Balance is as balance does

I’ve had cause to reflect a lot lately.

I look around me and I hear conversations. Some are laughing. Some are lamenting. Some are distressed and some are enthused.

I try to be attuned to what’s happening in the world of work for others. My own work is not without its insights, yet I often find it so much more interesting to hear what else is happening out there.

And through it all, I try to understand – what balance have you achieved?

Sometimes in life, shit gets thrown our way and it sticks for a bloody long time. Yet people perservere and live and fight and make things happen.

Sometimes in life, things are really good and we coast on the good feelings enjoying that high point.

I wonder – what does balance look like?

Some call it flow, some call it balance, some call it mindful, whatever it is, it makes me curious.

It makes me curious about why I need to worry about balance? Life happens, and sometimes life is completely off balance and yet it persists.

Why do I need balance? What does it help me with?

Resilience. That’s what.

When I’m resilient I stay healthy. When I’m resilient I move forwards. When I’m resilient I don’t stay static. When I’m resilient I strive.

This is our challenge. This is our purpose. If I am resilient, I will achieve.

In organisations, we don’t care about resilience. We care about results. We often don’t care about how those results are achieved. We say we care, but we don’t really.

Flexible hours, benefits, credit unions, working from home, these things don’t build resilience. They are just useful things to help employees be flexible.

Coaching, team understanding, healthy debates, open conversations, knowledge sharing, open information, collaboration. These things build resilience. When we have the opportunity to be included, that’s where resilience gets built because by virtue of the method, we build a support network.

Balance, then, becomes a result of the support we have.

*dons boxing gear and ventures back into the ring*


Resilience, joy and dignity

There’s something to be said about the university of life. Experience, life, living, breathing, eating, healing, dying, educating, smiling, laughing, crying, procreating, being, sighing, procrastinating, sex making, swimming, jumping, exhilarating, saddening, hoping, demeaning, angering. There’s something to be said about what that all does for us.

I’ve seen my fair share of death. It’s a horrid thing to be around. The sadness that people feel. The depression they can find themselves in. The loneliness of it all. The support they find with others. The comfort of a loved one. I don’t mind the funerals so much. For me it helps the mourning.

I’ve had people cry their eyes at work on me. That’s tough. How do you console people who you’re not even close with? How do you give them space and let them know it’s ok to express their sadness this way?

I’ve been made redundant. We all knew it was coming, and we stilled ourselves for it all. It wasn’t messy, but it certainly wasn’t well handled.

I’ve had personal loss. That’s never easy.

I’ve seen all my children born and been there every step of the way with them since birth. When the twin boys and my daughter were born I cried my heart out at the sheer joy of it all.

I’ve had laughs and special moments with my wife who continues to walk with me in this crazy thing called life and I love her for it.

I’ve seen my parents grow to be these old people that I have to now counsel on all things in life and help them be the best they can.

I’ve grown up with my friends for 19 years and we’ve all been wonderful together.

I’d like to think I’m resilient.

No-one taught it to me.

No-one explained it to me.

It happened.

You know what we’re guilty of in the HR profession? Not helping people be resilient. I am and have been lucky. I’ve had the experience which helps me to define my path and allows me to determine where I’m going next.

A lot of people working for and with us don’t have that. They’re reliant on their work to help provide them stability.

People face shit every day. They go through trials and tribulations that impact them in ways we can’t and don’t understand.

We don’t have to be their counsellor. That’s not what they need from us. They need from us to help them be resilient. To get up and face the same thing the next day and to do it with dignity and with their head held high.

Who’s game?

Developing Resilient Yet Agile Leaders for Your Organisation

On this panel discussion, made up of Mike Forde, Director of Football Operations at Chelsea Football Club, Stephen Chase from Thames Valley Police, and Ali Peck, Director of People at RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute).

Mike helps us to understand that in sports training, from as young as 7 they start to build resilience in their training. It’s fascinating to learn that a footballing organisation considers resilience to be such a core part of the development of players. Players need this to help them cope with constant change and challenge they face as they grow as players and people.

