Memory, empathy & the pathway forward.

It’s said that every time you recall something you change the memory. So in fact our memories are never an accurate reflection of what happened, precisely. They a version of our truth, but not the ultimate truth. It becomes the story that we tell ourselves; not the reality to which we have experienced.

But the abstract connection with reality doesn’t lessen the impact of the story (or the memory) on us as people. So that’s where it get’s complicated.

If this is indeed all true, then challenges we face at work (or in any part of our lives) to resolve conflict and come to a common understanding of a situation can seem impossible. How do we reconcile two stories that while similar, are nuanced with slight differences?

I’ve sat in what I call the middle of the table, between a manager and employee; listening to two people argue about essentially the same thing, searching for the pathway forward.

The pathway forward would be easier, had the relationship been founded in empathy and compassion, long before the conversation being had in that moment.

A foundation where there is a common understanding that each of us are unique individuals battered and bruised in someway by life’s daily joys and turmoil. That while we see things differently, different isn’t bad. Where we are compassionate enough to recognise intensity of emotions and feel safe enough to know that when there is a problem to overcome, that we ourselves are not the problem. It’s not about blame – it’s about understanding.

We all come with a story. The story we have crafted for ourselves about our life which casts a shadow or a light over every interaction we have.

Understanding that there is another side to the coin, a blind spot, a perspective that we can’t see – having the patience to hear it and explore it.. well that’s the pathway to a better relationship – with whoever is on the other side of the table.

** If you’re feeling like some brain food, this video about Empathy vs Sympathy is one I find particularly insightful.

This blog post from Seth Godin is also intriguing when it comes to exploring our inner narrative.

This article in the New Yorker is longer form and explores memory even further and its connection to emotional responses.

Image credit: Nancy Kamergorodsky

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You’re complacent and that’s why your engagement sucks

Employee engagement is endlessly chatted about; as a HR professional I find myself in a constant chatter about how we can “move the dial” on employee engagement results. How do we get people to “live the values” and feel connected to their work. Then come the ideas about wellness and team building – activities HR can roll out in the hopes of making people feel better about their work.

But this is only one of the many components and until we get that then we are going to go in circles. Engagement comes in three parts and it’s the third part that for the most part we can all say, we arn’t so great at..

Hygiene

You need to pay people accurately, administer their entitlements and keep them safe. If you don’t do this (or have some focus on improving these areas) then what the hell are you doing.. Seriously, why are you in business?

Team

You need to give people a sense of shared purpose and connection – not because HR said so, but because let’s get real people like to know what the heck they are doing and why

Teams need to get along, understand what they are doing and why it is important. You need to hire the right people, have sound people and task managers (note I mention ‘sound’ you don’t need the worlds best leaders, just people who arn’t evil and want to be good at their job).

Individual

Okay, this is where we become unstuck. This is about the one-on-one interactions with team members by managers. These interactions are more that task driven directions, it’s about reverse engineering motivations to get what you need out of that person. This isn’t soft and fluffy. This is legit – if you know what someone wants, what they value you will get more out of them.

If Sally has 5 kids and it means a lot to her to be able to leave at 4.30pm during the holidays and you make that happen for her, then you have won the type of loyalty money can’t buy. You provide her with the benefit and then you engineer to get something in return, maybe it’s discretionary effort on a project.

If Jenny is just motivated to grind away and get a promotion, then early finishes don’t mean anything to her, she wants coaching and stretch assignments – so you get her to help you on a project you are stretched to complete.

You’ve got to know what people actually want. Often it’s not things, it’s an experience. It’s cheap as chips, but it takes time and attention and that’s what we don’t have enough of.

How do we get managers to give it time and attention?

Senior managers, HR whoever it is for you need to engineer a workplace where it is natural for the time and attention to be spent in that way. That’s pretty broad, but an example is roping it into a performance review / management framework. You can’t guarantee  that they are going to execute, but you have created the attention and time for it to take place, so you are halfway there.

How do I get managers to reverse engineer motivation?

Ask you managers to go on a treasure hunt. Over a month or two they need to find what motivates each employee (that directly reports to them) within their team. Then phase two is workshopping how they can use that to their advantage. It’s not overly complicated, but it requires time and attention, the two things we are really short on these days.

