I think one of the biggest crises we have going on in our workplaces today is the loss of individual identity. This isn’t the result of some insidious plot by corporate America to squeeze the personality out of the workforce, but rather the result of well-intentioned efforts over the years to introduce “process” and “efficiency” into our organizations. Variations and deviance, even in small degrees, cause systems to operate less efficiently. So, when companies are intensely focused on efficiency, they tend to drive to consistency and sameness. The problem is that people are complex animals who each have their own individual weirdness. And when you try to drive a standard of consistency and sameness on a complex animal, something’s got to give.
The give has been in the employee’s spirit. Their soul and passion for work. It is impossible to be fully and passionately engaged in anything that doesn’t invite you to be fully who you are, weirdness and all.
The big problem is that most companies and executives aren’t aware that they are squeezing the indivdualism out of their workforce. Most executives have long since lost their ability to remember what it feels to be a front line employee, so when they approve broad sweeping policies and process improvement initiatives that mandate a “stepford wives” system in their company, they don’t even notice.
In order to put work back on our own terms, we must break this trend. Individuals need to realize that giving up their weirdness is a choice and it’s not a required on. We must get in touch with and embrace our weirdness, weave it together to form our own unique and beautiful freak flag, and then to fly that flag proudly. Now, I’m not advocating for being different for the sake of being different or for being a rabble-rouser as daily activity. What I am advocating is being crystal clear on who your are, what’s important to you (your values and beliefs) and then acting accordingly. This means making conscious choices about when you will “fit in” and when you will “stand out.” Fitting in is highly over-rated. Anything that is memorable or exceptional stands out. Think of your favorite songs or movies or TV shows. The reason you love them is because they are different from the pack. What you love about them specifically is the very things that make them different. The same is true for people. To gain leverage in the work equation, we must be memorable and exceptional which requires us to play up and play out our differences from the pack. We must stand out.
Being fiecely authentic in our thoughts, words and actions isn’t a tactic, it’s an imperative. No more playing small. No more fitting in. One reason to fly your freak flag is to know when you are in enemy territory. If bullets start flying at you too regularly in your work environment for being who you are, it’s probably time to move on.
To take back work, we must fly our freak flags high and march them proudly into within our work and workplaces.
Tomorrow, I will take on the last of my assertions about how to take back work, commitment.