A lifetime ago I worked in an office that, like most others, had a tacit dress code. A tie was not mandatory unless you were meeting clients; otherwise a collared shirt and sensible slacks (or a nice blouse and a long-enough skirt) sufficed.
One Friday, however, my bohemian colleague rocked up in a tee, jeans, and something the kids these days would call “shoes”.
When someone asked him why he was dressed that way, he shot back a quizzical look and stated matter-of-factly, “It’s Casual Friday”.
After a private chuckle, I didn’t think too much of it until the following Friday when something unexpected happened: other people were wearing casual clothes. Then the next week, more people were in their civvies. And so on every week until eventually everybody was embracing “Casual Friday”.
Now, Casual Friday is an institution at this company. You would look very strange indeed if you turned up in a suit.
As I reflected on this little episode, I pondered the teachings of Fred Kofman.
In Conscious Business, Kofman defines the difference between a “victim” and a “player”. A victim blames all of his or her woes on external factors – the bus was late; the traffic was horrendous; my boss is an idiot; our IT sucks; we don’t have a learning culture around here.
In contrast, a player responds to the environmental conditions to his or her advantage – he calls ahead to push back that meeting; she leaves half an hour earlier to beat the traffic; he buys a judiciously chosen book for his boss for Christmas; she experiments with externally hosted social media; he engages the few employees in the organisation who are hungry to learn.
In other words, the player exploits his or her “locus of control”. Of course you’re not the CEO, so you can’t make anything happen just by decreeing it. However, you do have a sphere of influence. Are you using it?
If Kofman’s work is a bit too self-helpy for you, let me rephrase it in edu-speak:
Sometimes the ones most guilty of the knowing-doing gap are ourselves.
As L&D professionals, we know most learning undertaken in the workplace is informal. We know social learning works. We know our target audience is addicted to their smartphones and tablets.
So what are we doing about it?
The moral of the story of my bohemian friend is that we are more powerful than we realise. A single person can make a world of difference, if he or she has passion, courage and persistence.
I’m certainly not goading you into making drastic wholesale changes that are going to bankrupt your company or get you fired. All I’m saying is that sometimes it is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.
If my bohemian friend had asked to wear his jeans that Friday, he would almost certainly have been declined. So he didn’t ask; he just did it. If it backfired, he simply would have fallen back into line the next Friday. (And no doubt try something else!)
So I put to you:
What do you wish would change at your workplace?
Are you a victim or a player?
What can you influence?
What can you sensibly risk asking for forgiveness for rather than for permission?
Do you have the guts to make a difference?
It’s time to wield your power of one.