Faking it – the negative impact of masking resilience

Resilience is often defined as the ability or process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy or threats of significant sources of stress. This does not mean the person does not experience difficulty or distress, it simply means they have developed and practiced techniques with a mindset that allows them to create a more balanced approach to challenging times.

What if the challenge to overcome is not as obvious as a direct trauma or tragedy, one that does not happen in an instant? What if this adversity cannot clearly be seen by others in order to know that this individual requires support? What if this stressor is a constant and slowly eroding the individual’s confidence and ability to manage the increasing demands on both their personal and work lives?

The reality of many business leaders is that this adversity goes undetected, as they have found a different form of resilience in the art of masking. They are sending core messages to their community that ‘I got this and I am Ok’. At the heart of all resilience sits mechanisms for protection against the experiences, which could be overwhelming. These could either be positive, allowing the leader a more sustainable outcome, or a company mask that eventually becomes too heavy to maintain.

Let’s be real for a minute and just stop and look at all the pressure that is put on us by external and internal forces. The pace of business and technology, the needs of both stakeholders and the team and this is not even touching on all that is happening in our personal lives. It is so important to acknowledge, understand and manage the factors that cause us to feel so overwhelmed and stressed at work. We need to stop and be honest as truly resilient people are aware of the impact that situations, their emotional reaction and the behaviours others have on them.

In my research, for our upcoming Resilience workshop, I found countless similar definitions and lists of character traits on the topic time and time again. I struggle to find anything on what I call resilience masking traits – where a leader appears to be busy, active and connected, but when you look closely and with empathy, you can begin to see that they are secretly manifesting signs of a need for assistance and support.

If unmanaged these can have extremely negative effects on the individual, the team that they manage and also the overall success of the company and culture that they represent. It often stems from an inherent lack of confidence or ability to perform in the role, and in this their inability to ask for help. Here are three negative factors that will increasingly become more evident as a leader’s ability to cope with the hidden pressures unravels.

Health:

Work-related stress is what you feel when you have demands at work that exceed your ability to cope. A little stress can also be exhilarating if it is in your sphere of ability to overcome and you are practicing healthy resilience techniques. In the case of leaders that are outside this sphere and masking that ‘they are ok’, then stress levels increase exponentially. This will not only have a negative impact on their mental health but also begin to manifest into physical signs. Either way, the individual will show early warning signs that they are struggling in silence.

Masking is exhausting and hence begins to break down the body’s immune system and ability to reach a healthy state of relaxation. The physical implications of negative or undetected stress from being overwhelmed are staggering and can slowly erode a leader’s ability to perform effectively. Mood changes such as irritability, overt negativity about others or situations or a false sense of positivity can all be signs that the leader is struggling to be their authentic self.

This can lead to lack of sleep, poor diet, increased alcohol consumption which then, in turn, leads to more of the same as the mask becomes heavier and harder to maintain. This lack of balance and sense of freedom to be in flow means that they are always on the move and what I call ‘busy being busy’, showing their team evidence that they are ‘on it’. Maintaining this false sense of power and status adds to more continued stress and hence further health problems.

Risk Taking:

Following on from a breakdown in a healthy mind and body comes a leader’s inability to make key decisions. This kind of risk-taking is not to be confused with being risky or taking unnecessary chances, as to be a great leader one must be prepared to take risks and make decisions that do not yet have a proven outcome. Leaders are ultimately judged on the results that they deliver and when masking resilience these leaders often get stuck in a state of just treading water and always remaining in planning mode.

Risk taking can be defined simply as undertaking a task in which there is a lack of certainty. The problem at the core of risk-taking is fear; fear of failure, fear of standing out and being noticed and fear that they will show a lack of knowledge. A resilient leader’s success is about finding different solutions to long-standing issues that are getting in the way of results. For many leaders, the lack of risk-taking means that they try to keep things the same even if it is not to the advantage of the team or the organisation.

In their inability to transform, one of the keys signs of leaders masking resilience is to always be in a meeting. It is in these meetings where they often forge relationships with other leaders who share a similar lack of confidence masked as resilience. Hence, together they develop their own support network that further supports their own belief that they are being resilient and working effectively. If you are seen to always be busy then that is what hard work looks like, and the need to make a decision becomes lessened. However, this creates a knock-on effect as the culture around them begins to erode and the demands on them to perform increases. The ultimate catch 22…

Relationships:

Factors that lead to healthy resilience at work include the ability to stay balanced, focusing on positivity, managing difficult emotions, forward thinking and the building of a strong and supportive community. It is with these factors that a resilient leader manages their environment in a manner that decreases the actual stressor. It is here that resilience becomes a way of working not only by the leader but also within the team that they support.

