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I Will Survive

By Broch Cleminson, Chief People Officer & Head of Agile

Here is #6 in #TeamPTHR’s Unorthodox and Unplugged blog series. Brought to us by Broch Cleminson, our Chief People Officer and Head of Agile who I’m sure needs little introduction among our beloved PTHR network! This being the case, today she opens up a little more about herself and her journey with a blog where I think we can all recognise a piece of ourselves.

 

 

I had big plans for this blog post. I had planned to write something clever, impactful, and really stretch the limitations of my experience and perceptions in OD. I had planned to discuss the Royal Australian Navy’s list of 12 factors that are crucial to human survival following a disaster, and how I believe these factors translate to being just as crucial to organisational survival during times of extreme uncertainty or global crisis. They are:

 

  1. Pugnacity 
  2. Tenacity 
  3. Stubbornness 
  4. Self-reliance 
  5. Self-control
  6. Love of life
  7. Confidence in the ability to survive 
  8. Faith in outside help
  9. Adaptability to the environment
  10. Equable temperament 
  11. Mental and emotional stability 
  12. Sense of comradeship 

 

I believe there is still something in this; that at a macro level, these factors also make sense in the pursuit of organisational resilience, particularly now with the world spinning off its axle. I have been sitting on this idea for a couple of months now, since dropping my Grandmother off at her Ophthalmologist, and whilst waiting for her in the carpark finding a survival guide from the 1970s in her glove box. Likely a gift from the RAC should one ever find themselves broken down on one of the thousands of desolate roads in the middle of the Australian outback. You’ve probably guessed this is the type of Grandmother who keeps everything, from school books to empty ice-cream containers, always has a handkerchief stuffed up her sleeve, and who you will never convince to sign up for internet banking. Nevertheless I was so excited by what I was unpacking right there in the driver’s seat, I immediately took to Slack, frantic and scatter-brained, to share my thoughts with some of the team. They loved it. So why has my energy since been lacking to bring this to life?

 

When we are working with clients we always refer to the “micro” level of transformation. In that, before we tackle any kind of change program at scale, we have to first understand how we ourselves think, feel and respond to change. It makes sense that the same rule applies: before we tackle survival readiness at an organisational level – our collective tenacity, confidence, temperament, adaptability, and love of life to name a few factors – we need first to understand how we ourselves think, feel and respond during times of change and uncertainty. So what was my initial reaction when I asked myself that question? Well, I am just going to say what alot of us have been thinking… 

 

Life is just a little bit shit right now!

 

On the 11th of March earlier this year, I was sitting in a meeting room in London with my entire team, and for the first time since our formation. We were starry eyed with plans and possibilities for the future of our PTHR, when one by one we all received an alert that would bring all our good intentions grinding to a halt – the WHO had just declared the Coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. 

 

Fast forward nearly 5 months and I am back in Perth Australia, living with my parents, in the same bedroom I grew up in, driving a yellow car I picked up from a salvage yard that thinks it’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and with the people I once knew from my previous Perth-ling life now all married with children, I’m using an app called We3 to make friends – Jordan, I’m still waiting for you to accept my “tribe” invite by the way – and I won’t even start pulling at the thread that is my own relationship status. 

 

Putting aside my attempt at comical self-deprecation, in the 2 weeks that followed that meeting in London, it felt as though I was being forced to make decisions that would rewind the years of love and hard work I had put into my life. Forget pugnacity, tenacity or stubbornness, or any factor that would just give me the grit to hold my ground, but a complete lack of control; the anti-autonomy. Dramatic though it may sound, what I am trying to describe is my response to uncertainty was one I myself was not prepared for.

 

I have read so much on the science behind how our brain responds in times of change; we can become defensive, protective, and it’s difficult to separate the emotion from the logic, all in the pursuit of self-preservation. I believe it’s ok, perhaps even better, to explore all possibilities and outcomes head on. Growing up I was taught to steer the canoe directly into the wave. Sure, you’d get wet, splash around a little, lose your balance, make a bit of a spectacle of yourself over nothing, but very rarely did the canoe tip over. Whereas if you try and take the wave side on, maybe try and skirt around it or avoid it all together, chances are you’re going overboard. “Ok so I am back in Aus. No problem, I will just think of this as an extended visit home and work the night shift to keep up with the UK demands. It will only be a few weeks and I’ll be back in the UK I am sure.” Optimism is good, but sometimes, well, there’s just really BIG waves – like Qantas grounding all international flights out of Australia until July 2021. I’m not saying we need to take the pessimistic view, but what I am saying is it’s also ok to play into your “freak out”. I mean, do it early on, don’t stay there for too long, and don’t let transparency or possibility paralyse you. Then if we can still find the courage to tackle things head on, regardless of what we think the outcome might be, maybe we’d respond and adapt better in the long term? On reflection, I think my approach was a bit side on; trying to avoid things until they caught up.

 

It’s no surprise that after a few set-backs – losing tenants, having to fork out for a car, experiencing rejection, long periods of late nights, double tax, social exclusion – that I began to lose confidence in myself; in making my situation work and be the best possible version of myself for my team. Constantly reminding myself that I’m “not meant to be here”, and feeling guilty for the people I think I’ve abandoned in another version of my life. My windows to the world are now digital, and they seem to frame nothing but bad news; where the loss of human life is no longer a tragedy but a statistic, the world is defined and divided by archaic ideologies, and birthright has just been replaced with single minded wealth and privilege. I struggle to comprehend why I still have such a love for humanity when I am losing faith in humans; would it be so hard to just be a little bit nicer to each other? 

 

So why am I sharing this, instead of my profound theory on organisational resilience meets human survival training? I said at the beginning of this blog that we needed to understand our own response to change and uncertainty, before we could understand that of others. One thing I have always relied on myself to do is respond, and in big ways – I couldn’t find a rental, so I built a house; I was “too young” to be taken seriously in business, so I got an MBA; I couldn’t find work in OD, so I moved to England – but what do you do when the extraordinary measures are no longer available to you? When you’re stuck inside at your computer desk, you haven’t seen your friends or family in months, you’re dropping the ball at work, feeling anxious and disconnected, wondering how you will pay your mortgage, what the point of everything is, why can’t you make anything happen for yourself, and whether or not things will ever feel normal again (if that is even a thing). 

 

No doubt I will circle back on my original topic, but for now I want people to know it’s ok. It’s ok to feel life is a little bit shit right now, or that you’re a little bit shit at life. There is no one human in the world that has the answers, has cracked the code for love and happiness in the time of Coronavirus, or isn’t feeling some sense of uncertainty or loss. Sometimes we just need permission to not be ok, so I hope you consider this as your permission being granted. What I will say is in what seems like the absence of extraordinary right now, I am starting to think that this is the time where the ordinary makes a comeback – play, hug, read, learn, love, laugh, cry, watch, listen, teach, talk, walk, run, stop, smell…  

 

…and be kind to yourself – you’re not alone.