What about my corporate wellness program?

Nothing wrong with that, it’s a tool, a branding opportunity, seeing how common it is, it’s almost a hygiene factor these days – we expect it. Discounted health insurance and memberships show you ‘care’ enough to have them, but not all people get a kick out of it, it’s not an individual you get me program. So don’t toss it, you need it, it’s just not going to solve anything overnight.

 

The below diagram sums up my feelings on the topic at midnight last night. 

IMG_2942

You can’t sit with us anymore – giving people the boot. 

Sometimes people turn into sour grapes. They start shiny, they are amazing but it goes to sh%*. Maybe it was you, maybe it was them. 

Whatever the case the fit is all wrong and it’s time for them to move on.They are miserable, you are grumpy – but they aren’t a terrible performer. What do you do? You can’t fire someone for having a “bad attitude” that’s not really substantial.

You start to see the writing on the wall, the manager is getting more hands on, said grumpy employee gets the point and eventually, one way or another the employee departs or sabotages their own opportunities.
Everyone is left with a bad taste in their mouth.

What if we helped people to leave, what if that was the norm. What if we had services internally which allowed people to confidentially access career coaching in a broader sense.

They could get reasonable flexibility to go to interviews, free resume feedback, interview coaching and LinkedIn advice.

What if we were honest and said “yknow what, you hate it here, I can see it in everything you do, so let us help you leave before it goes down a path that neither of us want to be a part of”.

This isn’t revolutionary, I believe company’s who are a bit more forward thinking have similar programs. I want to know why it isn’t the norm.

Nobody wants to work with people who don’t want to be there. So why not give them the option to leave, help them do so. It might even turn around people who realise the grass isn’t greener.

Managers spend a lot of time “managing out poor performers” – why don’t we just call a spade a spade?

Do you need a uniform policy?

Uniform policies for me fall somewhere in-between the policies I really think you need and the completely useless fear driven policies. I started in the working world within a quick service giant and worked my way through to becoming a Store Manager, so I feel I know first hand the pain and agony implementing this policy. Working with Team Members who are in their teens, constantly telling them to do their top button up, tuck their hair up, wear the right shoes, taking out their piercings was a daily part of the job as was the passive aggression they exuded after you told them no.

At the end of the day, I didn’t really mind if they had multiple ear piercings or blue hair. If they were excellent team players friendly to customers and looked showered and tidy, I was just like, yeah cool – I’ve got better things to do. Then my Operations Manager would come for a site inspection and I would see on my action list “address blah’s appearance, has a visible tattoo”. ehhhhhhhhhh.

I think in the grand scheme of business issues uniform adherence is not something I rate highly, as in it’s not a conversation I have much time for. It’s a simple a conversation I want to exit quickly. I don’t want to sit there discussing how you feel about a specific part of company uniform – just do it, you accepted the job, it’s not exactly a surprise that we have dress standards. If you genuinely have no idea what I mean when I say professional dress I am more than happy to go to google and show you pictures. Every minute we discuss uniforms is a minute I can’t spend on developing tools and systems to help you develop your career or have access to great benefits.

Are you creating a policy because you are too awkward to talk to that one person in that one site….

…..so you have declared WE NEED A POLICY (so you can hand it to them and they will subtly get the hint), that’s what is comes down to. I am struggling to have a human to human conversation so allow me to get my A4 paper to navigate these tough waters. Maybe that the purpose of a policy is to help you have those discussions, but too often we throw down the policy in place of the conversation….

Is it enough to just say “employees are expected to dress professionally and managers may provide feedback on your appearance in line with brand standards”. Should you just have a couple of pictures of role model employees in uniform with a blurb in the handbook.

The more prescriptive you make the policy the more you have to police it. When drafting a policy I would think about your brand and your customers. Who are your customers? Are you high-end or down to earth? Are they going to be offended by an arm tattoo? Would you benefit from company issued compete uniforms? Is blue hair the end of the world? Most of the time people will do the right thing, we spend a lot of time policing the 1% hmmm……..