In the case of a leader that is masking resilience, they increasingly find difficulty in building relationships built on trust and integrity. It is here that the law of attraction applies, as they tend to surround themselves with others who lack the ability to take risks and they find solace in the negativity of others. Together they can support each other’s belief that their inability to perform must be based on external factors and therefore there is no need to take personal responsibility. This can give some comfort in the short term; however, it does mean that they begin to neglect their core duty as a leader and with this increases the poor performance of others.

As the pressure begins to increase often leaders masking resilience will begin to extradite themselves from their core duties and direct relationships with their successful peers and team. The unconscious fear of being a fraud builds up as more pressure is added and the mental and physical signs of stress further manifest. It is like a house of cards ready to fall and the individual struggles to ask for help, as in their mind, this will be a sign of weakness. To balance this they often put additional stress on the team to perform and this further demonstrates what they believe leadership looks like.

In summary, the first step to any recovery is admitting that you need help and ‘so what?’ – We all need help from time to time. It is that fact that makes us human and in the art of humility sits greatness. This ability fuels not only our own resilience but also the foundation for healthy and honest relationships that surround us. The role of a leader is complex and can be very stressful as our workplace demands increase. Hence, that is why resilience is a key component that must be addressed if organisations are to build healthy and supportive workplace cultures.

Someone recently asked me if resilience is considered a personal value and after some deep consideration, I believe it is. Resilience can be learned, acquired and deeply honed through conscious decision-making and observation hence it requires an individual to be present and with a purpose to strive forward. This is why I believe that resilience is the foundation of great leaders – not for self-preservation but so that they can be strong during times of challenge for others.

The role of great leaders is a delicate balance between protecting the team from adversity and letting them experience their own challenges and in so developing their own resilience.

 

Dale Smith
Creative Director

 

There is still some space on Bridge’s Resilience open workshop on Tuesday 9th October; see more here and contact Bridge to book on!

 

What is resilience and where can I get it?

How do leaders maintain a level of resilience during times of change?

In preparation for our upcoming resilience workshop on 9th October, I have immersed myself in the topic of resilience.  Having interviewed several people over the last few days it keeps coming back to the early work Bridge did on leadership with ‘are leaders born or are they made?’  This age-old question has been asked by many people over time. And to those who have a keen interest in EI and NLP, the answer is simple: Both. 

This same question applies to resilience. Some individuals seem to have an inherent ability to overcome challenges, change and sometimes even turbulence much easier and faster than others. In the study of great leaders, that seem to have this superpower, it is important to really get under the skin and find out just how they do it.  Clearly, they must have either conscious or unconscious techniques that they draw on to assist in their ability to overcome life stressors.

I believe that when it comes to ‘Resilience’, it is important to look for those people that possess this gift.  Look closely at their behaviour, listen to their language and take time to ask them deeper questions on how they see and manage their world.  I used to think that to be resilient meant that you just need to toughen up, roll with the punches, be positive, and just embrace change, as that is what others tell you. To just get on with it!

Yes, this is all true and very good advice. However, this only scratches the surface and must be supported with the ‘HOW TO’ achieve this.  For a leader to say to one of their team to just remain positive and roll with the punches during times of worry about change to the company culture and work environment, is not helpful.  This whole concept of ‘just leave it at the door’ does not promote the needed wellness in both mind and body that is required for both the leader or the team to manage our busy and complex work/life balance.

I think that resilience is something that I have been blessed with. As I delve deeper into my own level, I have to ask myself where did it come from? I do know that my mother was, and still is, a wonderful teacher and example of a person that is highly resilient in challenging times. So with this, I started to learn many of my techniques and ability for balance from an early age. It is not to say that I live in a stress-free zone and always manage this pressure perfectly, but life and study have taught me a few tricks. Here are three conscious ways that I have learned to overcome life’s challenges and embrace change with better resilience. 

