Most of us are emerging from our collective winter hibernation. Most of us have spent more time than usual socialising, with our family, doing projects, doing sport, being bored, hanging out, watching TV and generally not doing our usual day to day. No school runs, less commuting, less time in the office or the airport or the car or however we usually spend our time the rest of the year.
How do you feel?
Do you feel refreshed?
Have you had any new ideas?
Are we returning to “reality” with better ideas, more energy and more creativity?
If we are, it may be because our way of working is out of balance, many of us are simply working too hard. Most of us were brought up with some sort of work ethic, with some sort of idea that success, wealth, prosperity, fulfilment were a direct consequence of hard work.
It is an idea that has it’s roots in hierarchy. For millennia religious and political rulers have promoted the idea that advancement (social or spiritual) was the consequence of working hard, not complaining and definitely not seeking to change things. Autocratic rulers interests are generally best served by compliant and hard working populations.
The idea is strongly embedded in our culture.
Conversely wider society and innovative businesses are often best served by people being caring, conscious, conscientious and creative rather than just busy.
How many of us truly do jobs that are best delivered by us working flat out?
How many of our jobs would be delivered better by creating more space to rest, recover, feel fresh and think about how to deliver value most effectively?
Think about an athlete – say a pro-cyclist. It used to be that top riders would compete in everything they could, until they physically could deliver no more. With the pressure on to keep delivering more, riders looked for solutions. The skewed goal of over-competing inevitably steered riders in the direction of anything that would help them keep going. Pretty soon they got into a pharmaceutical “arms race”.
Good people, largely, compromising their ethics and their identity in pursuit of an impossible objective.
These days more enlightened teams pursue a much more focussed strategy – identifying key high value objectives and designing the whole team around securing them and letting go of lower value objectives.
I am fascinated by the idea of a work philosophy you might call “The Corporate Athlete” where we design our teams and our work around very focussed objectives. We design our work to “peak” for those objectives.
How many of us have been on a team preparing for a key meeting or pitch where we have exhausted ourselves getting ready for the meeting, while simultaneously doing our day job and then expected ourselves to deliver a top performance in the meeting itself?
Conversely, how many of us have been in a meeting when we have listed all of the opportunities, evaluated their potential and then decided to ignore the 80% that offer the least value, in order to do a really good job with the other 20%? (I never have).
How many of us have organised things so that we are completely prepared for the big presentation and then taken the day off to rest before the meeting? (I never have – but I have worked all night the night before imagining that somehow that would help!!!!!).
How many of us work in teams where energy levels are actively optimised through rest, nutrition, focus and meaning as well as incentives?
These things are beginning to exist with most companies providing drinking water and fruit and a few providing rest and relaxation spaces – but I wonder how many organisational cultures truly support people going off for a nap during the work day.
It all comes back to our ideas around what “real work” looks like, what we expect of each other and ourselves.
Is real work being at our best, our most creative, our most compelling, our most open, engaged and focussed when we need to be. Or is real work about putting in the hours, working hard, being in the room, being in the office late?
How much more value can we contribute with less effort by taking real care of our energy levels?