“A grapefruit is a lemon that had a chance and took advantage of it.” – Oscar Wilde
Wind was blowing the hot-air balloons southwards. I couldn’t tell if they were in front or behind the city skyline, but as I ran towards the view, I tried to disassociate my cadence with their imperturbable glide. Who was moving faster? Then there it was. Dawn. Radiant yellow shards sliced through cloud, glanced off glass & steel, bounced off the grey mirror of Hobson’s Bay, backlit the far-away balloons. All abstract thoughts of angles, distance, speed & movement scattered, and my mind – and heart – embraced the beauty of what was occurring. At that moment I rounded a bend on the coastal path. There, crouched, with one eye squeezed shut and the other soldered to the lens of his SLR camera, was an old, bearded man. “Lovely, isn’t it?”, I wheezed. He looked around, smiled, and said, “Yeah, it’s perfect.”
The old man was right. It was perfect. I spent the rest of my run thinking about that. When everything is in alignment, when the timing is right, when the highest and best outcome is achieved. About what draws random elements together, about environmental conditions, about what propels people to be in a certain place. About shared human connection. About moments. About what matters. About – above all – how simplicity delivers perfect moments.
Out of that I formed a new notion about peer-to-peer learning, without experiencing cognitive overload. I’ll share where that notion takes me in the next few weeks, but how that will look is somewhat out of my hands right now. This is because I’ve been experiencing the change of a corporate restructure lately. Due to that uncertainty, I’ve tried extra hard to maintain the positive habits I have at home. That is why I made damn sure I got up early yesterday for my Saturday morning run. Early enough to greet the dawn. Early enough to share the fleeting, perfect moment with the old man. That was enough to refuel my spiritual energy and the belief in my overall path.
When the restructure was announced at work, I wasn’t surprised. It had been 3 years since the last big one. Disruptive market forces in banking have poked the slumbering bears. We had recruited a new person to head up HR several months prior, with a stated mandate for strategic change. It was coming. Even so, a lot of people seek to work at banks (and often stay a long time, like I have) for the perceived stability. The first wave a few months ago shook people up. I felt upset for a couple of days too, because I had to feel what I felt.
In recent times I have written about my darkness through failure , my times of depression , my inability to say no ; doing so has been catharsis as much as a line in the sand to be better than that. I’ve worked hard on myself through it, knowing that progress would only really show when I was put under imposed emotional duress once again. Like now.
I’m proud to say I have got on with it. In fact, I felt I had no choice now but to be deliberately aware, have deliberate actions and use deliberate words. Up to the limits of my mental health, and beyond that too, I’m accountable for how I carry myself. I’ve grown to really want to own it. So here is what I have labelled that:
- A tendency to do something or to change.
OK, OK… I just invented a word! Judge that if you need to, you are fully entitled to. But how do I have the temerity? Well, I took ‘inertia’ and dropped the two letters that were somewhat holding it back. And in doing so, I have demonstrated exactly what ertia is all about. Here is what it is all about in the context of my life within an imminent restructure.
I’m barrelling into the change with momentum of self-development. The last restructure I went through in 2013 shook me up so much that I decided to move cities . The right decision, just made in a moment of panic-induced clarity. Limbo, then akimbo, then a grasp for direction where there had been none. This time, I’ve had a long-term development plan: continuously iterated and welded to utility. Through embracing learning amidst ambiguity, I’ve been achieving new things that have built my confidence: helping organise a conference , innovating learning programs and learning from failure. My professional direction will certainly be re-oriented, because the infrastructure that currently gives opportunity for me to be useful is changing; I may or may not be a part of that too. But whatever capacity I next get to be useful in, I will cannon into that opportunity with some serious heat.
I’m processing my anxieties healthily. In part, good corporate practice in a restructure means to be as fair and equitable as possible in communicating the change. I’m lucky where I work that there has been a long-standing policy of telling people individually that their role is redundant, before a broader communication goes out. So I used my memory of the process to prepare for the meeting with my ‘Head Of’ to hear the news: I wrote down a page of my ‘truths’ before I went in. What I am good at. What I love doing. What I have achieved. What I was feeling. What my questions were. I then read it silently back, and asked myself coaching questions from the position of an interested observer. Where am I on Bridges’ Phases of Transition? How are other people around me dealing with everything? What can I do to help them? What opportunities might present? I knew processes like this work (regardless of me feeling it wasn’t the right timing to engage others’ help with implementing them with me). As a result in that meeting, I was calm, present and asking about how my peers were taking the news. That made my Head Of’s job easier too.
Understanding and articulating my priorities has allowed my values to guide my decisions. This I can control. I am priority number one, my loved ones are number two, my communities are number three and everything else is number four. No guilt. Clarity has come from self-reflection and paying attention to the gift of feedback. I now know who I am, I know why I am here and I know what I stand for. The company I keep is reflective of what I stand for as a person. Any ethical conflict I experience tends to be transient, simply because the clarity gives best opportunity for my courage to come forth. Not a guarantee of that, but better chances of it happening. Added up, this means a basis for strength.