Find time for yourself to recharge and refocus

Downtime is a very important part of being resilient, as we need this private space to find calm, balance and perspective. In this stillness, it allows our heart and mind to slow and with this better blood flow which is a key requirement in the support of our emotional intelligence. Over the last few months, I have taken 15 minutes at midday to do a meditation. I find my quiet space – put in my earphones and just stop. This daily ritual allows me dedicated time to just find balance in the busy day. On days when I find my resilience being tested, I may add in a second, as I believe that if required it is better to recharge than burn out.

Know your limits and when it is time to ask for help

It is too easy to just keep plugging away and pushing your limits to manage all that needs to be done in life and work. It is in this pressure cooker that sits all the stress and health risks. I often see leaders dashing from one meeting to the next and I ask: ‘Why are so many people busy trying to look busy?’ So often it stems from a lack of confidence in their own ability to manage either their role or the risk of being more active with those that they lead. I see this as a silent killer as on the surface it looks like leaders are ‘on it’ while the reality is they are burning out. It is okay – not to be okay, and it is okay to say: ‘I need help as this is more than I can take on’. It is not weakness to not know how to do something.

Live in the present and focus on your future plan

When I begin to feel that I am becoming overwhelmed by all the various challenges, I take out my notebook and do this exercise: On the left I write ‘Where am I now?’ and under this heading I list out all of my stressors, emotions and tangible things that may be impacting on my emotional state. On the right-hand side of the page, I write ‘Where do I want to be in (insert time)?’ Under this heading, I write down all the things, feelings and vision that I want in the future state. Then between these two lists, I write: ‘What am I going to do about it?’ Under this heading, I write down all the things, feelings and vision that I want in the future state. Then between these two lists, I write – what am I going to do about it. It is here that I write down all the actions, big or small, that are within my control and that I have the ability to take on. It is in this list that I find focus and my power state.

In conclusion, remember that the art of resilience sits in all of us but often takes a conscious effort. It is not just a matter of being positive on command, as this positivity is drawn from perspective and this is not a simple thing to muster when you are immersed in a world full of stress, uncertainty and challenge. For some, it appears to come more easily but for all, it is learning the masterful techniques that allow for focus and the personal power to prevail.

 

Learn more at our Resilience Workshop, 9th October 2018.

Bespoke in-house training solutions

Bridge offers bespoke, in-house training that is tailored to your specific business needs.

Topics include (but are not limited to):

  • Feedback
  • Leadership Coaching
  • Self-Awareness
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Presentation Skills
  • Customer Service
  • Communication
  • Conflict resolution
  • Dealing with difficult customers
  • Assertive communication
  • Consultative sales
  • Questioning skills
  • Listening skills
  • Resilience
  • Motivating others
  • Managing up, managing down

Our training can be provided as a one-off session, or delivered as part of a larger-scale internal campaign.

Open workshops are a great way to ‘try-before-you-buy’; suitable as a one-off training for individuals or small groups, or for managers to try in order to see if Bridge is the right fit for a larger-scale in-house training project for frontline or management staff.

For larger groups, in-house training is often more economical. Contact us for a quote.

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Authentic You – Building your Personal Brand

“You’re every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop. To start thinking like your own favorite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different?”

Tom Peters, The Brand Called You

I never wear a tie. One of Bridge’s values is “Keeping it Real and Fun” – and ditching the tie means I keep it real and relatable. I use personal stories (almost every presentation includes one about my mum) and inject humour into my facilitation and keynote addresses. By staying true to who I am, I’ve built an authentic personal brand. The more authentic your leadership brand, the greater success you’ll have when living it. Humans are drawn to real, authentic people, not made up personas, so you need to embrace this to differentiate your brand.

As a brand specialist working with across a range of industries, my work often begins with an explanation of how, at the core, all brands have a unique set of values, a vision and a personality; ideally complemented with a clear direction and purpose; much like people.

“Your brand is a perception or emotion, maintained by somebody other than you, that describes the total experience of having a relationship with you.”

David McNally & Karl D. Speak, Be your own Brand

A strong personal brand is the successful self-packaging of who you are and what you stand for: your values, beliefs and purpose, expressed by what you do, and how you do it – including how you look and how you sound. When it comes to my own personal branding, one facet of which I had not been specifically conscious was how I dress and the colours I wear, and the affect that it has on how I am perceived by others. As part of my exploration into building a leadership brand, and in pursuit of my theory that ‘businesses are driven by humans, therefore behave like humans’ I had the opportunity to spend the day with Jackie and Helen at House of Colour.

