Make Work More Human

The following post was written by Renee Smith and first appeared on the Make Work More Human blog on 10/24/2017. In it, Renee explains the origins of the Make Work More Human movement which she leads as the Director of Workplace Transformation at ‘Results Washington’ for the State of Washington.

I am posting it on my site for two reasons. First, Renee is an exceptional leader and her work deserves to be widely known, understood and replicated. Second, she was kind enough to speak to my Management class at Cal State San Marcos this week while in town for another speaking engagement and I want to publicly thank and acknowledge her for doing so. 

To be “human” at work is to be in our natural state. It is neither an exception nor an abstraction. It is the best of us. And the closer we get to integrating our complete humanity with the necessary demands of organizational process and efficiency, the closer we will be to building workplaces that have the ability to become unstoppable forces for positive change.

Not only do we deserve this, but it is in our power to create it.

– DCB


Chris Liu and I were deep in discussion. Chris is director of the Department of Enterprise Services, our state’s central services agency, and I direct Lean Transformation Services for DES. As an agency we are pursuing a human-centered way of working that trusts employees to make things better for customers every day. We want every aspect of the organization to be coherent with that philosophy. This is a big undertaking, and we are committed to pursuing this.

Chris and I were preparing for a short talk, an introduction really, at the state’s annual Lean Conference. We would be introducing two of our teams to share their inspiring stories to an audience of about three hundred. I was helping Chris nail down a clear focus for our introduction.

“Chris,” I asked finally, “what is the most important job of a leader?”

Without missing a beat, he replied, “To eliminate fear from the workplace.” 

Thunder boomed! “That’s it,” I thought, stunned. “That sums up exactly what we’ve been trying to do these last few years at DES. That’s why our teams have stories to share. Chris has been on a quest to fulfill this job as a leader and to show others how as well.”

We named the workshop session “Eliminate Fear.”

But this one conversation with Chris raised more questions for me than it answered. Reflection and dialogue with others made it clear that eliminating fear to create safety is only half the story. What is it that increases to create safety? Some insisted it was courage. Others freedom. All worthy ideas but they did not ring true for me. The thing I now believe that eliminates fear and creates safety at work?

Love.

That’s right, love.

Psychologists sort human emotional experience into two primary categories, fear and love. All other emotions cascade from either fear or love. Understanding this helps us make more sense of and respond more effectively to any of the other emotions we either experience ourselves or encounter in others. An angry or violent child’s emotions can be sourced back to fear. The limbic root of belonging or respect? Love.

At the conference, we opened the workshop with Chris proclaiming that leaders must eliminate fear if they want to see results like our teams are getting. And then I brashly declared that increasing love will help eliminate fear.

Could have heard a pin drop. Nervous laughter. Shuffling. Had I really just said the “L word” in a government sponsored Lean conference?

I reminded the audience that love is human. We all need to know we belong, that our contributions matter. We need to know that we are safe to step out and take risks to improve. When people feel loved at work, they can love their customers and respond to their needs with improvements to safety, cost, time, and quality. A more loving workplace creates the conditions for a Lean culture.

And then…spontaneous applause! And later, comments in the halls, and emails of thanks. People stopped me weeks later to discuss this idea of love at work. I was on to something important.

Since then I’ve sought to understand this outpouring of love for the idea of love at work. There’s research. There’s writing. There’s work with leaders and teams. There’s a community.

And now there’s you too. Welcome to the conversation.

I love that you are here.

Please follow Renee Smith and her work at Make Work More Human. And please work to eliminate fear in your workplace and replace it with love.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

The Sound of Wholeness

Deep in the Quiet Wood

Are you bowed down in heart?
Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life?
Then come away, come to the peaceful wood,
Here bathe your soul in silence. Listen! Now,
From out the palpitating solitude
Do you not catch, yet faint, elusive strains?
They are above, around, within you, everywhere.
Silently listen! Clear, and still more clear, they come.
They bubble up in rippling notes, and swell in singing tones.
Now let your soul run the whole gamut of the wondrous scale
Until, responsive to the tonic chord,
It touches the diapason of God’s grand cathedral organ,
Filling earth for you with heavenly peace
And holy harmonies.

