A light bulb moment
Let me start by telling you a story.
A few years ago I attended a conference about staff engagement. A man came up to me and said he was responsible for organisational development at a large housing association and he was conducting research into Chief Executive attitudes. Would I be willing to discuss this with him in one of the breaks, he asked.
My curiosity was piqued and I was flattered so we sat down with our sandwiches.
He asked me what I valued about my job and I said:
- The autonomy to make my own decisions
- I have the opportunity to plan and organise my own time
- The support the Chair gives me to try new things
- The fact that my judgement is trusted
- The collaborative nature of my team
- The competence of the board and the absence of “politics”
He wrote this down. Then he said:
“Kate, you have described what you like about being a chief executive – emphasising your personal autonomy and that your boss trusts you to do your job. You are listened to and taken seriously. You have the opportunity to innovate and if things don’t work out perfectly your manager allows you to change things again without making you feel useless. You have a supportive culture where things make sense and there is an absence of games play.”
I felt he had grasped why being a CE is such a great job. Then the bomb-shell.
“In our research we have found that the qualities you appreciate about your job are the ones that most workers value. Even front line staff enjoy being trusted and listened to; they like to have a chance to try new ways of working and to be supported to make changes if it doesn’t turn out well. They like to plan their own day and organise their work in a way that suits them. They value a supportive manager and team and they like to know that the organisation does what it says it will do with protection from arbitrary power struggles”.
This of course made perfect sense. The people at the top of organisations are not fundamentally different to people serving the customer. Our motivations and feelings are common because we are all human with a strong desire to do well and achieve things through our work. I then reflected on my own feelings when I had been a front line worker myself and realised that the feelings never change – sometimes they are frustrated, and sometimes they are dismissed or ridiculed – but we all want to feel that we have something to contribute and we want a degree of control about how we do our job.
I went home very grateful to this man for teaching me a lesson.
This insight into how most of us feel about our jobs has stayed with me and we have tried to ensure that, as much as possible, all colleagues have a chance to manage their own work in an atmosphere of listening, trust and respect.
What do you value about your job? Does it make a difference what level you are at? Have you had experience of being trusted and listened to? I am particularly interested in what worked well for you rather than the negative experiences you have had (and I have had them too!). While we can always learn from bad managers, if only to avoid doing what they have done to us, those of us who strive to do better are always keen to learn from what works.
I am going to spend an hour a week writing about 1000 words and responding, as well as I can, to any comments that you might like to make.
My plan is to cover pressing topics such as:
- Culture change
- Silo mentality
- Collective Leadership
- Agreeing the purpose of the organisation
- Working with customers
- Change management
If there is a topic you would like to discuss please let me know.
I may have to “anonymise” specific experiences because I don’t want to embarrass others or create tension or difficulty. However I will be writing it myself and everything I say is no more, or less, than my personal perspective and experience. I will give you my truthful and authentic view without spin or prettification. Most of my learning has come from making mistakes.
If you want to get in touch with us specifically about your experience as a customer or member of staff please raise these first with your housing officer or manager, or explore one of the other opportunities described on our website (e.g. Complaints).