This week in The Shaker we’re talking about people

team thinking
Lisa Portolan
Sat 28 Sep

The core ingredient to any enterprise – big, small or medium. Yet, for some reason, often a taboo subject. Despite the growth of Human Resources teams, who specialise in every skill imaginable – somehow, we still haven’t mastered the subject. 

But is it a topic for mastery? Or do we need to change our perceptions on management completely? 

Having worked across consultancy and government spaces, as a staff member, as the manager and also as a director – it’s always occurred to me that some of the most spectacular fails often come down to the people. Not necessarily the individuals per se, but the way their skills were harnessed and the way they were treated

A long time ago, I started to prescribe to Brene Brown’s concept around personal power. Brown is a Professor at the University of Houston and has written a number of bestsellers including Daring Greatly; Rising Strong; Braving the Wilderness and most recently, Dare to Lead. Brown’s hypothesis is simple and centres around a space of contagious courage, and personal power. Whilst her ethos applies across a number of different life realms (the home, relationships etc), they ring to me particularly true in the workplace. 

Let’s face it: the workplace often becomes a power struggle. A place where your personal power is challenged and you suddenly need to hustle to reinstate it. Like Brown I don’t believe that I need to negotiate my worth with anyone, and most definitely not with anyone in the workplace. I don’t need to convince you that I’m the right person for the position, that I did the right thing, or that I’m a smart or competent enough person to take on the task. 

Put quite simply, I am. 

Often bosses (at every level) question a staff-members worthiness, and it is this erosion of personal power which impacts people on so many levels, not just in the workplace, but also beyond. Work dramas have a way of seeping into personal lives and relationships, leaving the deep tang of unhappiness everywhere. 

So this week, we’re going to examine Brene Brown and her advice on harnessing personal power at any level within a business. 

We’re also going to examine the concept of “psychological safety”, coined by Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, Amy Edmondson. The notion describes a workplace marked by a shared belief that interpersonal risk-taking is okay. By interpersonal risk-taking Edmondson means: the capacity to speak your mind, to disagree, to have robust discussions, without fear of retaliations or punishment. 

The opposite is a fear-based culture, a place where employees feel there are a number of topics that are simply taboo and that castigation is imminent (no matter what). Leaders who create a fear-based culture often do so to increase productivity, or to drive results, but the impact on the team and the bottom line is quite the opposite. Fear-based culture stymy creativity and drive low rates of retention, short-mindedness and distrust. 

We’ll also delve into Patty McCord’s (Netflix HR manager for fourteen years and author of Powerful) ethos on people management, and her somewhat radical idea of throwing out the rule-book. She writes, “As for empowerment: I simply hate that word. The idea is well intentioned but the truth is that there is so much concern about empowering people only because the prevailing way of managing takes their power away. We didn’t set out to take it away; we just over-processed everything. We’re hamstrung people. What I came to understand deeply and knew once I made my way into the scrappier start-up world is that people have power. A company’s job isn’t to empower people; it’s to remind people that they walk in the door with power to create the conditions for them to exercise. Do that, and you will be astonished by the great work they will do for you.” 

This week we’re talking about new ways of working, throwing out the HR rule-book, shimmying into your power, psychological safety, and we’re hearing from a millennial about what millennials and gen z expect from the workplace. 

We’re welcoming new contributors to The Shaker, including Rebekah Allison, Senior Account Director; and Sheena Ireland, Strategic Communications expert. 

Get ready for another amazing work week entrepreneurs!

This week’s motto: Stand in your power.