On Monday night I went to another gig with my wife and some friends. I've been to a few this year; nothing like the number I use to go to in my teens and early twenties where free time was much more abundant and gig tickets were significantly cheaper, but it's still been great to get back to doing something that's always brought me a lot of joy over the years. Naturally, as seems to happen when people get older, the gigs I've seen have typically been bands who I've listened to for years and this was no exception. The band in question were 90s Britpop superstars, Ocean Colour Scene, who shot to fame in my formative years with their second album, 1997s Moseley Shoals and followed it up in 1998 with Marchin' Already.
Those two albums, the high water mark of their career both commercially and critically, were released over a quarter of a century ago, and since that time, they've released seven further studio albums, the last in 2013, as well as an EP a few years ago. When you go to see bands who are touring but who have passed their commercial heyday, these gigs will go one of two ways. The best case scenario is that they play a set consisting of absolute bangers; all of their best songs, every one catapulting you back to a moment in time and flooding you with images, memories and emotions. The worst case is that they take the opportunity of a packed house to share the new songs they've written, inspired by their newly acquired love love of grime, dubstep or world music! I have been to both kinds, and the crowd reaction to the latter is rarely a positive one!
That's not to say I'm not a fan of new music, just that bands need to read the room. If your most recent release has sold four copies and had eleven streams on Spotify, it's a fair bet that the crowds who have forked out £45 a ticket to see you probably aren't there to hear you play that stuff! Why do people go to gigs? Lots of reasons. To be entertained, to be moved, to dance, to be reminded of different times, to escape. To feel the camaraderie of a room full of people experiencing something special. So why not give them that?
On the drive home I was thinking about the gig and mulling over ideas for this week's blog post and it struck me that leaders and could learn something from the boys from Birmingham! Let's take a closer look!
To begin, it's worth thinking about why people go to work. What do they want from that experience? Of course, not everyone is exactly the same, but in studies op the topic, there are themes which consistently emerge, so let's go with those. Firstly, people want to be paid a fair wage that allows them to live a good life. No everyone is obsessed with becoming rich but it's fair to say that people want to be paid a wage that doesn't feel like their employer is taking the piss. Solid pay and meaningful benefits. Then they want to feel trusted and valued and as though they're doing something useful of which is making a difference. Not everyone derives their life's purpose through their work, but people don't want to feel like they're spending 40 hours a week doing something completely worthless!
Next, people want to develop or grow in some way. Nobody wants to feel like they're living in Groundhog Day, going day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year doing the same things in the same way and not learning in some way. They want a manageable amount of work so as not to feel overwhelmed. A clarity of direction is important too. Seeing how the thing they're doing fits into the bigger picture, and where the work or the organisation is heading. Being treated with respect and care, and working in an environment that they enjoy, is important too. The culture of the workplace. And some element of flexibility or control ver the work or the working day, comes up regularly too.
For the average employee, these things are the hits. If you get these from your job, you'll generally feel pretty positive about it. So how can managers and leaders ensure that their people get these? Well it's pretty straightforward, really. From the point of view of pay and benefits, benchmark across the industry, recognise the impact of inflation year on year and ensure there aren't massive disparities between salaries at the top and bottom of your company. Pay people a decent, honest wage and ensure that they have access to things which enhance their lives. To build trust and make people feel valued, get to know them and let them get to know you. Give them opportunities and don't drag them over the coals when they make mistakes.
Show appreciation for work well done, whether it's a core part of their job or not. Help them understand the value in what they do, both in how it helps others in the organisation to do their jobs, and how it impacts the world outside. Driving shareholder value has never motivated anyone, ever, unless they're a shareholder! Invest in their growth, through quality 121s, observations, coaching and development activities. Take the time to listen and find out where they want to do, and help them get there, or be honest and explain why you can't. Make sure their workload is manageable; everyone in every job has times where they're spread pretty thin to get a project across the line, but that can't be all the time. Be proactive about building and managing the culture you want to build within the organisation and let people have autonomy wherever possible, in determining how, when (and maybe even where) they get their work done.
What I see, far too often, however, is leaders and businesses who ignore some or all of the above and focus on other things. Fancy office perks. Chatbots and AI solutions. New apps and technologies. All things that are shiny and new, but at the expense of the human aspect of great leadership. They are the business equivalent of a band playing their new, experimental stuff! I don't mind a new song if I'm getting to hear all the classics too, but don't play your new bhangra-influenced 12-minute prog epic, instead of playing The Day We Caught the Train! Ain't NOBODY got time for that!
Take a look as we wind down for the festivities, and think about the type of leader you are for your people and the experience that they get in working for you. How well are you doing in giving them the things that they really want and where could you be doing better? Be honest with yourself - it can be tempting to think, without evidence, that you're a great leader, just like everyone thinks they're an above average driver and funnier than most, but take a look at the evidence. What do your people say in employee opinion surveys? What about in skip-level meetings with your manager? What would they say about you behind your back, eight pints deep on the Christmas night out? What do you need to change in 2024 to change that narrative?
In the meantime, however, thank you very much for reading my posts throughout 2023
and sharing your thoughts and ideas. It means a lot to have people contacting me and letting me know what they liked and what got them thinking and I don't take your engagement for granted! I hope that you and your loved ones have a wonderful Christmas, a restful New Year and I'll see you all in 2024!