Killing the Sunday Night Blues with Meaning
I count myself to be pretty lucky to be able to live and work in Brighton. And the list of great reasons to live here got a little longer a few years back when the Meaning Conference came to town.
The Meaning Conference, brought to us by the excellent Nixon McInnes, has just made its 4th annual appearance at the Brighton Corn Exchange and it didn’t disappoint.
For those of you that don’t know, Meaning brings together smart people that want to change the world of business for the better. And by better we’re not talking more profit – better means better for the world and better for the people of the world.
The smart people that Meaning brings to our attention are international thinkers and doers from business, academia and activism, each bringing an individual perspective on the challenges and opportunities we face.
I love it so much because it makes me feel some optimism for our collective future. Knowing that there are great people out there not just identifying our opportunities but already working to pull our world back from the brink of environmental and social disaster that threatens us provides some reassurance that our species does have many redeeming features and we may still have a bright future.
Meaning is also great because it puts me in the same room as hundreds of people who care about the same things that I do. I already knew they were out there but coming together as a community gives you a massive lift and, more importantly, inspires me to move from someone who just thinks about solutions to someone who acts.
For me, this year’s stand-out speakers were Jos De Blok from the self-organizing, self-healing Buurtzorg Care Foundation in the Netherlands who helped me see that we can achieve so much more when we finally trust people enough to hand over all the power to make a difference to the people at the coal-face, Jackie Lynton who showed us how you make change happen on a truly massive scale by tapping in to our innate motivation to make a real and positive difference in the world and Mim Turner who made me realise the true world-changing potential that our businesses have to offer by showing that when businesses change their model from minimising the negative impact they have on the world to maximising the positive impact they can make then everybody gains – including the shareholders.
My Meaning Mission
So, how have I chosen to act?
The Meaning Mission that I have chosen to accept :) is to Kill Off the Sunday Night Blues that so many people across the world experience. Too many people lay their heads on their pillows on a Sunday night with a feeling of dread in the pit of their stomachs about the working week in front of them. Too many people are dissatisfied with their working lives but keep on turning up day after day because they just don’t believe that anywhere else can be any better.
It’s a travesty. A travesty that we are wasting so much of lives being somewhere we don’t want to be and it’s a travesty because it just doesn’t have to be that way.
Many of you may be shocked to hear it but work can be a great, uplifting experience. No typo’s in that little sentence I assure you!
Whether we realise it or not, just about everything we do at work has a valuable purpose – a meaning. Our work helps the organisations we support to deliver against many of society’s needs – businesses really just don’t exist unless society believes it has a need. Why else would someone buy what you do?
Sometimes the problems that businesses are solving are obvious to us – think of the wonderful work that small care organisations can do in helping our less able family members to live higher quality, more meaningful lives. Sometimes it’s not so clear but it is always there.
As an example I recently worked with a small business to help them find their mojo. This business fixed gardening, forestry and groundcare machines and we wanted to understand which of society’s problems it was solving. It didn’t take us to long to find the answer. This company was playing a vital role helping us to keep our natural spaces looking beautiful, helping us to maintain spaces for our recreation, helping us to look after our forests so that wildlife can thrive and, as important as all of these, helping us to do it in a way that we can sustain by ensuring that we are making the best use of the machines that we already have and not using up more of our valuable resources making new machines.
It was really something to be proud of – we just hadn’t realised it before that point.
A Little Exercise for You
Think about the organisation you work for now. It won’t take long for you to work out which of society’s problems it is solving and, if you think a little deeper, you will soon realise how important your particular piece of your organisation’s jigsaw puzzle is in helping it solve those problems. That understanding is a small but nonetheless critical step in to appreciating your own value in the world and therefore the value in your work.
Beyond understanding the importance of the role that we play in the world we also need to make the experience of work better. Work is, undoubtledly, a complex and challenging environment. There are many competing priorities, many problems to solve and many more solutions that might be applicable. And when we bring people into the equation, with all of their myriad perspectives formed by their unique past life experiences (their back-stories), it can get messy.
Despite these complexities there are many things that we can do to optimise these people systems and in a way that makes people’s lives better. One of my heroes helping to show us what we can achieve here is Alex Kjerulff, the original Chief Happiness Officer and founder of WooHoo Inc. I first came across Alex at Meaning 2012 when he introduced us to the 5 Level Good Morning. He took the whole audience through the most basic, dare I say, caveman-like grunt which tells people you’ve just about noticed their existence through to demonstrating that you genuinely care about the person who’s just walked in. There was a slight bit of discomfort for me, as an introvert, in the openness of the feelings being shared but the energy that arose from such a warm and generous hello was self-evident to all three hundred of us there on that day. He showed me that paying attention to our human needs is absolutely critical if we want our people to bring their whole, difference-making selves into the workplace.
Keeping it human – knowing what humans need – is the key. Alex’s focus on Results and Relationships in the workplace is the best and simplest model there is out there for creating happy workplaces that enable people to do their best for your company.
HR People Making A Difference – not an oxymoron!
Forward wind three years to Meaning 2015 and we, in the HR community were lucky enough to have another event set up alongside the main attraction. This year #NZLEAD came to Brighton with an UnConference the day after. Coming together with HR and other People-Focused People from around the world including #NZLEAD’s native New Zealand, the UK and Romania, we set about identifying our opportunities and next steps for building more Humane Workplaces based on the shared conviction that humane workplaces will lead to healthier, happier and (for all you money-heads out there) more productive working environments and guided by Amanda Sterling's excellent book by the same title.
It was another inspiring and productive day. Four separate workstreams set about solving problems such as how we better enable community in the workplace and how we wake up the 99% of the world that don’t realise Humane Workplaces are possible and desirable. The end result was that the energy and the potential of all of the attendees was realised and we came out with a wide range of solutions and actions for us to follow-up on to help us move the world towards this better future.
More To Do
Clearly, we are only at the beginning of a journey towards fixing some of the world’s more challenging problems but we have taken a massive step in recognising that rather than being the problem, business can also be the solution. By focusing beyond profit towards a business world that prioritises people and the planet we can all make a valuable and significant contribution to a much improved future.
What’s Your Meaning Mission?
If you’re keen to start making your own contribution then a great starting point is to become a part of the Meaning Community. Why not connect with and take inspiration from the people at Meaning (their previous year’s speaker presentations are all available on YouTube), the HR people at #NZLEAD focussed on making the workplace more humane, the people around you who share similar ideas and then ask yourself how are you going to add even more value to your small part of the world. What are you going to make your Meaning mission!?
Good luck and I hope to see you at Meaning 2016.