This week I took to the train and headed up to the for the Health & Wellbeing at Work Show 2016. Cited to me by the hugely experienced Amy McKeown of EY as the work wellbeing show of the year, I was expecting great things. Amy had, quite rightly, told me that in order to be successful in the corporate wellbeing space, The Life Adventure must have a real standout USP. And as wellbeing was currently so ‘on trend’, it was attracting many, many suppliers into the marketplace, so it was time to take a look. I anticipated inspiration, a peek at the competition, a rousing look at future trends and some lively debate.
And don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad at all, particularly with a few big names such as Dame Carol Black featuring high on the bill. Yet what struck me was, well, how rather grey and structured the topic of workplace health and wellbeing was at this show. Maybe in part, it was due to the location. After all, people spilling out from their seminar breaks into Wetherspoons didn’t quite hit the health spot for me. But Wetherspoons aside, it still wasn’t a patch on, for example, the recent Learning Technologies Show at Olympia. That was big on impact. There was energy, vitality, innovation and really great advice on the future of learning in the workplace. Big stages, plenty of big names, bold statements about AI and VR. I came away enthralled, with lists and notes and tangible enthusiasm.
Maybe it was me, but it just seemed to me a little lacklustre, full of government statistics, foreboding about the future and well, just rather average talks. Where was the vitality and dynamism one might expect would accompany a show on such a (potentially) positive subject? Or perhaps I just went to the wrong sessions.
This lack of ‘juice’ (as my good friend Rohan Narse would call it) pervaded through several talks, so instead I went along to a few of the supplier side showcases, squeezed into the back of the arena. But nothing grabbed me there, no sparky, boundary-pushing speakers, no real innovation here either.
By the time 4pm came I’d almost given up hope. However, on seeing there was a talk called ‘Disease and the Mind Body Connection’, I was expecting great things from Penny Coal. The heading stood out as something a little different, something that stretched the confines. Yet all too soon it became apparent that Penny was going to have her work cut out for her. No credentials (she wasn’t from a medical background – I’m not sure anyone here quite approved of that) and straying into complementary therapy territory was never going to be easy in this environment, yet I willed for her to make her case and really get people in the workplace thinking about new ways of approaching the mind-body connection. It all looked so promising – EFT and NLP techniques – these are both fantastic tools that a corporate employee can harness during a stressful day in the office. Yet Penny lost her way rather and many people walked out, just not believing in her. The only real highlight of the day for me (other than Dame Carole Black) was Dr Carole Pemberton, who spoke with real clarity on resilience. It’s a topic that currently draws huge interest, so the room was packed and Carole was inspiring. Explaining how, to some degree, resilience can be genetic and the rest is mostly down to what happens in the years to follow. We all wanted to hear and learn more on what she had to say.
So why is the world of health and wellbeing at work just not that exciting, certainly when it comes to large events like this on the subject? Where was the buzz, the curiosity, the innovation?
It was a world away from The School of Life Live seminar I went to on Wednesday night – full of 30 somethings totally eager to learn new techniques and ways of thinking that could transform their lives, both inside and out of the workplace. The place was buzzing, the energy was high and the topics (such as How To Be Bored, How To Think Like And Entrepreneur, How To Love, How To Live In A City) pushed us to think altogether differently about life and work.
The show was also in a complete contrast to the brilliant event run by Conscious Café that I went to last week. Held approximately once a month and drawing a mixture of successful leaders and entrepreneurs, they’re organised by the wonderfully talented, yet utterly demure Judy Piatkus, founder of Piatkus books, an inspirational speaker and coach. I’ve been to 3 sessions now and each time I attend I find that Judy’s ability to find fascinating topics and really good speakers, on emotional wellbeing and intelligence, remains unchallenged. Even the people I sat next to left a marked impression on me for days afterwards. Take Jude Jennison for example, founder of a startup called The Leadership Whisperers. I was enthralled to hear of her work with horses which helps senior leaders and executive teams lead through uncertainty and transform their businesses. Apparently nothing sees through you and your poor leadership style quite like a horse. Sounds mad of course, but its profound, humbling and radical work that has a huge impact on participants and businesses. It felt edgy, a bit radical and incredibly authentic, all in one. Just what the corporate world needs.
