“One of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone is the gift of your attention.” — Jim Rohn
So I must be doing something right ; ) but it appears that I’ve also still got a long way to go. So in previous posts I mentioned a need I had to reconcile my new role after raising concerns that one of my workers had been promoted without any of the other eligible candidates being offered an opportunity for an interview.
I previously settled upon making a resolution to take a step back (appropriately so, I believe) to allow the new supervisor to embrace her new role (without generating any misguided suspicions that I might attempt to sabotage) her new position.
I maintained that stance for about 2 weeks just to de-escalate the situation. But I noticed that with the supervisor that my apparent disengagement seemed to create a fair amount of tension, and I noted definite improvements in her engagement levels with the other workers, as she stepped in to try and prove that she could be more empathetic and more understanding than I could be when they approached me hoping I could help them address some of their concerns and issues. And I simply explained that with the evolution of the new roles, I didn’t have the information but to check with their supervisor who might be able to provide them with better information.
But I did begin to notice a pattern of disengagement begin to set in. After I spent the first week or so finding other work spaces to complete my tasks, or meeting with vendors, or prospective clients, there was a tension that definitely existed from not being informed or included.
Concurrently the tensions also began to mount earlier this week as I began the pilot of our big/little mentorship program. We had a few people ask what the purpose of the program which was;
to bridge the leadership gap between our inexperienced workers and senior level leaders by creating mentorship opportunities for our lower level workers so that they can begin to learn the magnitude of the responsibility of mentorship early and begin to cultivate the attributes they would need to be more effective leaders, in a safe, experiential, nurturing controlled learning environment.
And it was communicated to everyone we polled when we were trying to gauge potential interest that the program was voluntary, anyone could opt out at any time, and would not be a formal program due to the variance in desired level of participation. And most workers expressed excitement about it; many even expressed preferences for who they would like to be partnered with.
So this week we started assigning “bigs” and “littles.” We only had two conflict (ish) moments with two workers classified as “littles” wished to be claimed by more than one of our “big” participants, but the matter was quickly resolved by explaining the situation to the “bigs” and asking the “littles” for their top preference.
I did discuss the idea prior to launch with the incoming head supervisor after she expressed some apprehension about the program because she was concerned some might not be interested and she didn’t want to force participation. But once she found out that the program would actually benefit her by providing participants an opportunity to go to one another for guidance and assistance, rather than flood her phone and inbox with messages (as it had done inconveniently so with the incumbent who held her position), she expressed that she thought it was a good idea.
Then today I was approached by our building manager, asking me to explain more about the program because he’d received a complaint about the initiative.
Someone had expressed to him that we shouldn’t have the program
…out of concern that people might be forced to participate in the initiative. It was the incumbent. He didn’t have to tell me who it was. I already knew, because the incumbent had already expressed those concerns to me and I had already expressed to this person that the program was voluntary and that anyone who did not want to participate simply had to express that they wanted to opt out, which is why we were discussing whether workers would even be interested prior to launching the program, and what we’d like the outcomes of the program to be so that they could be flexible but still provide maximum benefit.
The person also expressed later criticisms about one of the big/little pairings because the mentorship arrangement would be across genders. I knew that the worker felt personally responsible for the “little” and even though I reassured the incumbent that the deliberation had taken longer to consider been made and that since the incumbent would be devoting so much time to the upstart that we didn’t want to neglect the needs of the “little” since she had expressed interest in the program, I reassigned the “little” to the incumbent since they had a natural affinity for one another and I acknowledged that it could foster a meaningful relationship.
The little was “thrilled.” That’s probably an understatement. When I mentioned that one of the first assignments would be for the “bigs” and “littles” to assign nicknames to one another, her response was “OhmyGOD that’s so awesome. We could be big A___ and little A___!” Although it was probably more of one very rapid run on sentence.
