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.”