The title of the Conscious Cafe talk was ‘Bring Your Consciousness To Work’, a heading that got my attention. It followed another in this series on Conscious Leadership, which I wrote about here.
Yet I know all too well from a corporate perspective, the word consciousness often scares (and turns) people off. I recently ruffled the feathers of a Senior BP at Barclays by mentioning the word happy. Apparently they find it “all a bit too American”, so my guess is that there would be little hope of introducing any leadership training or talks to them with the word consciousness in the title. You see titles, and language, in the space of, well, let’s call it emotional wellbeing for now, is an incredibly tricky business. My previous role was creating experiences for consumer brands so I’m quite obsessed with titles. We used to ideate for hours on short headlines to create maximum impact on small FMCG packaging. It can be make or break a sale, or indeed a suggestion, whether in the context of consumer promotions or wellbeing and leadership talks in the workplace. Dependant on your skill, imagination, realism, and judgement of the audience’s tastes and emotional intelligence, will determine whether you manage to pique their interest and participation, or totally switch them off.
The interactive session for 18 of us was led by Andrew Thornton, who’s learnt through experience that people are frequently in, or doing, the wrong jobs. He also believes that many leaders have lost their connection with what they love doing and end up working just for the profit or the short term gains. So he’s on a mission to put the heart back into business. It’s an all too familiar story and one I recently read a great blog on. It related to startups. Founders set up with a passion, raise funding and end up chasing the profits in order to satisfy their hungry investors. They quickly end up a long way from the values they started out with.
So what’s the answer? How do we get the heart back into business?
We all start with good intentions. Yet how many of us lose our way and focus on the wrong goals, paying little attention to our values and the values of those around us? Fiona Buckland talked about this for The Life Adventure recently at a session we delivered for a government department on motivation. Why did the financial crisis happen, for example? After all, weren’t people highly motivated and incentivised? Yes they were, but they were motivated to meet short-term goals and not long-term impact. Whilst we may convince ourselves otherwise, this isn’t actually what truly motivates us and it certainly doesn’t drive authentic and honest behaviour. These are what’s called extrinsic motivators and they simply don’t work beyond the short term. What truly motivates us and drives good behaviour are intrinsic motivators. These are our values. And when you are intrinsically motivated you are far more likely to be more creative (around solutions), you think more laterally, you ponder more deeply and you get to the bedrock of things. And once we connect with these, both as a business and individually, it’s hugely powerful. When we live our values, we feel motivated, energised and authentic. We’re in the flow and so is everything and everyone around us. It’s a culture that every business strives for. But it takes heart , insight and some serious work and employee training to achieve it.
In my opinion, Andrew Thornton is a remarkable man who gave a remarkable session that night at Conscious Cafe. Not just because he’s teaching this stuff to organisations, but because he’s truly living through the challenges himself, every single day. He became more and more frustrated by the short term profit focus of the clients he dealt with as a consultant and felt deeply that there was a better and different way to be in business. Alongside running one of the two supermarkets he bought following his resignation as a consultant (yes, you read that right, two supermarkets – one of which had a farm on the roof!) he now also runs an organisation that inspires and supports companies to focus on people and the planet, trusting that profit will follow. He’s also trying to break down the boundaries in terms of the language that’s accepted in organisations, too, something that I’m passionate about.
So, could we possibly imagine a bright future where businesses like RBS are run by a CEO and senior executives with heart, compassion and empathy? One that seeks to draw out the values of its employees so that they begin to knit together in a very different, hugely more effective way. Well, considering that recent conversation I had with Barclays, and what I saw from the show at the NEC, we may just have to wait a while and see.
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