– James Weldon Johnson


Some years ago I developed a vocal cord condition that required one week of immediate and sustained silence. It wasn’t a disaster, but it did not go well. I worked at an office then, full of understanding colleagues who would be forgiven for finding it strange to have my otherwise loquacious self silently stalking the halls. I retreated to my office and eventually just stayed home.

It wasn’t much better with the kids – much younger then – who slowly retreated from me as if from a silent stranger. And not because of their disinterest but because I failed to cover that awkward ground between us with creative ways to interact. One need not speak to thrash one’s children at “Old Maid”!

Today I am having surgery on my vocal cords for an unrelated matter and, though it is minor and a quick recovery is expected, I will again be under “forced” silence, at least for a few days.

I feel good and mostly relaxed about the coming respite from speech. I have lots of papers to grade and other work to fill my days. There’s plenty of fence to paint (still!) and other “to-dos” for which speaking is unnecessary.

But, like the invitation in the poem above, I don’t just want to take in “the din of life” because I am “bowed down in heart” by my lack of speech. I want to listen.

And in listening I want to discover if I have learned from prior experience to reach for connection by other means. Perhaps I will text questions to my daughters and simply take in their responses. Perhaps I will just do as I’m told…I mean asked…when requested to chop or clean or be of help. Perhaps I will sit outside and hear the fall-ness of fall, just as it is, in this place I call my home.

There are many sounds on the path to wholeness. I wonder if I will hear them?


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

A Midweek Thought Experiment

Imagine that it’s five years ago. If you could meet yourself on October 10, 2013 what advice would you give yourself for the coming five years?

Five years ago, my advice would have been (1) trust yourself, (2) open yourself, (3) express more, more often.

Imagine it’s five years from now. What advice can you give yourself today that will help you wake up on October 10, 2023 satisfied that you lived the last five years with intention?

My advice to my future self is the same: (1) trust yourself, (2) open yourself, (3) express more, more often.

Maybe it’s unrealistic to separate my present and future selves. It’s a tough thing to be objective about. Or maybe it’s that, having landed on these themes, I recognize that the work never really ends.

I suppose that could be frustrating, even defeating. But I find it inspiring, an invitation to keep learning.

And what about you? What did you discover?


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

No End In Sight

I have this feeling that 30 or so years from now, should I still be kicking around, I’m going to be wrestling with the same existential crisis: the joy and the dread that learning never ends.

The dread: How is that I’ve come this far and still have so far to go?

The joy: How is it that I am so lucky to have the opportunity, the invitation, the opening up, the chance to live into an even more complete understanding of my experience?

No one, not a single person, said it was going to be easy. Just that it would be possible.

And no matter how uncomfortable it is to admit it, they were right.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

 

 

To Be An Artist

“Because self-knowledge is the most difficult of the arts of living, because understanding ourselves is a prerequisite for understanding anybody else, and because we can hardly fathom the reality of another without first plumbing our own depths, art is what makes us not only human but humane.”
Maria Popova


What a wonderful phrase, the arts of living. It’s a compelling reminder that we make our lives, they don’t just happen.

And we can shape them any way we want to.

What’s exciting and beautiful is that we can choose to be artists. We can mold and construct our lives. We can blend, shade, color our lives. We can design them from any kind of resource into something else entirely. What a gift. What an opportunity.

And, what a challenge. Because “any kind of resource” often means the hard stuff of our inheritance and the hard stuff of our own choices. To transform those pieces means we must recognize them, first, and then do the heavy lifting required to understand them intimately. Before we make any art, we have to know our medium.

And once we do, if we do, worlds of creative opportunity open up to us. How we shape ourselves and how we shape the masterworks of our relationships comes down to how willing we are to recognize our own artistry…the very best of being human.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

More Human Than Otherwise

“We are all much more simply human than otherwise.”
– Harry Stack Sullivan –

Human beings deserve a human experience in the workplace. That is possible…that actually happens…when leaders decide to be more human themselves; when they decide to make what is common between us the foundation of their leadership.

In the face of complexity and change – the relentless pressure of change – this can be very difficult to do even for the most well-intentioned leader. The questions before them – before us – are daunting and powerful:

  • How do we eradicate fear and replace it with love?
  • How do we shift from the exhaustion of change to the inspiration of possibility?
  • How do we release anxiety and capture imagination?
  • How do we free ourselves from our well-worn ruts and unleash creative energy?
  • How do we replace tension and struggle with ease and pleasure?

