Penny Hunt and Change Chemistry logo imageSomeone called ‘ahoy’ to his coffee drinking friend as he came into the café today.

Fantastic beard (that Victorian explorer look has really taken hold, hasn’t it?), tweedy togs and fab trainers all signalled someone hipper than a hip thing.

Is ‘ahoy’ coming back, I wonder?

It’s an accident that we don’t all say this to each other all the time. Alexander Graham Bell’s favoured telephone greeting was’ ahoy-hoy’. While you may feel a giggle coming on, ‘ahoy’ wasn’t always just nautical.

image01But Edison preferred ‘hello’ and here we are.
(Or not. Is ‘Hi’ winning at the moment?)

The ahoy thing has wheedled its way into my head as being really rather significant.  If you can tear yourself away from the nautical imagery, what does ‘Ahoy’ feel like? To me it sounds confident, and makes me want to sit up and take notice. It feels like a word that should be shouted. Direct, but distant.

I ran a focus group this week in a certain company exploring the experience of working together and how to make things better.
There was lots of discussion about the differences between men and women – in how they work and how they communicate. It all felt pretty clear that the male mode was directness, the female mode was suggestion and circumlocution.

image00But the more we talked, the more this seemed like utter, unquestioned, rubbish in the workplace: in this particular workplace.
There are many meetings in this company. There are even de facto gatekeepers who police who knows about which meetings, and who attends. The CEO and his team is lofty and distant. Email circulation lists routinely have 20+ names on them. The management is very male. Yet the group felt distanced from discussion, from debate, from conversation; from what was really going on and being decided. A male culture existed, yet a communication behaviour that was not direct at all had grown up. The supposed male and female modes were completely mixed up.

And everyone in the group craved contact and involvement.

So what did the group conclude?

To ignore old fashioned male/female labels; to be more direct, and to make proper contact when they returned to work with their teams.

And my thought for the week?

Say ‘Hello’ not ‘Ahoy’.


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