Commitment making

In a recent edition of the RSA journal entitled 21st Century Enlightenment, Lynda Gratton gave her view on the important issues of work in the 21st


In particular, Gratton mentioned the importance of creating an ‘adult to adult’ relationship with employees rather than the more typical ‘adult to child’. This adult to adult relationship is one based on openness, trust and commitment making. This type of relationship is particularly important as a new type of employee, one motivated to manage his or her own career and progression, enters the workforce.


Commitments are what individuals will do, how they will do it and how they will be held accountable. At Californian company Morning Star, all team members are self managing professionals. Every year each professional commits to a Colleague Letter of Understanding with their closest working colleagues. The employee takes responsibility for initiating communications and the coordination of their activities with fellow colleagues, customers, suppliers and industry participants.


As most performance management is ‘broken’, this seems like a wonderful initiative to enable professional employees to build commitment to the organisation without overmanaging.

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If work is not life, what the hell is it?

“Jobs that exist today were invented to fulfil particular industrial and commercial purposes. Employers want recruits who will fit into existing organisations and systems whereas the young are now being educated to develop and express their individual personalities and no longer just to obey and conform….


Work has not yet been reconceived as a social and cultural activity, as having as its primary objective, from the individual’s viewpoint, the aim of enhancing intellects, imaginations and sensitivities, bringing strangers together and stimulating them to learn from one another, rather than being a system to produce goods and services judged in monetary and quantitative terms….


Earning a living is no longer a sufficient ideal, because it implies that work and living are separate activities. You spend most of your life doing work. If work is not life, what the hell is it?”

Theodore Zeldin, Historian and Co-founder of The Oxford Muse Foundation


Exam question: Is today’s work fit for purpose? If not, what practical changes do we need to make it so?


In my quest to help individuals understand meaningful work, I would love to hear your responses at

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The Future of Work – is it Really Freelancing?

In a recent edition of the RSA journal entitled 21st Century Enlightenment, Lynda Gratton and a number of other industrial academics, gave their view on the important issues of work in the 21st Century.

Gratton talked about the ‘hollowing out of work’ which is a reshaping of the labour markets so that middle skill jobs disappear as they are outsourced or replaced by technology. What is left are low end skill jobs or high end skills with very little in between. To survive we need to become specialists but specialists in a number of different areas as our working lives span up to 60 years.

The implications of this are interesting from a number of perspectives. Specialising in something differentiates you from others. As such it creates the potential for isolation and loneliness. On top of this, the increase in self employment which we are currently seeing (whether it be voluntary or forced through poor employment opportunities), means that more individuals are working on their own. As friendships at work are one of the key drivers to engagement and well being at work (Gallup), this leaves a bit of a gap. However, when looking at the same engagement figures, self employed individuals are the happiest and most content of them all. This is probably because the self employed have higher levels of perceived autonomy and it is this autonomy that drives their sense of well being.

It could also do with age and lifestyle. The numbers of over 65s in self employment has expanded by 140% since 2000 with more and more healthy retirees willing to work past the age of 65 whether it be to keep their minds active or to top up their pensions. This potentially has huge implications for our economy. Just how motivated are these self employed individuals to develop a growing business which will then employ others? The RSA identified only one in six self employed ‘tribes’ who exhibited significant high growth intentions. The income earned by self employed, which is significantly less than counterparts in employment, suggests self employed are only just holding their own and thoughts of growth, adding value and product innovation are far from reality. One wonders whether high levels of self employed people, particularly those isolated and perhaps not suited to this style of working, are really what creates a healthy, vibrant and growing economy.

So there is something of a contradiction. If we are self employed we have (perceived) autonomy, we experience higher levels of engagement and well being but may be lonelier and poorer. It therefore seems critical that in order to experience freelance work as engaging and meaningful, individuals need to understand the implications of leaving the world of work behind. No corporate pensions, health care contributions or ready access to colleagues.

Some form of career counselling or coaching such as our Evidence Based Coaching, may well help clarify how wonderfully suitable (or not) freelancing life could be.


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An organisational manifesto to deliver meaning

Alain de Botton, philosopher, writes books that have been described as ‘a philosophy of everyday life’. Recently he was interviewed by an HR based job site about work and meaning (see the full interview here). In particular de Botton was scathing about education which didn’t equip youngsters for working life (nothing new here).

But what was interesting was his emphasis on finding meaning amidst a ‘false sense of ambition’. This false sense of ambition was created by misrepresentation of what working life is really like, fuelled by organisations who portray themselves as ‘Disney World’ as well as the media who glamourise a narrow range of careers over others.

