Role models - We need you!

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Of course, I'm writing this blog on a Sunday afternoon - oops, that tells you something about how rubbish I am at managing my work / life balance! I'm not the best role model in this regard. I try hard - I plan everything within an inch of it's life, I schedule "relax" time (no kidding!) but the inevitable happens when you have flexible hours and autonomy over your working life - you remain "on" most of the time, and your "off" time gets further squeezed.

But I remain committed to listening to how others do it and open to trying new ways to get better. 

Over the years I have heard of many different initiatives to support flexibility - organisation and  individually led. I am convinced though that they simply do not work unless the senior people "walk the talk". Infrastructure is wonderful but if the mindsets aren't in place then the policies and processes won't work in practice.  And if the open and honest mindsets aren't visible, then it is likely that the necessary quality communication between boss and team will be impaired. 

In a session last week at an investment bank with a group of MDs, we debated the practice of laughing and joking and generally commenting when people left early from work - you know the kind of thing "Hey part timer!" or "Looking for another job are we?". There were around 20 people in the room, all men except for 2 women. 

One woman felt strongly that jokes were part of the environment - people are used to it and it helps to deal with the stress of the work. She asked for "no favours", and talked about the compromises we all needed to make to be successful. The most senior (male) in room disagreed - very vocally - he was clear, it didn't matter what the reason was, no one needed to know why someone was leaving early, it was none of their business and in 2017 we should support the fact that people had a whole range of commitments outside work. This was about trust - and the environment needed to support people in what they say and do, and how they say it and do it. Great stuff.

But for me it goes further than this - it is about how we attribute value to the things that matter to people outside work. That might be the kids, or an elderly parent, but equally it needs to also be about sport, politics or community work to name a few. The problem is that if I don't understand what drives you, it might be difficult for me to support you as best I can. That might mean, not joining in with the jokes, it might mean saying "Hey guys, enough already", it might mean that I check in with you afterwards privately to see if you are OK (showing you I've noticed), or it might mean I walk up to my role model and say, "this isn't on and you need to do something about it". 

Behaviour - and mindsets - don't change because  polices tell them to. We need role models who notice what obstacles some people have to navigate to become successful. But with the best will in the world, role models can't notice everything, they rely on people to call things out to them. This is about approachability - true role models know they are being observed constantly and judged accordingly.

After the session the senior MD emailed me to tell me that another participant had come and told him something after the session that he (the MD) hadn't known about. He was pleased. It was about "stuff that went on" which was a blocker to flexible working and now he felt he could make a tangible difference. Now that is being a true role model.

Right - it is Sunday afternoon and I'm off to lie on the sofa with my kids and watch a rubbish film. That's role modelling too!

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