Do you whistle
behind your plow?
How to create a great workday in the midst of challenging times?
This is a time of work hours that feel long, lonely, and hard to get through. On those days I think of myself as a farmer overlooking a field that needs plowing. The field seems infinite. It's hard labour, but I'm the farmer, and if I want a harvest this summer, I have to start plowing. And what do I choose when I'm behind the plow? Do I whistle throughout the day, or do I elect to wail while holding the reins?
I was at the breakfast table with my wife, Kristine, the other day. I came to think that the COVID 19 pandemic somehow is like this endless field. Virtually everyone I know is in a markedly different situation now than anything they knew up until a year ago. In my own company, almost all of our conversations are about how to help organizations and employees get their spirits up, and better yet, keep their spirits high.
During COVID-19 there is no one to scold. No one to blame. No boss, colleagues, suppliers or customers to wag a finger at. Not even foreign nations or hostile powers. So when the workday is too thick to cut through and there's no one else to hold accountable, many choose to believe something is lacking in their own performance. When it's difficult to get ongoing feedback on your results, you are left to evaluate yourself and become your own judge. And more often than not, that judge is ruthless and harsh. When this level of evaluation happens daily over a year, it takes a heavy toll on confidence and self-esteem.
Does this sound like you? If you find it hard to find stuff to whistle over, there's inspiration to be had in Alcoholics Anonymous and their serenity prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
So let's begin with the first part: unless you work in vaccine development, are employed by the National Board of Health, or named Mette Frederiksen, I suppose the pandemic is one of the things you just can't change.
As serenity settles in, pucker your lips and whistle as you face your first challenge. Look at it, imagine how wonderful it would be if it were no longer there. Ask around if anyone will help you get through the challenge, and once you have found help, get started. Still whistling.
Accept that it's here.
Everything else that now stands between you and a great workday is in the next segment of the prayer: some things can be changed, and now it's simply a matter of mustering the courage to get going.
As serenity settles in, pucker your lips and whistle as you face your first challenge. Look at it, imagine how wonderful it would be if it were no longer there. Ask around if anyone will help you get through the challenge, and once you have found help, get started. Still whistling. When it's done, you celebrate your successful efforts. And then it's on to the next one. Step by step you are now in the process of building up yourself and your day, and all feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness disappear right here, behind the plow.
You and your colleagues can easily find ways of working to regain your self-confidence, and the CEO will surely be excited to assist all of you. And what if, on rare occasions, you run into obstacles that still cannot be overcome, even if you and your workmates summon all your resources and skills and put in maximum effort? Don't despair, don't scold, but accept that you can't change everything in the world.
With the peace of mind that spreads in you, and all the wonderful melodies you will learn to whistle, every day behind the plow becomes a breeze. Rain or shine.
You're in the way, boss!
There are companies without actual management and hierarchy. One of them is the largest in its field.
Morning Star Company is California's largest tomato grower and the world's biggest producer of canned tomatoes. The company has more than 500 permanent employees and take on 4,000 seasonal workers four months a year, with a turnover of close to $700 million.
One particular aspect of Morning Star Company makes it stand out in the world of big business: it does not have managers, job titles or a structural hierarchy. In other words, there's no expectation that upper management will fix the problems. And there's no one above or below whom you dare not challenge or seek help from.
The employees follow two basic company principles: all interactions are entered into voluntarily and with no use of force; you work in the sorting department because it's where you want to work, not because you have been assigned the task.
Everyone must live up to the commitments they make with each other. This means, for example, that if you propose to take responsibility for replacing the center roller on the sorting belt, you measure up to the challenge.
To make this corporate structure work, Morning Star Company has defined a strong purpose for the entire company, for each department, and each employee. The employees have, of course, helped define their own reasons for going to work and participated in outlining a collective purpose for the team. The logic behind this is that if the company includes you and your values, you will be far more likely to engage with the company.
The Glassdoor online recruitment platform allows former employees to post company reviews, and there you can witness the current state of Morning Star Company from an employee's perspective. One example is enlightening: "I’ve been with Morning Star full time for more than ten years. Pros: bold culture with self-management. Good salary. Disadvantages: none at present."
"When I lose heart, I resort to risk management, which is static and lacking vision. Then I start telling others what to do and miss the opportunity to utilise other people's amazing skills and resources, while undermining their foundation for achieving job satisfaction".
Kantar Gallup periodically conducts a survey, "State of the Global Workplace", which covers approximately 150 countries, Denmark included. The most recent 2017 study found that 73 percent of Danish employees from all organisational layers and all professional groups go to work uninvolved. Every day.
It's dismaying to see that so many choose to accept this skewed approach to their work lives – from a business and societal perspective, and certainly from an existential angle. Worth mentioning is that the same survey from 2013 reported that "only" 69 percent of Danes went to work with little to no enthusiasm, so conditions have not grown better over time.
The Lebanese philosopher Khalil Gibran had a very different vision of work in his book "The Prophet" from 1923: "It is through your work that your love becomes visible," he wrote. I use this approach to work daily as I relate to my customers and employees.
We have defined the purpose of our company, and our employees know why they're with us. Combined, this gives us a strong, common starting point, but only when I'm at my best and my confidence is at its peak. When I lose heart, I resort to risk management, which is static and lacking vision. Then I start telling others what to do and miss the opportunity to utilise other people's amazing skills and resources, while undermining their foundation for achieving job satisfaction.
On Tuesday, I'm having dinner with my business partner, Oliver, and there I commit to finding new structures to ensure that neither he nor I stand in the way. It'll be love in tomato sauce!
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