He outlined a number of things educators, the media and organisations should do to make much better use of the skills and talents of young workers today. His list is supplemented here by a few of my own suggestions:

  • Being more honest with employees and prospective employees about what day to day working life consists of. For instance, providing them with an opportunity to try out a different job before committing to it. I also wonder whether mentoring of younger workers by more experienced staff members may provide more honest conversations about the daily graft of working whilst, at the same time, create cross generational relationships and friendships at work.
  • Provide stable jobs with real opportunities for development and growth for graduates and non graduates so non graduates in particular are not channelled into low level, dead end jobs.
  • When individuals become disillusioned with their jobs, help them go through a period of introspection to understand themselves and learn about their strengths and weaknesses before rushing into the next job. Offer career counselling as part of a broader suite of training.
  • Help individuals find meaning in purpose in the work they do. If they are engaged in a small part of a larger process, help them see the bigger end goal.
  • Being bold and publishing pay grades. A report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics recommends that large organisations should be required to publish pay ratios. This is because they believe that pay inequality is corrosive for wellbeing, not just among the poorest but right across society. Whilst this is not necessarily directly related to purpose and meaning it is difficult to see how employees can respect organisations without such openness and honesty.
  • Encourage a culture of well being. Places of work are not, as de Botton says, Disney World. However, they can be made a lot more pleasant by training individuals in life skills to help them cope with the usual ups and days of working life. Providing training in mindfulness, encouraging exercise and providing access to the open air, all enable individuals to develop necessary skills in coping. If today’s education is not providing it, then organisations need to fill the void.

The key to meaning is a feeling that you are contributing to something worthwhile greater than yourself, so that at the end of the working day you have left the world ever so slightly better than it was at the beginning. The successful organisation of the future will be the organisation which is helping individuals find meaning in their work and fulfilling those higher order needs.

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What you choose to focus on

Went to an Action for Happiness talk by Tal Ben Shahar and he left us with a really useful set of messages:

1. Focus on what’s good

2. Ask questions that help us find solutions rather than focus on the negative

3. When you appreciate the good, the good appreciates – in other words, focusing on happiness means we get more happiness in our lives

We do this by using techniques such as a solutions focused approach to problem solving, appreciative inquiry or working with strengths. However, so many of us focus on what’s wrong and what needs fixing. Perhaps we could focus on what is working and how we might get more of that.

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Words that sell

Interesting info-graphic

John Caples book Tested Advertising Methods talks in detail about how words work as well.

Words that (almost) always convert - Infographic

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How story telling affects the brain

There is lots of research about why stories work.  This picture shows some of the effect on the brain.

How story telling affects the brain

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Brown’s Job

by Robley Feland – 1920

Brown is gone, and many men in the trade are wondering who is going to get Brown’s job.

There has been considerable speculation about this. Brown’s job was reputed to be a good job. Brown’s former employers, wise, grey-eyed men, have had to sit still and repress amazement, as they listened to bright, ambitious young men and dignified older ones seriously apply for Brown’s job.

Brown had a big chair and a wide, flat-topped desk covered with a sheet of glass. Under the glass was a map of the United States. Brown had a salary of thirty thousand dollars a year. And twice a year Brown made a “trip to the coast” and called on every one of the firm’s distributors.

He never tried to sell anything. Brown wasn’t exactly in the sales department. He visited with the distributors, called on a few dealers, and once in a while made a little talk to a bunch of salesmen. Back at the office, he answered most of the important complaints, although Brown’s job wasn’t to handle complaints. Brown wasn’t in the credit department either, but vital questions of credit got to Brown, somehow or other, and Brown would smoke and talk and tell a joke, and untwist his telephone cord and tell the credit manager what to do.

Whenever Mr. Wythe, the impulsive little president, working like a beaver, would pick up a bunch of papers and peer into a particularly troublesome or messy subject, he had a way of saying, «What does Brown say? What does Brown say? What the hell does Brown say? – Well, why don’t you do it, then?» And that was disposed.

Or when there was a difficulty that required quick action and lots of it, together with tact and lots of that, Mr. Wythe would say, «Brown, you handle that.» And then one day the directors met unofficially and decided to fire the superintendent of No. 2 Mill. Brown didn’t hear of this until the day after the letter had gone. «What do you think of it, Brown?» asked Mr. Wythe. Brown said, «That’s all right. The letter won’t be delivered until tomorrow morning, and I’ll get him on the wire and have him start East tonight. Then I’ll have his stenographer send the letter back here, and I’ll destroy it before he sees it.» The others agreed, «That’s the thing to do.»

Brown knew the business he was in. He knew the men he worked with. He had a whole lot of sense, which he apparently used without consciously summoning his judgment to his assistance. He seemed to think good sense.

Brown is gone, and men are applying for Brown’s job. Others are asking who is going to get Brown’s job – bright, ambitious young men, dignified older men.

Men who are not the son of Brown’s mother, nor the husband of Brown’s wife, nor the product of Brown’s childhood – men who never suffered Brown’s sorrows nor felt his joys, men who never loved the things that Brown loved nor feared the things he feared – are asking for Brown’s job.

Don’t they know that Brown’s chair and his desk, with the map under the glass top, and his pay envelope, are not Brown’s job? Don’t they know that they might as well apply to the Methodist Church for John Wesley’s job?

Brown’s former employers know it. Brown’s job is where Brown is.



Brown’s Job was first published in 1920 in The Wedge, the house organ of the George H. Batten advertising agency – and as an advertisement in 1928, when Batten merged with Barton, Durstine & Osborn to become BBDO (where Robley Feland was a director).

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Meaning – a great case study

The most recent edition of People Management (March 2014) contains an article on an SME, Fittleworth, which highlights the importance of authenticity when creating a culture with meaning, purpose and compassion.

Frittleworth’s business is not glamorous – it is a mail order delivery service of ostomy, continent and wound care products, which has managed to grow significantly over the past few years, despite being unable to compete on price. But it is a delivery service provided with compassion and care. It is about ‘calling in on a lot of my friends on the way (home)’ or setting off on Christmas Day morning to be certain supplies get to a customer in a hospice or trekking up 22 flights of stairs to ensure a parcel reaches its destination.

Fittleworth does a number of things very well: they prioritise cultural fit of employees over everything else; they emphasise the customers and personalise training through The Frittleworth Way – a street populated by fictional characters each with their own back story and life changing condition; and perhaps most importantly they don’t try to impose values on others through ‘pillars on a wheel’ or through traditional corporate processes such as employee surveys and good service awards.

In short, Frittleworth has rejected much of what many large corporates have chosen as their route to employee engagement and opted for an authentic and personal approach.  HR Director Peter Waller has said that “it is more important to recognise the wonderful things that happen in our business on an everyday basis… the very nature of trying to define and make something tangible means you can inadvertently undermine it.”

For me this raises a key question as to the value of tightly worded mission and value statements which pescribe what individuals should believe in and how they must behave. This leaves little room for authenticity. Frittleworth do have values – dedication, integrity, caring and quality – but it seems they are leaving it up to their employees to interpret what that means for them, sharing everyday stories of heroism and going that extra mile without great fanfare. Perhaps this is the way forward and something we could earn all learn from.

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Best Possible Self – Day Three – Eureka

Over the past three mornings I have been engaged in an exercise aimed at increasing my levels of joy. What I’ve found is that it has increased my levels of creativity. So much so that I’ve managed to build the outline of a 9 month development programme aimed at building meaning in work.

Meaning is a critical aspect of eudaimonic fulfillment and impacts our attitude to how we approach our lives on a day to day basis. As such, it has a huge impact on the satisfaction and meaning we derive from, for instance, our work.

Based on a Gallup study of a representative sample of more than 8,000 American workers,  people who love their jobs:

• Use their strengths every day

• Feel that they are an important part of their organisation’s future.

• Are surrounded by colleagues who care about their overall well-being.

• Are excited about the future because of a leader’s enthusiasm and vision.

As it’s impossible to find such a job advertised on a job site, it’s critical to develop skills and tools for individuals to create these jobs for themselves. And that’s what the Eureka moment was about.

Amy Wrzesniewski, professor of organisational behavior at the Yale School of Management, says people reinvent their jobs by exercising the little bit of control they have at work. Through what she calls job crafting, people can reshape and redefine their jobs. In a paper she co-wrote, she says you can use your knowledge of what you do best to choose “to do fewer, more, or different tasks than prescribed in the formal job.” Changing the quality and amount of interaction with your colleagues, she says, can bring a renewed sense of belonging and purpose.

A LOVE-WORTHY job isn’t just for a privileged few — say, those who went to red brick universities or public schools. With a deep understanding of what drives you and what you are best at, you can make almost any job more lovable and more MEANINGFUL.

Small tweeks matter. Do you know what your strengths are? Are you using them to best effect in your work? Does your boss know what your strengths are? How can you tweek your work to play to your strengths and make it more meaningful?

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