There’s a great piece of learning offered there around the support needed for players by the traditional support workforce.

From the policing perspective, they understand resilience in different terms. The first is in terms of operational resilience – are they capable as an organisation to deal with events as they arise. The second is in terms of helping people to deal with traumatic and distressing things they may face in their day to day activity. Last is around the personal resilience we have to deal with turbulence in your own life.

Ali helped to understand the importance of understanding the DNA of your organisation so you know where your strengths are. By using Lean thinking, and starting at the end point of saving lives in the water, they were able to track back every step of what they do and identify where duplication and unnecessary process/policy exists. Having done the exercise they are realising savings of £20 million.

Really nice to hear that they had core learnings about not losing sight of the people and how they are resilient and in giving them power, they produce results. There was a lot of learning that resilience is about physical, mental and emotional aspects of people.

Some great sharing from Mike about the fact we need to look at the whole person when it comes to building people and developing them. We just don’t do this in organisations. We done care about the whole person. We care about the performance of the person and neglect all else. At the peril of organisations.

This is followed on by a point from Stephen and Ali that there is a difference between personal energy and personal resilience. Yes.

Resilience through organisational change

Working for the NHS during this intense period of change is proving to be a brilliant learning experience for me. For a long while I was interested in what’s happening in this space of life, reading various reports, watching the news, reading blog posts, and following those who work in the field. A friend commented recently, it’s not necessarily the change itself which is problematic, but the pace of change. The current government wants to reduce the public deficit by a certain time, and that is impacting daily life. To be part of this organisation while they’re experiencing this pressure is just fascinating.

One of the things which stands out for me is the change itself, and how varied it is. There is everything from restructuring of teams and departments, to cost improvement programmes, to redundancies, to innovations in service provision, to changes in working practices, and a whole manner of other changes I’ve yet to be exposed to. It’s interesting to see how this change is implemented, and personally it’s interesting to note how people personally manage through this scale of change.

It’s in this space of personal management of change that I want to share some thoughts.

Many change management programmes will endeavour to cater for the human side of the equation. Some common models and theories are included to help people navigate their way through the change – the Kubler-Ross model of ‘the five stages of grief’, the ‘burning platform’ model, even ‘Who Moved My Cheese’. They all offer different insights into how we think about and manage change. Put them alongside good operational and HR practice around change management and you have a good way of helping people.

What I think has been missing is finding ways for people to find their resilience through change.

I have a bias for organic ways of supporting change. That is, give people the opportunity to behave a certain way, and they’ll get there themselves. In a previous life when I was made redundant, the process was dire, and the heartening thing was the way the affected group naturally came together. Had the organisation provided a way of enabling this, our experience would have been very different. People need a space and a forum where they can voice their ongoing experience. This helps them to offload whatever is dragging them down and find support in others. ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ as the adage goes, and it is certainly true in building this resilience.

There has been some very interesting research into the use of techniques such as Appreciative Inquiry in helping a group of people move forward. This tends to have better effect on those not being made redundant, and more likely to experience a shift in what they do, and in some form remain as an intact team. It allows the group to reflect on what came before, what successes were achieved, what the future looks like, and creating powerful stories of an ideal future.

In previous writing, I’ve spoken about ‘Positive Deviance‘. This is where a group is asked to find its own way through change, create a sustainable plan of action, appoint some people who will make it happen, and a consensus builds around this and finds ways to make it a success. It is important to note this approach is only designed for behavioural change, and not structural or technical change.

There are more formal interventions around training courses which can be useful, and personal one on one support for individuals too. I came across a fascinating piece of research from ACAS, around the support given to those having to deliver a message of change, called ‘envoys’. The paper helps to consider what support these envoys may require, highlights what they may experience themselves as deliverers of the message, and what they can do to look after themselves. It’s well worth considering as part of the mix as we tend to only think that the people being affected by the change are the ones actually affected.

