When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.

Like so many people, I resent the paper of business. I resent the untidiness of returns that go off to government at odd times that bear no relation to what is happening in the business itself.  I hate the way it takes half-and-hour to process a bit of paper.

Other people hate other aspects of their job and probably for the same reason.  The rhythm of what they are doing clashes in some respect with another rhythm.  As I resist settling down to a task that takes far too long to orient – to work out a step-by-step process – and needs to be finished from beginning to end otherwise that settling down time will be wasted again tomorrow, I found another poem from Khalil Gibran.  We work to be in step with “life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.”  We need to find the rhythm of the dull parts of our job and revere them.   Not to do that is “to become a stranger to the seasons”.    That’s a more interesting way to look at the parts of our job that we find deadly.

What do you think?

Work chapter VII

Then a ploughman said, “Speak to us of Work.”

And he answered, saying:

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.

For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.

When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.

Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?

Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.

But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,

And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,

And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.

But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written.

You have been told also life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.

And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,

And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,

And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,

And all work is empty save when there is love;

And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.

And what is it to work with love?

It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.

It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.

It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.

It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,

And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.

Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, “he who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is a nobler than he who ploughs the soil.

And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.”

But I say, not in sleep but in the over-wakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass;

And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.

Work is love made visible.

And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.

For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.

And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.

And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

Khalil Gibran

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Make more money by promoting a sense of belonging in your firm: A manifesto for HR

I don’t do pain, even in my imagination

In my last post I described an exercise for testing the depth of our positive attitude: write a novel about myself and make myself feel pain.  I tried it.  It was hard!  I’m glad to know that I am not a masochist.

But I learned a little.  I learned that we hate to lose our ‘role’ and that I hate to be around people who are just pretending to have a ‘role’.  From there, I found myself listing the HR procedures for increasing belonging and the metrics to show how much value these procedures add to a company.

A manifesto for HR!

My worst nightmare

My worst nightmare is being in zombie-land.  I hate being in places where people have become cynical and at best are just “deteriorating as slowly as possible“.

Of course, I don’t really hate it ~ I am terrified by it.  We are terrified by anything which assaults our personalities.  I’m an INTFJ or a shaper/completer-finisher/resource-investigator.  I don’t do incoherent, lazy, out-of-it.   I may be misguided.  I may be slothful about many things.  But I will always have a purpose.  If I am going to be rudderless, I do it on purpose!

Our nightmare is not to have a role

This was my insight from the novel-writing exercise.   We are all terrified by the prospect of not having a role, or not belonging to our communities and workplaces.  We are very sensitive to rejection.  Even the nuances of rejection send us into a flat spin.

Many things that can lead us to feel that we don’t belong

A lot of things can lead to a sudden feeling that we are out of place.

  • Our general confidence
  • Policies of the firm which signal who is in and who is out
  • Cliques and favoritism
  • Mismatches with our own hopes and dreams
  • And storming – good old crises of confidence

Recraft your way to belonging

  • Heaps has been written in the last few years about recrafting jobs to meet our personal needs.  A waitress tenderly sweeping the floor of the cafe with good music playing in the background is recrafting her job just as the young guy who also works there recrafts his job by trying to sweep as fast and vigorously as possible.  Both put their personal stamp and sense of meaning on the job.
  • Poet David Whyte gives the same advice.  Begin with the ground, the hallowed ground on which you start.  Find meaning and belonging in what you already have and build from them.
  • Positive psychologist,  Christopher Petersen calls expanding from what we have “building a bridge while we walk on it”.
  • And for a good speech showing this is not just for me and you, but for the smartest and the brightest, listen to Dr Rao on Googletalk (YouTube).

Recrafting when we feel rejected

It is tough to recraft when we feel rejected though ~ for this reason.  We hate being rejected and we are loathe to admit that we have been excluded.

  • One, it hurts.
  • Two, we catastrophize and think that if this person rejects us, then everyone else will too.
  • Three, we worry that if we dismiss rejection, we may dismiss feedback that will help us manage future relationships.
  • Four, we catastrophize and think that if this relationship is not worthwhile, none will be worthwhile.
  • Five, we worry that the information that we have been rejected will be used against us!

