We’re passionate about the world of work, and how we can make it better. To help satisfy our curiosity, we’ve launched an interview series where we pick the brains of experienced leaders, business owners, managers, and individual contributors to get their thoughts on how we can collectively build better workplaces.
We’d love to get to know you a bit better, tell us a bit about your backstory.
Following a brief career as a scientist, I worked for many years in a large health based public sector organisation in the UK, initially leading projects before moving on to complex organizational change programmes and innovation. Leading complex change and innovation in bureaucratic, hierarchical, governance heavy and risk averse organisation brings many challenges, but with those challenges was an awful lot of learning about how to successfully lead change. This learning I felt needed to be shared wider. It wasn’t the kind of learning you get on traditional courses or from traditional books and so I wrote a ‘choose your own adventure’ type book full of often funny scenarios where the reader gets to decide what happens next. It’s called the Change Ninja Handbook.
If we were to ask a friend to describe your personality to us, what would they say?
Enthusiastic, creative, always starting new projects, impatient, optimistic, always learning, never idle, makes the most of the opportunities any crisis can bring.
Thinking back to your career journey, what’s an interesting story that stands out?
I was on a leadership course. Recently I adopted the word ‘leadershit’ course. We’ve all been on them, sheep dipped into some blah blah with the latest buzz words before going back to work and nothing changing. This was one of those. It wasn’t about people. It was more about managing people. Until the final session. Professor Eddie Obeng, someone I followed in various publications, delivered a day of activity including showing us his World After Midnight video. It was at that moment when I realized we were doing it all wrong. When I realized why things failed, took so long to do and caused so much frustration. Eddie teaches real leadership by getting you to have the right insights so you can enact the changes you want.
What’s the most impactful lesson you've learned over your career thus far?
Change is all about people. It’s not about learning a process, obtaining a certificate, embedding dogmatic governance systems. It’s all about people.
Communication is often confused with engagement. The two things are entirely different.
Thanks for giving us some insight into who you are! Let’s jump into things. When you hear the phrase “build a better world of work”, what comes to mind?
That we need to stop doing things the way we are doing them and reassess how we work.
Everyone is busy. Often too busy to do this reassessment. Changing how we work, things we have done for years, it is hard to accept there are better ways, that we may have not got it quite right.
Moving to remote working for many just lifted office life into the world of Zoom. All the bad practices and some new ones added. Why do we spend all day in meetings? Why do we spend a lot of time preparing papers to review at meetings, often about things that have happened already? Why is email still such a time burner? When do we really get the time to do the work in a way that’s fun, creative, innovative, collaborative and aligned? Software won’t shift this and yet we keep buying new software and burning more time learning how to use it to supposedly help us collaborate.
Software is pretty much designed around process and not human need. We therefore spend a lot of time learning how to respond to the software the way it’s designed rather than it supporting our actual human needs and doing some of the heavy lifting. I learnt how to work differently years ago. To work in a very human way. There is some technology behind it (www.QUBE.cc) but it isn’t software. It’s designed based on human behaviours. It enables all the things we talk about and yet find hard to do for multiple reasons.
In summary the better world of work needs to stop, reflect, and shift our behaviors, collaboratively and in alignment based on humans not process. If software was the solution… guess what… we would already have all the magic answers and wouldn’t need to ask these questions.
For you, what’s the main blocker you see as standing in the way of building a better world of work?
Technology, or more specifically software (see response to the previous question). Technology is amazing. There is so much out there that can help. But we keep buying the next version, the new features, the next big thing that will help us collaborate, be more productive and more efficient, deliver better projects. None of this is designed for human need or actual ways of working. It’s just more of the same, burns time, zaps energy and rarely leads to better outcomes. When was the last time you or your team took time out to just reflect on how you work instead of thinking you need to buy more software? It feels like a luxury. It should be a requirement.
What’s one thing within our control that we can practically do to build a better world of work today? And, how do you recommend going about it?
Pause, reflect, listen, focus on humans, behaviors, motivators, drivers, fears.
In the Change Ninja Handbook I describe a series of scenarios, all based on real life experience. Decisions need to be made (you, the reader, get to make them). Often the decision seems easy, the logical response is to do the activity that will progress your project right? But the reality is that you are potentially just storing up future problems. Problems that will come up after you’ve done a lot of work to get your project to the roll out stage. And that’s when it will go wrong and stall and stall.
Instead, spend the first 3 months of any project focusing on the people rather than the process, find out their motivators, fears, needs, listen to them, make promises and deliver on them. If you do this the rest of the project is a piece of cake. It might seem like time is being wasted, that project progress is too slow, but you will soon make up time, catch up and take over. Like Aesop’s fable of the Hare and the Tortoise. Slow and steady wins the race. The Change Ninja Handbook includes its own set of fables of how to build a better world of work.
Can you share one thing you’ve experienced, seen, or read about that is leading us towards a better world of work?
I’ve mentioned I work on QUBE. I initially introduced it into the National Health Service in the UK when I was Head of Innovation. I now support many teams working in this way. It’s a virtual 3D environment that is designed around human interactions and behaviors. There are other 3D software platforms out there but they are technology driven and full of ‘fun gimmicks’. They don’t, though, in any way shift how you work. QUBE has some built in rules for alignment, engagement, inclusion and collaboration. It’s built around diversity of thinking to ensure creativity of solutions. It’s full of tools to work collaboratively at speed while having fun. From a neuroscience perspective it’s brain friendly. Most technology isn’t and there is plenty of research describing why. QUBE provides a guide. Much like if you were going to a foreign country and needed to learn the new rules. A guide will help you learn how to immerse yourself in the new culture and norms.
I’m curious, thinking about building a better world of work, is there a company and/or leader who stands out to you as someone we should follow? If so, what are they up to?
Professor Eddie Obeng. He is so far ahead of most of us. He sees the future, the one we find hard to imagine. He teaches the future in ways we can understand and enact.
How can our readers follow your work?
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