House of Colour promises to ‘help you to look fabulous and radiate confidence in the colours and shapes that suit you as an individual’; offering master classes in colour, fashion and make up. Their philosophy is that when you look amazing, that’s the real you: “Your face lights up, your eyes sparkle and everyone pays you compliments.”

My day at House of Colour was spent looking at the power of colour, clothing and accessories in building confidence and in projecting the most positive version of myself, starting with the with the colours that best suited my skin tone. As humans, we have a relationship with colour and this experience enlightened my to the way that we choose colour in demonstrating our personality, and how sometimes colour chooses us.

Above: Watch what happened during my day with House of Colour

Based on what I took away from my day at House of Colour, becoming conscious of my outward projection, I wanted to put together some quick tips on building an authentic personal brand – one that projects a positive perception to the external world.

Ask yourself why.

Firstly you need to establish why you want to define your personal brand. An exercise in building your personal brand is an exercise in self-awareness and one that all people should embark on. Are you looking to move into a new career or gain a promotion? Are you looking to master an environment in which you want more control? To understand how this brand will add value to your desired future state is very important, and this step will help you to visualise in the later steps, when you are ready to unleash your brand.

Identify Your Brand Values

Like every brand, having a core set of values is key to guiding you and ensuring your brand maintains its integrity. Remember that these values will be the support network that underpins the actions and behaviours that bring life to your brand. An authentic brand will align with your core values, so take some time in defining these.

The list of values need not be extensive, and should be manageable and a true representation, personally and professionally. For example, if ‘innovation’ is one of the values that you respect in yourself and desire from others, then put this to the test by outlining actions that will bring the value to life. Always remember that your values are yours to own and are the gifts that have been given through life’s journey.

What will be your icing on the cake?

As with all brands, it is important to recognise what will really make you stand out. What is your USP? To find this, you will need to tap into your true passion in life – what excites you? How does this passion define the unique parts of your brand?

“Differentiation is one of the biggest factors contributing to a strong and successful personal brand, and the core of finding what differentiates your brand is typically embracing something unique about yourself.”

John Hall, CEO and co-founder, Influence & Co for Inc.com

Your brand must encompass your true passion and purpose in life; embody your heart and mind and be the best reflection of you. Passion is yours to own and no one else can define this for you – so whatever it is, it helps you celebrate your uniqueness.

Look and sound the part

The devil is truly in the detail – I have seen many corporate brands miscommunicate their message or fail on execution. In corporate branding, we use terminology like ‘company voice’ to describe the way a brand sounds in its written and verbal messaging – the language it uses. For example, Coca Cola is always positive and happy, Innocent’s tone of voice is well known as laid back, playful and humorous and Mailchimp is tongue-in-cheek; whereas a government agency is more likely to use formal, easy-to-understand verbiage. The key to authenticity in your brand voice is a strong connection to your values, in written and verbal communications. When your voice is a reflection of what you believe in, it’s more likely to resonate with the people you are trying to attract.

From website design to advertising, to colour choice in a logo – it all says something about the promise and the personality of the people behind the brand. Yellow for the familiarity and warmth of McDonald’s arches; green for Starbucks’ sustainability and harmony; white for Apple’s intuitive and simple interface, purple for that luxurious, royal service of Virgin Atlantic (despite the red logo!).

Colour and emotion are intrinsically linked in both how we feel about ourselves and how the world sees us. This is no different when building your personal brand as all the choices that you make from the way you dress to the language you use plays part in the continuity and consistency of your brand projection.

Know Your Audience

Always be clear on your audience and ensure that you have enough flex in your personal brand that you can work openly with more than one audience profile. Being authentic means that you are unlikely to appeal to everyone, however you still have the ability to bring your light to a broad spectrum of people. A strong brand will naturally attract like-minded individuals, but also self-awareness will allow you to gain respect and build a connection with your audience without overpowering them with ‘100% real and authentic’ you.

Building your personal brand is not about being set in stone or having the attitude of ‘ this is how I am – take it or leave it!’ To gain self-awareness, you will need to seek out honest feedback from trusted friends, family members or advisors. In the early stages of building your personal brand, it is important that you practice humility and are prepared to take advice.

