No one strives for vanilla

sunset-summer-golden-hour-paul-filitchkinOver the years I’ve observed sparky, funny, passionate and clever people morph into vanilla shells of their former selves as they enter their office to get on with their professional job of being a fundraiser.

It’s a strange phenomenon. Somehow through our drive to excel in what we do – to reach targets, climb a career ladder, ‘fit in’ or conform to the expectations of a working environment – we over-professionalise ourselves and lose the essence of what makes us extraordinary individuals. It seems the office can strip us of our true identity.

For me, meeting in a relaxing space like a coffee shop – as one client recently put it “where people can be themselves”, rather than in office meeting rooms has become commonplace.

I run team training days and workshops, and we always get better results when they are off site and away from the daily grind. I believe we get better results because leaving the office distances us from every-day routines and ‘business as usual’; helping to put us in a different space and mind-set. When one delegate told me it was a relief to be away from the “stressful work environment”, it made me ponder:

Shouldn’t our day-to-day working environment be a place where we can function without stress and just be ourselves?

And our very best selves at that?

Chicken and egg

Is it the physical environment of the office space that causes us to deposit our true selves at the door, or is it a personality shift as we pass through reception that serves to make many working environments so dysfunctional?

I’ve observed time and time again that people conform to what they believe is expected of them, and the result is mostly mediocrity. Yet they still manage to revert back to their true self when they leave the office at the end of the day. It’s little wonder that their messages don’t stand out, and their fundraising feels so hard. I’m afraid that one of the reasons it’s so hard is because everyone is blending in and doing the same things.

I know that people do business with individuals they know, like and trust; these could be internal colleagues, suppliers, business partners or supporters. Yet if everyone is filtering or dumbing down their true selves, does it make working relationships easy to build or allow trust to develop quickly? And does it make for more successful fundraising for the causes we are all trying to help? I don’t think it does.

Has any charity or individual not been given a donation because they had too much rapport, were too personable or constructed a relationship which contained too much trust? I don’t think so.

Serving up chickens and eggs

There is much to learn on this topic from Hawksmoor, a rapidly growing restaurant brand in London. They credit their success to their people strategy, which encourages staff to embrace their individual personalities. This makes employees happier at work, which in turn creates a more friendly and enjoyable environment for customers. Hawksmoor goes out of its way to employ people for their wide range of personalities and experiences. Staff all work to exceptional standards, and they all bring their true selves to work everyday. You can hear more here in an interview with Will Beckett of Hawskmoor.

Tomorrow, make sure you bring your personality to work

At Lucidity, we’ve been helping teams bring their personalities to work by encouraging them to identify their own unique approaches to innovation, and by coaching individuals and teams to play to their strengths.

Check out our innovation animal quiz. Be yourself, have fun doing it and let me know what innovation animal you are – this could be your first step to unlocking your ‘true you’ at the office.

Let’s not leave our personalities at the door when we arrive at work. If you are a manager, help your team be their best ‘them’. If you recruit, recruit people for their differences as well as their similarities.

But ultimately, you must be your best you. That’s when exceptional results happen.

After all, no one strives for vanilla.


6 Comments on “No one strives for vanilla

  1. Great post Lucy. I whole-heartedly endorse getting out of the office for workshops and even for 1:1s- and your comment has made me think again about why. Its not just that the coffee is better – though it usually is. There is something about the decor and atmosphere of most meeting rooms that stunts creativity – harsh fluorescent lighting, the formality of meeting in the office space. And its not just creativity that gets stunted – I think it is personality too. There is sound thinking in the use tech innovators make of informal meeting spaces…
    PS patient, inquisitive, candid – not sure if that’s buffalo or bison (and resisting the old joke). Some former colleagues may dispute the ‘patient’.

  2. “I’ve observed time and time again that people conform to what they believe is expected of them, and the result is mostly mediocrity.”

    Is this the fault of HR, person descriptions, and role competencies? And are those things disguises for running an organisation by the expectations of others… It’s probably a big self reinforcing feedback loop after that.

    It takes a lot of courage to take an interesting person and trust you can find a role they will excel in. And I bet it takes a lot more time and energy than hiring a person who has shown they will fit neatly into the slot an org chart says they should fill, and the expectations that role creates.

    I bet I know what impactful and happy organisations do though. Thanks again Lucy Gower for showing the way.

    • Thanks Ben – it is often a HR tick box exercise and I think you are right, it takes bravery to break convention. But I believe that it pays off for the organisations that do….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *