Less ‘Star Wars’, more ‘The Water-Babies’ this week.

Remember Mrs Do-As-You-Would-Be-Done-By?

Here’s what happened.

It all started when we booked a meeting room. (The offices will remain nameless. And identity-less. Unchallengeable credentials of grooviness and minimalist coolth rendered this building indistinguishable from anywhere else that has suffered a design-led re-fit in the last 5 years)

This booking process wasn’t a walk in the park, by the way. The keypad on the wall outside had to be activated at the right time, with the right code, and the right closing minute. You can do the arithmetic- those are big odds in favour of failing to even get into the room.

Perhaps this system ensures that every meeting starts on a note of triumphant achievement. And then. We all noticed the gradual increase in temperature at about the same time.

Amidst jokes about meetings held wearing only underpants, it became clear that no-one had magic power over that deceptively simple and small wall-mounted dial.

The service people were called. Most warmly.

It would be fixed – they were delighted to report – well within the contracted 24 hours.

Far, far away. The people to whom maintenance services had been contracted were based far, far away.

Look, the coffee shop was fine. Better, in fact. But this stuff matters.

‘Employee Engagement’ is a current top topic in this particular office.  How can employees be expected to ‘be engaged’ when basic aspects of support and the environment have been, literally, ‘dis-engaged’?

Can anyone be expected to be enthusiastic, energetic, innovative and committed when no such qualities are apparently demonstrated in return?

Do as you would be done by?

I heard that the problem was fixed the next day, and that a ‘how did we do?’ customer satisfaction email was sent the day after that.

What was the name of Mrs Do-As-You-Would-Be-Done-By’s buddy?

Oh yes, the tough and unyielding Mrs Be-Done-By-As-You-Did.


Even if you began a much needed news-abstinence programme on November 7th, some tweaks to the world order will have made themselves known to you by now.

We find ourselves crashing through the Looking–Glass.

Just like Alice, we discover that the great chess game in which we are now all involved works with fantastical counter-intuitive rules, logic-defying moves, and personalities much, much less pragmatic and constructive than the Red Queen’s.

As the dust does the opposite of settling, some words and phrases begin to appear and re-appear in just about every conversation- with individuals and teams, inside offices and outside work:
‘it will be alright’
‘more activism, not less, is what’s needed now’
‘I don’t know how to get engaged’
‘its not the end of the world. It’s the end of A world’
suggesting that ‘just buggering on’ as Churchill would say is proving difficult for everyone.

The new Looking-Glass world reaches into work life. It is far too tiring to pretend that all is well – to oneself, or to others – constantly within one context, work.

Those words -normalisation, activism, engagement – matter, and deserve some more thought.

On the world stage, I’m seeing this is in the well-intentioned (and standard-setting) graciousness greeting the (previously) unacceptable and loathed. I suspect that I too have ‘normalised’ behaviours and habits in business cultures with whom I’ve worked. It’s not going to help in the new Looking-Glass world. We should call things out now more than ever before.

This might mean being more of an ‘activist’, or being more ‘engaged’.
(But what does that even mean?)

The dictionary definition reads ‘The policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change’.

An elusive term in the world of organizational / leadership consultancy but most definitions include, somewhat platitudinously, that engagement involves emotional commitment to an organization and its goals.

A much better way to think about an employee’s ‘engagement’ is to think of creating as small a dislocation as possible between that person’s own values, and those of the organisation.

And suddenly, activism and engagement connect.
Bring about change, be active.
Alice, remember, survived.
She didn’t ‘normalise’. And boy, did she keep on trying to change things.


Penny Hunt and Change Chemistry logo imageAn old fashioned thought in an old fashioned setting, spurred by an old fashioned activity: conversation.

I ran a small focus group in a huge media organisation yesterday.  We weren’t testing anything. We weren’t looking for any evidence or support. We were trying to find out more about how men and women work together.

I’m working at the mo on reframing the tired old women-in-business narrative as a new story that will help both men and women.
Yesterday’s conversation was one of the pieces of the jigsaw.

Penny Hunt's coffee cups

(I’m just thinking how appropriate some old – slightly cracked- tea cups like the one in which my double espresso is sitting right now would have been to the idea of conversation. This café is a stranger to the conventions of modern coffee retail chains and clings to the use of old ornate china for everything. Love it.)

As often happens, 24 hours’ noodling helps reveal a bit of a gap between what we thought we were doing, and what happened.
What I’m going to share may make you laugh at its obviousness, snort at its simplicity and shake your head at the puny standard of business advice these days.

You see I now suspect that the fact we held it at ALL is what mattered.  Possibly more than the specific findings, wonderful as they were (of which more another time).

Here are my top conclusions from the experience after 24 hours, and after reading through the feedback.

  • Being asked to debate and think about the topic ⇒ being valued
  • Allocating time and professional attention (and a loose structure) ⇒ being valued
  • Creating a good safe space for challenge ⇒ being valued
  • Thinking out loud with others, comparing experiences ⇒ being valued

Which led to, it would appear:

  • my company values me ⇒ I value the company

And just to hammer the point home, participants talked today of wanting to help do more.
So I’m going to keep a wary eye out for ‘engagement initiatives’. I don’t think that’s the place to start.
The place to start is by valuing each other enough to sit down and talk and listen and reveal something of ourselves.

Nothing valued, nothing gained, no?

Blog image of communications from Penny Hunt