Great brands maintain a high level of self-confidence and have the ability to unite people from all different walks of life, but always remember that not everyone is your customer. It is important to stay true to yourself, and as with all clearly defined brands, your projected personality must be aligned to your unique offering.

Take Pride in your Brand Story

In the last few years, many companies have invested heavily in defining their brand story and making this the foundation for both their marketing and brand positioning. A brand story is exactly what it says on the tin – the journey that the brand has taken to reach the current state of who and where it is in its life cycle. It can be a collection of anecdotal stories that when brought together give the brand a sense of humanity.

From success to struggle, this narrative allows customers to forge a stronger connection to a virtual brand entity. This is no different when building your personal brand, in terms of having a better connection to your life journey. The stories that truly define the authentic you are the key to your sustainable success. Life has brought us all love, joy and pain; but when framed correctly, it is your unique story and one that will always make the best version of you.

Have some fun in building your leadership brand.

Learn to laugh at yourself, embrace your best qualities and be clear on your intent. All brands behave in a similar way as they share a commonality in knowing who they are and what they stand for. They are clear on the way they project their personality through each of their chosen mediums and are led by a higher purpose. Many great brands have changed the landscape of business forever, as have many individuals. So when building your personal brand, always remember that the best version of you will positively impact and influence many people. Stay true to yourself and keep your intent pure. The recipe for success sits in self-awareness, humility and bringing all of your best qualities to the forefront and sharing these openly with the world around you.

It’s ok not to be ok – The four things I learned about employee wellbeing by taking time to reconnect

The four things I learned about employee wellbeing by taking time to reconnect

by Dale Smith

Mental health and employee wellbeing is more on the agenda than ever before, but we still have a long way to go to ensure that this issue is better understood. With an estimated 137 million working days lost due to sickness or injury in the UK in 2016. From this figure, 11.5% cited mental health issues (including stress, depression, anxiety and serious conditions). This is a staggering number and one that I believe could be better supported with more awareness and prevention.

Not long ago I was fortunate enough to spend a week in Portugal at a mindfulness, meditation and yoga retreat. The objective of the retreat was to find more compassion for both self and others and it took us on a journey to a collective community of happiness and contentment. This was my first retreat and I definitely had to go with an open mind and a willingness to embrace a personal transformation. I wanted to share some of my experience in support of others who are working toward creating a wellness culture in their work environment.

The retreat began with a welcome meeting and meditation and set the tone for the week ahead. It gave all participants the information needed and an opportunity to feel comfortable with both the agenda and the community of people that we would share the experience with.

Learning #1:  Don’t forget the importance of a great induction programme, as it too plays a massive role in the way employees start their connection with the community in which they will be working. This is their first step to feeling supported and it often sets the pace as they mean to go on. Having worked on various induction programmes I have always been a huge advocate for striking a balance between a clear company overview and allowing employees to feel excited and supported by the brand. It should delve into the values of the company, give insight into the culture and community and give participants a sense of belonging.

The introduction to the retreat left us with a sense of compassion; this allows employees to experience a deeper connection with the company. This is best placed in the live environment while new starters learn their role at a pace that allows them to feel more at ease. The pressure to get things right from the offset can continue to build throughout the earlier days of employment and impact of employees’ perception going forward.

I went into those early meditations with so much work stress and chaos in my mind that I felt like I was on the verge of exploding. I pushed myself so hard to try to meditate and master it quickly, that it just added to the pressure. The harder I pushed, the further I got from achieving what I desired. It was not until I discussed this in our open group session that I realised that I was not alone and that it was okay not to be okay. The community’s support and openness allowed me to be safe in my vulnerability and gave me the reassurance that it would happen when it was right. The intent of the group was pure and in that I felt more relaxed and less pressure to succeed. From this state, success was easier.

Learning #2: Create a more open and supportive community – one where it is okay not to be okay. The retreat aimed to show individuals how to have more compassion for self in a more productive and healthy manner. The compassion of the community gave me the calm and the wiliness to relax and ride my stress wave in a very different way. Stress and depression are debilitating and a negative spiral can further exacerbate a pre-existing condition. Whether it is physical, like an unhealthy diet or lack of exercise, or mental in terms of negative thoughts and self-talk – all can be better managed with the support of others.

I feel truly blessed that I was able to take this opportunity and I am still astounded by what I achieved in such a short period of time. My ability to manage many areas of my life were positively impacted; finding a more focused and honest approach to my own emotions and stress levels.

