Don't Box Me In


Christmas is coming. Hampers are available soon, if not already.

Hampers don't appeal to me because they usually contain something in the box I don't like. It's generally just one item that changes my whole enjoyment of the hamper. When something isn't right, the whole hamper can feel wrong as a whole. 

However it's really more about the items being fixed, inflexible to change that irks me most. When the hamper is packaged ready to go, it's a take it or leave it package. Hampers limit my ability to chose. They represent being boxed in. Being boxed in is uncomfortable because it limits growth. If you can't change, you can't grow. 

Hampers make me think about people too. About boxes and people. About people being boxed in. There, now you have my real irritation, boxing people in. 

How Companies Use Boxes

Corporations are masters at boxing people, and this happens literally via an organisational chart. These charts are certainly handy to see who's who in the zoo and how the roles relate to each other. The chart also comes into its own as a handy map as a business expands and new roles need to be added. 

The mistake that’s easy to make with an organisational chart is to equate the box on the page with the person in the role. That creates limitations in terms of people management. The box only represents the role, no more. When an actual person is hired into the role, they bring more colour than the job description on paper. Organisations have to grow and develop just as people do too. When the process of growth and change stops that's when things can stagnate. That's when fiefdoms start to rise up, and the way of working gets too predictable. A certain level of comfort keeps the status quo and when you start to enjoy this it can cause you to dig in your heels in at the first whiff of change. So when the change happens, whether it’s a restructure, a change of role or reporting lines, it's painful only because your comfort is disrupted and you’re forced to flex in ways you’re not used to doing. 

Boxes Can Be Handy

So boxes are extremely useful when you need to contain things. Imagine how painful it would be to move house without them. When you move house, you have to box up your belongings and shift them to another location. The first action after moving into a new house is then to unpack those boxes. So when that analogy is applied to an organisation, the boxes help to hire people into roles no more than that. Once people are hired into the business, you then need to unpack. That means, unpack the person and really get to know what they’re about, what they bring to your business and their strengths.

If you spend all your time concentrating on what’s not right, just like I did with the hamper, well you miss the point. Focusing on what’s wrong limits your ability to see what’s there and make the most of that. When you make a commitment to hire a person into your business and really get to know them, you receive more from them, in terms of productivity and results. When you force them to be something they’re not by fitting into a tightly structured box you miss the potential of what they can do.

The Motto On The Box

Don't concentrate on what's not right. Appreciate the good stuff in the box, whether it’s the hamper or the person. It will always deliver result you need.

* This article first appeared on LinkedIn on 23 October 2015.


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