Rejection put us in an emotional spin and bullies know it!  They’ll use rejection to keep you off balance.

That said, how do you work on finding the good in situation when you are feeling lousy?

Recrafting when we we are afraid

I would say we should do three things.

  • Make an objective assessment of the situation, as clinically as any staff officer in front of a paper map miles from the front line.
  • As you are not sitting behind the lines and you are actually in the thick of things, do as you would in battle. Move yourself, everyone else and everything you need out of the firing line.
  • Consider all the options including the options for negotiation and resumption of pleasantries.

This is really hard to do.  Believe me ~ being rejected by people like employers and teachers, on whom you depend, will frighten you almost as much as getting shot at.  In many ways it is worse.  You can allow yourself to be frightened by bullets as long as you act responsibly.  But to admit you are being “dissed” by your own side rips the guts out of you.

So you do the three steps: you take defensive actions, you try to be pleasant, you take time to make an objective assessment.  And guess what 90% of your energy is going into defending yourself from your own team!

Time spent on mending relationships in a firm

You are now being defensive and so is the next person and so is the next.  Guess what?  Anyone who wants to overrun this outfit, or take on this company, is going to win!

The firm is now in peril

This is my biggest nightmare.  It is quite clear once the spiral of defensive starts, the only thing allowing this firm to survive, is the incompetence of the opposition.  Anyone wanting to ‘take’ them would only have to distract the staff more for the whole ‘shooting match’ to fall apart.

What is the alternative to a firm where we are all watching our backs?

Inevitably, things do wrong in companies.  People do bump against each other quite unwittingly.  Feelings are hurt.  If we want to be successful (survive),we need to establish is a working culture where people are able to deal with shock and surprise without passing it down the line.

How do we stop defensiveness spreading?

Good HR departments, generally in larger firms work hard to keep a positive atmosphere  (I did say good.)

  • Good firms develop strong systems to minimize the management by whim. The reason they do that is to remove the objective threat to one’s employment that accompanies disagreements.  When there is no objective threat, then people can attend to mending their fences.  Good firms don’t allow people who are party to any “dissing”, in either direction, to take part in decisions about each others employment contract.
  • Good firms go to great lengths to manage the assimilation process ~ known as on-boarding or induction. They work with people through the forming, storming and norming stages and then take a watching brief during the performing stage coming back in when there are changes in a team or when someone leaves.
  • Good firms take some trouble to build diverse teams and to educate people why they need the very people who seem very different from themselves.  HR also takes some trouble to make sure that a team is not made of people who are too similar too each other and that the important bridging roles of team player and chairperson (the lazy roles!) are also present.
  • Good firms insist that everyone has an active career plan which is reviewed with you openly by committees chaired by senior members of the firm.
  • Good firms monitor diversity assiduously and keep a watchful eye on the formation of cliques.  HR is quick to intervene to minimize behavior that is rejecting and removes people’s attention from their own job.
  • Good firms design jobs carefully making sure that is is easy to get down to work (autonomy), that growth is possible in the job visible (competence) and that jobs allow us express ourselves meaningfully (relationships).  Work has goals, feedback built into the task itself, adequate resources, dignity, respect, physical safety, contractual safety, mentors and coaches.  We don’t want people so confused about how their jobs fit into the wider whole that they cannot think straight.

This is what I do for a living

My job is to make a system so that we are able to work together even when we are rubbing up against people.  I will see the effects of my systems in several ways:

  • People attempt to resolve difficulties without fear of their contracts.  People take the initiative; people don’t use the employment contract as a threat; negotiation of the employment contract is kept separate from other decisions; there is no fear in the organization or cynicism.
  • The output of people does not vary significantly when they move from group to group.   Nor does the output vary between people with different demographic characteristics.
  • The time taken for people to settle into the organization is known and the process is monitored and taken as seriously as quality on a Toyota assembly line.
  • Everyone has an active career path, we are mindful of who should be seriously thinking about progressing onto other firms, and we treat their onward progression as part of our competitive edge.
  • Deployment of individuals is not only done for and to individuals.  Teams are deployed so that they are balanced.  They are given time to bed down and their boundaries are respected.  Team work is not disrupted without investments being made in the time it takes to reestablish a team.
  • We have designed each job so that it has clear goals measurable by the incumbent, they can see how well they are doing and they can step-into the job in an orderly way sharing their successes publicly with others.

