workplace it’s about incentives. Some wonderful people in my workplace are being told they aren’t good enough because they haven’t met the perverse markers in the performance structure because they publish in books not journals, or the edit journals and books instead of authoring or they contribute actively to the community around them with their research instead of the formalised educational structures. They are also innovative teachers. So, they are basically being punished for not being in an ivory tower and being innovative teachers.
People talk about incentives for workforces all the time, and yet, they do not understand the behaviour it engenders. They are stupid pretending to understand so as not to be left out. But seriously, when effective staff members start to leave in droves, all I can say is, “It’s the incentives, stupid.”
This was what my Grandpapa said to me when I quit history at school in Year 8. Turns out he was right, but only a little right. History at school sucked, but history when exploring it off your own bat and with your own focus is, enlightening.
I had a meeting last week where I again sought a documented structure of some sort and I was told that structure wasn’t needed, but flexibility. I wasn’t well placed to have the discussion about how a good structure, thought through in line with business outcomes, and risk considerations actually provides more flexibility to an organisation not less. The reason it does this is because clarity of roles and responsibilities frees people from worry and provides them time to be creative and flexible in the work they do. Of course, I really wish I had said all that, but you know, life goes on.
How does this tie to history I hear you ask (well I don’t, but just go with it). Today I’m reading a document from 1957 and it states: “Such bewilderment and frustration is most harmful to the life and work of a university.” it goes on to discuss that the work of a university relies on the individual and if the individual is frustrated then there is no good work to be done. “If the staff are not full of life and determination in this way, nothing that the Senate of Vice-Chancellor can do will make the university work very much as a university.” These comments in the Murray Report relate to managing the balance in administration and academia.
So that’s how my meeting on Thursday links to history. It links because 57 years ago there was a review document that changed higher education legislation detailing the value of non-frustrated staff but here we are today, frustrated. Thanks Grandpapa, you were right, I should have stuck at history because it makes the joke funnier. After all if you don’t laugh….