Probably one of the most overlooked impacts of change is the possible impact on a person’s mental health. Some in an organisation will forever remain cynical about people who may claim to be experiencing difficulties during the change when you consider all of the above is designed to be supportive. We must remain vigilant that if someone is experiencing some mental health issues as a result of the change we deal with that person with care and the right support. I don’t mean get Occupational Health involved and let them take care of the person, but more supportive behaviours from managers and team members so the person knows they are valued. The two most important questions we can ask someone who might be experiencing mental health issues are “what do you do to take care of your health and well-being?” and “how can I support you?”. These will lead to good conversations around helping that person, and may also involve asking for help from people you didn’t expect to be involved.

So there we have it. There’s a lot there to consider, some more practical than others, and some requiring considerable training to help us be more effective in delivering those methods. Essentially it is all designed to offer a complete support ‘package’ and to remain mindful that processes and procedures will be useful to manage the change, and the above offers a way to help people build their personal resilience through the change.

Do you recognise it when you see it?

Over recent months I’ve seen some significant changes happen on a personal, family and work level. It’s interesting to see how people cope with change and what it means for them. In particular though, I marvel at those who seem to be able to take change, deal with it, and move on with their lives in ways that are inspiring and humbling.

There’s a lot of factors I think enable someone to be able to act like this, and one of those in particular is the capacity for resilience. I don’t think it’s limited to resilience in and of itself. I think you have to have the capacity for it. I consider myself to be a fairly resilient kind of person, but do I always have the capacity for it? Now there’s an interesting question.

There’s a bucket analogy I’m reminded of. We all have things going on in our lives that fill our ‘bucket’. And sometimes you might go through something that means your bucket has run out of capacity and you are simply overflowing and struggling. It seems to me that those who have the capacity for resilience are those who have learned how to keep the bucket from overflowing and allowing themselves to manage it as they see fit.

How do they do this? Do you recognise it in others when you see it? Do you envy them for having it? I have no easy answer for this, but I’ll bet there’s a fair few things going on they have in common.

Support Network

I’ve talked about this before relating to other topics, but the power of a support network is not to be overlooked. This is why groups such as AA (Alcholics Anonymous) and Weight Watchers and the like are so powerful – they have a strong message and an equally strong support network ready to help you.

Positive Mindset

Y’all know I have a bias towards positive psychology. But here’s the thing. It bloody works. Negative thinking takes you down roads of cynicism, despair and negative thoughts. A positive mindset allows you to stay in a place of hope, possibilities and constructive thought.

A Release Valve

It’s important to understand in the bucket analogy above, that those with the capacity for resilience also understand that the bucket needs a release valve (see how I kept that from you? Very sneaky.) The water level doesn’t decrease on its own, it has to be released. That release activity should equally in kind be something which is supportive to your lifestyle.

Living a full life

I’ll take a leaf from Sikh teachings for this one. In Sikhi, we’re taught to live a constructive life (kirat karna). This means working for the good of your family, and in a role that helps society. It also means doing work which does not harm yourself or others.

Being self-aware

Those who have capacity for resilience are self-aware enough to know when they need to do something different. Be it on a day to day basis or a life changing event, they ‘get’ that something isn’t working as it should be for them, and they set about to make it happen.

Consideration for others

This might be a contentious one. Particularly because some people don’t understand the benefit in helping others. Far too many people have a ‘look out for number one’ attitude. And this isn’t about karmic retribution either. Research into positive psychology shows us that when people carry out an act of gratitude or consideration, the lasting effect of that act can be up to weeks later. This helps to build capacity by allowing you to have a positive experience.

This is far from exhaustive, I’ll bet there’s things I’ve certainly missed. And before I end this post, I’m going to extend the bucket analogy by adding this. We can also expand the capacity of the bucket by growing the bucket. As life goes on, so does the bucket continually have more poured into it. Our capacity for resilience in turn needs to grow with this so it doesn’t overflow.