To work with these questions sincerely and authentically, wholehearted leaders do three things:

1. Start within: an intentional inquiry and continuous dialogue about who they are, where they shine, how they struggle and what they most want from their work and their life.

2. Strengthen relationships: a dedication to the truth that only through reliance, trust and vulnerability are we able to create the future we desire.

3. Commit to a lifetime of learning: a commitment to the raw humility that the only answer that makes any sense in the face of complexity and change is to just keep learning.


I created RULE13 Learning to support leaders who make the commitment to live the hard questions; to stand with those leaders as they strive to be more courageous, more resourceful and more generous in the face of complexity and change.

“There is no organization large enough for even one human soul.”
– David Whyte –


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

“I’m feeding the fish.”

You may have heard about the letter Mr. Rogers received from a young blind viewer expressing concern about his fish. Since she couldn’t see him feeding the fish she worried that they might be hungry. From that point forward Mr. Rogers made the effort to say out loud, “I’m feeding the fish.”

Every day in your organization your employees have questions and concerns about what’s going on, why it’s going on and where you/they will go from here.

And you know that they have these questions but you say to yourself “I’ve already told them SO MANY times!” and you feel frustrated and slightly insane. This is also known as being human.

I am not suggesting that you attempt to become “Super Human.” What I am suggesting is that there is a single, completely underrated and undervalued leadership behavior that can make or break your organization: redundancy.

You’ve said it and so you think they’ve heard it but they have not. And if there’s any component of that information that contains a threat, a risk or some other uncertainty, they absolutely haven’t fully heard you because they are also busily being human beings and are concerned about their personal and family welfare.  It’s just what we do.

Mr. Rogers thoughtful response to his blind viewer was an act of compassionate consideration born of his inherent wisdom that people – children and adults – do not attend to the present, do not attend to learning, if they are fearful or concerned.

Leadership then, is so much about responsiveness, as best you are able, and redundancy, as often as you can.

As often as you can…as often as you can…as often as you can.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Human. Resources.

“Human”

Merriam-Webster definition #3-b:  representative of or susceptible to the sympathies and frailties of human nature (human kindness; human weakness).

“Resources”

Merriam-Webster definition #1-c a natural feature or phenomenon that enhances the quality of human life; and #1-e a source of information or expertise.

“Human Resources”

Merriam-Webster definition #1: personnel.

What? Personnel?

How did we get from words like “sympathies” and “frailties” (read tenderness, vulnerability, transparency…as in the real human experience) and “phenomenon,” “quality of life” and “sources of information and expertise” to personnel, a scraped from the bottom of the barrel word that fails in every way to describe who we are and what we’re made of?

It is, regrettably, an accurate characterization of the state of the “modern,” and so often dehumanizing, organization.

Let’s do better than that. Here’s a new definition for your consideration:

Human Resources (plural noun): (1) those living, breathing, dynamic and creative persons who cherish nothing more than to come together in support of a cause worth fighting for; (2) Any number of individual persons who collaborate with dignity, respect, safety and in a spirit of service to breathe life into an enterprise that is worthy of their presence. 


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

“How are you?”

Here it comes…

“Fine, thanks.”

“Great.”

End of conversation.

Or…

“How are you?”

“Fine, thanks.”

“That’s good to hear, because I’ve noticed that you haven’t quite been yourself lately. You seem a little down.”

“Oh, was it noticeable? It’s just that…”

The conversation – the real conversation – continues. Or at least has a chance to.

And why is that? Because as a leader you are always paying attention. And when someone is not who you know them to be you check it out.

You get curious.

You get interested.

And you stick with it until you’ve done all you can to help them work through it.

Not for the sake of productivity. Not for the sake of efficiency. Not because of the big project deadline.

Because you’re a human being.

And that’s what we’re here to do.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Eat Your Vegetables

I learned recently that a particular sequence of stretching and strengthening exercises would alleviate the pain in my hip.

The entire sequence of exercises, done well, takes about seven minutes. When I do them  the pain subsides.

When I don’t do them the pain remains.

Some days I choose not to do them.

What a strange thing to be so human.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.