I forgot to be me

It’s that time of day. You wake up and start to get ready for work. The moment you step out of your door, you become this other person. You stop being yourself. You start being Mr (amend title as necessary) Worker. Expectations about your daily interactions change immediately. The commute to work must involve as little interaction with other commuters. The drive to work must involve efficiency and expediency. In fact, efficiency becomes the order of the day. If it’s not efficient, be prepared for my ire.

On reaching work, this sense of efficiency and being Mr Worker is amplified ten-fold. The moment we walk in the door we cease being Mr Worker, and start being Mr Expects Everything. As loathe as I am to talk about Maslow, suddenly all those basic and secondary level needs become the thing to focus on. Feed me. Water me. Provide toilet and washroom facilities. Have eating areas. Have communal areas. Have meeting rooms. Have desks. Have IT equipment. And then we start to also move on to Herzberg type factors. Give me objectives. Give me development. Give me promotion and progression. Want. Give. Now. Or risk disengaging me and losing me to another company.

I think the issues here are complex. Those motivation theorists I’ve mentioned have heavily influenced the way businesses structure themselves and provide work environments. At an architectural level, not many buildings are designed to be conducive to allowing relationships to happen at work, or give people the freedom to work across groups. Most office spaces follow the same rules where they have silos for distinct work groups. Want to collaborate with another team? Sure, leave your office, go to theirs in another part of the building, navigate corridors and doors, and enter their door and their space. Let battle commence.

At an organisational level, we want things to be simple and to make sense. So having distinct teams sitting together seems to make sense. But what happens when you give people projects to do which require them to collaborate closely? Suddenly reporting structures, line management responsibilities, authority and autonomy all become confused and we start to break down. We don’t do well when lines of clarity become blurred, so we pop our head in the sand and wait for it to be fixed.

At a management level, people need to be developed and supported. They need to know there’s a plan in place for them to do well, and they have the support of their manager to do so. Suddenly things such as weekly catch ups, review meetings, feedback training, coaching training, emotional intelligence, and an array of other needs become important. Some will learn as they go along, others will get training, and some will fail miserably. We’re just too focused at having management structures that we forget to think about organisationally, are they in the right position, doing the right job with the right team.

At a corporate level, we impose restrictions on behaviour by giving a list of policies, procedures, guidelines and processes before someone starts, when they start, and when they’ve been with us for years. We actively tell you that you’re not allowed to be ‘you’. You are now owned by ‘us’. You will do our bidding. If you want to be you, jump through hoops and barriers, become CEO, and even though you’re not allowed to be you. You are only allowed to be you when you leave.

At an individual level, things become really complicated. We each of us have career ambitions, aspirations, desires and motivations. Not matter how small or large they may be, they exist. We have personal lives with problems/challenges aplenty. We have personalities, stereotypes, judgements and more. And when we walk through that entrance to work, we’re asked to forget all that in place of competency frameworks, talent management systems, performance management programmes and learning and development interventions.

Life certainly got complicated, didn’t it?

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Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

2 thoughts on “I forgot to be me”

  1. You’re still you! You may just be a different you to the one you started today as. Who will you finish today as?

    At the Thinkers50 summit yesterday there were some really powerful speakers and some of what they said resonated when I read your blog.
    Marcus Buckingham pointed out that only 30% of what we do is driven by personality – the rest is usually dictated by the environment we find ourselves in. And I guess that depends on how we perceive our environment (you’re right – it’s already getting complicated).
    Vijay Govindarajan talked about innovation (some of it went over my head) but what I got out of it was how easily wrapped up companies get in procedures and processes rather than doing what’s right and changing as life changes (and then Marcus Buckingham came in again with having concepts within which people can behave authentically rather than rules).
    And if you fancy an interesting book to read to explain how many personalities you may have then you could try Rita Carters ‘Multiplicity’.
    I don’t have any answers for you – just some things you might like to look up if you have the time with your competency frameworks, programmes and systems.

    Life is complicated – but you could do what Marshall Goldsmith suggested yesterday which was to focus on what makes you happy. One way was by having an active ‘daily questions checklist’ – you have to make up your own questions but he suggested ones such as ‘how happy are you today’ or ‘ what has been meaningful to you today’?

  2. Now this is the truth. We can be so hindered by our environment – physically and mentally. Costas Markides told me this week that only 30% of our choices to act/behave/do are determined by our personality. The other 70% of our acts are caused by our context and environment. No wonder things don’t work so well in cubicles, open plan malaise and so on. And I loved the bit about Mr Expect-everything. What happened to genuinely earning the right to get/gain? Vince Lombardi said it about leadership – you earn that right through a lot of hard work. Get should only be as the result of give. Only then is is truly appreciated. Great post here. Nicely thought out and well drafted – very thought provoking.

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