*of course names and images have been omitted to protect the identity of the people involved or mentioned
And as similar reactions came from other “littles” who relayed how much fun or how much cooler they thought their “bigs” were once they had spent a little time getting to talk with them (as in the case with the social butterfly and outgoing Air Force aspirant we’d paired with the anti-social kid in the corner who built functional crossbows out of pencils and rubber bands who wanted to join the Marine Corp and went home and built fully functional combat gear every weekend) I noticed the incumbent begin to act more withdrawn.
And the few of those who had already expressed that they wouldn’t be interested in the program or would be minimally invested were either kept off the list completely or paired with someone who’d expressed a similar level of commitment. And those who were on the fence seemed content to learn that they had the flexibility to choose their own level of participation.
We did get some eye rolls from the building manager, however, before today’s discussion (mostly because he isn’t a huge fan of any of the practices derived from the Greek system). But after I reiterated that it was explained to all participants that the program wouldn’t be formal and that the intent of the program was to provide them with opportunities to build the soft skills they’d need to become better mentors and supervisors since we were going to have SOOO many people in leadership roles next year and our predecessors hadn’t really provided any leadership development options (‘m not quite willing to throw out the baby with the bath water just yet, as I think that the biggest lesson our younger workers can learn is how to respond in healthy ways whenever they find themselves unexpectedly in conflict since that wasn’t being modeled well by our top leadership).
I did request that he encourage those with criticisms of the program to come and speak with me in person, or at the very least remind them that at any time they can express to me that they would not like to participate and that they would always have that option. I wanted to follow up with the reminder that they are all supposed to be adults, but felt that albeit true that it was probably wise that I left that omission. So he agreed to allow the program to continue and that he would keep his ears and eyes open.
In the meantime, my “little” and I; I only landed one because she requested to have me specifically, are planning a little spirit quest of sorts. Since neither of us expressed a preference for a nickname (I did give her that option), and we both like to run the trails (although I’m not familiar enough with “big coaster” to run out there without another person), she’s agreed to spend an afternoon out there more or less goofing off and creating some shenanigans on our quest to create a narrative about how we got our names so that we can create our own story.
I’m actually extremely lucky as far as “littles” go, because mine’s pretty, rad and popular, but she’s still uninhibited enough to get weird and nerdy.
She’s even got her boyfriend excited about participating and the plan isn’t really even formed. We hadn’t even fully explained to him what the spirit quest was when he belted out, “does this mean I get to use a sword?!”
When I came home this evening, I did want to confirm whether my concerns that the attempts to disband the program might have been initiated by the incumbent because there was something I’d contributed, or not contributed in the early stages that I could have one differently. But after skimming through some articles about workplace envy [trust me, it’s a real thing] and remedies for it I learned:
But I was also pleased to learn that:
“Smart managers, of course, try to avoid these dynamics by spreading around the opportunities, giving people a range of assignments, and basing recognition on measurable accomplishments.”
And I do feel as if this initiative could be really effective at accomplishing some of those goals, even though it may seem at a glance to be frivolous and unnecessary (at least to those who don’t understand the value of play and trust building simulations and the impact it has upon stimulating dopamine receptors as workers
- cultivate a sense of belonging,
- intentionally create small acts of kindness,
- provide recognition for these gestures and these acts of kindness
- coach, confide and encourage one another during times of stress or conflict,
- discover confidence and gratitude as they build their proficiency in some of these areas
- create positive associations and bond with one another through these multi-sensory experiences
I do, however, really like the idea of being able to choose how I respond to this –and if the initiative is successful– then I’d like to feel proud of the way we’ve worked around this barrier, and that we rose to the occasion as the authors and heroes of this story.
So I don’t know what the outcomes of all of this will be, but I am really looking forward to gathering some good metrics on growth of engagement since we have such a variable level of interest, to provide good research controls. Plus, my “little” and I discussed possibilities this afternoon of inviting other bigs/littles out for pac-mixers, pranks, competitions and other outings. If Derek Sivers is correct about his theory regarding how to grow a movement, perhaps this initiative to provide fun and fellowship will prove to be a glowing testimony and replication of his work on the rapid growth of cultural shifts spurred by grassroots engagement.