I’ve forgiven myself for my inevitable wobbly moments. A few weeks ago I went with some colleagues to lunch, and in their trusted company, I let off some steam about the continuing ambiguity. It was healthy to do that, but my words were pretty negative. I knew that, I reflected on that, and a few days later I proactively acknowledged and apologised for that to everyone I went to lunch with. It was hard, because I stuffed up behaviourally at a time when doing that has a magnified effect on others, and when it is easy to feel like your behaviour matters even more to your immediate professional fate. But I needed to allow myself to move on, and know that I maintained my peers’ respect.
I’ve continued taking worthwhile risks by trying new experiences. In the last month I’ve run a few career and business writing sessions for our African Australian intern program; in the process building my cultural awareness. Also I’m readying to help in a couple of weeks at an innovation jam for some not-for-profits, and put my process facilitation skills to the test in the relative unfamiliarity of pure human centric design (HCD). Lastly, at an Unconference two weeks ago, I took a chance to run a session at such an event for the first time.
My topic was the necessity for leaders to have facilitation skills, within the Unconference’s remit of culture and inclusion. I hadn’t planned anything, but did it on a whim where I backed my strengths, skill, experience and knowledge to add to the day. It felt good, people said they found it useful and I felt a greater sense of belonging in the ‘culture world’ as a result. If I had clocked off professionally lately, I wouldn’t be learning much at all, and contributing little more.
I’m generating, embracing and perpetuating ideas to help bring myself and others through the change. This is a deliberate action for many reasons. Ideas are things that can be grabbed and twisted; they can cast a long shadow for people in fear. Then again, anything can, not just ideas. But put forward the right way, ideas can shine a longer light than that shadow of fear. This is done by using the language of hope, showing that ideas are welcome & important and inviting everyone to join in. Collaborative ideation is something I do, so I can trust myself to be consciously competent enough to not hurt people in the process. That is why I’ve done something really different: setting up a big pop-up map of a conceptual holistic future learning strategy. It has been in a glassed walled room in our major office for 4 weeks, set up as a HCD-ish ‘walkthrough’ where anyone can add their thoughts & questions. Involvement has been narrated through a dedicated yammer thread so everyone around Australia can get involved, and the outcomes are building daily. It isn’t to come up with the new strategy, just to help. I’ve been sitting in the room whenever I can to listen to people about their ideas; and then show their voice matters to building what might be, positively and future-focused. The map has stimulated curiosity in many people. No-one asked me to do it, and no-one has asked me to stop. It is something, but is not everything. If people have asked me why, I have told them. Despite the rational basis, it IS different, so I’ve had many moments of self-doubt about going out on a limb. But I’ve eaten those moments when they’ve come.
I’m constantly needing and chasing perspective. I still volunteer every Friday at the Big Issue, and I still talk to my marathon coach Gary a few times a week. I’m really fortunate to get to hang out with these people. My time with them feels so much more real because they are themselves, and they don’t wear masks very often. Those of you still reading this, but sitting back thinking ‘this guy is only going through a restructure, for God’s sake!’; well, you are right. Being in the corporate bubble for too long uninterrupted can be dangerous, because there are so many masks people can wear (mainly status-driven). On a Thursday afternoon, I’m so wrapped up in myself, and the mind-boggling importance of my work, that I can miss the other REALLY important things going on. By Friday afternoon though, I’m back and I’m grounded.
I’ve kept working out loud (WOL), but mainly for my peeps at work. I haven’t cut a blog post here for 6 weeks, because I’ve focussed my WOL-ling on our closed-in Yammer network. I WOL selfishly so I can make sense of things in the process on writing; I share because it might be useful to someone. I WOL at work in the guise of a community manager (around facilitation skills and career development), as a story-teller (through back-channelling events mainly) and as a peer (for absolutely everything else). The most important thing about maintaining that through my department’s period of enhanced ambiguity has been in showing that we still care about our employees & customers and we are still open for business. To my peers, it is a way of me indirectly saying ‘Hey, what we do is worthwhile, don’t forget that. Be proud of what we do and how we go about it.’ It is also a way of endorsing WOL as a way of working that isn’t driven by a fad, or circumstances, it is just a permanently better way of working.
I’ve been clear on where I can add the most value. A restructure is really hard on the leaders too, and that is often forgotten. They need to personally deal with the change, on top of having to take on the anxieties of everyone else. They need to call people on leave to tell them the news, they need to communicate carefully to bring people along gently, and they need to work out who stays, who goes & who moves where. I know, because my first people leadership gig 15 years ago was leading a team of my former peers straight after a seismic restructure. So, the best thing I can do now to help these leaders, is to give clarity on where I would best fit – from my viewpoint – in the new structure. There’s no guarantee that fits their combined view, and that is OK. I don’t know all that they know about the new strategy. But in ambiguity, you take all the clarity you can get, right? So by working really hard to envisage where my strengths and passions would generate the most personal engagement, I’ve been able to give those leaders a good basis to work out if what I bring will strengthen a team or not.
I get the anxiety those around me may have been feeling, because I feel it myself. We will find out soon what our immediate professional futures look like. I may or may not get what I expressed interest in, in fact I may or may not get to stay with the company that I have grown up in. What I feared in the restructure three years ago was losing my identity. What I worry about now is missing out on being part of something new and transformative. But whatever way this goes, I will be strong, I will have momentum and I won’t lose myself through it. Ertia.