HR Metrics

To monitor my system, I have metrics on each process.  I also monitor HR Costs/Sales in each business unit and over time.  When people have the time to attend to their jobs, I would see small improvements in the ratio.

Take for example, the HR Costs/Sales ratio in manufacturing which is usually around 10%.  If people are able to do their job only 10% better, then the ratio will increase from 10/100 to 9/100 or done the other way from 10/100 to 10/110 or a 1% in Gross Profit.  That is generally going to be “pure” profit ~ that is, it is money that comes available for new equipment, training and even medical insurance and holidays.

When we are making more money because we aren’t worrying, then that is good profit indeed!

We do what concerns us and we are terrified by its loss

So it seems making a role for everyone comes from greatest concern -that we are going to have to sit around faking it.  That  led me to think that everyone wants a meaningful role.  Not everyone wants to sit around making meaningful roles. Who would make the money if we did?  While other people are off making things and selling things, it is my job to create an organization where we can get along without needless friction.

An emotionally healthy company requires good systems.  We must be able to work without fear.  Problems must be refereed as they arise and early.  And we must trawl our systems looking for emotional bruising that is getting buried.  If we continue to hide the casual rejection of people “because we can”, it will eventually cost us our livelihood. While we are all protecting ourselves from each other, our opposition will be taking over our business.

Simply, I am doing my job when you are able to do yours and I do this job because I cannot imagine what it is like to live defensively all day long!

PS I still don’t think I did the exercise properly.  It is very hard to imagine pain ~ even on a make-believe character that looks, moves and talks just like us!

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Is your jar full?

Good stories sometimes arrive serendipitously

I have absolutely no idea how this came on my screen. I was googling SABC news and this popped up. Well it did, and if you are interested in positive psychology, setting goals, having a meaningful life, then this story is for you.

I am going to paste it in verbatim. It is from a site called OceanCityFools. I don’t know anything about them.  You might want to check them out yourself.   Here is the story.  Sorry about the formatting – no idea how to change font size in WordPress.  Story is still good.

Is Your Jar Full?

When things in your life seem almost to much to handle, when 24 hours in a
day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar……and the beer.

A Professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front
of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and
empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then
asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the Professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the
jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas
between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was
full. They agreed it was.

The Professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of
course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar
was full. The students responded with an unanimous “Yes.”

The Professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and
poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty
space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the Professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to
recognize that this jar represents your life.

The golf balls are the important things – your family, your children, your
health, your friends, your favorite passions – things that if everything
else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house,
your car. The sand is everything else – the small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first”, he continued, “there is no room
for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all
your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the
things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are
critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get
medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18. There
will always be time to clean the house, and fix the disposal. Take care of
the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities.
The rest is just sand.”

When he had finished, there was a profound silence. Then one of the
students raised her hand and with a puzzled expression, inquired what the
beer represented.

The Professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no
matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of
beers.”

Don’t sweat the small stuff . . . but enjoy it anyway!

The biggest challenge for positive psychology is dealing with dark times

Sometimes the glass is half-full .  .  . of poison

When we are faced with brutality, cruelty, perversion, etc., it is NOT wise to dismiss it in with superficial optimism. Sometimes the glass is not just half-full, it is half-full of poison. Realism is important.

Real life can be awfully depressing

Unfortunately realistic attitudes are associated with depression. Not only do we have to confront exceptional nastiness on occasion, or for some unlucky people day-after-day, experiencing extreme unpleasantness tends to close use down psychologically.

Positive psychology requires us to recognize evil for what it is and to recognize opportunity, however minute

Positive psychology is about the processes that allow us to recognize what is evil and keep a clear mind, and conversely, to keep a clear mind and yet recognize evil for what it is. It is also about how to recognize opportunity, even if it is minute, when opportunity seems to have deserted us.

Today, I came across this quotation on Inner Edge on how to maintain some mental balance and perspective when life horrifies.

“Let fear soften us rather than harden us into resistance”

This is also a very attractive blog of poems with beautiful accompanying photos.