It’s true, Some organisations are just like HOME, others feel truly alien. I’ve worked in a couple of odd ones to know that some places of work just make you feel out of place, zapped of your energy and enthusiasm, and plain unhappy. And that’s not good for the organisation or the people it depends upon to be successful. Happily I’ve worked in many more great organisations where people thrive and love what they do. I know where I’d rather be. As a communicator I find the way organisations operate, their cultures and internal communication fascinating. To the point that it’s something I find myself thinking about in the most unlikely places.
I was at the cinema with my children enjoying the film ‘Home’ during the holidays. If you’ve not had the pleasure, here’s a brief synopsis to help you understand the background to my alien thinking and it’s connection to organisations.
Cute, colourful hive-minded aliens are moving to Earth, they’ve ‘relocated’ the humans for their own good. The Boov are good aliens and only do good things. They like perfection, they don’t like mistakes and they certainly don’t value individuality.
A teenage girl, ‘Tip, has been separated from her mum during the ‘relocation’ – here on in Tip is in search of her mum, known as ‘Mymum’. She also has her cat, ‘Pig’ for companionship.
A boov, known as ‘Oh’ is not like the other boov, he likes to be friendly, enthuses at life, and makes mistakes (lots of them). He makes a big mistake, sending his house warming party invite via email to the whole universe including the Boov’s enemy, the Gorg, from whom the Boov are running away. Oh becomes a fugitive.
Tip’s and Oh’s worlds collide as they flee the Boov, head off in search of ‘Mymum’ and discover friendship, fun and the full gambit of emotions along the way.
While watching the film and eating popcorn, I couldn’t help but think of the similarities to some organisational behaviours and the interactions in the film. It’s funny how and where you get inspiration.
So here goes, my four alien insights into organisations:
- Take your whole self at work.
Oh, the stand out boov, who dared to be different and be himself.
So often a culture and the people of an organisation unwittingly drive out individuality. Part of the on-boarding process and wider assimilation into an organisation means that you learn ‘how to do things around here’. But at what cost? What happens when that becomes group think? When no-one thinks outside of the normal processes? What could you be missing by sticking to doing things the way they are done here, rather than letting people bring their own ideas and inventiveness to work?
- There are leaders and then there are LEADERS.
Oh, the accidental leader, and the King Boov, the nominated leader, could not be more different. Oh was shy, often made mistakes but admitted to them, but was focussed and true. While the King Boov demanded respect, the aliens were scared of him, he made mistakes but never admitted fault. He came across as a controlling bully.
Leadership – is earned. You can give someone a title, call them a manager or leader, but unless they have the respect of those who follow them, they really aren’t a true leader. The real leader in the story of Home, was indeed the unsuspecting ‘Oh’ because he was brave enough to stand up for what he felt was right, what he believed in, even when it went against the Boov way.
People believed in him, even the humans and the Gorgs.
- Comradeship – the importance of similarities and differences.
Together, despite their diversity, Tip, Oh and Pig the cat were successful in their mission to find ‘Mymum’, because they pulled on each others’ strengths to do what they needed to do and their common purpose drew them together.
Working with people the same as us can be re-assuring, provide a sense of comfort, and being among like-minded people helps validate what we think, feel and do. Working with others who are different or who think differently can be challenging, really interesting and creative. Just to be the same doesn’t make us a good team. We need different in teams to achieve our goals. Common purpose and belonging – the why – is what brings us together. We may go about achieving it in different ways, deploying different ‘how tos’ but the goal is the same and that’s what brings people together,
- The Shusher – Corporate rules.
In the film the leader has a staff, on top of which is a precious stone (which the Boov stole from the Gorgs and that’s what they are chasing around the galaxy after the Boov to retrieve). This staff, is called the Shusher – the leader uses it to arbitrarily knock the Boovs on the head when they do something out of line.
This reminded me of the many rules some organisations set out, either implicitly or explicitly, for employees to follow. Of course, we do need rules, but not rules for rules sake, not rules to control people too much or to stop them from being them.
For example I was talking to a fellow communicator the other day about ‘clear desk policies’ something many orgs do to control and protect their information – especially people’s data. That’s big important stuff we have to do to be trusted and do our jobs. But sometimes the clear desk policy can go too far – banning all pictures of family on call centre staff’s desks for example.
What bigger motivation can there be for a person to work hard, than to have a picture of their nearest and dearest looking back to them as they make the hundredth call of the day, or keeping their cheerful disposition as another phone is put down on their call? Don’t ‘shush’ people too much. Let them be them. You never know what bright ideas they may have. Clear desks of ‘corporate information and paperwork’ but that’s all it takes and an open mind.
I hope you enjoyed my light-hearted alien view of organisations. Being human can make a world of difference at work.
What are your alien observations of behaviour in your organisations?
Have your leaders forgotten to be human sometimes?
As communicators, especially internal communicators, it’s often down to us to keep a check and measure on how we behave as organisations, advising and strategically directing our organisations’ leaders and clients to help them thrive as successful, happy and human organisations.