My time at the retreat allowed me to stretch both my mind and body in new ways but it was all connected to a higher sense of purpose and support of self and the community. Days began with 8 am yoga, breakfast in silence, three hours of meditation and group work, followed by an additional 90 minutes of yoga and meditation before bed.

Learning #3: Support future work by building more high-functioning and supportive teams. Prior to the retreat, I often struggled to find the time or energy to make it to the gym or yoga class, however, within the retreat culture, I never missed one session. It was within this collective that I found the desire to find a higher sense of commitment.

I truly loved the mindfulness aspect of the week and took great solace in our breakfast in silence. This even extended to a full 24 hours of silence and ban on all communications (including verbal, physical, and technological, such as email and phones). At first, the mere thought of this challenge occurring while the team in London was caught up in a busy workweek was almost debilitating. But I made it through – and it was phenomenal. If you are ever given the chance, try it. I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Learning #4: It is impractical to think that we can run a business where we can choose to be silent for the day. However, it is not without question to introduce more mindful moments to our work life, whether that is self-led or set as a company directive by introducing sanctuary space that allows people to just be for short periods of time.

Something happened during that week that is very hard to explain, however it was clear that a transformation had taken place. I reached a state of happiness and calm and my brain was clearer than it had ever been. Emerging neuroscience reveals that following your passion and doing what you love makes you happier and stronger; mentally and emotionally – and from a chemical rather than philosophical view. Two of the brain’s most powerful neurotransmitters – dopamine and oxytocin – are connected in rewarding and reinforcing the exploration and connection required in the pursuit of passion.If I could rebalance these two chemicals to go from the stressed individual that entered the retreat to a smiling, calm content person in just a week – then just imagine what could happen if we started looking at more long-term sustainable solutions that support employees every day.

I’m not suggesting we have to go away for such an intense or extreme tune-up. If organisations made even small changes to the way they view and support the mental health of their employees, we could better the lives of many people. It could mean matching the parallels that I experienced with practical solutions: guided meditation, coaching, mindful meals, downtime sanctuaries, yoga, encouraging more exercise and healthy food in the workplace. The culture also needs to give employees the license to not always be okay, to let them know that there is a compassionate and caring organisation open and willing to support them.

Great businesses are run by great humans, and humans are at their best when they are supported by great communities.

Change or Transformation?

Engaging with the Unknown: Taking a break from it all to gain motivation.

This week, I have faced my fear of the unknown and ventured to Portugal on a mindfulness, meditation and yoga retreat. This is something that I have considered doing for years; always finding reasons not to offer myself the gift of inner awakening. However, as part of The Human Element, it is imperative that I immerse myself in new challenges with an open mind in my quest to better understand the connection between how people behave as individuals and as part of the collective of organisational culture.

Sharing my journey with 24 others, I have entered the world of collaborative working at its best. The word ‘transformation’ has been openly used, but not once have I heard discussions about ‘change’; a word that is often over-used in the world of business. The 24 individuals with whom I have shared some of my innermost thoughts are also on their own personal journeys, much like that of any company culture. What I learned early on in the week is that the secret is not needing to build something new, but tapping into the positive and powerful essence that already exists inside of us.

When I looked more closely at my own experience, I could see how leaders can be more authentic champions for transformation by drawing parallels between their own personal journeys and the organic state of all businesses. We are in the constant flux of change, but we must look to our strengths and those of employees to build a transformation narrative that embraces employee success stories.

Rolling out a ‘change programme’ in an organisation indicates that employees have been doing something wrong. Employee engagement should not be about change, but of unleashing the greatness that already exists within a company culture – a true transformation, bringing life and energy back to the organic state of the company culture. It is an opportunity to release processes and attitudes that no longer serve its employees, in their pursuit of happiness. It is also a time for the collective to work together in support of a common goal and purpose. Employees want to work for a company that they feel part of, one where they have a connection to a higher purpose.

“Businesses are driven by humans, therefore behave like humans,” has never been more true than when you delve deep into why corporate values exist. They are not a tick-in-the-box, created to keep up with other companies, or to make a great marketing statements. They are the foundation that makes a business human and should drive its projected personality and ideologies. Transformation allows all employees to come together around the values and be on a journey as one collective; and this has been at the heart of every successful engagement programme Bridge has been part of. Solutions should put real-life context to the values that employees are being asked to live as organisational citizens, in a place that the entire team can come together in a relaxed and open environment to share both successes and challenges.

