Rainbow socks & the Big Issue.
Yes, that is me standing in rainbow socks and thongs! The photo was taken at Christmas last year, with family. It felt good to do something oddball like that; the people in that room value me for who I am, and we shared a great laugh. The present came from the staff at the Big Issue; I had promised to not open it until Christmas. I sent the photo to them that day. I can be myself with family and I can be myself when volunteering with the Big Issue.
They are an inclusive, supportive employer. Firstly, every vendor has made an independent choice to stand on the street, spruik the magazine and meet the behavioural expectations. They may be current addicts, homeless, have mental health issues or a physical impairment. Expectations are the same for all, as are the opportunities. Sometimes vendors need to work as forces in their life push them further down the spiral. In this situation when they are trying to hold it together, it means the Big Issue office staff being patient, understanding and accommodating to allow necessary self-expression to happen. The ability to express who they are – without having to forfeit their opportunity to obtain dignity from meaningful work – is fundamental. Happily though, most vendors are on the upswing. One has just backed himself to make his own cups of coffee, another made her stand-up comedy debut on the weekend. When successes like this happen – no matter how relative – they are publicly & privately celebrated, sometimes even published in the magazine. I’m grateful to get to be a part of all that.
So every Friday lunchtime, I catch the tram back from the Big Issue and go straight into corporate life again, always with a different perspective and having learnt something. Last Friday when I did that, two requests were in my email.
Request 1: Could I consider participating with a seed post on Yammer in a viral campaign for our new Employee Value Proposition? My answer: Yes, I’ll post my sock picture on Yammer.
Request 2: Could I make sure I have my life-on-a-page presentation ready for my team off-site on Monday? My answer: I’ll do that with a blog post.
Weird answers? Definitely. Deliberate? Yes. Why? Because when you are supported at work to take risks and grow, concepts like status, tenure and money can come second to achieving fulfilment and flow. And there is an opportunity to get that happening more where I work, right now.
The corporate environment of personal growth.
A business is never static. A business is people, all moving. Sometimes, if the people around you are heading in a different direction to you, you can escape their glare for long enough to breathe and enact your own change. When they bring their gaze back on you, you can look forward to that re-engagement. You can only grow so much though without bringing others along for the ride. The idea of being yourself all the time – so committing to uninterrupted personal growth – only works if you are comfortable with personal change in that glare, that gaze. Carol Dweck’s ‘Growth Mindset” goes close to defining that. It is no accident that our business bankers have embraced a new learning program based on this philosophy. They succeed, fail and grow, alongside our customers. Crucially too, this program has been a headwind for similar, bigger mindset change initiatives for our entire company.
We’ve had a new CEO for almost a year. Time enough for him to stamp his mark; time enough too for our HR area to interpret all that into new strategy, skills frameworks, corporate values, capability frameworks, and more. Historically all these things have been complicated and unconnected, meaning our staff find them confusing and inaccessible. So right now, renewing all these things at the same time into a simple, integrated solution makes so much sense. The best thing is people will have enough oxygen to interpret them for themselves, to ascribe some meaning. Amongst the changes, the employee value proposition (EVP):
“Be you, become more.”
My interpretation of this, ad verbatim, that I posted on Yammer when I first saw the new EVP on Friday:
“…if you are yourself, it is without the burden of wearing a mask, without the protection of that too… you are you, warts and all. You can’t help but be self-aware then, and that is where growth starts. People can appreciate you for what you add to their lives and what makes you special. People feel comfortable to give you feedback because you are open. You can use that to make your own decisions about your own development. You own it. Internal demons are stared down. Confidence grows. You help more people than before. Performance happens. Potential is exceeded. Others get inspired. It becomes culture.”
I wrote that in one go and I published it immediately. It was a gush, I acknowledge, however it represents how I feel and what it meant to me. I was excited and I didn’t fret over how it could be cynically viewed, even though I know it could be. It is more important to me that I stimulate thought and contribute to the discussion. Maybe people will like it too. Being yourself has historically been seen as a frequently career-limiting-move; this new EVP is making that part of the employee strategy, and giving it bold legitimacy.
Beyond what will be the official strategic view, posting like this is actually not as strange as it seems, and is done a fair bit. For instance, there are hundreds of people where I work who express their full self (or close enough to it) on our Yammer. They are heroes for doing that. There have been a handful of people actively blog externally while working here too and they are bigger heroes. I’ve read their posts, drawn strength, and tried it myself. I’ve learnt out loud for 2 years, right here at freefacilitator.com. My failures aired, the great work of my teams shared, stories from my community put forth, my IP given to whoever wants it, my tentative steps at thought-leadership in my chosen fields. I’ve narrated my growth honestly, and it has felt pretty epic.
So is my company ready to support their staff to “Be You, Become More”? I think so. For instance, I’ve never been censured for having this blog and in fact I’ve been frequently supported. The range of reaction has been curiosity about my motivation, through to gratitude for the posts helping people in different ways. I would love nothing more than for thousands of my colleagues to have their own blog where they discuss the role their work plays in their lives and communities. We are getting closer to the truly open workplace culture that exists at the Big Issue. Tomorrow at the off-site, in my colourful socks, I’ll read this post out loud in front of my team and continue that progress locally.