An engagement programme needs to be unique to the personality of an organisation and its people, and creative learning opens minds to transform staff alongside the business. Never confuse training and transformation, simply because they both take place in a training room. Creative solutions that inspire employees must be woven into their daily lives for them to want to participate in the future of the business. At Bridge we often say that the first stage of engagement begins with having your voice heard. My advice: before you embark on any employee programme, find out what the team thinks.

Reviving Passion

The Human Element is a look at how one person’s journey through a personal transformation can shed light on the parallels between human behaviour and that organisational culture. My theory is that businesses are driven by humans, therefore behave like humans. Over 30 days, I went on a personal quest to find out just what transformation feels like. In that time I removed grains, dairy, legumes, sugar and alcohol from my diet, started an aggressive exercise regime and worked with a mindset coach. This equated to a lot of new influences, all happening at once – every day I tracked both my progress and my motivation.

This is the first in a four-part series; linking each week of my month-long transformation to a quarter in an organization going through a culture change programme. Week one’s key topics will be breaking habits, starting new challenges with an open mind, and reviving passion. The keyword that connects all three is ‘reviving’, as I was being reminded of things that I used to love; such as cooking and swimming – as well as feeling an energy that I had not felt for a while.

The Whole30 is a strict elimination diet with a no-cheat rule: failure to comply means starting the 30 days all over again. It became mandatory for me to cook to ensure compliance. Cooking was one of the things that I used to love doing, but somehow life and the ease of a ready meal took over. How often do we fall into this same pattern of behaviour in our work and career? In most cases we start our jobs with great promise and vigour, and somewhere down the line we lose passion for the role. Sometimes the simplest things that gave us pleasure are now no longer part of our lives or are done without passion.

As part of my week one insights, I tracked my daily journey and looked at several variables that were influencing my behaviour. I could clearly see the parallel between my beginning and how humans engage with most new tasks. We start a journey with stage one; what I like to call ‘Learn with Interest’. In this stage we begin our journey by taking on vast amounts of information with an open mind. Next, we move into the second stage, ‘Perfect with Desire’, where we are focused and understand what we need to learn and do to be good at our jobs. Our passion sits in, ‘Deliver with Integrity’, the third. Here we are at our best and loving it. The fourth zone, ‘Repeat with Robotics’ is where we do tasks like we have always done them, without emotion or a sense of discovery.

The Human Element project allowed me to re-enter the ‘Deliver with Integrity’ zone. It gave me a new focus and reminded me of what makes me happy in life. The key parallel here for organisational culture is how do we breathe life back into an organisation. Interestingly enough, when we run focus groups with employees and delve into what an organisation or team could be doing to help support better engagement, they often use phrases like: “We used to do that and it was great – but it just kind of fizzled out.” We know the drivers of personal happiness can be simple things like cooking or swimming, or in the case of a company, having more organised team interactions. We need these tangible activities in order for us to engage with things outside our responsibilities and duties.

Creating an employee engagement programme does not always mean reinventing the wheel. There are plenty of resources to inspire your team to be more motivated at work. However, this is only one step toward really reviving passion – this still sits in the first two stages, learning with interest and perfecting with desire. So what are the key drivers needed for passion to be sustainable in our lives and how we view our jobs? All jobs have an array of tasks that when repeated enough times can drive us to repeat with robotics. Go in, do the job, keep your head down, go home. This environment can not only a disengage a team, but also create one that is very fragmented.

In organisational culture, we often talk about silos. These can occur across teams or departments when a barrier to communication or relationship building has been created. It is easier to blame somebody you don’t have a relationship with; hence working in silos supports self-preservation. Having worked in a variety of organisations, this blame culture is endemic and can be debilitating to both employee engagement and the customer experience. Reviewing my week one insights, I was looking for key parallels to better understand what was driving the revival of my passion. Was it simply the fact that I was now being forced to cook again, or was it something more? I was reminded how much I enjoyed preparing meals, and I was also enjoying swimming, which also gave me pleasure as it had been one of my former passions.

Many of my musings from the first week seemed to be on the rediscovery of activities that had previously given me pleasure, and the addition of new ones, like 7 am yoga. Yoga was an interesting one – it had been one of those things I had wanted to try for years, and finally doing it gave me a sense of accomplishment. This was clearly done from my ‘learn with interest’ zone, and as the project went on it moved into ‘perfect with desire’. After hours of reading my notes and linking it back to the several organisational programmes that I have worked on, it was clear it came down to a common theme: purpose.

The Human Element project gave me purpose, and it was this higher purpose that connected all the elements that I was experiencing in this first week. Every task, be it old or new, all linked back to the same energy source. From this I have concluded that one of the key drivers of passion in self or employees is working to a higher purpose – one of the foundations of building a great community. I had talked about doing the Whole30 and yoga for years but had not. I love cooking and swimming but stopped doing it. The bridge that connected all of these elements was the project.

My key takeaway from week one is that an engagement programme is not just a random collection of ‘stuff’. All elements must be connected together by a common purpose: an internal brand initiative. One that brings all employees together as one team, driving toward the same common goal. An organisation may be divided by departments or hierarchy, but this is required to give it structure. An organisation’s culture should be flat: everyone in the team plays an equal part if they have a common goal and purpose. In my opinion, what purpose better connects than offering the best customer experience, for internal or external customers?

You can sweep the floor with passion if that task is part of something greater. Behind any transformation or engagement programme, there needs to be one common higher purpose that all employees can connect to. For me, The Human Element revived my passion – not just for cooking, but also for research and pushing my creative boundaries. We can all fall into ‘Repeat with Robotics’ and sometimes not even notice we are there. Without question, it is not the zone that drives performance or passion in ourselves. One of the key differences between change and transformation is that the latter is more powerful. Transformation is bringing together both people and tasks in an organised collective, reshaping them with a guiding purpose. It gives the collective more energy and its individuals more passion – the part they play is key to the success of the team.

My insights into week one have reminded me that we are always stronger together than we are alone and that teamwork is paramount to ensuring we have the support to get started. The magic ingredient that holds it all together is having a purpose that everyone can rally around and be a participant in. As the author Heather Ash Amara said, “Change is inevitable, but transformation is a conscious choice.”

The Human Element (#THE)

The Human Element

Dale Smith, Creative Director, Bridge

As Bridge’s Creative Director and a behaviouralist, in this series of articles I am on a quest to discover the magic formula that allows humans and brands to coexist to create an amazing company culture. In this ever-changing environment, I endeavour to find commonality that will translate into a strategy of ‘must-haves’ and a list of ‘must-dos’ that will ensure a seamless transformation of your Living Brands. My aim is to study the human element and the constants in organisational change. So, for 30 days, I drastically altered my diet and introduced a new exercise regime to track daily what it felt like to be immersed in a transformation as part of the ‘Living Brand Project’.

“Companies are driven by humans, so therefore they behave like humans.”

The parallels between an individual’s life experience and that of the collective in a company are everywhere. The first 30-day challenge was a real-time experiment.Each day of the 30-day ‘Human Element’ experiment brought new challenges and opportunities to better understand how a company can feel as it moves through an engagement programme. This next phase will break into four parts; exploring the parallels found between a week in the experiment and a quarter in an organisational culture transformation. Change does not happen overnight, and by identifying the human face of change we can better understand how to create change programmes that not only motivate our people, but also offer long term, sustainable solutions. The magic formula starts with identifying the key trends that can offer positive change and the pitfalls that can move us off track from our desired outcomes. The human element is being able to correlate every day human behaviours with that of the company collective.

Day 30: New beginnings

Between the parallels

As one chapter closes, another one begins. As the day came to an end, it was a great opportunity to look objectively at the entire project. From the original goals and desires for the programme during its inception, to the many touch points along the journey. I did have one milestone and that was to wear a favourite shirt that had not fit for a few years. If there was any measure of success to me, that would have been it. Yet that of course is not the level of insight that is required in a company transformation project. This leads me on to my ending parallel; how do you measure success? There will always be the quantitative and qualitative measurements that are in place, but never forget to just step back and do your own measure of success by simply asking: how does the organisation feel? After all your efforts and at the end of this phase of the journey, take time to appreciate just how far you have come and what this stage of success looks, sounds and feels like. Having worked on several large transformation projects, there are moments of success that will never be truly measured and can only be felt through your personal intuition.

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